MONEY Travel

Airline Miles Are Now So Hard to Use That People Are Paying Consultants for Help

Delta Airlines Inc. Terminal Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

"Award booking consultants" promise to help confused travelers spend their airline rewards points as efficiently and easily as possible.

Booking airline rewards tickets has gotten so difficult that travelers are paying consultants as much as $200 a pop for help redeeming their miles.

Travel site Skift reports on growing number of “award booking consultants” who, for a fee, will help confused consumers get the most out of their rewards points. One site, BookingGuru.org, charges $50 to arrange a seating upgrade, $80 for an award ticket within North America, and $200 for snagging a points ticket that involves multiple cities or overseas stopovers.

“Booking free seats with frequent flyer miles is more difficult than ever before as airlines have further complicated the rules and fewer seats are available,” explains BookingGuru’s website. “Do not fret though because when the airlines tell you no or tries to charge you higher rates, Booking Guru is usually able to find an option at a lower cost!”

Skift notes that points consultants, unlike travel agents, are generally not accredited by any organization. But rogue as these specialized agents may be, the site adds that “$200 for that peace of mind and a confirmed, somewhat-free ticket, can arguably be worth the investment.”

Now if they could only do something about the rest of air travel’s miseries.

MONEY Autos

This Car Safety Demo Went Terribly Wrong

The car may have lacked the auto-stopping feature

A demo for driver assistance features in a Volvo XC60 did not go as planned last week, when a dealer decided to test the system by driving into a group of onlookers expecting the vehicle to automatically stop.

Unfortunately, according to Volvo spokesperson Stefan Elfström, the car’s system is not meant to be used in this fashion and the vehicle barreled into observers. In the video, embedded below, viewers can see the Volvo slowly rolling backward, pausing, and then abruptly accelerating into two people watching the demonstration.

Luckily, both Volvo and the video’s description say the men seen here were bruised but not seriously hurt:

The original video, posted on Remolacha.net, suggests the car malfunctioned while trying to self-park.

However, Volvo tells MONEY the dealer in question was trying to demonstrate the XC60’s City Safety system, which helps avoid or mitigate rear end collisions with other vehicles at low speeds. This system is not able to detect pedestrians; the model in question lacked an optional $3,000 Pedestrian Detection system. But even if the vehicle had been equipped with a Pedestrian Detection system, the automaker says it still isn’t safe to deliberately drive into a group of people.

“In the video, the driver would anyway override any active safety system since he is actively accelerating towards to pedestrians,” explained Elfström in an email. “I would like to emphasize that Volvo Cars strongly recommends never to perform any tests towards real humans, only dummies or similar objects should be used.”

When asked whether the dealer who performed the demonstration would be disciplined, Elfström said Volvo has been “in contact with our sales representatives for this market and we are now looking into necessary actions to avoid something similar happening in the future.”

MONEY Food

Olive Garden’s Breadstick Scientists Have Worked Their Magic Again

Darden Restaurants Inc. Reports 3rd Quarter Earnings Results
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

"The flavor profile of the breadstick is powerful," said one Olive Garden executive.

Just when you might have thought there were no more crazy things Olive Garden could do with breadsticks, the restaurant chain is back to assure us it has at least one more dough-based creation in the tank.

The Associated Press reports Olive Garden’s next bread-in-stick-form invention will be call the “breadstick crostini.” The new offering is essentially sliced toasted bread and will be part of an appetizer, to be added to the menu in August.

The move comes just weeks after the restaurant announced a breadstick sandwich, scheduled to debut on June 1. However, more breadsticks should come as no surprise as Olive Garden revamps its menu to play up its core competencies.

“The flavor profile of the breadstick is powerful,” said Jose Duenas, Olive Garden’s executive vice president of marketing, in an interview with the AP.

So powerful, in fact, that Olive Garden customers are demanding even more breadstick innovation. Jim Nuetzi, executive chef for Olive Garden, explained that “he has been getting other suggestions for dishes that incorporate breadsticks” ever since the breadstick sandwich was revealed.

MONEY food and drink

Burger King Testing Hot Dogs and Corn Dogs

Inside A Russian McDonald's Corp. Restaurant As Putin Instigates Government Investigation
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Residents of Michigan and Maryland will be the first to get their hands on some experimental Burger King dogs.

Fast-food fans, rejoice. Hot dogs and corn dogs may one day come to a Burger King near you.

According to the Consumerist, the Whopper maker is now testing both types of dogs at locations in Maryland and Michigan. Alas, it remains unclear exactly which stores are serving this experimental menu item, but we do know corn dogs will cost $1.49 each, while grilled hot dogs will run you $1.99 and come with ketchup, mustard, onions, and relish.

If this pilot program is expanded, Burger King will be entering a cut-throat hot dog/corn dog market where Sonic is currently king. Arch-rival McDonalds also experimented with a McHotDog in the past, but the product was a failure and later relegated to Japan. As the Consumerist notes, Burger King also previously released a breakfast hot dog (you read that right) in Japan, which makes us wonder if Japan likes hot dogs even more than Americans do.

MONEY Companies

5,000 Reasons Why Apple Needs Jonathan Ive

One number that shows how important the newly-promoted design guru is to Apple's success

Apple announced Monday that its legendary designer Jonathan Ive would take on a new role at the company as Chief Design Officer. The iPhone-maker’s hardware and software design will now be led by Richard Howarth and Alan Dye, while Ive will move to supervisory role that will expand to include overseeing the look and feel of the company’s retail stores and new campus.

The promotion has worried some Apple watchers who think the designer’s new position could take away from his current focus on product design. According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Ive has his name on 5,000 design and utility patents. Ive doesn’t personally own that intellectual property, but the sheer number of inventions with his byline proves beyond a doubt that the newly crowned Design Officer’s fingers have been in a huge portion of the company’s innovations.

Some, like Business Insider‘s James Cook, think this diffusion of responsibility could even be an “exit path” for Ive, who, after working at Apple full-time for 23 years, may be looking forward to spending more time with his wife and two sons. (The Telegraph article that first reported Ive’s promotion said “Jony will travel more,” which Apple pundit John Gruber takes to mean “live in England” where his family resides.)

It’s all speculation at this point, but if Ive does indeed step back from product development, he would be nearly impossible to replace. Since joining the Apple in 1996, Ive has worked on everything from the design of the iPod, iMac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch to details like the MagSafe charging connector and the iPad’s Smart Cover. He has won multiple prizes for his work, including a National Design Award, a prestigious Red Dot award, and was even knighted by the British Crown for “for services to design and enterprise.”

MONEY Internet

Here’s How Many Internet Users There Are

Mobile is fueling global connectivity

More than 3 billion people are now using the Internet, according to the United Nations agency that oversees international communications.

The number of Internet users has increased from 738 million in 2000 to 3.2 billion in 2015, according to a new report from the International Telecommunication Union. That’s a seven-fold increase that brought Internet penetration up from 7% to 43% of the global population. Of all connected individuals, the ITU says most of them — some 2 billion — live in developing countries:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 11.03.25 AM

Much of the growth in web connectivity has come from mobile. Mobile broadband penetration has gone up 12-fold since 2007, and this year 69% of people on earth will be covered by 3G broadband. Meanwhile, growth in fixed-broadband connectivity has slowed, with just 7% annual growth over the last three years. That’s likely because access to it is 1.7 times more expensive than the average comparable mobile broadband plan:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.59.51 AM

One reason Internet access has taken off over the past 15 years is rising affordability. The ITU reports broadband is currently affordable in 111 countries, with a basic fixed or mobile plan costing less than 5% of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita.

 

MONEY Autos

Why The Chevy Volt Is Getting a Whole Lot Cheaper

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Car Culture—Getty Images/Car Culture Chevrolet Volt

Prices are falling for several reasons

Car shoppers, take note: The Chevy Volt has received a $4,400 price cut, according to the Detroit Free Press.

TrueCar, an online shopping guide, shows the plug-in hybrid’s average average closing price has dipped from $35,000 to $30,607.

Why the discount? The Free Press says Chevy is about to start production on a redesigned 2016 edition Volt. The new model will have a suggested retail price of $33,995 in addition to a $7,500 electric vehicle federal tax credit.

Another reason for the cut is slow sales fueled by lower gas prices, which have steered some consumers to less fuel-efficient cars. Plug-in hybrid sales are down 33% from January to April compared to the same period a year prior.

It’s not all bad news for energy-efficient vehicles. The Free Press notes battery-only autos like the Nissan Leaf have seen their sales grow 28% in the first four months of 2015, but still make up just 0.4% of the U.S. car market.

MONEY snapchat

Snapchat’s Secret to Video Ads Is Deceptively Simple

Snapchat Raising Money That Could Value Company At Up To $19 Billion
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Vertical ads a the secret to Snapchat's success

A simple tweak to video advertising has made a big difference

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has a simple plan to turn his company into a money-making machine: video ads.

And not just any video ads. A Bloomberg profile on the mercurial executive reveals the secret to Snapchat’s success is to play advertisements in portrait mode so smartphone users don’t have to flip their screen to view them. Snapchat tells potential investors its users are nine times more likely to view ads displayed in this format, Bloomberg reports.

Snapchat, which inserts its advertisements into various media channels—11 media brands, such as CNN, ESPN, and People magazine have signed up so far—as well as other “stories” on the service, claims over 60% of smartphone users age 13 to 34 are watching more than 2 billion videos each day in total; nearly half as many as competitor Facebook, which boasts 10 times as many users.

However, despite Snapchat’s success, it’s not all easy going for Spiegal. Bloomberg notes the company has cut its ad rates significantly, down from $100 per 1,000 views to just $20.

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