Posts Tagged ‘Travel’


Is cash obsolete?

June 13, 2022

This post is the result of a recent article in The Times about a new generation never using cash, and my experience of cashless payments both in the UK and abroad.

I did reply to the article. This post is an expanded version of that reply.

Going cashless

As an older person, I’ve embraced the cashless society, using Apple Pay for almost everything. However there are some glitches. My local dry cleaners accepts only cash – fortunately I’m of that generation that still carries some just in case. Also on a recent drive north, I found with horror that the toll booths on the M6 Toll road are cashless, but don’t accept mobile payments – you have to have a real card! Fortunately my wife had one of hers with her…

There are also some shops which will accept cashless payments, but only over a minimum amount. I assume it’s down to how much they’re charged to process individual payments, but for a full cashless society we must be able to use a card, or mobile payment, for the smallest amounts. Big chains (Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s amongst others) permit this. In my experience it’s the small businesses such as newsagents and cafés which have a minimum payment.

Card, or mobile device?

It should be noted that there is a difference between using a card and using a mobile device (phone, tablet, smart watch). I’ve noticed some people, particularly those of my age, are reluctant to use mobile payments. There are some advantages. The first is that it’s more secure. With a card transaction the retailer may get your card details, but with a mobile transaction all they get is a one-time code from Apple or Google, this means an unscrupulous employee is unable to use your card details for transactions elsewhere. Second, there’s no payment limit. Because this is a validated transaction – with your fingerprint, face ID or unlock code – there’s no contactless limit on the amount of the transaction.

There are some downsides too. First because you’re using an intermediary (Apple or Google) the Consumer Credit Act protection for transactions over £100 doesn’t apply, so you may not be able to claim compensation from your card issuer if something goes wrong, such as faulty goods or non-delivery. To be fair this protection applies only to Credit Cards, so if you pay with a Debit Card you’re not protected anyway. Second because of the one-time code it may be difficult to get a refund if you want to return something you paid for with your mobile device. It should still be possible, but it can, in my experience, be tricky.

Covid’s effect

When Covid first struck in the UK we didn’t know how it was spread. There was a possibility that it was spread by fomites (particles on surfaces) so there was a reluctance to accept cash which might have been handled by an infected individual. This accelerated the adoption of cashless payments, and there are now many places that won’t accept cash at all. This has been accelerated further by the cost of depositing cash at a bank – many banks charge for cash deposits depending on the type of account, so businesses may prefer cashless transactions.

Cashless abroad

The UK has been a laggard in this compared to other countries, particularly in Scandinavia. It seems the Covid effect on cashless payments has occurred in many other European countries including Germany and France.

Denmark has been almost entirely cashless for years… in fact I recently spent 10 days there and could have avoided using cash entirely, but decided to pay for one item with cash to use up the last of my Danish banknotes. Danish businesses have accepted Dankort (Danish debit card) payments for decades; the system also accepts foreign debit cards. But with the march of technology the country is migrating to MobilePay, which requires a Danish phone number… not helpful for foreign visitors.

I use Wise (formerly Transferwise) and have recently acquired one of their multi-currency debit cards, which makes cashless travelling really easy. Revolut offers a similar capability.

Portugal, another country in which I have extensive experience spending money, remains largely cash only. Some establishments will accept card payments, but only with a Multibanco card, which is a debit card issued by a Portuguese bank. Major restaurants and supermarkets will accept major cards and phone payments, but if you’re visiting Portugal, be sure to carry Euro notes and coins – you will need them. Surprisingly (to me anyway) next-door Spain is one of the top cashless countries in Europe according to the Merchant Machine website (although their survey omitted Scandinavia, which in my personal experience is much more advanced down the path to becoming entirely cashless).


Why low-cost long-haul airlines will always fail

July 6, 2021

I read an article in the Guardian today about a couple who had booked a transatlantic flight with Norwegian Air. Due to Covid they were unable to go. Ultimately Norwegian cancelled the flight, but this couple unwisely accepted vouchers before this happened. Now Norwegian has withdrawn from transatlantic flghts the couple have a lot of vouchers valid only for European travel.

As the article explains, they were unwise to choose vouchers rather than wait for Norwegian to cancel the flight in which case they’d have been entitled to a full refund. But that’s not the point of my post. The point of my post is that low-cost long-haul carriers will always fail, eventually.

There are lots of previous examples. Laker’s AirTrain was the first of many. Braniff, Wow and others followed. Norwegian is just the latest.

Now Defunct WOW Airlines

You see the low-cost airline model can work for short haul. Most short-haul flights are two hours or less. And short-haul flights usually (for a full-cost carrier) take between 45 minutes and an hour to turn around for the return leg. Low-cost airlines reduce this to about 20 minutes. It can’t be any less because the aircraft brakes have to cool from the landing in order to work effectively in an emergency on take off.

But the advantage is that if your aircraft is flying, on average, 90 minute legs, and turning around in less than 30 minutes, then it can operate up to 12 legs in 24 hours. A full-service carrier flying the same route can fly only 9 legs in the same 24 hours, so the low-cost carrier can get another three plane-loads of people to pay for seats. Of course most aircraft aren’t scheduled fully for 24 hours, but the principle is clear: a low-cost carrier generally can get two extra legs a day from each aircraft it operates.

This, combined with the “no-frills” approach of minimal luggage allowances, all extras to be paid for, having the cabin crew clean the ‘plane and trying to flog lottery tickets and tickets for onward travel on board (on all of which the airline makes a margin) enables them to make the upfront advertised cost of each seat much lower than a full-service airline.

That’s how it works.

But it can’t work in long-haul. In long-haul most aircraft fly one or two legs in 24 hours. So shaving 30 minutes off each turnaround gains an hour a day – not enough to fly another long-haul leg. If airlines operate the latest generation of fuel-efficient aircraft then the no-frills savings and add-on revenues might just make a low-cost airline viable provided all flights operate close to 100% full. But this is tricky at the best of times, often requiring overbooking and then bouncing some passengers off the flight. This doesn’t endear you to your customers, so most full-service airlines aim to achieve an average of better than 80% loading. Low-cost carriers can’t afford loading this low, there just isn’t enough margin on the revenue they generate. Also full-service airlines have premium cabins (Premium Economy, Business and First Class) – this isn’t common on low-cost services, so the additional revenue from premium cabins is denied to them.

Then there’s another problem; having enough aircraft, and crews. If you’re flying short-haul around Europe and one of your ‘planes breaks, then it’s generally not a problem to find another one to rescue the passengers. It’s easier for a full-service airline as their higher revenues means they may well have a spare aircraft available and can call crews up quickly. Low-cost airlines can do it although it may take a bit longer and it may be more effective to rebook your passengers on another airline – or just abandon them, as some low-cost carriers have done in the past .

If you’re flying long-haul then it’s much harder. The larger, full-service airlines can usually find another aircraft although it may take up to 24 hours to get it where it’s needed, as I’ve experienced on a couple of occasions. But when this happened to some friends of mine who were booked to fly on Norwegian to Los Angeles for a wedding, there was no replacement aircraft. They were three days late, ended up flying on a plane chartered by Norwegian as the airline didn’t have a replacement, and they missed the wedding!

Image of a Norwegian Air Boeing Dreamliner
A Norwegian long-haul Boeing Dreamliner

Norwegian has managed to keep operating its long-haul services for longer than most of its predecessors, but that’s mainly because it had a profitable European short-haul business to subsidise the losses. but the Covid pandemic put paid to that. So it’s pulled out of transatlantic flying.

I could have told you it would. In fact I told several people right at the start when Norwegian announced it would be offering low-cost transatlantic travel that this would happen. I couldn’t predict when, but it was going to happen.

I’m reminded of Sir Richard Branson’s famous quote, “The way to make a small fortune with an airline is to start with a large fortune.” He should know. He ended up running a full-service transatlantic airline – very good it is too – but it’s not low-cost.


Whoops, no head-up display!

September 2, 2017

In an idle moment recently (I don’t get many of those at the moment) I was scrolling through Honest John’s car advice in the Daily Telegraph. I found this one:

This struck a chord with me, because I’ve just bought a pair of Polarised sunglasses to eliminate reflected glare from the inside of my car windscreen – which can be a major problem if the sun’s in front of me and shining directly onto the top of the dashboard.

So, some basic physics. When light is reflected off a surface, most of the light that’s vibrating parallel to the surface is reflected, while most of the light that’s vibrating at other angles is absorbed or diffused. This means the reflected light is mostly vibrating in one direction – this is what “polarised” light means. Reflections from the inside of a car windscreen will be horizontally polarised.

Polarised glasses are designed to eliminate horizontally polarised light because it’s horizontally polarised light which reflects from surfaces such as roads, puddles and lakes, tables and so on. That’s why I bought my new glasses – to eliminate the reflection from the inside of the windscreen when driving towards the sun.

Head-up displays work by projecting the display upwards so that it reflects off the inside of the windscreen – as shown above.

If you wear Polarised glasses, these will cut out any light reflected from the inside of the windscreen, however it got there, so you will not be able to see a head-up display. Reactolite glasses aren’t polarised, they just darken the lenses, so the display will still be visible.

Obvious really, Honest John!


easyJet Plus card – is it worth it?

October 22, 2015

Short answer: probably not.

If you fly more than 5 round trips (10 sectors) a year on easyJet, AND you book the most expensive allocated seats then it may be worth considering it. Otherwise don’t bother.

How do I know?

Well, I won one.

Yes, I entered a Twitter competition and won a free easyJet Plus card in October 2014. I’ve been using it for a year. It’s now renewal time. My question is – is it worth paying for?

my easyJet Plus card

my easyJet Plus card

At the time I won one, the price was £149 to join and £139 to renew. However during the year they’ve changed the Speedy Boarding and Plus Card rules, and the price has gone up to £170 per year (£160 if you join on board – but of course if you do that you have at least one flight where you can’t use it). And there’s no discount for renewal.

So in the year since I got the card would I have saved money? I’ve flown 10 sectors in that year, but two were before the card arrived so I couldn’t use it. So 8 sectors. Even if I had chosen the most expensive allocated seat (£15.99) on each flight then the current annual fee for the card significantly exceeds the amount I would have saved.

Surely there are some benefits you don’t get if all you do is pay for seat allocation?

Yes, but only fast track security. Not all airports have one, and we’ve found on at least two occasions that it’s faster at Gatwick (our normal originating airport) to go through regular security rather than Fast Track.

Shame there isn’t a Fast Track arrivals – that would be worth paying for!

But the other benefits: Speedy Boarding, two carry on bags and dedicated bag drop are all available to those who just pay for seat allocation either upfront or in an exit row. Most of mine would have cost £10.99 rather than £15.99, so I’d have had to fly 16 sectors to make it worthwhile – that’s twice as many sectors as I actually flew.

So for me a paid for easyJet Plus card doesn’t work. At the old renewal price of £139 I’d probably just have done it, but at £170 it really doesn’t make economic sense. And since there’s no discount for renewal, if I decide next year that I will be flying enough to make it worthwhile, I’ll simply join again – I can save money by not being a member when I don’t fly – and there’s no penalty for leaving and joining again several months later before your next flight.

Thanks for the freebie easyJet, I really enjoyed it. And I will occasionally miss using the fast track security, but overall it’s just not worth paying for. Sorry.


Sort out passports, UKBA, for the country’s sake

April 28, 2012

The news today is full of reports of 2-hour queues at Heathrow to get passports inspected.

I remember the halcyon days of international travel, back in the 1990s, when getting back into the UK after a trip abroad was a breeze. You stood in line for a few moments with a queue of maybe 10 or 12 people ahead of you. The passport official (now the UK Border Agency of course) took a cursory glance at your passport and you were in.

Back in the halcyon days of travel only getting into the United States was tricky and time consuming. Today getting back into the UK, Read the rest of this entry ?