Monday, January 31, 2011

Vital Safety Tips for Travelers

Some 15 million people visit Egypt year. So its my guess that close to 1 million are now wishing that they had better emergency plans in place before they left home.
This is not to say they should have known they were going to a place that would become dangerous. Egypt hadn't had these types of violent protests in three decades. Statistically, the country has been as good as other major destinations at keeping its visitors safe.

But the lesson here is: no destination is always safe. As boyscouts know, its better to be prepared:
    Photo by Al Jazeera English
  • Consider registering your whereabouts with your country's State Department when you go abroad. That way they can reach out to help you should a political or natural disaster occur as they'll know how to find you.
  • Always keep your cellphone charged. If its not working, you can't use it in an emergency.
  • When calls aren't getting through, try texting. And keep trying. I just heard on the news about a young American woman who's studying in Cairo and had been trying to call her family for three days to let them know she was okay. She was finally able to get a text through, which takes less bandwidth.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. You want to know, roughly, where you are on a map at all times if possible. If you know that, you'll be able to formulate a better plan of escape should an earthquake alter the landscape; or the arrival of large crowds make it more difficult to tell where you are.
  • Carry some small pieces of food and water with you at all times. This one works for mom's like me, too. There's always a kid "emergency" that can be solved by helping up the little darlings blood sugar.
  • Make sure you have important documents copied and kept in a place online that's secure and easily accessible. You could be separated from your passport of plane tickets. Having access to them in a digital form could be a huge time-saver.
My thoughts are with the Egyptian people today. I have two not-so-simple hopes: that Mubarak steps aside peacefully, and that Egyptians get the right to elect their government when this is all over.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Freebie Friday: Carpooling to Ski Resorts & Free Kids' Flights to DisneyWorld

Calling all ski bums and bunnies: you might have to schuss alone, but you don't need to drive alone. Just surf to either or to arrange shares; the sites work particularly well for Colorado, but I've heard of folks who went to the second one and managed to get a lift to resorts in other western states.

The savings go beyond the cost of transportation. Resort areas such as Copper, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin want to reward those who help keep the highways leading to their resorts traffic free by offering deals to carpoolers, from premium parking or discounted lift tickets. (You'll find a full list of these offers at the GoI70 website).

American Airline Vacation's Own Form of Fairy Dust
Remember in Peter Pan when the guy in tights sprinkles magic dust on the children allowing them to fly? Well American Airlines Vacations is pulling the same trick, offering free flights to children when their parents book air and hotel packages to DisneyWorld. Once in Orlando, the entire family gets whisked from the airport to DisneyWorld on a free shuttle.

The small print on the offer is a bit more earth-bound, but not too bad:
  • Vacations must be for a minimum of 3 nights
  • Stays are at Disney Resorts only, but they included the lower-priced options 
  • The offer is valid for "most days" between Feb 17-Apr 16, Apr 28-June 14, Aug 14-Oct 1
  • Bookings no later than Feb 13
For more information, be sure to click here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Goodbye Color-Coded Travel Alerts!

We've been "orange" for a good 10 years now, haven't we?

I'm talking about the panic-provoking, color-coded security alerts that, thankfully, are now being phased out by Homeland Security.

The Associated Press yesterday leaked an announcement that Janet Napolitano is expected to make today  about the replacement of the old system by the so-called "National Terrorism Advisory System". The NTAS will be a more targeted system, alerting only those who can respond officially in potential terrorist situations. When there's an alert that the public needs to be aware of, Homeland Security will make a specific announcement and then rely on the press and social media sites to get the word out.

Its a step in the right direction, wouldn't you say? Instead of needlessly alarming the public about situations over which they have no control, alerts will be put in place for those folks who can actually make a difference.

The new system is expected to be in place by the end of April. 

An update (2:41 pm): Napolitano just made the planned announcement. Here's what she had to say about the new threat system during a speech as George Washington University, as reported by

"When we have information about a specific, credible threat, we will issue a formal alert providing as much information as we can." That information will include a summary of the threat, steps authorities are taking to guard the public and what the public can do, she said.

"The alerts will be specific to the threat. They may recommend certain actions or suggest looking for specific suspicious behavior. And they will have a specified end date." 

Thank you Janet! Sounds good to me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cruising Singles Thrown a Bone! Plus Marriot Rewards Spring Guests

(photo by Bryan Ochala)
Its no secret that I wasn't delighted with Norwegian Cruise Line's new ship, the Epic (if you scroll down through this blog you'll find the review I posted). But it did have one feature that was revolutionary: a section of the ship created just for single travelers.  Not only did it feature reasonably-priced solo rooms (no singles supplement) but they had a groovy decor, with mood lighting in dance-club hues. An even smarter touch: the rooms were grouped together on two floors, with lounges on each so that the solo travelers could mingle and meet.

The single option has been a big hit for NCL, so it should come as no surprise that a copycat has come along. Yesterday, Royal Caribbean announced in USA Today that it, too, would be adding single rooms.

Three of them.

On one boat (that carries 2000-plus passengers).

Um, really RCL? That's the best you can do?

While many in the travel industry are hailing yesterday's announcement as a step forward for single travelers, I have to agree with Carolyn Spencer Brown of that this is just a publicity ploy.

Guess I took the bait, as I'm writing about it here. But I'm hoping that the attention this announcement is getting will convince RCL and other cruise lines to go a bit further, and create more viable options for solo travelers. Really, they're long overdue.

Why You May Want to Stay at Marriott This February and March

Those loyal folks who include Marriott in all their travel plans in the hope of racking up free nights have even more incentive to do so this February and March. I recently saw an article by Tom Parsons noting that members of the Marriott rewards program can "earn one free night with every second paid stay" in February or March. See the Marriott site, or Parson's article for full details.

But even if you don't belong to Marriott's loyalty program or want to stay at the same chain over and over, you may be able to get a deal at one of their properties. For Thursday through Monday stays between Feb 4 and Mar 27, the chain will be slicing as much as 45% off nightly rates at hotels in the USA, with many starting at just $89 a night. The gotchas? Guests must book a Friday or Saturday night stay as part of their nights at the hotel; and must book by Feb. 2. For full info, click here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Airfares and Hotel Rates Expected to Increase

Will you have to share your hotel room to keep costs low? (photo by Jason D'Great)
Travel now or forever lose your chance!

That seems to be the message behind two depressing articles today about the expected rise in travel pricing for 2011. According to experts interviewed by the AP, airfares are already up an average of 14% just in the past year. With the cost of oil increasing, and the airlines' newly careful strategy of limiting capacity, most expect prices to climb even higher in the coming months.

Hotel stays, too, are expected to get costlier. In an article gloomily titled "The End of Hotel Deals", NY Times reporter Martha White cites the rise in business travel (while admitting leisure travel remains comparatively sluggish) for a 6% increase in hotel rates last year.

I find this news less alarming, as hotel rates had dropped sharply (often by as much as 40%) at the start of the recession. As well, as the article points out, the rebound has been unevenly distributed. White notes that hotels in cities on the coasts of the United States are doing far better than those in the interior. I'd hazard a guess that there's also a difference in occupancy between the hotels that cater to the growing number of business travelers and those that serve leisure travelers.

Bottom line: Its more important than ever to search smartly. Using such mega search engines as, and will not only turn up more results, but also those stray bargains we travelers live to find. Its all in the search nowadays.

Monday, January 24, 2011

UK To Ditch Star Ratings for Hotels (Probably)

Ever wonder why so many British hotels feature, as lobby decor, a shelf of dusty liquor bottles and glasses? Its to earn the hotel an extra star in the official government ratings system. To go from a one-star to a two-star property hotels need to have a lobby bar. So the liquor was set out, though no-one was ever there to mix or sell the stuff.

Well, those bottles are likely going to get drunk in February....but by staff not guests. TNooz is reporting that the government will publish a policy paper next month proposing the elimination of official star ratings.

Its a long overdue move. The official criterion that determine star ratings (in many places, not just the UK) are so entirely divorced from the actual guest experience as to be laughable. Inspectors judge properties on such trivial matters as whether or not there are side tables next to beds. The quality of the welcome, or the handsomeness of the decor is usually deemed too subjective to be judged and incorporated in the ratings.

In making this move the UK government is acknowledging the mighty power of the internet. With detailed, opinionated reviews so widely and freely available (through both guidebook sites and user-generated sites), the need for star ratings has disappeared.

So adios stars, and here's to reading and assessing for ourselves.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Freebie Friday: Two-for-the-Price-of-One Off-Broadway Shows in New York City

January and February are traditionally the months in New York City when a lot of shows close. Blame it on the frigid temperatures here; they dissuade a lot of would-be audience members from showing up.

(Fuerza Bruta by Tim Snell)
But this winter, Off-Broadway producers have come up with a clever way to battle the weather: two-for-one discounts and free drinks. As for this posting, 18 off-Broadway productions will be taking part in the offer, which goes from Jan 24 through Feb 13. They include such long-running favorites as Stomp, Avenue Q, The Fantasticks, Fuerza Bruta and Naked Boys Singing. Among the newer offerings are Nora Ephron's "Love, Loss and What I Wore" and the children's show by movie star Julianne Moore "Freckle Face Strawberry". Patrons receive a coupon for two-for-one cocktails at bars and lounges near the theaters. 

There's no sell-by date on the special, but one of the shows is already being listed as sold-out, so move quickly. Click here for full details.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Inside the Psyche (And Sales) of American Airlines

Photo by Andrew Morrell
The pugnacious executives of American Airlines have been making headlines lately, with much of the travel world wondering whether their strategies to increase direct sales will undermine their ability to make any sales at all.
As it now stands, American is no longer carried on Orbitz, Expedia or Hotwire; and it just inked a deal with Priceline that takes users from that site right to the American website for bookings. (You gotta wonder how this helps Priceline build marketshare). At a recent shareholders meeting, USA Today reported, executives refused to discuss the stand-offs with the major online travel agencies; clearly its a sore point.

Which may be partially why American is trying to make nice with would-be passengers right now. Its recently posted a bevy of bargains on its website. They include:
  • Double miles for anyone who books directly on the AA site and travel before the end of the month from either Chicago or New York to Brussels, Madrid, Barcelona or Paris
  • Deeply cut fares within the US: While rival Virgin America is touting its sale price of $60 each way between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, American is slicing that rate in half on the route to just $29. That's also the fare between Dallas and Wichita; Dallas to Oklahoma City is $10 more. There are also real bargains from such gateways as Austin, Chicago, Indianapolis, Miami and other major airports.
  • Bargain fares to Latin America: Guayaquil, San Salvador, San Jose, Quito and a host of other hot spots are on sale, and for the most part the discounts are solid.
With all of its current promotions, bookings must be made no later than Jan 24, usually for travel into early May. Go directly to the American website (link above) for more details.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

More Banks Waiving the Currency Exchange Fees on Credit Cards, Plus A Bevy of Air Sales

Ron Lieber of the New York Times broke the news last Friday that a number of banks have decided to get into the ring with BankOne, formerly the only major credit card issuer that charged no foreign exchange fees. Chase will now be waiving the fee on its cards that are co-branded with British Airways, Hyatt and Intercontinental Hotels. Citigroup will follow suit with its new "Thank You" cards. Not to be left behind, American Express will be nixing the fee for its Platinum and Centurion members.

Problem is, these are elite cards, all of which carry higher annual fees than the norm. So for most of us plebes, fee-less credit cards issued by credit unions and BankOne will likely continue to be the go-to solution. As will the option of using debit cards abroad (perhaps the new chip-and-pin ones recently rolled out by Travelex).

I'll be interviewing Lieber for our radio show tomorrow and will report here whether he has anymore advice on using plastic abroad.

Airfare Sales

Virgin America is expanding, having just put in an order for 60 new Airbuses. To celebrate, its throwing a sale on travel from Jan 31 into May 11. Some fares don't represent a real discount ($60 one-ways between LA and San Francisco), others hit the mark ($139 from LA to Cancun, Toronto or Boston). The sale ends at midnight tonight. Click on the link above for details. 

Vision Airlines: With the recession in full swing and gas prices on the rise Vision Airlines came into being November of 2010. Not the most auspicious time to start an airline, but I, for one, wish it luck. Its flies mostly from Destin, FL offering direct flights to Niagara Falls/Buffalo, Atlanta, Louisville, Knoxville, Louisville, Shreveport, all of the major Florida hubs and 10 other southern gateways. To get itself established, its offering flights for as little as $49 each way. Add $15 onto that fee, though, as that's the cost of the first checked bag on this new carrier. The sales are listed as being for a "limited time" but just how much time that is isn't specified.

bmiBaby: For those flying within Europe, the most notable current sale may be the one being launched by this upstart. Not only are prices significantly lower than usual, they'll be waiving their baggage fees for luggage of up to 22kg. In my quick search of the site, I found flights from Manchester in the UK to Geneva, Switzerland or Cardiff, Wales to Malaga, Spain for as little as 12 GBP. The airline will be adding Verona and Ibiza to its line-up in 2011.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Turning Back Time: President Obama Returns Cuba Travel Regulations to Where They Were Under Clinton

(Photo by Fabio Dilupo)
Its a start.

On Friday, with the long holiday weekend looming, the Obama Administration quietly announced that it would be allowing more travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba. Under the new regulations church, cultural and educational groups will have the right to travel to the neighboring island legally. In addition, all international airports in the US are now allowed to accept planes from Cuba, a move that will make it easier logistically to get from one country to the other.

The rules will, in effect, move us back to where we were when Clinton was President. As I said earlier, its a start (or a restart, in this case).

Under Clinton, with a "People-to-People" visa in hand, thousands of Americans traveled to Cuba with a diverse array of groups ranging from the Nantucket Preservation Society to Amherst College to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. They did so to go birding, attend jazz fests, take architectural pilgrimages, learn about healthcare in Cuba, you name it. My father visited twice in that period as a journalist; it wasn't hard to do.

So more people will be going.  But all this begs the question: why can't we all easily go? Why is our right as citizens to travel freely still being denied?

The vast majority of Americans are in favor of ending the ban and, in recent polls, nearly 70% of Cuban Americans are now in favor of its repeal, as well. They understand, rightly, I think, that the ban never did what it was intended to do: weaken Castro. His regime has outlasted 10 American presidencies at this point.

Moreover, the ban has hurt our international standing. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the 17th time (in as many years) to condemn our long-standing embargo of the island. The vote passed by 185 to 3.

Unfortunately, the ban cannot be lifted by executive order. It needs an act of congress.

Which is where we all come in. Though the Congress of the US is now woefully divided, they need to understand that the American people are no longer divided on this issue. We want to have the freedom to travel where we please. We understand that ending the embargo will help our economy as it will give us another close neighbor to which we can export our goods. And we're tired of supporting a policy that failed a long time ago, and makes us look like fools and bullies in the eyes of our allies (all of which normalized relations with Cuba long ago).

Please, do your part. Write to your representatives and let them know that you want to end this misguided embargo.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Freebie Friday: Berlin's Long Night of Museums

It just feels naughty to visit museums after the sun has set. Even when they're open, it feels one's breaking some unspoken rule. And the later it gets, the bigger the fun, I've found.

Berlin (Photo by Dr. Who)
That's certainly the case with Berlin's bi-annual Long Night of Museums which will be taking place on January 29 (and again Aug 27) from 7pm all the way until 2 am in the morning. The fun is ramped up even more by a myriad of one-night-only performances, both musical and theatrical, set in different venues around the city (along with a number of food fests) In all, over 100 museums will be participating.

I'm fudging a bit by including these fests in a Freebie Friday posting as there is a nominal fee for the evening (2.5 euros, 1.5 for those under 25). However, the shuttle that transports art-lovers from one institution is free.

Have a great weekend all!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bidding on Bumping: An Innovation from Delta

The airline bumping game has just acquired a new wrinkle.

Delta Airlines has instituted a program that asks travelers how much they'd accept to be bumped from their flight when they check in online or at an airport kiosk. A note on the page explains to passengers that Delta will be accepting the lowest bid, giving flexible travelers incentive to underbid their fellow passengers.

The airline is saying the new system will help passengers by significantly reducing delays as it will allow gate agents to more efficiently find volunteers to be bumped when a flight is overbooked.

But the real winner will be Delta which will likely have to pay out much less for bumping passengers than they have in the past. My guess is that inexperienced travelers will accept much lower pay-outs than those flyers who have gamed the system in the past to make a bit of money from these bumpings.

So what to do if you get asked how much you'd accept to be bumped? Never accept a voucher for future travel. That puts you into the same bucket as all the frequent flyer members, and we all know how difficult it can be to redeem miles nowadays. Instead ask for cash. How much you ask for is a personal decision, though if you want to stick it to the airline remember that it will have to pay $400 to $800 if it has to bump a passenger who doesn't give permission.

It seems like a no-brainer that other airlines will likely adopt this policy. So start your strategizing! What bids are you willing to accept?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hotels and Hostels on Sale Through the End of March

Gatliff Hostel, Ireland
When I was researching the first edition of my book Pauline Frommer's New York City, I made an interesting discovery: the site often came up with the best rates, not just for hostels, but for budget-end hotels as well. In one case, its prices for a certain midtown property were consistently a good 30% lower than the competition.

So though its niche a backpacker site, Hostelbookers is a top site to visit, even for those folks to ornery to share a room with 10 strangers.

Especially now, as the site is holding its yearly January sale. Despite the name, the sale covers travel through the end of March (though rooms must be booked by the end of this month).

Discounts are delightfully deep, cutting prices by as much as 50% in Prague, Florence and London. For a complete list of the properties on sale (both hotels and hostels), click on the link right above.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trip Advisor Launches Airline Rating System

I don't take into account airline food when picking a flight. Would you?
I have two criteria that determine whether or not I take a flight: the price and the amount of room I get between my knees and the seat in front of me. That may be why I fly JetBlue when I can. The price is often right and the so called "seat pitch" (ie space between seats) is more generous than the competition.

As for service, decor, in-flight! Service will vary from flight to flight, I've found, simply because the flight attendants will always be different. Decor doesn't affect my enjoyment of the few hours I spend getting from point A to B (and that goes for the groovy purple lighting aboard Virgin America; since its legroom doesn't compare to JetBlue's I always take the latter when I get a chance).

I haven't mentioned safety because there's no difference, statistically, from one carrier to the next when it comes to flights in the US, Caribbean, South and Central America and Europe. It is a factor for flights within Asia and Africa.

Maybe I'm more easy-going than most. I'm sure TripAdvior certainly hopes that I am. It has just launched an airline rating system which will allow users to rate their flights by a number of criterion, including service, reasonableness of fees, seat comfort, etc. At this point there's no set-up for full reviews (which would be a real waste of time, to my mind).

The rating system could  be popular. And if popular enough it could certainly affect the way in which airline personnel are trained; and perhaps even how DOT regulations are written. Gotta take a wait and see on this one.

You can read a full account about the new system at

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Weather Outside IS Frightful: What To Do If You're Supposed To Be In the Air This Week

(photo by Thomas Tolkien)
With vast swatches of the US being buried under even more snow, I thought it might be a good idea to pass along some advice I got from Priceline's Brian Ek on what to do when your flight has been canceled. I interviewed him on this topic recently on our radio show (click here for the podcast).

1) Don't go to the airport! This is probably the key bit of advice. You won't get any further by telling the folks behind the counter that your flight has been canceled. Instead, stay somewhere cozy and get on the phone. If you'd like to read about the awful consequences of going to the airport during a blizzard, take a look at this blog by my friend and colleague Jason Cochran who slept at the airport during the last blizzard, witnessed food riots as the restaurants ran out of grub and other assorted melees as passengers became more and more desperate to go home.

2) Use your loyalty status: Those who collect miles don't only get free flights. Reach the higher echelons of loyalty and you'll likely be given a different customer service number than the hoi polloi. Use it! Not only will it have a higher staff to customer ratio, but the operators there are allowed to play favorites on behalf of their clients and often they do.

3) Persistence Pays Off: When you're attempting to rebook you're flight and you're handed an unacceptable itinerary don't get angry, get patient. Call back in a couple of hours. The fact is, flight loads are constantly shifting, no more so than during a weather situation. So call every few hours to see if you can get a better flight out.

4) Be flexible: Okay, it might make no sense whatsoever to fly from Tampa to Denver to get to New York City. But if that's what offered, and there aren't many options, take it! A flight that may backtrack a bit is better than none at all.

Good luck to all who are flying in the next few days.

And if you've been wondering why there is so much more snow lately than there used to be, take a gander at this excellent New York Times article on the effect of climate change on the snows that used to dump on Siberia and other remote regions. A truly chilling piece, in more ways than one.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Freebie Friday: Kids fly free to Disneyland via AK Air

The promotion is almost as straightforward as it sounds: for vacations now through mid-April, Alaska Air will be waiving the fare for kids going to Disneyland.

Oh sure, there are black-out dates, taxes to contend with, age restrictions ( 2-11 only on this one), and a limit on the amount of kids one can bring (its one per paying adult). But still, this is a darn fine deal for families living in Anchorage, Chicago, Austin, Vancouver or any of the other gateways the airline services. Alaska Airlines Vacations offers a wide range of possible accommodations and will add-on Park Hopper passes for those interested.

I know that some folks pass by Disneyland in favor of the much larger DisneyWorld, but when I took my family to "the Land" several years back for three nights we never ran out of things to do and see. In fact, we needed another couple of days to get it all in! And with the crazy weather in Florida this year, California's Disney experience may be the more temperate one.

For complete information, click here. Packages must be booked by February 19.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

EasyJet's Big Winter Sale Extends All the Way Into Summer

Getting to Europe has always been the pricey part. Once there the area's low-cost carriers and super-cheap backpacker buses have made it cost-effective to jetset between various and sundry European countries. Doing so has been cheaper, in recent years, than taking the train.

A star among those low-cost carriers, one that has prices on a par with those offered by rival Ryanair, but without the punitive (and often bizarre) extra charges, is EasyJet. Now thanks to its 30% off sale, its shining just a bit brighter in the firmament. Thirty percent may not sound like a huge discount, but since the discount covers all flights and every seat on each of those flights, from Feb 2 through July 13 this may be an easier discount than usual to take advantage of. One catch: fares must be booked by midnight (European time) on Jan 11.

Some of the discounts available:
  • Lisbon-Barcelona: 10 euros each way
  • London-Athens: 31 GBP each way
  • Palermo-Rome: 12 euros each way
  • Paris-Tangier: 30 euros each way
There are many more city pairs on sale. To see all the options, head to EasyJet's website.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rome Adds a Room Tax for Visitors

Locals are calling the new tax on tourists the "Berlusconi tax", saying (rightly, I think) that it was imposed in response to the President's budget cuts which have shifted much-needed money away from the preservation of Rome's important historic sights. Maybe I'm a Pollyanna, but I have trouble railing against a tax that will (hopefully) help keep the Colosseum or the Pantheon standing longer. We all had a visceral reminder at Pompeii of what happens to the world's greatest treasures don't receive adequate care: they fall to ruin.  Garnering less attention were some smaller collapses in Rome itself at Nero's Palace and the Colosseum. Since I consider these sites to be among the world's, and not just Rome's, greatest treasures I'll be happy to pay a couple of euros more a day for their upkeep when in Rome.

Arch of Constantine (Photo by Eli Brown)
All that being said, it will be pricier to vacation in Rome now (the new tax went into effect Jan 1). Here's how the new tax breaks down; the tax is levied on anyone over the age of 10:
  • O euros for those staying in hostels (glad those folks got a break)
  • 1 euro per person per day for those staying in campgrounds (for a maximum of 5 days)
  • 2 euros per person per day for those staying in B&B's or 1- to 3-star hotels (for a maximum of 10 days)
  • 2 euros per person per day for those staying in short-term rental apartments (for a maximum of 10 days)
  • 3 euros per person per day for those staying in 4- or 5-star hotels (for a maximum of 10 days)
As local hoteliers have noted, the tax will be particularly difficult for families, who could end up paying as much as 80 euros extra (for a family of four with older children) for a week in the Eternal City.

Oddly, some outlets are reporting that the tax has to be paid in cash on the last day of the stay, an inconvenience, to put it mildly.

Several tour operators have stepped forward to announce that they will pay the tax for their already-booked clients. If you're taking a tour and don't hear anything from your company be sure to inquire; you don't want to run out of cash on your last day in Roma!

To read more about the new tax and the response of those in the travel industry, click here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Plush Affinia Hotel Chain Slashes Rates for the Coming Months

Affinia Chicago (Photo C. Hatfield)
Some travel deals I just report on. Others I book right away. And as a long-time fan of Affinia Hotels (known for their better-than-usual gym facilities and bedding, their excellent service and oversized rooms), I jumpted at a chance to stay at one of these usually mid-range hotels at a budget rate.

I'll be booking a room in Washington, DC for a March visit. But you can also take advantage of this deal if you're going to Chicago (where prices are dipping to as little as $79 a night) or New York City (just $139 a night). Bookings must be made by Jan 10 for travel (selected dates) between now and the end of March.

For full information, click here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Two New European Bans You Should Know About Before You Cross the Pond

Buying cheese in Roma (photo by Eric Molina)
Lung cancer and overflowing landfills--it goes without saying that we're all against those two evils, right? But the concrete, and I'd say necessary, steps to combat these problems can cause inconveniences, especially for travelers. Take this blog as a heads up and not as a condemnation of these new bans, which I think are overdue and hopefully will spread to other areas of the world.

Ciao Plastic Bags
One of the greatest delights of vacationing in Italy is shopping, whether it be for ceramic bowls, fresh fruit or designer fashions. But you're going to have to do a bit more planning before you hit the stores in 2011. As of January 1, it is illegal for Italian stores to give out plastic bags. Stores are being allowed to use up those they have in stock, but after that shoppers will be left to juggle their purchases on their own. Meaning that tourists are well advised to pack a foldable, small extra bag in their luggage to take along on their daily outings.

In today's USAToday piece on the topic the author, and several readers, pointed out that similar bans already exists in Mexico City, San Francisco and Toronto; and that fees for plastic bags have cut their use by as much as 50% in China and Ireland. (Other areas where the plastic bags are being taxed include North Carolina's Outer Banks, a number of cities in California, and on the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kauai.)

Adios Cigarettes
Just after the turn of the New Year, Spain joined a number of other European countries in banning smoking in all "enclosed public spaces". That includes restaurants, bars and, interestingly, hotel rooms. Hoteliers are being asked to reserve no more than 30% of their rooms for the use of smokers, so if you need a room to light up in, you may need to make reservations earlier rather than later.

As the daughter of a mother with emphysema, caused by years of smoking, I applaud Spain's decision which will safeguard the health of restaurant and hotel workers (as well as other patrons of these establishments). And hey, I can't think of a lovelier place to kick the nicotine habit. Maybe this will be incentive for smokers to plan a Spanish vacation soon.

Happy New Year to all, by the way!