February 2009

TripAdvisor’s New Flight Search Tool Soars

Posted February 27, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

TripAdvisorFlightSearch As a girl with aspirations of supreme leisure and work-lessness, I’m always pleased to come across something that promises to make my life easier. And then, of course, I’m happy to share it with you. I’m a giver.

Today’s addition to our makes-life-easier list is a big one (though I’ll keep it brief in accordance with All Things Friday): TripAdvisor, one of our sister sites, has just launched a new flight search section and—completely unbiasedly—it’s pretty cool.

From a high level, here are a couple of key details that set it apart and, I fully expect, will make my life much easier:

  • A fees estimator to help you figure out how much extra cash you may have to lay out per flight
  • It searches and displays fares from Expedia and Hotwire, which you won’t find on competitors' sites
  • An option to add in your frequent flyer information to see what kind of benefits it will nab for you
  • Real-time seat-availability charts with the skinny from another of our sister sites, SeatGuru
  • Alerts when first-class and business-class seats aren’t too much more expensive than economy (Yay! Love those swanky seats)
  • Info boxes about airlines, detailing some of each one’s specific benefits

And, despite all of this, it’s still a pretty easy tool to use. (In my book, that’s an awfully good thing.) I haven’t followed it through to completely book a flight yet, but I think I’ll use it next time I do. Anyone out there used it to book yet? Leave and comment below and let me know how it strikes you.

(Photo: iStockphoto/Remus Eserblom)

US Airways Says 'Just Kidding' on Drink Fees

Posted February 27, 2009 by Katie Blais


When I fly I become a creature of habit—iPod charged, gossip magazine bought, comfy shoes on, wrapped in my shawl (it’s a sweater/shawl and the best purchase ever), but my biggest in-flight attachment is that I need tomato juice.  I know that sodium-packed little can probably causes more harm than good during a flight, but there is something so satisfying to me about sitting here sucking down my plastic cup of tomato juice, or Bloody Mary mix as sometimes the case may be, and eating a teeny tiny bag of pretzels. Now, I haven't flown on US Airways in quite awhile so I didn't even know they had instituted such a fee, but this week they decided it was best not to continue with $1 coffee and tea and $2 water and soft drinks, which is good news to this traveler because what I like best about my tomato juice and pretzel snack is that it doesn’t cost me an extra cent!

With carriers instituting tons of airline fees these days to generate extra revenue, US Airways rolled out their “beverage purchase program,” much to the chagrin of parched passengers. Upon further consideration (and most likely a lot of angry letters), the airline decided it didn’t pay off and discontinued the program.

So … stock up on soda, tea, and tomato juice on your next flight. Don't try to put them in your carry-on though ... you might get charged for that extra weight!

Find Inner Peace at Low Prices in Bangkok

Posted February 27, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Bangkok-RecliningBuddha-DEF As a major metropolis, Bangkok is always on the move. However, you can slow down its pace by meditating alongside a gigantic Buddha, dining at a riverside restaurant, and staying in a hotel designed to help you relax. Plus, at the low prices you'll find throughout Bangkok, you can check "worrying about money" off your travel list.

Wat Pho: The Wat Pho temple is many different things to many different people. Some come to sit in the tranquil courtyard, others come for treatments at the massage school. Most, however, show up to view or meditate by the 150-foot long, 49-foot high reclining gold Buddha. There is a minimal admission fee to enter, but you can spend all day on the grounds.

Khinlom Chomsaphan: As you enter Khinlom Chomsaphan, you're greeted by large aquariums filled with live fish that may end up as your dinner. Grab a seat outside on the wooden terrace overlooking the Chaophraya River, and enjoy views of the Rama Seven Bridge. You can choose from a range of seafood options, including charcoal-grilled crab and lobsters. Live music plays nightly until 2 a.m.

Phranakorn Nornlen Hotel: Though there may be cheaper places to stay in Bangkok, Phranakorn Nornlen Hotel provides an oasis in the city for prices that are far more affordable than other big city hotels. Try a traditional Thai massage given by the professional in-house masseuse for 300 baht per hour, or relax in the open-air living space known as the "sala" where "slow life" is key. Double rooms start at 2,200 baht, or about $61 U.S., per night (check XE.com for current exchange rates).

To search for flights and compare prices to Bangkok, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Maureen Roihl)

Portland, Oregon's Artistic Side Shines in its Pearl District

Posted February 26, 2009 by Kate Hamman

OR-Portland-PowellBooks-DEF With lofts housing the tortured artistic elite, cafes fueling their creativity, and shops designed to capture their spirit around every corner, the Pearl District is Portland's premier arts area. Wander the stacks of dreams fulfilled and lost in a giant bookstore. Or take inspiration from contemporary artwork displayed in a local gallery. After you've spent the day appreciating the visual arts, you can indulge in creative concoctions at a trendy bar.

Powell's City of Books: You'll find a contender for the world's largest bookstore straddling downtown and the Pearl District on Burnside Street. Housing 68,000 square feet of new, out-of-print, and long-forgotten titles, Powell's City of Books is where hardcovers and paperbacks are given a second chance at a new life. The store buys and sells books of all shapes and sizes for all tastes. You can get lost in the maze of massive shelves overflowing with the written word for months, even years. It's free to browse, and most used books are marked way down from the original price.

Froelick Gallery: Museum admissions can add up, but it doesn't cost a thing to go to an art gallery. Since 1995, the Froelick Gallery has exhibited and represented contemporary artwork from different regions of the world, and includes a strong Pacific Northwest influence. The inviting and sparse display space highlights the work and encourages you to view each artist's talent free from distraction. Exhibits change monthly, with a public reception on the first Thursday of each month.

Vault Martini: If you've ever wondered what sloth, wrath, envy, or greed might taste like in liquor-form, Vault Martini is here to quench your curiosity. With more than 44 diabolical and angelic elixirs, this hip lounge turns martinis into an art form. The menu features concoctions named after the seven deadly sins, along with sweet and savory tastes like banana bread and cilantro. And, you can sip your drink next to the fireplace for warmth or at the 18-foot ice-glass bar if you need to cool down. Happy hours martinis cost $4 Mondays through Fridays from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.

To search for flights and compare prices to Portland, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Powells Books)

Save Your Life – Get an Aisle Seat

Posted February 26, 2009 by Nicki Krawczyk

Aisleseats-350 Never let it be said that I’m anything short of a sensationalist. Still, it’s been scientifically proven that there’s validity to my headline: An aisle seat could keep you from dying. Not because it’s safer in an emergency (although it might be— you certainly have a better shot at sprinting down the aisle away from a snake infestation in the rear of the plane), but because you’re less likely to get blood clots.

In point of fact, though, the real finding is that most people who got blood clots weren’t moving around enough and that most people who weren’t moving around enough were seated in non-aisle seats. Though they’d like to skew the findings to make it sound like the risk of blood clots has to do with airplane seats, it obviously has much more to do with each person’s likeliness to get up and walk around the plane. I, personally, will be just as likely to clot in an aisle seat as a window seat because I have a minor fear of using airplane bathrooms. (How does it work? What do you do? What if I press the wrong button?)

From what I can reason, there’s really only one tiny factor that could give people in the aisle seats more reason to move than people in non-aisle seats: Having to stand up to let other people get out and use the bathroom. As your seatmates have to get up, so shall you have to get up. Again and again and again.

And while compression stockings could help decrease the chances of developing blood clots (although, really, are you going to run out and buy a pair?), flying business class makes no difference. I guess unless your super-spectacular-Deluxe-Class seat’s legroom encompasses a 5’ square space for jogging in circles, you’re just as likely to clot as the commoners.

All in all, though I’m sure they spent a ton of money on this study, the result seems to be just the same: To avoid blood clots, you’ve got to get up and move. And, if you happen to be in a non-aisle seat, don’t be ashamed to make the aisle seat-er next to you move, too—you might just be saving his life.

(Photo: photobucket.com)

Liberty, Brunch, and Wine on Beacon Hill

Posted February 25, 2009 by Kate Hamman

MA-BeaconHill-LibertyHotelCupola-DEF Boutiques and antique shops, cobblestone streets, large brownstones, and a range of upscale dining options attract visitors and locals to Boston's sweetheart neighborhood, Beacon Hill, and its darling, Charles Street. The area has been the focal point for many guidebooks, and is the place to experience part of Boston's historical side. Today, you can stay in a renovated prison, drink wines from around the world, and satisfy your breakfast craving all on the hill.

The Liberty Hotel: Located in the old city prison, the Liberty Hotel has unlocked the historical building's potential as a four-star accommodation. Many of the original structure's unique traits were preserved, such as its round "ocular" windows, the central rotunda, and the vestiges of jail cells in its restaurant, Clink. Guests will feel like they've been given a Governor's pardon staying here, with a 24-hour concierge, evening turndown service, valet, and glorious views of the Charles River. Rooms start at $295 per night.

Bin 26 Enoteca When it comes to wines, Bin 26 knows its vintages from its vintners. The close-quartered and friendly restaurant on Charles Street believes wine shouldn't be feared, urging visitors to sit back and enjoy a glass of red or white. Carrying more than 60 wines by-the-glass and 200 bottles, Bin 26 also features a food menu offering appetizers and entrees for pairing, including cheeses, charcuteries, and pastas. Entrees start at $15 for risotto with butternut squash, fried sage, and toasted pumpkin seeds, and $5 for wines by the glass.

The Paramount Serving hungry patrons since 1937, this hole-in-the-wall restaurant may be small in space but is big on taste. Brunch is a particularly popular time to go, and you may have to wait in line since you're only allowed to sit after you've placed your order cafeteria-style at the counter. However, if time is money, then it's definitely worth the wait to eat here. Egg sandwiches start at $1.95 and omelets cap off at $6.95. Along with the typical breakfast fare, you can also choose from blueberry, banana, or apple-cinnamon pancakes, as well as Texas-style French toast. The restaurant serves food all day, and the evening menu is served tableside.

To search for flights and compare prices to Boston, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo:Liberty Hotel)

Airfare Fell Again in January

Posted February 24, 2009 by Carl Unger

Cheap-airfareThat's right, the month of January saw another drop in airfare—3.9 percent, to be exact—for domestic flights. Well, let me rephrase that: Yield dropped by 3.9 percent, and yield, which measures the average price paid to fly one mile, is generally considered an excellent indicator of the direction of fares. In December, yield dropped 0.4 percent, marking the first decline since September 2007.

So what does this all mean? Cheap airfare! Woo hoo! Ah, but we're in a recession. Boo hoo?

Indeed, it's true that prices are falling, meaning more and more deals are available to people looking to travel, but that does't mean more people are traveling, or that any of this is good for the industry. In fact, so few people are traveling that airlines have no choice but to slash fares … so much that the airlines are struggling to make money off them. That, my friends, is a recipe for trouble.

Despite all the fees and fare hikes from last year, airlines are still struggling to break even. Remember that those extra charges were in response to record-high fuel prices, and while the fees were annoying, they were, to a degree, necessary. They certainly didn't result in the airlines making money hand over fist. Now remove a huge amount of demand and, well, you can see where this is going.

But if travel is on your horizon, consider yourself lucky. It's a great time to snag a cheap flight!

(Photo: online-travel-deals.org)

Dance a Jig for Low Prices in Chicago

Posted February 24, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Bar-CoupleCheers-DEF With a fairly large Irish population, Chicago doesn't dye its river green every St. Patrick's Day for the pretty color alone. However, you can visit any time of year to tap into the luck of the Irish. Come learn about Irish-American culture at a heritage museum, explore authentic pubs, and eat in a contemporary Irish bistro—all without spending a pot of gold.

Irish American Heritage Center: Pay a visit to this heritage center, where you can learn more about the literature, art, and music of the Irish in America. The center hosts many events and discussions highlighting the achievements of Irish-Americans. Check its calendar to see what's happening while you're there. Admission is free and many events are, too.

Chicago's Irish Pubs Northside Crawl: With such a high concentration of pubs in the area, it can be difficult to choose where to enjoy a pint of Guinness. However, you won't have to worry too much about where to go with this free handy-dandy map. Follow the trail, and "crawl" between several authentic Irish bars, where you will hear the brogue of native tongues and can sip on imported Irish brews. It's free to wander, but beer prices depend on the bar.

Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro: Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro has and added a dash of sophistication to traditional Irish dishes. The restaurant serves contemporary entrees such as bacon confit risotto or oat crusted rainbow trout. If you prefer the old standbys, you can also order shepherd's pie or beef-and-Guinness stew. Entrees start at $12.50.

To search for flights and compare prices to Chicago, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Lise Gagne)

Save Big in San Diego's Balboa Park

Posted February 23, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Ca-sandiego-reflectionpool-balboapark-def San Diego's Balboa Park wows picnickers and park-lovers alike with its open spaces, architecture, and overall natural beauty. However, you'll also find a range of museums and the ever-so-famous zoo, all of which you can tour for one low price. After you've worked up an appetite, dine in an outdoor sculpture garden, and then return to a cozy inn right on the park's edge.

Passport to Balboa Park: Though you can enter the world's largest urban cultural park for free, it'll cost you to visit any of its 15 museums. However, if you plan on seeing more than one, you can save with the Balboa Park Passport. For $39, you can visit 13 of these museums over a seven-day period and save more than 50 percent in admission fees. Attractions include the San Diego Museum of Art ($10 admission), the San Diego Air and Space Museum ($15 admission), the San Diego Natural History Museum ($13 admission), and the Museum of San Diego History ($5 admission). For $35 more, you can add a deluxe one-day admission to the San Diego Zoo.

Sculpture Court Café @ SDMA: Come sit outside among the sculptures of artists such as Rodin, Calder, and Henry Moore while you enjoy a relaxing lunch at the San Diego Museum of Art. Sculpture Court Café serves only the freshest ingredients, and you can choose from a wide range of sandwiches, pizzas, and salads. Many of the items on the menu are priced under $10.

Balboa Park Inn: For an eclectic and ideally-located stay near the park, the Balboa Park Inn can't be beat. Choose from 26 suites, each decorated with a different color scheme and a whole lot of quirky flair. For instance, the Beach House Suite is painted in ocean blues and includes a tropical mural above the bed. Rooms start at $99 per night, and include continental breakfast and free parking.

To search for flights and compare prices to San Diego, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Joanne DiBona)

Paint the Town Red in Covent Garden

Posted February 20, 2009 by Kate Hamman

England-London-CoventGrdn-D When the clouds are gray, as is common in London, it's time to grab a bite to eat and take in a show. Well-known for its ample theater selections, Covent Garden can't be beat as a jumping-off point for a day or night on the town. This funky and fun district overflows with unique shops, coffee and tea houses, and theatrical performances, but you don't have to spend a pretty penny—even though the British pound is still worth somewhat more than U.S. dollar —to enjoy the sights.

Covent Garden Market: This bustling two-story market located on the Piazza nearly topples over with homemade goods, fine fashions, tasty treats, U.K. souvenirs, and enough eye candy to make your head spin. Street performers entertain onlookers with juggling, magic, and music, while shopkeepers bid patrons welcome.

Mon Plaisir: As the oldest French restaurant in London, this endearing brasserie, with its white exterior and red-and-blue lettering, has earned bragging rights as one of the best. Upon entering the dining area, you will encounter a pewter-topped bar, which was transported from a Lyonnais brothel to now give hungry souls a place to rest. The traditional country-French fare lives up to its reputation, with menu items such as beef casserole with a rich red wine sauce or medley of fish with chive butter sauce. And if you're in a hurry to catch a show, it's the greatest deal in town. For the pre-theater crowd, two- and three-course menus start at £13.50 (about $19.50 U.S. dollars; see XE.com for current exchange rates) and include a glass of wine with seatings between 5:45 and 7:00 p.m. on weekdays.

The Royal Opera House: Although this theater has gone through several transformations, the ground it stands on has been the scene of live performances for almost 300 years. Today, the lavishly decorated building, with an impressive glass dome and Greek columns, wows audiences with its opera, ballet, and dance productions. For half-price tickets, visit the box office several hours before a show. It may be risky, but spontaneity can pay off.

To search for flights and compare prices to London, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Visit London Images/Britain on View)

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