MONEY home prices

This Is America’s Biggest, Priciest New Home

Construction continues at a home being built by Nile Niami, a film producer and speculative residential developer, in this aerial photograph taken in Bel Air, California, U.S., on Monday, May 18, 2015. Niami, who hopes to sell the house for a record $500 million, is pouring concrete in L.A.s Bel Air neighborhood for a compound with a 74,000-square-foot (6,900-square-meter) main residence and three smaller homes, according to city records.
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images Construction continues at a home being built by Nile Niami, a film producer and speculative residential developer, in this aerial photograph taken in Bel Air, California.

An insane mansion is rising in Bel Air.

When the Los Angeles Business Journal reported last summer that work had gotten under way on a megamansion construction project in Bel Air, Calif., the property was expected to measure around 85,000 square feet, including a 70,000-square-foot main house. The New York Times wrote about the NIMBY issues being raised by property last December, when the expected listing price was estimated at $150 million.

These numbers are enormous, astronomical, absurd—hard for the average person to fathom, let alone afford. Yet apparently, these figures were on the low side.

The latest on the property, as reported by Bloomberg News, has it that the compound will exceed 100,000 square footage of living space, including a 74,000-square-foot main residence and three smaller houses on the four-acre property. If this turns out to be true, the Bel Air property would trump the notorious 90,000-square-foot estate in Orlando featured in the documentary The Queen of Versailles for the title of America’s largest recently built home. (The White House, by the way, is a mere 55,000 square feet.)

What’s more, the developer, film producer and speculative real estate investor Nile Niami, says that $150 million is chump change. He plans on putting the property on the market for the more fitting sum of $500 million. Bear in mind that the most expensive price ever paid for a home was $221 million for a London penthouse in 2011, and that no home in the U.S. is currently listed for more than $200 million.

In any event, what does one get in a Bel Air megamansion that measures potentially 100,000 square feet and costs potentially $500 million? Here are some of the key figures:

• 30-car garage
• 5,000-square-foot master bedroom
• 4 swimming pools, including a 180-foot infinity pool
• 1 “jellyfish room” with glass fish tanks on three sides
• 45-seat IMAX-style home theater
• 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean, Beverly Hills, downtown L.A.
• 74,000-square-foot main mansion
• 100,000+ total square feet on property’s four homes
• 8,500-square-foot private nightclub inside the mansion
• 40,000 cubic yards of earth to be removed for construction
• $500 million expected listing price

MONEY Airlines

The Best Airfare Deals Are Now in First Class

people toasting in first class
Getty Images

This may be the summer you can afford to sit up front.

The price of first-class airfare within the U.S. keeps getting cheaper—at least when compared with flying in coach. Data cited by the Wall Street Journal shows that in April 2015, the average first-class seat on a domestic flight cost $577 more than its coach counterpart. Back in April 2012, meanwhile, the cost difference between flying in first class versus coach was $805.

Before you begin marveling at what seems like the generosity of airlines with respect to first-class pricing, let’s look at what’s really happening here. First off, one reason the price premium flyers can expect to pay for first class has dropped is simply that coach airfare has gotten more expensive—rising more than 10% annually, and crossing the $500 mark for the average round trip last summer.

Secondly, by lowering first-class airfare prices and strategically dangling tempting upgrade fees in front of frequent fliers who already purchased coach seats, the airlines are able to derive more revenues out of the seats at the front of the plane that otherwise would have been empty or perhaps been given to elite frequent fliers as free upgrades. Using such strategies, the airlines have collectively increased the number of first-class tickets sold by 48% over the last three years.

Even if passengers are paying less for first class than they used to, the airlines are happy with this arrangement because it’s better than giving away upgrades. At the same time, this tactic runs the risk of irking the loyal frequent fliers who have grown accustomed to such upgrades.

In any event, the WSJ pointed to several examples of domestic flights in which the costs of first-class seats were only marginally more expensive (10% to 40%) than sitting in coach. “On many trips, the first-class price isn’t much more than coach, especially if you planned to pay for extra-legroom seats in coach anyway,” the article explains.

Delta in particular seems to have an abundance of special first-class airfare deals on the table this summer, including a “Pride Sale” with first-class fares from $113 each way to New York City, Seattle, and Minneapolis coinciding with major LGBT pride events in early summer. Another Delta promotion lists first-class seats from Alaska to Seattle starting at $184 each way on Tuesday and Saturday departures this summer. Flying in first class on such a route has been known to run $500 or more easily, one way.

MONEY Travel

Why Travelers Should Love It When Travel Stocks Tank

paper airplanes crashing around trashcan
Nicholas Rigg—Getty Images

Bad news for investors may be good news for travelers—and vice versa.

For quite some time, airline stocks were on a tear. The Dow Jones airline index was up 75% over the 12-month period ending last July. High airfares and fees combined with cheap fuel prices resulted in record high profits for airlines last year, and the trend continued through the first quarter of 2015 with more all-time-high profitability.

Yet all of a sudden last week, airline stocks took a nosedive. The six-day period that ended Tuesday was the worst stretch airline stocks have experienced in over seven months. After dropping 2.4% on Tuesday, the sector had dipped nearly 9% overall over the past week or so. Shares of Delta, American Airlines, and Southwest have all dropped by more than 10%. What happened?

The blame is largely being cast upon Southwest Airlines. Its crime? Expansion. Despite the recent uptick in the price of fuel, Southwest stated last week that it would save at least $1.2 billion in fuel costs this year compared to 2014. Cheaper fuel has made the idea of adding more flights and routes more attractive. The carrier now expects seat capacity to grow 7% to 8% this year versus 2014, and in 2016 it anticipates capacity will increase another 6% to 7%.

Expanding at a time when costs are low might seem to make a lot of business sense. Yet over the past few years—the era of mergers and oligopoly—airlines stressed “capacity discipline” over growth as a means to keep profits high. They have slaughtered unprofitable routes and dramatically scaled back service at former hubs like Cleveland, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh in order to keep flights as full as possible. United CEO Jeff Smisek summed up the unofficial mantra of the modern airline industry earlier this year when he said, “We will absolutely not lose our capacity discipline … It’s very healthy for us and very healthy for the industry.”

To investors, Southwest’s increased growth plans throw a wrench into the works. “Domestic capacity discipline has effectively vanished,” Wolfe Research airline analyst Hunter Keay said with respect to Southwest’s move.

Essentially, Southwest is upping the competition for customers. Imagine that! This scenario is wonderful for travelers, who have been subjected to increasingly high fares and fees across the board, as well as fewer and fewer choices in routes as the airlines decided to maintain “discipline” in the quest for higher profits.

Southwest’s competitors, on the other hand, aren’t fans of this turn of events because they are being forced to, well, compete—with more flights and (likely) lower fares to match Southwest. Understandably, many airlines would prefer to increase capacity only when it is overwhelmingly clear that demand warrants it, and only when they are assured airfares could remain high. Airline investors would prefer a less competitive industry as well, as it would mean steady, reliably high profits.

Interestingly, a recent dramatic change in the stock prices of another travel category—rental cars—also has implications for the average traveler’s budget. In mid-May, rental car giant Hertz, which also owns the Thrifty and Dollar brands, announced it was raising rates this summer, adding $5 per day and $20 per week onto many rentals.

Obviously, this isn’t news travelers want to hear, especially not on the cusp of the summer vacation season. Investors, on the other hand, loved the move, not only in terms of what it means for Hertz but for the rental car industry in general. As the New York Post noted, immediately after Hertz’s announcement, the company’s stock shot up 5%, while shares of its main competitor, Avis, soared more than 10%.

MONEY Autos

This Is the World’s Most Valuable Auto Brand

2015 Toyota Camry
David Dewhurst Photography 2015 Toyota Camry

Despite a strong year for industry sales overall, the top automaker saw its value drop.

Toyota is worth 2% less than it was a year ago, according to the just-released BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands study from market research firm Millward Brown. Nonetheless, Toyota, estimated to be worth $28.9 billion, is still the world’s most valuable automotive brand. The Japanese automaker has held the title in eight of the last ten years.

Automotive News noted that Toyota, as well as Honda, saw its valuation drop over the past year partly due to massive recalls that plagued the entire industry and hit these two automakers especially hard. Honda’s worth, according to the BrandZ study, dropped 5%, landing the automaker in fourth place with a value of $13.3 billion.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz hold positions #2 and #3, while inching up slightly in value over the past year. Ford, the only American automaker in the top 10 (#5), boosted its value by 11%, while Audi (#7) and Volkswagen (#8) increased their values an impressive 43% and 10%, respectively.

Overall, the total value of the top 10 automakers rose 3%, which is nothing compared with the growth in industries such as tech and retail—both up 24% year over year. The insurance and telecom categories showed substantial increases as well, with their overall values up 21% and 17%, respectively.

Why isn’t the auto sector growing faster? The study’s researchers point to the overlapping trifecta of mobile devices, millennials, and non-ownership trends that include car sharing and services like Uber. “Factors such as urbanization and the influence of millennials are changing the very idea of mobility in fundamental ways,” the report explains. “Young people, in contrast to their parents, don’t rely on cars for freedom or for defining and projecting a self-image. They have mobile devices.”

MONEY Autos

This City May Soon Be the Best Place to Own an Electric Car

Over 1,000 KCP&L Clean Charge Network charging stations are currently being installed in the Greater Kansas City region.
courtesy KCP&L Over 1,000 KCP&L Clean Charge Network charging stations are currently being installed in the Greater Kansas City region.

A huge plan is in the works to juice electric vehicle adoption.

At the start of 2015, there were a little over 1,000 plug-in electric cars in the greater Kansas City area. By the end of 2015, there will roughly be one public electric vehicle charging station for each of those cars.

In January, the local power and electric company KCP&L announced an ambitious plan dubbed the Clean Charge Network, which calls for 1,001 new electric charging stations to be installed in its region, which is eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Only 40 EV charging stations were operational at the time. By the spring, 150 more had been installed, and the rest are expected to open by year’s end.

The massive $20 million initiative is working on the premise of “If you build it, they will come,” Chuck Caisley, KCP&L vice president of marketing and public affairs, explained to Automotive News recently.

Among the holdups standing in the way of widespread adoption of electric cars is that charging them has required a lot more time than gassing up a traditional vehicle, as well as the absence of infrastructure, which makes ownership inconvenient and impractical. The Clean Charge Network aims to address both of these issues by making charging stations (hopefully) nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations, and with the installation of 15 special 480-volt DC stations that can charge a Nissan Leaf to 80% in just 30 minutes.

Right now, the only state with more than 1,000 public charging stations is California. It’s no surprise, then, that California is also where the most electric cars have been purchased. Last September, California crossed the 100,000 mark for plug-in vehicles. The state with the next most plug-in vehicles is Washington, where around 12,000 electric cars have been registered.

The goal of the project centered in Kansas City is to dramatically boost electric car ownership. “It should be a big jump start for electric cars in the area,” Pasquale Romano, the president and CEO of ChargePoint, which is selling the chargers to KCP&L, said earlier this year.

Nissan, the maker of the world’s best-selling plug-in car, the Leaf, is a partner in the initiative. The hope is that the charging stations serve as advertisements for electric vehicle ownership in general: The commonplace sighting of charging stations should get people thinking more about them, while also proving that it’s theoretically convenient to charge depleted cars.

As a bonus, the charging stations will be free to car owners for the first two years. The costs of electricity will initially be borne by the host properties—Nissan dealerships, as well as supermarkets, movie theaters, malls, and such. More than enough such properties have been lobbying for KCP&L to install charging stations on site, with the idea that whatever money they’ll pay in electricity for charging cars will be made up for in terms of customers shopping or going to the movies while their vehicle batteries are being recharged. After the two-year free period, charging is expected to cost the cheap equivalent rate of around 70¢ per gallon.

As for why Kansas City of all places has decided to jumpstart electric car adoption, well, the city has already demonstrated a desire to be renowned as a forward-thinking hi-tech hub. After all, it was one of the first places to welcome the ultra-high-speed Internet service Google Fiber.

MONEY freebies

Free Smoothies at White Castle on Sunday

White Castle restaurant sign
K. L. Howard—Alamy

Who knew White Castles had smoothies?

White Castle wants you know it’s come a long way from its days as a beloved late-night greasy burger hangout for Harold and Kumar, the Beastie Boys, and their legions of followers. White Castle now has restaurants in the West—Las Vegas, where a location on the Strip has generated record-setting sales—and the menu has been expanded to include new flavors (Sriracha sliders) and even some healthy(ish) options.

The “Original Slider” chain introduced veggie sliders to the menu late last year, and in recent weeks it rolled out a choice of two new fruit smoothies: Peach and Strawberry Banana. Both flavors are made with Dole fruit and Yoplait low-fat yogurt.

And here’s your excuse to give the chain’s smoothies a taste: On Sunday, May 24, customers who present this coupon at participating White Castle locations are welcomed to their choice of smoothie in a 10-oz. size.

MONEY groceries

Eggs Aren’t The Only Thing That Just Got More Expensive

French fries and Egg McMuffins, we're looking at you.

More than half of American consumers say they are concerned about the bird flu outbreak, according to an NPD Group survey. And yes, there’s ample reason to fret: The virus has killed nearly 40 million birds, including 32 million hens, or about 10% of the nation’s egg producers. Understandably, egg prices have spiked as a consequence. The incredible edible egg isn’t the only everyday purchase that is getting more expensive for consumers lately. The price tags on these items are also going up.

  • Eggs

    Eggs produced from cage-free hens on sale in a supermarket in New York on Saturday, January 3, 2015. The recent outbreak of Avian Flu which impacted 10% of the egg-laying chickens has cut into the supply of eggs.
    Richard B. Levine—Newscom

    The bird flu outbreak has been wreaking havoc in the Midwest, with some 40 million turkeys and chicken exposed to the virus. Roughly 25 million chickens have been lost just in Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer. One result is that wholesale and retail egg prices have soared. The wholesale price of “breaker” eggs purchased in bulk by fast food chains and baking manufacturers has nearly tripled in the past month, while the price of a dozen large eggs rose 58% in one month’s time in the Midwest.

    If the problem persists, it’s expected it won’t be long for baking companies and fast food outlets like McDonald’s to raise prices on products with eggs as primary ingredients. In other words, your Egg McMuffin could be getting a price hike soon.

  • Rental Cars

    Airport car rental offices at the Long Beach California Airport
    Daniel Dillon—Alamy

    It’s usually hard to tell when and by how much rental car companies increase prices because there are so many factors involved: Rates are determined by demand, location, how far in advance a traveler books, and so on. But recently Hertz, which also owns brands Dollar and Thrifty, publicly announced that as of mid-June it was raising rates $5 per day and $20 per week on rentals at airport locations, with $3 and $10 hikes, respectively, at off-airport rental lots.

    A quick 5% spike in Hertz’s stock price indicates that investors liked the move. That could be one reason why Hertz jacked up prices openly rather than stealthily. It also seems like Hertz is trying to push rates northward across the board in the industry, in the same way that all airlines tend to match the fare increases of any competitor. “Rent-a-car companies are normally very discreet about raising prices,” Mike Millman, who covers travel companies for Millman Research, told the New York Post. “What’s so unusual about this is Hertz is publicly declaring it wants to lead the industry up.”

  • Deep-Fried Foods

    French Fries coming out of fryer
    Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

    A prolonged dry spell in Canada’s prairies has meant big trouble for the crops used to make of one of the region’s prime products, canola oil. As Bloomberg News reported, the vegetable oil is necessary for McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, and Frito-Lay to make so many of the deep-fried treats we crave while knowing they’re probably terrible for our health. Prices have jumped 18% since September, and it’s expected the increase will trickle onward to price hikes for potato chips, French fries, KFC chicken, and other deep-fried delicacies.

  • Turkey

    Shady Brook Farms brand Turkeys for sale in a supermarket refrigerator in New York
    Richard Levine—Alamy

    While the bird flu outbreak has primarily affected chickens, it has impacted turkey populations as well—and turkey prices. Wholesale prices are up 4.5% compared with a year ago, corresponding to 10% price increases for turkey breast meat at supermarket deli counters.

    The real fear is that the avian flu virus causes a ripple effect in America’s turkey population, potentially translating to shortages and price spikes for Thanksgiving, when the demand for turkey naturally reaches a yearlong high. For now at least, suppliers are maintaining that there will be more than plenty of turkeys available come Thanksgiving. Regardless, we’re predicting that there will be reports causing panic among turkey lovers in the months to come, as they seem to appear every autumn.

  • Gas

    Gas station attendant pumping gas in Andover, Mass., May 8, 2015.
    Elise Amendola—AP

    Just in time for the summer travel season, gas prices are rising. As of Friday, the national average for a gallon of regular was $2.74, representing a rise of roughly 25¢ over the last month. Gas prices have remained particularly pricey on the West Coast, with drivers in Los Angeles seeing $4 per gallon at the pump. With California prices that have stayed stubbornly high compared to the rest of the country, some consumer advocates have accused the oil companies of gouging drivers.

    At the same time, it must be noted that gas is significantly less expensive compared with the same time last year, when the national average was $3.65. Cheap gas is one of the big reasons huge crowds—and epic traffic—are expected on the roads over Memorial Day weekend.

MONEY Holidays

Memorial Day Weekend Traffic, Sales & More, By the Numbers

We know for sure that during the holiday weekend, sales will be big, traffic will be heavy, and many, many hot dogs will be eaten. Here's a big roundup of fun factoids about this holiday weekend.

  • 95¢

    In this May 8, 2015 photo, vehicles drive past a gas station in Andover, Mass. Even after the typical springtime run-up, the average price for gallon of regular gasoline should top out around $2.60.
    Elise Amendola—AP

    Approximate difference in the price of a gallon of regular gasoline this Memorial Day, compared to the holiday weekend in 2014. Even as gas prices have surged steadily for over a month, filling up the tank is substantially cheaper than it was a year ago. The last time gas was this cheap over Memorial Day weekend, it was 2009.

  • 5%

    Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel resort exterior property swimming pool, Orlando, Florida
    Rosa Irene Betancourt—Alamy

    Average percentage rise in hotel rates this year compared to 2014. According to Priceline data, daily room rates over Memorial Day weekend are up even more than that in cities such as Orlando and Dallas, while prices at Virginia Beach, Detroit, and Fort Lauderdale have fallen compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, forecasts from AAA call for a 16% increase in rates at lower-end (two-star) hotels over the weekend.

  • 14

    person clicking seatbelt
    Getty Images

    Number of days that police around the country are aggressively enforcing a “Click It or Ticket” campaign to get drivers and auto passengers to wear seatbelts. Look for police to pull cars over and issue a disproportionately high number of tickets for not wearing seatbelts from May 18 to 31.

  • 14+

    Colonial Williamsburg
    Bob Stefko—Getty Images Colonial Williamsburg

    Number of freebies and special discounts available to veterans and active military on or around Memorial Day, per sites such as Military.com and MilitaryBenefits.info. For instance, at Colonial Williamsburg, admission is free this weekend for all active duty, reservists, retirees, and veterans—and their dependents get in free as well.

  • 25

    War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers, Macon, Georgia
    Sean Pavone—Alamy

    Approximate number of American cities that have laid claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day, the majority of which are in the South and held celebrations in the aftermath of the Civil War. (One of them is Macon, Ga., whose War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers is pictured above.)

  • 54%

    George W. Bush International Airport, Houston, Texas, USA
    Alamy

    Percentage of Americans who said they prefer to travel on non-holiday weekends rather than holidays like Memorial Day, according to a survey conducted for Citi ThankYou Premier card. Only 11% named Memorial Day as the best summer holiday for travel.

  • 57%

    man grilling fish
    Stephen Lux—Getty Images

    Percentage of Americans who say they will grill food on the barbecue during Memorial Day weekend.

  • 60% to 70%

    Cabela’s, Scarborough, Maine
    Gregory Rec—Portland Press Herald via Getty

    Discount off the original prices that shoppers can expect during many Memorial Day sales.

  • $199

    2015 Buick Verano Turbo
    Tom Drew 2015 Buick Verano Turbo

    The hot per-month lease price available for more than two dozen new vehicles during the busy holiday weekend, according to Edmunds.com. The auto research site also notes that there are an exceptionally large number of 0% financing offers in May, including 0% financing deals on several Toyota and Nissan vehicles and most Ford models.

  • 383

    overturned car
    Sebastien Cote—Getty Images

    Estimated number of fatalities from traffic crashes that will take place over Memorial Day weekend, according to the National Safety Council. Drivers and passengers can expect another car crash-related 46,300 injuries over the weekend as well.

  • 818

    hot dogs on plate
    Greg Elms—Getty Images

    Number of hot dogs consumed every second in the U.S. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, known as peak hot dog season, when we’ll collectively wolf down 7 billion dogs.

     

  • $200,000+

    toasting with beer pints
    John Giustina—Getty Images

    Amount of money raised for military-focused charities last year with the release of a special craft beer, Homefront IPA. Ten craft brewers have made their own versions of Homefront IPA for the charity effort this year, and the official release date for the brews is Memorial Day, May 25, 2015.

  • 1.75 Million

    Passengers board a Bolt bus to New York in Washington, D.C.
    Jay Mallin—Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Projected total number of travelers in the U.S. boarding buses on rides of 50 miles or more from Wednesday, May 20, through Monday, May 25. That would be a 5% rise over the holiday period last year, and the highest total for Memorial Day weekend bus travel in 25 years.

  • 37.2 Million

    Interstate I-10, Arizona
    Natalia Bratslavsky—Alamy

    Number of Americans that AAA is projecting will travel at least 50 miles from home over the big holiday weekend. That would represent a 4.7 increase over last year, and the highest volume of Memorial Day traffic since 2005. Nearly 9 in 10 travelers will get to their destinations this weekend via automobile.

  • 42+ Million

    U.S. Marines march during the National Memorial Day Parade on Constitution Avenue in Washington, May 27, 2013.
    Yuri Gripas—Reuters

    Number of American men and women who have served their country in the armed services during war time over the centuries; approximately 1.2 million lost their lives in the course of their service.

MONEY Autos

5 Reasons This Could Be the Worst Road Trip Weekend Ever

Crazy traffic is a given. But that's hardly the only reason Memorial Day could be a nightmare for road trips.

In a new survey conducted for Citi cards, 54% of Americans said they prefer to travel on non-holiday weekends rather than holidays like Memorial Day. The most common reasons given for staying home for the holidays were traffic (47%) and high costs (30%).

Maybe these people are on to something. Here are a handful of reasons why the Memorial Day weekend is shaping up as a less-than-ideal time for getting on the road. As you’ll see, traffic and high costs are only part of the problem.

Horrendous Traffic
The forecast from AAA calls for 37.2 million Americans to travel at least 50 miles from home over the big holiday weekend. That’s an increase of nearly 5% compared with Memorial Day 2014, and it would represent the heaviest amount of traffic on this weekend in a decade. Only a small portion of these travelers will fly: roughly 9 out of 10 will be in automobiles.

Cheap gas, an improving jobs scene, and pent-up demand after a long and brutally snowy winter in the Midwest and Northeast have been cited as reasons why so many Americans are more than ready to kick off summer with a road trip. The East Coast will be particularly clogged with cars. An estimated 890,000 vehicles will drive Maine Turnpike over the weekend, a 5.2% increase over last year. Nearly 1 million New Jersey residents are expected to travel this weekend—in a state that has a population of just 9 million. “Motorists need to pack their patience along with the sunscreen as they set out for the Jersey Shore,” a spokesperson from AAA Mid-Atlantic cautioned.

Aggressive Police Enforcement
To cope with holiday weekend crowds, police will be turning Miami Beach into a “mini police state,” in the words of the Miami New Times, with road closures, parking bans, barricades, one-way traffic loops, and police checkpoints in popular areas. Around the country, police have stated they will be aggressively enforcing everything from so-called “slow poke” left-lane driving rules to laws mandating the wearing of seatbelts with a national “Click It or Ticket” campaign.

Crackdowns on DUIs will be widespread as well—in Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, to name just a few states. In the latter, police may employ “No Refusal” tactics, which allow them to seek a search warrant and draw blood from someone who is suspected of driving under the influence and refuses a breathalyzer test. The same kind of enforcement will be used by police in parts of Texas, where the “No Refusal” process can be applied not only to car drivers, but those behind the wheel of boats as well.

Drunk Drivers, Car Accidents
The main reason for ratcheting up enforcement of DUI laws and other driving regulations on Memorial Day weekend is that, hopefully, it sets the tone for the entire summer season. The holiday weekend starts what’s known as the 100 Deadliest Days on American roads (for teens especially), and the goal is to crack down hard at the beginning to save lives in the long run. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 146 people were killed in crashes involving impaired drivers during Memorial Day weekend in 2013.

Data from the National Safety Council forecasts that there will be 383 fatalities from traffic accidents over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and car crashes will result in another 46,300 injuries. What’s scary is that historically, the days around the July 4 holiday are even more dangerous for drivers and passengers than Memorial Day.

Texters, Tailgaters, Bikers, New Yorkers
Texting behind the wheel is the behavior most likely to induce road rage from fellow motorists, according to a new survey conducted on behalf of Expedia. Tailgaters and left-lane hogs tied for second place in terms of aggravating people on the roads, while New York City came out on top for having the country’s rudest drivers. All of this rage has manifested itself in drivers yelling or using profanity behind the wheel (26% admitted to doing so), and by employing a rude gesture that probably involves a single finger (17% admit to this, while 53% say they’ve been on the receiving end).

Memorial Day is also a traditional time for many biker rallies, which have been known to bring about traffic (and worse) in the past, and which this year may cause locals, police, and motorists to be more on edge than usual given the recent biker shootout that left nine people dead in Waco, Texas. Major motorcycle gatherings are planned this weekend in Washington, D.C., Red River, N.M., and Myrtle Beach, S.C.,, among other places.

Soaring Motel Rates
Hotel rates are up roughly 5% nationally compared to last year. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. But the one segment of the lodging industry favored by road trippers has spiked to an outsized degree. According to AAA, rates at supposedly cheap two-diamond properties are averaging $144 per night, a rise of 16% over last year. That kind of sharp increase may more than offset the money you’re saving thanks to cheap gas.

MONEY Shopping

J.C. Penney Sued for Never Charging Full Price

JCPenney store at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Kena Betancur—Getty Images JCPenney store at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, New Jersey

The "original price" is a big fat lie.

J.C. Penney has long been in the business of giving merchandise “fake prices.” That’s how Ron Johnson described the retailer’s pricing strategy when he took over as CEO in 2012, pointing out that less than 1% of store sales were for items at full original price.

After the short-lived Johnson experiment in more transparent, less promotion-driven sales ended in monumental failure, J.C. Penney resorted to its old high-low pricing scheme, in which items were given inflated original prices solely for the purpose of making the inevitable discounts seem more impressive. It’s a classic sales strategy known as “price anchoring,” and J.C. Penney is hardly the only store known to engage in the practice.

Yet J.C. Penney is the one that has been hit with a class-action lawsuit in California federal court for its pricing strategies, a “massive, years-long, pervasive campaign” that has allegedly been tantamount to deceptive and fraudulent advertising. According to Reuters, the lead plaintiff in the suit purchased three blouses at J.C. Penney at a price of $17.99 each—seemingly a good deal in light of the $30 “original” price on the tag. But with a little research, the shopper discovered that the blouses in question were never priced for more than $17.99 during the three months prior to her purchase.

“Price comparisons are not illegal, but it is deceptive if there is no basis for the original price,” said Matthew Zevin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who could number in the hundreds of thousands.

This isn’t the first time a retailer has gotten sued for allegedly having too many sales and promotions—or rather, for never actually selling items at non-discounted prices. In 2012, Jos. A. Bank, the men’s apparel retailer known for seemingly insane “Buy 1, Get 7 Free” promotions, was hit with a class-action lawsuit in New Jersey for allegedly using “misleading, inaccurate and deceptive marketing” to create “a false sense of urgency” among shoppers. Essentially, the retailer was accused of partaking in the same tactic that’s gotten J.C. Penney sued: Showing items with list or “original” prices that are never (or almost never) charged.

The suit against Jos. A. Bank was dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to quantify “the difference between what the regular price actually was and what the discount price should have been,” according to the New Jersey federal judge hearing the case. This doesn’t prove that Jos. A. Bank didn’t engage in the practice; it just means that the plaintiffs could not prove how much of an “ascertainable loss” they suffered as a result of the retailer’s pricing strategies.

In any event, last month Jos. A. Bank pledged it would be moving away from a “hyper aggressive promotional strategy” because it has hurt the brand—and sales and profits by extension. The announcement took place roughly a year after Jos. A. Bank was purchased for $1.8 billion by rival Men’s Wearhouse.

Let’s hope that regardless of the results of any lawsuits, stores get the message that the common practice of listing items at inflated, meaningless original prices is bad for business.

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