MONEY Food & Drink

Here’s Why Starbucks Loves Pumpkin Spice Latte Customers So Much

Pumpkin Spiced Latte
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Coffee shops love you even more than you love that PSL.

Talk about a win-win. If you’ve ever wondered why major coffee outlets like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts make such a big deal about the annual arrival of pumpkin spice this and peppermint mocha that on store menus, new research provides a pretty big clue. These seasonal drinks do double duty, in that they not only boost the frequency of customer visits but also prompt customers to spend more on each “refueling” stop.

According to the industry publication Nation’s Restaurant News, the NPD Group tracked the beverage purchases at an undisclosed “major chain” last fall and winter. Customers who purchased a pumpkin spice latte spent an average of $7.81, compared with an average check of $6.67 for party poopers who ordered non-pumpkin items. There was an even bigger difference between the average check that included a white mocha purchase ($8.37), versus one that did not ($6.84).

What’s more, the NPD also conducted research correlating an increase in the frequency of visits for customers purchasing a popular seasonal shake from another unnamed “major chain” that may or may not be McDonald’s. Fans of these shakes also tended to be among the chain’s best customers. During the two months before the arrival of the seasonal shake, they made an average of 5.7 visits; once the promotional shake was on the menu, visits inched up further. Customers who didn’t purchase the seasonal shake, on the other hand, made an average of 4.7 visits during the two months prior to the limited-time offer, and 4.4 visits while the shake was available on the menu.

“These seasonal beverages have a positive impact on visit frequency,” NPD Group analyst Bonnie Riggs said. “If you can increase visit frequency by one full visit, that’s a lot of volume.”

No wonder, then, that Starbucks tries to make headlines with the announcement of when its Pumpkin Spice Latte will be back on menus (September 8 this year), and that Dunkin’ Donuts has been running a big social media campaign about the August 31 return to the menu of pumpkin-spiced products. For that matter, no wonder coffee chains and fast food franchises are constantly rolling out new limited-time offers and seasonal specialties. These items build excitement and draw in customers—who tend to spend more on each visit.

Read Next: Why McDonald’s May Start Skipping Dividends

MONEY deals

$15 Flights! Crazy Airfare Sales From 4 Airlines Right Now

Southwest Airlines
courtesy Southwest Airlines—Wieck

All four airlines have flights on sale for under $50.

The data indicates that, at long last, flights are getting cheaper. Based on this week’s crop of new airline sales—with four airlines launching sales starting under $50 a flight—it sure seems like prime time to snag a deal.

Before plotting a cheap getaway, note that availability on the fares listed below is limited in terms of both seats and dates. Be as flexible as you can to ensure the best possibility of paying the least. For the most part, forget about flying on a Friday or Sunday for a prayer of grabbing one of these bargain fares. But if your schedule allows midweek travel during the off-peak autumn season, there are some amazing deals to be had.

Frontier Airlines: From $15
Like Spirit Airlines, Frontier runs on a business model of cheap flight prices and few (read: almost no) complimentary extras. The tradeoff for having to pay for basic amenities like carry-on baggage is inexpensive airfare, especially when there’s a sale—like now. One-way flight prices start at just $19 or $20 for select Tuesday, Wednesday, and (sometimes) Saturday departures on routes such as Phoenix to Chicago, Denver to Portland (OR), Cleveland to Raleigh-Durham, and St. Louis to Orlando. In most cases, flights must be booked by August 26. In many cases, the fare is lowered to $15 with use of the code SAVEBIG when purchasing.

Spirit Airlines: From $34
Low-fare, high-fee Spirit Airlines lists select dates this fall when fares start at just $34 each way on routes such as Atlantic City to Atlanta, Philadelphia to Myrtle Beach, New Orleans to Chicago, Las Vegas to San Diego, and Orlando to Cleveland. Longer routes like Fort Myers to Minneapolis and Los Angeles to Cleveland are priced starting at just $63. These sale prices must be booked by August 26, and availability and dates are limited. Members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club can save up to $10 or so more on each flight, though paying the $60 annual fee is probably only worth it if you fly Spirit a few times a year.

Southwest Airlines: From $39
Because Southwest is the lone airline that still allows passengers to check two bags at no extra charge, this is arguably the best value of the bunch. The airline is discounting flights all over the country, and sale airfares are valid for purchase through September 3. Still, availability is limited so it’s probably best not to wait too long. The best fares start at $39 each way on a few routes to and from Washington, D.C. (Reagan) and Indianapolis, Akron, and Columbus (OH). Among the other intriguing deals are Orlando to Indianapolis ($102), Seattle to Orange County ($94), Oakland to Las Vegas ($63), and Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale ($88).

JetBlue: From $49
Bookings must be made by Wednesday, August 26, to snag JetBlue fares such as Detroit to Fort Lauderdale ($79), Hartford to Washington, D.C., ($79), Charlotte to Boston ($79), New York-JFK to Jacksonville ($99), Long Beach to Sacramento ($59), Las Vegas to Long ($49), and Boston to Richmond ($49). Fares on valid on Monday-Thursday and Saturday departures from September 8 to December 16, with a few blackout dates around holidays.

Read next: This Is the Cheapest Time of Day to Book a Flight

MONEY online shopping

The Reason You First Started Shopping at Amazon Is Disappearing

An employee pushes a cart past bays of merchandise as she processes customer orders at the Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Poznan, Poland, on Friday, June 12, 2014.
Bartek Sadowski—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Amazon's reputation for low-price supremacy is called into question.

First and foremost in its rise to the top of retail, Amazon grabbed the attention of consumers simply by undercutting the competition on price. It started in the mid-’90s with books “priced close to cost, in order to increase sales volume,” as an in-depth New Yorker story about the company put it. In lieu of profits on book sales, the business plan was this: “After collecting data on millions of customers, Amazon could figure out how to sell everything else dirt cheap on the Internet.”

And that’s pretty much what Amazon did. The Jeff Bezos aphorism “Your margin is my opportunity” became the unofficial Amazon mantra, and the world’s biggest e-retailer competed ruthlessly on price. The advent of “showrooming”—in which shoppers scoped out merchandise in stores, then whipped out smartphones to see how much they’d save by purchasing it at Amazon—hammered home the idea that saving money was the biggest reason to do business with the world’s largest e-retailer.

Why, then, does it seem that more and more consumers are grumbling that Amazon’s prices aren’t that cheap lately? In a thread on Reddit posted this week that’s gathering a lot of attention, the initial commenter griped about Amazon’s “pricing getting a little ridiculous,” explaining, “Most of the stuff I’m trying to buy, from clothes to food, is way overpriced, sometimes marked up 100%.”

Many of the 400+ comments that followed were in agreement that Amazon’s prices aren’t as cheap as they used to be. What’s especially frustrating is that shoppers routinely see that prices for many items are higher if they qualify for free two-day delivery via Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year. So in one way or another, consumers are getting the strong impression that shopping at Amazon isn’t quite the savings proposition it once was.

This is hardly the first time that Amazon’s status as the retail world’s low-cost leader has come into question. During the 2014 winter holiday season, Amazon’s online customer satisfaction ratings dropped significantly, and the overwhelming reason cited for the decrease is that pricing didn’t meet up with consumer expectations. In many instances, Walmart had cheaper prices than Amazon.

Research released just after the holidays revealed some of the strategies behind Amazon prices: While the e-commerce giant tended to have the cheapest prices on the most popular items, prices for many other goods were far higher than what shoppers might find at Walmart and other retailers. What Amazon appears to be hoping is that, after seeing low prices on one or two popular items, customers are lulled into believing that the site has the cheapest prices for everything—and this is just not the case.

Based on the recent discussion at Reddit, though, more and more consumers are becoming aware that the competition may be able to beat Amazon on price. This could be a huge problem for Amazon—after all, low prices were what originally attracted most people to the site—but at the same time, it seems as if shoppers’ main reason(s) for using Amazon are shifting.

Instead of always having the rock-bottom cheapest prices, Amazon now reliably has prices that are decent, if not the absolute lowest available. What keeps Amazon’s sales humming along, then, is that it’s convenient. The site that used to be all about saving money is now the Internet shopper’s “prime”—pun intended—resource for saving time.

The importance of Amazon Prime cannot be understated in Amazon’s quest to increase profits. Early on, Amazon discovered that Prime subscribers overwhelmingly made their online purchases via Amazon, and therefore they stopped shopping elsewhere. Naturally, a customer’s Amazon purchases skyrocket once he or she is signed up for Prime. With the assurance of free two-day shipping on most purchases, and the assumptions that Amazon’s prices are at least in the same ballpark as the competition, it might seem unnecessary for a Prime member to bother taking the time to shop around for a better deal.

What seems to be happening is that as more customers automatically, almost unconsciously turn to Amazon out of habit, convenience, and the desire to get the most out of one’s $99 Prime membership, the door has opened and it has become easier for Amazon to raise prices.

When you look at it this way, that “free” shipping that comes with Amazon Prime might not seem quite so free.

Read next: 5 Ways That Amazon Is Still Far Superior to New Upstart Jet.com

MONEY Entrepreneurs

13 Hip-Hop Artists Who Make Millions as Successful Entrepreneurs

These rappers know how to get paid.

150827_EM_HipHopMoguls_Lede_Still
Jamie Trueblood—Universal Pictures/courtesy Ever “Straight Outta Compton,” produced by rap titans Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, has been the #1 movie at the box office for two weeks.

“Straight Outta Compton,” which earned $60 million at the box office during its opening weekend, was America’s #1 movie yet again this past weekend, making it one of the biggest-ever August releases. Made for $29 million, the biopic of gangsta rap group N.W.A. crossed the $100 million ticket sales mark less than 10 days after its debut.

Among other things, what this means is that the rap world can add “blockbuster movie producer” to the long list of successful entrepreneurial endeavors it has spawned. The movie was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, the leading creative members of N.W.A. Dre and Cube are not only legends in the rap game, they’re representative of the many hip-hop artists who have been phenomenally successful outside of music, launching fashion lines, restaurant chains, luxury electronics, and liquor and beverage brands.

At first glance, it may seem odd that so many rappers become entrepreneurs. But think about it: Rappers use carefully crafted words, style, swagger, and images to sell themselves to the masses. They’re experts at making “Something from Nothing,” as the title of the 2012 rap documentary by Ice-T put it, and the most successful rappers know their audience incredibly well. After working so hard to sell themselves and their music, many rappers find it fairly natural to cross over and market other products and lifestyle brands to fans. And no matter if we’re talking song lyrics or the creation of a luxury brand of headphones, artists with roots in rap have an uncanny ability to remain relentlessly focused on money and “getting paid.”

  • Dr. Dre

    Dr. Dre speaks onstage at WSJ. Magazine's "Innovator Of The Year" Awards at Museum of Modern Art on November 5, 2014 in New York City.
    Mike Coppola—Getty Images

    In addition to being a gangsta rap pioneer with N.W.A., Dr. Dre is also the visionary who produced and called the world’s attention to rap superstars like Snoop Dogg and Eminem. And he’s been a hugely successful artist on his own, starting with his multi-platinum solo debut album “The Chronic” and continuing with this summer’s “Compton: A Soundtrack,” which was streamed 25 million times during the first week it was available on Apple Music.

    Speaking of Apple, in 2014 the tech giant acquired Beats Music and Beats Electronics, the music subscription streaming service and maker of flagship $300 headphones founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, for $3 billion. Dre’s net worth hit around $800 million as a result—and that was before the release of “Straight Outta Compton.” The deal landed Dre on Entrepreneur magazine’s list of “10 Entrepreneurs Who Defined 2014.” Also on the list: fellow musician Beyoncé, whose roots are in R&B, not rap.

  • Kanye West

    Kanye West during London Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015/16 on February 20, 2015 in London, England.
    Danny Martindale—WireImage/Getty Images

    Kanye West is no stranger to haters. At the start of his career as a producer-turned-hip-hop artist, he struggled to be taken seriously as a rapper given his middle-class background and an aesthetic that didn’t match the stereotypical industry apparel. Well into his fame, President Obama called West a “jackass” for his infamous “Imma let you finish” interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. But haters have hardly gotten in the way of West amassing his $130 million fortune—as he rapped, borrowing from 50 Cent, in The Good Life: “If they hate then let ‘em hate and watch the money pile up.”

    Beyond being one of the best-selling and most award-winning artists of all time—he’s sold over 21 million copies of his just six albums, and won 21 Grammys—he’s also founded his own record label, G.O.O.D. Music, is a part owner of the Jay Z-owned streaming service Tidal, and has directed a number of short films. And as the New York Times has pointed out, his movement into the world of fashion—from collaborating with A.P.C., Adidas, and Louis Vuitton to launching a women’s clothing label, DW Kanye at the 2011 Paris Fashion Week—has “widened the genre’s gates… for high-fashion and high-art dreams.”

  • Ice-T

    Actor Ice-T during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on July 30, 2015.
    Douglas Gorenstein—NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

    Known mostly today for his starring role in both the reality TV show “Ice Loves Coco” and the 15-year-running cop drama “Law & Order: SVU,” Ice-T first came to fame as a groundbreaking gangsta rapper with hot-selling tracks like “Colors.” But Ice-T has been many things beyond actor and rapper. Before making a living from rap, he was a pimp, thief, and all-around hustler. A partial list of his non-rap ventures once he became famous include creating and fronting a thrash metal band (Body Count), founding an online music label way back in the Napster era, launching a podcast, doing voices for multiple video games, serving as a producer for 18 TV shows and movies, co-authoring three books, and organizing this summer’s first-ever Art of Rap Festival—a concert series that takes its name from the Ice-T-directed 2012 documentary, “Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap.”

    It’s understandable, then, that the word most commonly associated with Ice-T is hustle. “New Jack Hustler” was one of Ice-T’s most popular songs—used in the 1991 movie he also starred in, “New Jack City”—but “hustle” has been part of vocabulary for a long time. In fact, instead of focusing on rap for its artistry and insights into urban culture, Ice-T has referred to it as just another way to get rich. “Rapping is a hustle to me,” Ice-T said on the VH1 documentary “Behind the Music.” “I’m not one of those guys that’s like, ‘Oh I love the music.’ Nah. I love money.”

  • Vanilla Ice

    Robert Van Winkle attends the Student Filmmakers showcase at the 2015 Palm Beach International Film Awards on March 12, 2015 in Boca Raton, Florida.
    Larry Marano—Getty Images

    It’s hard to say which is more improbable—that a middle-class white kid named Rob Van Winkle would turn into the rapper Vanilla Ice and have the first rap song to top the charts with “Ice Ice Baby”? Or that a decade after he’d had a hit song, he’d reinvent himself as a home-flipping construction guru on the DIY Network reality TV show “The Vanilla Ice Project.”

    As he told the New York Times in 2010, when the show debuted, Vanilla Ice unwittingly got his start in real estate by purchasing several homes when he was “young and dumb,” and at the height of his fame and riches. After spending barely any time in any of them, he decided to sell—and made several hundred thousand dollars in profit on each sale. He then took up the idea of “Hammer Time” more seriously, strategically buying lots and foreclosed homes in Florida, adding some value with smart improvements, and (hopefully) flipping them for easy money.

    It’s hardly an easy thing to do, though. “Fixer-uppers can be a dream or a nightmare,” he has said. “Expect the unexpected. You have to have carpenters and know how to budget projects. There are a lot of growing pains you’ll experience in your first few projects. But if you play it smart, you will find success.”

  • Nicki Minaj

    Nicki Minaj at the Marc Jacobs Fall/Winter 2015 Fashion Show at the Park Avenue Armory, New York City, February 19, 2015.
    David X Prutting—BFAnyc.com

    The reasons Nicki Minaj is everywhere—all over social media with 20 million followers on Twitter, inside Madame Tussauds in wax, and soon, even on her own mobile game app—are only partially due to rap. Throughout her career, Minaj hasn’t been focused simply on making music, but on building a brand.

    And she’s been able to extend her unique mix of attitude, sass, flash, smarts, and sex to her own personal brands of perfume and beauty products (sold at HSN), a women’s wear collection for Kmart, and a fizzy wine called MYX Fusions Muscato, among other ventures. In fact, her approach to business is often used as a paragon for how young people—women especially—should handle themselves in the workplace, including lessons on how to take charge at the office, how to rebrand yourself when switching careers or companies, and the necessity of being bold and assertive.

  • Ice Cube

    Actor Ice Cube visits 106 & Park at BET studio on January 16, 2014 in New York City.
    Bennett Raglin/BET—Getty Images

    What with the “Friday” films and family-friendly fare like “Are We There Yet?” Ice Cube’s career in movies has been arguably just as successful as his experience in rap, first as a member of N.W.A. and later as a solo artist. Both of Cube’s worlds collide in “Straight Outta Compton,” the highly profitable film released this summer that tells N.W.A’s story. Ice Cube not only served as a producer on the movie, his son O’Shea Jackson Jr., plays the role of his dad on screen.

    Ice Cube’s transition to film started while he was at the top of the rap game, in 1991, when he was cast as Dough Boy in the critically acclaimed “Boyz N the Hood.” (Ice Cube actually wrote a song with the same name a few years earlier.) He has also been in the director’s chair, for the 1998 film “The Players Club” and the ESPN documentary “Straight Outta L.A.,” about the period when the NFL’s Raiders were based in Los Angeles rather than Oakland.

  • 50 Cent

    Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, in Manhattan on Tuesday, July 21, 2015.
    Joe Marino—NY Daily News/Getty Images

    Given he launched his music career with the nine-times-platinum album Get Rich or Die Tryin’, it’s perhaps no surprise that Curtis Jackson, better known as 50 Cent, has long been a hustler. He got his moneymaking start as a 12-year-old on the streets of Queens in the late ‘80s; by the age of 18, he was raking in $5,000 a day on crack and heroin sales. Jackson’s time as a dealer culminated with a 2000 shooting outside his grandmother’s home that left him with a hole in his jaw, a piece of bullet lodged in his tongue, and a new sound: as he told Rolling Stone for a 2003 cover, “Getting’ shot just totally fixed my instrument.”

    Since his rise to music fame as the protégé of Dr. Dre and Eminem in the early 2000s, Jackson’s business spirit hasn’t let up. In 2003, he founded his own record label and clothing company, both called G-Unit. A partnership with Vitamin Water soon after landed him a minority stake in the company, which he later sold and then rapped about in his 2007 song I Get Money: “I took quarter-water, sold it in bottles for two bucks. Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions. What the f***?” 50’s more recent ventures include a headphone competitor to Beats, a high-end vodka label, and patented support technology men’s underwear.

    It was no small blow when the loss of a high-profile lawsuit forced the rapper to file for bankruptcy in July, just two months after having ranked fourth on Forbes’ Hip Hop’s Five Wealthiest Artists 2015, with an estimated net worth of $155 million. But the Chapter 11 filing doesn’t mean 50 Cent is broke—just a little low on cash.

  • Jay Z

    Rapper Jay-Z acknowledges a fan in Los Angeles April 16, 2014.
    Kevork Djansezian—Reuters

    Though Jay Z—whose real name is Shawn Carter—has gone in and out of music retirement over the past decade and a half, his status as an entrepreneur and entertainment mogul hasn’t wavered much. In addition to having owned his own nightclub, vodka company, and fashion line, Rocawear—which he sold in 2007 for over $200 million—Carter has also owned a lucrative share of the New Jersey Nets, which he later sold for a 135% gain. And in 2008, Carter founded the entertainment company Roc Nation, which in 2013 came to include a sports agency, new territory for the mogul.

    Jay Z’s net worth now sits somewhere around $550 million, but his investments haven’t all exactly gone swimmingly: Tidal, a subscription-based music streaming service owned by media technology company Aspiro, which Jay Z acquired in March 2015, was served with a $50 million lawsuit this summer. The news has prompted “99 Problems” jokes galore.

  • Snoop Dogg

    Recording artist Snoop Dogg arrives at the iHeartRadio Music Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on March 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
    Christopher Polk/NBC—NBC via Getty Images

    Hardly ever known by his real name, Calvin Cordozar Broadus, and most recently known as the “born again” Rastafarian Snoop Lion, Snoop Dogg boasts some of the most unique business ventures on our list. A major player in ‘90s West Coast gangster rap, Broadus was ushered onto the scene by Dr. Dre, who featured him on his first solo album following the break-up of N.W.A. in 1992; by 1993, Snoop was topping the Billboard 200 chart with his album Doggystyle. But Snoop’s image wouldn’t be complete without his ventures in filmmaking in the early 2000s—including the fist hardcore porn video to make Billboard’s music video sales charts and the Adult Video Network award-winning Snoop Dogg’s Hustlaz: Diary of a Pimp. In 2005, he founded his own production company, Snoopadelic films, dedicated to Snoop-themed films.

    In addition to having released his 13th studio album this May, Snoop Lion has become active in the world of venture capital. His estimated $135 million net worth includes a stake in Reddit, a high-end dog food company called DOG for DOG, and, as of earlier this year, Eaze, a California-based start-up that aims to deliver medical marijuana in 10 minutes or less. Dedicated Snoop lovers can also download his free sticker app, Snoopify, complete with not-free stickers of joints, chicken and waffles, Snoop’s face, and much else. According to the Wall Street Journal, the app was earning him $30,000 weekly in sales a month after its launch.

  • Pharrell Williams

    Pharrell Williams attends The 57th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
    Dan MacMedan—WireImage/Getty Images

    By the time Pharrell Williams launched the funk/hip-hip trio N.E.R.D. in 1999, he’d already spent several years as part of the Virgin Records production duo The Neptunes. But cash wasn’t necessarily flowing: Pharrell told Seth Meyers on his show in April that he was fired from three different McDonald’s gigs in the late ‘90s: “I was only good at eating the chicken nuggets.” (He later got even by writing the “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle used in the company’s ads.)

    The new millennium ushered in a number of production successes for The Neptunes, including Britney Spears’s 2001 “I’m a Slave 4 U” and Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” in 2002. In 2003, Pharrell released his first solo single, and it helped prompt plenty of new business ventures. Beyond founding his own record label, Star Trak, in 2002, Pharrell has amassed some of his $80 million fortune in the fashion industry. He has two clothing labels (Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream), has co-designed a line of jewelry and glasses for Louis Vuitton, and last year designed a line of T-shirts for the Japanese clothing company Uniqlo. He’s also a co-owner of Brooklyn Machine Works and textile company Bionic Yarn, both of which fall within his creative collective, iamOTHER. And somehow, he still finds time for some killer creative collaborations, including with starchitect Zaha Hadid and, more regularly, the internationally acclaimed fine artist Takashi Murakami.

  • Mark Wahlberg

    Mark Wahlberg during the premiere of "The Gambler" in Los Angeles, California November 10, 2014.
    Kevork Djansezianmdash;Reuters

    Long before he was an actor starring in blockbuster movies like “The Departed” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” Mark Wahlberg emerged on the early ’90s hip-hop scene as Marky Mark—a pseudo-rapper name he took on perhaps to distance himself from the boy band roots of his brother Donnie, a member of New Kids on the Block. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch had one major hit rap-dance song (“Good Vibrations”), and his six-pack abs and proclivity for dropping his pants helped Wahlberg become an iconic Calvin Klein underwear model long before Justin Bieber.

    As his music career fizzled out, Wahlberg turned to acting, earning critical acclaim for his starring role in 1997’s “Boogie Nights.” Dozens of films followed, and he evolved from an actor into a major Hollywood player, serving as producer (and real-life inspiration) for the HBO show and 2015 movie “Entourage.”

    In 2011, he and his brothers Donnie and Paul opened a fast-casual burger restaurant concept called Wahlburgers, which inevitably became a reality show of the same name on A&E. This past spring the company announced plans to open 66 new locations over the next few years, including 20 Wahlburgers in the Middle East, two at airports (Boston, Toronto), and a sprinkling of new restaurants in places such as Long Island, Florida, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas. Eventually, the Wahlberg brothers say there could be as many as 300 franchises around the globe. As Marky Mark once rapped, “If you ain’t in it to win it / Then get the hell out.”

  • Will.i.am

    Will.i.am arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
    Chris Pizzello—Invision/AP

    It seems appropriate that William Adams—or Will.i.am—had a couple of false starts before making it big as the founding member of the Black Eyed Peas. A debut album for Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records was shelved in 1992, and later fell through altogether when Eazy-E tragically died of AIDS in 1995. There was also a stint in the “Black Eyed Pods” before a name change and the addition of Fergie to create the rave-inspired hip-hop group we know today. After all, these days, Adams identifies himself primarily as an entrepreneur and businessman, with music coming second.

    But just as The Black Eyed Peas garnered enormous success—they’ve sold over 76 million records to date—Will.i.am has arrived at no shortage of success in the world of innovation. He’s channeled classes he took at LA’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising into creating i.am +, a fashion tech start-up most recently known for Puls, a competitor to the Apple Watch, and has partnered with Coke on Ekocycle, a project that promotes the use of recycled materials in the fashion world. He owned a founding share in Beats Electronics alongside Dr. Dre, and reaped the rewards when Apple bought the company for $3 billion last year. He’s Intel’s Director of Creative Innovation. And in 2012, he became the first artist to ever debut a song from another planet, when he premiered “Reaching for the Stars” from the Mars curiosity rover.

  • Diddy

    Sean 'Diddy' Combs attends the Sean "Diddy" Combs Fragrance Launch at Macy's Herald Square on May 6, 2015 in New York City.
    Ilya S. Savenok—Getty Images

    It’s been years since Sean Combs was topping the charts with songs like “I’ll Be Missing You,” his 1997 tribute to the passing of friend and musical partner Notorious B.I.G. But don’t feel sorry for Combs—a.k.a. Diddy, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy—who currently has a net worth in the neighborhood of $735 million, according to Forbes.

    With his Sean John clothing line sold in mainstream outlets like Macy’s, and with investments and partnership deals with huge companies like Diageo and upscale brands such as Aquahydrate and Ciroc vodka, Combs is the very picture of rapper turned entrepreneur. As for his advice about being a successful businessman, Combs told Entrepreneur.com that it’s essential to research and understand a company before getting involved. Above all, pay close attention to how the business will make a profit. He’s a believer in the phrase, “If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense.”

MONEY Gas prices

$2 Gas Should Be Making a Comeback Soon

Arco gas station, Riverbank, Stanislaus County, California, January 21, 2015.
Don Bartell—Alamy

Gas prices are expected to plunge this fall.

The current disconnect between low oil prices and relatively expensive gas prices has understandably been frustrating for American drivers. Oil prices are at a six-year low, so on the surface it makes little sense that prices at the pump would be soaring.

For the most part, gas prices are out of whack in two areas of the country—the Midwest and West Coast—and high prices there have driven the national average upward, to $2.66 today from $2.58 a week ago. Thankfully, the reasons for disproportionally high prices in these regions are expected to be addressed in the near future, and experts say we should be back on track for $2 gas by this autumn or early winter.

Specifically, refinery problems in California and Indiana have been blamed for the broader gas price hikes. An explosion at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, Calif., earlier this year has led to stubbornly high gas prices in California, including a few dramatic price hikes this summer as demand seems to have exceeded supply. (High prices in California and the West Coast have also led drivers to complain of price gouging.) Similarly, the recent outage at the BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., has caused ripples throughout the Midwest, with overnight increases of 40¢ per gallon in cities like Cincinnati. In Chicago, the current average is $3.46 for a gallon of regular, up 70¢ in a single week.

Industry experts say that these price hikes are temporary, however, and that the refinery issues in both California and Indiana will be less of a problem starting in September. Consequently, gas prices are expected to plummet this fall—assuming no other refinery problems or other complications arise.

Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service told USA Today that as the industry manages to better cope with the Indiana refinery shutdown, he expects the national average to drop 10¢ to 15¢ in early fall, followed by further decreases of perhaps 50¢ per gallon by year’s end. Seeing as the national average is currently $2.66, that could mean $2 gas for much of the country by Christmas.

The Exxon Mobil refinery in California, meanwhile, is hoping to use some older equipment and make other adjustments by next month that would allow it to significantly increase production, which has been operating at just 20% capacity for months. For a variety of reasons, though, California always has among the nation’s most expensive gas prices, and drivers there will have to be patient as prices will likely ease down slowly.

Speaking specifically about California, Gordon Schremp, senior fuels specialist at the California Energy Commission, told Reuters last week, “We are going to have very expensive gasoline at least through Thanksgiving.”

MONEY Autos

Why the Dream of Buying a Car in an Hour Might Never Be Reality

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Getty Images

"To have a proper experience, buying a car is not done in an hour."

We live in a time when cars drive themselves, people can buy stuff by tapping their phones, voice-controlled virtual assistants can save your life, and when even the U.S. Postal Service is pushing the boundaries of what once seemed possible by shipping groceries and offering same-day delivery

Yet despite our whiz-bang, one-click-purchase times, buying a car still takes forever. OK, it only feels like forever. Research from Edmunds indicates purchasing a car eats up 4.3 hours, on average, or more than half of a standard work day.

That’s probably four times longer than it should take, according to many consumers—75% of whom said in a recent survey that they’d happily conduct the entire purchase online if only it was feasible. There have been efforts to speed things up and appease customers. One car dealership has an ongoing campaign to seal each deal in 45 minutes or less. The Toyota brand Scion is embarking on an experiment to allow purchases to be handled entirely online or be completed in less than an hour at the dealership.

These examples are anomalies, however, and the standard process remains slow, confusing, and antiquated in light of modern-day consumer expectations.

The industry publication Wards Auto recently gathered several industry insider opinions on the pros and cons of car sales taking one hour or less, and if there’s a consensus, it’s that completing such a speedy sale is impossible—and even if it were possible it would be bad for business.

The logistics make it extremely difficult to get the deal done in an hour, one dealership owner said: “In the state of California, it can’t be done because there are too many regulations to cover (at the closing). Two or three hours, that’s where we want to be.”

“To have a proper experience, buying a car is not done in an hour,” another dealership owner said flatly. “There are clear pitfalls in a 1-hour deal,” yet another explained. “People don’t want to feel rushed. That’s not a collaborative effort.”

Based on these responses, it seems pretty clear that many dealerships simply aren’t bending over backwards to get customers speedily on their way. It’s just not their priority, so it’s a virtual impossibility for their customers. So if there’s one more industry consensus, it’s that dealerships think they know what’s best for consumers more so than consumers themselves—who, remember, would at least like the option of not needing an entire afternoon to complete a car purchase.

Read next: 23 Tricks to Save Thousands on Your Car

MONEY Food & Drink

What Americans Are Ordering Even More of at Lunchtime

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It ain't health food, that's for sure.

Generally speaking, Americans say they want healthier diets—more organic foods, more vegetables, less sugar, salt, and fat, and so on. But trends like the rising popularity of grab-and-go food at convenience stores, as well as the long list of “healthy” fast foods that failed to catch on with consumers indicates that often, we don’t put our money where our mouths are.

So it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that lunchtime consumption of the all-American burger is on the rise. A new study from the NPD Group refers to burgers as the “Heavy Artillery in Restaurant Lunch Wars,” providing 8.9 billion servings for the year ending in June 2015. (This is strictly an estimate for restaurant servings, not backyard barbecues and such; the total burger tally for the entire country is roughly 50 billion burgers per year.)

It bodes well for the economy that lunchtime restaurant visits in general are up, increasing 2% at casual-dining (sit-down) chains—the first time in five years midday traffic has risen for this struggling category—and increasing 1% at quick-serve (fast food) establishments as well. And it’s the humble burger that’s having an outsize influence in driving sales higher. Burger orders at casual-dining restaurants are up 3% year over year, the only part of the menu to record an increase.

Even if they’re not the healthiest options out there, the fact that burgers are tasty and ubiquitous and tend to be on the less-expensive end of the menu has certainly boosted sales. “Successful casual dining operators offer burgers that meet the tastes of their customers and are priced competitively,” NPD restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs said. “As a result, they gain lunch visitors.”

Read next: Best Places in the U.S. for Foodies

MONEY Workplace

Jeff Bezos Told Princeton Grads Kindness Is More Important Than Brains

Amazon Unveils Its First Smartphone
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Amazon's Jeff Bezos has preached kindness over cleverness.

Do Amazon’s employees suffer in a cruel, ultra-competitive, cult-like dystopian nightmare of a workplace? Or are Amazon employees “having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way,” as Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in an internal company memo recently?

This is the debate that’s been sparked by a brutal company expose in the New York Times over the weekend. The portrayal showed a Darwinian, data-driven company seriously lacking in empathy, with backstabbing colleagues and harsh punishments for employees who allowed their personal lives to get in the way of work.

Certainly, Amazon didn’t come out sounding like a kind environment in which to work. Yet as a Bloomberg story noted, Jeff Bezos has emphasized the importance of kindness in the past. In his 2010 commencement speech at Princeton, Bezos told a story cited in the New York Times article, about how at the age of 10 he used data to show his grandmother that her smoking habit had taken nine years off her life. The Times used this anecdote to demonstrate Bezos’s devotion to data, but when you read the full Princeton speech, the larger point is that, in fact, there are more important things than being good with math.

Instead of being applauded for his brains, Bezos was given a word of caution from his grandfather, whose wife was driven to tears by her grandson’s arithmetic. “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever,” Bezos’s grandfather told him.

What’s more, Bezos ended his speech with a series of questions posed to the new grads, each one explicitly pointing out that there’s a right and wrong way to conduct oneself. The last question is this: “Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?”

Some of the Amazon workers interviewed in the Times piece clearly think that some of their colleagues—and perhaps the company structure itself—focus on cleverness at the expense of others over kindness. That’s why Jeff Bezos is so upset, and why he responded to the company’s depiction in the article by saying, it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.”

Read next: You Won’t Believe How Much Some Commencement Speakers Get Paid

MONEY Millennials

These 6 Million People Have No Interest in Full-Time Jobs

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They want to work—just not 40 hours a week for one company.

The phrase “part-time worker” comes with some baggage. Assumptions are made about part-time workers—perhaps that their gigs are part-time because they’re students, or retirees whose schedules and needs don’t jibe with full-time employment. Probably the biggest assumption is that employees are working part-time simply because they cannot find full-time gigs with benefits, which could be reflective of something lacking on the behalf of the worker or shifting company policies that emphasize lower-paid part-timers.

What’s rarely assumed is that workers are part-time employees 100% due to their own choice. In fact, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by Bloomberg, there are now 6 million Americans who actively choose to work part-time. And their numbers are on the rise, up 12% since 2007.

While each individual has a different reason for seeking part-time employment as a first option rather than a fallback position, many of these workers have a few things in common. Namely, they tend to be young and well-educated. Instead of following traditional career paths, they are using part-time pay to help them pursue some version of the popular vision to follow your passion or “do what you love” during the hours they’re not on the clock.

Because these workers feel holding down a single, standard job would be limiting—and likely drudgery—the idea is to mix and match flexible, limited-time gigs with dream pursuits. By doing so, young workers can earn enough to pay the bills (maybe while still living with their parents) while simultaneously writing, making apps, helping nonprofits, or doing whatever else they love at little or no pay.

“The perfect job isn’t one job at all,” Peter Harrison, the CEO of the part-time hiring site SnagaJob, explained to Bloomberg. “It’s a mix. [Young part-timers are] saying, ‘I’d rather compose my perfect work week as a cocktail instead of drinking it straight.’”

Read next: 9 Part-Time Jobs That Pay Lots of Money

MONEY Travel

Obama Pushing to Resume Commercial Flights to Cuba This Year

The National Hotel, Havana, Cuba
Rob Rae—age fotostock The National Hotel, Havana, Cuba

Hopping a flight to Cuba is about to get much easier.

Soon after the federal government announced new rules cracking the door wide open for Americans hoping to visit Cuba, ferries and charter flight operations sprang into action to launch Cuba-bound services for travelers.

For the time being, however, the options remain limited—and somewhat complicated. Getting to Cuba isn’t as simple as hopping on a website and booking airfare to, say, Miami or Aruba because regularly scheduled commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba still do not exist. And the reason they don’t exist is that restrictions remain in place prohibiting such services.

These restrictions could soon disappear, though, if President Obama has his way. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is working on a deal with Cuba that would allow commercial flights between the two countries to resume as soon as December 2015. The momentous event would mark the first time in more than half a century that Americans could quickly, easily, and legally book passage to the Communist-ruled island nation.

Quite obviously, the aftereffects of allowing regular commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba would be huge for American travelers and Cuba’s tourism industry. “If they do that and it’s possible to book an ordinary flight instead of go on a charter, lots more people would go to Cuba,” William LeoGrande, an American University professor who has conducted extensive research about U.S.-Cuba relations, told the Wall Street Journal.

If things go according to plan, it will only get easier for Americans to get their hands on (legal) Cuban cigars.


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