Beware the New Airport ATM Scam

Posted December 19, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

"You don't need to buy foreign currency in advance. The big banks all have ATMs at important gateway airports, so just use your ATM card when you arrive. You won't lose more than about 3 percent in the exchange, and cards from some U.S. issuers impose no foreign exchange fee or ATM fee at all." That's the mantra most travel writers and I have been repeating for years, but now it has to change. You have to revise your on-arrival strategy.

The travel industry hates to see consumers get too many really good deals, and they're shutting the door on good exchange rates at airport ATMs. When I arrived at Gatwick Airport two weeks ago, I no longer saw ATMs operated by Barclay's (my go-to bank in the U.K.) or any of the other worldwide or nationwide banks. Instead, I saw a bunch of ATMs operated by Travelex, with big signs that read, "Free withdrawal." And yes, you can withdraw pounds with no withdrawal fee. But what you do pay is a really bad exchange rate—it looked to me that you'd lose about 10 to 11 percent, the same as you lose at the retail exchange counter. I saw the same system when I departed from Stansted Airport.

A representative of the Civil Aviation Authority, the agency that monitors consumer issues in air travel in Britain, told me that the retail foreign exchange folks have cut deals with airport management to oust the real banks and give retail foreign exchange outfits a monopoly, for which privilege they pay fat fees to the airports. A representative of ABTA, the association of travel agents and tour operators and U.K. equivalent of ASTA, summed it up by saying, "The worst place to exchange currency is at an airport." This consumer issue hasn't loomed large on the British scene because locals can, in fact, withdraw pounds with no fees; the practice hits only visitors.

As far as I can tell, this problem is now widespread in Europe. For other main European gateway airports, the worldwide MasterCard and Visa ATM locators show the only one with big-bank ATMs inside the arrivals hall was Dublin. I found no arrival-hall big-bank ATMs at Amsterdam/Schiphol, Copenhagen/Kastrup, London/Heathrow, Madrid/Barajas, Milan/Malpensa, Paris/De Gaulle, Rome/Fiumichino, or Zurich. Although plentiful, arrival-hall ATMs at these airports were all run by retail foreign exchange outfits. Yes, they may take MasterCard and Visa debit cards, but they'll also take your money. Locators showed lots of legitimate big-bank ATMs near those big airports: Some appear to be within easy walking distance of the airport; others are up to a mile or so away from the terminal.

The implications for travelers are clear: If you don't have enough local cash left over from a previous trip to get to your hotel, you can use your credit or debit card to buy train tickets to the city center, and many taxis now take credit cards. But if, for some reason, you really need cash on arrival, you also have options:

  • First, get online with the worldwide MasterCard or Visa locators to discover the situation at your arrival airport. If you have a preferred local bank, check its ATM locator.
  • If you can't find a convenient legitimate ATM, consider arranging $20 to $50 in arrival currency through your bank or credit card for delivery before you leave.
  • Alternatively, you can withdraw just enough to get you to your hotel from one of the airport ATMs.

Once settled, you revert to the old rule: Big buys on a credit card, cash from a debit card. That's still relevant.

Beyond the ATM issue, my credit cards are not creating any problems on my current trip. My American Express card, which has a chip, worked seamlessly at every establishment that accepts AmEx. My stripe-only cards worked, as well, but sometimes with a bit more fuss. I have had no occasion to try them in automated systems. Clearly, we'll all be better off next year when most U.S. banks actually issue chip cards.

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 Beware the New Airport ATM Scam. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

This Airline Actually Wants to Make You Happy

Posted December 17, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

In 2014, we've seen ticket prices skyrocket, legroom shrink, and even industry darling JetBlue break our hearts with new fees. And while next year may bring more of the same, one airline is actually trying to make flying better.

That airline is American. Surprised?

With a number of grand plans in the work, flyers could actually experience a new and improved flight next year on American. Here's how: 

A New Fleet

American is buying 112 new aircraft next year. The new planes include long- and short-haul craft, including a number of new Airbus models. These new planes join the nearly 100 planes American got in 2014, making American's fleet the newest, and among the most fuel-efficient, in the U.S.

Big Plane Upgrades

More exciting than new aircraft: refurbs! American is upgrading its seats on some 757s and 767s and completely overhauling the interiors of its 777s and A319s. These upgrades include fully lie-flat first-class and business-class seats on wide-body jets. The 777s will get unique mood lighting and a walk-up bar while the A319 (long considered the workhorse of the American fleet) will get new premium seating and power outlets. And in premium cabins, passengers will get new Bose headseats on certain international and transcontinental flights.

But the refreshes aren't limited to higher-paying customers, which is why even we lowly 99-percenters should welcome this news. On most aircraft, even the main cabin will get new, modern interiors, power ports, in-flight connectivity, and seatback entertainment systems. And satellite-based Internet access is coming to much of the fleet, providing connectivity on international flights for coach-class passengers.

A Better Airport Experience 

American's upgrades aren't just taking place in the air—expect your airport experience to be better, too. The airline has big plans to reduce queues and congestion with new airport lobby designs, faster check-in kiosks, and additional kiosks at gates. New worktables with charging stations are another nice touch for to tech-savvy passengers.

In the Admirals Club lounges, American is rolling out healthy free food offerings (Greek yogurt, oatmeal, soups, fresh crudites, and so on); refurbished restroom and shower facilities, and new toiletries. Additional improvements are also in the works, although American is mum on the details.

This news comes at an opportune time for the legacy airline, which has fallen behind other airlines when it comes to entertainment and amenities. JetBlue especially, with its in-flight satellite TV, Internet access, and modern brand identity, has made American look like a bit of a flying dinosaur.

But since its merger with US Airways, American has been doing well, posting consistent profits and returning cash to shareholders. This means that the time is nigh for reinvestment in the product—namely $2 billion—and that customers could be seeing the windfall in the way of plane upgrades and a better flying experience overall.

Readers, do these upgrades make you want to fly American?

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title This Airline Actually Wants to Make You Happy. Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

The Price Gouge You Won't See Coming

Posted December 17, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Say you eat at a certain "trendy" restaurant once a year. Last year, you had to wait 45 minutes in line for a table. But this year, you see no line at the door, and the headwaiter escorts you right to the one unoccupied table. And when the waiter hands you a tablet instead of the traditional paper menu, the prices are double what they were last year. Welcome to the emerging world of dynamic pricing.

A basic concept in Economics 101 is that price serves to equalize supply and demand. And, especially with services, demand is likely to be extremely variable—by hour, day of the week, and season. Any time you see a line or wait list, the prices are too low. Any time you see empty capacity, the prices are too high.

But you already knew that. And the travel industry has a long history of trying to sell at high prices when demand is high and at lower prices when it isn't. The main instruments they employ are pretty blunt, usually some forms of fixed peak/off-peak pricing. Restaurants offer "early bird" discounts for folks willing to eat dinner before 6 p.m. Hotels hike prices when a big event is in town and cut prices during slack seasons. At AT&T Park, you pay a lot more for the same seat at a key late-season Dodgers game than an early season game against the Cubs. Because of the way they price seats, airlines can adjust to different demand levels without actually changing any list prices. Instead, they manipulate the allocation of seats into different fare buckets.

So this kind of pricing to demand isn't new. What is new is the ability to change price levels or allocations on a real-time basis. That tablet menu the waiter handed you might say something like, "These prices are effective for you for the next 60 or 90 minutes." Someone coming in 10 minutes after you might see the same prices or the prices may be higher or lower. Rather than sell out early, hotels might keep hiking prices as it fills; rather than have a lot of vacancies, hotels might cut rates to the bone. The restaurant's objective is always to have one table open; the hotel's, always one room available to sell.

Implementing dynamic pricing these days is a piece of cake. Folks who sell computers and software are ready to go right now. (Don't you hate those companies that call their product a "solution" rather than the software or gadget it really is?)

Dynamic pricing like this has some consumer benefits: Prices will be extremely low if you're able and willing to eat/stay/fly when demand is low. By the same token, however, you will see what looks like gouge prices when you try at popular times.

A big problem with dynamic pricing is that you can't pin the price down in advance. At best, suppliers can post both a "buy now" price with a cancellation penalty and estimated "at-the-time" probable prices for future dates. Again, no sweat for computer systems. Online agencies might even offer you a "hedge" against unpredictability—for a fee, of course.

As a consumer, dynamic pricing turns you into something of a speculator. You have to make your own guesses about possible levels of demand at various times. For many of you, dynamic pricing will push you in the direction of early purchase. And it also means you have to get over, once and for all, the mindset that nobody else should pay less than you pay. If it looks like a good value, don't sweat the possibility that prices might drop later.

Real-time dynamic pricing won't happen overnight. Different companies will adopt it at different times. And, at least initially, changes will probably be slow to take place. But make no mistake: Dynamic pricing will be with you before you know it.

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 The Price Gouge You Won't See Coming. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

One Simple Secret to Getting a Great Travel Deal

Posted December 12, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Overcharged? Misinformed? Didn't get what you paid for? Travelers with a gripe against an airline, a hotel, an online travel agency, a credit card issuer, or some other travel seller often copy me on their complaints. And I never cease to be surprised at how many of those complaints are rambling, unfocused, and weak. Certainly, there's no "sure thing" way to have a complaint resolved in your favor, but you can improve your odds of success fairly simply.

First, establish what you want—what would be the ideal solution, from your viewpoint.

Money or Equivalent: If you are actually out some money, you will almost surely want reimbursement. And if a supplier caused great inconvenience, you might also decide that the mistreatment warrants a monetary compensation.

A Black Mark: If you conclude that your problem, however annoying, does not rise to the level of warranting a monetary resolution, you can still give the supplier a black mark.

An Apology: Apparently, some folks just want a seller to tell them, "Yes, we goofed. Sorry." If that's what you really want, fuggedaboutit. Suppliers' lawyers don't want them issuing any statements that might provide fodder for a future lawsuit.

Next, make sure you know where to complain. Often, that's not an issue; the guilty party is obvious. But in a monetary dispute involving two or more distinct parties—an airline and an online agency, for example—each typically blames the other. Here, you need to determine (1) which organization actually caused the problem and (2) which one has your money.

Ask for something! If your complaint rises to the level of warranting compensation, ask for compensation. The most ineffective complaints I see exhibit the same fatal flaw: not asking for anything specific. Instead, they present their complaint—often a long, rambling laundry list of grievances—but wind up with a weak "What do you plan to do about this?" or "I trust you will provide an appropriate response" or an even weaker "How did I go wrong?"

If you can demonstrate that the supplier's misconduct left you with an out-of-pocket loss you can document, you should certainly ask for at least that amount. Even if you can't show an out-of-pocket loss, you can set some reasonable cash value on inconvenience, especially loss of work or vacation time.

Keep in mind that when you ask for compensation, suppliers hate to cut checks. An airline, hotel, or cruise line will likely be more generous with vouchers for future services than with cash. Similarly, airlines will be more generous with frequent-flyer miles. If you're willing to accept vouchers or miles, say so in your complaint. You might even want to ask for more value in vouchers than cash. In any event, however, before you accept a voucher, make sure it doesn't include restrictions or an expiration date you can't accept.

If you can't reasonably expect to receive cash compensation, you can at least give the supplier a black mark. The most effective places to post black marks these days are all-purpose sites such as Yelp or traveler-review sites such as TripAdvisor.

With an airline problem, you can submit a complaint to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Unless you show violation of a law, DOT won't help resolve your complaint. But it does score your complaint in its ongoing monthly and yearly "Consumer Reports." And a DOT complaint carries a surprising amount of weight: In 2013, only 13,000 total complaints were filed, against all airlines, which means that each individual complaint represents more than 6,000 passengers. And these DOT scores are important: The media regularly report on them, several widely used airline-rating systems incorporate them, and airlines really do try to minimize them.

I'll have more detail on pursuing a monetary complaint in a future column.

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

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Useful Travel Gadgets for Under $20

Posted December 10, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

 

(Photo: Amy Whitt/Getty Images)

These useful and inexpensive travel products help solve many of the most inconvenient aspects of traveling. Coming in at $20 or less, they're also a good investment toward a smooth trip.

Editor's Note: The prices shown here are accurate at the time of publication but are subject to change.

(Photo: Victorinox)

Victorinox Jetsetter Pocket Tool

Swiss Army knives are awesome—unless you're flying somewhere. That's why we love the Victorinox Jetsetter, which contains a magnetic screwdriver tip, a bottle opener, small scissors, a key ring, tweezers, and a toothpick—but no blades to bother the TSA.

(Photo: Toothpaste 2 Go)

Toothpaste 2 Go

We hate spending money on travel-sized toothpaste every time we travel: It's overpriced and we always wind up with half-used tubes lying around afterward. (Why do we save them?) The solution: The $10 Toothpaste 2 Go system. It contains a travel-sized refillable tube and an adapter; just extract your regular toothpaste into the TSA-friendly tube and go.

(Photo: Gopromate)

Gopromate Monopod Selfie Stick

Up your selfie game with the Gopromate Monopod ($4.19), a self-portrait stick that adjusts to fit most smartphones. The stick extends to take pictures from far away and retracts for easy travel.

(Photo: RAVPower)

RAVPower Ultra-Compact Portable Charger

Never be caught with a dead phone or tablet again. The RAVPower Ultra-Compact Portable Charger ($14.99) can add more than a full charge to most smartphones, and it's about the size of a tube of lipstick. (Don't worry, guys—it comes in lots of colors, including black, and doesn't look like makeup at all.)

(Photo: Nite Ize)

Nite Ise QuikStand Mobile Device Stand

Tired of holding up your smartphone or e-reader while you view it? The Nite Ize QuikStand ($9.99) supports your mobile device, hands-free. It easily adjusts to your desired angle and then folds up to the size of a credit card for maximum portability.

(Photo: OGIO)

OGIO Doppler Toiletry Bag

Keep your toiletries organized and off the wet hotel sink with the OGIO Doppler Toiletry Bag ($18.02). It has a swivel hook that can hang onto pretty much anything, plus multiple compartments to keep everything separated.

(Photo: Nalgene)

Nalgene Travel Bottle Kit

Nalgene water bottles have a devoted following, and their travel products get equally rave reviews. The Nalgene Travel Bottle Kit ($8.25) includes four bottles and two jars, all three ounces or less, that fit into one quart-sized bag for easy TSA inspection.

(Photo: MAXAH)

MAXAH Travel Universal Pug Adapter

Not only does the MAXAH travel adapter ($6.69) have the ability to change your plug for every outlet in the world, it also acts as a surge protector to keep your electronics safe (and your kids safe—there's a child-protection safety shutter built in).

(Photo: Eagle Creek)

Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Sac Set

If there's a better way to stuff your suitcase, we haven't found it. Eagle Creek's Pack-It sacs ($16) compress your clothes and keep them organized, even in the smallest of carry-ons. This set includes a medium- and large-sized bag.

(Photo: Downy)

Downy Wrinkle Releaser

Who has time to iron on the road? Instead, bring a travel-sized bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser ($5.72). Just spray your wrinkled items and then hang them up, and you'll be looking presentable in no time.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Surprisingly Useful Travel Gadgets for Under $20.Follow Caroline Morse on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

U.S. May Ban Carry-on Bags and Electronics for Holiday Flights

Posted December 4, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Counterterrorism officials are talking about banning carry-on luggage on flights around Christmastime ahead of terrorism concerns, NPR reports. U.S. and U.K. officials worried about a terror plot aimed at commercial flights headed for Europe have discussed heightened security measures during the upcoming holiday, including a carry-on luggage ban or a ban on electronic devices in plane cabins.

U.S. officials confirmed to NPR that they have intelligence suggesting a terrorist attack on passenger planes before Christmas. They also confirmed that the possible attack is aimed at Europe-bound flights only, as opposed to U.S.-bound flights or domestic air travel. In response, there's been talk among counterterrorism experts about prohibiting carry-on luggage or restricting electronic devices onboard planes in the U.S. and Europe. NPR gave no details as to whether a potential ban would be widespread or applied to select Europe-bound flights only.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston writes, "One remedy under consideration is to ban all carry-on baggage, though there is some question as to whether airlines would push back against such a draconian provision." To be sure, it is highly unlikely we would see a full ban on carry-on luggage across the U.S. around the holidays. The logistics of this kind of action would be very tough to see through in a short amount of time, especially on full flights during the busy Christmas travel week. So don't get distressed about your holiday travel plans just yet.

An electronics ban is more feasible, but at this point, it's difficult to assess the likelihood of either option. If an electronics ban were to happen, passengers would need to stow phones, computers, and other devices in checked luggage.

These are counterterrorism measures that officials have discussed behind closed doors, says NPR. According to all reports, no steps have been taken to enact either ban. For now, keep that phone in your pocket and that carry-on bag firmly in hand. 

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Will the U.S. Ban Carry-on Bags for Christmas Travel?Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 (Almost) Free Travel Deals

Posted December 3, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

"Free." It's everyone's favorite four-letter word, and one especially dear to travelers the world over. Want to get something for nothing? Check out these 10 no-strings-attached travel offers.

Third-Day Free at Universal Studios

Buy a two-day Universal Studios admission ticket and get an extra day out of the deal—gratis. Book either the two-day single-park ticket for $136 (choose between Universal Studios Florida or Universal's Islands of Adventure) or the two-day two-park admission ticket (entrance into both parks is granted) for $176; in both cases, you'll get an extra day's ticket at no extra cost.

The offer is available to U.S. and Canadian residents and must be purchased online by June 7, 2015. The offer's blackout window prohibits travel between December 26 and January 3.

Free Admission to National Parks

Enjoy free entry into any of the United States' 401 national parks. For 2015, the nine fee-free dates align with a few of the country's national holidays and key National Park Service anniversaries: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 19), Presidents' Day weekend (February 14–16), National Park Week's opening weekend (April 18 and 19), the National Park Service's 99th birthday (August 25), National Public Lands Day (September 26), and Veterans Day (November 11).

Additionally, admission to federal recreation sites, including national parks, forests, grasslands, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands (more than 2,000 in all), is free to current military personnel and their families and to those with permanent disabilities.

Kids Ski Free

Kids have a way of sucking the life out of their parents' wallets, so whenever the word "free" pops up, parents take notice. Get them started early, mom and dad, because mountains right and left throughout the nation have "Kids Ski Free" promotions.

Park City's Children Ski Free deal is one of note. Seven resorts list varying offers: For example, the Park City Mountain Resort allows kids six and under to ski for free, and tweens receive reduced rates. Every little bit helps.

Free Ground Transport

If you're not yet on the Uber bandwagon, simply knowing someone who is may net you $30 in Uber credit. And by sharing the referral code, you can get your friends the same bonus credit.

Free International Calls

Don't bother getting an international calling plan when traveling abroad. Instead, make fee-free phone calls via a Wi-Fi connection. Google Voice, Skype, and even Facebook's Video Calling are all free whenever connected; and don't forget your iPhone's FaceTime feature, which works like a Skype session.

T-Mobile is another good option for travelers, as data and messaging back home is free from more than 120 countries with the Simple Choice plan. Don't have T-Mobile? No problem, because apps like WhatsApp and HeyWire let you exchange messages with others who employ the free-to-download-and-use apps.

Pro tip: If you return from a trip to find you've accidentally racked up an exorbitant bill, immediately contact your mobile phone company and ask them to retroactively insert a calling plan with a starting date prior to your trip. The charges won't go away, but they'll be drastically reduced, and you can cancel the international-calls addendum from your plan a month later.

Free Bonus Miles and Points

Get a kickback from your spending by earning miles and points that can be redeemed for future flights, hotel stays, and rental cars. The "free travel" element of rewards cards may not be as rosy today as it once was, but there are still good offers to be found.

Of particular note are bonus-miles offers that appear everywhere during the end-of-year shopping season and at florists and chocolatiers around Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. During this bonus frenzy, earning potential can increase from about 1:1 to about 1:5 miles or points per dollar spent. Keep an eye on our ongoing "Miles and Points" coverage for up-to-the-minute bonus offers.

Free Stopovers

Squeeze in a mini vacay while en route to your final destination. Many carriers offer free stopovers in their hub cities—some for as long as several days. Among the many options: Icelandair offers free stopovers in Reykjavik, Turkish Airlines in Istanbul, Japan Airlines at both Tokyo airports and Osaka, and Copa Airlines in Panama City, Panama.

Free City Tours

Don't bemoan your luck the next time you have a lengthy layover. Instead, head to the airport information desk and inquire about complimentary city tours. Among the airports offering free city tours for passengers passing through are Singapore's Changi Airport; Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama; Salt Lake City's International Airport; and Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.

These no-charge tours are brief enough that they won't interfere with your layover. Though the rules vary by airport, expect to show proof of a connecting flight with a minimum two-hour layover.

Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus

Hit the motherload of quick, free miles by enrolling with a co-branded airline credit card, especially during one of their increased sign-up bonus periods. A bounty of points can be had—often enough for free travel right out of the gate. A recent offer for Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards Premier Card yielded 50,000 points—enough for two round-trip domestic flights (sans taxes and fees) after spending $2,000 within three months.

Free Checked Bags

With recent news of airlines cutting back on in-flight comfort and upping ancillary fees (*cough* JetBlue *cough*), it seems like the most elusive item for a traveler is free checked bags. Of course, you can book a flight with Southwest, which still checks two bags for free, to save up to $120 on round-trip flights. But you can also receive free checked bags, not to mention the occasional complimentary or reduced-rate drink, when you flash a co-branded airline credit card; many airlines still give these free perks to cardholders.

(Photo: Woman with Outstretched Arms via Shutterstock)

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Insanely Cheap Winter Destinations

Posted December 3, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Four Seasons Denver (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Don't let fear of cold weather cloud your vision of the perfect winter vacation. Low-season trips to spots where winter weather reigns are where it's at, for many reasons. An off-peak destination affords budget travelers the rare chance to splurge: Luxury accommodations and flight upgrades become within reach during winter at popular destinations around the world. Plus, crowds are sparse and deals are plentiful. Here are five awesome and affordable spots to consider visiting this winter.

Blue Lagoon (Photo: Icelandair)

Iceland

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it may seem counterintuitive to head north for the winter. However, Iceland offers thermal refuge during the coldest months of the year thanks to its many geothermally heated springs and pools. A hike through the Icelandic countryside often yields the chance to submerge in steamy hot springs. And the celebrated bath-like Blue Lagoon is, arguably, best visited on a brisk winter day, when the toasty mineral waters and blood-warming cocktails offer a welcome thaw.

Airfares to Iceland during winter are notably lower than those in summer. Icelandair, which flies from eight U.S. cities to the Nordic country and beyond, is a great choice for low-priced winter airfare. We spotted flights from New York to Reykjavik for as low as $622 round-trip in early February, via a Hacker Fare on Kayak (combining flights on Icelandair and Norwegian Air). The lowest fares we found for June and July travel started at $837 round-trip.

Iceland is also the perfect place for a winter stopover if you're heading to Europe. Check out Icelandair's free stopover package and take advantage of those affordable low-season airfares.

Search Iceland Packages Now >>

Hotel Monaco, Philadelphia (Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Philadelphia

Philadelphia is an ideal winter destination because so many of its top historical attractions are indoors. It doesn't really matter how cold it is outside when you're taking in a Matisse at the Barnes, exploring Independence Hall, or fiddling with hands-on exhibits at the newly renovated Benjamin Franklin Museum. Plus, there'll be far fewer crowds to contend with while you're learning about Mr. Franklin's affinity for musical inventions and printmaking.

Not all Philadelphia properties offer clearly discounted seasonal rates. Still, it's common to see comparatively lower prices at many hotels during winter, and it didn't take us long to unearth a few examples: At the Hotel Monaco Philadelphia, we found rates in late December for as low as $135 per night, compared to June, when the lowest nightly rates amount to $189. At Rittenhouse 1715, nightly room rates start at $219 during January; in spring, those prices bump up to $239.

Search Philadelphia Packages Now >>

(Photo: Bucharest via Shutterstock)

Bucharest

Bucharest made our list of 10 Places to Go While They're Still Cheap this year. It's almost always inexpensive to visit Bucharest, compared to other major European cities. Better yet, it's an even more affordable place to visit during winter. From airfares to hotel rates, prices drop sharply with the temperature. This winter, you can get from JFK to Bucharest on Turkish Airlines for as little as $724 round-trip, with a stop in Istanbul. (Try a free stopover and get two cities for the flight price of one.)

Hotels are cheaper too, naturally. At Hotel Christina, the number-one rated Bucharest hotel according to TripAdvisor (our parent company), prices are the lowest all year during winter months. In February, for example, nightly rates come to €50 (about $63). In June, though, rates jump to €70 (about $87) per night. At Hotel Epoque, the best available rate in June came to €170 (about $212). In January, you can grab a room at this historical and luxurious property for as little as €128 (about $159) per night.

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(Photo: Banff Lake Louise Tourism/{aul Zizka Photography)

Banff National Park

Banff National Park is achingly beautiful in wintertime. Whether seen from the ground by sleigh, snowshoe, or dogsled or viewed from the comfort of a fire-warmed room, the park's snow-dusted mountains and turquoise lake appear dreamlike against a pale winter sky.

Banff is full of well-known luxury properties that can cost an arm and a leg come spring and summer—but we found rates dropping by almost half during winter. For example, let's look at the local Fairmont resorts: If you want to stay at Banff's iconic and luxurious Fairmont Banff Spring, go soon. During winter, rates fall as low as $359 CAD (about $317) per night. Comparatively, the best available rate in July is $609 CAD (about $539). Same goes for the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Grab January rates starting at $299 CAD (about $265). In June? Those prices skyrocket to $559 CAD (about $495) nightly. Moreover, both properties are offering a range of deals during winter, from free nights to complimentary resort credits with your stay.

Search Banff National Park Packages Now >>

(Photo: Denver via Shutterstock)

Denver

It's rare to see a U.S. ski destination offering lower seasonal rates during winter. There's an exception, though: Denver, Colorado. Though it isn't exactly a ski spot itself, the Mile-High City makes an ideal base for winter sports. It's close to Winter Park Resort and Loveland Ski Area. Plus, Rocky Mountain National Park, about an hour away, offers non-downhill activities, from hiking to snowshoeing to cross-country skiing in pristine park wilderness. Rent a car, take a few day trips, and return to Denver after the sun sets to enjoy the city's fabulous nightlife and restaurants. The best part? You'll save money on accommodations, and you can fly right into Denver International.

There's a general uptick in Denver room rates when the weather gets warmer. At the Four Seasons Denver, for example, weekday winter rates start at $525 per night in January. Comparatively, weekday nights in June cost $100 more. Denver's Magnolia Hotel offers weekday January rates from $215 per night. In June, those rates rise to $242.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Winter 2014/2015. Follow Caroline Costello on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

You Won't Believe How Much This Flight Costs

Posted December 3, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Etihad Airways, the flag carrier airline of the United Arab Emirates, is showing off its super-luxurious Residence suite at this weekend's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, hoping to catch the eye of the moneyed travelers, millionaire celebs, and royalty in attendance.

If you're not at the F1 race, not to worry—you can still book the Residence. You'll just need a spare $20,000. (And you thought your Thanksgiving flight was a little pricey.)

What does 20K get you? First, a 125-square-foot cabin in the airplane with three separate suites, including a living room with leather furniture, a 32-inch television, and a dining area; a double bedroom with Egyptian-cotton sheets and choice of pillows; and a carpeted bathroom with shower and bathrobes. Oh, and an in-flight chef with a customizable menu. And a luxury chauffer. And private check-in. And service from a white-gloved butler, trained at the Savoy in London, who can do everything from sew a button to wrap a gift.

The Residence makes its debut on Etihad's London-Abu Dhabi route next month, but the airline is planning to expand the luxurious digs on flights to New York, Paris, Melbourne, and Sydney soon. The cabin can be found on the super-jumbo double-decker A380 aircraft.

Of course, the Residence is sold out for the airline's first 10 flights, but you can see more photos on Etihad's website. You know, in case you're looking for a wee stocking stuffer for your friendly neighborhood travel editor.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title You Won't Believe How Much This Flight Costs. Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

How to Complain at the Airport (and Actually Get What You Want)

Posted December 3, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

Airports are hubs for more than just flights. Complaints fly nearly constantly across check-in desks, customer-service counters, and gates at every airport in every city in the world. And, sure, with delayed flights and bad seats galore, there's plenty for passengers to rightfully complain about.

But with so many gripes, the best way to be heard when you have a problem is to rise above the din. Here are our tips for complaining the right way next time something goes wrong for you at the airport.

Center Yourself: Anger is likely fueling your complaint, but all that rage and indignation will work against you when it comes to negotiating a satisfactory outcome. Before you lodge your complaint, take a minute to breathe deeply and re-center. Once you feel calmer, you'll be able to order your thoughts, complain strategically, and recognize a reasonable outcome when it comes your way.

Don't Be a Jerk: Don't put your listener on the defensive with abusive language, eye rolling, fist pounding, or, that old classic, the nostrils-flared, jaw-clenched combo. Instead, before you start your complaint, take a moment to say hello and make eye contact.

Know What You Want: Effective complaining requires you to know what you want. Don't leave it up to the gate agent to read your mind and know what you would consider a reasonable resolution. Before you start, decide what you hope to get out of the complaint—for instance, food or hotel vouchers, a reimbursement, or airfare credit.

Be Reasonable: Know what you want, but be reasonable about it. A delayed flight doesn't warrant an upgrade to first class. And remember that the person you're talking to can't make a flight board faster or a plane come sooner. Make your requests reasonable and you'll have a much higher chance of seeing your needs met.

Choose Your Wording: Saying "I demand" or "I insist" is a bad way to present your reasonable request. It cuts off any negotiation and puts the person you're talking to on the defensive from the get-go. Instead, try something less instantly confrontational, such as, "Here's what I think seems reasonable," or "This is what I would like."

Make a Complaint Sandwich: Win over your listener with this classic strategy by starting with an "ear opener": something that plays on the sympathies of the person you're talking to. Then state your request and follow it up with a phrase or sentence that will motivate the listener to help you. For example, if you get to the airport and realize the aisle seat you paid extra for has, on your boarding pass, turned into a dreaded middle seat, you might say something like, "I've been flying with your airline for years, and I have generally been very happy with the service. The aisle seat I reserved has been changed to a middle seat, and I'd like to get it switched back. I really want to continue being a happy and loyal customer, so I would appreciate if you could help me get an aisle seat."

Ask a Question: If you're at an impasse, ask the airline employee what they would do in your situation. Another way to help them see you as a reasonable person is by asking them how they think the problem can best be solved.

Be Patient and Persistent: If your request is reasonable and feasible but you're not getting the outcome you'd like, ask politely to have the matter escalated to a superior. Or, head to a different counter and ask another person. Or call the airline's customer-service line.

Use Social Media … Wisely: Many people have good luck catching the attention of an airline via a tweet using the carrier's Twitter handle. If you take this route, play to your audience. A gripe won't get you as far as a succinct and heartfelt narrative that allows the airline to publicly help a customer. So instead of saying, "@Airline is the worst! Going to miss another connection," try "@Airline, delayed flight=miss birth of niece. Help w/ another flight ASAP?"

Don't Complain If You're in the Wrong: Instead, acknowledge your fault ("I was late, I missed my plane!") and then focus on winning the agent over to your cause. In cases where you're in the wrong, the best you can do is help them see you as a person in need, rather than an angry customer.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title How to Complain at the Airport (and Actually Get What You Want).Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.


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