Travel News: Madrid Calling (and Other Cheap Deals)

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Francisco Guerrero Tanco


For the week of Dec. 29, 2008


Upgrade Me. Virgin America is offering in-flight upgrades. If you want a comfier seat or you've spied a potential hot date or employer sitting up in business class, simply swipe your credit card through the console on the seat back, and if there's room up front, you can move in and start pitching yourself.

Oz on Sale. If the financial world seems topsy-turvy on this side of the world, maybe it will make more sense Down Under. Qantas, which now flies A380s on some routes, is offering round-trip fares between New York City and Sydney for $1,178, and between Los Angeles and Melbourne for $1,078. Book by Jan. 19, 2009, for high-season travel between Jan. 29 and April 30, 2009, or June 9 and Sept. 21, 2009. If you travel between May 1 and June 8, 2009, the start of the southern hemisphere's winter, fares drop about $100.

Qantas is also offering an "Outback Airpass" package, which includes tickets to Australia from Los Angeles or San Francisco, tickets on three domestic flights and hotel upgrades at any Voyages hotel in the Northern Territory, the famous Australian Outback, plus tickets to the Territory Wildlife Park. Book by Jan. 31, 2009, for travel through August. Prices start at $1,199. 800-641-8772

Tallyho! Fares to London are on sale. British Airways is taking $250 off any round-trip World Traveller Plus ticket to London, and $100 off any ticket worldwide. Virgin Atlantic has special fares in economy class from now through March 22, 2009, with $221 one-way fares to London from Chicago, and $196 one-way from New York City. (See 10 things to do in London.)

Passengers' Rights. Score another point for European travelers. The European Court of Justice recently ruled that airlines must compensate travelers when flights are canceled due to technical problems. Previously, airlines had claimed that technical problems were "extraordinary circumstances" for which passenger compensation was not warranted. But the court found that since airlines are responsible for routine maintenance of their planes, the extraordinary-circumstances rule doesn't apply. The European Union already has a pretty sweet Passenger Bill of Rights, which this ruling helps to strengthen.


Citizenship Has Its Privileges. The ME Madrid Reina Victoria hotel is inviting American tourists to visit, with a "ME wants YOU in Madrid" package. Provide your U.S. passport and book three nights, and you'll get 20% off room rates, a bottle of cava (that's Spanish champagne) and strawberries in the room, 50% off dinner for two at the hotel's Midnight Rose restaurant, and complimentary breakfast. Offer extended though March 2009. Plaza de Santa Ana 14, Madrid, Spain; 866-436-3542

Off the Florida Keys ... You won't bump into Bogie here, but Ocean Pointe Suites in Key Largo, Fla., has a worthwhile "Reef Snorkeling Package," which includes two half-day snorkeling trips for two and equipment rental, plus one-hour kayak rental, in a package starting at $194 per night. If you want to stay above the surface, the hotel also has a "Keys Water Sports Package" with three choices to accompany the room: a half-hour Waverunner ride, a two-hour Hobie Wave sailboat rental or a four-hour kayak rental. Rates start at $189 per night. 500 Burton Drive (mile marker 92.5), Tavernier, Fla.; 800-882-9464

Surprise Me! Like games? Try the scavenger hunt at The bounty is access to the $1-per-night hotel sale the site will offer for 15 minutes each day during a five-day period in late January/early February 2009. To find out which five days the sale will run, register on the site and receive clues via e-mail after New Year's.

The World for Cheap. Expedia is having a winter sale, with hotel discounts of up to 50% off at properties around the world. A four-day trip to Cancun, including airfare and a room at the Gran Melia Resort, starts at just $666 per person. Airfare plus four nights at the W Hotel in New York City starts at $544 per person. Expedia has separate Web pages for people who prefer urban travel and those who like a sunny beach. Book before Feb. 11, 2009. (See 10 things to do in New York City.)

Good Times. Want to see how they kicked back in the good ole days? The Castle Hill Inn and Resort in Newport, R.I., a Relais & Châteaux hotel located in a restored mansion overlooking the ocean, is offering a "Gilded Age Package" complete with a midnight champagne tour at the Newport mansions. Book two nights and get a welcome gift in-room; a private tour of the Breakers and Elms mansions; afternoon tea; a three- or five-course gourmet dinner; gourmet breakfast; and a one-year membership to the Newport Preservation Society, which gives you free admission to all mansion properties. Rates start at $1,047 per couple per night, through March 2009. 590 Ocean Drive, Newport, R.I.; 888-466-1355

Vintage Connecticut. Mystic has more than just pizza. The Marriott Mystic Hotel & Spa is offering a "Connecticut Wine Experience" package, which includes a VIP tasting and complimentary bottle of wine at Jonathan Edwards Winery; a tasting and complimentary bottle at Stonington Vineyards; a $100 credit at Elizabeth Arden Red Door spa; plus breakfast and a four-course dinner for two at the hotel's steakhouse, Octagon, paired with local wines. The Mystic Aquarium and the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos are also nearby. Rates start at $575 for two, through September 2009. 625 North Road, Groton, Conn.; 860-446-2600

On the West Side. In case you're planning to attend a convention next year at New York City's Javitz Center on the West Side, the Wyndham has just opened two Garden Hotels nearby, with high-tech "Smart Chairs" designed by Michael Graves in the lobby (the chairs have swiveling tables and built-in electrical outlets and Internet ports), anti-allergy guest rooms and organic breakfasts. At the Wyndham Garden Midtown Convention Center (341 West 36th Street), rates start at $179 per night; at the Wyndham Garden Chelsea (37 West 24th Street), rates start at $169. 800-996-3426

On the West Coast. Mexico's Los Cabos hotels have banded together to offer a "Fly Me to the Sun" program, which gives guests $400 back upon checkout — which basically means a free airline ticket. Check out the website for participating hotels and rates.


Sow Your Oats. Jamba Juice is introducing oatmeal to the menu nationwide (it's already been previewed in Chicago stores) in January, giving Starbucks a run for your breakfast dollar. Unlike Starbucks', Jamba's oatmeal is slow-cooked, not instant, and you'll have a choice of fruit toppings — apple-cinnamon crumble, blueberry-blackberry or fresh banana.


Green Scene. Washington's electric-car enthusiasts are in for a treat. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is offering free electric-car battery-charging at six parking spots in the airport garage. Designated by green stripes, the slots on the garage's fifth floor are first come, first served. You still have to pay for parking, but the charging is free.