Fee Free Debit Card Bill Payments, and the Death Knell of the Airbus A380

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Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hotel Tonight also changed their referral program for the worse. I’m guessing the venture capital money ran out. The $25 credits don’t accumulate now and you can’t build a balance. Instead you simply get $25 off your next booking of $125. It was a good run. I had over 350 referrals.

  2. Jeff Jacoby’s piece on the TSA is the usual neo-conservative, anti-government rhetoric, in which anything run by the government is inherently worse than anything run by the private sector.

    His argument that in the 14 years of the TSA they have never “caught a terrorist” or “foiled a plot” is inane. How about looking at the desired outcome – that there has been NO terrorist attack on an aircraft since 9/11? To attribute this outcome to the TSA may be a stretch (we’ll never know), but it makes much more sense than Jacoby’s argument, especially given the spotty track record that the private sector had in all of the years it was running the show (especially with cargo and luggage in the aircraft hold).

    Moreover, while I agree that the security measures are theatre, how is it different from a cursory bag inspection at a Broadway theatre, a sign announcing armed patrols in suburban streets, a cop standing outside a bank, an ID check on the way into an office tower, a photo taken when entering that same building…I could go on. The reality is that crime prevention DEPENDS on theatre. That’s why we do it, and why the TSA is more effective than John’s Security Company doing the job in 2000 (and I can vouch for this, having worked with them at LAX for a decade).

    I am agnostic as to whether this job can be returned to the private sector, but let’s not do it as an ideological pursuit. Show me quality and outcomes, show me that the private sector has learned from it’s lousy tenure in the job, and then let’s make a decision. So far, the evidence is simply not there.

  3. @joe security depends on intelligence (which is different than mass data collection) and redundant systems that adapt when penetration occurs. they do not depend on theatre, and tsa performance is poor as a result of its design. the tsa does not keep us safe. we are safe because there are not that many terrorists trying to blow themselves up on airplanes, and because of reinforced cockpit doors and a change in passenger mentality to respond to any takeover attempt rather than wait it out.

  4. @ Gary – I agree with almost everything you say above, but I disagree with the idea that security depends solely on intelligence.

    There is masses of literature that argues that the best way to prevent crime is to make crime appear to be difficult to commit (hence the success of beat cops in Times Square, for example). To that end, I would argue that terrorism is a potential crime that can be prevented employing crime prevention measures as part of the approach, some or much of which is theatre, and of which the TSA is part. It is no different than the approach outside of an airport, in any major city. I would agree that we might be trying to hammer a nail with a sledgehammer, but also would argue that the science is applicable.

    Moreover, I am unclear how the private sector taking this over would make any difference to outcomes. Do we really think the private sector will do a better job? Catch more terrorists, per Jacoby’s article? Or do we just think they can do it cheaper? Either way, the evidence is simply not there.

  5. @Joe,

    I agree that kneejerk anti-government tone is annoying. BUT. The TSA is largely security theater, this is a fact. The key post-9/11 differences are that cockpit doors are locked, and crew+passengers know better than to meekly go along. Checking handbags is a much smaller factor. Now to discount security theater as useless is wrong. People NEED that reassurance, or they wouldn’t have demanded it and go along with it. EVERYONE I know of, felt better when National Guard people with M-16’s were present in airports right after 9/11. Even if it didn’t really do anything useful, and was expensive, it kept airports from becoming ghost town.

    Americans “waste” money on a lot of things, like football or gambling. If we want to go down that road, there’s no end to what someone else thinks is wasteful and inefficient.

  6. @ Gary – sorry, my mistake. But it doesn’t change the substance of my argument.

    @ Gary and Vicente – yes, locked cockpit doors are no doubt a key component to our security, as is passenger awareness. But these, at least for now, are also theatre, in that there has only been a couple of examples of anyone trying to enter a cockpit door, or passengers tackling a dangerous passenger, in the past 14 years or so. These probably are most effective because they create a perception among passengers that they shouldn’t bother trying to do something wrong.

    Look, it’s hard to defend the stupidity of not being allowed to bring a liquid onto an airplane, or taking one’s shoes off (which you rarely have to do anywhere outside of the USA anymore) – but these measures were a reaction to a real event (just like cockpit doors), and the private sector isn’t going to unilaterally remove the measure if they take over. As a result, I have yet to hear a reason why the TSA should be replaced by a private sector alternative.

  7. @Joe, if someone really wants to blow themselves up and kill a large amount of people they would of done so already at the large TSA created lines at airports. Or any other event. I think the amount of terrorist ready to blow themselves up is overblown (pun not intended), it would be rather easy to find places with a lot of people. There is a large amount of evidence that the TSA not only hasn’t prevented an attack, but they are also very bad at identifying threats.

  8. @ Nathan – “There is a large amount of evidence that the TSA not only hasn’t prevented an attack, but they are also very bad at identifying threats.”

    I can potentially agree with the latter part of your statement about identifying threats, but there is no evidence cited that the TSA hasn’t prevented an attack. They may well have. We don’t know either way.

    In any case, what are you suggesting? That we have no airport security? Or that the TSA is replaced by the private sector equivalent, that was tried and failed spectacularly on 9/11? The TSA has a better record in this regard, based on the facts. I am not saying that the private sector CAN’T do better, but so far, history suggests they haven’t.

    Ultimately, in a battle of the TSA versus private sector security when it comes to the security of our aircraft and airports and me and my family – based on the performance record – I would rather have the TSA there than some low-cost option that won a bid because they provided the best price. Amend some of the dumb rules, for sure, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  9. I am amused by the concept that because the TSA hasn’t caught any terrorists, they haven’t stopped any terrorism. I have a hard time believing anyone is foolish enough to think that if there was no security there wouldn’t have been at least one bombing (after which TSA would begin).
    I’m not against privatizing security, because if history has shown us anything, it is that the private sector does stuff better than the government, but to believe TSA hasn’t prevented any attacks is incredibly naive.

  10. Regarding the A380, that may end up being a failure financially, but no more so than the Dreamliner. Boeing has dumped over $35 billion into that program and they are still losing money on each plane. I’ll be shocked if they come out losing less than the ~$20-25b Airbus will ultimately lose with the A380.

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