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TSA Agent with Traveler (Photo: Thinkstock/Comstock)

The European press reports that the Department of Homeland Security has approached several European countries about opening pre-clearance facilities for flights to the U.S. This would be great news for U.S. residents returning from European trips.

In case you haven't experienced it, preclearance means that you pass through U.S. Customs, Immigra-tion, and TSA security screening in the country where your flight originates rather than upon arrival in the U.S. The big advantage is that the preclearance happens at your departure airport, where you have to arrive hours before your flight, anyway. Your arrival back in the U.S. is like a domestic arrival: No lines, no hassles; just grab your baggage and go. As a secondary advantage, travelers not welcome in the U.S. learn about that before they're flown for many hours, rather than on arrival—where they are forced to wait for a return flight. ... read more»

Spirit Airlines aircraft tail (Photo: Spirit Airlines)

Is there a season for airline rebranding? With new logos and aircraft paint schemes introduced by three U.S. carriers just this month, you might think so. First, there was Southwest, closely followed by Frontier. And this week, it's Spirit's turn.

The new paint scheme for Spirit's planes can best be described as eye-popping (although "flamboyant" and "blinding" also come to mind). The planes will be sprayed all yellow -- think taxi-yellow -- except for "Spirit" and "Bare Fare" printed in bold black. ... read more»

(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Don't put your flip-flops and floppy hat in storage quite yet; we found quite a few deals on beachy getaways. ... read more»

(Photo: NEOVA)

What Is it: The Neova DNA Damage Control Sunscreen, a face lotion providing SPF 40, color correction, and moisture.

Price and Where to Buy: Available on Neova's website for $45.

... read more»

Bags lined up for departure (Photo: iStockphoto/Vera Bogaerts)

Among the larger U.S. airlines, arguably no carrier has done more to reinvent itself than Southwest. In just the past few years, Southwest has designed and rolled out a new frequent flyer program; introduced a new fare structure; launched international flights; and most recently, rebranded itself with new logos and aircraft liveries.

Even as the company has made the changes, it has repeatedly sworn allegiance to its roots as an airline by and for the people, distinguished by its friendly service, low fares, and relative freedom from nuisance fees.

All of which has raised the question: Can Southwest have it both ways, pleasing both its shareholders (as a lean, mean profit machine) and its traditional customers (as a homey no-frills value-leader)? ... read more»

(Photo: Getty Images/Michael Taylor)

You don't have to be German to enjoy hot sausages and cold beer, do you? And what's more German than Oktoberfest? Because some 20 percent of the American population can claim some sort of roots to Germany, you can find Oktoberfests happening from late September through October in dozens of U.S. cities and towns. And if you're a stickler for authenticity, you can still catch a flight to the genuine article in Munich.

This column was suggested by a press release from the good folks at Kayak proclaiming its 10 top Oktoberfest picks in the United States: New Braunfels, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Helen, Georgia; Leavenworth, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Las Vegas, Nevada; Cincinnati, Ohio; La Crosse, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; and San Francisco, California. That's certainly a good list—an eclectic mix of giant diversified destinations that celebrate practically everything and small towns with a special Oktoberfest focus. ... read more»

(Photo: Getty Images/Blaise Hayward)

Children traveling alone: an uncomfortable consequence of today's split families, remote retirement centers, and extended off-site job assignments. And that means you sometimes need to arrange flights for kids traveling by themselves. Most airlines have "unaccompanied minor" provisions to take care of the problem; they're included in contracts of carriage, as augmented by various rules. But they're not free. And the recent announcement from American that it upped its charge presents an opportunity to revisit a question I last covered more than a year ago.

Overall, unaccompanied-minor procedures are fairly common among all lines. Unaccompanied minors require reservations and adult-priced tickets. Adults involved must make ironclad arrangements to get them to their departure airport and retrieve them at their destination, with all the required documentation. Airlines typically hang a pouch containing all relevant documents—tickets, meeting instructions, and cash for incidental expenses—around the child's neck. Flight attendants provide onboard assistance; where connecting flights are allowed, ground attendants escort the child from arrival gate to departure gate. ... read more»

(Photo: Hotel Towels via Shutterstock)

As tipping goes, tipping hotel housekeepers is as optional as it gets. There are no reliable statistics on how many travelers leave a few bucks on the nightstand before checking out after their hotel stays, but my best guess is that fewer than 5 percent do.

Marriott wants to increase the frequency with which guests tip housekeepers at its hotels in the U.S. and Canada. To that end, the company will place "Gratitude Envelopes" in 160,000 rooms at participating hotels. ... read more»

Machu Picchu, Peru - Women viewing ruins (Photo: iStockPhoto/ Christian Peeters)

Enter the REI "Around the World" sweepstakes by October 3, 2014, for a chance to win one of four grand prizes: 1) a 10-day trip for two to Machu Picchu; 2) a 10-day trip for two to Costa Rica; 3) a 13-day trip for two to Mont Blanc; or 4) a 14-day trip for two to Thailand.

All trips are in conjunction with REI tours, and include air, accommodations, activities, tour guide, and some meals.

To enter, provide the requested contact information on the sweepstakes landing page, choose one of the four prizes, and press "Submit." Done! Time required to participate: less than 30 seconds. ... read more»

(Photo: STM Bags)

What Is it: The STM Drifter Laptop Backpack.

Price and Where to Buy: At the time of publication, the Drifter was on sale in certain colors on Amazon for $106.14.

... read more»

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