Oil - Offshore oil rig (Photo: iStockPhoto/Chad Anderson)

As the oil spill in the Gulf continues to devastate the region, local tourism industries are trying to convince travelers to spend their vacations at the beach. Last month, Orbitz got in on the act, offering a full refund on hotel bookings if nearby beaches were closed due to the spill. Now, Hotels.com is partnering with select Gulf-area hotels (all located in Florida) to waive cancellation fees if the hotel's beach is closed because of the oil spill.

To receive the guarantee, you have to use the coupon code "OILFLEX" when you book one of the participating hotels through September 6 for stays through September 30. You can cancel without incurring fees anytime up to 5:00 p.m. on the scheduled day of arrival by calling Hotels.com....read more»

Hotel room door slightly open (Photo: iStockphoto/MBCheatham)

Add this to the list of good reasons to check your credit card bills regularly: According to Joe Sharkey in this New York Times article, hotels are a common target of credit card hackers. Based on a study released this year, 38 percent of last year's credit card hacking cases involved hotels. Yikes.

The article mentions recent hotel breaches at chains such as Wyndham and Destination Hotels and Resorts, and notes, "Fraud experts say that hackers often steal personal data and make multiple small charges to validate a card, probe its vulnerability and test the vigilance of a cardholder before making bigger charges."

So as a hotel guest, what can you do to protect yourself?...read more»

<strong>Money</strong>

Imagine you innocently go to reach for the <em>Sky Mall Magazine</em>, but instead are rewarded with a wad of cash or a $500 check, as one reader discovered. Finding money can be about as exciting as hitting the jackpot in Vegas, especially when it's in an unexpected place like an airplane, and many of our readers are big winners. Not to mention, you can now afford to buy something from the in-flight magazine, like that <a href="http://www.skymall.com/shopping/detail.htm?pid=102517807" target="_blank">Big Foot Garden Yeti Sculpture</a> you've been eyeing.

<strong>What about you?</strong>

What other weird, gross, or just plain crazy items have you found in a seatback pocket while flying? Leave a comment below, or to submit your photos, <a href="mailto:kate.hamman@smartertravelmedia.com?subject=Photo submission for SmarterTravel">send us an email</a> with no more than three images attached. 
<h2>All photos must be:</h2>

<ul><li>In .gif or .jpg format</li>
<li> No larger than 2MB</li>
<li> Family friendly</li>
<li> Original, non-copyrighted images</li>
<li> Virus-free</li></ul>

See our <a href="http://www.smartertravel.com/us/terms.html">Terms and Conditions</a> for complete details on our submission criteria.

In 2009, airlines made $7.8 billion in ancillary fees, with most of the revenue coming from bag fees. This year, it looks like airlines are on track to rake in a similar amount, if the first quarter reports forecast the rest of the year. Interestingly, airlines made more than $768 million from bag fees in the first quarter of 2010, a staggering 33 percent increase (about $200 million) from the first quarter of 2009. Here are the top 10 airlines in terms of baggage fees revenue:...read more»

Restaurant Table - Up close of silverware (Photo: iStockphoto/mbbirdy)

Looking for an airport dining experience where you won't hear, "Do you want fries with that?" Airports around the world are offering their captive audiences increasingly better options.

One trend in particular has brightened culinary horizons at the airport. More local restaurants and chefs are opening airport locations to bring regional favorites to travelers. Some cities even add a bit of glamour with airport locations of celebrity-chef-run restaurants.

Airports tend to be proud of their local outposts, so they're often pretty easy to spot. For instance, I was in the international terminal at San Francisco International the other day and stopped to read a large poster detailing all the local options on offer, including local sushi favorite Ebisu. And unlike the restaurant in San Francisco's Sunset District, you won't have to wait an hour for a table at the airport location....read more»

Airport: Woman in Security Check Line (Photo: iStockphoto/james steidl)

The third time is a charm, at least when it comes to confirming a new head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If you've been following our coverage of the drawn-out process, you know that the first two candidates withdrew their nominations after relatively minor concerns about their records surfaced.

But with the confirmation of John S. Pistole, former deputy director of the F.B.I., the extended search has come to a close. According to the New York Times' blog The Caucus, Pistole's "nomination was met with approval by senators from both parties, though he was questioned at a hearing about his stance on collective bargaining rights for airport screeners."...read more»

Photo: Eric Kamp/Index Open

Here's one of those times when not procrastinating can save you some money. On July 13, the Department of State bumps up "consular fees," which includes new passports and passport renewals.

The cost of a new adult passport will rise from $100 to $135, and from $85 to $105 for minors. Renewals will be $110 instead of $75, and passport cards will be $55 for adults instead of $45. Additionally, there will be an $82 fee for adding new visa pages to a passport.

The Department of State has the full list of passport fees, along with an adjusted chart covering visa fees, overseas citizens services, and documentary services related to Department of State records....read more»

United New Plane (Photo: United Airlines)

A group of 49 passengers is suing to block the merger between United and Continental, citing fears that the deal will result in an industry dominated by large monopolies and high fares for consumers. According to Ben Mutzabaugh at USA Today, the suit also "predicts that allowing the merger would pave the way for even more consolidation."

Both airlines flatly deny that the merger will be bad for customers. United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy told Forbes the suit is "without merit," and reiterated both airlines' well-worn refrain, saying the deal "will benefit customers with the most comprehensive route network, connecting people across the world and the U.S., including 148 small communities."

So does the suit have any merit?...read more»

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