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Travel brochures (Photo: IndexOpen)

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and 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.

Earn Stash Rewards Points at Independent Hotels

Want to patronize independent hotels with real style, genuine character, and still earn loyalty points for your stays? There's a loyalty program for that: Stash Hotel Rewards. ...read more»

United New Plane (Photo: United Airlines)

In this era of invasive security, long lines, bare-bones service, niggling fees, and chock-full flights, can any airline credibly associate itself with "friendly skies"?

I'd argue that the skies are anything but friendly, and any suggestion to the contrary is bound to engender skepticism and scorn. Airlines routinely score near the bottom in consumer-satisfaction studies, alongside such other perennial laggards as cellphone services and cable TV providers. "Friendly skies" is practically an oxymoron in the minds of most consumers....read more»

Airplane Wing Over Snow-Covered Mountains (Photo: iStockphoto/Adrian Assalve)

You may find your ears popping even before take-off at this new airport, which sits at just over 14,470 feet above sea-level. (For some perspective, commercial flights usually cruise at an altitude of around 30,000 feet.) Daocheng Yading Airport commenced service by welcoming an Air China flight earlier this week. The airport currently connects with Chengdu, the provincial capital, but service to Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing will be launched at a later time.

The airport, based in the Tibetan region of Sichuan Province, will replace Qamdo Bamda Airport (also in Tibet) as the world's highest airport, reports the Daily Mail. ...read more»

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

In a recent New York Times article, the paper's restaurant critic, Pete Wells, inveighs thusly against the prevailing practice of tipping in U.S. restaurants: "It is irrational, outdated, ineffective, confusing, prone to abuse and sometimes discriminatory."

I agree. Like Wells, I routinely tip at the generous end of the scale, around 20 percent of the bill, tax included. And except in very rare cases of exceptionally abysmal service, I follow that policy wherever and whenever I dine out.

But that's just me. And that's the point, and the problem with tipping. It's just too discretionary. ...read more»

Hotel: Key Handed to Guest (Photo: Shutterstock/.shock)

Tired of the major chains' cookie-cutter hotels?

Want to patronize independent hotels with real style, genuine character, and still earn loyalty points for your stays?

There's a loyalty program for that.

Stash Hotel Rewards awards five points for every dollar spent at a collection of around 200 independent U.S. hotels. Among them: The James New York, O Hotel in Los Angeles, Gateway Canyons Resort in Colorado, and the Viceroy Miami.

Because the hotels are independents, the program won't be able to feature the system-wide bonus offers travelers have come to expect from the major chains' programs. But there are plenty of hotel-specific promotions on offer from various participating properties....read more»

Airport: Travelers Queued at Customs, Immigrations Line (Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)

How long does it take to clear Immigration and Customs at Miami International Airport?

Up to 4.7 hours, according to a new report by the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group charged with promoting travel to the U.S.

Peak processing time at New York's JFK Airport was almost as long, at 4.5 hours. It was 3.8 hours at Chicago O'Hare, 3.3 hours at Los Angeles International, and 2.9 at Washington Dulles....read more»

(Photo: Flight Attendant via Shutterstock)

Ever since American's management embraced the prospect of a merger with US Airways (after months of dismissing the idea as poppycock), the mantra repeated ad nauseum by both airlines has been consistently sunny: This merger is good for all stakeholders. Customers, employees, shareholders, creditors ... everyone involved will be better off if the airlines are allowed to merge.

The Department of Justice's lawsuit to halt the merger on antitrust grounds takes direct aim at the contention that consumers are best served by further industry consolidation....read more»

Air: Reclining Female Passenger (Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbyte)

More than 50 percent of the long-haul international flights to/from the United States now offer flat seats in business class and about 47 percent offer semi-premium or true premium economy. That's according to a new seating study by Routehappy, the innovative flight search website that calculates a "happiness" factor for each flight. And it's good news for anyone with money or miles enough to escape cattle-car economy on those long-haul flights. ...read more»

Woman: Excited at Laptop (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Just about everyone knows that holiday airfares vary tremendously, depending on which specific days you want to fly. And you also know that if you wait too long, you find nothing left in airlines' seat inventories except the highest-price tickets. The upshot is that you should consider locking in your holiday air reservations early. And, fortunately, you have some good sources of information.

CheapAir is the first website out of the gate this year with a holiday-airfare travel calendar. The initial posting covers the Thanksgiving and year-end holiday periods. ...read more»

Welcome to Upright Position, SmarterTravel's new weekly series in which editor Caroline Costello discusses emotional and controversial travel topics. Join the debate by leaving a comment below!

There is a poll on the homepage of our sister site Airfarewatchdog that asks, "Have you ever tipped a flight attendant when flying?" I found the poll's results surprising, given that the concept of offering gratuities to flight crew hasn't crossed my mind, well, ever. Out of more than 500 people who took the poll, nearly 30 percent of respondents said yes, they have tipped a flight attendant in the past.

Really?...read more»

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