Travel news, deals and updates for the week of May 18, 2009
AIRLINES & AIRPORTS
The Benefits of Youth. College grads, treat yourself to a cheap present: The discount student travel agency STA Travel is celebrating 30 years of business, offering travelers a chance to score $30 round-trip tickets to London or Paris. The first 20 customers to visit their local STA Travel branch or call 800-360-9273 on Wednesday, May 20, can get a ticket to London or Paris, departing from New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle. As with any good deal, there are caveats: You must be under 26 or a currently enrolled student to qualify. A valid ISIC or IYTC identity card (for student travel) is required to purchase the ticket; you can buy one on site for $22 if you don't have one. You must depart by June 15. If you miss out on the $30 deal, take heart: STA is also offering $30 off all flights over $300 again, only for those under 26. 800-360-9273
Easier Awards. American Airlines is making it easier to redeem frequent flyer miles. You can now buy different types of award tickets or classes of travel on the same trip. So, for example, you can save miles on an economy-class MileSAAver ticket (more restrictive but cheaper) on the flight out, but purchase the costlier and more flexible first-class AAnytime ticket on the return. You can even book a one-way award flight without having to pay the equivalent of a round-trip ticket. Check out the new booking calendar on AA.com, which tells you how many miles you'll need for your trip.
High-Wired. Airlines are ramping up passengers' in-flight Wi-Fi access. Delta says half of its domestic fleet is now wired, and AirTran says it will have its entire fleet Web-enabled by summer. American is also planning to offer Wi-Fi on half its fleet by 2010. Say good-bye to your last excuse for not checking in with the home office.
It Pays to Pack Light. The good news is that Air Jamaica will allow passengers to check their first bag free. The bad news is that your second check bag will now cost you $25. Worse yet, your second bag won't be on the same flight with you to Grenada or Barbados. It'll be sent within seven days, and you'll have to go back to the airport to pick it up.
Can You Hear Me Now? It's going to get even harder to get a Continental Airlines reservation agent on the phone, now that the airline will lay off 500 workers and close its Tampa call center as of July 19. The airline says the extra agents are not needed, since so many passengers now book travel on the Web. O.K., but those extra fees for booking through a live person didn't help.
From Beach to Isle. Spanish airline Air Europa will begin flying weekly from Miami to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, on June 20. The Saturday flight to the volcanic isles, just off the northwestern coast of Africa, leaves Miami at 5 p.m., arriving in Tenerife 7:35 a.m., and costs about $700 round-trip.
HOTELS & PACKAGES
Salute. To commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans is sponsoring a Victory in Europe tour to Normandy, led by the museum curators and veterans, who share first-hand stories and serve as guides. On the tour, you'll visit London, Normandy and Paris, and highlights include dinner with Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, the son of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The package is priced per person at $5,550 double-occupancy; the single supplement is $1,150. If you can't get to Normandy, the Nola museum is also running a special program on June 6, see the website for details. 877-813-3329 ext. 343
Bearing Up. Alaska became a state 50 years ago, which is good enough reason to take a sea kayak tour of the remote Aialik Bay, with Backcountry Safaris. You might spot humpback whales, porpoises, seals and sea otters. A seven-day trip costs $2,338, including dry-suit rental, kayaks and other gear, along with meals while camping. If you book on the Web, you get 20% to 25% off.
And Now For Something Completely Different. Hawaii also celebrates 50 years of statehood this year. Go luxury at the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island, which is offering guests a $1,000 resort credit (through Sept. 30) good toward treatments at the newly expanded spa, the room rate or dinner you can have the hotel prepare you a romantic dinner for two on the beach. Room rates start at $725 per night, with a four-night minimum stay. If you want to bring the whole family along, up to five people can book a suite starting at $1,500 per night, and, with stays of four nights or more, you'll get complimentary breakfast every day, three family dinners and a date night for Mom and Dad, complete with free babysitting service. 72-100 Ka'upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; 808-325-8000
A Family Value. The Smiley family has run Mohonk Mountain House in New York's Hudson Valley for 140 years, so it's no surprise they've perfected the art of hospitality, welcoming guests with touches like afternoon tea and homemade cookies every day. To commemorate the hotel's founding, the chef is re-introducing the first dishes served in the dining room, like codfish cakes, German potato pancakes, and cinnamon-raisin bread pudding. With its old-fashioned sitting room, complete with fireplace and comfy reading chairs (and no TVs blaring to disrupt your reverie), the hotel is famous for the surrounding hiking trails, but it also has more modern pursuits like spas and golf. In honor of its century-plus in service, the hotel is discounting rates to $189.90 per person per night, including all meals (usually the rate runs $320 to $530, so that's a pretty good deal). Hop to it, though; the deal is good only until the limited number of allotted rooms sell out. 1000 Mountain Rest Road, New Paltz, NY; 800-772-6646
Off-Season Aspen. Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo., is celebrating 120 years of bedding guests. Built at the height of Colorado's silver rush by Jerome B. Wheeler, the co-owner of New York's Macy's department store, the hotel was meant to bring a touch of European luxury to the mountains. There's no skiing in Aspen this time of year, but there's plenty of hiking, fly fishing, biking and hot-air ballooning to be had. For its anniversary Hotel Jerome is offering a three-night History Buff package, with a guided tour of Independence Pass on the Continental Divide, as well as a nearby ghost town where the first silver in the area was discovered. Two free cocktails at the hotel's J-Bar will greet you upon your return. Rates start at $899 for three nights. 330 East Main Street, Aspen, CO; 877-412-7625
For All You Baseball and Opera Buffs. In Cooperstown, NY home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Glimmerglass Opera the four-star Otesaga Resort Hotel, located right on the banks of Lake Otsego is celebrating its 100th season. Like Mohonk, the resort is serving up special dishes from its 1909 menu, including rack of lamb Monte Carlo with Parisian potatoes. The hotel is right in town, within walking distance of the Fenimore Art Museum (the current exhibit features American artists' impressions of Rome at the turn of the century) and the Farmers' Museum, a living museum and ode to farming, with maple syrupmaking and butter-churning demonstrations and a blacksmith shop. A special anniversary package starts at $299, breakfast included, through June 11. Or you could throw down for the VIP package, which includes breakfast, dinner and Dom Perignon champagne, among other treats, for $1,909 for two guests for two nights; the package is available through November 30. 60 Lake Street, Cooperstown, NY; 800-348-6222
Still Walking Tall. Country Walkers is celebrating 30 years in business with a 30-for-30 offer. The outfit is taking $300 off the price of 30 different tours, including a nine-day hike through Ecuador's Andean Highlands along the Hacienda Trail ($3,598 per person); a seven-day gastronomic tour of medieval towns along the Italian Riviera ($3,648 per person); or a 10-day expedition through terraced fields, valleys and forests with views of the snow-capped Himalayas in Bhutan ($4,998 per person). 800-464-9255
Bermuda Boon. Britain's oldest colony, Bermuda, is 400 years old, so select hotels and resorts like the Fairmont Southampton, Cambridge Beaches and The Reefs are giving guest a $400 credit on stays of four nights or more. Check the Bermuda tourism website for participating hotels. Book through August 17, good for travel through August 21.
Starwood's Free Weekend Nights. The Starwood Preferred Guest program is celebrating its 10th anniversary by offering a SPG Free Weekends special. Stay two nights at any Starwood hotel between May 1 and July 31 and earn one free weekend night (Friday, Saturday or Sunday). There are no limits to the number of free weekend nights you can bank, and you can cobble together a string of free nights at any Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, St. Regis and others. Free nights are redeemable through the end of September. Register here to participate.
More Free Nights. They may not have anniversaries to celebrate, but plenty of other hotels are offering the opportunity to earn free nights. With InterContinental Hotels' Biggest Free Nights, Priority Club members can stay any two nights from May 4 to July 3 and get a free night to use from July 3 to Dec. 26. You can earn up to four free nights and use them at any one of the group's 4,000 hotels around the world. Register for the promotion here.
Marriott Rewards members get a free night after staying three times between June 1 and Aug 31 at one of 3,000 participating Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn, TownePlace Suites or Marriott Vacation Club International hotels. Register here and use your free night through the end of 2009.
$50 Credit Card. Best Western is offering a $50 Travel Card for Best Western Reward Members, who stay two nights before June 14. To earn the $50 credit, which you can use at any Best Western, guests must first register here. You'll also earn 250 bonus reward points for a total of 500 points for each night you book online.
Digital U.S.A. The first official U.S. travel website is now live. Put together by the U.S. Travel Association along with state tourism offices and convention and visitors bureaus the contains 7,000 pages, which you can navigate by destination or activity.
Road Trips Made Easy. My favorite mapping system is AAA's TripTik Travel Planner. You don't have to be a member of the auto club to use it. Just go to the site, plug in your start and end points and the site will map the best route for you. If you don't like the suggested route, or you want to take a side trip, you can click and drag the route shown on the map, and the directions recalibrate themselves. TripTik also notes points of interest, restaurants, hotels and gas stations along your route.
Park and Recreation. Dedicated by President William Taft on July 31, 1909, Zion National Park is 100 years old this summer. The desert park with red rock mesas is known for its canyons, the most famous of which is the Narrows, a slot canyon it's not for the claustrophobic. Splashing along the river through the Narrows makes for a pretty cool hike. Stay in the park overnight and enjoy it after all the day-trippers have gone, at the Zion Lodge, where rates start at $159 per night. If you prefer more luxury, stay 45 minutes away at the Red Mountain Resort & Spa, which is currently offering a three-night Zion National Park Adventure Package for $259 per person per night, including meals.
Niagara's Fallen. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the historic siege of Niagara during the FrenchIndian War. Old Fort Niagara is planning a large-scale commemoration of the battle from July 3 to 5, with a living history encampment, fireworks, a naval forces demonstration, and more than 2,300 re-enactors suiting up to portray British, French and American Indian soldiers in battles and a nighttime artillery bombardment. For kids there are 18th-century children's games, woodland skills workshops, soldier's drills and other activities. 800-838-3006
Ancient Waters. Vermont's Lake Champlain is noting its quadcentennial. It's been 400 years since French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who charted the St. Lawrence River and founded Quebec City, hit Champlain's shores. There will be tours of the shipwrecks at the bottom of the lake, along with fairs and arts festivals around the lake through the rest of the year.