Friday, December 31, 2010

Freebie Friday: Free Hotel Nights in Vegas (Now If We Could Only Get Them to Create All-Winner Slots)

Where better to kick off the new year than in Vegas, right? Especially when that celebrations could be (partially) free.

Main Street Station, one of downtown's two classiest casinos (along with the Golden Nugget) is offering free Tuesday night stays for those who book three-nights altogether for stays anytime between Feb 8 and Mar 29, 2011. Since room rates can drop as low as $36 at that time of year, that's three nights for as little $24 a night--a terrific rate for the comfortable, chic, recently renovated rooms here.The property also boasts one of the prettiest casinos in town and the very best budget buffet.

The same offer is being made at other Boyd Gaming properties such as the Fremont Hotel and Casino (not as pretty in the public areas, but with surprisingly lovely rooms); and the California Hotel Casino (the third most attractive, but here the freebies are for either Sundays or Tuesdays). And at the off-Strip Sam's Town where the lack of freebies is made up for the fact that room rates drop to just $19 a night during that period. (And I'm a fan of Sam's Town; the rooms are among the biggest in town and quite plush, there are all sorts of fun activities on site, and the animatronic show in the lobby is a hoot).

Finally, for those planning to be in Vegas tonight, the city's struggling casinos are breaking with tradition and offering New Year's Eve deals, mostly for play at a number of casinos. For a run-down on the offers, click here.

Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Predictions, predictions and more predictions! What Will Travel Be Like in 2011?

(Photo by Hamilcar South)
Every travel writer worth their salt is dusting off their crystal ball and trying to predict what 2011 holds in store for travelers. And of course, by making these predictions, we're trying to influence just how the new year shapes up. Here are some of the more interesting round-ups I've seeen:

1) My father, Arthur Frommer shares some of my thoughts on what's to come and diverges in some ways. Like me, he thinks we'll see an increase in the number of folks choosing vacation rentals over hotels and an increase in travel to Central America. He also predicted, correctly it turns out if recent history is a harbinger for what 2011 holds, that airfares will be rising. Other thoughts: more brain-numbing bells and whistles on cruise-ships, less work for travel agents and a reduction in group tour sizes.

2) Interestingly, Laura Bly of USA Today looked at the same trends and decided that travel agents were on their way back (I think my father's right on this one). She's also looking south of the border for more travel, though not as far (she picks Mexico as a hot spot for 2011, along with "royal wedding central" London, Iceland and the Civil War sites of the US). Bly is worried, rightly, that the new tactic of airlines refusing to sell through some of the major online travel agencies will have ugly implications for travelers. She's foreseeing a rise in hotel pricing and in what I think is a stroke of wishful thinking proposes that more travelers will do what she's planning to do soon and take a vacation from technology (traveling without cellphones, internet access, etc.) Good luck with that one Laura!

3) CNN's Agnes Pawlowski interviewed me, Robert Reid (of Lonely Planet) and Martin Rapp of Altour to determine what we thought would be the hottest destinations of 2011. Our picks (not all of which we all shared): New Zealand, New York City, Guatemala, Barcelona, the Peruvian Amazon, Norway, Albania, Japan, and Bulgaria.

4) turned to its writers and editors to make the same type of choice of 2011 destinations, coming up with a quirky list that consisted of Albania, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago (Chile), Puerto Viejo (Costa Rica), Hokkaido (Japan), the Pontine Islands (Italy), the Kent Coast (the UK), Cesme Peninsula (Turkey), Doha (Qatar), Stockholm, Atlanta, Nahanni National Park (Canada), and Ireland (the reader's choice).

5) Robert Reid and I seem to be on the predictions circuit! Beth Harpaz of the AP tapped us, too, and I told her I thought London would be hot because of Kate and William (that seemed like a no-brainer) while he plugged NYC once again. Her list also includes Alaska for its increased visibility via the Sarah Palin series; the launch of the new Disney cruise ship; the addition of a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. on the National Mall; and an uptick in hotel pricing.

Finally, I wrote about the top trends of 2010 and how they'll morph in 2011. You can read my thoughts here.

Happy New Years and lets all plan to travel MORE in 2011!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Will Online Travel Agencies Go the Way of their Bricks-And-Mortar Brethren?

In a recent article starkly titled "High Paying Jobs with No Future", the CBS site MoneyWatch listed "Travel Agent" as its fourth pick, noting that the number of travel agencies have been sliced in half in recent years, from a high of 44,000 in 1997 to just 20,000 today.

Most cite the rise of such online agencies as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz as the reason behind the demise of the bricks-and-mortar travel agency. And certainly the ability of customers to see pricing options, flight itineraries and other info online--and without the help of a travel agent--did a job on agencies' revenue streams.

(Photo by Disparky)
But another development was just as significant: the decision by many of the world's airlines in the late 90's to stop paying commissions to agents. It was a body-blow for the industry, sending many agencies reeling into bankruptcy and others scrambling to come up with new and ever more innovative ways of making money.

History seems to be replaying itself online.

In just the last several months Delta Airlines has announced that the online agencies, and will no longer be able to sell their fares. American Airlines is taking this hard stand with mighty Orbitz, and just last week won a court settlement giving it the right to restrict its sales in this fashion. In protest, Expedia has announced that it will no longer "feature" American's fares, which basically means that it will still sell them, but that they won't appear at the top of searches.

So will this lead to the demise of the online travel agencies? Expedia certainly seems to be worried that it will. Why else would it be standing with its big rival Orbitz rather than capitalizing on Orbitz' loss? At this point, its hard to know whether or not the other airlines will try this strategy (a bald attempt, once again, to pay as little as possible in commissions).

Looking at the history, its also unclear whether this strategy will actually help the airlines' bottom lines. When the carriers cut off travel agents their amount of business eventually diminished and fares sank lower and lower over the ensuing decade. Now that couldn't have been the result they were expecting. There's an argument to be made that agents who have a personal relationship with clients (or at least the trust of clients) might be able to sell a higher airfare more easily than airline websites could.

What's clear today is that consumers need to work with the entities that don't have a proverbial "dog in the fight". I'm speaking of the online travel search engines such as, and to a lesser extent These three "google" travel information rather than actually sell travel. I'd say the first two may have the upper hand as they list ALL the airfares out there, even those that don't kick back a finders fee (so that means you'll likely find Ryanair, JetBlue, and Virgin Atlantic fares on the first two, but probably won't on Kayak).

(Note from Pauline: In an earlier version of this article, I said that Southwest could be found on Do Hop and Though I've found that airline's fares listed there in the past, I'm not currently seeing them, leading me to assume there's been some sort of change in the search paradigm to exclude Southwest, likely at the carriers request. My apologies for not catching this change before I posted.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The UK's Travelodge Chain Holds It Biggest Sale of the Year Tomorrow

(Photo by Karen Bryant)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there are few chain hotels that can the British Isles version of Travelodge's combination of comfort and cost. Its rooms are spotlessly kept, cheery (in an Ikea type of way) and most offer a couch that can transform at the pull of a sheet into two highly sleepable twin-size beds. Which means that a family of four can stay for the same cost as a couple--a rarity in Europe. With these pluses I'd say its not too much of a minus that most Travelodges are located right off highways, rather than in the centers of towns (the Edinburgh Travelodge is one exception, and a TERRIFIC place to stay relatively inexpensively if you want to be in town for the famed Edinburgh Festival.)

Onto costs: they're usually extremely reasonable. And during their sales, rooms here become downright steals. Happily, tomorrow Travelodge is holding its biggest sale of the year, putting properties across the British Isles and Spain for as little as 9 British pounds per night. Rates of 25 pounds or less will apply to no less than 1,000,000 rooms for all of 2011.

As with most of these promos, the deals are first-come, first-served, so I'd suggest waking up a few hours early tomorrow, or those across the pond may snatch up the deals first. You'll also be competing with me, as I need cheap lodgings for the Wales wedding of a cousin. (You've been warned!).

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Blizzard Ate My Blog (Some Advice from Others On What to Do If You're Supposed to Be Traveling Or Home Right Now)

Its a snow day here in the northeast!

Good news for anyone already at home, hoping to extend their holiday weekend. Terrible news for pretty much everyone else.

Not only is air travel canceled, so are most train and bus itineraries in this neck of the woods. The effects of all these cancellations are rippling across the planet, as planes that were supposed to be in London or Las Vegas by now, sit stranded under a blanket of snow on a JFK or Logan runway. And in NYC the subways are either heavily delayed (apparently 400 people were stuck on the A train for several hours last night) or suspended for the time.

Since I'm stuck at home with antsy children, I'll direct you, dear reader, to some other sources who are covering the storm and its ramifications for travel.

Chris Gray Faust gives some sound advice on her blog about what air travelers should be doing right now.

The Wall Street Journal offers a thorough round-up on air travel and rail cancellations.

Good luck to all those in transit!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Freebie Friday: Gratis Upgrades on Many Norwegian Cruise Lines 2011 Sailings

(Photo of Norwegian Epic by Cruise News Weekly)
This one may or may not be a good deal. Here's why: Norwegian is restricting the offer only to new bookings and will not allow it for "existing group rates". Since many discounters get lower prices for their customers by booking blocks of rooms at a time, this means you may end up paying much more than you normally would have to get the "free" upgrade. Oh, and that upgrade is only within cabin categories. So you might get a bigger inside (ie porthole-less) cabin with this offer, but you ain't getting a balcony or window.

Still, some may be able to eke the value out of this one, so here's the fine print: bookings must be made before March 27, 2011 and participants must use the code PGWave11 when they purchase. The offer covers a variety of sailings in the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Europe.

For complete information, head to Norwegian's website.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where to Go? Where to Go? Do Hop Tries to Come Up with an Answer to That Age-Old Travel Conundrum

I can only describe this new application from DoHop, called DoHop/Away as a magic eight ball for travel.

(Photo by Horia Varlan)
You input your gateway, a month you might travel, virtually shake it, and the site comes up with a raft of often odd-ball suggestions for where you might go, based on random dates within the month and pricing.

Want to leave Chicago in March? DoHop thinks you should go to sunny Detroit! Thinking of escaping Denver in January? Where better to go than Kansas City!

Of course, if you scroll down there will be some more vacation-worthy suggestions. But because you have to give the computer an entire month to work with, often the dates returned will be unuseable (for most vacationers). I input New York for February and came up with an excellent round-trip price to Kingson, Jamaice ($302). Problem was, I'd have to leave on February 24 and return March 14 so any savings I might get on the flight I'm likely going to lose in long-term hotel costs once there (and many would-be travelers would likely lose their jobs if they ran away to the tropics for more than two weeks!).

Though I have my problems with the site (and to be fair, its very new and the folks at DoHop are considering a long weekend feature, which will help better pin down travel dates) I'm guessing there may be some very flexible travelers out there who'll find it useful. Hence today's mention.

As for regular fare searches, often comes out on top for those, making it an excellent resource to check when you actually have a destination in mind. In early 2011, rumor has it, the site will add a multi-stop itinerary feature, which will greatly improve its usefulness.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Opinion Poll Trumps Facts Once Again? The U.S. Travel Association's New Survey

Have you been on an airplane lately?

I have. A number of them actually. And no matter what the carrier or destination, the flights I've been on have been full. Overly full actually; it seems like each time I've taken off, would-be stand-by travelers have been left disappointed at the gate.

The stats bear out my observations. Looking at the past summer, airlines flew with an average of 89% percent of their seats filled--the highest numbers, actually, since these sorts of numbers started being recorded. Autumn and winter flights have been nearly as crowded.

Yet according to the US Travel Association, the act of having to take off one's shoes before going through security is so angering would-be passengers that they haven't been traveling as much as they could. Apparently, shoe removal was the biggest source of anger among the traveling public, beyond any ire inspired by going through a scanner or removing a pat-down.

The USTA wants to appear before Congress with the results of this study, and ask for help, as they believe security regulations are hurting the travel industry and, by extension, the US economy.

Really? Really?! My question to them: on what planes would these folks have flown? Because the ones that are up in the sky couldn't accommodate all these extra folks with shoe anxieties. And wouldn't the detonation of explosives aboard an airline hurt the travel industry far, far more than any regulation the TSA could concoct?

I'm not arguing that travel is NOT down. It obviously is (just look at hotel occupancy numbers). But the reason for that is just as obvious: its the economy, stupid. Until people get back to work and/or feel secure in their jobs, we're not going to see the numbers of travelers that we did in the free-spending decade we just lived through.

This seems like another case of an opinion poll trumping the facts, a problem in our opinion-obsessed society. Let's look at what actually is happening (not only in travel, but in politics) rather than what folks thinks is happening.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Catch It If You Can: AirTran's One-Day Sale

Why pay more for this experience?
A little over 14 hours remain in the 1-day sale just announced by AirTran. Some of the savings are so good, they warrant a look, even though it needs to be a rushed one. Fares are good for travel through March 9 (those going to or from Puerto Rico only have until Feb 16 to fly with this sale); and Sunday travel is always blacked out. Tickets must be purchased by midnight ET tonight, for travel at least 14 days out.

Some of the goodies:

  • Atlanta to Rochester: $69 each way
  • Milwaukee to Omaha: $49 each way
  • Flint and Nassau (the Bahamas): $119 each way
  • San Antonio and Grand Rapids: $89 each way
These are just a few of the deals. Take a look at the website---QUICKLY!--for more offers. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

An Eruption of Good Deals from Icelandair

The volcano that disrupted air travel across Europe has simmered down. And as if in penance, Iceland's national airline Icelandair is shaving a good $100 off the regular cost of airfare to Europe. Unusually, the deal isn't just from the east coast, but from Seattle as well, with round-trip prices from that western gateway to Reykjavik for just $409 plus tax. Seattle to Manchaster, UK is $489; to Copenhagen $569; and Paris $619.
Looking towards the Blue Lagoon in Iceland (photo by Matthew Wilkinson)

The airline also has excellent rates from Boston (the cheapest gateway, going to Reykjavik, Copenhagen, Paris and Glasgow) and New York City (flying to Reykjavik, London, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.

Note: All flights are via Reyjavik. Flyers are welcome to extend their layover there at no extra cost, if they want to make their vacation a two-country one

Book by Dec. 24 for travel Jan 15-April 2. All details can be found at the Icelandair website (see above).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Freebie Friday: Fourth or Fifth Nights Free At the Super-All-Inclusive Resorts of Breezes

Is a free hotel stay even better when it comes with a free round of golf, three free meals, a free nightclub visit and several colorful (free!) drinks with umbrellas in them?

If you answered "yes" to the question above, you'll want to know about the Breezes chain of resorts latest promotion which is giving vacationers a break for staying a while. In the Bahamas, you stay just four nights to earn a complete rebate on one of them; in Jamaica, Brazil, Panama and Curacao guests receive their fifth night free.

The only catch? You must book the deal by Feb 17 for travel from Jan 4 through Aug 31.

Breezes Curacao
As for the properties, they vary greatly, with some bright, shiny and chic and others needing  a new coat of paint. (Read the reviews before booking).

What's nice about the Breezes chain is that its is truly all-inclusive, meaning tips are not expected, the liquors you get are top shelf, and you won't be paying extra if you want to do a sporty activity, even if you need lessons in that activity. Another plus: some of these resorts are the only all-inclusives in their areas (such as Buzios and Curacao), so they offer an option for folks who like "wallet-free" vacations but want to get out of the usual all-inclusive areas.

For full information on the promotion go to

Thursday, December 16, 2010

And Its Another 3-Day Sale, This Time From Small-Group Adventure Operator Intrepid Tours

India Gate in Delhi (photo Lazlo)
Intrepid--the world implies a certain level of bravery, one that is unflagging, a character trait rather than a momentary summoning of will.

Some would argue that a person with a desire to head to some of the least-traveled areas of the world, say Lesotho or a place that ends with a "stan", is by their very nature "intrepid".

And those are the type of people, I'd guess, who the company Intrepid Travel want to lure: folks who aren't shy about getting off the beaten path, who want to try local guesthouses or even sleep in tents, who wouldn't be caught dead in a 40-person motorcoach.

Well, Intrepid has made it even easier, no let's say cheaper, for these types of folks to travel by offering a 3-day sale that starts today and ending at the end of day on Dec 18.  The sale covers 2011 travel through mid-March, and, depending on the destination, offers discounts of 15% to 50% off. Among the best values are tours of the southern coast of Africa (South Africa and Lesotho) starting at only $43 a day; and from Mumbai to Delhi in India from just $47 a day. Tours are available in other parts of Africa and Asia as well as North America, Europe and Latin America all at a discount.
Need to know more? Click on the link above which will get you to the Intrepid website. It looks like there's still good availability on most of the tours being discounted (hence the sale, I'm guessing).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Southwest Expands (And Celebrates with a Summer Sale), MegaBus Does the Same

Its now a good-looking 40 years old, and to celebrate Southwest Airlines made two tantalizing announcements today:
  • By 2012 it will have several new crafts in its fleet big and strong enough to make flights to Hawaii and other farther-flung destinations. 
  • In the coming months, the flyer is adding a number of new routes, most notably from Newark to Baltimore, Phoenix, Denver and Houston. 
For those Newark non-stops, it will be slashing rates to as low as $49 (that covers the Newark to Baltimore flights). Tickets must be purchased by end of day (Pacific time) Friday, Dec. 17. The sale is good for flights from June 5 through Aug 12.

Bus A Move To Or From Toronto

The much younger Megabus (founded in 2006) has an even more tantalizing offer: how does almost free grab you? The company is giving away 20,000 seats for winter trips between nearly 50 US cities (including Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, Cleveland and Washington, DC) and Toronto at that non-price."Buyers" pay just a .50 cent booking fee. And when those seats are gone, the price will start at $1 (really $1.50 with the booking fee).

Use the code WOW200K when booking.

The demand on this deal is so great that its been crashing the Megabus site. But keep trying as this deal will sell out soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A New Airline Fee That May Actually Help Travelers

Following in the wheel-treads of the Spanish carrier Vueling, Continental has announced that it will be rolling out an optional, new fee for certain domestic and international flights. Called Farelock, the fee allows travelers to lock in a price on a flight without actually buying it yet.

(Photo by Josh Beasley)
For the cost of a Starbucks coffee concoction ($5) one can lock in a fare for 72 hours; $9 is the price for a hold that lasts 7 days. If, at the end of those periods, the traveler decides, well, not to be a traveler, he can get out of the ticket having only paid those small amounts. They will pay the $5 or $9 though as these fees are non-refundable.

The cynic in me wonders if this is a way to monetize changes that are likely coming down the pike due to new DOT rules. One of the regulations that was being considered this summer, but hasn't yet been announced, would allow travelers a grace period of 24 hours after purchase to change or cancel a ticket (a great idea, since so many folks discover when they get the confirmation email that the ticket they purchased has the wrong name or date on it).

Whatever the motivation behind the new fees, I'm controlling my knee-jerk reaction to the word "fee" and cautiously getting behind this new one. For folks who have issues setting their schedules; who worry about a flight selling out, but need more time to search for fares; or who might need to check whether there's room at an appropriate cost in the area they're visiting before they book, these new fees could be a god-send.

I also have some advice for travelers hoping to use this new service to their best advantage:
  • Lock in your fare, if its domestic, late in the day on a Tuesday: Most fare sales are announced Mondays at 8pm for domestic tickets. The other airlines match by about 3pm on Tuesdays, so buy locking in then you'll have a lot of inventory to choose from, and (hopefully) good prices, too.
  • Don't lock in fares more than 4 months in advance, if possible: Remember, you can only hold the seat a maximum of 9 days without paying. Most fare sales don't occur until about 3.5 months before the date of travel.
  • Stay vigilant after you've locked in: Domestic fares are posted three times a day, and international fares can change hourly. So lock it in, and then get to work. You could save a lot that way.
It will be interesting to see how widely Continental expands this program (currently only some of its flights are covered) and whether other airlines follow suit.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Win a Grand in Travel Certificates from Southwest Airlines

Well, its "freebie Friday" on a Monday here at the Pauline Frommer daily, as I wanted to get this giveaway to your attention before it disappeared. Through Dec 21, Southwest Airlines will be giving away one $1000 gift certificate each day. Since most Southwest flights are in the $250 to $300 range round-trip, that's a good amount of travel. Two winners have already been announced for Saturday's and Sunday's give away.

Here are the rules: participants must follow Southwest on Twitter (their handle is @southwestair). This will allow them to see what the daily contest entails. Today, travelers must send a picture to Southwest via twitter of themselves and a reindeer by 4pm central time. A panel of judges will pick the winner.

You can see the winners from the first two days of the contest plus all the rules at the Southwest site. Probably the most important rule is that all submissions must have the hashtag #12daysofluv.

Good luck finding a photogenic rheindeer!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Freebie Friday: Guiding Apps for London and Paris

For a limited time, the Frommers aps to both London and Paris are being offerred, absolutely free, via i-Tunes. What's on 'em? Only the complete text of the Frommer's guidebooks to those cities, regularly updated and darn comprehensive (if I do say so myself). I'm talking hundreds of impartial, expert reviews for hotels, restaurants, stores and attractions, star rated so you can quickly and easily see what's most worth your time.  As I said, this is a limited offer, so get 'em before they revert to their still-affordable price of $4.99.

And while I'm on the topic, I'll remind you that Frommer's Travel Tool App is always free. A handy dandy compilation of currency converter, time translator, tip calculator, trivia games and more (see the picture to the left), its a must have for travelers. Really, I mean it.

Sorry if today's blog sounds like an ad. But being so close to these products, knowing most of the authors (and they live all over the world), and also knowing the incredible effort that goes into making sure our guidebooks and apps are the most accurate, helpful and easy-to-use on the market, I would be remiss not to "toot our own horn" every once in a while. These really are first rate apps and I want everyone to know about them.

Have a good weekend all!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cheerio or Aloha? Its Up to You with These Two Deals

I'm having trouble turning my attention away for travel deals right now. They just keep tumbling down the proverbial chimney, one better than the next, an early visitation from Santa.

(Photo by Justin Ornelias)
Hula la la: Round-trip to Hawaii from $333
And that price includes fuel surcharges, a brave move by Hawaiian Airlines as gas prices are on the rise. Also unusual are the number of gateways on sale. With this promotion, folks from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, and San Jose will fly at that price to Honolulu. The sale applies to Maui from Las Vegas, Portland and Seattle.

Bookings must be made by December 13 for travel from January 11 through June 9, 2011. Click on the link above for full details.

London Air and Hotel for Less Than the Air Alone
This one's a special via Travelzoo (so use the code TZLon4 when booking): airfare, daily breakfast and six nights' hotel in London for just $599. That's an unusually low price, though not as low as it first appears as taxes of close to $200 will be added (its still a deal). That promotion is for select dates in Jan and Feb; and from New York City only, though other gateways are available for not much more. 

Full information is available at the website of the seller European Vacations.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ziplines and Deals: Two Things (Perhaps the Only Things!) Las Vegas and Costa Rica Have in Common Right Now

I'll start with Costa Rica, as this is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sort of deal. It comes from STA Travel, and for today ONLY its dropping the already-reasonable cost of an 8-day tour there from $649 to just $325.

That price does not cover airfare or meals, but will get you where you're going within Costa Rica, cover the services of an experienced guide and 7-nights of guesthouse stays.

Interestingly, the tour heads to the less touristed Caribbean side of the country, which will mean nights of Reggae music and days of beach bumming and white water rafting (the tour loops from San Jose to Tortugero, Cuito and Purto Viejo). The group will be a maximum of 15 people, though most average 10. Departures are available about once a month from February through August (see the website above for specific dates).

Bookings must be made by end of day today!

Sin City Savings
I was alerted to the MGM Grand Resorts (TheTropicana, Ballys,  Planet Hollywood, Luxor, Aria, etc)  72 hour sale  by the Las Vegas Advisor. Again, this one's quick-as-a minute: the deals disappear at midnight tonight.

So should you jump to book? Maybe. As with many things in Vegas, its a gamble.

For example, through the official sale, the lowest rate I could get at the MGM Grand for a mid-January, mid-week room was $60. Through a third party site, however, I found the same room, same dates for $48. The Luxor, conversely, was offering an unbeatable $35 rate on the dates I booked. It was double that amount from outside sellers. The lowdown: look at the comparison site before you book any of the MGM deals directly.

But its not just hotels on sale in this instance; MGM is also discounting its shows including such top-notch offerings as the Blue Man Group and Jersey Boys. For advance ticket sales, I haven't seen anything to beat what MGM's charging on these shows, though its certainly possible that these prices could be undercut by "day of" discounts at the Tix4Tonight booths on the Strip.

Oh, and in case you haven't heard: there's now a zipline at the Freemont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas (hence the headline).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

JetBlue Deals, Noah's Ark and Bourbon, Canadian Lodging Costs Nipped by 50%, The Amalfi Coast for Less, and Hotel Stays for Xmas

Lots of news and deals today, starting with JetBlue's most recent sale (they seem to be having these weekly!), which slashes the fares on flights to a gasp-worthy $19 (Long Beach-Las Vegas, though the $29 fare from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau in the Bahamas is also pretty amazing). In all, there are 40 gateways on sale and the vast majority of flights seem to be going for less than $80 each way (with a good number at just $39 or $49 for pretty long hops). Tickets must be purchased by midnight ET December 8 for travel January 4 through Feb 15. Other restrictions do apply, so read all the fine print at the JetBlue site.

Discounts on Xmas Day Hotel Stays
USA Today is running an interesting column from Barb de Lollis about the fact that hotels across the US may be willing to play "Let's Make a Deal" with travelers for stays on Christmas Day, traditionally a very weak day for hotel occupancy rates (apparently, of the major US cities, occupancy for the holiday is only up in Denver and Houston this year; in the rest of the country, advance bookings are down 16% from last year, and last year was no banner year!). Ms. de Lollis notes that Red Roof is slashing 30% off lodging rates at a good 80% of its properties for the holiday. She also lists a few individual resorts hosting Christmas sales. You can read the entire piece by clicking here.

Delta Hotels Discount
The mid-sized (44 hotels) Canadian hotel chain announced just this a.m. that it would be drastically dropping its rates for those who book well in advance (bookings must be made by December 16 for stays through March 31). At some properties the sale is a full 50% off the published rates, at others the discount is less steep but still and all, the savings are generous. The code "TZC" must be used when booking. Click here to see all the details.

Build It, Fill It With  Animals and They Will Come
That seems to be the strategy behind the Kentucky governor's announcement recently that a Christian ministry would be building a massive Noah's Ark theme park. The project is expected to cost $150 million and employ a staff of 900. Some of the exhibits sound a little, well, disturbing--do we really want to see how Noah might have dealt with "waste management" aboard this floating zoo? And editorials have appeared in some of the top newspapers in the state warning that the project will create only low-wage jobs and hurt the state's image. It will be fascinating to see if the ark ever floats. I, personally, am hoping the food stands at the park take a page from Churchill Downs and serve mint juleps. With one of those in hand, a tour of the park might just be fun. You can read the New York Time's complete article on the project here.

(Positano on the Amalfi Coast, photo by Allerina McLarty)
And About the Amalfi Coast
Finally, Gate1Travel is offering an impressive fly-drive-stay package to the Amalfi Coast of Italy this winter (lowest rates are for departures January 19 and 26 and February 2). Just $899 will purchase hotels for 6 nights, a rental car, airfare from NYC (other gateways available for small upticks in price) and fuel surcharges (but not other taxes). Since this splendid coastline is one of the most expensive areas to visit in Europe usually, the deal's a winner. And what will the weather be like in the depths of winter? It should be temperate, as you'll be fairly far south. The only downside to visiting at this time of year is that a number of restaurants may be closed.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The First So-Called "Smart Cards" Introduced in the US

Its about time! After  years of American travelers finding themselves stymied at European ticket kiosks, gas stations and other automated money-takers that only accept "chip and pin"-style credit cards (ie those that require the use of a PIN number to work), several large corporations are coming up with "smart cards" for us.

Travelex, the large money exchange company, has gotten its out first, debuting its card last Wednesday. (I'll note that Mastercard has already announced one for Canada, and, rumor has it, will soon be doing the same for the US).

Not a credit card, but a pre-loaded debit card, the Travelex card is currently being offered only in euros and British pounds. Travelers determine how much they want to put on the card, load it up, pick a PIN number and go. The card can be used at ATM's, and any sorts of kiosks, restaurants, stores and hotels. The cards are being sold at Travelex retail stores as well as online at

I, for one, applaud this development. Chip and pin cards not only offer vastly greater protection against fraud but they've become the standard not only across Europe but in large swatches of Asia.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Freebie Friday Double Header: Free Bus Rides and Free Gas for a Year

 Just in time for the holidays, Megabus is rolling out a slew of new routes. And for stocking stuffers, its going to be giving away 11,000 free rides on these new routes.

Here's the scoop: starting December 15, Megabus will be driving between New York City, Hartford and Amherst. To publicize that new route, 1000 freebies are being given away on the Megabus site. Use code NEWNYC at the Megabus site.

The chances for scoring a free ticket are even greater for Washington, DC residents. For them, 10,000 free seats are in play for travel between DC and Boston, Buffalo, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Knoxville, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg (PA), Hampton (VA), Christianburg (VA), Richmond (VA) and Toronto. Whew! The code in this case is ILUVDC.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker
 As in the past, the free tickets will be given out until they're gone, so head over quickly to the site to snag one of your own. Good luck!

Free Gas

For those who prefer to drive themselves, MapQuest is giving away a year's worth of free gas to one person, every day in December. Simply go to the Mapquest site to register for the drawing (which is free). And once again: good luck!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Deals on Reno Skiing, Slashed Fares from Alaskan Air and More Good News About Google Maps

Photo by Jesse Cuizon
 100 Fares on Sale from Alaska Airlines
This is also being called the "Hot Deals on Ice"sale--an excuse to show photos of hunky Appolo Ohno. Who knows? That may be a good business strategy. Apparently, one of the new most popular names this year is Appolo, and if the handsome skiier has been able to sell that name to Americans, well-priced flights should be a cinch.

But I digress. You'll find all the details of the sale at the Alaska Airlines site, but in a nutshell tickets must be purchased by December 6 for travel through March 10. A 7-day advance purchase is required and a lot of dates are blacked out, including all Fridays and Sundays. Among the best prices are round-trips for $200 between St. Louis, Austin, Boston or New York and Seattle.

Google maps add biking directions in Canada
In March of this year, Google made news by adding biking directions to a number of major destinations within the US. This week, it cycled across the border, adding bike routes to maps for Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and a number of other major Canadian cities. What's there to say except "Thank you Google!"

Reno Ski Season Discounts
Most of the resorts surrounding Reno are now fully open, and though there's been no new snow in the last 24 hours, a 30-inch base, on average blankets the ground. And as many schussers know, Reno offers the delightful combination of gaming, shows and skiing meaning that when conditions are not ideal, one can still be entertained.

Currently, a number of resorts have posted deals that include both a bed and lift tickets. Among the best values:
  • Circus Circus Reno: From $65 for lift tickets, hotel room, free play ticket and food vouchers. Deal requires a two-night minimum stay and covers weekdays from now through Feb. 28
  • Silver Legacy Resort and Casino: A two-night minimum stay from now through Apr 30 may get visitors one lift ticket per adult, and one per child, and a $7 food credit plus a room starting at $115 a night.
  • The Peppertree Inn (in nearby Tahoe City): Weekdays from Jan 3 through Mar 31, guests will receive a room, and complimentary breakfast and lift tickets for $133 a night.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 Takes You Where You're Going For Less

Such a brilliant yet simple idea: a website that allows users to hook up with other folks going in the same general direction, so both can save on cab fares. That's the concept behind, and I'll note that its not only good for riders, but good for the environment.

Users head to the site and see if anyone in their vicinity is looking for a share at about the same time they are. If no-one is, they post a departure point (where the cab will pick them up), a time of departure and a destination. The site supplies the user with estimated costs for the trip and suggestions of when to post requests (earlier works better than last minute). It also ticks down to the time of departure, so that the rider isn't late to meet his or her cabmate.

(Photo by Josie Showaa)
For those nervous about the safety of riding with strangers, the site lists extensive tips including picking departure and drop-off points in well-populated areas; keeping personal information private during the ride; and how to best work out payment, tips and the like.

For those having trouble deciding which area to pick for a departure point, I'd suggest another website/app called which uses historical data on taxi routes to alert users to the best places to hail taxis.

I haven't yet heard from anyone who's used the service (apparently its available in cab-rich cities across the US), but I'm hoping to do so in the near future. I'll post my experience when I do.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Euro falling in value against the dollar, higher airfares in 2011

The recent bailout of Ireland doesn't seem to have assuaged currency traders. In fact, fears that Portugal, Spain, Italy and even Belgium might need cash infusions has driven the euro to levels it hasn't seen since mid-September. At one point today, it was trading at $1.29 to the dollar.

Since the money woes of European governments won't be cleared up any time soon, it seems a likely bet that the euro could be weakened even further, good news for North American travelers hoping for their dollars to go further abroad. Stay tuned!

Airfare Predictions for 2011
In less positive news (at least for travelers on the American side of the pond) the New York Times today published an article predicting a significant uptick in travel costs in 2011. Using corporate travel planners as their "canaries in a coalmine", they examined what sorts of contracts these folks were able to get for their clients.   In general, airfares will rise 3% to 7% varying by destination and class of service. Hotel rates are also expected to rise a bit, though since they've been at record lows for nearly two years, that increase doesn't seem as worrisome. Read the article for the full story.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday's Here! Some of the Best Sales So Far for Travel

Barbados (photo by David Blakie)
I have a feeling I'll be hovering over this blog all day, logging in the CyberMonday deals being announced via various methods. Three just crossed the Twitter transom, and they're so mouthwatering, I had to start early:

JetBlue's Top Secret Sale: Gotta love a deal where the cost of airfare and three nights' hotel stay comes to far less than the usual cost of airfare alone. So what that you don't know which hotel you're getting! At these prices, you can always switch hotels once in the area if you're really, really particular (my guess is the hotels will be just fine). JetBlue is selling air/hotel packages of three nights, to such far-flung destinations as Barbados, Las Vegas and Cancun from as little as $99 total (well, almost total: hotel taxes and fees are included, airline ones are not). The travel window is short (Dec 5-14), the booking window even shorter (by midnight tonight!). The $99 deals are to St. Lucia, Barbados, Las Vegas and Tampa from New York City and in some cases, Boston. Just $10 more buys Orlando or a beachfront property in Barbados. Cancun starts at $175. Click here to get full details or book.

Virgin America's Cyber Monday Sale: Not quite as impressive as JetBlue's, but likely a lot more doable. That's because though the sale's starting today it ends December 6, and covers flights all the way through May 11. The come-on price of $39 is for flights between San Francisco and either Los Angeles, San Diego or Las Vegas. But there are also impressive fares on much longer hops (such as cross-country flights starting at $109 between New York, Orlando or DC and Las Vegas, San Francisco or LA). Flights from Toronto to Los Angeles or San Francisco are being reduced to $129 on many dates. For full info, click here.

Frontier Airlines: With this one, fares start at less-than-most-bus-trips rate of $29 for flights between either Branson and Milwaukee, Kansas City and Columbus (OH) or Alburquerque or Colorado Springs and Denver. Salt Lake City, Appleton, Omaha, Flint, Grand Rapids, Madison, Green Bay, Austin, Durango, Phoenix and Indianapolis are also on the cut-rate flight roster. With all, travel must be completed by Feb 9 and Sunday flights aren't included in the sale. For full info, click here. Tickets must be purchased by end of day today, so move with all due speed.

A New Addition: Cruises

Online Vacation Center: Its prices are already among the lowest. Now Online Vacation Center is promising to pay all onboard gratuities, and pay for one meal at an on-board specialty restaurant for those customers who book a RCL cruise for anytime in 2011 by 8pm today. The cabin must be oceanview or higher. For more details, click here. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cyber Monday and Remaining Black Friday Travel Deals

Shell Hospitality Resort, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Thankfully, there's no fighting the crowds when it comes to post-Thanksgiving travel sales. You can shop in peace from your home computer and, if you can act quickly, you might pick up a worthwhile deal or two. Here are a few that are worthy of consideration:
  • Sonesta Hotels: 50% off 2 night stays through the end of the year at all 32 properties.The sale is in effect through Monday at midnight. Go to
  • Gate 1 Travel: Packager Gate 1 (it has money saving air/hotel deals to top destinations across Europe and South and Central America) is offering $50 off to anyone who books $500 worth of travel today, and uses the code BlackFr50. Save $100 with purchases of $1000 (BlackFr100), $250 with purchases of $2000 (BlackFr250) and $500 with purchases of $4000 (BlackFr400). Go to to book.
  • Starwood: 250 properties are taking part (many in such warm-weather destinations as Hawaii, the Bahamas, or the Caribbean) offering 50% off the cost of a suite from January 1 through April 30. To find out which Sheratons, St. Regis and Westin properties are taking part. Rooms must be booked by end of day on Monday. All details are at
  • ChinaSpree: Sale prices on many of its tours for those who book by end of day this Sunday. Go directly to for more details.
  • Shell Hospitality: The name behind a number of quite nice resorts (including a terrific one just off the Las Vegas Strip) its offering 50% off at 23 resorts around the US. For complete information on the sale, which runs through Monday, click here.
  • Club Med: You have until 10pm ET tonight to get in on this sale which discounts a number of the company's resorts from December 4 through January 29. Go to for full information and do it quickly!
  • Travelocity: Targeting warm weather destinations, mostly, its sale shaves 45% off its regular rates in many cases. Before booking though be sure to check the competition (some of which may come in cheaper, even with the additional discount). Booking deadline is Dec 4, go to for full info. 
  • Travelodge: This is for anyone traveling to Spain or the British Isles (Scotland, Wales, England or Ireland) in the next few weeks. The European version of Travelodge (slightly nicer properties than the American ones, often located on the sides of highways) is having a sale through Sunday night dropping the price of rooms to as little as 10 GBP. That's a remarkable price for a room in these areas. I've stayed at Travelodges in the past and can vouch for their cleanliness and comfort.
We'll also likely see a lot of deals pop on Monday on Twitter and Facebook, particularly from the airlines (a pattern we saw last year on CyberMonday). So search for your favorite carrier and you just might get lucky.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

French Tourism Officials Announce London's a Better City Than Paris

I know, I know. The headline  sounds likeone from the Onion. But its absolutely true. Recently, the Paris-Ile de France Regional Committee commissioned a survey to explore ways to increase international visitation and the report ended up ranking world cities. And Paris didn't win.

London was seen to be better in all categories from restaurants (sacre bleu!) to transportation to the appeal of its major landmarks. Paris tied with Amsterdaml, though the study was, of course, done before it was announced that the Dutch were going to stop selling pot to tourists (see post below), which might have affected Amsterdam's, er, lure.

Paris lost the most points on its public transportation (old, dirty metro according to the investigators) and the quality of its hotels (small rooms).

This is London's second win (well, third if you count the Olympics) in the world tourism stakes. At the 2010 World Tourism Awards it beat Paris once again, as well as New York City and Sydney for the title of "World's Leading Destination".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ready, set, go! Kate and William Set a Date, You Should Book Your Travel

Photo by Esther
Its official! William, Prince of Wales will marry Kate Middleton on April 29th at Westminster Abbey.

Why should you care, North American reader?

That date will shape your travel plans if you're going anywhere near London in the next six months.

Some 600,000 visitors streamed into London for the wedding of Charles and Diana. They were, arguably, a more popular couple. But they wed long before the proliferation of cable news stations turned even the most eccentric events into media frenzies (remember balloon boy?). My guess is that W & K's wedding will draw upwards of a million gawkers to London. If you're crowd-averse, you'll want to give the city a wide berth from about April 15 through May 10.

If you want, conversely, to be part of the action (or at least part of the crowds along the procession route), make your hotel reservations TODAY. There will literally be no room at the inn if you wait.  Even before the date was set, hoteliers were talking about how they'd manage the crowds and bookings. Some will be throwing parties for guests in the lobby, though I'm guessing these festivities will add significantly to the cost of rooms.

A good alternative to hotels is to book a private B&B through such companies as LondonHomes or AirBnB. If you shoot off an email today, you may be able to catch the owners before they realize they should be raising their rates.

The same goes for airfares. I wouldn't be surprised if the airlines don't start slapping holiday surcharges onto flights taking off from mid-April into early May. Those rates haven't been set yet, but could be in place by the end of the day, so move quickly!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Opting In: More Thoughts on the TSA Brouhaha

Hasn't this gone far enough? is now reporting that a TSA agent was punched today by a passenger in Indianapolis angry about the new security measures. In other airports, workers are being subjected to extreme verbal abuse, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, the union to which  the TSA employees belong.

And its only going to get worse, not only for workers but for travelers. On Wednesday, the biggest air travel day of the year, protestors are asking travelers to "opt out" of going through scanners and engage in other sorts of civil disobedience to disrupt security procedures at airports. Because pat downs take far longer than going through scanners, protesters expect to be able to get a lot of attention for their cause by holding up the lines. They'll probably succeed. The Associated Press is reporting that even small protests on that date could cause huge delays and create massive security lines. They quote Paul Rudin of the American Society of Travel Agents as saying "Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays." Some passengers may even miss their flights home for the holidays. 

What will be accomplished? Damned if I know. Because though people are up in arms about the idea of being patted down in sensitive areas, or scanned with a machine that will show a naked photo of them, none of the protestors has put forward alternative methods that will keep the public safe. None have addressed the sad fact that just last Christmas a man hid explosives in his underwear and was nearly successful in blowing up a plane. At that time, many voices were raised in anger that we didn't have scanners that could detect the pouch in his underwear. Where did those angry voices go?

 My father has an excellent piece on the lack of concrete alternatives being suggested right now, and the unsustainable costs of the methods being proposed. Rather than repeat his arguments, I'll urge you to read the blog. 

And I'll also urge you to "opt in". Protesting on Wednesday is irresponsible. It will cause widespread chaos, affecting travelers who rarely set foot on airplanes--the families who are traveling for Thanksgiving. A protest during a normal business day would be more to the point as it would bring the issue to the attention of those who'll be most affected by enhanced security: the frequent flyers. 

And it would be the kinder action to take. Do we really want to stop average folks from getting home for the holidays? I didn't think so. 

Have a heart. Opt in.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Major Buzz-Kill for Dutch Tourism?

On Wednesday, Ivo Opstelten, the Dutch minister for Security and Justice, announced the cessation of tourism to Holland.

Just punking you, reader. But the announcement he made may well have near the same effect. In an effort to crack down on drug abuse, the government is going to be banning the sale of hashish and cannabis to foreigners in the country's famed "coffee houses". These are, without hyperbole, one of the country's top 5 touristic draws, behind the Rijksmuseum and Red Light district, but likely ahead of tulips. No date has yet been set for when this ban will go into effect, according to Reuters.

Dutch News is reporting that the government is talking about enacting a "pass system" to keep track of who goes into and out of coffee shops. In effect, the coffee houses would become private clubs, open only to local members.

The situation is Holland has always been an odd one where the law is concerned. Coffee shop owners are legally allowed to sell small amounts of hash and pot (up to 18 ounces), but to obtain it in the quantities they need to sell the stuff, they, in effect, break the law. In recent years, according to the BBC, Dutch police have been cracking down on marijuana producers, leading to a steep uptick in the price of a toke.

Though I haven't yet read reports of the coffee shop owners planning some legal action to stop the ban, I'd be surprised if that isn't in the works. And I'd be even more surprised if some in the travel industry--hoteliers, restauranteurs who specialize in munchies--don't get involved as well. The fights just heating up, and where there's smoke...well, in the Netherlands, there's likely someone trying to sell it. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Arriba! Arriba! Mexican Vacations For Cheap

Last year at right about this time, I was in Cozumel. The sun was shining, and I was spending my day swimming in underground rivers (called cenotes), ATVing through the jungle, lounging on the beach and gorging on anything with pipian sauce (ground sunflower seeds, my favorite). It was, in a word, idyllic and the only fall-out I felt from the Mexican drug wars were the lower prices and lighter crowds on the beach. I was literally a thousand miles away from the troubled areas of Mexico where the violence was occurring and I felt perfectly safe. 

If I wasn't tethered to my computer with deadlines, I'd go back there tonight! But though I can't, there's no reason you shouldn't. There are extraordinary deals to the Cancun area in the coming weeks. Here are just a few:

  • Flamingo Resort, Cancun: 6 nights' hotel and airfare from Miami: $477 including all taxes from Vacation Travel Mart (other gateways available for reasonable add on fares)
  • Canto del Sol Resort, Puerto Vallarta: 3 nights hotels, all meals, most acitivities and airfare from New York City just $459 from BookIt (again, other gateways are available at a small uptick in price)
  • Avalon Reef Club, Isla Mujeres: 6 nights and airfare from Dallas/Fort Worth fo $570 including all taxes from Expedia (again, other gateways are certainly available; and Isla Mujeres is a quiet little paradise, great for folks who really want to get away from it all)
Can you feel your skin tanning right now? I certainly can. Just a small taste of what's available for those who have the time to get away before Christmas. Prices will likely rise after the first of the year, so I'd suggest you go sooner rather than later. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two Good Air Sales from a Betrothed Pair

William and Kate are a done deal, but the marriage between Air Tran and Southwest? That's still up in the air, no pun intended. Air Tran's shareholders have yet to give the union their blessing. And members of the Department of Justice's anti-trust division requested even more info of the two on Monday, leading some industry watchers to speculate the match may not pass the watchdogs.

In the meantime, this dynamic duo are offering twinned sales. The values, for the most part, are good. 

Southwest's one-way fares on this offer are starting at $59 one-way, for travel from Dec. 1 through Feb 16 (with some blackouts). Tickets must be booked by Nov. 22. Sorry DC-residents and (some) Floridians: the sale excludes Dulles Airport and Fort Myers. Click here for full details.

AirTran's rates start at just $44 each way but they disappear sooner--at midnight on Nov 18. Lowest fares on this sale will be found Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from now through Feb 9 (again with some blackout dates). For full info on that sale, click here

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Bronchitis has me in its thrall. So I will not be blogging today. Terribly sorry.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Puritan America Rears Its Ugly Head: The Full-Body Scanners Debate

At a time when hundreds of Americans are being illegally foreclosed upon because their records have been lost or are in such disorder no-one knows who owns what property anymore; when thousands more are out of work and have no hope of finding work; when cholera is decimating the now-forgotten population of Haiti; and when countless other really terrible things are happening in the world, what has raised the righteous anger of the American people? The idea that someone, without knowing who they are, might see a picture of their private parts.

Yes, it seems that airport scanners are such a pivotal civil liberties issue, that videos of travelers bravely standing up to TSA agents are going viral. And the members of the New Jersey Legislature have seen fit to head to Newark Airport to announce they're going to try and ban the use of scanners in Jersey.

Really?? Really? With all that's going on in the world its scanners that are upsetting people? Have they forgotten that just last Christmas a man came near to blowing up a plane by stuffing explosives in his underwear. Do they not know that the new scanners would have detected that powder before he'd ever been able to board?

Obviously, the scanners are not perfect. The terrorists will come up with other ways of getting explosives on board in the coming years. That's simply the nature of the cat and mouse game we're currently playing with Al Quada. But the deployment of the scanners to our nations airports will have a positive effect. They'll cut down on some of the methods that terrorists will be able to employ in the future. And that's a step in the right direction. A big step.

As for the radiation issue: I'd urge everyone to read the important recent article on uranium mining in Colorado that the New Yorker ran. In it the author talks about recent scientific data showing that exposure to small doses of radiation may not actually be harmful (and may not cause a build-up in the body). I'm not a scientist, so that's all I'll say here. Please read the article, its an eye-opener.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Freebie Friday: Wifi In the Air, a Holiday Gift from Google

(Photo by Sarah G.)
Google is re-gifting, good news for vacationers flying AirTran, Virgin America and Delta in the coming weeks. They'll get free  wifi on all domestic flights between November 20 and January.

Sure, Google did the same thing last year, but who's complaining? Last year, the company also unleashed free wifi at 47 airports, but that hasn't been announced yet for this year.

Google, are you listening? We greedy folks want that, too. And while you're at it, can you wire my Aunt's house by Thanksgiving? I could use some distractions between the creamed onions and the pie.

And a bonus freebie

I'll also mention that the massive hotel discounter, is throwing in free breakfasts during the upcoming holiday period (November 22 through 29), for those who book before November 25.

Before you surf over to the site though, read the fine print. Only "participating properties" are going to scramble your eggs, and you may have to stay longer than you wanted to get that pancake (there are minimum stay requirements on some properties).

My advice? Look at what has to offer and then compare it to discounted rooms you may find through the more broad-ranging search engine, compare and contrast and then book with whatever property offers the best value. Remember: the free breakfast served at some hotels consists of little more than a tiny box of cereal, oily coffee, sour orange juice and, if you're lucky, a pastry or two. Don't book a place just because of free breakfast; you may do better simply heading for some oatmeal at the Starbucks down the road.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Year-Round Discounts and Freebies for Service Members and Veterans

Sesame Place (by Steve Ward)
In honor of our brave men and women in uniform (and such veterans as my father) a few ways in which members of the tourism community salute your service:
  • A 50% Discount at Carefree RV Resorts: The discount is valid year-round for Sunday through Thursday night stays. There are Carefree RV Resorts, 35 in all, in California, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas. To learn more, go to
  • Complimentary Admission to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place: This one is for active members of the military only and includes free one-day admission for them and up to three members of their immediate families. Register with owner Anheuser-Buch's "Here's to the Heroes" program.
  • Motel and Hotel Discounts of 15% to 30%: These are available at Days Inn, Howard Johnson, Wyndham Hotels, Wingate, Travelodge, Knights Inn, Super 8, Ramada and Amerihost Inns with the use of the member ID number 61386. I'd suggest going to, an excellent travel search engine, to make sure you're getting the best rate, before you use this discount. (The group rates secured by discounters may end up being lower, especially in the case of 15% discounts).
  • Dollywood Offers a 30% Discount for one-day admissions for active and retired military: The offer also applies to spouses and direct dependents. To learn more, click here. The offer is good through January 1, 2011 (but is likely to be extended).
Beyond these, active duty and retired military should look to the AFRC resorts available across in Florida, Hawaii, Germany, Virginia and Korea which provide rest and relaxation at a reasonable rate. To learn more about these, click here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Unbeatable Deals for Dublin and Barcelona

Both are nightlife powerhouses. And now, because of serious recessions in both Spain and Ireland, both cities have become budget meccas, at least where package prices are concerned. Here are two of the best deals I've seen in a long time:

Barcelona has the largest number of Gothic quarter in the world
Barcelona: Airfare, 6 Nights Hotel and Daily Breakfast from $799
Though that price does not include air taxes (expect to add another $130 for that) it is well below what an individual traveler would pay were he or she to book the elements in the package separately. The offer is available from both and Virgin Vacations and is good for departures between January 10 and 31 and February 18 and 28. Lowest rates are from New York City, though other gateways are available at reasonable add-on costs. One word of warning on this package, though: the first hotel listed with each company is out in the boonies (the second one's okay). Be sure you research the hotel fully before you bite, as you want to stay in as central an area as possible in Barcelona.

Dublin: A Long Weekend at the Four Season's Hotel with Airfare from $599
Business travelers have, alas, abandoned the former "Celtic Tiger" and the hotels that once catered to them are having to slash rates to keep their staffs employed. Hence this extraordinary deal from Sceptre Tours. The lowest rate is available from both Boston and New York City and must be booked by November 19 for travel between Dec. 1 and Feb. 10. Discounted rates are also available from Chicago and Orlando, taxes are extra (though fuel surcharges are included).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Turning to Your Friends for Vacation Rental Advice (and Perhaps As Temporary Landlords)

Each one is different.

That is, in a nutshell, the greatest asset and the greatest liability of vacation rentals. And not only will each rental boast a unique decor, but most are owned by individuals, not corporations. Which means that buyers and renters need to take extra precautions before any money changes hands. Each needs to make damn sure that the other will make good on the promises in the rental contract (not always a given in these situations).

Enter, a newish website that has grand plans for restoring trust to the process of renting homes.

In its first iteration, Second Porch existed only on Facebook, and could only be used by folks who knew one another. This was key, as it mission was to facilitate rentals just of second homes by folks who might not rent at all if they had to vet potential tenants. The theory (since proved, I think) was that there are dozens of second homes (often called "country homes") all around the country sitting empty, that owners didn't have the courage or the time to rent out. Second Porch helped those owners make a bit of extra money, without too much worry; and also assisted renters looking for nice properties that would be affordable (most of the owners, because they were renting to friends or friends of friends, charged reasonable fees). Many of the properties on Second Porch simply don't appear on the regular rental sites for these reasons.

In June, Second Porch established a presence beyond Facebook at

And just this week, the site morphed again expanding beyond just second home rentals to any and all rentals. But it still has some features that keeps it from being just another VRBO or Homeaway:
  1. Networking: The program still works with Facebook in order to show users homes their friends have rented. This is helpful in two ways. A would-be vacationer with no idea of where to go can simply look at the places friends have recently rented and then ask their advice, choosing a home as a basis for picking a destination. Those who have a specific place in mind can register it, and then (hopefully) a list will pop up of the 10 different condos your buddies have already rented in that area. Of course, if your friends all go to the lake, and you're a mountain person, your list might come up short. A lot depends on what types of social circles you run in. If your social circle is lacking, you turn to step two (see below). 
  2. The Social Guestbook: Instead of asking guests to sign a book in the house, renters are given a link to an online guestbook which they can either simply sign; or use to write a review of the property. Anyone who signs the guestbook can then be contacted by potential renters, whether or not the initial renter knows the prospective renters. I suppose the theory here is that anyone who does not wish to be contacted for advice will simply not sign the guestbook. Anyone else will be fair game.
According to founder Brent Heigelkke, Second Porch has the advantage of transparency over other sites which include travel reviews. "Even if a traveler is not socially connected to any homes in their preferred destination, the "Social Guestbook" means that travelers can easily interact with the community of owners, managers and past guests around each home.  We like to say we show the traveler the "faces behind the places" after all, they are renting someone's home, so it's only logical that they should know a little bit about the person who is handing them the keys to their home."

Currently, has 14,000 listings in 100 countries though the vast majority of the listings are in the United States. Will it continue to grow? I, for one, am rooting for it to succeed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

More High Speed Rail Set to Debut in Spain

On December 19, Spain gets an early Christmas treat. Early that day, the first high-speed trains on the Madrid-Valencia line will zoom from the capital to the coast in just 90 minutes. On December 18, that train trip would have taken 3 hours and 45 minutes.

Valencia, Spain (Photo by KA)
To put into perspective what an achievement this is: the distance between Madrid and Valencia is 356 km (or 221 miles). That's nearly the exact same distance as between New York City and Washington, DC (and not much less than the trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas; and San Antonio to Dallas). Yet, the Iberian train service will take half as much time, to cover the same amount of ground, as the Acela train here in the US. Like its US counterpart, the Spanish train will make two stops along the way.

Eventually the train will make this run 20 times daily. Officials have no doubt they'll be to fill the train with that frequency.

Just as I have no doubt that high speed rail would be an instant hit here in the US. As airfares continue to rise, and our highways grow more congested, AMTRAK has been reporting record train ridership in 2010. Can you imagine how much it would go up were the trains even faster? And sufficiently subsidized (as they are in Europe) so they could be less expensive?

Worriers argue that the US simply doesn't have the resources currently to support the sort of outlay that real high speed trains would require.

But does Spain?

Its current unemployment rate is twice ours here in the US, at a whopping 20%. And the country has curtailed a number of governmental projects as a part of its austerity measures (designed to quell the fears of investors).

Yet even with these measures in place (since June), its gone ahead with rail because Spaniards understand (or most of them do), that rail transportation is intrinsic to economic recovery. It lessens the Spain's dependence on foreign oil (already low, due to better public transportation there). But as importantly it helps with tourism. Spain gets more foreign tourists than any other country on the planet. The quicker it can get them to the beaches, the more money everyone makes. Tax dollars spent on trains are a smart investment, and one that will return in taxable profits from restauranteurs, hoteliers, tour companies and others involved in the tourism industry (one of the top 10 largest industries in the world).

I know urging governmental spending is not a popular stance in the current climate. But not only will real investment in rail put thousands of Americans to work, its will also ease the crowding on our nations highways and give Americans a much needed alternative to air travel. Most importantly, rail travel is the greenest way to travel, and will help the environment immeasurably.

Our train systems was once the envy of the world. With just a small bit of political will, and some elbow grease, we could return to that status. And improve the lives of ordinary Americans in ways both great and small.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Freebie Friday: Two Reminders

Enter the US National Parks Without Paying A Dime
Veterans Day is being commemorated in the National Parks in a truly meaningful way. No, not with parades (those will be elsewhere). Instead, all of the country's parks will be waiving entrance fees for the day, not just for veterans but for everyone. Not that the fees are all that onerous (they top out at $30 per carload, with most parks charging far less). But hey, it's the thought that counts.

Veterans Day falls on November 11. To learn more, click on this link.

Free Excursions in Sicily
As I've mentioned here before, I'll be accompanying a tour with the listeners to my radio show this spring. We're heading to Sicily at the height of wildflower season! We have a fab itinerary, one that hits all the island's highlights, but also allows sufficient free time so that member of the group can do some exploring on their own.

Of course, there are optional excursions available during that free time, and here's where today's second freebie comes in. Those who book the tour by November 12 will receive a free excursion! That's an extension of the earlier deadline and quite a nice deal, I think. Hope you'll join me on the tour. It should be quite exciting.

To learn more, go to