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Man: Shocked Business Man (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

"To use a state driver's license as ID for TSA airport screening, starting January 15, TSA will accept only 'compliant' licenses." That's the crux of the muddle contained in a report circulating around digital space these days, and fortunately it's wrong. But it's wrong only regarding the date: You will need a compliant license going forward, but a few years down the line, not now. The real deadlines, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are December 2014 for travelers under age 50 and December 2017 for everybody else. So, for the immediate future, you can keep using your current license—or whatever other approved ID you use.

The muddle apparently arose because somebody misinterpreted that January 15 date. DHS confirms that it applies only to states—to start compliance with the Real ID Act—not to individuals. So you don't need to worry for now. ...read more»

Hotel: Couple Laying on Bed (Photo: Thinkstock/Jupiterimages)

When hotels announce their annual award-price changes, the news generally ranges from bad to very bad.

The upcoming Hyatt changes are an exception.

Beginning on February 7, 2013, Hyatt Gold Passport members will pay more points for award nights at seven hotels and fewer points at 10 other properties.

With fewer that 500 hotels in the Hyatt network, that amounts to price changes to around 3 percent of the Gold Passport hotels. So from a disruption standpoint, the changes are pretty benign....read more»

Woman: Arms up Toward Clouds (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Enter the JetBlue Road to Rewards sweepstakes by December 22 for a chance to win the grand prize: 100,000 JetBlue TrueBlue points. Runner-up instant-win prizes include various smaller allotments of points.

To enter, "like" the JetBlue Facebook page to log in to the sweepstakes page, provide your contact information, and press "submit." If you enter your JetBlue TrueBlue membership number when registering for the sweepstakes, you'll also receive 100 TrueBlue points.

Time required to enter: under 30 seconds....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.

Among U.S. airlines, none has managed to achieve such consistently superior customer-satisfaction ratings as Southwest. Over the past 18 years, Southwest has been rated first on each of the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index surveys, except for this year, when it came in second behind JetBlue.

The airline has fostered that outsized loyalty with a combination of simplicity, value, and fairness. A key feature of the airline's strategy—one that touches on all three characteristics—has been its refusal to embrace the industry trend toward nickel-and-dimeing its customers with fees for everything that can be unbundled from the basic transportation product.

There's no fee, for example, for the first and second checked bag. And there's no extra charge to change a flight. ...read more»

Kids on a plane (Photo: IndexOpen)

A new poll shows that travelers want the option to fly on child-free flights. Do you agree? Join the debate in our weekly roundup of interesting travel news and stories.

Google Maps is Back on the iPhone

Good news, Apple enthusiasts (and anyone who has a new iPhone and wants to get somewhere)! Budget Travel reports that the Google Maps app for iOS is now available. Since its release, the app received more than 10,000 reviews—many of which featured a spirited five stars. No doubt some of those positive reviews came from travelers who were frustrated with the shoddier technology of Apple's mapping system. (According to Budget Travel, Apple maps identified a farm in Ireland as an airport and had users wandering around an Australian desert.) Read more here. ...read more»

Southwest 737 jet approaching runway (Photo: iStockPhoto/Lowell Sannes)

Southwest has added a few new customer-unfriendly fees. But don't worry—the airline is keeping its popular checked-bag policy mostly intact. Passengers may continue to check up to two pieces of luggage free of charge on Southwest flights. However, fees for a third checked bag, as well as overweight and oversize bags are going up, as is the charge for the airline's early check-in option. Additionally, Southwest is adding a no-show fee, to be levied on those who miss a flight without canceling their tickets beforehand.

In an investor conference call today, Southwest officials announced the new fees, which will take effect at some point in 2013. According to a report from USA Today, "Southwest says the number of customers who [don't show up] are now leaving too many empty seats on its flights."...read more»

Travel brochures (Photo: IndexOpen)

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.

American CEO Wants Airline to Go It Alone

American's top manager on Thursday met with the airline's pilots union to argue against a merger with US Airways. The pilots remain unconvinced, leaving American's future murky....read more»

American tail fin with airport in background (Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

When American emerges from bankruptcy, should it remain an independent airline, or merge with US Airways?

The answer depends on whom you ask.

American's unions—in particular the pilots union, which will end up with a 13.5 percent stake in the restructured carrier—have come out strongly in favor of merging with US Airways. (US Airways chief Doug Parker will be meeting with American's pilots next week.)

American's passengers for the most part dread the prospect of a merger with US Airways, which is widely viewed as a particularly customer-unfriendly operation.

American's creditors favor a merger as the best route to financial stability....read more»

Christmas at Boston's Logan airport (Photo: Massachusetts Port Authority)

Heading home for the holidays? So is everyone else, it seems. The American Automobile Association (AAA) released its end-of-year holiday travel forecast yesterday, and the organization projects that more Americans will be flying and driving this year compared to last year. In fact, AAA expects the number of holiday travelers to come within half a million people of the decade's busiest holiday season back in December 2006/January 2007.

Roughly 93.3 million people (a 1.6 increase over the number of people traveling last year) will be heading more than 50 miles from home between December 22 and January 1, according to AAA. Median consumer travel spending is also up, at $759; compare this to last year, during which median transportation costs came to $718. ...read more»

Girl: on Wheelchair (Photo: Shutterstock/VaclavHroch)

In yet another stunning case of the TSA's amazing judgement, a 12-year old girl was detained for almost an hour at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, reports Fox News....read more»

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