Friday, September 28, 2012

Freebie Friday: Free "Global Entry" Status...Kinda

Speed at the airport--it's as much a status symbol these days as flashing an IPhone 5.

So it should come as no surprise that a luxury hotel chain is using that perk to reward its most loyal guests.

Loewe's Hotels announced this week that it would be giving its elite customers membership in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection program 'Global Entry'. Travelers who have that status are allowed to skip the line when re-entering the United States, using an automated kiosk to scan their passports rather than having to speak with an official. Global Entry folks are also allowed to participate in the TSA's PreCheck screening program which allows them to pass through security shod and with more than the usual amount of carry-on liquids (now that's some perk!).

Global Entry membership costs $100, but Loewe's will be picking up that tab. It cannot waive the interview process, however, that's required for those applying for Global Entry. Applicants must submit their travel history and other personal information before being approved. Global Entry status is good for 5 years.

Loewe's is offering Global Entry fee's just for the next 58 days, and only to customers who have achieved "platinum" status by staying at a Loewe's 10 times in the past year.

Scott Mayerowitz, of the Associated Press, notes that while Loewe's is the first hotel company to offer this perk, others in the travel industry have also been doing it. American Express refunds the $100 fee for its platinum card holders; and United Airlines does the same for its most elite loyalty members.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

An Italian Grand Tour At Reasonable, If Very Limited, Low Rates

I got a jolt of nostalgia today when I peeked at TravelZoo's "Top 20" list. Near the top was a deal from a company I've written about for years: And for a moment it looked like they were back to charging the kind of prices that put them on the map a decade ago.

TravelZoo's Headline blared: "$1199--Italy: Rome, Florence, Venice 9 Night Trip with Air". Pretty impressive right? Especially when you consider that the rate also included train transportation between the cities.

Alas, in checking GoToday's site directly, it looks like this one is a VERY limited. Though the sale is supposed to be for select dates November through March, the first two months don't appear to have packages available at anywhere near those prices and in January and February I found one date only, each month, when the rate would drop that low.

Still, if you can travel on one of those dates, well, this is a true steal of a deal. Use code TZIT10 when booking to get the discount at the Go-Today site. Additional, but small, hotel taxes must be paid upon arrival in Italy.

Oh, and happy World Tourism Day. This year's theme is "energetic sustainability", a worthy goal most definitely.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are You Feeling Lucky? Gambling on the Cost of Your Airplane Ticket

I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that this idea is being floated by the airline that calls Las Vegas its home city.

On September 17, at a meeting of aviation execs, Maurice Gallagher, Jr., the CEO of Allegiant Airlines, spoke of his new plan to let consumers shoulder the risks associated with fuel costs.

Under his proposal, fliers would have two options when paying for airfares. The cautious flyer would be able to lock in his fare; as with airfares today, it would not shift, even if oil prices surge. That unchanging rate, however, has an ugly downside: it will be much more expensive than fares tied to fuel costs.

Those flyers who model themselves after "Nick the Greek" would take the second option: buying a cheaper ticket and then paying more, right before the flight, if the cost of fuel increases. In the "win big" column, these Sky Mastersons would also get some money back if the cost of fuel drops.  The entire idea is explained in a recent Business Week article.

Beyond sounding incredibly complicated to administer, this new policy raises issues of trust. Most consumers don't obsessively track jet fuel costs. They may not know whether the airline is being honest about increases in cost, and could be angered at having to pay extra before boarding. Consumers are already enraged by many airline policies; this one just seems to add fuel to the fire.

The plan also runs afoul of the Department of Transportation's new (2011) consumer protections, which prohibit the airlines from raising prices after a fare has been purchased. (The one exception is when governmental fees increase.) Allegiant may be able to get around this speedbump by structuring the initial payment as one that's only a "partial payment" as some tour operators do.

Whatever happens, we won't see any changes for at least 6 months, the amount of time Gallagher says it will take, at minimum, to reconfigure Allegiant's website to reflect these new methods of payment.

You gotta give them points for creativity, I guess. It seems like every day, the basics of travel get more and more complicated (witness Frontiers plan last week to punish flyers who don't book directly on its website). Is it time to re-regulate the airlines? Maybe so. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Aloha Low Airfares: Hawaii On Sale

Most every destination on the planet is getting more expensive to reach by air. Not so with airfares to the Hawaiian islands. A healthy level of competition means most are remaining steady, or, in some cases, dropping like, well, coconuts.

Currently, several consecutive air sales are on the boards. Unusually, these are not just from the big cities of the West Coast but from secondary Western cities as well as inter-island airfares. Here's a run down:
  • Allegiant Air: For select dates in November and December (it varies by gateway), Allegiant is dropping fares to as little as $149 each way between Oahu and either Bellingham, WA or Fresno, CA. Fares hike $10 between that Hawaiian hub and Eugene (OR), Stockton (CA), Monterey (CA), and Santa Maria (CA).
  • Alaska Airlines: Has one city-pair discounted on a sale that ends tonight! So if you live in Oakland (or are within driving distance of that city) and you wish to fly into Lihue (Kauai), you'll find one-way prices as low as $149 for non-stops. Again, you MUST book today.
  • Island Air: Though it has no particular sale listed, its prices in the coming months have dropped to as little as $72 each way, a good 20% less than they were in the past. Island Air's inter-island prices are usually lower than rival Hawaiian Airline's rates.
 So why should you go to Hawaii this fall? I'll let this photo of Napili Kai Beach do the talking:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Free Museum Entry Across the USA

And Saturday is the day for all this gratis culture.

That's this coming Saturday, September 29, which is "Free Museum Day", a yearly event organized by Smithsonian Magazine.

Atlanta's High Museum of Art is participating
Some 150-plus institutions will be participating this year and they run the gamut. Interested in art inspired by sports? Head to Daphne, Alabama's American Sport Art Museum. If the sport of surfing is more your speed, you'll learn all about it at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside. Plantation houses, historic forts, nature centers, heritage centers and such quirky art museums as Dia Beacon and the Storm King Arts Center (both in NY state) will be participating. Oddly, this year such big name institutions as Chicago Art Institute and New York City's Metropolitan Museum are off the roster.

To get a ticket for free entry, head to the website above and fill out the included form. One ticket admits up to two people and can only be used at a single venue.

Friday, September 21, 2012

25% Off for 2013 Sailings, No Singles Supplement for the Rest of 2012: Norway's Hurtigruten Cruises is Eager to Make a Deal

Cliff-flanked fjords. A brilliant after-dark aurora borealis show. Arctic expanses. Low-key Scandinavian hospitality.

Yes, a winter cruise aboard Hurtigruten is about as far from, say, your typical mass-volume Caribbean cruise as you can get. Problem is: the tab is much higher.

Usually. But Hurtigruten has just announced that it will be slashing its fares by 25% for those who book by Nov 30 for a number of 2013 sailings, which does help. In addition, the line will be waiving the singles supplement for most of its voyages for the remainder of 2012.

One word of caution: if you're used to the non-stop entertainment of a Royal Caribbean or Norwegian Cruise, you may find Hurtigruten a bit sedate. It doesn't feature such entertainments as climbing walls, state-of-the-art gyms, multiple live performances each evening,  and restaurants galore. The emphasis on these ships is scenery and local culture, much less than the ship itself.

Click on either of the links above for more information on Hurtigruten and its offerings.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Now, That's a Smart Way to Combat Unemployment! Visitor Numbers to the U.S. Up Significantly

The White House released a report yesterday announcing that visitor numbers to the US were up 10% in the first three months of 2012 over the same period in 2011. That translated into an additional $30 million dollars being spent in America during that period.

Whatever your political affiliation, this has to be seen as unalloyed good news. By some estimates, one out of every 11 Americans works in the tourism industry in some fashion, whether at hotels, airlines, in a restaurant that caters predominantly to visitors, what have you. When travelers come from abroad, that creates work, and helps our economy tremendously.

So how did this change come about? Will power.

President Obama ordered the State Department to improve its system for processing visas. The results? In Brazil, where the wait for a tourist visa used to be as much as 140 days, people are waiting just 2 days. In China, the wait has been cut to 5 days. And across the globe, with more staff being used to oversee visa applications, the process of getting into the U.S. has become, well, more visitor friendly. 

To read more about the report, click here for the Reuter's story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

American Airlines In Crisis?

Yesterday a friend from Miami ranted on Facebook that her American Airlines flight had been cancelled and she'd been the wrong destination!

Rebecca's voice is just one of many in the rising tide of angry fliers who are finding American Airlines less than reliable this fall. Earlier this week, the airline was forced to cancel 5% of its flights due to a quiet "sick-out" by pilots, angry at the proposed terms of their new contract. Scott McCartney, the nation's foremost expert on business travel, and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, warned his readers yesterday to avoid American Airlines, at least for the fall months. McCartney claims that, due to pilot actions (allegations that they're taxiing more slowly on the runway and calling in problems with parts that aren't an issue), only 39% of American flights arrived on time this past Monday.

All this poor press can't be good for the already unstable carrier, as it tries emerge from bankruptcy and forge a merger with another airline.

And if this massive carrier goes belly up...well, anyone who wants to get most anywhere in this country is going to find themselves with severely limited--and much pricier--options. Let's all hope American can get their act together...and soon!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

With Gas or Without? Two New Iterations of the Ride Share

Getting from Point A to Point B is getting increasingly digital. Meet two of the latest companies using apps (and locals eager to make extra cash) to help out travelers.
Spinlister: According to TechCrunch, there are over a billion bicycles on the planet, but only a small percentage of them are being used daily. Ka-ching!

Spinlister introduces bike owners with would-be renters and then gets out of the way. (It also lists more standard bike shops on its app and website). To entice bike owners to play, the company offers free insurance up to $5000 to cover damage or theft to the bikes. On average, bikes rent for $20/day, though renters are free to set their own rates. Spinlister takes 12.5% of each rental fee.

The company has been around since 2011,  acting as a two-wheel matchmaker in New York City and San Francisco. It announced recently that it will be adding a number of new cities this fall.

The question that dogs me is: will these bikes be in good repair? I myself had a bike that sat on my father's terrace for so long, it rusted through. Anybody who tried to pedal it wouldn't have gotten very far.

And what about helmets? Nobody should be cycling the mean streets of the Big Apple or San Francisco without one of those. (And I say this as the wife of a physical therapist, one who spends too many nights hearing about the horrific brain injuries those cycling without helmets get.)

I've searched, and can't find information on either of those important topics on the site. Hmmmm....

Lyft: With the cost of taxis going up and up (a painful topic in my hometown of NYC), this unofficial (and possibly illegal) site and app hooks up people who need a lift with folks near them who own a car and want to make some extra cash. The car owners simply smack a big pink mustache on the front of their car for identification (no joke!) and head out when they get the call. Riders can expect to be charged only about 20% of what an actual taxi would cost. Lyft claims to screen the criminal and driving records of all potential drivers.

At this point, Lyft is only available in San Francisco.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Spiritual Tour of India From Just $393

One of the fascinations of visiting India is seeing the many different sorts of temples and religious practices that flourish here, in the country that is the birthplace to many of the world's great religions.

Gecko Adventures, a small-group adventure tour operator has, smartly, created an itinerary around experiencing these religious practices. Starting in Delhi, its "Spiritual India" tour heads to the holy Sikh city of Amritsar (for a visit to the extraordinary Golden Temple); to Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama's home in exile; to Rishikesh which is known as the Yoga Capital of the World; and finally to the important Hindu city of Varanasi.

An intriguing itinerary, don't you think? Happily, its also quite inexpensive....if you book before the end of September. Those who book early will pay as little as $398 for this 13-day tour, including the services of a guide, lodgings (in small guesthouses and overnight trains) and in-country transportation (trains). The 50% discount applies to tours through the end of March, 2013; use code GISP when booking.

Participants must pay their own way to New Delhi (the tour begins and ends there), as well as pay for meals, and the sightseeing they do during the tours free time (many tours are included in the original price).

To get more information, click here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Freebie Friday: Luxe Cruise, Free Airfare & 2-For-1 Pricing

A disclaimer first: even with all the "gimmes" of this deal, cruises on the standard cruiselines--think: Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, etc.--will cost considerably less. But for those intent on true luxury, who want more of a yachting-style experience and primo service, well, this sale could mean a savings on hundreds of dollars off the usual pricing.

The Oceania Marina
In short: Oceania is rewarding those who book far in advance (by September 30) with free airfares and two-for-the-price-of-one discounts on a number of sailings. The bad news is: you're out of luck if you live in, say, Ketchum, Idaho or Anchorage, AK. The free airfare is only available from 26 major airports (JFK, LAX, MIA to give a few); for smaller gateways, a small fee will apply. As well, the offer is not available in all cabin categories.

Still the sale will be available on 42 different sailings beginning mid-November and going through October of next year. They range in length from 7 to 20 days and visit both the usual (Vancouver, Seattle, Venice, Barcelona) and less usual ports (Papeete, Valparaiso, Taipei, Hiroshima). And for couples, the two-for-one sailing is a big savings.

Oceania owns six ships, all small by today's standards (3 carry around 650 passengers, the remaining three carry double that number). They are consistently ranked among the most luxurious floating vacations available. For more information, click here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Travel News Round Up

Today, I've found so many small items of note, I thought it would be most helpful if I simply did a round-up, with links for those of you who'd like more information.

Statue of Liberty Re-Opens: A little less than a year after the Park Service closed the interior of Lady Liberty to visitors, its been announced that work is almost done. Starting October 28, tourists will be allowed back inside on a limited basis. If you're planning on heading to New York City and want to see the extraordinary interior created by Gustave Eiffel (yes, the same man who built the Eiffel Tower), keep an eye on the National Park Service website. As of this writing, it isn't yet posting instructions on how to snag one of the post-October 28 tickets, but they should be appearing shortly.

New State Department Warnings Issued: Following embassy attacks in Egypt, Libya and now Yemen, the State Department has issued new warnings on travel to the region. In particular, its cautioning US travelers to be vigilant when in Armenia, Burundi, Kuwait, Sudan, Tunisia, Zambia and Egypt. For more, click here.

Mississippi River Cruising is Back: USA Today has posted an excellent round-up of the new cruises available for this storied river. Click here for the piece.

A New, Low-Cost Way to Hop Around Asia: And its called Malindo Airways. Reuters is reporting the new airline, an off-shoot of Lion Air, will debut in May of 2013. Its initial fleet of 12 Boeing 727's will hub in Malaysia. The CEO is saying he hopes to expand to a fleet of 100 planes within the decade.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Frontier Airlines Throws Down the Gauntlet

The Associated Press is reporting this morning that Frontier Airlines is making a big play for consumers to book directly at the airline's own website. Those that attempt to book a Frontier flight through Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz or one of the many other online travel agencies will find themselves confronted with higher fees and awarded half as many miles as those who go direct. Advance seat assignments likewise will only be available to those who book on the Frontier website. In a related move, Frontier announced today that it will reduce by 5000 the number of loyalty miles one needs to get a free flight.

If I were an executive at Priceline, Expedia or one of the others, I'd be feeling a bit nervous right now.

Not because the amount of business a small airline like Frontier brings in can make or break any of those players. But it has found a way to get around the contracts that most of the airlines (Southwest is a notable exception) have with these massive travel agencies to not undercut the prices they post. Frontier won't posting lower prices on its site, but it will be giving consumers a strong incentive to go right to the source. And that helps the airline immensely, as it will decrease the hefty distribution fees Frontier pays; and give the carrier the opportunity to up-sell travelers with offers of car rentals, hotel rooms and the more.

To my mind, it's only a matter of time before the bigger carriers follow Frontier's creative lead. They certainly have incentive.

What does all of this mean for the consumer? A change of habits, perhaps. No longer will it be as easy to see all the flight options on the websites many travelers have come to rely on. Instead, they may have to turn to the aggregator sites (those that simply search travel information, but don't sell it); or head directly to the airline websites.

I'll finish up by pointing out that many airlines have already gotten around the price guarantees they have with the OTA's by emailing and tweeting discount codes right to the public. Those customers who've been able to jump on these flash sales usually get the best prices of all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Be a Repo Man (Or Woman): Cruise Savings

What adventures could you have for $27 a day? You might be able to camp in a National Park for that amount, if you forgo the 'smores and other "high priced" treats at the campfire. Or you could take a really, really long walk in your hometown, heading to Subway for lunch and Micky D's for dinner.

But wouldn't it be more fun to be on the high seas, gazing at the endless Atlantic Ocean,  exploring two Portuguese ports and enjoying 12 meals a day? That's a possibility if you decide to hop aboard the Norwegian Sun on September 30, for a voyage from Miami to Copenhagen. According to VacationsToGo, this 14-night sailing is going for just $379.

It's just one of several dozen "repositioning" cruises currently on sale. You get a great price, and the cruiseline has paying passengers aboard as it moves its ships from their summer to their winter ports. The downsides of such a journey (which some consider upsides): fewer and quirkier port stops, and (often) longer itineraries.

Other "repo" deals currently on the chopping block:
  • Sept 23: $199 for a 5-night voyage from Vancouver to Los Angeles aboard the Norwegian Pearl
  • Oct 6: $699 for a 13-night sail from Montreal to Fort Lauderdale aboard Holland America's Maasdam
  • Oct 27: $649 for a 13-night cruise from London (Southampton) to Fort Lauderdale on Celebrity's Eclipse
  • Nov 2: $599 for 16 nights aboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas from Rome (Civitavecchia) to Galveston, TX
For these and other deals, click on the link above or head to the website of most any cruise discounter. They all have deals on repositioning cruises. 'Tis the season!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stowe Away: Discounts At One Of the Mountain Town's Top Resorts

Mount Mansfield, the tallest peak in Vermont and a major skiing and hiking destination, was, until just a few years ago, a giant that loomed in the distance for most visitors. Yes, they skiied and trekked its slopes, but very few stayed on the mountain itself. Instead, they lodged near the white steepled church of Stowe, the town; or on the Mountain Road that led to the lifts.

That changed a few years back when the Stowe Mountain Resort underwent a massive expansion, adding hotel rooms, rental units, an indoor/outdoor pool, state-of-the-art gym and spa, restaurants and more.

Ski Slope, Mount Mansfield
What also changed? The amount of business other lodgings in the area got. And that now seems to be leading to some pretty spectacular discounting.

Case in point: the deluxe, really swell Topnotch Resort and Spa. Its holding a pre-season sale which will slash the cost of a nightly rate, in peak ski season, by as much as 40%. That means mid-week rooms could go for as little as $139 (instead of $239); with weekend rates dropping to $209 (instead of $325). This is for travel between Dec 1 and Apr 7 (there are some blackout dates during that period).

The only catch? Travelers must book within the next seven days. Click here for more.

I've been to Topnotch and can say, from personal experience, that the rooms are quite lovely; the amenities are, well, top notch (most especially the terrific spas, tennis courts and great on-site restaurants;  and the staff unusually kind and friendly. If you're thinking of skiing in Vermont this coming winter,  jump on this deal before it expires.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Freebie Friday: Free Time at the Airport

Its not where any of us would like to be. But because of increased security, travelers are spending increased time at the airport. Thankfully, the airports are becoming more appealing, according to Andrea Sachs of the Washington Post (and I'd agree). In a very interesting article this week, she talks about all the new facilities and improvements airports around the world are making. 

Click here to read the piece. If you're flying soon, you may find it a helpful resource for sussing out what to do and see in the airport you'll be using. Best part of the piece: listings of which airports now have large numbers of power outlets!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sailing Sale: November River Cruises at Sea Cruise Prices

The massive size of sea going cruise ships keeps their prices at an affordable level. When you have 3000-4000 beds to fill, well, you cut deals. Especially when you know that what people spend once on board is as profitable as how much they spent on their cabin.

A different business model informs river cruises, which are limited in size because of the narrow waterways they traverse. On these, room rates are a much bigger slice of the pie.

Which is why I did a double take when I saw Gate 1 Travel's current sale on November Danube sailings. On those early in the month (November 8 and 14), the two-for-one sale drops prices to just $799 for six nights, a price that almost matches what one would find on a Carnival or Royal Caribbean sailing.

For complete information or to book, click here.

Why would you choose a river cruise rather than an ocean voyage? For several reasons, foremost among them that these sailings go through the heart of Europe, rather than around its edges. For centuries, these rivers were the highways of the continent and the cities and towns that grew up along their banks were places of great wealth and culture. Great universities grew up in these towns, alongside important Cathedrals and splendid palaces. While some sea port cities will have these attractions, not all do.

As well, the food on board these vessels is often thought to be superior to what you'll find on most sea going ships. Not surprising, as these vessels can pick up fresh supplies as they sail from town to town. Wine, too, is included with most meals; its an added cost on the bigger cruise lines.

Cheers to Gate 1 on this terrific offer!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Look Ahead to Fall Foliage Season

I had a delightful chat last week with Mel Allen, the editor of Yankee Magazine (and no, the irony of his name and association with "Yankee" is not lost on Mel). According to Mel, and his crack team of leaf peepers, foliage season will be coming a week early this year. That means, don't count on Columbus Day to be "peak" in most parts of New England. To see the most brilliant of colors, hit the road a week earlier, or stick to the more southern New England States like Connecticut. (Conversely, if you must travel in early September, he recommends the swampy areas of Maine, which should be turning around Sept. 15). To hear our complete conversation, just click here.

Yankee Magazine's daily foliage report (lots of good info there), can be found at

If you're planning to head off to view the autumn colors, here are a few tips:

*Go midweek. The vast majority of travelers head out over the weekend, meaning lots of gridlock on those winding country back roads.
*Remember that leaves are turning outside of New England: There are wonderful opportunities to witness the season's splendor in the Carolinas, Michigan and a number of other states. Heck, you could even go to Japan, for a trip combining fall festivals with wonderful leaves.
*Think alternative accommodations if you haven't yet made your reservations: In many prime leaf peeping destinations, the inns will have been booked up months ago. But that doesn't mean you'll be sleeping in your car. Turn to such sites as and for options, or contact the local tourist board when you show up in town. They're sure to know of a local or two who will put you up in a spare room; many turn their homes into unofficial hotels at this time of year to make a bit of extra cash.
*Consider a cruise: Sounds like an odd idea, but many of the ships heading up the coast of the US to Canada at this time of year offer wonderful leaf viewing opportunities. For deals on cruises, try such sites as, and

For deals at hotels, the New York Times has an okay list of specials. Some are noteworthy, most aren't, but take a look for yourself here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Check Pretty Please! New Ways to Save on Restaurant Meals Across the US

"Early bird specials" in the restaurant industry are nothing new.  But the way these specials are being advertised and distributed certainly has taken a twist, if today's New York Times piece on the subject is accurate. According to the Times, restauranteurs are turning to coupon sites such as Groupon and Gilt City to attract early diners, as well as such sites as, which offer discounts that vary by time of reservation. Diners pay $10 to make their reservation, and then receive 30% off the final bill. Best of all, they don't have to whip out a coupon in front of their date; the 30% is taken off, automatically.

Apparently, not all of these deals involve dining before the sun sets. According to the Times, restauranteurs are able to send out last minute discounts for nights when a large party pulls out of a prime-time reservation through Savored, as well.

Not all the news is good for consumers, however. Some eateries are using the new technology to charge extra for reservations during peak times (like 8pm on a Saturday).

To read the entire piece, click here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day

Whether you're parading, tanning, traveling, BBQing, or just goofing off, may I wish you a wonderful Labor Day.

This blog will be back tomorrow!