Avoid taxi scams in Buenos Aires, Argentina

They say a fool and her money are soon parted. I’ve never considered myself a fool, yet I hadn’t even reached the hotel when I found myself scammed out of $200 by the most cheerful taxi driver you would ever meet. No doubt his successful scam improved his mood further.

It didn’t take me too long to figure out that I’d been scammed, of course by then it was too late and I’d already donated to the cause of unscrupulous Buenos Aires taxi drivers. To rub salt in my wounds I was scammed not just once, but twice.

Taxi driver scams by charging in Dollars instead of Pesos

Be careful of Buenos Aires taxi drivers
Be careful of Buenos Aires taxi drivers

I thought we had done everything right. On arriving in Buenos Aires we went to the taxi stand to get a taxi. It’s always a good idea to get a taxi from the official taxi stand, rather than rely on someone who accosts you on your way out. At best they’re not fully legal and licensed as a taxi driver, at worst it could be life threatening.

After getting in the taxi the driver asked us if we spoke Spanish. He was a jovial sort, so we joked around a bit and said that we knew a few words – gracious, olya and the like. My guard hadn’t yet been raised. We chatted a bit on the way to the hotel, the taxi driver pointed out a few sites, and in general seemed a good, likable person.

After dropping my coworker off at her hotel we were off to the last stop. I was staying the the Marriott Plaza in Buenos Aires. The taxi driver pulled up next to the hotel, and then proceeded to give me a receipt for $120. US Dollars. I was initially taken aback. I hadn’t expected quite a high charge, but it wasn’t that far off a similar ride in Seattle – a ride about 70% as long costs $60 in Seattle. So after some questioning I decided to pay, after all he had an official receipt and all.

That was my first mistake. The price of a taxi from the airport to my hotel should have been about 180 Pesos, or about 1/4 of the price I was actually charged. I only found this out afterwards.

The first two mistakes I made were being so cavalier about not speaking the language, and not being firmer when the price seemed too high. I’m told that a good way to handle a situation like this in the future is just to walk away without paying.

Be careful of taxi drivers switching bills

The second scam happened so close to the first it still boggles my mind. I gave the taxi driver $140 – one hundred and two twenties. The second twenty being a tip (ahhh, how naive Vanessa, how naive…).  No sooner had I given him the money when he turned around and said, “No, you only gave me $41”. He held out the $41 back to me. Thinking I’d made a mistake I took the $1 and gave him two $50 bills back. It didn’t occur to me until later that in the split second he was out of site he’d switched my $100 for a $1, and proceeded to scam me out of the second $100.

Scammed even when you know it’s coming

Lest you think I was just ditzy, or perhaps a little jet lagged and not paying attention, let my coworker’s tale offer some more caution. Upon realizing that I was scammed I dashed off an email to my coworkers who were due to arrive the following day, letting them know the appropriate procedure – pay inside the airport with a credit card, and don’t get charged more than 200 Pesos.

With this warning in hand they successfully made it to the hotel without getting scammed. However it didn’t take more than two days before one of my coworkers was scammed in a very similar fashion to my bill switching event.

Bill switching scams come in all varieties

It was later at night, and he may have had a drink or two. The taxi driver asked him for 100 Pesos for the ride. My coworker handed him a 100 Peso bill, and within a split second he turned around and complained that the bill was torn, and asked for another one instead. Obligingly, my coworker fished another 100 Peso note out of his wallet and handed it to the cabby. Who then promptly turned around and complained that the note was fake, and handed it back to him.

In exasperation my coworker dug out another two 50 Peso bills and handed it to the taxi driver. It wasn’t until the next day that he discovered the slight of hand. The taxi driver had switched out the 100 Peso bills for fake ones each time, and scammed another 200 Pesos from our group.

In Buenos Aires a tourist and her money are soon parted. Be careful, and don’t trust the cabbies!

A Crooked Taxi Driver Caught on Camera

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha_soNGADMY]


Photo by trekearth.

Tumi Vapor International Carry On for $220 – a 55% savings!

A great deal on Tumi Vapor International Carry On
A great deal on Tumi Vapor International Carry On

The Tumi Vapor International Carry On is a stunning piece of luggage – lightweight, sturdy and well constructed. It’s the traveler’s travel companion. At just a hair over 7 pounds, it’s 4 wheels glide effortlessly over the airport walkways to land you at your destination with your shoulder still in tact. It’s high prestige comes at a high price, weighing in at $495 this puts it out of reach for all but the most ardent travelers.

This Black Friday you can get an amazing deal that puts luxury within reach – here’s how you do it!

  • Ebates is offering 20% cashback on purchases for Black Friday – Sign up here.
  • Go to ebags.com through the shopping portal
  • Choose the lava or art deco version and you’ll notice the price drop to $396
  • On checkout, enter the code GXYFACN20OCT for a further drop in price to $295.20
  • Combined with the 20% cashback from Ebates this comes to: $236.16
  • Sign up for e-rewards and you’ll get another $14.76 cash back to bring your total to $221.40

Congratulations! You’ve just purchased a $495 piece of luggage for $220 – A savings of almost 55%!!

I hope that the Ebates portal is stackable with the 20% off coupon code, even without the additional 20% off it’s still a great deal!

 

A great deal on Tumi Vapor!
A great deal on Tumi Vapor!

 

 

Wally Park disappoints – again

Ever since that fateful day 13 years ago when I found out that MasterPark offered a discount to Microsoft employees I have been hooked. Addicted to the convenient valet parking, friendly staff and speedy time to the airport I have used them again, and again, and again. It’s even to the point that some of the employees recognize me, and I’m known as the skydiver who travels a lot to California.

Wally Park disappoints
Wally Park disappoints

However, in my relentless quest to optimize my travel budget (and experience) I decided to give Wally Park a try. Wally Park has two things going for it – firstly it’s self park lots are cheaper – $10.95 vs $14.95 at Masterpark, that’s before a generous 25% discount for AAA members. Secondly, Wally Park offers a loyalty program which gives you a free day of parking for every 7 days you’ve parked. That’s perfect for the business traveller, because I’m able to accrue those free parking days while on business and spend them on pleasure.

A cheaper price for airport parking is not enough! 

My first experience with Wally Park was on my recent trip to Buenos Aires for work. I parked with Wally Park for 6 days in their garage. This is the top of the line service offered in the Seattle area, and comes with Valet, fancy mats between car doors to prevent dings and a garage to protect your car from the elements. The first snafu was when I tried to pull up to the valet. It was confusing on how to enter the garage and where to go. Set in the middle of shops and other buildings it’s not easily accessible at all. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “now that I’m in it can’t be too bad”.

I was wrong, I guess my experience with MasterPark had set my expectations unrealistically high. I had expected to pull up, hand my keys to someone, get helped with my bags into the shuttle and be whisked off to the airport. No dice. I pulled up, gave my keys to someone who begrudgingly accepted them. After I hefted my luggage to the shuttle I was asked if I wanted coffee. “No,” I said, before thinking to myself, “I don’t want coffee, I want you to take me to the airport.” Then came five minutes of sitting in a freezing shuttle before we finally left, taking what seemed like the long way round to get there.

Fool me twice, shame on me

For my next trip I decided to park in the Wally Park self-park lot. They have a great rate of $10.95 a day, and I diligently reserved my place online the night before. It’s pretty far from the airport and takes about another 10 minutes for me to get there over MasterPark, but I thought the points would be worth it. I was wrong! I get there to find a small dumpy lot with no parking spaces available and one grumpy attendant who was quite unhelpful when I told him I had a reservation.

Strike two.

I quickly left and headed for old reliable – MasterPark Lot C.

MasterPark Shines!

It didn’t take more than a second to feel at home. I was greeted warmly when I pulled up, the attendant grabbed my luggage and within a minute we were off to the airport. In the time it took Wally Park to leave the garage I was already checking in at the gate thanks to Master Park.

This Seatac parking review has it right – Wally Park disappoints, MasterPark shines!

I won’t soon be parking anywhere else again. Thanks for the great experiences over the last 13 years MasterPark – here’s to the next 13!

This is f**king bullshit!

On my flight from Atlanta to Seattle I had the good fortune to experience the nicest airplane I’ve ever flown on. It was a brand new Delta 737-900. It reminded me very much of the new interiors that Alaska is starting to roll out as well, except Delta has added three magical features to the plane. Every seat back has it’s own built in entertainment center – complete with something I have never before seen on an in-flight entertainment system – a touch screen that actually works.

Built in to the entertainment system is an easy to find and use headphone port, and a USB port for charging your iPhone, iPad or other personal electronic device! They didn’t stop there. Each row comes with two plug points for charging heftier devices like MacBooks. Magic, I mean truly magic.

When this rolls out to more planes we can stop our frantic search for a power outlet in the airport and rely on our devices being fully powered at all times. At my fiancé’s urging I bought a Mophie battery pack for my iPhone which is more than enough for a domestic flight, but 15 hours music-listening, game-playing flying will stretch even this battery combination. I’m not quite ready to carry around my own personal battery arsenal.

So I’m sitting here participating in the miracle of heavier than air flight luxuriating in the wonderful amenities and quite enjoying my economy comfort seat when it happened.

Wifi didn’t work. This is bullshit!

Louis CK - This is bullshit
Louis CK – This is bullshit

😉

Naked for the first time in an airport!

It was bound to happen sometime. 8:20am on Friday November 22nd I found myself naked in the airport. The whole experience liberated my spirit, refreshed my mind and rejuvenated my body. I had just flown in to Atlanta from Buenos Aires and the feeling of parting with clothes you’ve worn for a day and slept in for a night was heavenly. A small wave of anticipation tingled through my body as I took of my panties and stepped into the shower.

Airport bathroom and shower
Airport bathroom and shower

On the advice of a friend I recently signed up for the American Express Platinum, and so far it has been worth every penny of the $450 annual fee. Along with a whole host of goodies it gives you and two guests airport lounge access to Delta and American lounges. The Delta Sky Lounge in Terminal E at ATL (Atlanta airport) is nothing short of spectacular.

The lounge is a vast array of varied seating – whether you’re working, or napping, grabbing a bite to eat or socializing it’s got a spot for you. Complete with a full bar and snacks it is an airport oasis for weary travelers. All the Delta lounges in ATL are fantastic, but the one in Terminal E is particular special because they have private showers you can use.

It took me a while to convince myself to take the plunge. Despite TSA’s best efforts, the idea of getting naked in an airport, however private it may be, is still a foreign one to me. The showers are located near the back of the Delta lounge, past the bar and upon entering you quickly realize this is closer to a spa than an airport.

Towels, soap, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion – even a toothbrush and toothpaste – are all provided for you. Your private room has a bench, basin, toilet, and of course, a shower. Though a little spartan it is spotlessly clean and nearly perfect

I turned up the hot water, and let the last ten hours of flying wash off my body. With each passing minute I relaxed a little more and any remnants of my stress swirled down the drain along with the soapy water. I began to feel ready for the final 5 hours of my journey – which would take me from Atlanta to Seattle.

Thank you Delta and American Express for making my first naked airport experience a good one. I look forward to many more!

A mini bar so sad I couldn’t help myself

I was feeling the time zone differences on my first night in Argentina so I decided to raid the mini bar. This is usually against my better judgement because you are almost guaranteed to be ripped off.

What I found was so sad I couldn’t help but share it. Two bottles of mineral water. That’s it. Thankfully room service had a late night menu which I’ve since ordered from…

The saddest minibar known to man
The saddest minibar known to man

A great deal on Bose Quietcomfort Noise Canceling Earbuds – 25% off!

Bose QuietcomfortOne of the perks of staying up to date with the frequent flyer forums and blogs is you find stunning deals. Sometimes these deals are for something you didn’t know you needed (and probably still don’t), and other times they’re for a remarkable item that will genuinely make your life better.

My experience this week was the latter. Thanks to a recent post on Hack My Trip I was able to get the $300 Bose Quietcomfort earphones for just $222 – that’s 26% less than retail!.

Up until now I had been lugging around my old Quietcomfort headset. It works great as far as noise cancellation, but as the frequency of my travel increased so has the number of gadgets I bring. And I between my work Macbook, personal Macbook, iPhone, iPad, healthy snacks and ziplock bag of 3oz containers there’s not much room left in my little travel backpack.

Getting a great deal on the Bose QuietComfort Noise Canceling Earbuds is a SNAP!

  1. Sync your American Express card with either Twitter and tweet #AmexSharperImg (you can also sync it with Facebook and go to here to find the offer). This will save you give you a $25 statement credit
  2. Sign Up for the TopCashBack shopping portal, and then search for ‘Sharper Image’. You’ll get 12% cash back
  3. Use the promo code AFF30 when checking out on Sharper Image to save an extra $30

All that’s left to do is enjoy the silence that comes without any additional heft.

Anyone want a pair of Bose QuietComfort 15 Headphones? 🙂

Alaska Air I love everything about you except…

I spend a lot of my time in airports and on airplanes escaping the cold and rainy Seattle weather for warmer, and more skydiving friendly,  climes. Many times it is at the bidding of my employer, though just as often it is with my own ends in mind. The amount of time I spend at airports is  perhaps underestimated by my annual mileage. This year I’ll do around 90,000 miles, but so many of those are short trips between Seattle and Los Angeles.

Alaska Air loungeThis year I decided to take the plunge, and sign up for the American Express Platinum. At $450 a year the annual fee is not something to be taken lightly. I felt the few moments of silent bliss in an airline’s board room lounges, as well as the free food and drink would turn out to be ample compensation for the fee. One month in to my Amex Plat tenure I’m not disappointed.

They offset the fee by offering you free Global Entry (worth $100 every 5 years), and up to $200 off incidentals at the airline of your choice (works for $100 Alaska Air gift certificates too). So this comes to $150 this year, a very modest fee all things considered.

Needless to say, I’ve been trying out as many airline board room lounges as my flight schedule will allow in the last month, and have come away disappointed at least once.


Alaska, oh Alaska, what is that hovel you call a board room lounge at Gate D?

In some future post I will wax poetic about all the things I love about Alaska Airlines, but today is not that day. After a few flights on Alaska  over the last month I find myself on a Delta flight to Buenos Aires. At my employer’s behest, but such a wonderful opportunity is not something I would pass up.

Delta flies out of the S Gates at Seatac International. Far away from the usual C/D/N Gates of Alaska Airlines. Thankfully, the American Express Platinum grants free access to the Delta Sky Club board room, which is where I sit as I’m writing this.

When I arrived I was expected a fairly modest affair. Some tea, maybe a cookie, some vegetables and a slightly less cramped and dirty experience than the general seating outside. I was blown away!

Delta’s boardroom at Seatac is a veritable palace compared with the hovel that Alaska calls a board room lounge over in Gate D.

It’s light, quite, comfortable with plenty of room and easily accessible drinks. They even have a bar complete with bartender – which I would enjoy were it not 7:20 in the morning…

Wow! All I can say is – I love everything about Alaska except for that hovel of a board room lounge over in Gate D.