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ConsumerAffairs News: Travel News

Last Build Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2018 19:42:29 +0000


Uber raises the bar on passenger safety

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 13:43:31 +0000

911 assistance, trusted contacts, and a more thorough background check on drivers are in the spotlight By Gary Guthrie of ConsumerAffairs April 13, 2018 Uber announced on Thursday that its getting serious about passenger safety. Its not only amping up background checks on drivers, but its new app update also includes add-ons that give riders an instant connection to 911 help and automatically shares trip details with friends and family. Every day, our technology puts millions of people together in cars in cities around the world, said Dara Khosrowshahi, Ubers CEO. Helping keep people safe is a huge responsibility, and one we do not take lightly. The rideshare firm can use all the good ink it can get. While this week has been a good one for Uber thanks to the announcement that its adding public transportation, car rental, and bikes to its mobile app, it still has a lot of bad ink to erase. Over the last three years, the companywasraked over the coals for its drivers cancelling rides at the last minute, suffered through a delete Uber campaign, and less than a year ago it encountered complaints at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that charged executives with taking pride in being a disruptive business. When it comes to safety, Uber is ready to move forward It may take a while to reach spic-and-span status, but the companys new consumer-facing add-ins have all the signs of wanting to get things right. Khosrowshahi doubled-down on that commitment, too. Technology can make travel safer than ever before. And while theres been a lot of progress, were committed to doing more. When it comes to safety, Uber is ready to move forward," Khosrowshahi said. The first moves Uber istaking toward owning that promise include three new app features: Safety Center.The app will have a dedicated place where riders can access key safety information, driver screening processes, insurance protections, and community guidelines. Trusted Contacts.Riders will have the option of designating friends and family members as Trusted Contacts. Users willbe prompted to share trip details with them during every ride. 911 Assistance.If a passenger faces an emergency situation, all they have to do is tap the new emergency button, which will connect them directly with 911. This feature will show the riders real-time location both on a map and as an address so it can be shared with the 911 operator. Improved driverscreening process Ubers most important move might be in a much-improved driver screening process. Going forward, the company will tighten up its screening process in two ways: Annual re-runs.Previously, Uber conducted background check re-runs in jurisdictions, but only where required. Now, it will re-run criminal and motor vehicle checks each year, regardless of whether there is a legal obligation to do so. New offense notifications.Using data sources that cover most new criminal offenses, Uber will be notified when a driver is involved and leverage this information to help continuously enforce our screening standards. [...]

Uber adds car rental, bikes, buses, and trains to its mobile app

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 12:43:43 +0000

The rideshare company looks to the future in hopes that the public will move away from car ownership By Gary Guthrie of ConsumerAffairs April 12, 2018 Uber took another step toward becoming the king of mobility-on-demand on Wednesday by integrating electric bicycle rental, public transit, and car sharing into its mobile app. Having a greater variety of transportation modes at your fingertips helps make it increasingly easy to live without a car, said Dara Khosrowshahi, the CEO of Uber. Thats why we want to provide alternatives to personal car ownership by bringing together multiple modes of transportation right in our app. Ubers product updates include three new options: Uber Rent: In a deal with an online car-sharing service, Uber users will now have the opportunity to rent cars from private car owners. Owners will be able to rent out their cars for payment, set their rental prices, and earn a 60% commission. The service begins this month in San Francisco. Masabi public transportation ticketing: Using the Uber app, public transport riders will be able to buy and use bus and rail tickets. At present, Masabi has partnerships with public transportation providers in Boston, London, Athens, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Uber Bike:In a co-venture with JUMP Bikes, Uber has added a dockless electric bicycle sharing system to its app lineup. Now operating in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., JUMP Bikes cost $2 to rent for the first half-hour, then 7 per minute afterward. Were particularly excited about JUMP Bikes because they can provide a convenient and environmentally friendly ride thats often faster, especially in dense cities where space is limited and roads can be congested, said Khosrowshahi. Taking a cue from Facebook Careful not to wind up on the wrong side of a rider or drivers privacy or catch heat from the government, Uber also announced that its teaming up with the Washington D.C. Departments of Transportation and For Hire Vehicles and non-profit SharedStreets to create new standards for public-private collaboration and the exchange of transport-related data. To get there, the company is starting a pilot program in D.C. to share curb usage data across all modes of transportation. Better understanding curb utilization can help cities around the world prepare for a future where more and more of us are accessing transportation through a combination of shared modes, rather than relying on our own vehicles, said Khosrowshahi. Are consumers changing lanes? Vehicle-sharing and transportation apps are giving consumers an added incentive to wean themselves away from car ownership. After housing, transportation is the second-largest household expense, and driving ranks high on most everyones stress list. Plus, in an age where were tethered to our phones, having someone else get us from point A to point B gives us more time to stay connected. FIguring that its the millennial generation wholl be driving transportations future, Ubers plans make perfect sense for both its business model and customer base. A poll by the Urban Land Institute contends that having access to public transportation is a very important factor for millennials when deciding where to live and where to work. Nearly 80 percent of those polled said having access to public transportation was essential in choosing where to live, and 78% said having transit close to where they live was important -- advantages that outweigh things like an office gym, cafeteria, coffee bar, or proximity to restaurants and nightlife. In addition, the perk of employer-funded transit passes is viewed as being more important to job satisfaction than having access to parking. [...]

Uber enters dockless bike wars with purchase of Jump

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 19:42:29 +0000

The tech giant is spending a rumored $100 million on an electric, dockless bike share start-up By Amy Martyn of ConsumerAffairs April 10, 2018 In its early, unregulated days as a ride-hailing company, Uber introduced itself by simply showing up in major American cities. The company soon became known for angering an entrenched taxi cab lobby and local officials by claiming it shouldn't have to obtain permits because it is a ride sharing application and not a taxi service. The dockless bike industry, now the center of municipal controversies for suddenly loading thousands of bikes on city sidewalks and tapping a new unregulated market, would seem only a natural fit. Uber announced Monday that it is acquiring Jump, a New York start-up with an all-electric fleet of dockless bikes. Today, we help tens of millions of people get a ride at the tap of a button. But our ultimate goal is one we share with cities around the world: making it easier to live without owning a personal car, Ubers CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement. Dallas bike drama Automated bike rentals that require only a credit card to unlock have taken off in recent years. The services started off as city-backed, public-private partnerships that involved months of planning before they rolled out on streets. In successful models, such as the Citi Bikes that unveiled in New York City and Miami, docks were placed in key destinations across town, allowing residents and tourists to take the rentals from point A to point B. But the red tape that came with building bike stations hampered efforts in other cities. In 2014, Dallas officials unveiled what came to be known as the worlds saddest bike sharing program, with exactly two bike-parking stations installed in the same deserted location. Three years later, a new breed of private bike sharing services suddenly dropped their inventory off in the notoriously bike-unfriendly city. The dockless company LimeBike placed 10,000 bikes in Dallas for its debut. With LimeBike and its competitors, the lock connects the rear wheel to the bike itself, allowing riders to leave their bike wherever they choose when they are done. LimeBike eliminates docking stations by providing a flexible system of bikes that can go anywhere, the company explains on its website. The business model has been enormously successful; both LimeBike and Ofo, a Beijing-based competitor, have raised millions of dollars from investors. But the model is also ripe for vandalism. In Dallas, pranksters have placed piles of LimeBikes in homeowners front yards; in one remarkable work of art, a LimeBike was sawed in half and attached to a telephone pole. Earlier this year, Ofo and LimeBike debuted in San Diego, where their inventory has already been thrown off cliffs. Residents and local officials also complain about stray dockless bikes blocking their driveway or the right-of-way in the middle of the sidewalk. In France, the Hong Kong-based dockless bike company recently ended its service, saying in a statement that the mass destruction of our fleet has become the new entertainment of underaged individuals. But most companies have raised too much funding to give up that easily. LimeBike initially responded to criticism in Dallas by blaming residents for the pile-ups. "Are the bikes making it look like a dump? the company wrote in one especially accusatory Tweet. Or are your fellow citizens, who are turning over the bikes, and abusing the property we provide for our thousands of riders in Dallas a week...making it look like a dump?? The company back-tracked not long after, deleting the post and promising to increase its staff in Dallas to better manage the inventory. Electric-assist bicycles with different locks Jump may be able avoid such headaches with a built-in lock that attaches to a fixed object rather than the bike itself. In other words, riders wont be able to stop the trip (and their credit card from being charged) by leaving the bike in the middle of a sidewalk. Theyll hav[...]

Here are the best and worst times to book 2018 air travel

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 14:27:49 +0000

As always, booking too early or too late can be costly

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
March 21, 2018

(image) If you're busy planning your summer vacation, remember that when you choose to book airfare will have a significant impact on how much you pay for tickets.

Each year, online booking company analyzes millions of airfares to determine the best and worst times to buy tickets. For 2018, it found it pays to plan well ahead.

In 2017, the best domestic fares were available approximately 54 days before departure. But this year, the company says you'll get the best price if you book 70 days before takeoff.

Frustrating process

Even the lowest fares don't stay the same. For any given trip, the lowest available fare will change an average of 62 times during the 11 months it is on sale. Each fluctuation will save or cost travelers an average of $36.

We hear from travelers all the time who are frustrated that a fare they saw one day is dramatically higher the next, said Jeff Klee, CEO of And its equally disturbing when you book a trip and find out two weeks later that the price has gone way down."

Klee says understanding why airfares change will help you monitor available flights and find the booking sweet spot. Booking too early doesn't save you money, it actually drives up costs.

Airlines want to fly with each seat filled. They also want to get as much money as possible for those seats. Much like a seafood market, it must set prices to attract as many purchases as possible before the fish spoils -- or in this case the plane takes off.

Booking early can be costly

Booking 169 to 319 days in advance of departure will get you the best seat selection, but tickets will cost, on average, $50 more than if you wait. If you book between 122 to 168 days ahead of time, ticket prices are only $20 more and you still have a great chance of getting the flight and the seat you want.

If price is a bigger consideration than selection, consider booking your 2018 trip 21 to 121 days before departure. You may find fares move around a lot but are usually no more than 5 percent above the lowest price.

Within 20 days of departure, fares generally begin to rise and seat selection is more competitive. Parties traveling together will likely be spread throughout the cabin.

Waiting to within two weeks of departure is "playing with fire." CheapAir says you'll find fuller flights, but you won't find many deals.

Fares rise dramatically in the last week before departure. Procrastinators will pay an average of $208 more for a ticket than those who bought tickets during the "booking sweet spot."

Airbnb adding hotels, luxury properties to its site

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 15:56:31 +0000

The company wants to become more of a full-service travel booking site

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
February 23, 2018

(image) Airbnb has announced that it will expand its selection of travel accommodation options available to customers to include hotels, new housing categories, and a loyalty program.

The new plans for the 10-year-old company were announced Thursday by co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky at an official Airbnb event.

The plans include the incorporation of a tiered program, which starts with Airbnb Plus -- a category for higher-end homes that are vetted by the company to ensure they meet certain requirements.

Every Airbnb Plus home is one-of-a-kind, thoughtfully designed, and equipped with a standard set of amenities -- whether youre in a private room or have the entire place to yourself, reads the website for Airbnb Plus.

All Airbnb Plus homes are visited by a human inspector to ensure comfort, consistency, and design, the site says. They are checked for 100-plus things that guests told us they love, from must-have amenities to the art on the walls.

Chesky also unveiled a new brand called Beyond by Airbnb -- a separate platform comprised exclusively of mansions and penthouses that will open this spring. This luxury tier of properties will include custom-designed trips of a lifetime at the worlds finest homes, custom experiences, and world-class hospitality.

Recognizing hotels

In a marked shift from its former stance as a rival of hotels, Airbnb announced that its officially recognizing hotels on its platform.

Hotels and bed and breakfasts were previously allowed to be listed on the site, but now the company will be giving these properties official classification. Airbnb hopes this will make it easier for customers to find those listings through online travel agencies like Expedia and Priceline.

Additionally, the company will roll out a rewards plan called Superguest that will offer benefits to frequent customers. Superguests will get benefits such as flight upgrades, discounts, and benefits. Airbnb will launch the new rewards program this summer following a pilot with 10,000 guests.

Uber launches Express Pool in more cities

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 19:10:12 +0000

The service offers lower fares for customers willing to walk and wait

By Sarah D. Young of ConsumerAffairs
February 21, 2018

(image) Today, Uber is launching a new spin on its ride-hailing service called Express Pool -- a service for passengers who dont mind commuting with strangers or being picked up and dropped off at specified locations.

The new service lets customers book rides with other passengers heading in the same general direction, making it more efficient by minimizing the number of deviations a driver must make.

Discounted rides

In exchange for walking a few blocks to a specified pickup and dropoff location, Express Pool riders can enjoy lower fares. The services fares are up to 50 percent cheaper than standard shared Pool rides and up to 75 percent cheaper than UberX fares.

The service is Ubers first big project in three in a half years and has undergone a lengthy trial period.

Express Pool had been running as a pilot for the past few months in San Francisco and Boston, but today it will roll out in six new cities -- Philadelphia, Washington D.C, Miami, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Diego. More cities will be added in the coming months.

Time efficiency

Although riders will have to walk to a nearby pickup spot and wait a few minutes prior to the start of the trip, Uber believes these two additional actions will ultimately save drivers and riders time and frustration.

The goal of specified pickup locations is to cut down on travel time and make Uber rides even more efficient than the companys current UberPool model, in which drivers often find themselves driving in circles to pick up additional passengers.

While Ubers new service may sound similar to a bus, the company says there are few key differences.

We dont think that this is at all like a bus, said Ethan Stock, Ubers director of product for shared rides, noting that Express Pools routes arent set in stone the way bus routes are. Rides are dependent on what riders are requesting in specific areas.

Three of the fundamental things about how buses work is they have fixed pickup and drop-off spots, a fixed route, and a fixed time schedule that theyre operating on. Everything about the Express Pool product is dynamic.

Additionally, each five-seat vehicle can only transport a limited number of passengers, unlike a high-capacity bus.

Proposed infrastructure plan could lead to tolls on interstate highways

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 14:30:58 +0000

Consumers and businesses could end up paying part of the $1.2 trillion price tag

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
February 12, 2018

(image) President Trump has introduced a plan to spend $1.5 trillion to repair and improve the nation's infrastructure. The long-expected plan is part of the administration's budget proposal, released Monday in Washington.

According to the plan, only $200 billion of the total would come directly from the federal Treasury. Rather, state and local governments -- along with the private sector -- would supply most of the money.

The White House is pushing much of the cost onto states because it has already committed to significant deficit increases in the spending bill Congress passed a week ago. However, it would give the states broader power to find the money, causing at least one interest group to express alarm.

'Flexibility to toll existing interstates'

The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) says the infrastructure plan calls for "providing states flexibility to toll existing interstates." That, it says, would result in toll booths popping up on the nation's interstate highways.

"Tolls are a wildly inefficient tax, sacrificing money that could go toward construction to corporate profits and administrative costs," said Stephanie Kane, an ATFI spokeswoman.

"In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs."

The group also says the imposition of interstate highway tolls shifts a large part of the cost of infrastructure to consumers.

Impact the cost of moving goods

Rich McArdle, President of UPS Freight, says placing tolls on interstate highways would increase the cost of doing business for everyone -- including consumers who order things online.

Companies that move goods, such as UPS, rely upon the unrestricted flow of goods on interstates to move freight throughout the country. Nationwide tolls will dramatically impact the cost of moving goods, and ultimately consumers will pay a higher price," McArdle said.

According to the Federal Highway Administration's Bureau of Public Roads (BPR), the government originally rejected the idea of paying for interstate highways through tolls, believing that motorists would avoid the highways.

Later, it allowed the incorporation of existing toll roads into the federal government's Interstate Highway System. However, Congress has not allowed tolls to be placed on existing federal roadways since many lawmakers see it as paying twice to build a highway.

Holiday travelers could face weather uncertainty and canceled flights

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 21:15:55 +0000

But gasoline prices should be a little lower By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs December 18, 2017 A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the holidays, according to AAA, with many at the mercy of unpredictable winter weather and unanticipated technical mishaps, like the one that struck Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport on Sunday. The airport, one of the busiest in the nation, suffered a total power failure that prevented any planes from landing or taking off for hours. Power has now been restored, but airlines warn that residual effects could linger for days. In a statement, Delta Airlines said it cancelled 1,000 flights on Sunday and has already scratched 300 from today's scheduled flights. Weather could also be an issue for travelers later in the week. AccuWeather predicts a pattern of rain, sleet, and snow across the middle portion of the nation by midweek, stretching from Texas to Maine. Making things even more uncertain, a huge number of travelers will be trying to get somewhere during the holidays. More than 107 million Americans are expected to travel by air, rail, or car from Dec. 23 through Jan. 1, according to the AAA forecast. If that proves to be the case, it could be a record for the holiday period and a 3.1 percent increase over last year. Most of holiday travel will be by car While airports will be more crowded than usual, AAA expects most travelers will be on the nation's highways. AAA used INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, to estimate that 97.4 million Americans will be traveling by car, leading to longer-than-normal travel time due to traffic volume. Slightly lower gasoline prices, however, may ease some of that pain. Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy, expects to see fuel prices ease slightly during the holiday period, helped by downward pressure on oil prices. But motorists in some areas of the country may encounter price volatility. "The Great Lakes -- Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois -- all generally see large movements both down and up, something we call price cycling, so they may get a pinch or two before the end of the year as that constant cycle plays out, DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. Falling gasoline demand DeHaan also says overall gasoline demand has finally weakened after a strong early Autumn. That, he says, is finally allowing gasoline inventories to recover after hurricane season. A recent Energy Information Administration (EIA) report showed nationwide gasoline stocks have grown in each of the past five weeks a new trend for the year that bodes well for motorists. Over this time period, the report found gasoline stocks increased by roughly 17 million barrels, with 5.7 million barrels accumulating in just the previous week. AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is around $2.43 a gallon, down three cents from a week ago and 12 cents lower than a month ago. However, that price is still 20 cents a gallon higher than this time last year. Holiday travelers will find the cheapest gasoline at stations in Missouri, where the current statewide average for regular is around $2.17 a gallon. The most expensive gas in the continental U.S. is in California, where the statewide average is around $3.09 a gallon. INRIX predicts the busiest days on U.S. highways will be Wednesday, Dec. 20 and Thursday, Dec. 21 and will occur in major urban areas, where holiday travelers will mix with normal commuter traffic. [...]

Expedia is offering an alternative to Airbnb, and customers say it’s terrible

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 03:20:26 +0000

Customers asking for refunds from VRBO are rebuffed or sent to third-party sites By Amy Martyn of ConsumerAffairs December 12, 2017 For her bachelorette party, Casey Milovanovich booked a home in Austin through Vacation Rental By Owner, (VRBO), a site that can be easily confused with its more popular competitor AirBnB. Both websites boast millions of home rentals to browse, look the same, and act as the trustworthy middle-man between renter and property owner--what VRBO advertises as its Book with Confidence Guarantee. But when problems with their reservations arise, customers are finding that VRBOs services are not what they seem. As Milovanovich and her friends arrived at the house in Austin, they saw that the propertys owner, a man, was waiting for them at the door.He chugged alcohol from the freezer while they settled in, and then left. The whole experience was odd, but the women tried to forget it. Then, without warning, he suddenly burst into a bedroom where one woman had planned to crashlater that night. He seemed wasted and said he was there to fold towels. They hadnt realized until then that the mans own home was directly attached to that bedroom, and their rental. "We were hoping that they would relocate us, because I had a group of like 10 girls that were just freaking out and didn't feel safe, Milovanovich tells ConsumerAffairs. She called VRBO. "They didn't offer anything, they were like, it's part of the fine print. Basically, that it's your responsibility to do your research on the home. We're just a hosting website, we're nothing else." Its just one of numerous VRBO horror-stories, shared by renters in interviews with ConsumerAffairs or in dismal reviews surfacing online. VRBO tells ConsumerAffairs that it takes complaints about personal safety very seriously and will take appropriate action. But when it comes to financial disputes, customers describe getting the same response from VRBO--that nothing is VRBOs responsibility. VRBO vs. AirBnB VRBO and its parent company HomeAway began as simple, high-end home rental advertising sites in the early 2000s. Expedia bought the brands in 2015 in an attempt to chase after AirBnBs customers, many of whom were looking for something cheaper than a hotel, even if it meant sharing a home with a stranger. Expedias former CEO closed a significant gap, reporting last year that it had amassed 12 percent of the short-term home rental market, trailing behind AirBnBs 15 percent. Vacation rentals are at the very early stages of being wired up on a global basis, then-CEO Dara Khosrowshahi (now at Uber) told the Wall Street Journal. But the fundamental problem, explains Annie Switzer, a former HomeAway advertiser, is that VRBO does not actually offer any of the renter-friendly services that have made AirBnB so popular--namely, controlling all financial transactions, verifying the identities of people who use the site and providing renters with last-minute listings and flexible cancellation policies. HomeAway never pretended to offer such protections either. It was just an advertising service--until Expedia took over. "There's some underlying things... that make it impossible for them to be like AirBnB, she says, yet Expedia is presenting its venture as an AirBnB alternative anyway, complete with flexible-looking cancellation policies and an in-application payment platform and messaging system. "There are a lot of scenarios on AirBnB where you [as a customer] can get all your money back, says Switzer. That is not so on Homeaway. Switzer, who owns three vacation rentals on the coast of Virginia and Delaware, had relied on HomeAways advertising service for years to support her business until the 2015 Expedia takeover seemed to cause a dip in prospective renters. Now she runs a Facebook page for HomeAway subscribers to voice their numerous complaints. [...]

Travel destinations seeking a share of the holiday shopping budget

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 18:47:54 +0000

Gift-givers are being urged to consider experiences as well as things By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs December 1, 2017 Now that the holiday shopping season is officially underway, don't forget that gifts can include experiences as well as things. Giving family members a gift of travel might be a refreshing and rewarding change from gadgets and gift cards. A 2016 study by Cornell University psychologist Thomas Gilovich concludes happiness is derived from experiences, not things. "We remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions," Gilovich writes. "At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession." Travel companies are offering deep discounts and travel bargains to gain a share of the holiday shopping budget. It's providing some attractive offers that aren't normally found for winter-time destinations. Wyndham Extra Holidays put a number of destinations on sale during Black Friday week and is still offering some attractive travel packages in the U.S. and Canada. Among them is the the Wyndham Grand Desert in Las Vegas, one of the growing number of family oriented resorts in the gaming capital of the U.S. The facility consists of three towers providing views of the city's skyline, as well as mountains in the distance. A free shuttle moves guests around the city, including to stops along the Strip. The one- and two-bedroom suites sleep four to eight guests and range from 612 to 1,325 square feet. They come with a mini or full kitchen and a washer/dryer, which adds comfort and economy for an extended visit. Caribbean destinations Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the Jamaican resort Half Moon is rolling out five new packages at what the company describes as "attractive rates." "We are delighted to debut a diverse array of new travel packages as there is truly something for every traveler to enjoy at Half Moon, from an authentic taste of Jamaican cuisine and culture to spa to golf and so much more," said Sandro Fabris, general manager at Half Moon. Among the five packages is "Bed & Breakfast," which provides guests complimentary breakfast during the length of their stay, transportation to and from the airport, and 10 percent off the best available rate for ocean view rooms and suites. Rates start at $258 per night with a two-night minimum. Discount travel sites are rolling out their winter bargains as well. For example, is currently promoting an all inclusive stay at Jamaica's Riu Montego Bay -- five nights with air transportation from $859. The resort has 681 rooms spread across the property. Rooms include a balcony or terrace, satellite TV, mini bar, and electronic safe. The site is also promoting four nights, all inclusive with air transportation, to Barcelo Maya Beach & Caribe. The package is marked down from $1,589 to $669. Cruise packages Royal Caribbean is offering a variety of packages on some of its on some most popular cruises over the holidays. During "Cyber Week," it marked down its four-night Western Caribbean Cruise to a starting price of $195 per person, leaving from Galveston aboard Vision of the Seas. A three night Bahamas cruise leaving from Port Canaveral aboard Enchantment of the Seas starts at $213 per person. [...]

Monterey County, California offers a winter escape

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:27:27 +0000

Wine tasting and whale watching are just some of the attractions By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs November 17, 2017 Birds fly south for the winter, but Monterey County, California, beckons travelers to head west. The region, with its mildyear-round climate, is promoting itself as a "winter getaway for couples," featuring romantic B&Bs, award-winning wineries, outdoor nature activities, and spectacular Pacific Coast scenery. Situated on California's Central Coast, Monterey County includes Big Sur to the south and the picturesque communities of Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel By The Sea on the Monterey Peninsula, which juts into the Pacific Ocean. The famous Pebble Beach Golf Links is on the southern end of the peninsula, the site of many famous golf tournaments that draws both celebrities and professional golfers. Pacific Grove Jessica Keener, spokeswoman for the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau, says wintertime visitors will avoid the crowds and might enjoy staying in one of the B&Bs in Pacific Grove. She says the Centrella Inn provides romantic accommodations and is conveniently located near other attractions. "The location is great because you're just steps away from Lighthouse Avenue, which is in downtown Pacific Grove, where there are antique shops and restaurants, and you're also close to Lover's Point and the coast," Keener told ConsumerAffairs. Lover's Point is a four-acre park used for picnicking, fishing, swimming, water sports, and surfing. It also provides a nice view of the ocean. Restaurants with a view In fact, a big part of Monterey County's attraction is the view of the rugged coastline and the Pacific Ocean. Restaurants strategically located to provide those views tend to be popular dining spots. For breakfast, Keener recommends the California Market at Pacific's Edge, at Carmel Highlands. "I like to have one of their breakfast dishes on their 1,200 square foot deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean," she said. For lunch, Keener suggests heading down to Big Sur to dine at Nepenthe. She recommends their signature ambrosia burger. For dinner, Keener is fond of The Beach House at Lover's Point, in Pacific Grove. "It has a nice view of Monterey Bay where you can watch the sunset from their massive windows," she said. Diners are also likely to catch sight of the hundreds of sea lions and sea otters that seem to be everywhere along the coast. If you take a ride on a whale-watching cruise, you are likely to spy much larger sea creatures. This week, one whale watching boat reported spotting more than 60 blue whales off the Monterey County coast. Wine country Monterey County also lies in the heart of one of California's most prolific wine-growing regions. A three-day tour will allow visitors to experience the tasting rooms of River Road, the country charm of Carmel Valley, and the coastal views of Monterey and Carmel. Monterey County has been a backdrop in literature and motion pictures. John Steinbeck's novel "Cannery Row" is set in Monterey County, and to honor the writer, Keener says a street was renamed Cannery Row in the 1950s. Today, Cannery Row is lined with shops and restaurants and is one of Monterey's biggest attractions. The area's year-round moderate climate and spectacular views has also drawn Hollywood over the years, with many famous directors choosing Monterey as a location to film. "From Here To Eternity" was produced there in 1953, with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's famous kissing scene filmed in the surf of Big Sur instead of Hawaii. Getting there Monterey County Regional Airport has connections to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other western cities. Travelers might find cheaper fares by flying to San Francisco, renting a car, and enjoying the two-hour drive along scenic Highway 1, wh[...]

Earth’s 'Blue Zones' may reveal the secret to a long life

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 20:31:42 +0000

Five seaside destinations whose residents appear to live happier, longer lives By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs November 10, 2017 Sardinia's east coast If your priority when traveling is tointeract with interesting people and stimulate your mind, a trip to one of the earth's Blue Zones should be on your itinerary. The term was popularized by National Geographic writer Dan Buettner, who wrote a 2005 cover story "The Secrets of a Long Life." Buettner identified five global locations where statistics and personal observations showed the population to be healthier, happier, and more likely to live longer than the global population as a whole. The five Blue Zones are: Sardinia, Italy Okinawa, Japan Nicoya, Costa Rica Ikaria, Greece Loma Linda, California While none of these locations are especially trendy tourism destinations, people who travel there say they can be spiritually uplifting. Sardinia At first glance, this Mediterranean island looks like a typical European vacation spot. Sardinias white sandy beaches, museums, and archaeological sites draw visitors from around the world. But the inland mountain communities are largely unchanged over the centuries. Here, researchers found an above-average number of inhabitants over the age of 100. The village of Seulo had 20 residents over 100 during a period from 1996 to 2016. Travelers seeking the secrets to longevity will find a people who have remained culturally isolated, yet closely connected to family and friends. Anthropologists say they have also maintained a traditional, healthy lifestyle. Getting there is fairly easy since the island has three international airports, served by European and international carriers. Ferries also connect the island to mainland Italy. Okinawa Okinawa, a Japanese island in the Pacific, also has a record of longevity, especially among its women. Its citizens also display a strong social network, called a "moai." Visitors to Okinawa enjoy its beaches and coral reefs, which provide excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities. There are also plenty of opportunities to mix with the locals at shops, bars, and restaurants. Travelers can get to Okinawa through NaHa Airport with connections from Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Nicoya Latin America's Blue Zone is found in Nicoya, Costa Ricaa small peninsula on the Pacific coast of this central American country. The people of Nicoya are known for their "plan de vida," or "reason to live." Older citizens in particular maintain a positive outlook and active lifestyle. Barra Honda National Park is known for its dramatic cave tours, including the Cacerna Terciopelo. Nature lovers can book accommodations in the Cura National Wildlife Refuge and take a private eco-adventure tour. Nicoya is served by Liberia Airport, which is 31 miles away and serves 14 domestic and international airlines. Ikaria A tiny Greek island in the Aegean Sea, Ikaria is called "the island where people forget to die." Its long history has given it a rich culture emphasizing tradition and strong family values. Not only do island residents tend to live longer, there is almost no dementia as people reach their 90s and beyond. For the traveler, Ikaria offers a picturesque landscape with beautiful beaches and small seaside villages. Visitors enjoy the slow pace and hospitality displayed by the locals. Attractions also include ancient caves and thermal spas. The airport on Ikaria opened in 1995 and has daily domestic flights from Athens. Loma Linda, California The fifth Blue Zone is in the U.S., easier and less expensive for Americans to visit. Loma Linda, in Southern California east of Los Angeles, has a large community of Seventh Day Adventists, who live as much as a decade longer than the average U.S. popula[...]

Food and music draw travelers to Memphis

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:27:39 +0000

From Graceland to civil rights attractions, the city has plenty to offer visitors By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs November 3, 2017 Memphis, Tennessee draws visitors from around the world for two things -- its Southern cuisine and rich music heritage. On the banks of the Mississippi River, Memphis has a claim to being the birthplace of both the blues and rock and roll. In the early 20th century, Beale Street was lined with music clubs, restaurants, and shops, many owned by African Americans. After falling into neglect in the mid 20th century, Beale Street has been revitalized, with new blues clubs and restaurants that now make up one of the city's major tourist attractions. Another music landmark lies south of the city center in an area known as White Haven. Graceland is the sprawling manor home once owned by Elvis Presley, who many credit with launching rock and roll. The attraction is open to the public for daily tours, with ticket prices starting at $38.75 for adults. Next month, for the first time ever, holiday concerts will be hosted on the Graceland campus. The December 15 and 16 events will feature filmed performances of Presley on the big screen, accompanied by a live orchestra, well-known gospel singers, and an all-star rock and roll band. Legendary recording studios The tiny recording studio where Presley made his first recording is now a museum. Sun Records is open daily from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, with tours at the bottom of every half-hour. Ticket prices start at $14 for adults. Stax Records is another Memphis music shrine that draws thousands of visitors each year. The record label made R&B artists like Albert King, Booker T. and the MGs, and Carla Thomas famous. The Stax recording studio is now a museum, with exhibits tracing the origin of its music from Southern gospel top soul hit-makers of the 1960s and '70s. Civil Rights Museum Memphis holds a prominent place in the civil right movement. In April 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated when he came to the city to support striking garbage collectors. King's motel room at the Lorraine Motel has been preserved just the way he left it, seconds before he was shot, and is now part of a complex of buildings making up the National Civil Rights Museum. Another popular tourist spot is the Peabody Hotel, recently restored to its early 20th century grandeur. It was not only a favorite accommodation for out-of-town visitors, locals came to the hotel to watch a flock of ducks walk through the lobby and swim in the fountain. Nearly 90 years after their first appearance at the Peabody, ducks still visit the lobby fountain at 11 am and 5 pm daily. Bring your appetite Memphis restaurants are known for a number of Southern delicacies, including barbecue ribs. Memphis style ribs are smoked "dry," meaning they aren't smothered in sauce but are cooked with only a dry rub to enhance flavor. Experiential website recently prepared a bucket list of things you need to eat in Memphis before you die. Topping its list is the BLFGT salad, which is a Memphis style BLT sandwich without the bread. Instead of regular red tomatoes, it comes with fried green tomatoes. Getting there Memphis International Airport serves the region, with flights by major domestic airlines and a few discount carriers. It's an especially busy airport since Fed Ex's distribution center is based there. Memphis is also a stopping point for Amtrak's north-south trains, including the famous "City of New Orleans." [...]

A record number of consumers will fly over the Thanksgiving holiday

Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:19:05 +0000

Here are some tips for getting where you're going on time By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs November 2, 2017 Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for U.S. airlines, predicts a record number of passengers will be in the air over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. In its annual projection, the group said it expects 28.5 million passengers will travel over a 12-day period, three percent more than last year. Many will travel during the week of Thanksgiving, making for crowded airports and a higher-than-normal prospect of delays. Pick your travel days wisely RewardExpert, a travel rewards website, has analyzed Transportation Department data to give consumers an idea of which airports and which airlines are most likely to get them to Thanksgiving dinner, then home again, on time. The best day to travel is Thanksgiving day itself," Roman Shteyn, CEO and co-founder of RewardExpert, told ConsumerAffairs. "It has the least record of delays, meaning that last-minute travelers can still make it to dinner on time if they catch an early morning flight." As back-up options, Shteyn advises travelers to consider either the Monday or Saturday preceding Thanksgiving. He says you want to avoid traveling on the Sunday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving. "The worst day, on average, for the return trip is the Monday following Thanksgiving," Shteyn said. "However, last year Sunday and Tuesday were worse." Top airports for holiday travel Sometimes you don't have much choice when it comes to the airport you use for departure and arrival. But in densely populated areas, there may be more than one within easy reach. In that case, knowing which airports have the best on-time records can be useful information. According to the RewardExpert study, the airports with the best on-time performance record over the past five years are Honolulu, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, Charlotte Douglas, Southwest Florida, and Salt Lake City. The worst on-time performance records are in the Bay Area, with San Francisco ranking last, and Oakland third from last. In the Northeast, Newark and LaGuardia also rank at the bottom of the list. Picking the right airline In 2016, Hawaiian Airlines and Delta had the best on-time performance record, a position they've maintained for the past five years. Both reported slightly more delays last year but remained the best at on-time performance overall. "Budget carriers, including Frontier, Southwest, and Skywest had the worst on-time performance record overall," Shteyn said. "Last year, however, Southwest made improvements while JetBlue's on-time performance declined by five percent and was the worst performer in 2016. To take some of the hassle out of Thanksgiving travel, the Travel Channel suggests arriving at the airport earlier than you normally would for a flight. It also suggests traveling light, since full planes will mean limited space in the overhead bins. [...]

Seattle offers visitors plenty in both business and pleasure

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 20:59:14 +0000

Pacific Northwest's largest city is a buzzing center of activity against a scenic backdrop By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs October 27, 2017 Seattle, the largest city in the Pacific Northwest, is home to tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google, bringing in thousands of professionals traveling for business. Many fall in love with the city and linger a while, for pleasure. The city is located between Lake Washington and Puget sound, giving it a famously damp but temperate climate. To the east are the Cascade Mountains, to the West are the Olympic Mountains, creating a scenic backdrop to this bustling city. Practical tourist stop Seattle remains a popular tourist destination, in part for practical reasons. Its famous Space Needlea souvenir from the 1962 World's Fairis an observation tower that provides a view of the city and surrounding area from 520 feet up. Recently, the Space Needle became a portal for visitors to access some of Seattle's main attractions. The "See It All" portal is a place to get tickets for and information about 11 tourist destinations, including Chihuly Garden and Glass, Museum of Flight, Woodland Park Zoo and Argosy Cruises. With more than 55 years in the tourism industry, the Space Needle and its staff have naturally become the go-to locals for visitors from around the world, said Eleanor Bradley, Director of Marketing for the Space Needle. Visitors can also get advice and recommendations from the locals about what to see and do while in the city. The Seattle Center Monorail is another futuristic artifact from the World's Fair. Still in operation, it transports visitors from the area around the Space Needle to Westlake Center in downtown Seattle. It's a fun way to begin a sightseeing tour, with the monorail reaching top speeds of 45 miles an hour as it weaves through buildings. More things to see Before boarding, however, visitors might want to drop in on the Museum of Pop Culture and the Pacific Science Center, both of which are close by. The Museum of Pop Culture documents important moments in music, science fiction and pop culture. The exhibits cover everything from the history of indie video games and horror films to Nirvana and the NFL Seahawks. The Pacific Science Center explores galaxies in a planetarium, displays colorful creatures in the tropical butterfly house, and has a number of family-friendly, interactive exhibits. Events and festivals Throughout the fall, Seattle's events and festivals draw locals and visitors alike. Now through November 12 the annual Earshot Jazz Festival presents a series of concerts around the city. A unique element of the Earshot Festival is that it brings top jazz performers into collaborations with local audiences and artists, including talented students. The 29th Annual Best of the Northwest Art & Fine Craft Show is November 10 through 12, featuring more than 100 of the area's top artists. Seattle is also famous for its food culture, with its emphasis on fresh ingredients. After all, the national trend of "eating local" largely began in the Pacific Northwest. Well known Seattle chefs like Tom Douglas, Ethan Stowell, and Renee Erickson bring their creative flavors to the city, while all manner of beverages are locally produced with a special passion. Getting there Seattle is served by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, located approximately 13 miles south of downtown Seattle. It is served by all major domestic airlines, as well as some foreign carriers, and is a hub for Delta. You can also get to Seattle on Amtrak with trains conveniently stopping at King Street Station in downtown Seattle. [...]

Autumn in New York is a time to take the road less traveled

Fri, 20 Oct 2017 19:58:35 +0000

The city offers hundreds of off-beat attractions for tourists to enjoy By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs October 20, 2017 New Yorkis one of America's most exciting cities, especially during the autumn months. Most travelers tend to have a list of must-see sights when making a visit -- like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty -- but the city also hosts hundreds of off-beat, out-of-the-way attractions that can increase the pleasure of an autumn visit. Historic train station While a typical New York subway station probably isn't anyone's idea of a tourist attraction, City Hall station --on the original Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) track --is a journey back in time. In its day, City Hall station featuredlavish architectural details that were so common in the early 20th century. It had vaulted ceilings and skylights and was lit by elaborate chandeliers. However, the station was never very popular with commuters and eventually closed in 1945. Today, the public can catch a glimpse of it as they ride a train that passes through without stopping. If you're a fanatic about seeing old train stations, you might consider becoming a member of the New York City Transit Museum in advance of your visit. Members are allowed to take periodic tours through the Victorian era station. Crumbling ruins Europe is known for the crumbling ruins of old castles, but you don't have to cross the Atlantic to have that experience. On the southern tip of Roosevelt Island stands the Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital, or what's left of it. Designed in the Gothic style in the mid 19th century, the hospital housed smallpox patients in one of the city's most isolated regions. It operated in that capacity throughout the mid-1800s before being converted to other uses. By the mid-20th century, the building had fallen into disrepair and was abandoned. The ruins were declared a historic landmark in 1975 and efforts were made to preserve it, but the site was allowed to remain in a ruined state. Today, you can view the site from behind a fence but can't go inside because of its fragile condition. You can get there by taking the F train to Roosevelt Island and making your way to E Road. Graceful estates On the other end of the spectrum, the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum reminds visitors that New York City isnt all skyscrapers. Travelers can view the lush, graceful estate in the northern section of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Thomas Pell obtained the property in the 1600s when he signed a treaty with the Siwanoy Indians and got what is now the Bronx in return. The majestic house that is home to the museum was built between 1836 and 1842 and opened as a museum in 1946, which offers tours of thebuildings and grounds. A Harlem gem If you're a fan of popular music and early show business, a visit to Harlem's Apollo Theater should be on your list. It opened in 1914 as a whites-only entertainment venue but closed its doorstwo decades later. However, it got a new life in 1934 when it became the premier showcase for African American talent. During the 1940s, the Apollo hosted legendary musicians such as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Chick Webb. Today, the venue draws an increasing number of tourists who can learn about its history and the struggles of African Americans in the performing arts. Dinner and a stroll A trip to New York wouldn't be complete without dining at one of the city's great restaurants. While there are many famous eateries, there are some excellent spotsthat are far less well-known. For example, you might try ABC Carpet & Home, a well-reviewed restaurant located in a home furnishings sto[...]

Budget-savvy cruise lovers should consider a repositioning cruise

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:27:54 +0000

A repositioning cruise offers a longer voyage at a lower price By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs October 13, 2017 Cruises are popular vacation getaways, but if you have more time to travel, a repositioning cruise offers both an adventure and a bargain. Many of the world's cruise liners spend the summer season sailing the Mediterranean and North Seas and the winter season cruising the Caribbean. In the lull between them, ships sail from one region to another, and cruise lines offset these costly relocations by inviting travelers to join them for something a little different. The transition takes place twice a year in April and November. Next month, dozens of ships will cross the Atlantic from Europe to the Caribbean, offering passengers a longer-than-usual cruise with upgrade options at a discounted fare; sometimes as much as 50 percent less. There are several ways a repositioning cruise is different. For starters, it's a one way trip. A traditional cruise returns to its port of departure. American consumers who want to take a repositioning cruise next month will need to get to the departure port across the Atlantic. Some seasoned travelers often make getting to the departure port part of their travel experience. They might take a cheap flight to Ireland, spending a couple of days there. Then they might take another cheap flight to Southhampton, where they would board a cruise liner headed west across the Atlantic. More time at sea Another difference is the length of the cruise. A traditional cruise might take six or seven days, stopping at a different port every day. A repositioning cruise is longer, with up to half of that time spent at sea. The ship might stop at a few ports, especially in the Mediterranean region, but there are generally fewer stops than a traditional cruise. Transatlantic cruise passengers should expect six to seven days at sea. A third difference is value for the passenger. In addition to paying a lower fare, food and beverage upgrades that might be costly on a traditional cruise are often complimentary. This can include unlimited drinks, pre-paid gratuities, and hundreds of dollars in shipboard credit. While they tend to be very good values, repositioning cruises aren't for every traveler. You must be willing to devote two weeks or more to your overall journey. You also must enjoy an extended time a sea. The fact is that some people do and some don't. But for those who love shipboard life and a good bargain, an extended cruise could be a vacation to remember. A 15-night repositioning cruise recently offered by Celebrity begins in Rome, with stops in Florence, Provence, Barcelona, Palma De Mallorca, the Canary Islands, and then seven days at sea. Points to consider You should also carefully consider costs. It's true that the fare is less, but you have to pay to get to your departure port, then get home after docking at your arrival port, which in the U.S. is normally Fort Lauderdale, Fla. You can find a repositioning cruise by going to individual cruise line websites and searching for deals. People who tend to favor one particular line may like that option. Another option is to use an aggregator, such as Crucon Cruise Outlet, which displays deals from many popular cruise lines. [...]

Treehouse camping offers a break from the routine

Fri, 06 Oct 2017 16:51:01 +0000

Accommodations range from primitive to comfortable hotel experience By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs October 6, 2017 The North American continent offers every kind of spectacular natural landscape, and nature lovers find many ways to experience it from motor homesto pitched tents. Now, some adventurous travelers are setting their sights a little higher andopting to rent an actual treehouse for a night or a weekend. You'll find these elevated tiny houses all over the country, some owned by individual landlords and some by companies that manage dozens of tree-top dwellings. Severalcan be booked through Airbnb. Most treehouses are fairly rustic, modeled after traditional campground cabins. Others have some of the amenities you might find in a hotel, with a rate to match. The Birdie Treehouse The Birdie Treehousein Maineis for travelers who enjoy a rustic, no-frills experience. There is no running water and no bedding, so you'll need to bring your own. It also lacks electricity, although it does have a 12-volt lighting system, similar to the kind you'd find on a boat. It sleeps four people, has a loft with two ottomans that fold out into single beds, and a full size futon on the main floor for additional sleeping space. Naturally, there is no bathroom in the treehouse but the property's description says there is an outhouse "close by." Eagles Nest Treehouse The Eagle's Nest Treehouse Farm Stay, located near San Francisco, is in the middle of old growth redwoods, providing a spectacuar naturalsetting. However, guests really don't have to rough it. Located on a working ranch on the Sonoma coast, the Eagle's Nest is just an hour and a half drive from San Francisco and is closeto some of California's most famous vineyards. The treehouse, written up in a 1990s issue of House & Garden Magazine, features many creative design touches. You can check it out in the brief video tour below. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> Recent renovations include two sets of French doors, sliding windows, and insulated walls. Amenities include a queen sizedbed, propane heater, battery-powered electricity for lights and low wattage accessories. The treehouse also has a separate bathroom with flush toilet, hot and cold water, sink, and a copper-lined shower with floor to ceiling windows looking out on the forest below. As an added perk, guests are free to roam theranch grounds and can learn about sustainable organic farming practices. Ojai Mountaintop Treehouse As its name suggests, the Ojai Mountaintop Treehouse sits on 40 acres atop a mountain just 20 minutes from Ojai, California. It offers ocean and channel island views, access to adventurous hiking and biking trails, and at night, a starlit sky. Despite its proximity to Ojai's boutique shops, restaurants, and wineries, the newly-built treehouse offers plenty of privacy as a secluded, peaceful getaway.Chances are,you won't see that many people while you're there. The treehouse itself consists of one large, open room. There are no beds, but there's plenty of room for four adults with sleeping bags. There are tables and chairs, a porta potty, and a hammock. Cooking is limited to a small propane stove. Because of the year-round dry conditions, no open flames are allowed. The editors at have tried to identify the reason for the boom treehouse camping. Their hypothesis is that travelers seem to find a connection to their childhood, and even those who don't much like earthbound camping seem to get a thrill from sleeping in t[...]

The hotels of Miami Beach are celebrating October

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 13:54:30 +0000

From its popular beaches to its thriving nightlife, Miami has plenty to offer travelers By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs September 29, 2017 After a close brush with Hurricane Irma, Miami Beach hotels have rolled out the welcome mat with a number of October enticements. If you were planning to wait until next year to make a visit, it might pay to move up your arrival. Florida has some great beaches, but Miami Beach may be the most well-known. It sits astride natural and man-made barrier islands with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Biscayne Bay, (separating the beach from the City of Miami) to the west. In addition to its white sandy beaches, Miami Beach is also known for its famous hotels that have drawn visitors from all walks of life for decades. The Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority says, with the passage of the hurricane, the city is back in action. "We are so thankful that Miami Beach weathered the storm well," said Peggy Benua, Chair of the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority. Benua is also general manager of Dream South Beach, a famous Miami Beach hotel. Dream South Beach currently provides incentives for booking directly on its website, including a discount of up to 30 percent. It also welcomes guests who arrive after 3:00 pm with a complimentary drink and free room upgrade, if available. Guests may also check out as late as 2:00 pm. In the Art Deco District Dream South Beach is located in the middle of the city's famous Art Deco District, occupying the shells of two iconic hotels from a bygone era -- the Tudor Hotel and Palmer House. Five blocks away is Delano South Beach, offering its own enticement to travelers. A three-night stay Sunday through Thursday can get you up to 25% off on a luxury suite and a complimentary breakfast for two. Book your suite online through the hotel's website and you can get a $50 food and beverage credit. Other hotels along the city's famous oceanfront include the Fountainebleau, completely restored to reflect its rich history; Loews Miami Beach, a South Beach icon which just underwent a $50 million renovation; and the Redbury South Beach, a boutique hotel featuring 69 rooms and suites. Many of Miami Beach's famous hotels are located on Collins Avenue amid restored art deco buildings that earned the district a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the buildings that make up the Art Deco District were built as Miami Beach became a tourist Mecca between 1923 and 1943. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> The South Beach club scene The ocean may be Miami Beach's main attraction, but there are plenty of other things to see and do, including South Beach's thriving night life. According to the Greater Miami Visitors and Convention Bureau, LIV, located in the Fountainebleau, is the place to see and be seen against the backdrop of the music of world-renowned DJs. South Beach night life doesn't have to end with the sunrise. At Mangos Tropical Caf, you can start with breakfast, party through lunch, take a quick break for dinner, and stay all night enjoying the tropical and Reggae beat. Getting there Miami Beach is served by Miami International Airport. In addition to serving just about every domestic airline, Miami International is a gateway from the Southern Hemisphere. The airport, a major American Airlines hub, took a hit during Hurricane Irma but is back at full capacity. The airport is about a 30 minute drive from Miami Beach. [...]

How to improve your chance of getting an airline upgrade

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 13:48:17 +0000

The best advice is to ask nicely and dress the part By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs September 29, 2017 Getting an upgrade from coach to business or first class is not as common as it once was, but air travel experts say it still happens. Understanding how the airlines select passengers for an upgrade can improve your chances of being one of the lucky few. Alex Miller, CEO and founder of air travel website Upgraded Points says travelers often need to use their points or obtain elite status to get a free upgrade. "However, there are still some occasional freebies given out, mostly one of two types: Operational upgrades and non-revenue upgrades," he tells ConsumerAffairs. The average air traveler has little chance of getting a non-revenue upgrade since they are doled out to off-duty airline employees, designated family members of employees, and people who work for partner airlines. Operational upgrades A typical traveler will most often be offered an operational upgrade. Sometimes coach is oversold, and rather than bump a passenger for a flight, they'll upgrade a coach passenger if there are empty seats in business or first class. The trick is to be the one the airline selects for the upgrade. Miller says there are a few things that can help your case. The first may sound obvious but Miller says it is often overlooked. Ask nicely. If coach appears to be booked to capacity, suggest to a flight attendant that if they're going to upgrade someone to first class, you'd like to throw your hat in the ring. Don't forget to smile and turn on the charm when you ask. 'Well dressed and professional looking' Second, dress like you belong in first class. Flying coach has become less and less comfortable over the years as passenger space has shrunk. While that might require wearing comfortable clothing on a long flight, Miller says if you're dressed like you're headed for the gym, you are unlikely to be picked to move up to first class. "Because there's no objective way to choose someone, the pilots and flight attendants usually look for someone well-dressed and professional looking," Miller said. "The main idea is they're choosing someone who both makes a good impression on the staffand also sets a good impression of the airline as a representative of the airline's customers." Being a member of the airline's loyalty program may also help your case. These passengers are considered "elite" flyers, with status rising to different tiers depending on how much they fly and spend with the airline. "The higher the tier, the higher your priority is for an upgrade," Miller said. "Then the airline works down the list until the business/first class cabin is full." Miller says upgrades are harder to come by these days becauseairlines have done a very good job of managing their reservations, pricing seats, and filling cabins. An operational upgrade is only going to happen when the airline has miscalculated and must give some lucky passenger a treat in order to seat as many passengers as possible. [...]

Uber's license to operate denied in London

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 17:32:55 +0000

Transportation officials cite a 'lack of corporate responsibility' in dealing with public safety

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
September 22, 2017

(image) London's transportation authority has denied Uber's bid to renew its operating license, declaring it is not a "fit and proper" mode of transportation for Londons 8.7 million residents and visitors.

Uber said it would challenge the decision in court, but it will have to move quickly to avoid disruption of service, as Uber's current license expires at the end of the month.

In a statement, Transport For London said it concluded that Uber London Limited has "demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility" in relation to public safety, namely its approach to reporting serious criminal offenses.

Other reasons cited for denying Ubers license include::

  • Uber's approach to obtaining medical certificates and Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks.

  • Its use of Greyball - software that couldblock regulatory agencies from gaining full access to the app and/or undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

Uber has 21 days to appeal the decision.

No excuse for being unsafe

Writing in the Guardian, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Uber deserved to lose its license, appearing to agree with Transportation For London's assessment of Uber's safety standards.

"Providing an innovative service is not an excuse for it being unsafe," Khan wrote.

Uber in London General Manager Tom Elvidge suggests the decision was more a case of placating those "who want to restrict consumer choice.

He said if the decision stands, it would put 40,000 Uber drivers out of work.

American travelers increasingly drawn to Ireland

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 17:16:31 +0000

There's plenty to see and do, and airfare is cheap By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs September 22, 2017 American tourists are flocking to visit Ireland and Northern Ireland in record numbersto enjoy the areas magnificent scenery, history, and strong cultural ties with the U.S. Irish tourism officials began 2017 with a major promotional campaign in the U.S., hoping to produce another record-breaking year. Last year, about 1.6 million tourists from the U.S. and Canada took trips to the island, a 13% increase over 2015. Fans of the TV series "Game of Thrones" might have something to do with this increase, particularly in Northern Ireland, which provides many of the cinematic backdrops to the beloved show. Travelers can visit Tollymore Forest, a 1,600 acre state park featured extensively in season one of the series. Or they can visit Ballintoy, a village on the coast of County Antrim, whichfigured prominently in season two. Among the most popular "Game of Thrones" destinations is The Dark Hedges, an avenue of beech trees planted by the Stuart family in the 18th century. Even without its "Game of Thrones" tie-in, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland, according to the Belfast Telegraph. There are many other reasons to visit Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom. Belfast, the largest city, is rich in history and culture and, according to The New York Times, possesses a "vibrant restaurant scene." Dublin Most visitors to Ireland include a visit to Dublin, its capital and largest city. In 2016, popular travel site Lonely Planet placed Dublin on its list of top 10 worldcities to visit, largely for its mix of old and new, and its spirit of hospitality. The official Irish tourism website suggests visitors wanting to interact with locals should head for one of the city's pubs for a pint and friendly conversation. Among its recommendations are Brazen Head, one of the city's oldest pubs, and J.W. Sweetman's. Dublin Castle is another major tourist attraction, a medieval fortress whose modern structure dates back to the 18th century. It served as the seat of British government on the island until it was transferred to the independent Irish government in 1922. For a small country, Ireland has large public parks, and one of its largest is another popular Dublin destination. Phoenix Park, on the west side of the city, encompasses about 1,750 acres and is one of the largest enclosed recreational areas in urban Europe. A herd of wild deer, whose ancestors extend back to the 17th century, roam freely through the park. This brief video clip provides a glimpse of some of the sights tourists can find in Ireland's capital. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> Cliffs of Moher The Cliffs of Moher are probably Ireland's most-visited tourist location. The attraction is so popular thatyou need to get tickets, and the visitor center closes periodically to prevent overcrowding. A visit after 4 p.m. is recommendedto ensureyou get in. The Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry contains evidence of prehistoric man, including a collection of drystone beehive huts. The region also has remnants of ancient forts and stone monuments. "I loved the prehistoric stuff, which has been well-preserved and is just there to be seen," said Gary Guthrie of Louisville, Ky., a two-time visitor to Ireland. "I like how they don't try to monetize everything. You can see a lo[...]

Airbnb adds restaurant reservation feature to its app

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 11:34:14 +0000

Users can book a table at nearly 650 restaurants

By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs
September 21, 2017

(image) Travel industry giant Airbnb is continuing to expand its reach with a new app feature allowing users to reserve a table at nearly 650 restaurants in 16 U.S. cities.

"The ability to book reservations at a curated selection of restaurants is part of our ongoing commitment to focus on the entire trip, not just homes, and follows the launch of Experiences last year," the company said in a statement.

So Airbnb, the app that matches lodgers with people renting a spare room, condo, or house, is taking what it calls the next logical step. Effective immediately, consumers can use the Airbnb app to reserve a table at nearly 650 restaurants in the U.S.

Among the top-shelf restaurants included in the app are Thip Khao in Washington, D.C., Petit Crenn in San Francisco, Kismet in Los Angeles, and Bateau in Seattle.

Especially handy for international travelers

Airbnb says the restaurant feature will prove especially handy for international travelers. While in a different country, guests might not be familiar with local reservation sites or be able to translate online systems into their own languages, the company says.

The new feature is powered by Resy, a restaurant booking app. There is now a dedicated restaurant tab on both the Airbnb website and app, allowing users to search by a number of different parameters. You can sort restaurants by the cuisine they serve, or break them down by which meal you want -- breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.

Resy picks the available restaurants, judging them on overall quality and making note of which ones are local favorites orhave won awards or other recognition.

Airbnb's Restaurant Spending Report shows its guests spent over $6.5 billion at restaurants last yearin 44 markets around the world.

Travelers' survey

An accompanying survey shows nearly half of travelers from the U.S. prefer restaurants that have been recommended by the local population. More than half said they would like to have the option of dining out or cooking in when they travel.

Thirty percent of U.S. travelers who have traveled outside the country said they find it difficult to find good restaurants that are favorites among locals -- not just tourists -- when they travel.

Currently, about half of Americans who eat at restaurants when traveling say they usually choose a restaurant by asking the hotel concierge.

An Autumn road trip is a colorful experience

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:33:44 +0000

From New England to Colorado, fall foliage is a big draw By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs September 15, 2017 Some of the best shows are the ones put on by Mother Nature, such as the recent total solar eclipse. Another spectacular show, available in much of the U.S., is the dramatic change in the color of the leaves, starting in late September and extending well into November. Regardless of where you are in the country, there is probably a scenic drive not far away. But just like the eclipse, timing is everything because the leaves burst into bright color at different times, and those times can vary year to year. New England and Mid-Atlantic When you think of leaf-watching, you probably think first of New England, long regarded as offering some of the world's most spectacular foliage. You can attribute that to its northern climate and abundance of sugar maple trees. The leaves on these trees turn from green to brilliant oranges and reds. This video, shot from a drone last fall, provides a glimpse of what fall is like in New England. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560"> Northern Maine starts to turn in late September, with Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts,upstate New York, and Pennsylvania joining in by mid-October. From a base in Boston, you can set out and see the changing leaves from several different vantage points. The drive departing from central Massachusetts takes you through thick, mature trees and past historic villages that celebrate the season with festivals. Heading north, you can crisscross the Connecticut River between Vermont and New Hampshire, both with plenty to offer leaf-peepers. In New Hampshire, scenic Route 3 takes you to Franconia Notch State Park. There, you can leave your car and board the Cannon Aerial Tramway, whichprovidesa birds-eye view of the foliage as as you glide 4,200 feet up to the top of Cannon Mountain. The tourism site Travel New England has plenty of accomodation suggestions. Pennsylvania claims more than 2.5 million acres of state forest and state parklands that explode in color in the fall. It makes the state a popular destination for leaf viewing. "Fall is Pennsylvania's forte," said Carrie Fischer Lepore, a state tourism official. "We are home to a longer and more varied fall foliage season than any other state." The Midwest Mid-October is prime time for leaf viewing in the upper Midwest, with miles of brilliant colors stretching from North Dakota to the hills of West Virginia. In Michigan, the Keweenaw Peninsula is a popular destination for fall foliage, where the leaves begin to turn in early October. For the adventurous who are not content to just view the scenery from the comfort of a car, there are bike tours and kayak trips. The Keweenaw Adventure Company has both of those areas covered, renting both bicycles and kayaks. It also provides lodging in cottages, cabins, chalets, and houses. The official Michigan tourism site, Travel Michgan, is making a major push to attract Autumn visitors. Fall in Michigan offers countless opportunities to chase the color and discover the hidden gems found along backroads and byways, said Dave Lorenz, Vice President of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. West Virginia is called the Mountain State for a reason. There are mountains everywhere and nearly all are covered by trees, which explode [...]

Five cool things to do in New Orleans in the fall

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 17:18:44 +0000

The city is more fun when you can blend in with the local population By Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs September 8, 2017 New Orleans is a city that draws tourists all year round, but the fall is probably the best time to visit. For starters, the weather is more likely to be hospitable. It will still be muggy with the city's infamous humidity, but it's a far cry from the summer months. Being outside and enjoying what the Big Easy has to offer is a lot more pleasant. Live like a local Part of the fun of visiting New Orleans is to live like a local. That means passing up one of the famous hotels in the French Quarter and renting a house for the week. If there are several people in your party, it will work out to be a lot less expensive. But it also immerses you in one of the city's unique neighborhoods. Search online for "New Orleans vacation rentals" and you'll come up with sites like VRBO, with properties available in a variety of sizes and locations. We found a 700 square foot cottage in the Uptown section of the city that sleeps four and runs around $115 a night. Or you can rent a condo in the city's downtown commercial district, which is within walking distance to the French Quarter. We found one on VRBO that sleeps four and averages around $159 a night. Take in a festival Another way to feel like a local is to attend one of the many neighborhood festivals. Mardi Gras may be the ultimate festival, but Autumn weekends have one or more festivals celebrating everything from mac and cheese to seafood. September 23 is NOLA On Tap, a celebration of beer. This year's event will be held in City Park and is the official countdown to Octoberfest. You can find details here. One of the biggest fall festivals is the Louisiana Seafood Festival, October 27-29 on the New Orleans river front. A wide range of Louisiana vendors will be there with every type of seafood cuisine, including oysters, crawfish, shrimp, and crabs. Chefs from some of the city's most famous restaurants also take part. You can find a complete line-up of New Orleans festivals here. Explore the city by bicycle Take advantage of the cooler weather to get around town on two wheels instead of four. The terrain in New Orleans, being five feet below sea level, tends to be flat, making peddling easy no matter what your biking skill level. There are several easy-to-follow bike routes you can find here. The St. Charles Avenue route, at less than five miles, is not that taxing and takes you past some remarkable architecture. The route takes you through both the Arts District and the Garden District, running parallel to the famous street car line. Enjoy some jazz Yes, you really should join all the other tourists by visiting Preservation Hall. It's a must-do part of a first visit to the Crescent City. But there are other jazz venues as well where you can blend in with the locals. Every Thursday during the fall there's Jazz in the Park, in Louis Armstrong Park. The series hosts a live concert series every Thursday evening, featuring local bands, live painting and art displays, and of course food vendors. Best of all, it's a free slice of authentic New Orleans. Trick or Treat If you time your visit to the end of October, you get to enjoy a New Orleans Halloween, perhaps just a notch below Mardi Gras, but still with outrageous costumes. The Krewe of Boo stages a French Quarter Halloween parade each year -- this year[...]