Friday, September 30, 2011

Freebie Friday: Win A Trip Anywhere in the World

That's right, you choose!

My home radio station, WOR 710 (it syndicates The Travel Show with Arthur and Pauline Frommer to 130 stations across the US), has teamed with  to offer a lollapolooza of a contest. Among the prizes:
  • Airfare for two, anywhere in the world (your choice!)
  • A $500 gift certificate
  • A five-year membership to
Voila! All the elements that you need for a fabulous, life-changing trip.

I especially like that the lodgings will be house swaps, the single most logical way to travel. Not only do you pay nothing for your lodgings, but you stay in an actual home in a real neighborhood, making the experience that much more personal and authentic. (A hidden perk to home exchanging: people usually not only exchange homes and cars, but also friends. Your host will likely ask a buddy in the destination to check in on you during the course of your stay. Voila! In-destination social network!)

Contestants must guess which destination my father and host Joan Hamburg would pick for their own vacations. A winner will be chosen from those who input the correct answer.

Click here for more info and let the games begin!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's In A Name? Another Major Travel Company Is Forced To Change Its Moniker

Lest there be any confusion between flat front khakis and 9-day tours of Thailand, the well-respected Canadian travel company GAP Adventures is doing away with its "AP". From now on, the company will be known simply as "G Adventures" as in "Gee, why the heck would they get rid of a name that they spent 20 years building up?"

The answer "falls into" place when one looks at the other large company that shares that name. GAP Clothing won a lawsuit this summer protecting its brand, and forcing the tour company to switch names.

Bruce Poon Tip, the company founder, tried to put a positive spin on the development when he told Travel Weekly yesterday "One of our fundamental principles here is to change the lives of anyone who comes into contact with our company. Our business model isn't about bottom-lines and turnover. It's about happiness, freedom and independence. I've always believed that the secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage. This year, we are taking a bold step with our identity - a change that's an evolutionary step into the future.”

Yes, he's sidestepping the issue at hand, but I don't think he's exaggerating the effect his travel products have had on the public over the years. Bridging the gap between backpacking and guided tours (hence the name), G Adventures has long offered affordable, socially-conscious, creative vacations to all corners of the globe. Though these are guided tours, they eschew the usual 40-person tour bus in favor of public transportation. Lodgings are usually local establishments, sometimes homestays and sometimes camping. And groups are small, keeping the vibe intimate.

I've never taken one of these tours, but everyone I know who has raves about their high quality and delightful clientele.

So long live G Adventures! (And let's hope whoever invented the "g spot" doesn't hear about the development. Lord knows they don't need another lawsuit.)

I think this may be a good time to remind you all of two other major travel companies that changed names within the last 5 years. They are Road Scholar nee ElderHostel (an organization that develops educational vacations for seniors and multi-generational trips for grandparents and grandchildren) and Hurtigruten, formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyages (a fjord-centric cruise line).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Las Vegas Nightlife Goes All-Inclusive

No, that won't mean a marriage license, a bottle of Patron, a visit to an "escort" and a strange new tattoo, in this case (hey, this isn't "The Hangover").

Pure Nightclub (photo by Blue)
Instead, Caesar's Entertainment has created a pass for its nightclubs that echoes what it's done with its buffets. For $44.99 guests will be given entry to up to seven clubs in one evening, which, in Sin City terms, stretches from 8pm all the way until 8am. Two of the clubs--Pure (at Caesar's) and the Pussycat Dolls Burlesque Saloon (at Planet Hollywood)--are considered red hot by nightlife afficionados. The Voodoo Lounge at Rio and Chateau Nightclub at the Paris are recommended for their outdoor areas and their views, more than the scene. And the others on the pass? Well, they're likely skippable. Still, with entry fees to just one of these clubs usually going for $30, this isn't a bad deal for those who like variety.
The big plus to the Pass? Bearers skip the general entry lines and are waved directly inside.

A negative? The pass won't work on Friday and Saturday nights.

One tip: sometimes checking in on your phone at Yelp or FourSquare can net you a free drink in Las Vegas nightclubs. With cocktails at $15-and-up a pop, it's worth investigating.

And if getting sweaty in a dance club is too old hat for you, know that the folks who run the zipline at the Fremont Street Experience are planning to expand it soon. So double the thrills with less of a wait, very soon. (And since the price tag is just $15, it's also less pricey than a club).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

European Rental Car Deals for Fall

And one needs deals to rent a car in Europe, what with the cost of gas being so high over there. (Though to be fair the cars are so much more fuel efficient across the pond, it all may shake out in the end).
Happily, several companies are offering serious discounts on fall and winter rentals.

Here's a quick list:
  • Sixt: Its best values are in Spain, where just 13 euros per day (about $16), will get you wheels. This low price is being offered from early November into mid-December and again on selected dates in January, 2012. Its offer for the UK is almost as good: 13 GBP (about $20) per day from now through the end of November (cars must be reserved by the end of October). Sixt also has good prices in the upcoming months for Ireland and France.
  • AutoEurope: To get in on this sale, you must book by the end of September. If you can move that quickly, you might be able to score a free upgrade in a number of European countries; an $18-a-day car in Ireland; a free GPS unit for rentals of seven day or more; and other discounts. Click on the link above for details.
  • Europcar: Before you book with one of the other two, do a quick test-drive of the EuropCar site, which is posting a 25% discount on rentals in many European countries. Since its prices are usually very competitive, this additional discount (for online bookings only) may match the specific prices given by the other companies for autumn rentals.
Perhaps I'll see you on the roads in Europe this fall! I'm heading to Wales come November to attend a cousin's wedding, and will be starting my search for the best rental prices with the three agencies listed above.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Which Frequent Flyer Program Should You Join?

And I ask that knowing the question might be moot for those readers who live in areas dominated by just one carrier (a common scenario).

For the rest of us, being loyal to the right airline can make the difference between using the miles accrued to get actual air tickets...or just another subscription to Sports Illustrated.

The industrious folks at IdeaWorks decided to research the issue last year, and placed over 6000 online requests for tickets using miles to see which airlines were most likely to award the seats. They repeated the experiment this year (again with 6000-plus requests) and the results are heartening.

With a few exceptions, most of the airlines did better this year, bestowing more award seats for the asking. Southwest Airlines is still the most generous, awarding seats 99.3% of the time (its record last year as well). In second place is Air Canada with an 82.1 % record (down about 11 points from last year, unfortunately). JetBlue came in third, awarding seats in 79% of the cases.

The newly betrothed Continental and US Airways tied in the percentage of requests they are able to fulfill (71.4% each). It'll be interesting to see if their amount fulfilled will remain at this high a level next year, as these programs announced significant changes to their newly combined program last week. The most important change? Pay more to get more miles. Those who book First Class, for example, will receive 2.5 times the number of miles for their time in the sky. Will this new system increase the number of miles awarded, and make it harder for regular passengers (ie those who buy coach) to redeem? Only time will tell.

But back to the survey. US Airways had the worst record, turning away 75% of the requests it received from mileage holders for actual seats. Delta was only slightly better with a record of being able to accommodate 27% of the requests.

To read the complete list, as reported on by USAToday, click here.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Freebie Friday: Free Museum Entry Across the US Tomorrow

The dazzling Milwaukee Museum of Art is participating
Thank you Smithsonian! Not only for keeping your museums free of charge (with the exception of the Cooper-Hewitt in New York City) but for recognizing that the ever-increasing entrance fees at other important institutions are a barrier for many would-be visitors.

For the second year in a row, Smithsonian Magazine will be giving away free tickets to 1300 institutions across the United States. With that many museums involved, almost every interest under the sun is covered in the giveaway from the Surfing Museum (in California) to the American Clock and Watch Museum (in Connecticut) to the National Model Aviation Museum (Indiana). Important art, science, children's and history museums are also on board.

To get the free tickets, click here to register in advance. The Smithsonian is limiting the give away to two tickets per household, but does not seem to be capping the number of downloadable tickets its giving altogether. Tickets are valid all day Saturday September 24 (and in cases when the museum is closed on Saturdays, on Sunday September 25 instead).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Holiday Airfares? Its NOT Too Early To Buy

Photo by Philms
Don't assume you'll be able to snag last-minute bargains this year, for flights home at Thanksgiving and Christmas. As article after article has pointed out, empty middle seats are scarcer these days than ever before, what with airlines trimming capacity in attempt to send out every plane full. That will be especially true at the holidays, always the most popular times of the year to fly.

There has been some good news on the airline front however: recently, the Associated Press reported that the four major carriers (Delta, United, Continental and American) have sliced in half the number of days they'll be charging holiday surcharges. These sneaky add-ons, which come to between $20 and $40 each way, will be in effect on Nov. 27 and 28, Dec 22, 23 and 26, and Jan 2. But that's better than the 12 days last year that carried surcharges.

As well, the number-crunching gurus at BingTravel have looked at prices so far and have concluded that, on average, fares will be slightly over 1% cheaper than last year. Not a big savings, but heck, we'll take what we can get!

That being said, holiday airfares are always the highest of the year, so as a public service, I thought I'd reiterate some tips for making the trip home as inexpensive and painless as possible:
  • Fly when no one else is: Which means avoiding the surcharged days listed above. Generally, you can save by flying previous to the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and after the Tuesday after the holiday. For Christmas/New Years travel, you'll want to head out before the 15th of December and back after January 2. Yes, that's a LOT of time to spend with the family, so if you're a misanthrope, you could choose flights on the holidays themselves. These are usually much cheaper, and you'll be able to grab a slice of turkey and pie, without having to spend too much time in dysfunction-land.
  • Search for airfares and book on Tuesdays and Wednesdays: That's when the sales tend to pop for domestic fares. (Not so much for international flights)
  • Fly early in the day: The holidays fall squarely in the heart of winter storm season. Since weather delays tend to ripple through the system, getting worse as the day progresses and more planes get stuck, flying first thing in the morning may get you where you're going without a hassle (if sleep-deprived).
  • Book a non-stop or go for a flight with a connection? That's an open question, friends, and it depends on your goals. If you just want to save cash, flights with connections may be the cheapest options. However, the more times you take off and land, the more likely you are to get delayed over the holidays, thanks to an ugly confluence of bad weather and crowds. Sunnier airports (say Phoenix vs. Denver) are smarter at this time of the year for connections, as they see many fewer delayed and cancelled flights due to weather issues. The new GoogleFlights allows users to filter by airport they'll be transferring through.
In the two years following 9/11, a period when the airlines were all flying more planes but there were fewer would-be passengers eager to fly, the public got used to seeing reams of last-minute discounts on airfares.

Those days are over.

Unless something really horrific happens in the next few months (a crash or an act of terrorism), flights will be pricey this holiday season and some folks won't get where they want to go because of the reduced airline capacity. So don't be a cockeyed optimist: if you want to travel during these difficult periods, don't delay. Make your bookings soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

$400 or More To Check An Overweight Bag?!?

A Twitter acquaintance alerted me to this latest outrage. Her tweet began with the words "The madness has to stop!".

How right she is.

According to CBS News and USA Today, a number of airlines have raised their prices on overweight bags recently to rates that echo the airfares themselves.

Continental's price for a bag weighing between 71 and 100 pounds on an international flight is now a whopping $400. United Airlines is charging that same fee for bags of that weight on intercontinental flights. But the most egregious fee award has to be given to American Airlines, which socks Asia-bound passengers with a $450 fee per overweight bag.

And what about the regular, first-bag fees? Those are averaging an ugly $38 on domestic flights and $43 internationally.


With fees this high, travelers need to be more careful than ever before about how they pack and book air travel. Some suggestions:
  • Pack Light: We'll start with the obvious solution: don't carry the world in your suitcase! The last time I checked a bag was on Ryanair this summer (as their carry-on regulations are the smallest in the industry). Before that, it had been years since I'd checked a bag. And you know what? I enjoy my travels more with less stuff along. I'm not endangering my back, I can move from place to place quicker, I never have to worry about lost luggage when I board and I get out of the airport much faster than my fellow passengers. Try it, you'll like it!
  • Ship: With fees this high, it will be cheaper to ship luggage in many instances. For a recent piece detailing the prices involved and the methods of shipping available to travelers, click here.
  • Price in luggage fees when you're looking at airfares: Though Southwest, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue sometimes seem like the pricier option, they may end up costing less than other carriers because of their generous baggage policies. Add up all the fees before you book your next flight.
  • Buy lighter luggage: Sometimes its the weight of the bag itself that will put you over the top!
 The TSA has been trying to get the airlines to do a better job of revealing their fees either on or close to the carrier's booking pages. Let's hope those regulations don't get shot down by the lawsuits that have been launched to stop them from going into effect in early 2012. When fees are this high, its crucial for passengers to have a handle on just what they'll likely end up paying when they next fly.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Arty All-Nighter: Nuit Blanche Comes to DC This Friday

As a native New Yorker, I'm frankly chagrined that my artsy hometown won't be the first to sponsor this fest in the United States. Who would have expected that stodgy Washington, DC--a city better known for its high alerts than its high arts--would be encouraging its residents to hit the streets after midnight? (And with so many conservatives in Congress, you'd think that at least one of them would have objected to the city sponsoring something so unashamedly Gallic. Remember "freedom fries"?)

Art installation, Paris' Nuit Blanche
But that's exactly what the Capitol will be doing this Friday, September 24, when it hosts the heady, all-night arts festival Nuit Blanche that debuted in Paris a decade ago, and has been making the round of world cities ever since. Granted, its not quite all night here. Unlike the Parisians, who attend performances and parties until dawn during their "White Nights", the DC event will end at 3am.

But until then, the night promises serious fun. Some 72 artists will be participating, from visual artists who will create site-specific sculptures and murals; to designers who will stage a fashion show; to performances by an array of luminaries, like the Grammy-nominated (2010) Hip Hop celeb Christylez Bacon.

It seems like venues and artists are still being added (at least from the incomplete state of the website for the event). Hopefully, it will have more information as the week goes on. Click on the link above for what information there currently is.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ryanair's Newest Fee: Shh! Don't Tell the North American Airlines About This One

Devious, but you gotta give them points for creativity.

Ryanair announced at the end of last week that its new partnership with Mastercard will be reinforced with a  fee. Yup another one! Those who don't pay for their flights with a Ryanair-branded, pre-paid Mastercard will incur a 6 GBP (about $9.50) admin fee, per flight leg.

(Photo by Ben Dalton)
I can only assume that this fee is being charged to off-set the mental cruelty that occurs whenever Ryanair's employees have to process a credit card that's not branded with the company name.

Now, to be fair, even with all its fees, Ryanair is often the cheapest option in Europe, bar none. On a summer hop from Dublin to Krakow, with my daughter, I saved a good $300 total by flying with them. And that's after paying a hefty chunk to check bags. The other airlines serving this route were much pricier and had fewer direct flights.

My real worry is that the carriers on this side of the pond will thrill to this new, potential revenue source, and will add it. They've done that in the past with a number of fees that Ryanair and other European airlines have innovated.

Let's hope no airline execs are reading this blog!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Freebie Friday: Free November Weddings

Will November 11 of this year--11/11/11--be a particularly lucky day?

It will for the 11 lucky couples able to win a free wedding from Crowne Plaza. The hotel chain is sponsoring a contest, the prize being a free wedding on that date at the Crowne Plaze in Times Square, New York City. Would-be contestants have to prove they're "lucky in love", giving evidence that they have an intriguing love story and a dedicated relationship.

Not so lucky? All of the couples are going to be married by cheesy VH1 celeb ("Master Matchmaker") Steve Ward (see above).

For more information, click here

Thursday, September 15, 2011

National Passport Day Is This Saturday

What should you do to celebrate? Get one of 'em or encourage a friend to do so: two out of three Americans currently don't hold passports, a shockingly high percentage.

Photo by P Yodarus
Unlike so many commemorative days, when one is simply supposed to think kindly of the celebrated subject in question (World Rubber Day and International Speak Like a Pirate Day are also being celebrated this week), on Passport Day its actually easier than usual to get one of the little books. Some 26 passport offices, and many more post offices, will be staffing up to process all applicants. No advance appointments will be necessary.

However, it will be necessary to come prepared. A color photo of the correct size is required (click here for more details) and first-time applicants will have to bring two proofs of US citizenship (birth certificates and driver's licenses work). If the applicant is under the age of 16, both parents or guardians usually need to be present, see the link above for more details on that.

I've been a proud passport holder since I was four-months old. Though they've gotten pricier over the years (applying for a new adult one now costs $135), they not only are a great proof of citizenship but they also prove that one's a true citizen of the world.

Happy Passport Day all!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

River Cruise Savings In Deep Fall

The Viking Helvetia in Koln (photo by Rolf Heinrich)
As I blogged several weeks ago, September is high season for chugs down the rivers of Europe, and discounts on this activity were nil, when I tried to find such a cruise for my mother. But October and November river cruises? They're practically giving them away.

Witness the latest offer from Viking River Cruises. For Danube and Rhine sailings in late October and November, its currently offering a two-for-the-price of one deal, and throwing in free airfare to boot. That brings the cost down to just $2456 per person, including air, for an eight day cruise, which ain't at all bad for this pricey activity. Its discounts must be booked by September 30.

Gate 1 Travel is trying to entice singles to hit the waters by waiving the dreaded singles supplement for November Danube sailings (between Nuremberg and Budapest). The cost of the weeklong jaunt is $999.

I found several other enticing fall deals at the consolidator site, an off-shoot of

As for Mom, she'll be returning on Saturday from Russia. As the person who booked it for her, I'm hoping she had the time of her life. Because if she didn't, I'll probably never hear the end of it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Debut of Google Flights

Twitter is ablaze with talk of Google's latest foray into the travel sphere, GoogleFlights.

Peer pressure. I had to give it a try. Some thoughts:

Speed: This appears to be the cheetah of air flight engines, with near simultaneous search results. Enter your date and proposed destinations and then don't blink: in front of you will be a long list of options, ordered by time of departure (other filters can be applied to shape the search results). That being said, the cheapest flights, during my first search, didn't come up until a few minutes into my search. I'd input an early October itinerary between New York and Dallas, and the cheapest options (Continental for $206 round-trip) weren't readily viewable. This might have been a fluke or a bug they'll be fixing.

Another nice touch: one can change the date and the system adjusts in seconds, rather than having to reboot.

Flexibility: From the current template, it doesn't look like Google will be able to handle requests for multi-stop itineraries as and now do. Also, according to the New York Times its only searching the engines of the airlines, and not of airfare discounters which might be a drawback for real bargain hunters.

Design: Pretty nice (like the map!), though I prefer the jauntiness and compact format of Hipmunk, which uses different colors for the various airlines, and creates a chart which shows, in the first results, the length of layovers.

Special features: Do travelers care which airport they transfer through? Its not high on my list of priorities, but those who give a damn will like Google's filter, the only one that I know of that allows travelers to only see flights that transfer through their preferred hubs. Another filter allows fliers to see flights by length of layover, a truly handy innovation (particularly for thos travelers who have to fly from delay-ridden airports).

Deal finding ability: Hard to tell at this point, as the engine is only covering a few, key American gateways. I ran a few searches and it matched--though didn't undercut--prices I found on Hipmunk and Momondo.

I guess this one's a wait-and-see. But congratulations to the industrious folks at Google on the launch.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Regulations Make It More Difficult to Visit Egypt

Sphinx of Ramses II, Lake Nasser, Egypt
On the eve of Egypt's elections, it looks like those currently in power are choosing secrecy and control over the economy. How else to explain the issuing of new visa regulations late last week, which will force would-be visitors to head to their local Egyptian embassy to get a visa before landing in Egypt? Previously, tourists could simply get a visa at an Egyptian border.

The new move is sure to discourage tourism in a country that's dependent on the travel industry (by some estimates, 10% of all Egyptians work in the tourism sector). Reports of rising xenophobia in the country may also be behind the policy.

Though the Washington, DC Egyptian Embassy hadn't heard of the move when reporters queried officials there, government workers in Egypt have said that it will go into effect sometime this week. The new regulation does not affect those traveling with group tours, only independent travelers.

Editor's Note: Egyptian authorities have reversed themselves and have withdrawn a plan to require advance visa of solo travelers. Glad to see that smarter--and more business savvy--heads prevailed on this one.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Freebie Friday: Entrance Fees Waived At Our National Parks

Though the fees aren't high to begin with (with most coming to just $10 per carload of nature lovers),  all freebies are welcome in these recessionary times. Which is why it was welcome news to hear that there will be two more periods of free entrance to those of the US' national parks that charge fees (the majority are free): September 24 (Public Lands Day) and November 11-13 (Veterans Day weekend).

Bryce Canyon (Photo by Frank Kovalchek)
Yes, its a vacation as American as apple pie, and at some of the parks that will be given away for free, too. Concessionaire Xanterra (which operates a number of lodges and restaurants in the parks), will be giving away a free slice of pie for every entree ordered at its Grand Canyon restaurants during these upcoming free periods. It will also throw one free West Rim Sunset tour with the purchase of another such tour. To get these freebies, coupons can be downloaded at the Xanterra site.

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for other such giveaways in the National Parks during these periods. Historically, they've been a time of numerous free lectures, tours and workshops.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No More Shoe Strategizing for the Security Line at the Airport

Photo by Paul Stevenson
Yes, that's right, lace-ups and hard-to-put-on boots will soon be all right again, according to Janet Napolitan who was discussing upcoming changes to security policy at a forum in DC this week. Though the US Homeland Security Secretary hasn't set a date for when the shoe rule will be changed at the security lane, she intimated it would be soon.

In past reports by the Government Accountability Office a 2015 deadline has been mentioned for the deployment of shoe scanning devices to airports. Let's hope Napolitano was speaking of a date closer in than that. 

Alas, the TSA doesn't yet have the technology to adequately screen liquids, so the 3-ounce rule for theirs will likely stay in place for some time to come.

For more on Napolitano's statements, click here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Travelodge Does It Again: Spanish Rooms For Less Than $20/Night This Fall and Winter

Since these sales tend to sell out quickly, I thought it important to give you all a one-day lead. So set your alarm clocks: starting tomorrow, the European hotel chain Travelodge will be selling some 75,000 night stays for either 12 GBP (approximately $19) in Spain; or 19 GBP (about $30). The sale goes on until all the rooms stays are sold out. The period of validity is from September 11, 2011 through January of 2012 (excluding New Year's Eve).

One of the swell things about Travelodge is that its room rates don't move by how many people you cram into the room. And the chain's rooms are smartly designed, so that groups of four can share many of the rooms, thanks to a pull out couch system. As for the decor: while you might not model your own home after it, it certainly ain't bad, consisting of Ikea-like furnishings and space saving fixtures. In case you were wondering: all rooms have private baths.

To book your room, head to Travelodge's website tomorrow. One warning: be sure about your dates and destinations, as there are no refunds on this one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

To Vermont or Not To Vermont?

We opened up our weekly radio show this past Sunday by running an interview with Matt Sitosky, a staff writer for the Burlington Free Press. Sitosky has been all over the Green Mountain State covering Hurricane Irene's floods, but despite the destruction he's seen, his attitude was upbeat. He said that though most of the non-interstate roads in the state had suffered damage, the damage was contained in pockets and these were being quickly dealt with. According to Sitosky, southern Vermont had seen the most damage, but even this area, he thought, would be fixed in time for the tourist onslaught that is "Fall Foliage" season (which starts the third week in September and lasts about a month).

Immediately after the interview ran, I received an angry letter from a listener who felt that Sitosky was doing his state a disservice by giving such a rosy account of the damages. "Not only is it inadvisable to go there [to Vermont], the people doing the repairs are begging people to stay AWAY. Every time they have to stop work to let cars pass, it delays them further in their vital work," wrote Ms. Drummond, a native of Rhode Island. "So for the immediate future, people should NOT drive to Vermont, and let the work crews get things repaired."

So that's the view of an outsider.

Vermont Foliage (photo by Shiran Pasternak)
But Vermonters themselves are being quite vocal about the state's recovery, which they say will be a speedy one. Travel writer Larry Olmstead, who lives in Vermont, has issued a photo-laden plea to tourists not to abandon plans to visit the Green Mountain in the coming weeks and months.

The piece, which is running on, notes that a number of the roads that were affected by Irene are already on the mend, and suggests that would-be visitors head to a special web page the state has set up to notify travelers of road closures. According to Olmstead, the list on the page is much shorter than it was several days ago. And both he and Sittosky note that the trees in the state were not affected by Irene (which drenched the area but no longer packed the high winds that could have stripped leaves).

What's most persuasive about Olmstead's piece? The post-Irene photos he attaches of various touristic areas in the state that are still serene, beautiful and seemingly untouched by the recent hurricane. Yes, of course, the hurricane devastated many areas of Vermont (and that shouldn't be downplayed). But not all. And to stay away in late September will simply cause more devastation there.

To borrow a phrase from Olmstead: autumn is Vermont's "Superbowl", an incredibly important time, economically for the state. I, for one, plan to be up in Stowe, VT in December. If I can get there earlier I will. Bargain hunter that I am, I'm guessing there should be some unusually good deals this fall foliage season there. That may sound mercenary but in this case, bargain hunting, since it means traveling, will help those in need.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day

No labor for me today.

Hope you're taking a vacation from the usual grind, too.

See you tomorrow!

(Photo by Andrew Osterberg)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Freebie Friday: Free Hotel Nights with Southwest Airlines Vacations

Looks like Southwest Airlines has teamed up with Hyatt for a freebie offer that goes well into the winter. Those time rich folks who can get away for four nights or more, will get a free hotel night when they chose a Hyatt property and pair it with airfare on a Southwest package. Bookings must be made by Sept 22 for travel all the way until Dec 20 (with the exception of a handful of blackout dates). Properties in Florida, Arizona, California and New York are participating in the deal.

As with any package, you should always do some research to make sure you're getting a deal. That being said, Southwest Airlines Vacations historically has offered some of the best value air-hotel packages on the market, I've found.

For complete information, click here.

SWA Vacations is also still selling its "Eat Free at DisneyWorld package. You can find info on that freebie at the Southwest site (see above).

Thursday, September 1, 2011

TripAdvisor in the Hot Seat Once Again

The Advertising Standards Authority, the United Kingdom's equivalent of the Federal Trade Commission here in the US, has launched a formal investigation into TripAdvisor's practices. Its doing so at the instigation of some 2000 hotel and restaurant owners who are claiming that reviews on the site have either been falsified, or are defamatory. These organizations are working through Kwikchex, an online reputation defender, according to an article today in The Telegraph.

Was the last hotel you stayed in honestly reviewed on TripAdvisor?
The issues being investigated are two-fold. The first concerns TripAdvisor's practice of encouraging the hotels and restaurants it reviews to feature words of praise that come from the site in their promotional materials. Since these "reviews" are unverifiable, they probably violate ASA's standards of conduct. The second issue gets into semantics and the use of the word "trust" on the TripAdvisor site.

According to Kwikchex, this action in England is just the first of many the company will have to contend with in the coming months, including one in the US possibly with the FTC.

Stay tuned!