Travel news, deals and updates for the week of March 30, 2009
AIRLINES & AIRPORTS
Ice, Ice, Baby. Icelandair will begin nonstop service between Seattle and Reykjavik on July 22. Flights from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will depart Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 4:30 p.m., arriving in Reykjavik at 6:45 a.m. Get a little perspective, and some cheap deals, by visiting a nation that is undergoing a worse financial crisis than the U.S.
Multiple Miles. Delta Air Lines is offering SkyMiles members, and members of its merger partner, Northwest's WorldPerks, up to triple miles toward elite Silver Medallion status on select fares. Purchase an economy class ticket and earn double miles toward free upgrades, priority boarding, preferred seating and more; throw down for a first, business or premium economy fare and earn triple miles. To participate, enroll at Delta or Northwest. Earn multiple miles through June 15, but not on deeply discounted tickets.
Coke Vs. Pepsi. One important issue oft overlooked during an airline merger: Coke or Pepsi? Delta serves Coke, but Northwest is Pepsi all the way. That divide will survive the merger, even after Northwest employees have doffed their uniforms for Delta's. Concerned travelers can learn which beverage selection to expect by looking at their tickets, which still display either the Northwest or Delta logo.
Nickels and Dimes. Low-cost European carrier Ryanair has announced it will do away with its airport check-in counters and begin charging customers a $6.50 fee to check in online, which, after October 1, will be your only option.
National ID Cards. The rules for Americans traveling to neighboring countries are about to change. Old rules allowed you to use a driver's license along with a birth certificate as proof of U.S. citizenship. But as of June 1, U.S. citizens traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada or Bermuda, have to carry a passport or a U.S. passport card. Airline passengers must have a passport, as always, but passengers aboard cruises, buses or cars that cross the border or leave U.S. waters, may use the less expensive U.S. passport card. These cards are valid for 10 years and cost $45 for first-time adult applicants, $35 for minors or $20 to renew a savings over traditional passports, which cost $100 for first-time adult applicants, $85 for minors and $75 for renewals.
Shanghai Express. Continental Airlines is the first U.S. carrier with direct, nonstop service to Shanghai from Newark Liberty International Airport. If you're in business class, you get to snooze in flat-bed seats. In economy class, you'll have a 3-3-3 seat configuration with wider aisles, which may help you feel less cramped. All flyers can pass the 14-and-a-half-hour flight watching the airline's new video-on-demand system, with 250 films and TV shows.
HOTELS & PACKAGES
The average price of a hotel room fell 12% last year globally, according to the latest Hotels.com Hotel Price Index, but we've found deals that drop rates even further:
Bed for a Buck. The Alexander Inn in Philadelphia is offering five hotel rooms a night for $1 as part of its Guest Stimulus Plan, through June 11. The hotel hopes you'll reserve a room Sunday through Thursday for a dollar and spend what you save in lodging at Philly's restaurants, shops and museums. Call to book your $1 room at 8 a.m. EST 30 days prior to your arrival. The limit is one night at $1 per guest. 301 South 12th Street, Philadelphia; 215-923-3535 or 877-253-9466
Foolishly Good Deal. San Francisco's two LEED-certified Orchard Hotels are offering rooms for a dollar starting April Fool's Day, for the entire month. You won't find this offer mentioned on the hotels' website, but if you hit the site at 10 a.m. on April 1 and type in the promotional code "Fool!" you can score one of the two $1 rooms offered each night in April. Once the 60 allotted rooms are sold out, the offer will be closed. Additional nights begin at $159. 466 Bush Street (Orchard Garden Hotel) or 665 Bush Street (Orchard Hotel); 888-717-2881
Pound for Pound. The four-star Royal Lancaster hotel, located in London's Hyde Park, has a 100-pound offer Friday through Sunday nights this spring. Snag one of the select 100-pound rooms, and get 100 pounds in credit toward food or drink at either of the Lancaster's two restaurants. Book rooms through April 26. Lancaster Terrace, London W2; +44-(0)20-7551-6110
Trade Credits. When you stay at Barcelona's Hotel Casanova, you'll get a one-to-one exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro. Meaning you can pay the room rate, posted in euros, in an equal number of dollars, instead of the current 1-euro-to-$1.35 exchange rate. The hotel will also accept the one-to-one rate on food, drink and spa treatments. Rooms start at 134 euros, which will save you more than $45 a night by this deal's reckoning. Through Dec. 20, use the promotional code "dollar." Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 559, Barcelona; +34-(0)933-964-800 or 866-849-6396
Tweet for a Free Room. L.A.'s Westin Bonaventure is giving away 50 room nights every weekend through April 18 as part of its "U.O.Me Tax Relief" promotion. The free rooms are first come, first served, given to the first 45 website entries and the first five Twitter tweets, for the nights of April 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 or 18. Enter on the hotel website, between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. PST the Tuesday before your desired stay. For more info on the Twitter giveaway, see http://twitter.com/thebonaventure. 404 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles; 213-624-1000
Raffling Raffles. Win a five-night stay at one of seven Raffles Hotels & Resorts in Singapore, the Grenadines, Cambodia (Phnom Penh or Siem Reap), Beverly Hills, Beijing and Dubai. You've got to do some work for this one, so sharpen your pencil and your writing skills, and send in a description of either your dream stay at Raffles or what your best travel experience at Raffles has been. The first prize is five nights in a Presidential Suite; five runners-up get two nights at any of the seven properties. Enter by May 30. See the website for details.
Scotch Trip. If you didn't get enough Celtic celebration on St. Paddy's Day, get ready for the Scottish version Tartan Day on Monday, April 6. To celebrate all things plaid, Drumscot Tours has a deal on a seven-day "Castles, Whisky and the Gathering" trip, which includes tours of a whisky distillery and castles and a Loch Ness boat trip, running July 20 to 27. If you book the tour on Tartan Day, you'll get 10% off plus complimentary tickets to the Gathering, an international get-together of the clans on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns. The Gathering happens July 25 and 26, and the city of Edinburgh is going all out, with a Clan parade down the Royal Mile, a pageant in Edinburgh Castle depicting Scotland's history, as well as the Highland Games (log toss, anyone?). Package rates start at $2,707 per person. When booking on April 6, use the code "Tartan Day." After April 6, you won't get tickets to the Gathering, but you can still get 10% off the tour through April 30 with the code "10% offer." 866-441-9936 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign up to Voluntour. Is there a more wholesome way to spend a spring weekend than on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula on a volunteer vacation? On Saturday, April 18, guests of the Kalaloch Lodge can volunteer with the Clean Coast Alliance to clean up beaches. On Saturday, April 25, voluntourists staying at the Lake Quinault Lodge can help the National Park Service restore a cabin at Olympic National Park; that evening, the lodge will throw a barbecue as a token of its appreciation. Rates for April 17 and 18, at the Kalaloch Lodge, start at $99 per night, including a boxed lunch for two. On the second weekend, at Lake Quinault Lodge, room rates start at $109, including the BBQ. Additional nights can be tacked on for $89 a night. If you show up in a hybrid car, you'll get a $15 gift certificate to use at either hotel's shop or restaurant. 888-869-3827
Even Better, Voluntour in Luxury. The Mandarin Oriental in Miami has a voluntourism program at Everglades National Park visitors can help with tree planting, recycling projects and exotic plant removal. You start the day with a hearty breakfast, then set out with a boxed lunch for your morning volunteer mission. After lunch, you get a tour of the park. Having done your part for the world, you can spend the next day lounging at the pool, sipping lemonade guilt-free. Rates start at $978 for two nights through April 11, then drop to $798 for two nights through May 23, and include one-day hybrid car rental. 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami; 305-913-8288
Off With Their Rates. Hyatt Hotels & Resorts is taking 20% off rates at Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt, Andaz and Park Hyatt hotels. For stays in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, book by April 8 for travel through June 30. To get the discount at the Park Hyatt, book by April 26 for stays through May 3. 800-233-1234
DINING & WINE
Beers & Brats. To encourage its guests to mingle, Marriott's downtown Chicago outpost on the Magnificent Mile is having a cocktail-hour "Beer & Brats" event with Wisconsin beer brewer Leinenkugel on Tuesday, April 7, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. All-you-can-eat-or-drink for just $5. Stay overnight for $159 and up. 540 North Michigan Avenue; 312-836-0100
Text for a Taxi. Rather than wait on a street corner for a cab in San Francisco, Washington, Dallas or 22 other cities, use Ride Charge to call a taxi via your smart phone. BlackBerry users must create an account, then summon a chariot by emailing email@example.com; iPhone users can just download the Taxi Magic app. The program gives you real-time updates on your car's location, when it will arrive, as well as the driver's name and car number. Plus, you can pay by credit card.
Pimp My Ride. Want to ride in style to the airport, but have little cash to spare? Try Hitchsters.com, which sets up shared limo rides to the airport. Enter the airport you're headed to, the flight you're catching and the time you want to leave. The website will let you know if there are any other travelers who want to hitch to your wagon. You can also indicate whether you'd prefer male or female company. It beats trawling the produce aisle for mates.
Hotel Review Hub. The comprehensive airfare, hotel and car rental comparison site Kayak.com has just launched a new hotel review site called TravelPost, giving TripAdvisor a run for its money. TravelPost aggregates descriptions, photos and ratings of 140,000 hotels from 200 travel sites including Orbitz, Hotels.com, BedandBreakfast.com, IgoUgo.com, Epinions.com and the hotels' own websites. Search by hotel name, star rating, brand, room type and location, and see reviews from other travelers. In true Kayak.com fashion, you can also filter the reviews by the writers' age, gender, budget, and style of travel (business or leisure).
Meanwhile, on TripAdvisor... TripAdvisor is expanding its offerings by adding reviews of vacation rentals 70,000 condos and houses to its site. There's also a new vacation calculator, which helps you estimate the cost of your dream trip based on the average lodging and food costs in the area you want to visit.
SHOPPING & SERVICES
When You Gotta Go. The name may be somewhat unsavory, but the service could be useful. SitOrSquat.com is a free mobile app for iPhones and BlackBerrys, courtesy of Charmin, which uses GPS to guide you the nearest public bathroom.