Death in Venice: Residents plan the city's funeral
Three gondolas will escort a red coffin through Venice's famed canals this Saturday, November 14, in a symbolic funeral organized to highlight the disastrously shrinking population—which dropped below 60,000 at the end of October. There won't be a single full-time resident left in Venice by 2030, according to demographic predictions cited in Newsweek.
The primary cause of death isn't the much-publicized acqua alta that floods St. Mark's Square and city streets annually, but rather the flood of tourists. Of the 55,000 average daily visitors, more than half are now daytrippers who drop in as part of a guided tour or choose to stay in nearby towns like Padua or Verona, where hotels and restaurants are cheaper.
Venetian business owners used to charge higher prices to tourists, but now are charging those tourist prices to locals, too, in the struggle to get by.
Wealthy outsiders who've purchased second or third homes in Venice have driven up property prices, while the recession and a dwindling tax base have led to service cuts, in what has become a vicious cycle prompting many to abandon the city. Twenty-five percent of residents are over 64, compared to an Italian average of 19 percent [via italymag.co.uk].
Andrea Morelli, who has an electronic population ticker in the window of his pharmacy off the Rialto Bridge, helped organize the funeral to draw attention to the mixed blessings of tourism. Newsweek's Barbie Nadeau reports:
"Maybe this funeral doesn't have to be the end," he says. "It might be the beginning; it could even spur a rebirth." In fact, the weekend after Venice's population dipped below 60,000, 11 babies were born at a local hospital. "Now we just have to create a Venice [those new natives] will want to stay in," says Morelli. "We have to give them a reason not to leave."
Frequent Flier: The 100,000 mile sign-up bonus
You may already have an airline-affiliated credit card. British Airways is hoping that you'll sign up for theirs, too. Introducing the British Airways Visa card from Chase. Sign up, and you'll get 50,000 BA Executive Club Miles after your first purchase, and 50,000 additional miles after you make $2,000 worth of purchases on the card over three months. It's by far the speediest way to earn a free overseas trip. Frequent flier miles guru Gary Leff at A View From the Wing has been on top of this story like nobody else. He's seen nearly every sign-up offer to come along in the past decade. So what does he think of this 100,000 mile sign-up bonus? "Wow.… It's just incredible. I genuinely don't remember the last time I was blown away by a credit card offer." For comparison's sake, the best sign-up card is typically 25,000 miles, says The New York Times' Bucks blog. What's the annual fee? $75, no higher than similar cards with far less generous fees. You may apply online now, but the card doesn't go into effect until next Monday, November 16. The offer may expire as soon as November 30 or as late as 90 days from now, depending on how things go. British Airways spokesperson John Lampl confirms that anyone who had the British Airways co-branded Visa from Chase in the past is still qualified to sign up for the new card, as long as they're not currently cardholders. That's unusual. Airlines typically save their juiciest sign-up bonuses only for completely new customers. Bonus perk: Nab $50 off round-trip tickets bought via BA's website when you use the new card for booking through December 31. So what are the catches? British Airways adds fuel surcharges on their award travel. These surcharges can be roughly betweem $135 and $200 per roundtrip. Plus, British Airways fares have tended to be somewhat higher than competitors on major routes that Americans commonly fly, according to our recent fare searches. Leff has a tip for maxing out the card. He points out that you can earn a free companion ticket after you spend $30,000 on the card in a year. For most of us, spending $30,000 on a single credit card in 12 months is a tough trick to pull off. But small business entreprenuers might be able to do it easily. As Leff writes: British Airways allows 'households' to pool their miles for an award. So two people each sign up for the card. One puts $2,000 in spend to earn the full bonus, the other puts $30,000 in spend to earn a companion certificate. 240,000 miles will be earned, plus a companion certificate. This would allow two people to redeem first class tickets between, say, Los Angeles and Dubai. In other words, 480,000 miles of awards for nothing but $32,000 in credit card spend. In an e-mail exchange, Gary clarified that you'd want to start toward the $30,000 goal in January, not now. "The cycle for counting $30,000 in spending towards the free companion award ticket runs with the calendar year (so any money spent now is 'wasted')." As always, be wary of trying to "game the system" by applying for the card to earn the points and then canceling. On the one hand, you may want to reevaluate whether you want to keep the account after the first year, given that other cards will have cheaper annual fees. But on the other hand, closing credit cards can hurt your credit score. The reason: A key factor in your credit score is how much credit you've had available over your lifetime, not just at any given moment. Whenever you close an account, you ding yourself, which may matter if you plan to apply for a loan for a car or a house in the near future. British Airways Visa Chase card info page EARLIER British Airways supersale, happening now MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Live Well, Get Miles: Our 2009 newbie's guide to frequent flier miles ELSEWHERE Ever dream of having a boatload of frequent-flier miles—plus the free automatic upgrades and private airport lounge access that goes with premier status? Do you also plan to fly more than 5,000 miles in the coming year? Then you may like Frequent Flyer Master, a 40-page e-book that costs $49. I bought a copy when it debuted last week, and even I (who thinks about travel strategies every day) learned a few tricks. My favorite part: Six months' worth of e-mail updates and deal alerts. There's no other up-to-date primer on the basics of the frequent flier system, primarily for domestic U.S. travel and round-the-world tickets. But if you already understand the basics, this guide probably isn't for you. UPDATE Nov. 25: A spokesperson for Chase Card Services notes: "The offer is (obviously) subject to credit approval. If a customer does not qualify for a British Airways Signature Visa, they may qualify for a British Airways Platinum Visa. Both cards have the same enhanced earn rate and the same premium bonus offer (100,000 miles). There is not any other alternative card – customers either qualify for the British Airways Signature or Platinum cards (both of which have the same bonus and new earn rate) or they are declined and do not receive any card."
Bixi bikes are headed to Boston and London
Back in March, we reported on the new bike-sharing program in Montreal called Bixi (a combo of the words bike and taxi). The inexpensive program allows travelers to rent a bike in one solar-powered station and return it at another, all for about $5 plus a usage fee. The first 30 minutes are free. After some initial, to-be-expected glitches, Bixi has been a success in Montreal, so much so that the model has been picked up by two major metropolitan centers—Boston and London. With a tentative launch of summer 2010, the London system will have 6,000 bikes at 400 stations available 24/7, while Boston will have 2,500 bikes at 290 stations in the downtown area. Bike-sharing programs are like eco-friendly taxis. You pick up and leave the bike at a spot that's convenient for you while being kind to nature in the process. Possibly the most famous bike-sharing program is Paris's Velib system; according to the Montreal Gazette, the city of Paris estimates the two-year-old program has saved about 15,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per 20,000 bikes. The Velib is not without problems, though. A recent New York Times story reported that 80 percent of the program's 20,600 original bikes were vandalized or stolen. This doesn't seem to be happening in Montreal. The Velib also requires a certain kind of credit card to work; it remains to be seen whether London's system will have this same kind of restriction. Stay tuned! See our video on how to use Paris's Velib bike system. New York City: Free bikes for downtown visitors Rent a Bike in Europe for Nearly Nothing
NYC: The Ace Hotel opens The Breslin restaurant
Today, The Sensible Aesthete dropped by The Breslin, an edgy bar and restaurant that debuted at The Ace Hotel in Manhattan's Flatiron district this past weekend. Bloggers have been salivating to try out the brunch, and have already weighed in on it at Eater and HotelChatter. Early reports are good: The stylish Ace Hotel boutique chain does right by foodies with The Breslin. Helmed by the owners of the West Village gastropub Spotted Pig—which was famously invested in by Mario Batali, Jay-Z, and Bono—the new restaurant is open off of the Ace's lobby for breakfast, lunch, and (the aforementioned) brunch. Who could resist trying out this vintage-inspired, hipster hangout? Named after the hotel that used to be at the site, The Breslin fetishizes comfortable, centuries-old British pubs. Think dark wood paneling and flooring. Keeping with the theme, food is served on planks of wood. Lobbyists from the beef and pork industry ought to hold meetings here. The decor runs to miniature carved pigs and cows—and wall-mounted pastoral prints of pigs and cows. What to eat? Try the beef tongue baguette sandwich with a cup of lentil soup ($16). A hotel guest dining beside me was thrilled with her ham-and-three-cheese sandwich, for $16. We agreed that we'd each return for fatty slabs of terrine: guinea hen with morels/"rustic pork"/rabbit and prune/head cheese, served with pickles, piccalilli and mustard (from $25 for a small shared plate). Traveling solo? Belly up to the bar, a preferred spot for dining because it increases your chance of rubbing shoulders with the locals. Two cask beers are available, plus five more brews on tap, including an $8 pint of Defiant Muddy Creek. Be patient, though. My meal took 22 minutes to arrive. Yet who's eying the clock while on vacation? The Breslin, 20 W. 29th St.; reservations are recommended, given that the bar and restaurant can fit a maximum of 180 persons total. Where—or what—should The Sensible Aesthete review next? EARLIER Alex Calderwood, a music impresario and partner in the Ace Hotel Group, reveals the best new design discoveries, in Cool Hunting 2009: New York City New York City: The stylish Ace Hotel opens, from $169 MORE Budget Travel's picks for affordable, stylish hotels in New York City MORE USEFUL CLICKABLES BT's editor-in-chief, Nina Willdorf, swears by TabletHotels as a source for picking where she should stay, from high to low.
Amtrak loses $32 per rider
Fun fact of the day: Every time a passenger rides Amtrak, the railroad loses $32 on average, say researchers at Pew's Subsidyscope project. Taxpayers cover that $32 per rider loss through federal government subsidies. Last year, taxpayers gave Amtrak $1.3 billion in direct payments. So it's not just death and taxes that you can count on. You can also count on paying taxes to prevent the death of Amtrak. Amtrak disputes the numbers, saying it only loses $8 per passenger on average. But researchers say that Amtrak isn't including depreciation—that's wear-and-tear on tracks and trains—and overhead (such as the cost of running human resources). The independently calculated numbers count those additional costs. Only three of Amtraks's 44 lines made a profit last year, despite 2008 being the railroad's second-best-ever year for ridership. Amtrak's Acela Express service is one of the rare exceptions. The premium-priced route along the northeast corridor is profitable. The average ticket price for Acela is $41 more than the cost of transporting the passenger. Amtrak has claimed that the Northeast Regional is profitable, making $20 per passenger. But the new Pew study disagrees, saying that the most-heavily-traveled route is—incredibly enough—unprofitable. It loses an average of $5 a passenger, once you figure in depreciation and other unallocated costs of $24.29 per passenger. The worst performing line? The Sunset Limited, which runs between L.A. and New Orleans. It loses an average of $462 per passenger(!) In defense of railroads, highways don't make money either and the government subsidizes their construction and maintenance. Many small airports don't make money, as well, yet they also get subsidies as a cost of keeping the economy humming along. MORE The study is online at Pew's site.