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Volterra, Italy (Photo: Cameron Hewitt)

Even when it's hot, crowded, or on strike, Italy is lots of fun. More than any other Western European country, though, travelers to Italy need up-to-date information to travel smart and save both time and money. Here are a few updates to help you make the most of Italy in 2014. 

Florence is notorious for long lines at sights. Thankfully, ticketing and line-skipping options for the city's blockbuster sights continue to improve. The Firenze Card, which admits you to 60-some museums for €72, is now good for these cathedral (Duomo) sights: Baptistery, Campanile bell tower, dome climb, and Duomo Museum. If you want to see any single cathedral sight without a Firenze Card, you'll need to buy the new €10 combo ticket. It's still free to enter the cathedral and have a look at Brunelleschi's sublime dome from the inside. ...read more»

Miles & Points (Photo: Shutterstock)

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.

The World's Most Valuable Travel Brands

A new study by Brand Finance ranks the world's top 500 brands, including those in travel. See which companies made the cut.

US Air to Raise Prices for Elite Status...read more»

Pile of Money and a Calculator (Photo: Money and Calculator via Shutterstock)

Ever wonder how much a company's brand was worth?

Brand valuations are tricky, reflecting as they do not just a company's revenue-generating capability but also its hold on consumers' hearts and minds. How do you put a price on popularity?

No worries, there are companies whose business it is to round up the relevant data and assign values to companies' brands. One such company is Brand Finance, which this week published "Global 500 2014 - The World's Most Valuable Brands."...read more»

Does everyone on the plane secretly hate you? Find out, and then challenge your friends to see how they stack up!...read more»

US Airways aircraft tail close up (Photo: US Airways)

When it comes to earning elite status, US Airways' Dividend Miles program has generally been one of the most liberal, allowing program members to earn elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) for non-travel activities and even to purchase EQMs or status outright.

Currently, for instance, program members can purchase enough miles to qualify for any of US Airways' four elite tiers, for between $249 (1,999 EQMs) and $3,999 (100,000 EQMs)....read more»

Hotel: Two Beds One Headboard (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Unlike most recent hotel-industry repricing exercises, which have resulted in devaluations of programs' point values, the upcoming Starwood changes are benign overall....read more»

Palestine (Photo: Rick Steves)

This is the last article in a four-part series on Rick Steves' trip to the Holy Land.

Walking through the Hebron market, I dodged the head of a camel dangling from a chain. I love traveling through Palestine. It's filled with vivid memories and startling moments. I had no idea the people of Hebron had a taste for camel. But I was told that people here appreciate a nice fresh camel steak because of their Bedouin heritage. And the butcher shops seem to follow that Bedouin tradition: They butcher whatever they have to sell and it hangs on their front porch until it's all gone. ...read more»

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

"An important update from Club Carlson."

That was the subject line in today's mass email from Carlson. It likely sent chills up the spines of many loyalty-program aficionados, who know all too well that "update" is all too often code for devaluation.

And so it was with today's announcement, although much of the worst news wasn't even included in the email....read more»

Woman Cutting Credit Card (Photo: Thinkstock/George Doyle)

Capital One made major inroads into the travel-rewards universe with its 110,000-mile sign-up bonus for its Venture card launch in 2011. It was the richest bonus ever offered for a rewards card.

Capital One followed up with a similar promotion in 2012, although the bonus was slightly more modest, at 100,000 miles.

The company is making news again, albeit of a very different kind. This time it's the stick that's newsworthy, not the carrot....read more»

Man clinging to airplane seat (Photo: Index Open)

You may have noticed: Americans seem to kvetch more loudly and more often than travelers from other countries. Are we just a bunch of spoiled whiners?

We may indeed be spoiled whiners, but we do have at least one compelling reason to be unhappy with the travel experience: We're flying on fuller planes.

The latest passenger-traffic report from the International Air Transport Association confirms that U.S. domestic flights on average flew 83.8 percent full during 2013, the highest load factor of any country's flights tracked by IATA....read more»

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