Around the World in Dreamliner Comfort Under $1,000?

Around the World in Dreamliner Comfort Under $1,000?

By Mac Jaehnert

As Daft Punk once said... "Around the world, around the world". And then they repeated it 142 more times.

There's no shortage of songs about going around the world, and it's certainly not hard to see why. It's a great way to explore parts of the planet you've never laid eyes on, it's an accomplishment relatively few travelers can claim, and thanks to new budget long-haul routes from carriers like Norwegian, a comfortable global circumnavigation can now be yours for less than the cost of the new iPhone.

The arrival of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner series of fuel-efficient wide body jets have given airlines  the ability to open up "long and skinny" routes between two cities that may not have had enough demand to sustain the passengers needed for a larger jet like a 747 or an a380, for example United's Denver to Tokyo route was only made possible by the arrival of the 787.

 Me in 2012, grinning like a goof in Boeing's Beijing headquarters while learning all about the Dreamliner. 

Me in 2012, grinning like a goof in Boeing's Beijing headquarters while learning all about the Dreamliner. 

These new planes have also set a higher standard for comfort, most notably for economy passengers. The lighting systems have been redesigned to improve the cabin atmosphere as daylight conditions outside shift throughout the flight, aided by clever new windows with built-in tint settings instead of traditional shades. The air filtration and pressurization systems are greatly improved, offering cleaner air quality and cabin pressure that feels like 6,000 feet compared to previous long-haul jets which are pressurized to 8,000 feet. And finally, the cabin is noticeably quieter than traditional jets, hopefully giving weary travelers a better chance to sleep on board.

In the past year, I've been able to fly in business or coach on Dreamliners from United, Japan Airlines, Qatar, and Air Canada, and can personally attest that all of these new features are serious flyer improvements regardless of carrier or class of service, to the point where if I'm flying economy, I will actively seek out flights on the Dreamliner even if it forces me to adjust my schedule. 

DEALS

Given my affinity for this particular plane and its use on lower-cost long haul routes, I wanted to see if it would be possible to fly around the world from Denver and back using only Dreamliners in a cost efficient way. After some creative searching, here's the theoretical routing I came up with:

Leg 1: United 744 // DEN > LAX - $101 

 This short positioning flight will get you swiftly to over to LAX for the LONG long haul. Take it a day or two early and explore all the majesty and gridlock of the City of Angels has to offer. But seriously, get some tacos.

This short positioning flight will get you swiftly to over to LAX for the LONG long haul. Take it a day or two early and explore all the majesty and gridlock of the City of Angels has to offer. But seriously, get some tacos.

Leg 2: United 37 // LAX > SIN - $475

 Here's where things get interesting. This one-way route starts operating daily out of LAX on 10/27/17. It holds the distinction of being the longest single commercial flight in the world by total air travel time, clocking in at bum-numbing 17 hours and 55 minutes. You depart at 9:25p on Friday and arrive at 6:20a on Sunday. If anything would test my contention that the Dreamliner truly is a superior product for comfortable economy travel, this is it.  While in Singapore, check out its sci-fi skyline, superior street food, and incredible urban parks and gardens.

Here's where things get interesting. This one-way route starts operating daily out of LAX on 10/27/17. It holds the distinction of being the longest single commercial flight in the world by total air travel time, clocking in at bum-numbing 17 hours and 55 minutes. You depart at 9:25p on Friday and arrive at 6:20a on Sunday. If anything would test my contention that the Dreamliner truly is a superior product for comfortable economy travel, this is it. While in Singapore, check out its sci-fi skyline, superior street food, and incredible urban parks and gardens.

Leg 2.5 (Optional): Scoot // SIN > SYD > SIN - $286

 If you've ever wanted to go to Australia - this side trip could be your best bet. Scoot airlines is a Singapore-based entrant in the low-cost long haul game in Asia/Oceania using primarily a fleet of 787 Dreamliners. This side trip from SIN to SYD would be an incredibly cost-efficient way to see another of the world's great cities on this journey.

If you've ever wanted to go to Australia - this side trip could be your best bet. Scoot airlines is a Singapore-based entrant in the low-cost long haul game in Asia/Oceania using primarily a fleet of 787 Dreamliners. This side trip from SIN to SYD would be an incredibly cost-efficient way to see another of the world's great cities on this journey.

Leg 3: Norwegian 7410 // SIN > LGW - $215.80

 Carrying on from Southeast Asia, we utilize Norwegian's long-haul service to trek the 14h10m flight from SIN to London Gatwick. I've taken Norwegian as a low cost option to/from Gatwick and had a very pleasant experience with them, although like every low-cost carrier, they continue to find new things to charge you extra for (Checked bag, large carryon bag, seat selection, meals, etc).

Carrying on from Southeast Asia, we utilize Norwegian's long-haul service to trek the 14h10m flight from SIN to London Gatwick. I've taken Norwegian as a low cost option to/from Gatwick and had a very pleasant experience with them, although like every low-cost carrier, they continue to find new things to charge you extra for (Checked bag, large carryon bag, seat selection, meals, etc).

Leg 4: Norwegian 7171 // LGW > DEN - $200.90

 After a 3 day fish and chips cleanse in London (or a few weeks - these fares are currently available into 2018), it's time to return to dear old Denver.

After a 3 day fish and chips cleanse in London (or a few weeks - these fares are currently available into 2018), it's time to return to dear old Denver.

In total, our 4 main legs would cost us 101+475+215.80+200.90, for a whopping grand total of $992.70 including all taxes and surcharges. Not bad for a relatively comfortable trip around the world and over 44 hours of total flight time! (Adding in Australia brings the cost up to $1278.7.)

Who's in? ;)

Asia for under $500?

Asia for under $500?

By Mac Jaehnert

Traveling cheaply can be tricky, especially if you don't have much experience hunting for deals and comparing their prices across multiple websites/systems. However I'm booking, I try to maintain some basic benchmarks for whether or not I consider something to be a "great" airfare deal. My general guidelines for standard economy fares (not booked with points) are as follows, with caveats for routing and amenities:

  • Regional flights under $100.
  • Domestic flights under $200.
  • Canada/Mexico/Central America/Caribbean under $300.
  • Transatlantic flights under $400.
  • Transpacific flights under $500.

I use tools like Skyscanner to keep an eye on the cheapest airfare from my home airport, so I'll be the first to know when fares to a certain city or country drop below its usual rate. Replace "Denver" with whatever city is easiest for you to depart from and check out a list of all the countries you didn't know you could afford to visit!

DEALS

Using this method, I was able to find some really attractive fares this afternoon from Denver to various cities in Thailand for well under $500! If you want to check out one of the crown jewels of Southeast Asia during the start of their cool, dry season, these are some pretty astonishing deals from Denver to Bangkok or Phuket.

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Now for the downside: beyond the obvious 30+ hour length of each leg, these fares are also both on China Eastern. China Eastern, like all Chinese carriers, does not allow the use of mobile phones in any way on their airplanes at any time, and yes, this includes Airplane Mode. So if you wind up booking a flight on China Eastern, be sure to load up your tablet or laptop with all the content you'll need to fill 13 1/2 hours. While this draconian policy is rumored to be changing soon, it's definitely still occurring, with some rule breakers finding themselves locked up abroad.

Would you give up your phone for 13 1/2 hours for a cheap flight to Thailand? To find these fares for yourself and explore the rest of the calendar, check out this Google Flights search.

How to fly around the world without going broke

How to fly around the world without going broke

By Mac Jaehnert

If you follow me on social media, you know I spend a lot of time digging up and sharing crazy travel deals. With a flexible schedule, a modest budget, and a love of spontaneous travel, there's plenty of affordable adventure to be had. Instead of randomly tweeting out deals as I find them, I'm going to try sharing at least one solid travel deal per week on this here web site.

On slower weeks, I might share other content, travel tips, reviews of ice in airport lounges, and other relevant updates. These deals will probably have a distinctly Denver/Midwestern bias, as that's where I'm usually traveling from, but hopefully anyone might find it useful.

Last week I returned from a birthday trip to Hong Kong, an incredible journey that only cost me $360 round trip from Denver on Air Canada. While minimum fares to HK have bumped back up into the $600s, I'd go back there in a heartbeat. Air Canada was... fine - the seats were on the small end, the food (with the exception of the chocolate brownie) was miserable even for airline cuisine, and the person next to me spent a good portion of the 13 hour flight picking at her bare feet, which I think should qualify you for a lifetime expulsion from commercial air travel.

On the plus side, there was an empty seat in my row (which for 13 hours may as well have meant a business class upgrade), and our crazy return routing (HK>Vancouver>Toronto>Denver) gave us a solid evening of eating poutine and Tim Horton's maple dip donuts on the streets of downtown Vancouver during an 8hr layover.

 Some Mean Poutine

Some Mean Poutine

DEALS

If you're looking for the cheapest way to get to Europe this fall/winter, Icelandair's Denver to Brussels round trip flights start as low as $300. If you book directly through the airline, you can also schedule one of Icelandair's intriguing stopover opportunities. By booking this way, you may pay a slight premium over an OTA like Travelocity but for an extra few days in Iceland, it's definitely worth it. 

DENBRU91817

If you're looking for better food, better seats, better wifi, and Iceland isn't on your bucket list, consider paying a slight premium to fly with Lufthansa instead. Fares for the same general timeframe still start under $400, but you'll be flying in considerably more comfort. And while there's plenty to do in Brussels, it's also a great gateway to the rest of Europe, with Paris or Amsterdam just a 2 hour train ride away.

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To find these fares for yourself and explore the rest of the calendar, check out this Google Flights search.

Will Facebook's News Feed Changes Leave Brands Out in the Cold?

Will Facebook's News Feed Changes Leave Brands Out in the Cold?

According to a newly-released list of "News Feed Values," Facebook is officially putting "Friends and Family" first. Should brands be worried?

By Mac Jaehnert

Another day, another announcement from Facebook that has social media managers wringing their hands. While perhaps the furthest the company has gone to publicly detail how their content ranking algorithm works, this news has been met with some consternation among brands and publishers who rely on the platform to get their message out.

From a consumer perspective, this is a welcome announcement. If you polled 100 Facebook users about why they use Facebook, I'd be shocked if a single one of them said their primary reason for being on the platform was to stay in touch with their favorite brands. But from a business perspective, the promotion of branded content is what helps pay for all the developers, staff, and servers required to keep a platform with 1.65 billion users humming along without interruption, and without monetary cost to the users.

While a VP from Facebook's News Feed team has said that publishers should expect a "small but noticeable" decrease in organic reach, I'm not recommending any brand that I manage or consult with shift resources away from Facebook as a result. Why? Because the only brands who will be materially impacted by this change are those who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of social media marketing in the first place.

Social media is not the venue for being purely self-promotional. It's not a digital trade show. It's a party you've shown up to in your company polo shirt. Imagine walking around to each person at that party, and introducing yourself by trying to sell them your product before getting to know them. Sounds pretty miserable for all involved. But by establishing a rapport and building social capital first, you're far more likely to cultivate a successful long-term brand relationship.

If a brand isn't using social media to provide tangible value to their fans by being informative, entertaining, or inspirational, they'll continue to struggle to find and cultivate an audience.

Below are my 3 tips for ensuring your brand will survive and thrive in social media regardless of any tweaks Facebook might make to their algorithm:

  1. Think like a fan.
    • Put yourself in the shoes of the people who love your product, service, or brand in order to reverse-engineer the social content they'd find most valuable. 
  2. Make your content inherently shareable.
    • If brands can get their fans to share their content, Facebook's algorithm may favor it as a post from a friend instead of a post from a brand.
    • Shareability = Awesomeness of Content / (Time + Effort it Takes to Consume). 
  3. Selectively promote it to the right audience.
    • Facebook's advertising tools are some of the most advanced and cost-efficient digital ad options available to the general public. You can micro-target your content with small ad buys to expand your audience into specific niches.

How are you reacting to Facebook's latest news?

Don't be like Bill. Bill wants your data.

Don't be like Bill. Bill wants your data.

By Mac Jaehnert

By now most Facebook users have seen the ubiquitous "Be Like Bill" memes that have seemingly taken over the world's most popular social network. To create these graphics, the apps involved use data generated by direct user input (quizzes, polls, etc), or more worryingly, by pulling data directly from your Facebook profile. While these apps can provide a fun diversion, it's important to recognize the privacy implications of allowing an application unfettered access to your personal information. 

For example, an app claiming to tell you which of your friends you look most similar to would likely need to access your friends' profile pictures in order to generate a result. However, if that app is also asking for access to your work history and educational background, that should raise some red flags as to whether you should proceed.

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Facebook asks users' permission before granting any app access to data, and itemizes which pieces of data (Name, email, friends list, photos, work history, education, etc) the app is requesting access to. Users should carefully look through each item to determine whether or not it's necessary for the app to perform its function, like allowing the Spotify app to access one's list of friends to show what songs they're listening to.

Once these applications collect your data, they are free to do with it as they wish, according to their organization's privacy policy. If they don't have a privacy policy, run as far and as fast as you can. If they do, the only way to be certain they won't sell your data is if it's stated explicitly.

The terms of service for Bobla, the company claiming to originate the meme (until recently - according to ABC13 Houston) stated "You will allow us to use, edit your content with our service permanently, no limit and no recover." Those are not the words of a company one should trust with their personal information.

The Better Business Bureau has also warned recently against growing instances of other "click bait" scams involving IQ tests, credit reports, and exclusive celebrity photos.

Unless users proactively revoke these apps' access to their Facebook accounts, businesses can retain access to this data in perpetuity. To review which apps have access to your account and remove any that don't serve a specific purpose, visit Facebook on a desktop computer, click the down arrow in the upper right hand corner, select "apps" on the left hand side and review each to ensure it's only accessing what it needs to (screenshot below). I bet many Facebook users would be surprised by the number of apps that are sneakily collecting their data behind their backs. 

 Click the down arrow in the upper right-hand corner of the page, scroll down and click "Settings". On the next page, click "Apps" on the left-hand side of the page, and scroll through your apps to identify which serve a purpose. Click on each to review and modify which permissions have been granted.

Click the down arrow in the upper right-hand corner of the page, scroll down and click "Settings". On the next page, click "Apps" on the left-hand side of the page, and scroll through your apps to identify which serve a purpose. Click on each to review and modify which permissions have been granted.

Mac Jaehnert is a digital marketing consultant, founder of MJ Media, and VP of Social Media for the Colorado American Marketing Association.

No, Monsanto, I Won't Meet You at the Farmer's Market

No, Monsanto, I Won't Meet You at the Farmer's Market

by Mac Jaehnert (@macjaeh)

Global food mega-conglomerate Monsanto has taken a lot of heat from environmentalists, farmers, and natural food activists in recent years. Lately it seems like half the documentary section on Netflix is packed full of tales detailing Monsanto's alleged corporate malfeasance, strong-arm legal tactics, and general shadiness.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the agri-giant is looking for ways to fight back against the tsunami of negativity they've managed to attract. Monsanto is not a company that has traditionally advertised directly to the consumer, so when I spotted this cinemagraph sponsored by Monsanto in my Facebook timeline, it caught my attention.

See how we’re working with others to help make balanced meals more accessible for all.

Posted by Monsanto Company on Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My confusion was immediate. Why is Monsanto advertising to me? Where exactly am I supposed to click to learn more information about their supposed balanced meal initiative? How much spaghetti can that lady choke down before she keels over?

Fortunately, Facebook offers a way for consumers to see the primary reason advertisers chose to target you, specifically. In the post preferences menu, I clicked "Why am I seeing this ad?" and suddenly their strategy began to reveal itself.

Aha! They're counterpunching - an interesting strategy. By serving almost overly-friendly ads at the people who are most likely to oppose their company, they're targeting the source of their messaging problem. So perhaps the strategy is sound, but what about the execution? 

Free advice: If you know you're going to get negative feedback (and come on, you're Monsanto, of course you're going to get negative feedback), be ready with an active response plan so you don't let an unchecked conversation spin out of control. 

(Photo via Flickr user Newagecrap)

NASA's Social Media Game is Out of This World.

NASA's Social Media Game is Out of This World.

by Mac Jaehnert (@macjaeh)

Social Media isn't rocket science, but rocket scientists can sure use social media. 

This great piece by Adam Epstein in Quartz delves into how NASA has been so effective at building buzz online. Here are a few takeaways for what businesses can learn from NASA's success:

Remove Barriers

In 2009, astronaut Mike Massimino was the first person to tweet from space (@Astro_Mike) on a mission to the International Space Station. Apart from spell checking and verifying correct URLs, NASA allowed him, and all astronauts since, editorial control to post what he wanted. By not creating a burdensome editorial or approval process, astronauts and NASA staff have been able to communicate in near real-time (including Reddit AMAs) with the public.

Empower Influencers

NASA has done a fantastic job in attracting a devoted group of loyal fans who are eager to learn and share the latest news about the universe. By cultivating a strong online community, then hosting "NASA Social" events and rewarding those most engaged digitally with one-of-a-kind real world experiences, they're successfully turning fans into advocates.

Leverage Personality

While NASA does have primary social media accounts, their social ecosystem extends beyond their official channels, or their astronauts in space. One of my favorite new people to follow on twitter over the past couple of years has been Bobak "Mohawk Guy" Ferdowsi, a NASA Jet Propulsion Lab engineer who became a viral phenomenon for his unconventional haircut seen during the mission control broadcast of the Mars Curiosity Rover.

Any business or organization could certainly take a page out of NASA's social media playbook.

Photo via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr

Why does Spirit Airlines Suck?

Why does Spirit Airlines Suck?

by Mac Jaehnert (@macjaeh)

Stories about air travel woes all begin to sound the same after a while. For decades the hellish monotony of the flying experience has served as one of comedy's most cliched topics. With today's comedians (and airline customers) increasingly willing to broadcast their thoughts via social media, it seems like everyone has shared or heard a story recently about an air travel nightmare. 

But lately I've noticed a trend among friends posting about their latest travel trials and tribulations - Spirit Airlines. I've never flown with them myself, in part because based on what I've heard, the average customer experience feels a bit like this from the moment you confirm your flight:

But my friends can sometimes be whiny knuckleheads, and don't always make for the most representative sample. So I decided to let the data speak for itself and run an analysis on how the social media world felt about Spirit compared to various other carriers. I set off digging into the numbers to see if there was any truth to the growing chorus of complaints about them I felt I was seeing.

Using social media listening software, I took a look at all the conversation online around Spirit, American, Frontier, Southwest, and Delta. The software uses natural language processing to determine the sentiment (relative positivity or negativity) of all public social conversation about a given topic, and how passionate they are about that given topic relative to others.

After processing two years' worth of social data, the results are in:

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The only positive thing that can be said about Spirit's social presence is that at least it's the smallest of all the ones measured, so the negativity might not be spreading as far or as fast as brands like American Airlines with nearly 20x the volume of social conversation.

Spirit is the only airline on the list with an overall negative sentiment rating, meaning that there are 18% more detectably negative posts than positive ones about the brand. As a general rule, there should never be a reason for a professional brand to dip below 0 sentiment long term. If you are actively listening and responding to your customers, helping them turn negative experiences into positive ones, you should at least be able to maintain a neutral rating at the bare minimum.

What separates Spirit from the rest of the pack, in my estimation, boils down to their (lack of) customer service. Unfortunately, Spirit doesn't take the same approach to customer service as many other airlines with dedicated support teams handling requests through Twitter and other platforms. While Southwest employs a team of social support specialists, Spirit decided last year to automate their Twitter support system, framing their lack of responsiveness as a focus on customer savings.

Their Twitter profile reads "A big social media team costs money, so we put our feed on Autopilot to save you cents on every ticket. Specific question? " and respond to customers with canned responses that appear designed to generate more rage than relief. 

Digging in further, we can learn a bit more about what exactly fumes people so much about Spirit. When looking at the hashtags most commonly associated with Spirit, one that stands out prominently is #JimCrowAirlines, stemming from an incident involving alleged mistreatment between the airline and a passenger of color. 

Other hashtags like #neveragain, #fail, and #signofthetimes don't bode well for Spirit's overall online goodwill.

When we look at the specific emotions driving the sentiment ranking for Spirit, the frustration becomes even clearer:

Not great, Spirit.

While Spirit's model of customer service by attrition hasn't stopped them from becoming the most profitable airline in the country in the short term,  I truly wonder how long they can afford to allow their brand credibility to erode before no amount of discounting will bring customers back.

Is Twitter in Trouble?

Is Twitter in Trouble?

by Mac Jaehnert (@macjaeh)

Last week, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo resigned his post at the helm of one of the world's most talked-about companies. Analysts and investors have long aired concerns of Twitter's lagging user growth numbers, and the need for greater accessibility for new users. But for as long as it has bothered investors, Twitter's often strange and unapproachable nature added a strangely welcoming air of exclusivity among tech and media savvy early adopters.

But the very quirks that make Twitter a unique communication experience are what some say makes the new user experience bewildering at first. Adding fuel to the fire, a 2014 report showed that 44% of Twitter accounts had never sent a single tweet.  As a result of this pressure, Twitter has tried many tactics to make their platform more approachable:

  • Late last year, Twitter began surfacing content not just from the people you follow, but also from the people they feel you might find interesting.
  • Twitter unveiled full-width cover photos for page profiles, and an overall design that looks much more like your average Facebook page.
  • Twitter added in-line Fav, Reply, and Retweet buttons to each post, similar to Facebook's Like, Comment, and Share interface.
  • Photos and link summaries began displaying in-feed.

It seems Twitter is between a rock and a hard place, and while I really admire Costolo (and who wouldn't - listen to him talk about his improv comedy days with Steve Carrell at Second City in this brilliant Times interview with the great Farhad Manjoo), it seems they'll have to figure out their next move without him.

For what it's worth, at least he took time out of his day to respond to your everyday ordinary tweeter:

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (@jack) takes over on July 1. 

Facebook vs YouTube: The Battle for Social Video

Facebook vs YouTube: The Battle for Social Video

By Mac Jaehnert (@macjaeh)

Video is fast becoming the default medium for communication in the social space. While YouTube has long been the dominant force in social video, Facebook's native video player is nipping at its heels. Some reports say Facebook is set to eclipse YouTube in terms of overall video consumption, and eventually ad revenue. Facebook users watched over 4 billion videos this year compared to just 1 billion the year before.

How can brands without a massive video production budget take advantage of the opportunities presented by the rise of social video? Here are 3 tips to get started creating quality video content today:

1) EMBRACE THE SILENCE

Now that Facebook videos begin auto-playing immediately for users in their timelines, you can use it as an opportunity to catch users' attention, even with the sound off. Hotels.com recently embraced this strategy for their recent campaign.

Videos that work without sound also give marketers an opportunity to sneak around Facebook's tricky 20% rule for promoted content.

2) KEEP IT SIMPLE

You can shoot incredible looking videos on a smartphone with the right setting and subject. To demonstrate the creaminess of cashew milk, I shot a slow motion pour with nothing more than a table, a light, and a some clean glassware with my iPhone.

3) CONSIDER THE NEXT STEP

Videos are great for driving awareness, but can leave marketers wanting when it comes to taking another action. Facebook now allows publishers to add custom calls-to-action at the end of videos. At the end of this video for Cactus's incredible ManTherapy campaign, you'll see a call to action within the video encouraging you to click through to the website, as shown in the screenshot below.

As social video continues to gain mainstream momentum, how are you preparing your business to take advantage of the opportunities it presents?