Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Holiday Inn Pays Guests To Stay At Its Properties....Sort Of

Holiday Inn will be giving a minimum of $25 in gift cards for either gasoline, train discounts or air discounts to those who stay for two-nights between now and June 30th. Stay 3 nights, and the chain will reward you with a $50 gift card, 4 nights nets $75 and if you can bed down for 5 nights, you'll be eligible for a $100 card.

Does that make this a great deal? Not necessarily. Before you spring, do your due diligence and make sure that area hotels of similar quality aren't undercutting HI's rates.

But heck, if you're a loyalty point collector (and you need to be for this program, though joining is free), why not snag a gift card?

To read all the details, go to http://www.ihg.com/holidayinnresorts/hotels/us/en/global/offers/offers/planes-trains-automobiles

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pay Just $110 Per Night for a Lovely, Manhattan Hotel This Spring (No That's Not a Misprint)

Views of the Hudson river (from some rooms), fluffy duvets, larger-than-normal rooms, a primo location, free wifi, a useable gym and a genuinely friendly staff--these are the elements that make the Belleclaire Hotel in NYC a top pick, even during the periods that it's charging $239-and-up for its rooms.

Yes, it's an older property but in this case that's going to work in travelers' favor. To celebrate the hotels 110th anniversary, it will be charging just $110 a night for its rooms for stays between April 19th and Labor Day.

The catch? You have to get old-fashioned and use the phone. But those who call the hotel at 877-468-3522 between the noon on April 19 and midnight on April 20th, mentioning the "Belleclaire birthday promotion" are in for some lovely, and cheap, sleeps.

My advice: Call early in the afternoon on the 19th. I'm guessing this one's going to sell out.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Change Fees Waived by Airlines for Those Flying Into or Out of Boston

This is just a quick blog to point you towards a helpful article by USAToday. In light of yesterday's horrific attack in Boston, all of the major carriers have waived change fees for those scheduled to fly into or out of the city in the next few days. They're doing this not because service is being disrupted--it isn't--but because they know that many people's plans have probably changed.

For full details, please click on the link above.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Buckle Up, It's Going to Be a Bumpy Flight...Literally! The Effects of Pollution on Air Turbulence Plus More Bad Sequester News

I'm sorry that this blog has become a parade of lousy news lately, but here comes some more. Scientists are predicting that as carbon dioxide levels rise, so will air turbulence for transatlantic flights. The bumpiness will have to do with the jet stream moving ever farther north. Scientists, in a study published by the journal Nature Climate Change, are saying that both the frequency of turbulence and its strength will increase significantly in coming years. To read the Associated Press account of the study, please click here.

Those bumps in the, er, road will be coming in the coming years. But the sequester is happening now, and we're starting to see more and more fallout from it. In the latest news, the Navy has announced it will be cancelling Fleet Week this year. So, no well-deserved break for our men and women in dress-white uniforms this year; much less business for restaurants and night spots in those cities that host this yearly event (most notably New York City); and civilians won't have that once-yearly (and pretty thrilling) opportunity to tour working naval vessels. 'Tis a shame.

Apparently, the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron have been forced to cancel all their appearances at air shows in 2013. 

Even worse (arguably) has been the rash of vandalism at Joshua Tree National Park. The Park Service has been forced to close several of the park's most popular hiking trails because vandals have defaced 17 areas of the canyon with graffiti. Most are blaming social media for the increase in vandalism. Apparently, the perpetrators have been posting photos of their hits, spurring others to do the same. But one has to wonder if the decrease in ranger patrols--something that's happening at strapped National Parks around the country--was also a factor.

And that's the news from country woebegone. Hopefully I'll have some happier news for you soon.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lessons to Take Away from Yesterday's Pickpocket-Inspired Shut Down of the Louvre in Paris

Last May, I hosted a tour of France for the listeners to my radio show. We had days of touring together, and days when we set off on our own. On one of the free days, a group within our group headed to Versailles. Though they came back raving about the grounds, and the hall of mirrors, they also had some serious negatives to report about the experience, on two topics: pickpockets and crowds.

The two are, of course, inextricably linked. Where there are crowds, there often are pickpockets. Our group felt they had two close calls at the museum, dealing with men who were obviously tailing them and at one point, shoved a member of the group into another stranger. Thankfully, nothing was taken from that person, but they were shaken up. Constant announcements, by guides, about looking out for pickpockets, also made the experience a less-than-relaxing one.

The problem isn't confined to Versailles. Yesterday, the staff of the Louvre expressed their worries about pickpockets at that institution in a highly European way: they went on strike! Would-be visitors to the Louvre were told that the staff had walked out, forcing the museum to close, an extraordinary turn of events (and  that must have been intensely frustrating for the visitors). A union representative for the staff told the Guardian newspaper that workers were afraid of the organized gangs of thieves in the museum, many of whom used children as distractions (children enter free). Staff members had reportedly been spat upon and insulted when they tried to intervene.

So, a new spotlight on the age-old problem of pickpockets at tourist sites. But it's an issue that Bruce McIndoe, founder of the travel security firm I-Jet, feels has gotten more serious in recent years thanks to worsening economic conditions in Europe.

Obviously, travelers shouldn't skip the Louvre or any of the other crowded-but-important sights of Europe. But they should take precautions. Here are a few suggestions, from McIndoe:
  • Keep your passport, the majority of your cash and other important documents, in a safe at your hotel when you can.
  • When you have to carry a large amount of money, do so either in a money belt or in a wallet that can hang from your neck and tuck under a shirt. Keep a small amount of money in your pocket so you don't have to dig into your hidden stash in public.
  • Men who don't want to wear one of these devices should keep their wallet in their front, not back, pocket. They also are advised to put a thick rubber band around it, which will make the wallet much more difficult to extract from the pocket.
  • If you feel like someone is barging into your personal space, heed the red lights that sets off. Generally pickpockets work in small gangs, with one or two people distracting the victim while another lifts their valuables. So keep a zone of space around yourself when you can, and if you think someone's approaching you for a phony reason, walk away.
  • Be careful about flaunting your cell phone in public. Pickpockets are increasingly grabbing those. 
Travel safe, friends!

By the way, the Louvre re-opened today.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Airline Complaints Soaring

Did your latest flight arrive early? Mine did and that's not necessarily a good thing. As an analysis in USAToday showed, just about two months ago, that airlines are padding their flight times to improve on-time stats.

That means on-time and early arrivals, yes, but also more time spent just sitting on the darn plane. In fact, the paper found that 93% of flights are now longer than they were in 1995. 

Combine that increased time with the fact that planes are flying much fuller than they were a decade ago, and with more seats crammed on to them, to boot,  and what do you get? Complaints. A massive surge in complaints.

According to the Associated Press, complaints are up by a full 20% from a year ago. It's basing its reporting on statistics just released by the Department of Transportation.

An additional source of friction has been the increase in involuntary bumping (with fewer planes in the sky, fewer passengers are volunteering to wait for the next plane when flights are overbooked than in the past. Why? Does so could mean getting to one's destination days rather than hours late).

It's all an ugly brew, and frankly, there's not much to do. But forewarned is forearmed right?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Flying From Abroad into a US Airport? Bring a Book...and Lots of Patience

The sequester's effects have been sneaking up on travelers, slowly but surely.

I've blogged here before about this governmental snafu's potentially devastating effect on our National Parks--their staffing, services and programming.

Happily another travel crisis has been averted...for now. The Department of Transportation has decided to put off shutting down air control towers until June, citing safety concerns. Summer should also be when security lines slow down, due to a hiring freeze at the TSA.

But for those flying  into the country, the ugliness has already set in. According to USA Today, understaffing at customs has slowed down entry into the US to a crawl. New York's JFK has it worst, with passengers waiting up to three hours to get into the US. (Note for travelers: lines are the worst in the morning. From personal experience, I can tell you that they don't seem to be too awful in the evening. We waited just half an hour last week when coming back from Morocco). Miami has also seen 3-hour plus waits, according to the newspaper, while at Los Angeles Airport, officials have held passengers aboard planes for a full hour because the customs area has gotten dangerously crowded. Sadly, Washington Dulles, which just added a third more customs booths (at the cost of $180 million), has seen its wait time increase by half an hour or more, despite the expanded facilities.

Cuts to employee overtime are the reason behind the increased waits.

What a sad welcome for foreign visitors coming to the United States! Heaven knows we can use their tourism dollars. According to the White House, foreign tourists spent $14 billion in the United States in 2012, an increase of 8% from 2011. That translates into tens of thousands of jobs at hotels,  attractions, airports, restaurants and other sorts of facilities that cater to tourists.

Tourism has been a bright spot in an economy that seems to be getting better only in fits and spurts. With the sequester, and its devastating impact on the comfort of our visitors (and on their options, should they be coming to visit our national parks), we could see that increase in visitor numbers evaporate in 2014. The US has a good amount of competitions when it comes to travel.

So what to do? Remind your legislator that you haven't forgotten about the sequester and you realize these inconveniences--some serious ones--are the direct result of their inaction. Travel cuts are just one small part of the impact of the sequester (my heart goes out to all those whose unemployment benefits have been slashed). It's time to kick up a ruckus! Email your Congressperson, email your Senator and tell them we expect them to do their jobs, now, not later!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Freebie Friday: Intercontinental to Offer Free Wifi to All Its Loyalty Program Members

In 2014. The clubs elite members have it already. But hey, it's a step in the right direction.

Along with the Intercontinental Brand, the company owns the following chains: Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites. And yes, free wifi will be available at all at the turn of the year.

For complete info, click here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Quick! A 48-Hour Sale on British Hotel Rooms For High Season Stays

Just a quick post to let you know about a great deal: beds across Britain for just 10 GBP. And those ain't hostel beds. DeVere Venues are all proper, often pretty, hotels scattered across the UK. The sale holds for travel between June 28 and September 9, for those who can book by end of day tomorrow. Need more info? Go to http://www.deverevenues.co.uk/offers.html. But do it quick! Some dates will sell out.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is Your Browser History Affecting the Travel Prices You're Shown? A Terrific Article from Veteran Journalist Bill McGee

I'll be interviewing Bill McGee for our radio show tomorrow about a provocative article he posted in USA Today on whether travel deals change based on your browsing history. Though all of the major travel sites have long claimed this idea is sheer paranoia, McGee tested his hypothesis, using different computers in the search for airfares. His conclusion: travel providers are tracking consumer purchases, and raising the prices on those who spend most.

So what does one do with this bit of intel? McGee's advice may be a bit unwieldy for many, but he recommends using more than one browser and even switching computers when possible. Shopping around is also key, he writes, as is using sites that don't respect your privacy. Towards that last point, always make sure the site you're about to use has a privacy policy posted and don't use sites that say your information will be "held", "shared" or "sold".

Alas, McGee (and I) think this situation is about to become worse, thanks to the airline's stated intention to start customizing fares for their passengers (click here for my blog on that). This will require passengers store past travel purchase history with the airlines in order to be eligible for specialized "discounts".

Hey, any of you potential airline customers in the market for a bridge? I have just the one to sell you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Soon It Will Be Easier for Visitors to Use NYC's Subways

As a born-and-bred New Yorker, I can tell you that some New Yorkers used to take a kind of mischievous delight in the fact that visitors had trouble using our subways. Hey, it cut down on the crowding! Very often, stations would have no maps posted on the platforms; and those maps that did exist were so defaced with graffiti, nobody could see where Times Square was, or how to get to the Statue of Liberty.

That was the bad old days. Welcome to kindler, gentler Gotham! A Big Apple in which Times Square means Disney musicals not hard core porn, and the FBI touts our crime stats as a model for the rest of the country (no joke: NYC is now the US' safest big city). And down in our subways, there will now be touchscreen maps, designed to make sure no tourist ever accidentally ends up in the Bronx again. According to ABC News, there will be up to 90 of these helpful devices scattered around the city in the near future.

Tourists should be very pleased.

As for locals: they'll likely grouse about the new additions. Subway fares just went up after all, and they already know where they need to get off.