Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: March 2017

Travel often? Apply for NEXUS

As my first NEXUS five-year renewal date approaches I’ve asked a number of friends, co-workers and others if they are also members of this trusted traveller program yet few if any are which came as a bit of a surprise as it’s such a convenience when crossing borders it would seem a natural for those in the travel industry.  While the program is becoming more widely accepted there’s still many misperceptions about it so felt it was worth sharing my experience and why I find it a useful travel tool I wouldn’t want to leave home without.

The joint Canada – United States administered program is designed to expedite the customs & border transit process by giving thoroughly screened low-risk frequent travellers an identification card that allows them to bypasses the regular questioning by customs officers in favor of self-serve kiosks at airports, special lanes at border crossings or by phone at water border gateways.

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Sample NEXUS card is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The application process does take some time and requires an iris scan, criminal background check and in-person interview with both a Canadian and American customs & border patrol agent and several people I know have mentioned this deep screening to be too intrusive for their liking. That’s their opinion and they are quite entitled to it however it’s not one I share as I know my entry & exits are tracked with the new generation passports that are swiped when before a customs agent so my rational is that they already know all about me and so going through another layer of scrutiny isn’t such a big deal and is one I’m willing to accept in return for much greater convenience.

My biggest misperception before enrolling in NEXUS was the cost as I had thought it was $50 per year when in reality it’s actually only $50 per adult for five-years and free for children under 18 years of age. Considering the countless hours I’ve saved for what breaks down to $10 per year NEXUS has is a huge value and would be something I’d pay much more for although I don’t want to give either government the idea to jack up the membership costs of the program.

It’s worth noting that there are companies in Canada who advertise their services helping applicants obtain a NEXUS card for a fee however using one of these firms will not result in faster approval and the enrollment process is straightforward enough that anyone should be able to enrol on their own so I’d recommend against wasting your money on one of these firms.

There are some quirks to the program potential applicants should make themselves aware of including the inability of NEXUS members to use the program when travelling non-members including immediate family. There is also a very strict zero tolerance abuse policy and any infraction committed knowingly or unknowingly can result in the NEXUS card being revoked but these rules however are to be expected with any government program and the advantages still far outweigh the disadvantages.

Perhaps the biggest misperception of NEXUS is that’s it’s only really useful for entering the U.S. when in reality it’s a much broader, interconnected network allowing far more shortcuts and time-savers including:

  • Expedited screening at Canadian and U.S. airports, the latter using the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Pre-Check program
  • Allows NEXUS use when arriving back into Canada from another country beyond the United States. I’ve used this several times in the last few years when flying back to Edmonton on non-stop flights from Iceland and the Netherlands. After answering a few cursory questions at the NEXUS kiosk, a receipt is printed and members may simply show this to the officer while walking through the ‘crew’ lane bypassing the regular lines which is a huge time-saver
  • Expedited customs screening when arriving back into the U.S. from an overseas flight through the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Global Entry program. For tighter times between flights in major global air travels hubs such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta avoiding lengthy customs screening lines makes for more comfortable connections

For all these benefits I enjoy when I travel I would strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t considered NEXUS membership to take a closer look beyond the preconceived perceptions at how the program really works and how it can speed up their travel experience. Now to submit my renewal application…

 

Air Canada begins taking bids for premium seat upgrades

In a move designed to sell otherwise empty premium class seats on select routes, Air Canada has launched a new program that offers ticketed passengers the opportunity to bid on Premium Economy or Business Class seats.

A number of airlines including WestJet have upgrade offers presented to passengers at time of online check-in 24 hours prior to departure but this AC Bid Upgrade initiative differs in that it allows passengers to submit their bid any time up until 96 hours prior to take off.  If accepted, the airline notifies the passenger by email 48 hours prior to flight at which time the payment is applied to the credit card provided in the bid while unsuccessful bids are advised their offer was not accepted and no payment processed. As the notice goes out 48 hours prior to departure it’s too late for unlucky bidders to resubmit another offer.

Before submitting a premium seat upgrade bid it would be worth looking at what the normal price difference between the economy and premium seats is so the bid is at least realistic and more likely to be accepted. Also worth noting is that a bid accepted by the airline becomes non-refundable and that while passengers may receive the perks of flying in a premium seat such as priority check-in and boarding or business class lounge access, Aeroplan miles are only earned on the original economy fare and not on the successfully upgraded seat class. A full list of FAQ on the AC Bid Upgrade program is here.

Having an upcoming Air Canada reservation I entered my confirmation number and after a short search the first of my four flights was displayed.

Sliding the bid amount will move the strength meter showing the chances of your bid being accepted. Bids may be made for one or all segments on a reservation as long as the flights are operated by Air Canada and the flight on one of the select routes.

I passed on submitting a bid on my upcoming Edmonton – Vancouver flight as flying in a premium seat on a short 90-minute flight isn’t an investment I would make but might consider it on future longer flights.

This isn’t Air Canada’s only way to upgrade as there are options for elite frequent flyers to use eUpgrade credits they’ve earned on premium seats as well as last minute upgrade offers given to passengers at time of check-in. This new auction program however is likely to reduce the number of premium seats available for last minute upgrade but for the airline that is a good thing as it may find it earns more revenue from bids further in advance than it had previously from lower last minute upgrade offers.

 

 

What happens when a Canadian border agent asks to search your phone?

And what can you do if it happens to you?

Hotel room safes that aren’t

In my travels I’ve seen a few hotel room safes and while the models varied there was always the thought that with the digital keypad entry safes that there must be some hotel management bypass that existed in case a forgetful guest could not recall their personal code so when I read the following article it didn’t come as a huge surprise as it seems hotels safes really aren’t as safe as guests assume. More about the flaw in this article and in the video below.

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How to hack hotel safe by actk bot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

 

 

 

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