Travel

A man exploited the perks of business-class travel to feast for free 35 times in a year at Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA’s) Munich airport lounge — without ever taking off.

The man used the flexibility of the one-way fare to Zurich to repeatedly reschedule his travel plans after gaining access to food and drink, Munich district court said in a statement. Lufthansa canceled the ticket after more than a year and refunded the price, only for the man to purchase a replacement.

The court ruled that lounge services are provided on the assumption that travelers will seek to fly, and ordered the man to pay Lufthansa 1,980 euros ($2,705), equal to about 55 euros per visit or more than twice the cost of the 744.46-euro ticket. Lufthansa pursued a prosecution only after the man bought the second ticket with the intention of resuming his foraging raids.

Business-class fares typically offer the flexibility to rebook when plans change, while offering perks such as access to premium lounges, conference facilities and showers. The Munich facility at Lufthansa second-biggest hub offers Bavaria’s Loewenbraeu beer on tap, together with local delicacies including leberkas meatloaf and sausages with sweet mustard.

The link is here and for the pointer I thank Hugo Lindgren.  And yes, I know there are various spellings of “leberkas.”

Activists tell of ‘being travelled’ – sent on lavish trips, chaperoned by police – to keep them out of the government’s way.

As top Communist leaders gathered in Beijing the veteran Chinese political activist He Depu was obliged to leave town – on an all-expenses-paid holiday to the tropical island of Hainan, complete with police escorts.

It is an unusual method of muzzling dissent, but He is one of dozens of campaigners who rights groups say have been forced to take vacations – sometimes featuring luxurious hotels beside sun-drenched beaches, trips to tourist sites and lavish dinners – courtesy of the authorities.

It happens so often that dissidents have coined a phrase for it: “being travelled”.

He, 57, had not been charged with any crime but officers took him 1,400 miles (2,300km) to Hainan for 10 days to ensure he was not in the capital for this year’s annual meeting of China’s legislature, he said.

Two policemen accompanied him, his wife and another dissident for dips in the ocean and visits to a large Buddha statue, he said.

“We had a pretty good time because a decent amount of money was spent on the trip – the local government paid for everything.”

Altogether eight activists have told Agence France-Presse of being forced on holiday in recent years.

The pointer is from Mark Thorson.

Montreal bleg

by on June 20, 2014 at 5:03 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Where should I eat there?  And what is the best place for vegetarian or Indian food?  I thank you all in advance for whatever aid you can offer.

Los Angeles on cusp of becoming ‘major’ walkable city, study says.”

Despite its long love affair with the car, Los Angeles is on the cusp of becoming a “major” walkable urban area. And doing so could do wonders for its real estate market, at least in spots.

That’s the gist of a new report released Tuesday by SmartGrowth America and George Washington University, which measured the number of walkable urban neighborhoods in 30 big metro areas and looked at the potential to develop more.

The original MR post was here, and for the pointer I thank…Alex.

I would cite a few:

1. Berlin

2. Kuala Lumpur

3. Mexico City

4. San Francisco

5. Seoul

6. Toronto

7. Stockholm

8. Lagos

Higher living standards count toward this designation, but they are not enough.  Vienna’s general excellence was higher in the 20s, even though the city was much poorer back then, and so Vienna cannot make the list.

Los Angeles probably peaked in the 80s and New York arguably peaked in the postwar period through the 1970s or 80s.  Chicago might have a claim.  Can you think of others?  Does Shanghai have a chance, or did it peak around 2000 or so, before it got so polluted and crowded?

What do CEOs do on vacation?

by on June 8, 2014 at 9:15 am in Economics, Travel | Permalink

Not that much in economic terms, or so it seems according to a new paper by David Yarmack:

This paper shows connections between chief executive officers’ (CEOs’) absences from headquarters and corporate news disclosures. I identify CEO absences by merging records of corporate jet flights and CEOs’ property ownership near leisure destinations. CEOs travel to their vacation homes just after companies report favorable news, and CEOs return to headquarters right before subsequent news releases. When CEOs are away, companies announce less news, mandatory disclosures occur later, and stock volatility falls sharply. Volatility increases when CEOs return to work. CEOs spend fewer days out of the office when ownership is high and when weather is bad at their vacation homes.

The published version is here, other versions are here.  Hat tip goes to the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter have a new book about risk — The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Dangers and Death — and it does actually have new material on what is by now a somewhat worn out topic.  Here is one example:

In 1951 there were fewer than 4 million registered vehicles on the roads in Britain.  They meandered the highways free of restrictions such as road markings, traffic calming, certificates for roadworthiness, or low-impact bumpers.  Children played in the streets and walked to school.  The result was that 907 children under 15 were killed on the roads in 1951, including 707 pedestrians and 130 cyclists.  Even this was less than the 1,400 a year killed before the war.

The carnage had dropped to 533 child deaths in 1995, to 124 in 2008, to 81 in 2009, and in 2010 to 55 — each a tragedy for the family, but still a staggering 90 percent fall over 60 years.

You can buy the book here.

The division of labor is indeed limited by the extent of the market:

New York City mommies with money to burn are hiring professional organizers to pack their kids’ trunks for summer camp — because their darlings can’t live without their 1,000-thread-count sheets.

Barbara Reich of Resourceful Consultants says she and other high-paid neat freaks have been inundated with requests — and the job is no small feat.

It takes three to four hours to pack for clients who demand that she fit all of the comforts of home in the luggage, including delicate touches like French-milled soaps and scented candles.

At $250 an hour, the cost for a well-packed kid can run $1,000.

There is more here, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Per mile traveled, the new list is this:

1. Cincinnati

2. Birmingham

3. Memphis

4. Dallas Love Field

5. Charlotte

A few points strike me.  First, not too long ago Cincinnati was rated as the very best U.S. airport by global standards.  At the time I thought that was silly and now we can see further reason why.  We should rate airports by consumer plus producer surplus, not by whether they scare away enough customers to make the experience a more pleasant one for the remaining diehards.

Second, these airports may have relatively high proportions of business travelers, as cited by the original article linked above at the top.

Third, theories of market power and fixed costs might predict that the most expensive airports, in per mile terms, should be found in the middle of the country or at least clustered near a lot of other airports.  Let’s say a consumer has to pay for (at least) two items in a fare.  The first is the marginal cost of the fuel and the labor, which will vary with distance in traditional fashion.  Second, consumers must pay to cover the fixed costs of “flying at all,” which would include for instance upkeep on airport facilities, maintenance, meeting FAA regulations, teaching the pilots how to land, and so on.  A lot of these costs do not vary proportionally with the length of the flight and you have to incur them for even very short flights.  Airports with a lot of very short flights thus will be more expensive on average, in per mile terms.  We also can expect these airports to be clustered in the middle of the country near a lot of other airports.

Which is the cheapest American airport in per mile terms?  It’s not in the fifty states at all — San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Just before departing for Paris, I went up to the bureau drawer and found, to my surprise, a stash of unused euros.  Wow, all of a sudden I am getting a few free days eating, I thought.  The prospect of the trip brightened, as paying $8 for a small block of dry goat cheese no longer seemed so outrageous.

I stuffed the money into my pocket — or so I thought — and headed off to the cab.  After paying the cabbie at Dulles, he gave me a big smile and said “Thank you sir for the very nice tip,” with an accent I could not quite trace.

Half an hour later, in the airport, it occurred to me that my tip wasn’t that unusually large.  What was he talking about with those profuse thanks?  And suddenly I could not find those euros in my pocket.  They must have fallen out in the cab, perhaps while I turned around to close the distant rear window so I could hear the person calling me on the phone.  Ah, so that was the very nice tip the cabbie was talking about.  Very nice indeed.

While feeling vaguely (and unintentionally) charitable, I was mortified as well.  Yes, I could afford that loss, but how unreliable my systems must be.  What else was going to go wrong?  (And I wondered whether, morally, the cabbie had in fact asked for and received my permission to keep such a nice, large tip.  Perhaps he felt the need to mention the tip to avoid highly negative consequences in some future world to come.)

Upon arrival in France, I then had to withdraw an equivalent amount of euros from the Parisian ATM.  Every time I spent that money I felt like I was losing it twice.  It reminded me of the first loss of the euros in the cab, and then I had to pay for everything yet again.  That block of goat cheese now felt like buying a diamond, and I hoped all the more that something good would come of my unintended charity.

Finally, Natasha told me that I had left a large stash on euros on the kitchen counter before departing.

But was I relieved?  Not really, in fact I now felt worse yet.  All that worry and psychic trouble and loss of confidence in my own economic rationality…and for what?  Furthermore — and indeed worst of all — I had forgotten to take those euros with me and thus missed out on a lot of free Parisian food!

The goat cheese now seemed three times as expensive.

So how will it feel when I, during my next trip, finally end up spending those euros?

I now know how to lose a bundle of euros three times, is there any comparable algorithm for spending it multiple times?

Addendum: I learned this morning that in fact Natasha has spent the euros.

1. Many people in Chengdu are experts on the local food scene.  Recruit one of them, but don’t be shocked if they insist on paying for your meal every time.

2. Go downtown to the Crowne Plaza hotel, walk out on the main road to your left, and within two minutes you will see on your left a “TangSong food street” — a covered food court about twenty-five small Sichuan places.  There is a sushi place too but I saw the customers dipping their sushi rolls in hot red chili oil.  It is heartwarming to walk into such a culinary universe.

2b. Within this court my favorite place is labeled “1862 History,” you might spot the small print, in any case the place looks spare and is somewhat larger than the very small venues.

3. MaPo tofu is much finer here, and the black peppers and quality vinegars are to be appreciated.

4. Sichuan chili chicken and Dan Dan noodles are two of my favorite Sichuan dishes back home.  Here they have been good, but actually slightly disappointing relative to expectations.  Don’t obsess over those during your quest.

4b. There are two philosophies of international trade.  In one philosophy, the best dishes are the best dishes and so you should order them at home and also order them abroad in their countries of origin.  In the second philosophy, it is the most exportable dishes which get exported but they are not in general the best dishes period.  When abroad you therefore should try out the dishes you cannot find at home.  For Chengdu at least, this second philosophy is the correct one as Jacob Viner had hinted way back in the mid-1930s.

5. Often the most interesting dishes are the accompanying vegetables.  For instance at a hot pot restaurant I had excellent elongated yam cubes coated in a (slightly sweet) blueberry sauce and stacked ever so perfectly.  It was the ideal offset to the hotness and tingle of the core dishes.  At another restaurant I most enjoyed some simple greens dipped in a sesame soy sauce.  Or try potato or lotus root in hot pot.

6. Unless you go to great lengths to avoid this fate, you will end up eating strange parts of the animal.  You won’t like all of them, but you won’t dislike all of them either.

6b. If you utter “Ma La” with conviction, they will think you are remarkably sophisticated or perhaps even fluent in Chinese.  The populace here seems unaware that some version of real Sichuan food is now reasonably popular in the United States.

7. Many menus have photos, but they show lots of red and are not useful for identifying exactly what you will be eating.  See #6.

8. There are two areas — Jin Li and Wenshu Fang — where old buildings and streets are recreated and you can stroll in a kind of outdoor shopping mall.  Everyone goes to these locales and they are fun.  These neighborhoods are good for finding lots of takeaway Sichuan snacks, including desserts, in a single area, and served in sanitary conditions.  That said, I don’t think these are the very best Sichuan goodies to be had in town, as they are designed explicitly for tourists, albeit food-loving Chinese tourists.

9.   “Chengdu food” and “Sichuan food” are not the same thing.  Sichuan province has more people than France, and Chengdu is simply one large city, and so your favorite Sichuan dish may not be a staple here.  The town also has a fair amount of Tibetan food, though I haven’t tried any.

10. If you leave Chengdu confused as to exactly where and what you ate, you probably had a very good food trip.

If you ask people here in Chengdu they will say it is doing fine, even professional economists will say that.  In fact they are surprised and unprepared to respond if you raise concerns.  Yet their answers do not fully convince me.  One said after a pause:

The economy is fine, the government said it will grow over seven percent this year.

Another said:

The economy here is great, last year we held an international congress in Chengdu.

When I raised the typical worries, they were more or less shrugged off.  There is an attitude out here – in China’s “west” – that of course these problems exist, the people from Beijing and Shanghai have been screwed up for a long time, but we fine folk of Chengdu have known about that pretty much forever don’t let it bother you now.  As a point of comparison, I spoke to a number of highly informed people in Shanghai and they were much more pessimistic about the Chinese economy.

Could it be Chengdu’s rise to prosperity is so recent — considerably postdating that of Shanghai or Beijing or the South — that such a growth experience is still the dominant emotional memory and thus it cannot be dislodged from people’s minds?  If that were the case, people out here are truly unprepared for the Chinese economic squeeze in progress and that will make it much worse.

I have seen quite a good number of empty apartment buildings along various roads and the most common sight in town is the sign “Louis Vuitton — coming soon.”

Or shall we side with the simple null hypothesis that the residents of Chengdu are right and this foreigner — and much of the foreign press along with him — is simply misguided altogether?

In any case, this visit has increased the variance of my estimate for how China will do over the next few years.

Shanghai notes

by on May 13, 2014 at 6:24 am in Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

Very good dumplings and noodle soups can be had on the streets in small restaurants for a dollar or two.  When you look further afield I can recommend Yi Long Court, a very fine Cantonese restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel.  Lost Heaven is a very good Yunnanese restaurant, get the Ti dishes, I enjoyed both branches of this place.  For Shanghai dishes, go to Jesse.

The more developed parts of Shanghai feel much more like the United States than any part of Beijing does, yet many traditional neighborhoods remain and there is plenty of good architecture from the early 20th century.  If not for the air pollution, this would be one of the best cities in the world.  It’s not that cheap, though, once you get past food and taxis.

The long, tree-lined alleys of Chinese neighborhoods have led to a superior reconceptualization of the outdoor shopping mall.

There are policemen who seem to be there to teach drivers how to back into spots using parallel parking.

For eleven years I’ve been writing about “Markets in Everything,” but here in Shanghai I transacted in one of those markets for the first time.  I went to “More Than Toilet,” a cafe/restaurant with a toilets theme.   Your chair is designed to look like a potty, and I was served my watermelon juice in a model of a urinal, with an elaborate straw, $6 for the experience.  (Who knows what I will try next?)  The food that was passing by looked horrible, like Chinese Denny’s on steroids.  I had blogged the original Taiwan branch of the place some time ago.

The luxury malls do not seem to have benches to sit down on and check your email.  But since hardly anyone is shopping in most of those malls, perhaps that doesn’t matter very much.

Parisian notes

by on May 5, 2014 at 3:32 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

By this point most of the Right Bank is mind-numbingly oppressive.  I discovered the upper part of Marais, however, and fell in love with (parts of) Paris once again.  Start on or near Rue Vertbois, explore the small streets, and end up in the food stores of Rue Bretagne, stopping many times along the way.

I’ve mostly seceded from the restaurant scene here, instead preferring to buy foodstuffs in the small shops.  I just spent seven dollars for three (excellent) artichokes.

I know exactly how long an unrefrigerated crottin can stay good in a French hotel room.

Overall, what I am seeing more of is bagel shops and e-cigarette stores.  The stand-alone fromagerie is increasingly difficult to find.

There is a separate art to ordering in Indian restaurants in Paris.  Focus on the salmon and spinach, mostly unadorned.

For the first time ever I enjoyed gazing at the Mona Lisa.

Chengdu bleg

by on April 27, 2014 at 10:33 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

After Shanghai, I will be in Chengdu.  What should I do? Thanks!