Sunday, February 27, 2011

On The Road With the Oscars

If you find yourself traveling during the Academy Awards, you do not have to settle for watching it all alone in your hotel room with a bottle of wine and room service--though that is still a good option. But if you are looking for something a bit more social and fun, many hotels are hosting Oscar parties for guests, complete with food, contests and games. There are plenty of pre-show fashion events and themed cocktails to keep you entertained while hanging out with other hotel guests.

Some people may not think a hotel Oscar party would be well attended, but in a survey, 34% of people said they would go because it is way more fun to watch the Academy Awards with other people. Another 41% said it would depend on how good it is, and only 25% said they would not be interested.

Greektown Casino Hotel
In the home state of the Oscars, hotel guests can find a number of great parties to attend. In San Francisco, the sky lounge at the Top of the Mark at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins is hosting a viewing with light appetizers and cocktails. Attendees have a chance to win a grab bag during the red carpet show by guessing the winners in specific categories.

The nation's capital is really getting into the festivities. The Jefferson Hotel is having an "Oscar Buzz" event, complete with special movie-themed cocktails starting at $15 each. The Washington Renaissance Hotel will project the show on its large-screen HD screen in the lobby while serving up chipotle-flavored popcorn and a variety of local micro-brews and cocktails.

New York certainly knows how to celebrate the film industry, and the W Union Square is a great place to enjoy the Oscars. For $40 per person, guests can enjoy gourmet popcorn, candy and adult milkshakes, as well as partake in a "fashion police" chat about all the red carpet glamour. 

Another eventful evening is taking place at the Homewood Suites in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The hotel is hosting a party where guests have a chance to win a free stay or 1,000 Hilton HHonors points. The "best dressed" will win a future weekend stay, and the "worst dressed" will be awarded the Hilton points.

For those guests who want to watch the Oscars, but worry about not being able to hear the program at a loud party or bar, Salamander Resort in Tampa Bay is featuring a $10 in-room promo, including movie-style popcorn, a collection of candy and soda.

There are a number of other hotel parties going on around the country in which you can participate. So if you find yourself stuck in a hotel room for the big event, check with your concierge or someone at the front desk to see if your or any other local hotels are throwing an Oscar bash. Hey, it's better than sitting alone with that bottle of wine and some convenience-store chocolate while watching Anne Hathaway and James Franco make playful jabs at one another on stage.

And if you are not traveling on this most momentous of nights, then make yourself a nice dinner, pop a bowl of popcorn, open a bottle of bubbly and settle in. It's going to be an incredible evening! Enjoy the Academy Awards everyone!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Airline Lounges: How to Get in When You Are Not a Member

Airport lounges have always elicited an aura of exclusivity, with only a select few being allowed to walk the red carpet and pass through the gold-trimmed doors. But the days of member only access are long gone, and now anyone can get into these so-called VIP lounges, if they are willing to pay.

Virgin Atlantic Lounge at Heathrow
Airport lounges may be pricey, but at times they are definitely worth the money. Lounges have comfortable chairs and workstations, free beverages and snacks, and airline representatives. Annual admissions fees, however, can range between $450 and $500, which might be too much for people who are not frequent fliers. For those who are sporadic travelers, there are options. Day passes for American Admiral's Club, Continental's Presidents Club, Delta's Sky Club and United's Red Carpet Club can be bought for $50 per person. Delta offers discounted prices for people who have Gold or Platinum airline American Express card, and also has a 30-day membership for $90 as a trial offer.United lets you print off $35 dollar day passes from home to be used at a United Red Carpet Club or Continental Presidents Club.

Annual memberships can be bought using money or frequent flier miles. Delta, US Airways and Alaska sell them for $450, Continental and United offer them at $475, and American has them for $500. Several of these memberships offer reciprocal admission to other airline lounges, meaning you may have a Delta membership but you have access to Alaska Board Rooms.

United Airlines Lounge
Amenities in each lounge will vary, including an open bar, snacks, free wireless, comfortable seating and the ability to bring in two guests. Clubs also have airline representatives available to help you deal with flight cancellations or delays, and the lines are much shorter in the lounge than at the customer service desk.

There are also non-airline airport club programs. Priority Pass gives you entry to 600 lounges worldwide. Memberships cost $99 annually, plus $27 a visit or $399 annually with unlimited visits. This is one of the best options because it gives you a broad range of choices, rather than limiting you to one airline lounge--plus you can check out all of them if you want and gauge which one has the best amenities. American Express Platinum Card airport club program and Diners Club cards give you access to a number of different lounges as well, but come with a few more limitations and less choices than the Priority Pass.

No matter what option you choose, you'll get a pretty decent deal out of it, especially if you find yourself at the airport on a regular basis. I know that once I start traveling more, I am definitely getting a membership to the lounges, because the few experiences I have had with them have been heavenly.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Satisfaction Guaranteed

When it comes to travel, customer service is essential for success in air transportation, hospitality and facilities. So who will guarantee you a satisfactory travel experience?
Credit: J.D.Power & Associates

According to J.D. Power & Associates' 40 "Customer Service Champions" list, the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts are two of the top customer service hotel chains in the United States. Enterprise Rent-A-Car was also a top company. As far as airlines are concerned, go with Southwest, JetBlue and Canada's WestJet to receive exceptional care and attention. A somewhat surprising member of the list is Indianapolis International Airport, which recently underwent a major redesign and reopened as a state-of-the-art facility in 2008.

J.D. Power based the awards off consumer surveys conducted over the past year. They use the five P method to measure how people feel about each company: people, presentation, price, product and process.

Of the selected travel companies, I only have experience with Enterprise.I am sad to say I have never stayed at the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons, or flown with Southwest or JetBlue or WestJet, or visited Indianapolis Airport. But I am excited to experience the customer service with these institutions, and I will definitely report back and let you know whether or not J.D. Power knows what its talking about.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

U.S. Top Honeymoon Destination

Where do people go to celebrate their nuptials? Apparently, no where. Well, not no where, but they certainly are staying close to home. According to a study done by the wedding site, the Knot, the U.S. is the most popular destination for Americans last year. Of the 12,000 couples surveyed, 30% honeymooned in the continental U.S., the most popular locations were Orlando and Las Vegas. The Caribbean came in a close second with 28% venturing to the tropical islands.

Other popular destinations included Hawaii, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Italy, St. Lucia, France, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic and Greece.

So why did more couples decide to stay nearby for their honeymoons? The main reason was money. It is a lot cheaper to take a trip to Florida or Nevada than it is to go to Europe or the South Pacific. Another reason was time. Many couples had to take shorter vacations because they did not have the time off work.

If and when I get married, you can be sure I'm leaving the continental U.S. I'll make sure I save up enough money and vacation days to get a honeymoon abroad.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Smoking Room? No Thank You

There was a time when hotels offered more smoking rooms than non-smoking. Now, hotels are switching tones, making their properties completely smoke-free. An article posted in USA Today said that more and more hotels around the U.S. are getting rid of smoking rooms, smoking sections in restaurants, and smoking lounges. Now, the only place where visitors can smoke is outside the hotel walls, and they have to stand at least 10 feet from the door.

Most hotels voluntarily banned smoking on their premises, while others are being forced by state laws and regulations. According to the AAA, over 13,000 hotels are now smoke-free. Many people do not realize that hotels are bit behind the times with smoking restrictions--I had no idea myself. Smoking was banned on airplanes back in the 90s, and restaurants and bars started getting rid of smoking back in 1994. Hotels did not start going smoke free until 2006. The biggest reason for the change was the growing health concerns of non-smokers being exposed to smoke on a regular basis. Guests demand healthy living environments, especially if they are traveling with children.

Many hotel representatives believe the trend will continue, especially with states passing regulations on smoking in public places. So far, Michigan and Wisconsin are the only two states that require all hotels and motels to be smoke free, and Nebraska may be the next.

But many people still smoke, and they feel they deserve an area in the hotel to smoke openly, and their rooms are the ideal place. But with all the health concerns and state initiatives, it seems hotels in the U.S. will probably all go smoke free.

Personally, I'm happy about this movement. It not only gets rid of the risk of being exposed to second-hand smoke, but also removes the cigarette smell that can cling to sheets and curtains, despite cleaning the room. I think the hotel experience will be greatly improved by making properties smoke free.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Unique Tourism Advertisments

In an effort to improve tourism, Levenworth, Washington, created a youtube commercial to promote its Bavarian-style town and exciting culture. The ad has generated a lot of buzz among travel experts and tourists. Travel marketing professionals do not doubt the effectiveness of the commercial, but there is skepticism about whether or not it will hurt tourism in the long run.

 

Levenworth is portrayed as a young, hip party town, concerning locals who believe tourists may get the wrong impression. However, the commercial does show family-friendly aspects as well, including mini-golf, rafting, golfing and festivals. If viewers can look beyond the scantily clad dancers, steins of beer and trendy nutcracker, they will see that Levenworth has a culturally rich atmosphere and recreational activities galore. Of course, the nightlife is certainly a selling point, and the advertisement has tapped into that.

In all honesty, I love the commercial. It's funny, eye-catching and entertaining. After watching it, I am seriously considering visiting Levenworth, Washington.

Monday, February 14, 2011

If You Want to Win a Free Trip...

...try one of these travel-related contests!

Giving away free trips has always been a popular marketing idea, but it seems to be the go-to option these days. Just check out some of these giveaways listed on USAToday.com:
  • If you are a student between the ages of 8 and 18, you can enter the National Parks Traveler Take Your Family to the National Parks essay contest. Students need to submit a park-related essay by March 1, and they could win a 3-night stay for 4 at one of 13 national parks across the country.
  • LAN Airlines wants to hear your story of love. If you think you have a winning tale, then write about it on their Facebook page and be entered to win two round-trip business class tickets to Buenos Aires.
  • For avid baseball fans, you can submit a short film stating your ideal day at Spring Training to Arizona's Office of Tourism Facebook page by February 15, and you could possibly win a $1,600 Spring Training vacation. (If you don't want to go through the hassle of shooting a video, just enter for a 4-day spring training trip on Tempe's website by February 15.)
  • If you have an American Express card, use it at Dunkin' Donuts all through the month of February, and be entered to receive a number of prices. The top prizes are tickets on JetBlue flights.
There are a few other contests available for entry, so check out this link to learn more.

So if you are interested in a free vacation, look into these options and keep your eyes open for any other possibilities...you'll be surprised how many are actually out there.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Not Go Abroad?

I came across an interesting article on CNN.com about Americans not traveling over seas. It seems strange to me--someone who cannot wait to explore every corner of this globe--that people would choose to stay in their own country rather than venture to another. What is keeping them here? According to the article, there are a few contributing factors to this reluctance to leave, including cultural ignorance, demanding work schedules, financial issues and America's own diversity.

When it comes to other countries, particularly ones in South America, Asia or the Middle East, Americans are skeptics. They are afraid to travel to these destinations, because media coverage has convinced them to be scared or disgusted. Through images of children swimming in dirty streams and horrible street violence among locals, Americans have seen conditions that deter them from booking a trip to places like India, Nicaragua, Yemen and Columbia. Just recently, the up rise in Egypt forced many to re-evaluate their views of the country, and many chose to cancel trips there or cut travels short. While Egypt was always a popular destination before, this political turmoil may hurt their tourism business, at least when it comes to attracting Americans. The fact is that many U.S. citizens are a bit ignorant about other countries, and that will not go away unless they expose themselves to cultures about which they are uneducated.

For those who are not afraid or nervous about taking trips around the world, another deterrent to traveling abroad is work. Americans have one of the most demanding work schedules of any other population, spending long hours at the office, working on weekends, and receiving the minimal amount of days off possible. While this does help us in out productivity and keeps our economy ticking, the sad truth is that many Americans are worked to the bone, but do not get adequate vacation time in order to relax and take some time off work. Most people are allowed two weeks of vacation, but trips overseas demand at least two or three days in order to get to the final destination, especially if your vacation spot is somewhere like Africa or Australia. Unfortunately, this is a difficult obstacle to get around since vacation time is limited, and most people are unable to negotiate getting more days off. But also, we are not a traveling country, whereas places like Europe put more emphasis on leisure time. In fact, Europeans get between 6 and 8 weeks of vacation a year, while we get about 16 days off, and most people do not use all those days.

With our economy struggling and many people out of work or taking lower-paying jobs, elaborate vacations to Europe or Asia are hard to afford. Flights are pretty pricey, and many Americans are not willing to shell out over $1,000 per person for an airline ticket. It is a lot easier to take a trip to another state, which requires less time and money.

Another reason American's are less inclined to make a leap across the pond is because we have a lot to see in our own country. We have every kind of natural terrain possible: mountains, plains, canyons, beaches, forests, deserts, etc. We have so many unique, beautiful and diverse places right in our own borders, a passport does not always seem necessary. We even have tropical rain forests and volcanoes in Hawaii, and frozen glaciers in Alaska. What other country can say they have all that? Even if people decide to stay within their own state, there are hundreds of cities to visit with interesting attractions and activities. In larger cities like LA, New York and Chicago, visitors can get a taste of various cultures in designated neighborhoods and specialty restaurants.

Despite all these explanations as to why Americans choose to stay put, it is sad to think that international travel is not a top priority for our country. It seems that Americans are going to have to start broadening their horizons soon, because working with other countries will help our economy flourish. Plus, walking the streets of Chinatown or Little Italy may be fun, but it is nothing compared to standing on the Great Wall or throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain.

So I must tell all my readers who have never been out of the country....get going!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hotels Upgrade to Boost Business

Even in times of economic worry, organizations are still trying to make improvements in order to please the customer, rather than making cuts to save money. The hospitality industry is one of them. Despite the crippling effects of the down economy and unpredictable stock market, business travel is on the rise, and hotels are trying to win over travelers as they jump from city to city for work.

The Chicago Tribune reported that hotel chains were looking at a number of different factors that travelers expected when staying at a hotel. Wi-Fi was the number one request from guests, followed closely by a quality workout facility and free breakfast. So hotels are starting to offer these amenities at a reasonable price point, rather than increasing rates and charging guests more for these extras. The hope is that customer loyalty will increase, bringing more guests to the hotels. The more business they get, the easier it will be to offer these kinds of benefits, without worrying about extra costs.

The question is whether or not business will improve, and if it does not, will hotels have to start pushing costs up in order to balance out offering free breakfast and Wi-Fi? Only time will really tell, but right now, hotels are investing in their product, hoping to secure loyal customers and keep people from migrating to other companies. Targeting business travelers is the main objective, because these people travel so frequently, they want to know they have a hotel they can trust. But since business travelers are always moving, hotels have to keep things fresh, offering comfortable benefits and amenities to help travelers relax for a moment during their hectic lives.

It's nice to see that hotels will go the extra mile to please their clients, rather than nickel and dime them on small fees like breakfast or parking or internet. I hope this continues as the economy slowly improves, and even after it's gotten back to it's pre-downturn state.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Groundhog vs. The Blizzard

February 2nd came and went with little mention of the tiny animal that emerges from his hole looking for his shadow. (In case you were wondering, he did not see his shadow, and Spring is on its way.) People were too concerned with the horrendous weather pounding the Midwest. Chicago was hit with a massive blizzard on Tuesday afternoon, causing white out conditions and leaving hundreds stranded for hours; and the snow did not stop coming down until about noon on Wednesday. What a great start to February. It seems Punxsutawney Phil was wrong, Spring is not coming.

However, with so much emphasis being put on the intense winter weather and how much snow the whole country has gotten, you would think people would want to report the end of this bitterly cold season. It seems appropriate that this news is being announced now, after what felt like the Apocalypse in snow form came barreling down on us. And yet no one is paying attention.

I, for one, am ecstatic that winter will soon be over--or at least I hope it will be--because that means its Spring travel season. Time to take vacations to places around the country that start getting warmer way sooner than Chicago does. I lean more towards places in the Carolinas or Florida, but there are so many great cities to visit during the early weeks of the season. These locations are usually extremely hot and humid in the summer, but the Spring makes for comfortable temperatures and desirable conditions, not to mention gorgeous scenery as the flora begin to blossom. If you're still somewhat in the winter mode, but feel ready to embrace the warmer weather, try a Spring ski trip. Colorado's slopes still have plenty of snow in March and April, and with the daily temps in the mid to high 50s, it is warm enough to ski in a sweatshirt or light jacket.

From loveisdope.wordpress
So as you clear the snow from your driveway, shovel your car out of the snow and recover from what you hope is the final snow storm of winter, keep in mind that Spring is coming--the groundhog said so--and there is a lot of fantastic travel to be done!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Spring Break Countdown

In light of the fact that January is over, February should go by quick and March will be upon us faster than we think, I have decided to begin the countdown to the infamous Spring Break. While I myself can no longer enjoy the carefree, and often careless, nature of Spring Break, I know many young college students who are eagerly planning their trips to the tropical, sandy beaches of places like Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean--just to name a few. So expect to see a few posts about popular Spring Break destinations, ways to save money on the trip and some possible alternatives to traditional Spring Break travels.

Right now, I want to bring up the sobering (pun intended) topic of Spring Break safety. Obviously, students like to use their week of freedom to blow off some steam, party with their friends, meet new people and not think about school. But with all the chaotic hoopla going on, accidents can happen and people can get hurt. It's crucial to be aware of your surroundings and be cognizant of bad situations. I received a link to a story written for BestCollegesOnline.net, and it covers some of the top Spring Break tragedies that have occurred. I am not including this link to scare people, but rather as a warning and a reminder that things can go wrong if you're not careful. That being said, I want to provide you with a few Spring Break tips from the experts--and a couple I picked up on my own--to keep you safe, and make your trip a little more enjoyable.

If You're Taking a Road Trip

Driving is one of the easiest, most economical ways to get around these days, and many students will be opting for this transportation method for their Spring Break trip. If you plan on making it a road trip, be sure to take the necessary precautions:
  • Get your tires rotated and oil changed, as well as any other repairs that need to be done.
  • Make sure you have proper registration and insurance forms in your car, as well as a manual, road-side assistance kit, AAA card (if you are a member) and spare tire.
  • Keep a cooler of water in the car so you can stay hydrated. Also bring some light snacks, you'll need the energy.
  • Rotate drivers every couple of hours so people have a chance to sleep, eat and relax, so they're prepared for their next shift.
  • If you're driving at night, make sure someone stays awake with the driver, numerous accidents happen when drivers fall asleep at the wheel.
  • Stay focused when driving--it's perfectly fine to talk with your friends or listen to music, but concentrate on the road, stay off your cell phone and don't try to eat and drive simultaneously.
When You Arrive

Once you reach your destination, whether flying or driving, the fun can really begin. It's common for students or young adults to quickly drop off their luggage in their room and hit the beach or bar right away. However, it's a good idea to slow down and take some time setting up your hotel room.
  • If there is a safe in the room, be sure to put all your important documents (passport, extra cash, tickets, etc.) inside. It's not a good idea to leave valuables lying around the room, just in case someone breaks in. 
  • Always lock your hotel room door.
  • Inspect the room, monitoring it for cleanliness and comfort. Also make sure you have all the amenities you need. If not, call the front desk and have them drop off extra towels or glasses or toilet paper, whatever you think you'll need.  
During Your Trip

Obviously, Spring Break is meant to be a fun, exciting, and high-energy experience, but more often then not, when partying gets too crazy, things tend to go wrong. I understand the desire to drink yourself into oblivion, but it probably isn't the best idea, especially when you're in an unfamiliar place with people you don't know. Here are a couple suggestions to help keep yourself--and others--conscious of their surroundings and physical well-being.

  • Avoid all-day drinking fests if you can. If you do decide to start early, have a glass of water after one or two drinks, this will keep you hydrated and help you to stave off the liquor buzz that will inevitably turn into intoxication.
  • At the bars, keep your drink with you at all times. Do not set it down anywhere, as it becomes an easy target for predators to slip something into it. Also, keep your hand over the top of the drink as you hold it, this will prevent someone dropping something in.
  • If you meet an attractive guy or girl at the bar, do not go off alone with them. Make sure you stick with your group. Also, make sure you keep an eye on your friends so that they do not leave with someone. Always be aware of where everyone in your group is.
  • Don't bring strangers back to your room, or let your friends bring someone back.
  • If your walking around the city during the day, keep a close eye on your personal belongings. Thieves target tourists, so keep hold of your bag. If a thief tries to take your money, purse, wallet or credit cards, do not fight back, they may have a weapon.
  • If items do get stolen, report stolen credit and debit cards to your bank immediately.
The Most Important Rule

HAVE FUN!!
Yes, I realize this is pretty cheesy, but it is the one element of Spring Break that should never be forgotten. There's being safe and cautious, and then there's being overly careful, to the point of obsession. Spring Break is about letting loose, relaxing and having a good time. So enjoy your Spring Break trip, and just be smart.