<strong>Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii</strong>

With a backdrop of world-class restaurants, hotels, and shopping, <a href="" target="_blank">Waikiki</a> is a popular place to have fun in the sun, while enjoying the modern perks of a big city. Several readers think its close proximity to the hustle and bustle is what sets this beach apart.

Reader <a href=""">RobZonie</a> said, "Best beach? Waikiki. Particularly the stretch of sand fronting the Royal Hawaiian&mdash;the Pink Palace of the Pacific. This is the quintessential Hawaiian beach. Near the top of the crescent running from Fort de Russy to Diamond Head, the water here is relatively calm, perfect for swimming. Further out you'll find respectable waves for the tourist surfer&mdash;nothing like North Shore, but that's not always a bad thing. Waikiki is a place to see and be seen, so don't be surprised if a celebrity makes a cameo as an extra in your vacation photos. And it is a world famous attraction; you're just as likely to spread a towel next to someone from Japan, France, or Rhode Island, as you are a local ... maybe more so. Sun, sand, scenery, and citizenry from around the world&mdash;perfect!"

Reader <a href=""">bdarrah</a> added, "This is a beautiful beach with the backdrop of Diamond Head. Hawaiians have avoided construction or signs blocking the view of this volcano. The view of Waikiki from the top of Diamond Head is breathtaking. Waikiki is a melting pot of locals and visitors from all over the world. Having a Mai Tai at the Banyan Court of the Moana Hotel makes a special evening listening to Hawaiian music and the sound of the surf. Keep Smiling and Aloha."

(Photo: iStockphoto/Sheldon Kralstein)

Enter the Miller's Ale House Raving Fans sweepstakes by December 31 for a chance to win the grand prize: a seven-night trip for two to Hawaii, including a $1,500 voucher to cover airfare, seven nights' hotel in Waikiki, and two tickets to the NFL Pro Bowl.

To enter, provide the requested information (name, email, etc.) on the sweepstakes landing page, and press "submit." more»

Globe Passport Plane Ticket (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Following is our regular summary of the best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

From Hilton: Weekend Discount, Bonus Elite Credits

Hilton's newly launched Any Weekend, Anywhere promotion features discounts and bonus credits for weekend stays through the end of next more»

While you're unlikely to get an all-expenses-paid trip unless you win a game show, you can still get portions your trip for free if you book certain promotions or take advantage of some alternative modes of travel. Here are my picks for top limited-time and long-term "free" travel deals worth checking out.

<h2>Kids Fly Free to French Polynesia</h2>

Never considered French Polynesia for family vacation? Maybe Air Tahiti Nui's kids-fly-free deal will persuade you. From now through the end of the year, when you book two adult Air Tahiti Nui fares from Los Angeles to French Polynesia, you'll get two free fares for kids ages 11 or younger. The deal is valid for flights to Papeete, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, and Fakarava departing through December 10, 2008, or from January 12 to May 31, 2009. Adult fares start at $1,428, including all taxes. You'll still be responsible for paying taxes on the free children's fares.

 (Photo: iStockPhoto/Christine Balderas)

Fortify yourself with leftovers and start your search for great Black Friday and Cyber Monday travel discounts. We've rounded up some of the deals we've seen in recent weeks to get you started.

  • Club Med has been running a contest to decide which two resorts will be includes in its Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales. Discounts at the winning properties will be available November 23 through 25 and November 26 through 28.
  • Liftopia, the online lift ticket seller, got an early start on its Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale, so if you're looking for savings up to 86 percent at more than 200 ski resorts, book more»
US Airways aircraft tail close up (Photo: US Airways)

On Tuesday, the Association of Flight Attendants - CWA, the union representing 6,700 US Airways flight attendants, voted to authorize a strike. The tally: 94 percent in more»


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="" 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=" 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="">Terms and Conditions</a> for complete details on our submission criteria.

If you thought that airlines were the worst offenders for loading their customers with fees, you haven't stayed in a hotel, cruised, or rented a car lately. The Internet, with its many online agencies and price-comparison metasearch engines, has created an environment that puts huge pressure on suppliers to show the lowest possible base prices. As much as possible, they're focusing on fees to meet revenue targets. That means you have to do your research to avoid nasty surprises or disappointments. more»

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

A traveler I know recently reserved a room at a hotel in Florence, Italy, at a discounted—but nonrefundable—price through He thought he had scored a very good deal: good price, good location, good-looking rooms. Good, that is, until he got the confirmation email, which had a notice at the bottom: "Important information: Please note the building has no lift." All of a sudden, the deal turned into not-so-good. This traveler has a bad back. And the last thing he needed was a two- or three-story staircase schlep, with baggage, to a hotel room. He immediately contacted to cancel, but an agent told him, "Sorry; the hotel refuses to refund a nonrefundable rate." The agent went on to note that the hotel description page on posted the same notice at the very bottom. He got the same response directly from the hotel. more»

Airport: Body Scanner (Photo: Transportation Security Administration)

According to a story from Bloomberg, test results that confirmed that the TSA's body-scanning machines are no longer producing graphic images of passengers' bodies may have been faked. So the machines may, in fact, be showing very detailed images of passengers.

According to the report, "The company [that produces some of the machines] 'may have attempted to defraud the government by knowingly manipulating an operational test,' Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Transportation Security Subcommittee, said in a letter to Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole Nov. 13. Rogers said his committee received a tip about the faked tests." more»

Airport: Couple Leaving Airport with Luggage (Photo: Thinkstock/Jupiterimages)

A few months ago, we did a report on the 10 Best Airlines You've Never Flown. Most were smaller than the giant lines—that's one of the reasons you probably haven't flown them. But six lines here in the U.S. are much smaller than those 10. If you live in their home base cities, you've probably at least heard of them, but if you only occasionally fly to one of those areas, you may be missing a good option.

Public Charters: a Mixed Bag

All six operate as "public charters," which means they're paper airlines that manage the flight schedules and the business matters but outsource the actual flying to airlines that specialize in flying charters. For the most part, you don't care: The difference is in the way the government views them. But you do potentially care about two critical public charter more»

Man: Shocked at Computer (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

As of November 10, Delta has a new website. And as is often the case with newly launched websites, it's buggy.

How buggy? Here's an email I received from a reader:

Delta has recently transferred all its FF member data to the new website which requires a new log in and password. In our family we have three members and all of the Secure Flight information that was transferred was wrong!! In my account the TSA data was my daughters, including her Global Entry number, but not even all correct! It listed her birthdate as 1909! Apparently these errors are endemic.

On FlyerTalk, where such topics are dissected and debated ad nauseum, the discussion, now 55 pages and counting, quickly swung from modestly favorable reviews of the site's new look and feel to horror stories about missing or incorrect data, broken links, slow-loading and freezing pages, and non-working more»

New Orleans Street Sign ((Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Enter New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation's Christmas New Orleans Style sweepstakes by December 31 for a chance to win the grand prize: a trip for two to New Orleans, including air, airport transfers, three nights' hotel, and one dinner.

To enter, provide the requested information (name, email, phone) on the sweepstakes landing page, and press "submit." Done.

Time required to enter: under 15 more»