Travel News: Italy Promises Star Ratings for Hotels

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Peter Macdiarmid / Getty

For the week of Oct. 13, 2008


London Calling. London's Stansted Airport, a low-fare airline hub, has been approved for expansion, which will increase its yearly flight capacity by nearly 10%, from 241,000 flights to 264,000 flights. The airport, located 45 minutes from London by express train, currently has one runway; plans to build a second one may get off the ground as early as 2009. (Also, in a few months, the U.K. government will determine whether Heathrow gets a third runway.)

If landing outside London is not convenient enough, London City Airport, which is right in the thick of the city's financial district serving destinations in the U.K. and Europe, is also expanding. It has been given permission to increase traffic by 50%. British Airways is considering a long-haul flight from City Airport to New York City's Kennedy International.

Euro Special. Open Skies, a new subsidiary of British Airways, flies smaller 64-seat Boeing 757s, from New York to Paris. There are only two classes: Biz, with a flat bed, and Prem+, a step up from economy, with reclining seats and 52 inches of legroom. On Oct. 15, the carrier will begin service between New York and Amsterdam; the first 1,000 customers flying Prem+ will pay just $499 roundtrip. The airline will also sell 1,000 Prem+ seats from NYC to Paris for $599.

Fee Fall. While most airlines are nickel and diming their passengers, in a bit of refreshing news, Qantas is cutting fees. Since the cost of fuel has dropped, you'll pay less in fuel surcharges, which are normally tacked onto fares: They'll go down $20 on Qantas flights from Australia to Europe, and $10 from Australia to the U.S. It's not much, but when's the last time you remember an airline saving you money?

Midwest Hop. Southwest Airlines will begin service between Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Chicago's Midway Airport in March 2009.


Roman Holiday. Italy has established a uniform hotel rating system countrywide, despite resistance from some hoteliers, who were concerned that the bill was passed without their input. The new ratings — from one to five stars — will standardize hotel grades depending on room size, accessibility of private bathrooms, satellite TV, air-conditioning, Internet access, safes, the quality of cleaning services and the hours reception areas are manned.

Hotel Upgrade. The W Hotel, opened in 1998 on New York City's Lexington Avenue, was Starwood's first W ever. The 10-year-old hotel has just finished a complete bed-and-bath renovation of all of its 688 rooms and suites. Some swanky touches: brand-new pillow-top beds with white duvets, headboards inlaid with backlit photos, flat-screen TVs in every room, ceilings painted aubergine, LED lights around the windows and bed that allow you to create mood lighting. To mark the occasion, from now until Dec. 31, the hotel is offering a "Renovation Package," including a head-to-toe Bliss Spa gift set, two glasses of Champagne upon arrival, and a complimentary entrée from the hotel's restaurant, from $449 per night. 541 Lexington Avenue; 212-755-1200

Boston Crème. The posh new Mandarin Oriental opened adjacent to the Prudential Center in Boston's Back Bay this week. The 136 rooms feature 42-in. televisions, rainfall showerheads and walk-in closets. The 12 suites, including an ultraluxe 2,600-sq.-ft. Presidential Suite, have Jacuzzis in the marble bathrooms as well as a 15-in. TV. The hotel will eventually have a spa (its opening was delayed by fire during construction). To celebrate the hotel's launch, it's offering a "We Fan Boston" package, giving guests a free night for every two-or-more-night stay, plus a full American breakfast for two every day at its Asana restaurant, and two tickets to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. 776 Boylston Street; 617-535-8888. Rate: $710 and up per night.

Self-Serve Concierge. Select Sheraton Hotels in New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as Seattle's boutique Hotel 1000, have added Microsoft Surface to their lobbies. The service is basically a do-it-yourself concierge, where up to four guests can sit around an interactive flat screen surface built into a table and look through city maps, get restaurant and bar recommendations, find 24-hour pharmacies and get directions to nearby destinations. At Hotel 1000, you can also use the concierge station to view and edit photos on your camera's memory card.


Little Red Book. The 2009 edition of the Michelin Guide to New York City's restaurants and hotels hit bookstores Oct. 7 (updated Michelin guides to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas also go on sale this month). What's new: Four restaurants in New York have earned the coveted Michelin three-star rating — Masa, Jean Georges, Le Bernadin and Per Se. If they're a bit too rich for your pocketbook, don't fret: a quarter of the restaurant listings in the new guide fall in the affordable range. At 58 restaurants, you can get two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less, and at 74 restaurants you'll get a good meal for $25 or less.


Cheap Gas? If you're perpetually scrambling to refill the tank before returning your rental car, Hertz has a new policy just for you: The company will refill the tank at the local per-gallon rate and just add a charge of $6.99. If you have a Hertz Business Account, rentals of compact and full-size four-doors as well as mid-size and sporty two-doors earn an extra day free, now through December 31.

Sail Away. Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 will depart her dock on New York City's West Side at 5 p.m. on Oct. 16 to make her final transatlantic voyage to England. Due to become a floating hotel in Dubai, she will meet her sister ship, Cunard's ocean liner Queen Mary 2, at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor at 6:15 p.m. After a send off by tugboats and NYC Fire Department boats, the two ships will sail to England in tandem. Good viewing points are along Hudson River Park and Battery Park.


Tele-TV. Wireless carriers AT&T, Sprint and Alltel are now offering MobiTV, a service that lets you watch 35 channels of network and cable shows live or on demand on your cell phone, for $9.99 per month. MobiTV just partnered with ABC, so now you can catch up on Grey's Anatomy and Lost while you're waiting for your connecting flight.


"In My Day..." The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh opens an homage to the year 1958. So if you're a devotee of the AMC drama Mad Men, or just want to escape the current headline news, come here to see ads, products and memorabilia from the year that Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army, Nikita Khrushchev and General Charles De Gaulle became heads of state, NASA began its quest to put a man on the moon, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Dr. Zhivago topped bestseller lists, Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor shone in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and the Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., integrated for the first time. The exhibit also includes works by Andy Warhol from the period as well as photographs by the artist duo McDermott and McGough taking a look at teenage life in Detroit circa 1958.

Get Your Skate On. Whatever the temperature outside, the first sign of winter in New York City is the opening of the Rockefeller Center ice rink — this year on Oct. 11. Other ice-skating rinks around Manhattan will open in October as well: In Central Park, Wollman Rink opens on Oct. 19 and Lasker Rink on Oct. 20. The Pond at Bryant Park opens on Oct. 24.


Marks & Sparks Goes East. The British retailer Marks & Spencer has a homegrown following devoted to its gourmet food halls and no-nonsense children's clothes and underwear; now the store is expanding its reign overseas to Shanghai, where it has opened the first of 50 stores planned in China. The 40,000-sq.-ft. store sells everything from mens' and womens' clothing to over 1,000 lines of food including fish pies and molten chocolate cake. So if you're ever jonesing for Yorkshire pudding in Shanghai, head to West Nanjing Road.

Day Spa for Dudes. Freemans, the low-key hipster empire (which includes Freemans Restaurant and the clothier Freemans Sporting Club) is opening an old-fashioned barbershop in downtown New York City. An extension of the barbershop in the back of the clothing store, FSC-Barber now has its own home in the West Village (5 Horatio Street; 212-929-3917). It aims to recreate the atmosphere of the olden days, when men would gather daily at the local barbershop to hang out and discuss sports and politics. FSC-Barber offers hair cuts and shaves complete with hot towels and a straight-edge razor, but just to show it's got a modern edge, it also offers special treatments like the "Hangover Remedy": After a rough night on the town, they'll wrap your face and hands in eucalyptus scented towels, then give you a massage.

Get Out the Vote. Election Day is nigh. If you happen to be visiting one of the swing states — Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada — and find yourself with a bit of time on your hands, try volunteering to canvas or simply answer phones at your candidate's local headquarters. Click Barack Obama or John McCain for more info.