Thursday, January 31, 2013

Want a Cheaper Flight? Try This Trick

As I was scouring through the news this morning, I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal providing a wonderful little trick to cut down on the cost of airfare.

We all know how expensive flights to Europe or Asia or Australia can be (and let's face it, even flights to Hawaii and Alaska are pricey), but there are ways to reduce the cost by as much as 30%. Just buy two discounted tickets to create your own itinerary. Admittedly, it can be a bit of a hassle, and there are some drawbacks to the technique. Still, when you think about how much you could save, it might be worth considering.

Here's a quick summary of how it works. Carriers customarily have special deals in certain cities--either to promote a new route or to boost awareness of their airline--but usually their systems do not let them combine those cheap flights with connecting flights in one transaction. If you live in the city where the deal is being offered, you're in luck; but if not, you can still take advantage of those super low fares. For example, Turkish Airlines is trying to expand in the U.S., and is offering round-trip flights between Washington, D.C. and Istanbul for as little as $525 for early February. But if you want to fly direct from Chicago, it can cost up to $1,194 for a round trip flight for the same time period. Snagging a cheap internal flight from Chicago to D.C. and then booking the special, lower rate from there to Istanbul can save you a substantial amount of money. This probably isn't the best example, since Chicago is a major city, and has dozens of other flight options to Istanbul for much lower prices (United offers a one-stop round trip flight for about $538, which is obviously the best choice). But you get the idea.

It definitely is a neat trick for people who live in cities that do not have as many flight options or special rates from international airlines--or even domestic ones. Since I live in Chicago, I have a wide range of flights to choose from, and there are usually a lot of promotional fares. But for those with fewer resources, this could certainly work well. So next time you have a far-off destination in mind, but do not want to pay a hefty price for flights, consider this little trick!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Buckle Up and Cuddle Up

Traveling alone can be a liberating and thrilling experience, giving one time to relax, reflect and escape. For the most part, I travel by myself--though I'm usually spending my vacation time with family or friends, so I'm technically not alone. But the journey to my destination is generally spend alone, a few hours plugged into my music or nose-deep in a good book. And while I relish in these moments, I will admit there is something to traveling with a companion. It gives you someone to talk to during the flight; or someone with which to split food, expenses, hotel rooms, etc.; or someone to cuddle up to on a long journey. But what if you don't have anyone to travel with?

Well, if you happen to live in London and are interested in taking an impromptu, blind date trip to Los Angeles, then you're in luck. Air New Zealand--the zany airline behind those hilarious in-flight safety videos I talked about in a previous post--came ip with an idea to promote its London to Los Angeles route. The airline is sending couples on blind dates to the West Coast, giving them the opportunity to try out Air New Zealand's "sky couch"--a set of three seats that can fold into a bed for two in economy class.

Skycouch or Cuddle Class. Source:
Here's how it works. On Valentine's Day, contestants at Heathrow Airport at a specially built TV studio to take part in the contest, called Blind Gate. Each contestant, equipped with their passport and a packed suitcase, will fill out a compatability quiz to figure out who they will fly with if they win. Two lucky couples, one gay and one straight, will be chosen to board the Air New Zealand flight as soon as the winners are announced, and settle in on the sky couch, also called "cuddle class."

To top it all off, cameras will follow the couples throughout the flight and their weekends in Los Angeles to see how they get along. An itinerary has been put together for the couples that takes them to a number of unusual destinations, too.

Interested parties must fill out a form on The Guardian's website by February 1, and ten contestants will be selected to come to Heathrow.

Obviously, one would have to be pretty open minded to take part in this, and be willing to spend an entire flight and weekend with a complete stranger. If nothing else, it would definitely be an adventure. And hopefully, one would get a friend--or maybe more--out of it. If I lived in London and had the available time off, I'd definitely enter. (Just don't tell my boyfriend.)
Air New Zealand

Monday, January 21, 2013

What's Ailing You? A Vacation Can Cure It

Long hours at the office. Restless nights. Stressful deadlines. Struggling relationships. Intense training sessions. Overwhelming obligations. The list of our daily ailments goes on and on, and at times it feels like there is no end to the turmoil, no cure.

But there is!

A vacation!

There have been studies---yes, scientific proof--that travel has a positive effect on health, education, relationships, and overall quality of life. Sadly, this fact escapes most people--especially Americans--and they are left suffering through their troubles with no relief.

A new national awareness campaign is hoping to change that, showing people the benefits travel has on life, business and community. The campaign tries to help people understand the impact traval has by conveying research findings that support the claims. The reseach looks at the effect travel has on relationships and how it creates lasting memories for families, couples and friends. It will even display state and district data providing travel impact measurements--and who could argue with that?

And if the personal effects of travel are not enough to convince people to take a vacation, how about the economical impacts? Travel supports 14.4 million jobs in the U.S. and $1.9 trillion in output. Therefore, the more people who travel equates to more money being pumped into our economy.

You can find all the facts here.

So, now that you know a vacation will help, what kind should you take? Enter Hilton Hotels' new website that lets users diagnose their vacation needs and get a customized prescription to cure what ails them. The website is called "Hilton Urgent Vacation Care Center," and it asks visitors to take a quiz to get their diagnosis. Hilton collaborated with satirical newspaper, The Onion, on the site, which features humorous cartoons that represent ailments that afflict workers. The cartoons illustrate teh 14 symptoms of "vacationitis," and visitors are encouraged to stop it before it spreads by sharing the cartoons via social media.
The remedies are vacations of various lengths and types, based on the severity of "vacationitis." There is also a "global vacation alert level" on the site, which features an interactive map that showing levels of need for vacations in different countries, as well as research from Hilton dating back to 1989. Of course, since it is tied to a hotel, all diagnoses and suggested treatments are accompanied by links to Hilton Hotels and Resorts' online booking form. (FYI, Hilton is running a contest through Feb. 28, offering 15 weekend getaways to those who visit the new website and fill out the questionnaire.) (Also, throughout the year, 550 Hilton locations are participating in a sale, called Any Weekend, Anywhere, with discounts up to 40%.)

The fact that many people--especially Americans--are starved for vacation time is nothing new. In fact, annual studies are performedto gauge how vacation-deprived we are, and trying to get people to take more vacations is something many other businesses have done before. Still, looking at it as an ailment is a little different, and the cartoons are certainly humorous.

So if you are in need of a long vacation or just a quick break, check out the website to receive your diagnosis and suggested prescription.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Building a Tree House

Tree houses are a wonderful childhood past time; fulfilling fantasies of the young for generations.

But believe it or not, they have roots in the ancient world, too. For surely people have been climbing trees for hundreds, even thousands, of years.

Today, there are a vast array of immaculately built treehouses all over the world, taking forms of all kinds. Some are created for a specific purpose, while others simply display the human imagination, and still others showcase the perfect synergy of these structures with nature. While tree houses have evolved over the years, their purpose remains the same: offering people the chance to view the world from a different angle.

Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air. Source: Amazon
A book from Philip Jodidio showcases 50 of the most eclectic tree houses from around the globe. Some are built by famous architects, and serve as restaurants or hotels. While others are shrowded in a bit of mystery, created by unknown geniuses of the craft. The tree houses exhibit all kinds of architecture styles, from classic romance to modern; and showcase many different cultures. The book includes Japanese teahouses meant for looking at cherry blossoms from new heights; sphere-shaped structures in Canada that can be rented out and are tethered to the trees to maintain balance; and a UFO style tree house in Sweden that can fit two adults and two children.

I would definitely be interested in visiting some of these tree houses. It's one thing to be up in a tree, but to be in an intricately designed tree house makes it even better. I had a tree house a kid, but it was not all that impressive. It was a square shaped platform among three spruce trees, with short walls and a basic roof. It entertained us to an extent, but we eventually got over the novelty of it and lost interest. it had looked like any of these houses, I think it would have been a different story entirely. In fact, I may have chosen to live in the tree house rather than in my own home.

Not only would it be fun to play around in these adult-friendly tree houses, but it would be interesting to view the world from a completely new perspective. Imagine what you could see from the trees; people would be totally unaware of your presence--oh the possibilities. In all honesty though, I think I would use a tree house to escape, get in touch with nature and just relax as the rest of the world went on below me. That would be a truly memorable experience.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pass the Duct Tape...

This is just one of the phrases heard by passengers on an Iceland Air flight from Reykjavik to New York on January 3. The reason? An unruly passenger was reportedly hitting, screaming and spitting at other passengers, as he yelled profanities at the top of his lungs. As a means of restraint, fight attendants bound him with zip-ties and duct tape, strapping him to his seat and sealing his mouth with the adhesive.
Bound passenger on Iceland Air. Source:
The picture of the passenger is a little disturbing, leading many to question whether this kind of action is necessary, or even legal. But if a passenger is putting the safety of the crew and other passengers in jeapardy and continues to act out even after being warned or commits a crime, flight personnel can restrain him or her by any means necessary.

Flight attendants have even been given handcuffs or other retraints that can be used to control passengers. In this case, the crew had to be creative, and it seems to have worked pretty well.

I have never been on a flight where a passenger "went crazy" or started acting inappropriately, but it is good to know that the crew has the ability--and the right--to go to these kinds of extremes to get the situation under control. And I have to say, it would be pretty funny to see this in real life.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Where Are You Going in 2013?

A New Year brings new adventures...but knowing where to go--or rather choosing which exciting place to visit--can be difficult. There are a number of destinations that are said to be popular places to go in 2013.

In the U.S., according to Orbitz, vacationers will most likely visit Charleston, South Carolina. This I can definitely see, since it is well known for its Southern hospitality and award winning culinary scene. Not to mention its many accolades from travel publications, tourist organizations, and seasoned travelers.

New Orleans also tops of the list of popular 2013 destinations. It has re-emerged from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, and the city is buzzing with activities, events, and excitement. Luckily, I was able to knock New Orleans off my list last year, but I can say with absolute confidence that this city will not disappoint, and I fully support it being a favored city this year.

Arizona and Orlando made the list due to the low cost of hotels and an abundance of tourist attractions. Atlantic City also makes a appearance, even after Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of New Jersey's coast. Travel analysts see much new development in the area, new hotels, new attractions and even more growth down the road.

Internationally, New Zealand is the place to go. It could be The Hobbit effect, or the fact that this country is simply amazing. Its major cities offer a mix of history, modern culture and eclectic character; while the rest of the country consists of scenic mountain ranges, pristine lakes, and some of the most incredible landscapes in the world. I have the privilege of hitting this hot spot in March and I cannot wait to explore all it has to offer. (In fact, I'm looking at possible driving routes and places to check out as I type.)

Obviously, there are plenty of other places around the world that will be popular tourist destinations this year. Luckily, there is no predetermined agenda, and each person can venture where they want. I'm also planning a trip with some of my good friends to Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR, in June. So far, that and New Zealand are the only vacations I have scheduled this year, but I am sure I will have many other adventures over the next 12 months.

That is the true beauty of a New Year!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What the New Year will Bring

Another year gone...and another January 1 celebrated with champagne toasts, confetti, noise makers and good friends. In that moment when the clock hits midnight, the only thought running through most people's minds is the pure joy and revelry that comes with a New Year and a fresh start. And then reality hits, and we must face all the challenges and changes that are inevitable in the year ahead.

For the travel industry, there are certainly a lot.

While the overall travel experience is always unpredictable, consumers can count on higher costs in 2013. The price of airline tickets have been gradually climbing the last couple years, and airlines managed to raise fares seven times in 2012. Airlines may also keep charging more fees and reducing flight capacity, which will only increase the price of tickets more. Even with the price hikes, demand has remained solid, which means airlines have the freedom to keep raising prices, until people stop paying.

Airlines will hopefully take that extra money and put it towards buying new aircrafts or updating current ones with better amenities. Airlines will try to make the travel experience better through small changes like in-flight entertainment and connectivity, like onboard Wi-Fi. (But you have to pay for all that, remember.) One problem that travelers can expect to see with aircraft changes is the addition of more seats, which means less legroom or arm space and much more uncomfortable trip. The only way to get adequate legroom is if you pay more for it, as many domestic airlines offer added space in the first few rows of their aircrafts.

I imagine there will also be changes to frequent flier programs, as airlines look to gain more revenue and offer fewer upgrades, mileage earnings and rewards. The elite members will still receive impeccable service, I'm sure, but anyone who doesn't have that status will have to work extra hard to get the earnings they need to reach it. United has already raised its annual membership fees for its United Club. General members will pay $500 a year, up from $475; Premium Silver members who fly 25,000 miles annually pay $475; Premier Gold members who fly at least 50,000 will pay $450; Premier Platinum who fly 75,000 will pay $425, and Premier 1K members, who fly at least 100,000 miles a year, will pay $400.

It is likely we will see yet another merger in the airline industry as American Airlines and US Airways continue talks. In fact, industry experts believe an announcement could be made in the first quarter of the new year. If a merger happens, who knows what other consolidations will take place.

Travelers have become accustomed to the various fees tacked on by airlines for things like checking bags, buying in-flight food and purchasing television or Wi-Fi. However, this a la carte style is slowly moving into other industries, like hotels and cruises, as these markets look to take advantage of more revenue possibilities. Some hotels have started charging extra for room safes, luggage storage and mini-bar restocking. I wonder if there will be an added fee for turn down service or the chocolate on your pillow?