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 Sonesta.com.
  • 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 Gate1Travel.com 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 Starwood.com
  • ChinaSpree: Sale prices on many of its tours for those who book by end of day this Sunday. Go directly to Chinaspree.com 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 www.clubmed.com 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 Travelocity.com 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? MSNBC.com 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, Hotels.com 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 Hotels.com has to offer and then compare it to discounted rooms you may find through the more broad-ranging search engine HotelsCombined.com, 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 CarefreeRVResorts.com
  • 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 HotelsCombined.com, 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 Go-Today.com 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 SecondPorch.com, 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 SecondPorch.com.

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, SecondPorch.com 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 www.goaheadtours.com/wor.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bike Vacations' Steady Climb

One short month ago, I was pedaling the back roads of Catalonia, following a well-marked series of signposts specifically created for bikers and walkers in France. My husband and I were traveling independently. But we were struck by how many other cycling vacationers we saw both on the trails and in the restaurants in the towns we stopped at each night (the cyclists were inevitably the loudest tables).

Who knew we were part of a growing trend?

The non-profit, Adventure Cycling Association just put out a press release on a series of studies yesterday, confirming the growth of bike travel and its importance to local communities.
  • States across the US are seeing a return on bike travel: In Wisconsin, researchers at the University of Wisconsin attributed $532 million of spending to out-of-state cyclists. Minnesota's conference on bicycle tourism attracted twice as many attendees as expected; and Oregon's biking website Ride Oregon has also far exceeded expectations in terms of the number of hits its received.
  • Commercial Tour companies are seeing growth: When we were in Spain, the tour company that helped us arrange the independent trip we took told us they had 10 different trips in Catalonia leaving the same day we did--a record. According to the Adventure Cycling Association, Trek Travel, another major international cycling company, has seen a 20% growth.
  • More interest in major cycling events: One million people participated in some 1700 events across the US, according to the organization Bikes Belong. In the course of these events some $200 million was raised for charity and nearly $600 million poured into local communities. According to the other major events organization, the terrific National Bicycle Tour Directors Association (side note: their website often lists terrific biking deals), events sponsored by its members have gone back to pre-recessionary numbers. 
My husband, biking Spain
And in perhaps one of the best pieces of news released, the Adventure Cycling Associations ambitious and forward-thinking plan to create an American cycling network garnered recognition from Secretary of Transportation Ray La Hood, when he called it "a win for states, a win for local communities and a win for America." More communities have been developing bike friendly routes and facilities; and the Adventure Cycling Association itself has made great strides, er pedals, in mapping more routes, growing the network to more than 40,000 miles. I can only hope its as good as the one in Spain sometime soon.

By the way, if you'd like to read my story on biking in Catalonia, simply click here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Airfares to Hawaii Drop to As Little as $133 between the Mainland and the Islands

Slash and burn.

That's been the strategy of the major airlines in the past two years, as they've pruned back the number of flights to pretty much every destination on the planet in an effort to better monetize the remaining flights.

(Photo by Rhett Maxwell)
Hawaii, however, seems to be the exception. In the last year, its added 13% more flights from Los Angeles, 7% more from Canadian gateways and new flights from all over the US on Continental Airlines and Allegiant Air.

Hmmm...wondering if the airlines are now worrying that was a mistake? Because as airfares to other places keep going higher, we're seeing more and more sales to Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Case in point are the current price slashers being reported by BeatofHawaii.com. According to that savvy Aloha specialist, folks who book now will be able to get the following, excellent prices:
  • Chicago and Denver to Oahu: $161 each way
  • Cincinnatti, Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Memphis to Oahu: $174 each way
  • Seattle to Maui, the Big Island, Kauai or Oahu: $133 each way
  • Phoenix to Maui: $140 each way
  • San Francisco to Oahu: $150 each
  • San Jose and Oakland to Oahu: $163 each way
The major players in the war are Delta and United, so play 'em off against one another if you decide to book. That is, unless you live on the West Coast, where Hawaiian Airlines is beating the competition. Fares seem to be reaching their nadirs between mid-January and late February, though the ones for Chicago and Denver go all the way through summer.

All in all: lots of confusion but lots of options so shop around, but do it fast. There's no telling how long these low prices will last.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vigilance Pays Off: News from AutoSlash

No, AutoSlash is not the name of the latest Wes Craven film.

Its a newish travel search/booking engine that's been revolutionizing the way travelers rent cars. Its first innovation has been to sweep the web for car rental coupons. It automatically applies these in the matrix its shows would-be customers, allowing them to take advantage of savings they might not otherwise have known about.

But that's just step one. Once the booking has been made, the site then tracks the price of your rental car, alerting the user if the price goes down. I can tell you, from personal experience, that this type of vigilance often pays off. (I once saved about $50 simply by rebooking a four-day car rental at a lower rate that became available closer to the date of my trip). AutoSlash founder Jonathan Weinburg put it this way, when we were last in contact. "As you well know, if consumers are not checking pricing on their rentals daily, they're probably leaving money on the table, as a good percentage of rentals drop in price at some point.  The earlier they book, and the earlier they start tracking the price, the better their chances are of saving money."

AutoSlash's latest move--one that I like very much--has been to add a new tab allowing folks who didn't book their original rental car through AutoSlash to use their notification process should the price go down.

Here's how Weinburg explains the process: "If you click the Track tab, it prompts the user for some some basic information, like their name, email address, rental company and confirmation number.  Once that information is submitted to us, we'll retrieve the details of their rental and begin to track pricing on the rental.  If we find a lower price than what they are currently booked at, we'll notify them via email so they can edit their existing reservation or re-book to take advantage of the lower rate."

Pretty nifty, eh? And totally free. Frankly, I can't see a downside to trying this new service.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Kiwi-Tastic! Air New Zealand Offers a Money-Saving New Air Pass

Travel from the West Coast of the United States to New Zealand in 2011, and you're likely to pay something in the neighborhood of $1100 to $1200 for your round-trip flight. But if you can commit before November 8, you'll not only pay less for the TransPacific airfare, you'll snag a pass that allows you to jump to four gateways within the country for no extra charge.

The Rotorua Region of New Zealand (photo by Phillip Capper)
Drumming up business for the beginning of its off-season (February 28, the starting date for flights on this sale, is also the beginning of New Zealand's winter), Air New Zealand is offering its Kiwi Explorer Pass for just $998 (including fuel surcharges but not taxes, which will add about $95 to the final cost). Pass-holders will be allowed to travel anytime between February 28 and April 30 to Queenstown, Christchurch, Rotorua and Auckland, allowing for a much more streamlined tour of the country than is usually possible (for budget travelers, at least).

Complete details, with all the fine print, can be found at the link above.