What's New in Premium Economy?

Posted October 17, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Lufthansa is the latest major holdout to join the group of giant airlines offering premium-economy class. All newly delivered 747-8s incorporate the new cabin, with initial routes linking Frankfurt with Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington. The airline will start offering premium economy on its A380s and A340s next spring, with installation completed by the end of next year. Lufthansa's product will closely resemble that of Air France.

Lufthansa's announcement suggests an overall update of premium economy. The basic idea is simple: The gap between economy class and business class has become immense over the last decade, in both product quality and cost. Here's how:

* Among the world's major airlines, business class has become opulent beyond anyone's wildest expectations. The emerging norm is seats that convert to fully horizontal lie-flat beds for overnight flights, elaborate meal service, generous baggage allowances, and special ground facilities and services; airlines currently operating business class with seats that convert to flat beds at an angle are rushing to convert to the lie-flat design. Business class has become so lavish that many lines have completely abandoned first class.

* Economy class, on the other hand, keeps getting worse: ever-tightening legroom, narrower seats, minimal cabin service, fees for practically everything, and general cattle-car treatment.

* The difference is reflected in the fares: From Boston to London in mid-November, for example, current economy round-trip fares for nonstop flights start at $800, while business class starts at $6,000, more than seven times as much.

Enter premium economy: better than regular economy, cheaper than business class. But different airlines have implemented this idea in different ways. Most big Asian, European, and Pacific lines have opted for what I call "genuine" premium economy. Seats are 2–3 inches wider at shoulder level than seats in regular economy, meal and beverage services are better, extras do not require fees, and most lines provide preferred check-in lines. Standard layouts are 2-2-2 in 767s; 2-3-2 in A330-340s, A380 upper decks, and 787s; and 2-4-2 in 747s and 777s. Seat pitch (front-to-rear spacing of set rows) of 37–40 inches provides 6–8 inches more legroom than conventional economy. Air Canada is the only North American line to offer genuine premium economy on a few planes.

Fare differences are inconsistent, but premium is typically 60 percent to 90 percent higher than regular economy. Here are some sample round-trip fares for nonstop travel in mid-February:

* From Washington to Frankfurt on Lufthansa: $1,635 in premium compared to $1,237 in economy.

* New York to Paris on Air France: $1,479 in premium compared to $1,239 in economy.

* New York to London on British Airways: $1,526 in premium compared to $973 in economy.

* Los Angeles to Taipei on EVA: $1,608 in premium compared to $973 in economy.

No U.S. airline offers genuine premium economy; instead, many now offer what I call semi-premium economy—regular narrow economy seats with an extra 3–6 inches of legroom—at fares up to $150 or so more than regular economy. KLM also uses this system.

I know of only two airlines that offer a premium-economy approach in 757s: OpenSkies, with what seems to be above average service at good prices (although I haven't been able to try it), and Icelandair, which touts its equivalent service as a business class but is really about the same as other lines' premium economy. And the "business class" featured by the several charter-style airlines that fly across the Atlantic is actually about what other lines would call premium economy.

All this leads to three conclusions:

* Premium economy generally seems to target business travelers whose companies won't pay for business class. Prices are too stiff to appeal to all but the most affluent vacation travelers.

* But when it's on sale, as currently with Air France, premium economy can look attractive enough to tempt leisure travelers who are fed up with the miseries of regular economy. If you're interested, keep on the lookout for premium "sales."

* No U.S. airlines seem likely to switch to genuine premium economy anytime soon. But they sell it—and you can access it—on flights operated by codeshare partners.

These days, most big metasearch engines and online travel agencies provide price searches for premium economy. And airline-seating websites such as SeatGuru post seating details.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Premium Economy: What's New in Airline-Seating Classification? Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

11 Things You Should Never Delay Before Your Trip

Posted October 16, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

You want to wait until the last minute to pack? Go for it. Prefer to read up on your destination only when you're on the plane? Sounds good. But there are some things that even the most fly-by-the-seat traveler must do before setting off. Here are 11 planning pitfalls—irksome oversights and full-on show-stoppers—that are brilliantly avoidable, as long as you address them well in advance. From getting the proper immunizations to breaking in new shoes, here's what you need to be thinking about in the days, weeks, and months before your next trip.

Get Immunizations

Heading to Argentina? Make sure you have your typhoid shot. Going to China? You'll need a hepatitis A vaccine. Since getting the proper vaccinations means booking medical appointments and sometimes requires more than one dose (often spaced a few weeks or months apart), it's not something you can do at the last minute. The CDC's Travelers Health tool offers comprehensive information about vaccination recommendations by country.

Keep in mind that even in countries where special vaccinations aren't necessary, it's important to make sure you're up-to-date on all your routine vaccinations—including measles-mumps-rubella and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.

Break in New Shoes

Breaking in new shoes, especially the pairs you'll be using intensively on your travels, should never be left to the last minute. It can take days or weeks of short-term wear to effectively and painlessly get a new pair of shoes vacation-ready. Try to cram the breaking-in process into a few days pre-trip and you may end up with blisters that will not only make you hate the shoes but can also make walking uncomfortable right from the start of your trip.

Download Movies

Traveling with your own entertainment is great. Layovers, long flights, and delays simply aren't as bad if you can fill the time catching up on movies. But even with a fast Internet connection, downloading movies is still a surprisingly slow process. As a general rule, it's a good idea to prepare your tablet (or phone, or laptop) at least a day in advance, giving your device plenty of time with a fast connection so you can add whatever movies, TV shows, or books you want to take. Because waiting for a movie to finish downloading is a terrible reason to miss a flight.

Order Special Meals for the Plane

If you're expecting a vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher, halal, or other special meal on a flight, you can't leave it to the last minute. Most airlines require at least 24 hours' notice to accommodate alternative meals. In fact, the best time to make your request is at the time of booking, when you're already on the website or phone and already thinking about it. Your hungry future plane self will thank you for it.

Update Your Operating System

Downloading the latest operating system for your phone on the way to the airport can throw a major wrench in the works. Not only does it mean rebooting at a time when you're likely to need the device to make last-minute phone calls or check your flight status, but your phone's fresh outlook on life means you may need to re-log in to some of your apps. And if you're a person who doesn't know all of your passwords off the top of your head, this can leave you without travel vitals like itinerary information and access to communication tools.

Book House Sitters and Pet Sitters

It's always wise to lock in your preferred house sitter or pet sitter well in advance of your trip. This goes double during the summer and around the holidays, when home-care providers are in high demand and book up quickly. Even if your plan is to souvenir-bribe a family member to pick up your mail or pay a neighbor kid to clean the litter box, you'll need to make sure they'll be around to manage the home front while you're away.

Download and Update Apps

Without a fast connection, downloading and updating apps can be frustratingly slow. And deciding which new apps you'll need (which HDR camera app? Which map app? Which public transportation app?) can be a time-consuming process. That's all to say that it's a good idea to download new apps and update any apps you'll rely on while traveling (since older versions may crash or just not work as they should) the day before you leave, at the latest.

Sort Out Your Adapter and Converter Needs

Will your electronics simply require an adapter, or will they need both a converter (also called a transformer) and an adapter? These are important questions to clear up well before you travel. Many electronics (such as Apple phones and tablets) have a converter built into the charging plug, so if you're traveling somewhere with 240 V current, you'll just need an adapter for the plug shape. But if you try to plug in something (for instance, a hair dryer or white-noise machine) that doesn't run on dual current, you'll break it. Figure this out before your trip and avoid electronic meltdowns.

Book Popular Restaurants

If you've got your heart set on eating at a specific restaurant in a city you're visiting, you should seriously consider reservations. Because if a restaurant is popular enough for word of it to have reached foreign shores, chances are it's going to be hard to get into. Brush up on your language skills and make the phone call, or if you have a credit card with a concierge service, you can enlist the help of a professional. OpenTable allows you to book online at many restaurants in the U.S., as well as an increasing number of spots in 19 countries and regions including the U.K., Japan, and Mexico. Or use a country-specific restaurant-reservation site such as Lafourchette in France.

Check Your Passport's Expiration Date

Are you traveling anywhere within the next year? Then stop reading this, go find your passport, and make sure the expiration date isn't within six months of your travel dates. Take this small but vital step because some countries won't allow you in if your passport expires too close to your travel dates. Known as the six-month passport validity rule (and the similar three-month passport validity rule), it can ruin a vacation even before it begins. USA Today has an overview of countries and regions that enforce validity rules.

Check Baggage Restrictions of Connecting Airlines

On some connecting flights, you only need to know the baggage restrictions of the airline you booked through. But other times, you'll be expected to abide by multiple airlines' baggage policies. And if you book a separate flight at your destination, you'll need to make sure your baggage abides by those rules or risk paying a hefty fee. It's an irritating process, and on some foreign carriers without clear information posted online it may require a phone call, but think of it as better than getting to the airport and discovering you'll need to pay an extra $50 to bring your toothbrush and clean socks.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Pro Tip: Don't Leave These 11 Things Until the Last Minute. Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

How Vegas Is Reinventing the Boutique Hotel

Posted October 15, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

The next big thing has arrived in Vegas, and it's surprisingly … small. Whether you see Las Vegas' wave of boutique-inspired hotels as an adaptation, a reinvention, or a perversion of the small-hotel concept, there's no doubt that boutique is reshaping the city. With the recent opening of three high-profile hotels that rely heavily on the boutique angle to differentiate themselves from what's come before, it's clear that the hotel trend has reached critical mass in Vegas.

But as with everything else, Sin City does things its own way, and it has taken the core concepts of boutique hotels—individuality; personalization; quirkiness; fewer rooms; and destination restaurants, bars, and spas—to new and different heights than the rest of the world.

So what's Vegas boutique? Since the concept is constantly being reinvented, there's no single profile. Some properties occupy a few floors within major casino hotels, others fill high-rise towers that help define the skyline; some eschew gaming, while others embrace the casino floor. But similarities exist: When bigger isn't the point, all that manic Vegas energy is channeled into the small things—like subtle and sophisticated scents, high-end toiletries, sumptuous fabrics, and cool communal spaces with the trendiest coffee in the morning and cocktails in the evening. 

Here's a tour of the latest boutique offerings in Vegas.

 

(Photo: MGM Resorts)

Delano Las Vegas

Delano debuted on Labor Day of this year, bringing an "all-suite boutique offering" that draws on the spirit, the name, and the vibe of the original Delano South Beach, all adapted to Las Vegas. The underlying design theme is desert chic. The hotel was previously THEhotel Mandalay Bay.

Vital Stats: 1,117 suites fill the Delano's 64-level golden tower. Since there's no casino, the ground floor is given over to a series of beckoning modern spaces where guests can hang out, mingle, and eat and drink.

Part Of: MGM Resorts International and Morgans Hotel Group.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

SLS Las Vegas

SLS has all the focus of a boutique hotel—service, luxury, creativity, and community—but presents it on a massive scale for grand Las Vegas.

Vital Stats: 1,600 rooms and suites fill the former Sahara Hotel & Casino. The hotel includes a casino as well as Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, the latest restaurant by the renowned chef.

Part Of: SLS already has hotels in upscale hot spots South Beach, Beverly Hills, and New York, and in August, the brand opened the SLS Las Vegas.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

The Cromwell Las Vegas

The Cromwell, which opened in May of this year, touts itself as the Strip's first boutique hotel.

Vital Stats: With 188 rooms that mingle modern and vintage design elements, The Cromwell is also home to one of the city's hottest new restaurants, Giada, helmed by celeb-chef Giada De Laurentiis.

Part Of: Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Nobu Hotel

Nobu Hotel opened in the spring of 2013, mingling Japanese and Asian design elements with a bit of Vegas flair. The hotel was imagined into being by its namesake, Chef Nobu, as well as actor Robert De Niro and designer David Rockwell.

Vital Stats: Part of the much larger Caesars complex on the Strip, Nobu Hotel occupies the former Centurion Tower and has just 181 rooms.

Part Of: Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

SkyLofts

Crowning the top two floors of the MGM Grand, SkyLofts defines the hotel-within-a-hotel subset of the Vegas boutique trend. With chauffeured airport service and butlers on 24-hour standby, service is paramount.

Vital Stats: 51 two-story lofts offer incredible views and luxurious amenities like in-room espresso machines, pillow menus, and Dream Butlers (who will draw you a bath and make you tea).

Part Of: MGM Resorts International.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Rumor Hotel Boutique

The off-Strip Rumor Hotel Boutique is an all-suite, low-rise hotel with a pool-and-cabana scene and dog-friendly rooms.

Vital Stats: The two-story hotel, which opened in 2010, has 150 suites, many with private balconies or patios.

Part Of: The Siegel Group, which also operates the off-Strip Artisan Hotel Boutique.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Artisan Hotel Boutique

The off-Strip Artisan Hotel Boutique is the wild child of the boutique hotel set in Las Vegas. A favorite for bachelor and bachelorette parties, the hotel plays up its sexy/naughty vibe with a top-optional pool and nonstop weekend parties.

Vital Stats: Each of the 64 rooms and suites at this 21-and-up hotel is unique.

Part Of: The Siegel Group.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Hotel 32

Since 2009, the 32nd floor of the Monte Carlo has been home to the stylish but low-key Hotel 32. The small boutique hotel within the larger casino distinguishes itself with amenities such as limo service from the airport, on-call personal assistants, and a private lounge.

Vital Stats: Hotel 32 has 50 rooms and a check-in process that's entirely separate from the bustle downstairs at the Monte Carlo.

Part Of: MGM Resorts International.

 

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

El Cortez Cabana Suites

The vintage classic El Cortez Hotel & Casino was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, and now it can claim its own part of the boutique hotel market with the El Cortez Cabana Suites. Located across the street from the original hotel in downtown Las Vegas, El Cortez Cabana Suites is brimming with funky, playful, modern design.

Vital Stats: The hotel has 64 rooms and suites.

Part Of: The hotel is an extension of El Cortez Hotel & Casino, but it isn't part of one of the mega-hotel groups.

 

(Photo: MGM Resorts)

Aria Sky Suites

Another boutique-hotel-within-a-hotel concept, Aria Sky Suites maintains its separation from the main property with a VIP entrance, a private elevator, and private check-in. Opened in 2009, the luxury hotel has earned both a Forbes Travel Guide Five Star rating and a AAA Five Diamond award.

Vital Stats: Aria Sky Suites has 442 one-, two-, and three-bedroom rooms and suites.

Part Of: MGM Resorts International.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title How Vegas is Reinventing the Boutique Hotel.Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

7 Special Perks for Social-Savvy Travelers

Posted October 14, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Simone Becchetti/Getty Images)

Travel providers lure social media stars with special perks, discounts, and freebies nowadays. Check-ins on Foursquare or Facebook, tweets, retweets, and Instagram posts are traded as currency in exchange for loyalty points or discounted rates. In most cases, the more followers you have, the larger your reward. But even an everyday traveler with a less-than-impressive fan base can leverage tweets and likes to save money on travel.

Many of these influencer promotions come and go. Last year, American Airlines gave complimentary airport-lounge passes to passengers with high Klout scores. In 2012, United ran a promotion bestowing airline miles upon Foursquare users who checked in at airports. Official tourism boards often run limited-time offers on sites like Pinterest and Facebook; follow your favorite destinations to keep an eye out. For the best offers that you can use now, I've focused on active promotions, many of them permanent (or at least semi-permanent) loyalty or reward programs that compensate social media activity.

 

(Photo: Hotelied)

Hotelied

Here's the premise behind just-launched booking site Hotelied: "Taste makers"—folks with heavy social media followings—receive customized discounts on hotel stays. Hotelied does the dirty work by negotiating cheaper rates for online influencers. You link your social media accounts to the site, and Hotelied asks hotels to give you reduced rates based on your popularity. The company's website puts it plainly, if tactlessly: "Hotelied recognizes the fact that not all travelers present the same value to hotels and provides hotels with a platform to specifically target and customize their offerings to their most desirable traveler segments." The notion of straight-up linking customer value with social media clout is disturbing; apart from that, Hotelied might make some sense for travelers who spend a lot of time on sites like Twitter or Facebook. The largest discount available is 50 percent, yet Hotelied doesn't specify how many followers a person must accumulate before getting half off a stay.

 

(Photo: 8 Hotels)

The 'Instagram Hotel'

The 1888 Hotel in downtown Sydney is known as the "Instagram Hotel" thanks to the property's willful spotlight on the culture of snapping and sharing, in addition to the tangible rewards it offers social media connoisseurs. Its well-designed guest rooms are clean, graphic, and picture-perfect—ideal for Insta. Guests with more than 10,000 Instagram followers are eligible to receive a complimentary overnight stay, and Instagrammers who share property pictures tagged #1888hotel are entered to win a free night. If you like being the center of attention, this really is your place. 1888 has a "Selfie Space" with a special backdrop in the lobby. Give your selfie the hotel's signature tag and your image will appear on a screen near the reception desk. Smile and say "me"!

 

(Photo: teamstickergiant via flickr/CC Attribution)

Foursquare Freebies

Foursquare, the location-sharing app that allows users to virtually check in, blast their activity to friends, and trade tips about visited spots, is a terrific resource for travel coupons. Businesses around the world, from hotels to restaurants to attractions, offer discounts or perks via the app. (Users are awarded points and special badges for check-ins; discounts are often offered to those with points.) In the past, airlines have offered lounge access to avid Foursquare users. Although big-ticket Foursquare promotions from travel providers aren't as common today as they were a few years ago, there are still deals to be snagged. Right now, for example, Boston's Midtown Hotel offers free parking and Wi-Fi to guests who check in with Foursquare. Discover more up-to-date offers for various destinations by using the search tool on the Foursquare website or app.

It's important to note: Be careful about sharing check-ins on Foursquare when traveling. As a rule, it's unsafe to divulge up-to-the-minute location-based data on social media. You don't want the world knowing that your home is unattended and that you're on vacation. Use your Foursquare privacy settings wisely.

 

(Photo: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.)

Starwood's SPG Program

Starwood's loyalty program SPG offers Starpoints for enrolled travelers who link Facebook or Foursquare pages with their Starwood accounts then post check-ins to Starwood properties. You can redeem your Starpoints for hotel stays, flights, merchandise, and other stuff. There are a lot of strings attached, though. To get the points, your property must be offering a special check-in promotion during your stay. You can't book through a third-party booking engine such as Expedia or Orbitz; those bookings don't count as "eligible stays." And sometimes you might need a confirmed reservation to get the points—it all depends on the specific promotion. Check Starwood's Facebook or Foursquare pages to see what kinds of check-in promotions are available.

 

(Photo: m01229 via flickr/CC Attribution)

Marriott Rewards Plus Points

The social media angle of Marriott's rewards program is very similar to that of SPG. Connect your rewards account to your social pages, perform a "qualifying social action" (known to humans as a tweet or a Facebook or Instagram post), and earn points. Marriott Rewards points can be redeemed for stays at Marriott properties worldwide. Marriott has a handy little chart that tells just how many points a person will get for each post; see it here. A social check-in on Facebook, for example, is worth 25 points. Guests can even earn points for retweets, likely destroying any illusion of authenticity in the realm of personal social media accounts. If your Facebook friend begins obsessively posting about Marriott using the appropriate corporate-approved hashtags, you'll know why.

 

(Photo: Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants)

Kimpton Karma

Through Kimpton's new rewards program Karma, hotel guests can earn points for room upgrades, free stays, and other perks by spending money at Kimpton properties—and also by Facebooking or tweeting about Kimpton. It's a free program, and members get complimentary Wi-Fi and a $10 minibar credit during each stay, so it's worth joining whether you're a social media user or not. Unfortunately, though, Kimpton rewards for social media activity are not exactly guaranteed. Though Kimpton says you "might earn some additional Kimpton Karma love" through social media shout-outs, no real promises are made. And no language in the loyalty program's terms and conditions states a quid pro quo of points for posts. I get the feeling that having large numbers of followers will up the likelihood of Kimpton taking notice of your posts.

 

(Photo: Aloft Hotels)

Tweets as Tips When the Bellhop Is a Robot

You might run into a waist-high, screen-faced robot gliding around the halls of Silicon Valley's Aloft Cupertino Hotel. This robotic bellhop is called Botlr. Botlr accepts tweets as "tips" when performing menial tasks like bringing snacks or a toothbrush from the front desk to a guest room. Although Botlr doesn't care how many followers you have (for now, at least), the robot embodies the newfangled social-posts-as-currency model. You'll even save a few bucks by tweeting via Botlr's touch-screen face instead of having to hand actual money to an actual working person.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Seven Special Perks for Social-Savvy Travelers.

Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

What's New in Credit Card Technology

Posted October 9, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Diners Club, the original Travel and Entertainment" (T-and-E) card, is reopening in the United States. That's the biggest news in the always-turbulent credit card world. For some reason, the pioneering card has been dormant in the U.S. for several years, servicing prior holders but not adding new ones. Now, it is again accepting applications, and it offers four key advantages over most other cards:

  • Transfer of points to Air Canada, Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, and Southwest among the domestic airlines, plus British Airways, El Al, EVA, Frontier, Icelandair, Korean, SAS, South African, Thai, Virgin Atlantic, Amtrak, and several hotel programs. Diners provides much better transfer options for domestic airlines than American Express.
  • No-extra-charge primary rental-car collision insurance—available on a few other cards, but unavailable on most.
  • Chip-and-pin security, making the card useable in some cases where other cards may not work.
  • Access to more than 500 airport lounges around the world.

Diners is offering two versions: Premier, at $95 per year ($35 for a second card), earning one point per dollar on all purchases, and Elite, at $300 per year ($150 for a second card), earning three points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and drugstores, plus one point per dollar on all other purchases.

Both cards include the "usual suspects" list of other credit card benefits, including the increasingly common "no fee on foreign transactions" feature on travel-oriented cards. And Diners Club cards carry the MasterCard logo, so they're useful just about everywhere.

The big advantages of transfers to many airlines, primary rental-car insurance, chip technology, and lounge access move Diners Club near the top of your list of prospective travel cards. Even the Premier version outperforms some much more expensive cards from other issuers. Check it out and apply at dinersclubus.com.

If you haven't been looking lately, the formerly "strictly domestic" Discover card has expanded well beyond U.S. borders. It's accepted in much of Europe, Central and South America, and Asia, plus New Zealand and South Africa. The biggest exceptions in Europe are Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Discover owns Diners Club International, so any outfit displaying a Diners Club sign will honor Discover, although that's a lot fewer than accept MasterCard or Visa. With its relatively high dollar-payback level, Discover is an attractive option for anyone who doesn't need airline miles. Check it out at discover.com.

Slowly but surely the United States is catching up with the rest of the world in adoption of chip (EMV) security for credit cards. American Express, MasterCard, and Visa have established a deadline of October 2015 to complete migration. This isn't an absolute deadline, but after that date, banks that do not issue chip cards and merchants that do not accept them will be accountable for any fraudulent charges. As a result of this "fraud liability shift" incentive, the industry estimates that about 70 percent of U.S. cards will have chips by that deadline date.

But not all chip cards are alike. Most chip cards issued in the U.S. are "chip-and-signature" cards, meaning that when you charge something, you still sign a conventional charge slip or an automated remote terminal. The rest of the world is focusing on "chip-and-pin" cards: Instead of signing for a charge, you enter a PIN, as you do at ATMs. Only a few U.S. card issuers currently use that system: Diners Club, as noted, along with some cards from Barclaycard, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and a few company-branded cards. But U.S. banks will ultimately move to chip-and-pin, too.

The industry claims that chip technology is inherently more secure than the older magnetic strip system, and their arguments are convincing. The big advantage of the chip system is that it makes counterfeiting cards harder, and the pin system prevents use of a lost or stolen card by an unauthorized person. But banks warn us that not even the best card technology can prevent hacking of merchants' databases and other assaults on your security. Even with a chip card, you have to remain vigilant. But you knew that.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title What's New in Credit Card Technology. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

Frequent-Flyer Programs for Infrequent Flyers

Posted October 8, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Mighty Travels says American has the most generous frequent-flyer program among the three giant lines and Delta has the worst. IdeaWorks says Southwest and JetBlue are best among lines in the United States, followed by United, Alaska, American, and Delta. Some insiders like Alaska's program because it has good award deals on partner lines. Consumer Reports found Spirit was pretty bad, but didn't find any clear winners. Given the range of opinion, what should an occasional traveler do? Here are some considerations.

Location Rules: No matter what the relative merits of individual airline programs, your choice may well be dictated by where you live and where you usually travel. You have to go with that, no matter what.

Elite Status: Fuhggeddaboudit. Delta and United have already announced a switch from the miles you fly to the dollars you spend on airline tickets as a basis for elite status, and American will probably follow once its program fully merges with US Airways. Alaska and Hawaiian may follow. Elite status, with its access to upgrades, is the main goal of real frequent travelers. But occasional travelers, by definition, don't fly enough to earn elite status under the old rules and they surely don't spend enough to make it via the dollars. Occasional travelers will not get upgrades—period.

Special Treatment: Lacking elite status, the other way to get preferential treatment is to use a credit card cobranded with an airline. American's AAdvantage World MasterCard, Delta's Skymiles AmEx card, and United's Mileage Plus Explorer Visa card, all $95 per year after the first year, offer one no-charge checked bag each per trip for a couple (up to four travelers on some) and other benefits; Hawaiian's World Elite MasterCard offers the no-charge checked bag to just the cardholder. United's card provides primary rather than secondary collision coverage for rented cars, a big plus. Even if you don't travel much, one of these cards could easily pay for itself in reduced fees—especially United's, if you rent cars. Cards from Southwest and the smaller lines also offer benefits, many tied to faster earning of credit.

Mileage Basics: For now, the general formula that 25,000 miles gets you one domestic coach round-trip looks pretty safe for Alaska, American, Delta, and United. First class generally requires double. For an economy round trip to Europe, American's 40,000-mile off-season award is a lot better than the 60,000 miles on Delta and United. Business class to Europe is 110,000 to 125,000 miles. As an occasional traveler, you'd probably take two to three years to pile up enough miles for a domestic round-trip, and far too long for the bigger awards.

The Value of Miles: These days, long-haul coach round-trips cost around $400 and often more, so as long as the basic domestic coach award remains at 25,000 miles, the value is inching up past 1.5 cents per mile. Of course, you have to adjust the value of miles to reflect the difficulty—sometimes extreme, on Delta—of getting an award seat when and where you want it. You get at least double that value when you use miles for first or business class.

Augmenting Miles: The only practical way to augment your airline miles is to use a credit card that pays one mile per dollar charged to the card (two miles for airline tickets), as several airline cards do. If you put as much as you can on a mileage credit card, say $1,500 a month, you'd earn that award trip in about a year and a half.

Dollars or Miles: Good cash-back cards pay 1.5 to 2 cents per dollar charged, so charging that same $1,500 a month would earn $270 to $360 each year, which you could use to buy tickets with no limitations. Whether to go with airline miles or cash back is a close call for earning domestic coach tickets, but miles are a no-brainer if you use them for business-class or first-class awards anywhere.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Frequent-Flyer Programs for Infrequent Flyers. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

6 Warning Signs Your Hotel Isn't What It Seems

Posted October 7, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

It has probably happened to everyone at least once: That charming B&B or upscale hotel turns out to be not quite as advertised when you see it in person. To avoid that kind of disappointment in the future, watch for these six warning signs that your hotel isn't quite what it seems.

The Pictures Are Heavily Photoshopped

Sure, the photos on the hotel's website look nice, but don't we all try to post only the most flattering pictures of ourselves? Filters, creative cropping, and Photoshop can make almost any place look like the Ritz. If the official pictures look too good to be true, that may be a warning sign that they are. Look for real images of your potential hotel on Oyster (a fellow TripAdvisor company), and check out Oyster's Photo Fakeout section to see just how sneaky some hotels can be.

The Website is Seriously Outdated

The Internet is an essential tool for travelers nowadays. If a hotel can't be bothered to update its website, what are the chances it has bothered to update its furnishing and fixtures and whatnot? We're not saying that the tiny B&B you found has to have a flashy website, exactly—just that you might want to independently verify what the property is really like with a few other trusty sources.

The Reviews on TripAdvisor Aren't Good

Look, TripAdvisor isn't just our parent company—it's also the number-one place on the Internet to learn about potential accommodations from people who've actually stayed there. Read the reviews (as many as you can possibly manage) before you book. You're looking for reviews from travelers with similar needs or likes to yours, and you're also paying attention to how the property's managers respond to complaints. Are they belligerent or helpful? Honest or dishonest? Chances are, if they're rude on the Internet, then they're probably not Miss Manners in person, either.

It's Hard to Reach a Real Person

If you can't get hotel management or reception to respond to your email or phone inquiries in a friendly, timely manner when they're trying to win your business, what makes you think they'll be helpful once you're actually staying there?

Google Maps Street View Tells a Different Story

If your hotel claims to be located right in the middle of all the best attractions, don't just take its word for it. Verify the property's central location by plugging the address into Google Maps. Better still, scope out the exterior on Google Maps Street View. If it looks dated, poorly maintained, or not exactly as front and center as it claims, then run—don't walk—back to your Internet browser and find a new hotel.

It's Listed on the Bedbug Registry

We're sorry we even have to mention this, but have you ever checked out the Bedbug Registry? You'd be surprised at just how many otherwise nice hotels wind up with these little critters running around between their sheets. That's why it's a good idea to check out your hotel on the registry before you check in. One or two isolated complaints shouldn't cause too much concern, but a number of recent listings ought to raise a red flag.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Six Warning Signs Your Hotel is Not What it Seems.Follow Caroline Morse on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

Yelp May Be No Help to Travelers

Posted October 3, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Did Yelp add a star or two to that glowing restaurant review because the restaurant paid for an ad? Did it move the review noting cockroaches at another restaurant to the top of the list because the restaurant refused to buy an ad? Maybe.

Four small businesses are claiming in court that Yelp tried to extort ad payments in exchange for better reviews. Yelp said it doesn't do that; other anecdotal reports say it does. But the 9th Circuit Court dismissed the case. It found that even if Yelp did manipulate the reviews, such manipulation did not rise to the level of "extortion." Instead, noted the opinion, it was, at most, "hard bargaining."

That court decision leaves the whole question of manipulated Yelp reviews in limbo. An appeal to the current suit is possible, and Yelp faces a handful of similar suits in different courts. For now, however, the ruling stands. If Yelp does, in fact, manipulate reviews based on payment or nonpayment of ads, it is currently free to continue doing it.

The mainstream U.S. media generally enjoy a long tradition of "church and state" separation between editorial and advertising, including electronic media. And for the most part the travel media have honored that tradition. Conde Nast routinely identifies entries sponsored by destinations. At SmarterTravel, we always disclose sponsorships of any sort. When a bad review is challenged, instead of deleting it, TripAdvisor keeps the review but posts replies from the business. At this point, it's not clear whether or not, or to what extent, Yelp violated the church and state tradition. We'll have to wait months or even years for more definitive information.

For consumers, the question now is how far to trust Yelp. Has it morphed from a trusted source of reviews into a just a directory? When, for example, you look for a Greek restaurant in Peoria, Yelp returns 10 results. Presumably, those names, addresses, and phone numbers are accurate.

But what you don't know is (1) Did Yelp inflate any star ratings in exchange for a paid ad? (2) Did Yelp delete negative reviews from restaurants that paid? (3) Did Yelp highlight negative reviews on restaurants that didn't pay? We still don't know those answers yet.

Meanwhile, the lesson is clear: By all means use Yelp as reference if you're so inclined, but keep this caption in mind: "Caution: Possible Manipulated Data."

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Yelp May Be No Help to Travelers.

Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

Top Fall Vacations from $80 per Night

Posted October 1, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

People-FamilyAtBeach-DD

This fall, don't just dream about a vacation--take a vacation! These top deals make it easy and affordable to plan an autumn escape on nearly any budget. Roll the dice in Las Vegas for as little as $80 per night, or head to Orlando for Halloween fun at Universal Orlando starting at just $120 per night. Need an even grander getaway? England, Italy, Ireland, and Australia are all on sale, too!

Las Vegas

This JetBlue Getaways vacation package offers every third night free at the SLS Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. The offer includes accommodations, round-trip airfare, and all taxes and fees. Prices start at $79 per person per night based on double occupancy. Prices vary based on departure city and travel dates. Book by December 31, 2014, for travel by May 31, 2015. See the sale provider for more details, including blackout dates and upgrade options.

Universal Orlando

The "Halloween Horror Nights" package at Universal Orlando Resort, offered by Southwest Vacations, includes round-trip airfare, accommodations, and optional theme park tickets. Book by 6:00 p.m. CT on October 20 for travel on select dates in October, including October 2-5, 9-12, 15-19, 22-26, and October 29 through November 1. We found prices as low as $120 per person per night based on double occupancy. Prices vary based on departure city and travel dates. Theme parks tickets are additional; see the sale provider for more details.

London and Rome

Go-Today's London and Roman package includes round-trip airfare, three nights' accommodations in both cities, connecting flights, daily breakfast, and all taxes and fees. We found package prices starting at $175 per person per night based on double occupancy for travel in November. Prices vary based on departure city and travel dates. See the sale provider for more details.

Ireland

Virgin Vacations has discounted vacation packages to Ireland from $189 per person per night based on double occupancy. The package price includes round-trip flights between New York City and Dublin (other departure cities available), six-night accommodations at the first-class Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, seven-day car rental (automatic transmission, unlimited mileage), daily breakfast, and all taxes and fees. Land-only packages are also available and start at $509; see the sale provider for details, vehicle upgrades, and options. Prices vary based on departure city and travel dates.

Sydney and Melbourne

This fall, spend time in two of Australia's major cities: Sydney and Melbourne. The "2 Cities, 1 Great Price" vacation package offered by Qantas Vacations starts at $250 per person per night based on double occupancy. It includes round-trip airfare departing from Los Angeles, eight nights in Australia, sightseeing passes, and all taxes and fees. Book by October 14 for travel in November. Alternate dates, departures from other airports, and upgrades available. See the sale provider for more options and details.

(Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)

 

 

Top 5 Bargain Destinations for Fall 2014

Posted October 1, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Twelve Apostles, Australia (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Each year as fall approaches, we remember that it's our favorite time to travel. The season beckons with beautiful weather, fewer crowds, and better prices. So grab your suitcase and put on your traveling shoes: These five destinations offering great deals this fall deliver everything from cozy getaways to adventures of a lifetime.

How did we choose these destinations? By monitoring trends, industry news, and sale patterns to point you in the direction of places that offer the best bargain values for the coming season. Read on for examples of deals currently available for autumn trips. Like all deals, these are sure to expire; however, a little hunting on your part can yield similar results whenever you're ready to book.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

St. Lucia

St. Lucia is always among the Caribbean's most beautiful islands, and it's usually among its priciest as well. But this fall, we're seeing a nice window of affordability, new low-cost air service, and a whole theme month that includes some solid discounts, even on the island's pricier pursuits.

JetBlue kicks off new service between Boston and St. Lucia on November 1. JetBlue's fares are already among the lowest to the island—good news for travelers and a competitive-fare challenge for the other airlines serving St. Lucia. Hotel deals also abound this fall, with rates starting as low as $78 per night.

November is St. Lucia's annual Health & Wellness Month, which brings discounted rates and value-added packages. For instance, at the Coconut Bay Resort & Spa, the SpaCation package offers a daily spa treatment per person (for two people), all meals, and a premium ocean-view room for $199 per person, per night, discounted from the usual rate of $449 per person, per night.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Australia

Fall just might be the best time to embark on a major trip, even if it's a trip to a hemisphere where they call this time of year spring. This coming season, Australia beckons with airfare sales and packages that soften the usually pricy cost of flying there from the U.S. And new air service puts easy access to the country closer to home for more U.S. residents.

On September 29, Qantas kicks off new service between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Sydney. And when you book by October 3, Qantas Vacations offers a 10-day, two-city package that includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, stays in both Sydney and Melbourne, and a sightseeing pass; packages start at $1,999 for travel between November 2 and 26.

Air New Zealand has had recent premium-economy sales (now expired, but keep your eyes peeled for similar offers) for November travel as well—and with pod seating, ample legroom, and premium meals, their premium economy looks a lot like business class on other airlines. We saw sale prices starting at around $2,800. That's about double what you might pay for standard economy, but for a flight that long, it may be just the motivator for bucket-list travelers looking for a splurge that's still relatively attainable. (For comparison's sake, a business-class seat on a United flight between Los Angeles and Sydney in November is $10,000.)

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Hawaii

Hawaii is a great place to visit year-round, which unfortunately tends to mean prices stay relatively high throughout the year as well. But the aloha stars have aligned this fall to deliver a pleasing number of hotel discounts across the islands. And new air service puts the islands within reach of more sun-starved mainlanders.

On November 20, Hawaiian Airlines will launch daily nonstop service connecting San Francisco and Maui, a move that will add more than 200,000 seats to the route annually and add an element of competition to pricing on the route.

What Hawaii lacks in fall foliage it makes up for in discounts on accommodations and vacation packages. Through December 19, Aston Hotels & Resorts is offering 15 percent off nightly rates, with per-night prices starting at $81 on Kauai, $110 on Oahu, $124 on Maui, and $170 on the Big Island. Traveling families can save more with Aston's Kids Stay, Play, and Eat Free in Hawaii deal. And Pleasant Holidays' Hot Deals include three-night stays on Oahu with round-trip airfare starting at $569 per person.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Ohio

It may not cost a thing to stand in a forest and marvel at the vivid oranges, reds, and yellows of the leaves as they change, but leaf-peeping getaways tend to be surprisingly expensive. That's why Ohio is a standout this fall. Not only does the Buckeye State offer a user-friendly and comprehensive guide to fall-foliage long weekends (including itineraries with tips on what else to get up to while you're there), but it's generally more affordable than New England leaf-peeping hot spots and there are additional discounts to take advantage of this year.

For fall stays, you can find discounts and deals at Ohio's five state park lodges. For instance, its 10/20/30 Deal offers 10 percent off one night, 20 percent off two nights, and 30 percent off three-night stays. The state tourism board has dozens more discounts and value-added packages around Ohio for visits this fall.

 

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

Copenhagen

Head to Copenhagen in early fall and you'll enjoy the lingering effects of summer (including more daylight). Prefer something cozier? Wait until late fall and head there when the city hunkers down for winter. Whichever part of autumn you choose, you should be able to find surprisingly affordable airfare this season.

Both Air Berlin and Icelandair, for example, have recently run sales (Air Berlin's just expired, but we predict another similar offer will come along soon) with fares—including taxes, fees, and so on—starting at around $700 from New York. Compared to the advertised low price from cities such as Berlin ($899 on Air Berlin) or Glasgow ($896 from Icelandair) for similar fall dates, the value of Copenhagen shines.

And while Copenhagen is generally regarded as an expensive city, there are plenty of ways to visit on any budget. VisitCopenhagen.com has lists of free and cheap things to do, inexpensive restaurants, and other money-saving tips.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Top Five Bargain Destinations for Fall 2014.

Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.


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