Friday, November 30, 2012

Freebie Friday: Free Hotel Room, And On Christmas Eve, No Less

Ah, but there's a catch (isn't there always?).

The freebie is only for couples with those most Christmasy of names: Joseph and Mary.

Still, if you can prove those are your legal names, make a reservation at any of the UK's 500 Travelodge Hotels. The giveaway is good for stays, in a family room, of course, from December 24th through January 5 (the last of the 12 Days of Christmas).

To claim the freebie, send an email to by December 21. You'll need to show proof that these are your real names.

Oh, and the chain is throwing in a free parking space...for your donkey.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hotel Resort Fees? The Feds Are On The Case

It's one of the ugliest surprises in travel. You're checking out of the cushy resort you chose, eager to be on your way, when suddenly something on your room bill catches your eye. Mysteriously, you're going to be pay $15--or $25 or even $30--more per night than you expected.

The "resort fee" strikes again.

Thankfully, it's not just you and I who thinks this consumer-unfriendly "gotcha" is a bad idea. The Federal Trade Commission announced this week that it had contacted 22 hotel operators to warn them that their websites might be violating the law, by "providing a deceptively low estimate of what consumers can expect to pay for their hotel rooms."

It's a practice the FTC calls "drip pricing"--and that doesn't refer to the "drips" who create these types of deceptions. Instead, it's a practice in which the business only advertises one part of the price every customer will have to pay. "Consumers are entitled to know in advance the total cost of their hotel stays,” said Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz.  “So-called ‘drip pricing’ charges, sometimes portrayed as ‘convenience’ or ‘service’ fees, are anything but convenient, and businesses that hide them are doing a huge disservice to American consumers.”

Though the FTC declined to reveal which hotels it has contacted, it's wonderful to know they're on the case. And it provides a means of redress to citizens who feel they've been unfairly charged fees they didn't know were coming. Now, they don't just have to rely on the goodwill of the hotel manager to get the charges reversed. They can contact the feds!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who Says Cyber Monday Has Passed? More Winter Hotel Deals

As the chilliest days of winter approach, more and more hotel chains seem to be hoping that advance sales will fill their beds in the slow season. Here are some of the deals that caught my eye this week:

Ibis Hotels: A massive chain, with over 700 properties worldwide, it's offering savings of up to 15 eu per night for stays between December 21 and Jan 13, 2013. For all the details, click here.

La Quinta Hotels: Stays at this brand are always kind to the wallet. That's particularly the case for those who book 14 days in advance this winter. Do so and you may be able to score a $45/night bed in Tulsa, or a $49/night steal in Albuquerque. More details here.

DeVere Venues: This often-swank Brit chain has cobbled together packages across the UK to make impromptu getaways more appealing. Among the specials: 99 GBP for dinner, wine and a room to sleep it off at Slaley Hall in Northumberland, Belton Woods in Lincolnshire, Motram Hall in Cheshire or Dunston Hall in Norfolk. At the Devere Village properties, prices drop to as little as 59 GBP per night, including breakfast, at a number of properties. For a full list of deals, simply click here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Airfares Up, A New Name for Booze Cruises and More

Holiday Airfares are up by 5% That's the depressing newsflash from USAToday, which is using stats from booking sites and As always, there are some days when the prices will be (slightly) less painful (such as Christmas and New Years days). And the worst days to travel? December 22, 23 and 26.

Cheers! Is the not-so-original new name for the unlimited booze packages offered by the party-hearty Carnival Cruise Lines. With the new name comes an expansion of the program. Now it will be possible to drink until you drop, for one lowish price ($42.95), aboard the Carnival Victory, Carnival Splendor, Carnival Breeze and Carnival Dream. The price covers unlimited servings of cocktails, beer and wine in the $10/glass and less category, and 25% off full bottles and premium cocktails. NCL is offering a similar program on many of its ships.

Hacking hotel key cards: Ruh roh! Turns out it's not at all hard to break into hotel rooms that use key card systems, according to a source that would know, Another good reason to always use the hotel safe when leaving valuables in your room!

Soon we'll be flying the planes! The Economist is reporting that more and more airlines are having their passengers self-tag their bags when they check in. I suppose it's a good way to make sure your luggage gets where it's going, but I worry about all the folks who may be losing their jobs because of this move. For more on the topic, click there.

Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Not Too Late To Snag a Cyber Monday Travel Deal

And in many cases they're far less of a "come on" than the sales taking place around other sorts of products. Here are some of the best still out there:

Rental Cars:
* is giving folks who sign up today and book a rental today, $30 to spend on it. The deal seems fairly straight-forward, though it appears to only be available to folks who've previously rented through the opaque sale giant. For info, click on the link above.

*The always affordable EZ Rent a Car is offering rentals starting at just $5-per-day to those who make their reservations today for rentals before Dec 9. Cheapest rates are for Seattle and Denver ratings, though Las Vegas rentals are only $2 more at $7 per day. Los Angeles is going for $8, various Floridian cities for $9 and Atlanta for $10 a day. For more information, click on the link above.

*Hertz is offering 25% off weekly rentals to those who reserve today, for travel through Jan 15. Use code PC# 176934.

* The chi chi hotel chain Loewe's Hotels and Resorts is offering savings of up to 40% per night for stays all the way through April 30th at a number of property. To snag a deal, book before 3am ET on November 27.

*The New Orleans Collection, a collection of seven swell Big Easy hotels, is offering nightly discounts of up to 40% for the period up to Dec 21. That's a truly swell time to visit NOLA, as there'll be special events galore (scroll down this blog to learn more about New Orleans in December).

*At Omni Hotels, $99 a night constitutes a darn good sale. So if you're traveling before Jan 31, and want a touch of luxury, head over to their site (see above) for their "Click Quick!" sale, to snag a room at that rate in dozens of cities around the globe.

*Use the code "CYBER" at the site of Wyndham Vacation Rentals to snag savings of up to 50% at ski and beach destinations around the world. (Note: these are professionally managed rental properties, not full-service hotels).

* Delta Airlines is allowing for upgrades to Economy Comfort class this week, starting at just $9 above the economy rate you receive. For complete information, click here. The discounted upgrade will be available at airport kiosks for flights this week or online for future flights, though bookings must be made by end of day, Nov 29.

*Friendly Planet Tours are always among the best values on the market, which is why I was surprised to see them offering an additional $100 to $400 off every tour they're running, for those who book before midnight, ET tonight. Details plus the code necessary are at the link above.

A word to the wise: If you DON'T see a sale above on a property or travel product you were hoping to purchase, head to the website today, anyway. A slew of individual resorts and travel providers are offering discounts, simply too many to list here.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

In honor of the holiday, I'll be taking today and tomorrow off.

Safe travels to all those on the road.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Travel Deals

USA Today has posted an excellent round-up of post Thanksgiving vacay deals. It's mostly hotel deals--no surprise, the author is Barbara DeLollis, the paper's hotel reporter--but they run the gamut, from luxury to budget, domestic to international. Club Med is included, as is the entire island of St. Lucia and many of the hotels sold by Orbitz.

I'll keep my eye out for other sorts of Cyber deals in the coming days and will post them here as they pop!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

British Budget Motel Chain Introduces Noise Meters To Ensure Restful Nights

The lollipops bombed.

That was the first strategy British hotel chain Premier Inns tried to keep late night carousers quiet. When these rowdy guests returned to the lobby after a late night at the pubs, they were handed lollys, but apparently that didn't keep them from using their mouths for louder purposes.

So Premier Inn went high tech, installing noise meters in the hallways that cause the lights to flash when guests get too loud.

The executives of Premier Inn told Britain's Daily Mail that the scheme is working. They think it will ultimately be a big money savers for the hotels. Why? The most common reason for refunds are guests being unable to sleep due to noisy neighbors.

The chain has also put double glazing on the windows and springs on the doors so they'll shut more softly.

And with these moves, we travelers have yet another reason not to overpay for hotels. You're in them just to sleep, after all, and if the affordable ones are taking these types of measures to make sure everyone gets their zzz's there's less reason than ever to pay too much just for a bed.

Good on you Premier Inns!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Crescent City Christmas

Don't let the lack of snow deter you! New Orleans is a uniquely "Christmasy" destination (if you like your Yule cool) and therefor a delightful place to visit in December. But because nobody knows it, prices tend to plunge then.

How much? Throughout the coming month, 48 of top city hotels will be shaving up to 30% off their nightly rates. So a stay at the French Quarter Chateau LaMoyne or the Cotton Exchange Hotel will be just $69 a night. The chi chi W Hotel New Orleans (I've stayed there; it's very cushy) is coming in at a mere $99 and the historic Hotel St. Pierre will be but $79. These are just a few of the deals on offer. You can find more by clicking here.

Meals, too, will be slashed in price...if you're willing to try a blow-out Reveillon dinner.  These multi-course, holiday meals are a beloved New Orleans tradition making use of  recipes that are sometimes several centuries old. Ever wanted to try chestnut crusted sweetbirds, wild game cassoulet or roasted local Muscovy duck with cornbread stuffing and pepper jelly glaze? Here's your chance! Among the restaurants participating are some of New Orlean's most celebrated: Commander's Palace, Arnauds, Galatoires and the Court of the Two Sisters.

So you'll sleep and eat cheap, but that's not a reason to go anywhere is it? Happily, NOLA will be offering a slew of holiday entertainments from craft fairs to holiday concerts to caroling in Jackson Square and home tours. For a complete calendar of events, click here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Freebie Friday: Free Wifi In San Francisco and New York Until the End of the Year

In celebration of the October 26 launch of Windows 8, Microsoft has partnered with Boingo to provide free wifi in both San Francisco and New York. A limited version of the program started on the day of the Windows 8 debut, but expanded on November 1 to over 200 hotspots across the Big Apple and connectivity at such popular San Francisco hubs as Union Square, UN Plaza, The Financial District, Nob Hill and, of course, Fisherman's Wharf.

And hallelujah! The free wifi will be usable not just on Microsoft products, but with any wifi enabled device.

The only gotcha? You'll have to watch a short commercial for Windows 8 before being allowed to freely surf.

For more on the giveaway, click here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Booze Cruises Launched (Plus Free Java)

Bottoms up!

Norwegian Cruise Lines has joined Carnival and Royal Caribbean in offering unlimited drink packages, in its case at the cost of $42.95 per day. That covers both potent and er, impotent, potables though only drinks that would cost less than $10 a pop if bought a la carte.

And as with the other lines, the roll-out of the program will be limited to just a portion of the fleet. Beyond determining whether they're paying enough for the pass, I'm hoping the execs who greenlighted this are also studying what kind of effective these passes have on the cruise experience. Are there more raging drunks stumbling about? An uptick in security or safety incidents. More, er, messes to clean up?

To read more about this, click here for the USAToday article on the new programs.

And in unrelated news, if you're reading this at the airport and you need a quick cafeine fix, high thee to the nearest Starbucks! Today through Sunday the coffee giant is offering "buy-one-get-one-free" deals on many of its holiday drinks (including gingerbread latte and peppermint mochas).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Non-Stop vs. Direct Flights

Just wanted to alert you all to a terrific  piece in today's USAToday by FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney. According to the airfare guru, thesavings for itineraries that involve a touch down in the middle will be significant in the winter of 2012-2013: between 20% and 60% on many routings. To read the article, click on the link above.

It's a good reminder with the holidays--and holiday pricing--looming. According to most analysts, it could be as much as 25% pricier this year over last, to get to Grandma's house, if you need to wing it there.

But remember: non-direct flights in winter do carry risk. This is storm season, after all. So when looking at connecting flights, try to connect through southern gateways if possible, avoiding such snow-plagued airports as Denver and Chicago.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Early Season Colorado Ski Deals

When Winter Park resort opens tomorrow, it will do so with a flakey flourish: one foot of natural snow blankets its slopes, thanks to a Colorado-wide storm.

It's a good omen. Fingers--or skis--crossed that this means a white winter is in store for America's ski resorts.

That being said, many skiers who were burned by less-than-optimal conditions last year are waiting to make their vacation plans. Which means that those who lock in their reservations early--and ski early--will be able to snag some unusually good deals on lift tickets and lodgings. Some examples from Colorado:

Arapahoe Basin: Purchase the "Legend's Four Pass" (a 4 day lift ticket, good all season, with no blackout dates) for just $158 before December 12. Normal cost for four days: $280. Learn more at

Ski Cooper: Purchase before November 22, and get a four day pass (and the days can be non-consecutive) for just $99. No blackout dates or restrictions. Buy later, and you'll pay between $119 (if you can get a second early season deal) and $164 (for high season purchases).  Details:

Steamboat: This discount is only good for skiing that occurs before December 22. But if you can vacation that early, you'll get 3 days of skiing and a 20% discount on lodgings for $119. More at

Crested Butte: Free skiing, no strings attached, for opening day (November 21). Click here for more.

Copper Mountain: In honor of its 40th anniversary, the resort is offering $40 lift tickets for the weekend of December 7-9. Those who need to rent equipment can do so for just $40 per couple. And those who need to drink beer will get their brewskies for just .72 cents at Endos. Info at

Aspen/Snowmass: Save 35% on early season lift and rental packages. Dates available at

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bad for the Environment, Good for Your Wallet: A One-Year Stay For EU Carbon Fees

I have mixed feelings about this one, as you can probably tell from the headline. Having just lived without power for a week, due to a 100-year-storm that came just one year after another 100-year-storm, I'm taking climate change quite seriously.

And I think the European Union's attempt to off-set the use of carbon in planes with the imposition of fees on the airlines (part of an emissions credits trading system) has merit.

But the political pressure on the regulators was too great, it seems. It was announced today that the European Union will hold off on charging these fees to non-EU carriers for a year while the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization considers a global policy. The policy will still apply to flights that hop from one European country to another, just not flights that link Europe with the rest of the world. If the International body can't reach and agreement by April of 2014, the EU will re-institute the carbon caps.

Had they been imposed, the fees would have come to just a few euros per passenger.

Here's an article on the EU's about face.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Freebie Friday: Free Wifi In The Air (Plus An Invitation For Texans)


And the travelers' benefactor will be the unusually generous JetBlue, which will be offering connectivity in the air gratis beginning in 2013. I haven't been able to find any info on a starting date for that service, but here's a press release touting the coming broadband, which the airline is offering in partnership with ViaSat.

This AND free blue potato chips? JetBlue, I gotta crush on you.

Dallas Travel and Adventure Show!

And I couldn't sign off without issuing an invitation: tomorrow, at 10:45 am, I'll be speaking at the Dallas Travel and Adventure Show.  It should be quite the event! Along with my speech, the ever-charming and currently very pregnant Samantha Brown of the Travel Channel will be appearing. Richard Weise of the ABC show "Born to Explore" is also on the bill. And Tiffany Derry, of Top Chef fame, will be dishing up food at the culinary stage (along with a number of other world chefs)!

Bring the kids! There'll be lots of fun activities for them---climbing walls, huge bubbles to walk in over water, a zipline visits from the critters at the Dallas Zoo and more.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Free B&B Stays for Veterans This Coming Weekend

Up for a last-minute getaway? I know I would be, what with the seemingly never-ending storms in the East.

For the fourth year in a row, B&B owners in the US and Canada, will be thanking veterans by hosting them and members of the active military on the night before Veterans Day (which is this coming Sunday).

Proof of service is required (click here for details). Veterans can bring up to one guest to stay with them in the room, and chow down on a patriotic breakfast on Monday.

It's late in the game to book, but not impossible as more and more B&B's have joined in the giveaway over the past month. For a list of participating B&B's in the US, click here; for those in Canada click here.

And thank you for your service!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Doobie Do: The Dutch Change Their Minds and Legal Toking Comes to the US

Giggle weed is getting the last laugh.

In Holland last week, the incoming government abandoned plans for instituting a national weed pass, which would have effectively barred tourists from lighting up legally in the Netherlands. The government is going to allow individual cities to decide whether or not to bar outsiders from coffee shops and other hashish and marijuana purveyors. In practical terms, this means that the party will go on, unaffected, in Amsterdam, where the local government had been fighting the pass system for over two years.

But weed-loving tourists will no longer have to cross the Atlantic to toke. Yesterday, two little commented-on ballot initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington State, decriminalizing the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana (a similar measure failed in Oregon). Those two states already had passed medical marijuana laws; now they'll be allowing recreational marijuana use, as well.

Or will they? Under federal law, marijuana possession is still a crime, punishable by jail time. Its a conundrum for government officials. Colorado governor John Hickenlooper told USA Today ""The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will. This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

But it's an open secret that the Feds haven't done much about medical marijuana purveyors in these states, even when they were very obviously selling their goods for non-medicinal purposes. To my mind, the political will behind a crackdown isn't there. Not only would it raise the hackles of states rights defenders, but it also would anger the 50% of Americans who support the legalization of marijuana (according to the most recent Gallup Poll).

So will tourists soon be getting their "Rocky Mountain High"? Its an issue we'll all be watching.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rental Company HomeAway Works To House the Displaced

Another travel company, the massive rental site HomeAway, is offering shelter to Sandy survivors on the East Coast. It's created a special site for those willing to "rent" their homes for free or for an extremely reduced cost, in the upcoming weeks, to those who lost their homes to the storm.

Some of the properties are near storm ravaged communities, others will require Sandy victims to travel. To see the complete, and ever growing list, click here.

THANK YOU Homeaway for stepping up.

And on an unrelated topic, today is election day. The most important trip you can take is from your home to your polling place. If you're an American citizen you have the duty to vote. Your country needs to hear your voice.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Thank You to Two Travel Companies, In the Wake of Sandy

Apologies that "daily briefings" weren't possible last week. Like many on the East Coast, I was stripped by Sandy of my access to electricity (not to mention school for my kids, heat and hot water). For this return post, I wanted to send a shout out to two travel companies who acted with particular kindness during Hurricane Sandy.

The first is JetBlue, which quietly and with little fanfare, sent food trucks to my powerless neighborhoods which distributed free (and delicious!) bahn mi sandwiches, blue potato chips (of course!) and cookies to anybody who was hungry. I haven't seen any coverage of JetBlue's actions (though I may have missed it, as I've been without power) and wanted to make sure it was acknowledged.

The second company is AirBnB, which waived its booking fees for more than 20,000 listings in Sandy-affected areas. Free booking will continue through November 7. The company also reached out to its members to encourage them to lower nightly prices and even waive them entirely for people in need. No word on how many AirBnBers heeded the call to charity, but as someone who's stayed in quite a few AirBnB apartments, my guess is that a lot did (the hosts tend to be delightful, generous folks).

I'll be on the lookout for other travel companies to praise in the upcoming days.