Travel

As road warriors we put the Travel apps from the app store through their paces and share the best ones with you.

SPG: Starwood Hotels & Resorts

SPG App Offers Keyless Entry with iPhone and Apple Watch

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I traveled to New York City for an event this week and I usually stay at either a Hilton or Marriott in Times Square. However, this time I choose the W Hotel Times Square since it was in the same price range and located right next to the Marriott I would have chosen anyway. The current version of the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) App offers keyless entry on your iPhone and Android phone. It also offers it via Apple Watch. I wanted to give it a try. Before you get started on your travels you will need to join the SPG frequent stay program. It’s free of course and if you stay enough nights in Starwood property you’ll earn perks. Next you’ll need to download the SPG App and register your iPhone for Keyless entry. I actually did this months ago. My work travel is booked through an approved travel agency. As it turns out this interferes with the automatic nature of the keyless entry process. If you book via their app or website then you’ll automatically receive your digital key in the app 24 hours before you arrive. This way you can go right to your room when you arrive. Since I booked via a 3rd party I had to go to the reception desk upon arrival and check in in the usual manner. The staff issued me a regular plastic card key and I requested Keyless Entry. The computers were running slow so she instructed me to go on up to my room and the key would be pushed to my iPhone. I got the push notification about 20 minutes later. Of course I wanted to try it. Here’s a video:

As you can tell from the video above it takes a few taps to get to the key. The staff person actually told me that I would probably want to start brining up the key on my device in the elevator. That way the key would be on the screen by the time I hit the door. That’s pretty good advice whether you’re using your smartphone or Apple Watch.

Real World Use

SPG on Apple Watch

Sometimes the digital key just wouldn’t show up on Apple Watch

I left my room and went out for a few hours. When I returned for whatever reason the key didn’t show up on the watch. I’m not sure why, but I said no problem I’ll just use my plastic key. I pulled out the key and held it up to the door only for it to flash red. Yep, it had demagnetized. Argggh, then I remembered that it was on my iPhone. I pulled up the SPG app on my iPhone and it worked perfectly. Over the next couple of days using the SPG App on Apple Watch was hit and miss. Sometimes the key was there sometimes it wasn’t, but it worked on the iPhone 100% of the time. Hopefully these kinds of issues (bugs) can be fixed. It would also be nice to have the key as a “glance” on the watch to jump right to it. This would allow you to get to the key much much faster than the way it works today (when it works).

The SPG app also does a good job with Push Notifications as you near the property. You can also add a card to Passbook with your stay information. The push notification offered to bring up the key on my iPhone as I walked near the hotel from dinner.

The Bottom Line

We’re on the cutting edge with this technology. Most hotels have only just started rolling out this technology across their properties. Once the kinks are worked out it will be so nice to have this option on our mobile devices. It was also nice to have it work when the regular key didn’t.

You can get the SPG app here from the .

Mobile Passport - Officially authorized by the U.S. Customs & Border Protection

Mobile Passport is Finally Here!

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If you travel internationally then you know the joys of long Customs lines upon your return. It’s for this very reason that I signed up for Global Entry as soon as it was available. However, even without Global Entry, I always wondered why Customs was such an analog process. As your plane nears the United States, the flight attendants start handing out Customs forms. Of course most people don’t even have pens with them these days, but anyway you fill out the forms and then present them to a Customs agent after standing in a long line. They form asks the same basic questions about what you’re bringing back into the country.

Well now this process has finally gone electronic!

If you have the NEW Mobile Passport App you can now create a profile including taking a CURRENT photo of yourself (nope the app doesn’t allow you to choose one already saved on your iPhone), the same info that’s on your current passport and save it in the App with a pin number. You can then answer the questions in advance on your iPhone. It will create a digital receipt with a bar code that can be scanned at a kiosk upon your return, therefore bypassing the long lines. Since this is NEW, it has limitations. The first being the airlines. Currently (as of the writing of this review) it’s only supported on Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France, Air Tran, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Lufthansa, KLM, Korean Airlines, Southwest and Virgin Atlantic. The second and perhaps the biggest limitation today is that it’s only supported at ONE airport and that’s nation’s busiest airport Atlanta (ATL). If that bugs you, just stay turned. These things take time to roll out. The same was the case with TSA PreCheck. It was only at a few airports at first and only supported by a couple of airlines. Now it’s at just about every airport I’ve flown through in the past year.

 

The Bottom Line

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I’m happy to see this process go electronic for the masses! I don’t think this app will benefit me as a Global Entry member, but it will certainly help when I’m traveling with family members, friends and colleagues that aren’t in Global Entry. By the way, you still need to bring your Passport! This app is only to speed up your return. You still need your regular Passport/IDs for travel. Thanks Dave Helmly for the heads up on this app. The app is iOS only at this point with a “Soon on GooglePlay banner on the developer’s website”.

iTunes.

FlightTrack 5

FlightTrack 5 Offers A Slick Interface for All Your Flight Tracking Needs

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I’ve been a fan of Mobiata’s FlightTrack Pro for a few years now. It’s my goto flight tracker and since I travel for a living I’m using it almost weekly. When I saw that they released a brand new flight tracker FlightTrack 5, I was more than just a little curious. I wondered was this an upgrade of my Pro version or at least a peek at things to come. FlightTrack 5 is a completely new app, built from the ground up with a slicker more animated user interface. The layout is very clean and it’s optimized as a Universal app for your iPhone or iPad. This App gives you just about everything you could possibly want to know not only about your flight, but also where you’re headed. Sure you get the take off and landing times, but you also get details about the plane itself such as the model and seat maps. Flight delayed? Get alternate flights and you’re one tap away from calling the airline without having to look the number up. It can also automatically sync your flights to your calendar as well as share the flight details with anyone you choose via Messages, Mail Twitter or Facebook. flighttrack5-weather

On the iPad the experience gets even more detailed with Airport Details such as a beautiful weather forecast, and terminal maps. Unless I’m missing them I couldn’t find these extras on the iPhone. The seatmap is powered by SeatGuru and will not only show you a layout of the plane you’re going to be on, but also amenities such as WiFi, power, video entertainment, etc. You can input multiple flights and one of my favorite features is the ability enable auto deletion of flights 24 hours after they’ve arrived.

The Bottom Line

It’s hard not to love this flight tracker. However, there are definitely a few things on my wish list. First and probably the biggest reason I’ll stick with FlightTrack Pro for now is that this version doesn’t have integration with TripIt.com. All my travel plans are automatically sent to TripIt.com from my online booking tool. FlightTrack Pro automatically picks them up and populates all my flights in the app without me having to do any manual entry. I can only guess that there must be some contract negotiation going on here as to why they would omit this key feature from their new app. The other thing I’d like to see since it doesn’t support syncing with TripIt right now is at least the ability to sync manually entered flights with iCloud so that they show up on my iPad AND iPhone no matter which device I input the flights into. Lastly it would nice to send flight info to other FlightTrack 5 users so that they don’t have to manually enter my flight info as well. FlightTrack 5 offers the ability to add other contacts to your flights, why not let me send them the flights so that they can have them in their app as well? Other than those few things, this is a very solid app and I’d easily recommend it to any flyer that isn’t using TripIt.

You can get FlightTrack 5 here iTunes.

My TSA

My TSA App

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I remember teasing my buddy Rich Harrington about his use of the My TSA App. He and I are both frequent travelers and probably know the information for what you can bring on board airplanes by heart. However, the rules are always changing. I remember someone asking me “can you bring a corkscrew in your carry-on bag?” I paused for a second, cursed and downloaded the app. The answer was yes as long as it didn’t have a blade on it. Nonetheless, the App made it’s way into the “Flying” folder of my iPhone. Again today I fired up the App because I wanted to know how busy the airports would be today (the day after a holiday weekend). This is where I had a slight disappointment. Sure enough there were wait times listed, but the information in some cases was several hours old. It appears that this info is dependent on flyers loggin their own wait times. So if no one logs a wait time for your airport today, then you won’t be able to see what the wait times are. While that was a disappointment, the app is still useful for airport delays, what you can and can’t bring onto a plane and most importantly to me these days, which airports have TSA Pre Check.

What would make it better?

This app is OK, but it could be a lot better. First off upgrade the screen size to support the iPhone 5. Use real-time wait times. Let me have all the same features for any airport I pick, not just my default/closest airport. Let me create a list of favorite airports.

Air Travel can be bad enough without extra security headaches. Wether you’re a frequent flyer or an occasional flyer this app will probably come in handy. They less often you fly, you’ll probably need it even more.
iTunes

Trip Weather - Forecast for Every City of Your Tour.

Trip Weather – Forecast for Every City of Your Tour App

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I have several great weather Apps. On Monday I even showcased a new one called Haze. While these apps are great at showing you all about the weather for a given location, they are all missing one thing. They are all focused on one location at a time and not geared to show you a forecast for multiple cities on a trip or tour. I’m currently on the Adobe Create Now World Tour and in some cases going to a different city each day. As I was flying from Baltimore to Milwaukee with a layover in Minneapolis and then later driving to Chicago I wondered what the weather was going to be like for those destinations on the days I’d be there? While I can certainly sit down and put each city into any of my weather apps, I wanted to have an App that gave me the upcoming weather for multiple cities in one view. Trip Weather was the 1st one that I found to give me just that. The concept is simple. You enter the cities and the dates you’ll be in those cities. When you’re done, you’ll have a scrolling display of your weather forecast for your upcoming stops. It does this well.

Great, but I want more detail sometimes

The App does exactly what it says it does and I can’t fault it for what it does. However, what I’d like to see in an update is the ability to tap on any given day/city and get more details for that day/city. Perhaps it would expand with an hourly forecast. Other than that simple request Trip Weather was exactly what I was looking for. I even like how it’s in the Travel category on the App Store instead of the Weather category. It’s definitely a travel tool more than a weather app. If your travels include multiple back to back destinations, then you definitely should check out this app.

iTunes

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