Tuesday, October 28, 2014

USPS is Pretty Good for Packages, But....

I use USPS.com to ship packages a lot.  I like using USPS.com to ship packages.  It gives me the rate, I pay for it, I put the package in my mailbox, and the service generally provides tracking.  I use Priority Mail a lot for packages, which does provide tracking.  I don't have to take the package to another location, like the horribly customer-unfriendly Kinko's a few miles away.  I don't get suprised by charges later, such as "rural delivery surcharge" and fuel surcharges, like Fedex loves to charge -- after they've quoted me a rate! 

But, still, USPS can improve.  For one thing, you choose a day for your package to go out.  If you choose a date, then your package HAS to go out that day.  If it doesn't go out that day, then you have to void your label that you printed, ask for a refund (which takes 3 weeks), and print out another label.  So why, when the USPS site gives you a choice of days to send your package out, can't they tell you that "Monday is Columbus Day, so you should not choose this date."  Why can't they not offer a postal holiday as a choice when you are shipping a package?  It sure would make things easier for their customers. 

Here's something that just came up today when I tried to order shipping supplies from USPS.com.  Why can't they just let you know upfront that you can't order more than one of these boxes?  Why allow that quantity box to be set by the customer if you aren't going to let him order more than one? 




Monday, October 27, 2014

A Hotel Booking Site That Makes It Difficult to Cancel

I am planning a trip to Las Vegas for a diving show. 

I use the website Kayak a lot for planning my air travel.  They own a website called Jetsetter which sends emails about nice hotels in nice destinations, and supposedly great deals.  I started getting their emails and tried them out, booking a hotel in Vegas through them.  I was not impressed with them and cannot recommend them (I do highly recommend booking.com and tripadvisor, both of whom I use regularly to book hotels). 

Jetsetter takes your money immediately after you reserve your hotel room -- in full.  They not offer any way to cancel your hotel room on their website. You have to send an email or call, which I always find suspicious (it's just too easy for a company that has your money to not return emails or calls).  Because they take your money immediately,  there's no recourse of filing a credit card dispute if you want your money back. Being forced to call or email to cancel a reservation is 50% of the problem in my book: they only answer phones from 9am-6pm EST. I have also found that the prices on Jetsetter are not great deals -- other booking sites had lower prices. 

It's too bad. 

The Best Sites for Air Travel

I used to travel a lot.  Because the airlines have turned flying into such a miserable experience, I fly a lot less these days.
I still do keep up with the rules and regulations regarding air travel.   I've been a United elite-status flyer for a long time, and I am very familiar with their policies.
Here's a little-known fact: all airlines are required to allow you to cancel your flight within 24 hours of making the booking at no charge, as long as the flight booking as 7 days out or more.  If you book a flight on the United website, you can cancel that booking within 24 hours easily on their website.
Not so with US Airways! With US Airways, once you book and pay for a flight, you are ostensibly given that 24 hour window, but the truth is that they make it just about impossible to cancel the flight. You can't cancel a flight on the US Airways website.  Instead, you get a message as follows:
You're allowed to cancel your refundable or non-refundable ticket for a full refund (and no change fees and/or difference in fare) within 24 hours of booking.

Rules:
   You must call 800-428-4322 (800-245-2966 TTY) within 24 hours of purchase to cancel the reservation and request a refund.
    The reservation must have been booked at least 7 days before scheduled departure.

I tried calling the above number twice this past Sunday at 10am and 11am (to get a seat assignment, same phone number) and guess what?  I never was able to get a representative!  So if you book a flight on US Airways, then you will have a really, really hard time cancelling that flight within the 24 hour window.  Be prepared to sit by your phone, on hold, for hours. 

The US Airways site was deficient in another way.  While and after booking a flight on the US Airways site, I could not assign myself an aisle seat. I always got the message “seat map not available.” Yet if I looked at the flight on the Expedia website, it showed the seat map for the second flight, and showed that the flight was only half full. Expertflyer showed available seats on both flights. The Expedia website had seatguru's seat recommendations on the seat map, which was nice.

I kept checking the US Airways website to try to change my seat assignment.  On Sunday around 10am, I was able to get a seat map to come up for my second flight, and I was able to change to an aisle seat.  I kept trying to call US Airways to change my first flight seat assignment.  They have an option for you to check your seat assignments on the phone, but you can't change those seats on the phone using their phone robot – he tells you to hold for a representative (yeah, right) and do it online (but I can't get the seat map to come up online!).  As I mentioned above, I never got a representative despite waiting on hold for a total of 30 minutes. 

I finally was able to get a seat map to come up online for my first flight and was able to change to an aisle seat.  Finally. 

Expedia seems to be a good way to buy a ticket.  I have never used them or similar sites like Orbitz to actually book a flight.  I wonder if Expedia charges a fee to issue a ticket, if they generally let  you choose your seats from a seat map, and if they allow you to cancel your booking within 24 hours easily. 



Here are some travel sites that I use regularly and recommend:
ITA Matrix site to research flights
Kayak to research and book flights
Hipmunk to book flights (occasionally)
ExpertFlyer: this is a service that seems to have a ton of potential if you want to research seats on flights, and upgrade.  I've just started using this site.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Seastacks, Olympic National Park Coastline, Washington State



In search of tidepools, I took a series of images to create this panoramic shot of a beach in the Olympic National Park, Washington State, last week.  No great tidepools here so far, but awesome beach scenes.  I'll be back for more low tides. 

This was a series of handheld shots which were then merged by Photoshop into this panoramic image.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Trip to See and Photograph Great Hammerhead Sharks This February 2015


Hi Diving Friends:

I would like you to know that I will be participating (as part of the trip group, not as a trip leader) on a trip to see and photograph great hammerhead sharks.  The trip dates are  February 15-21, 2015.  Trip participants will fly into and stay on Bimini Island and going out on a boat by day.  Contact Joe Romeiro for more information about the trip at info@joeromeiro.com. 

I've seen images of great hammerhead sharks from this area, and they are stunning.  These are big sharks, stunningly bizarre and beautiful up close.  Here's a tip from one of my underwater photographer friends, “If you want great great hammerhead images, go with Joe Romeiro.  The others cannot deliver what he can.  That is my advice.” 

I'll be on the trip as a “regular” diver and will be happy to give scathing criticism of other divers' photos and to incessantly show my images and talk about them in favorable terms as well.  Just joking.

Clear and Warm, Schools of Jack Mackerel: Catalina Island This Summer Was Awesome


I dove Catalina Island for a week this September with my friend and rebreather guru Alan Studley, aboard the very nice Scuba Luv day boat.  The water was warm and clear (74 degrees!).  Schools of jack mackerel were everywhere.  The garibaldi were out in their full orange splendor.  I could dive for hours with just a thin tropical wetsuit.  Heaven on earth! 



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Panoramic Image of Swimming Hole in the Smith River, California


I've not posted new photos for my blog in a while; been on a road trip with my old friend Andy Day.  I've become enamored with finding nice swimming holes; I highly recommend an iPad app called "Oregon's Swimming Holes." 

Here's a recent panoramic image of a beautiful swimming hole in the Smith River, which is near the California and Oregon border.