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Airplane at Sunset (Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbyte)

One of the big reasons travel became one of the Internet's earliest "killer apps" was the ability of online travel agencies (OTA) and search systems to present every line's airfares for a given trip on an "even playing field." Originally, that playing field was really even. On each airline, a coach fare got you a seat, a checked bag, some sort of food at mealtimes, and, on most lines, a pre-assigned seat. The side-by-side comparisons were, in fact, apples to apples. Sadly, those days are about to disappear. Airlines are building bumps and tilts on that playing field. And the result is that you're going to work harder to find your best deals:

Basically, airlines never liked those even-playing-field fare displays; in truth, they don't really like even playing fields at all:

Related: Airline Fees: The Ultimate Guide

  • They added the first bump in the playing field when most of them went to some degree of "a la carte" pricing for their lowest fares. They unbundled their total fare into a base plus fees for extra features. But, in many cases, different lines unbundled different elements of the service.
  • ... read more»
Hotel: Bed and Two Nightstands (Photo: Thinkstock/Jupiterimages)

Currently, I'm planning a two-week trip to New Zealand. Over the years, I've found booking.com to be a reliable and comprehensive site for hotel searches. But for this trip, booking.com missed out on the best deals on three of my stays:

  • In one city, it didn't find an available senior discount.
  • In another, it didn't discover a discounted two-night package.
  • And in a third, it didn't report on a special package rate, including "free" breakfast.

In all three cases, I had to go to the hotel or hotel-chain website to find these deals. This experience is an example of the struggle that's going on between the big online travel agencies (OTAs) and hotels for control of the online marketplace. It illustrates how the days of the easy, quick, one-stop hotel search are rapidly drawing to a close—and how you have to change your search habits to make sure you get the best deals.

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Enter the Twinings Tea "Cruise" sweepstakes by September 15, 2015, for a chance to win the grand prize: a four-night cruise to the Bahamas for four persons aboard the Disney Dream ship, departing from Port Canaveral, Florida, including air, ground transfers, most onboard meals, pre-paid gratuities, and a $200 onboard credit. Twelve runner-up winners will each receive a year's supply of Twinings tea.

To enter, provide the requested contact information (name, email, etc.) on the sweepstakes landing page and press "Submit." Done! Time required to participate: less than 30 seconds.

The Fine Print

  • Sweepstakes is open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia, who are at least 18 years old at the time of entry.
  • Limit: one entry per person.
  • Approximate Retail Value ("ARV") of the grand prize: $7,795.

... read more»

Young Woman Boarding Airplane with Luggage (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

When coach-class airline service kept getting worse and business-class kept getting more opulent—not to mention expensive—a new in-between class became almost inevitable. That's premium economy, and it comes in two basic flavors: real and semi.

Real premium economy provides a distinct, separate cabin, with seats that provide six or more inches of extra front-to-rear space and two or more inches of width than most economy cabins. Premium economy typically adds some combination of upgraded cabin service and inflight entertainment, WiFi, priority boarding, extra baggage allowance, and power ports. Some also include dedicated airport check-in lanes.

Real premium economy is available mostly in twin-aisle jumbo jets: 767s, A330/340s, A380s, 747s, 767s, 777s, and 787s. On some airlines, the premium economy product varies from plane to plane, with newer planes generally providing a superior product. These variations will ultimately disappear as airlines add new planes and reconfigure old ones, but that process will take several years. Many big European, Asian, and Pacific airlines offer real premium economy, but the only North American airline with real premium economy is Air Canada. ... 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.

Will Priority Deplaning Be the Next Airline Fee?

What's next in the airlines' relentless search for yet more sources of fee revenue? FlightView's just-released survey of more than 2,300 travelers may provide some clues.

Airlines 'Delighted' to Make Flying Painful

Could it be that uncomfortable seats are a clever marketing strategy to encourage upgrades and boost profits? Hmmmm...

... read more»

Cell phone in hand (Photo: Index Open)

Betting that the future lies in mobile booking, the travel industry is investing untold millions in developing and refining mobile apps. So far, the results are decidedly mixed, with some apps overdelivering on the promise of usability and elegance, while others fall short.

So, which are the stars, and which are the also-rans?

Applause Analytics rated the apps available from the 40 most popular travel brands on the basis of almost 400,000 user reviews. The best apps, beginning with the highest rated, are:

  • Booking.com
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Kayak
  • TripAdvisor
  • TripIt
  • Hotels.com
  • Zipcar
  • Orbitz

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I use Amazon a lot. I end up there a few times a week in search of reviews, price comparisons, or products. But its de facto role as my one-stop shop for product information hasn't been quite as seamless since I discovered something a few months ago while researching a story.

It started with an obsession with extremely lightweight luggage. I was researching carry-on bags for the story that would eventually become Really (Truly) Light: Carry-Ons Under 5 Pounds. To lay the foundation, I bounced around the Internet, checking luggage companies' websites, third-party luggage sellers, and, of course, Amazon.

But something kept coming up. Since the whole story hinged on the weight of the bags, I wanted to make sure I was accurate down to the ounce. And as I compared weight listings across sites, I began to notice that Amazon sometimes had it wrong. Not all the time, but enough that I began to wonder what was going on. ... read more»

<p>A gem among U.S. cities, Portland in summer offers comfortable temperatures (averages range from the low 50s to high 70s), 37,000 acres of parks to explore, and a booming arts and culture scene. New to the city, the <a href="http://www.portlandtram.org/index.cfm"target="_blank">Portland Aerial Tram</a> gives visitors a cool birds-eye view of the skyline and mountains. For a visit with extra value, consider the <a href="http://www.travelportland.com/big_deal/big_deal_hotels.html"target="_blank">Portland Big Deal promotion</a>, which includes lodging, parking, daily breakfast, and dining and shopping discounts.</p><p>(Photo: Index Open)</p>

Whether you avoid gluten, abide by vegan guidelines—you name it—these are the seven best cities in the world to visit! ... read more»

Passenger Waiting to Check In (Photo: iStockphoto/Naphtalina)

Does it sometimes seem like the airlines not only make travel an unpleasant experience but that they positively revel in travelers' pain? Turns out you were right.

Speaking on behalf of all airlines, Jeff Smisek, United's CEO, admitted the ugly truth in announcing that his airline will be installing new seats designed to make flying even more uncomfortable. "Over the next four to six months, across our entire fleet, we'll be rolling out seats with an irritating array of lumps and ridges to painfully jab our customers in the back, and we couldn't be more delighted about it."

Related: Do Airlines Raise Prices Based on Your Location?

Lest there be any doubt as to Smisek's sadistic impulses, he adds the following:

Let me make clear that these seats will be incredibly uncomfortable, and there is nothing more gratifying than making the experience of simply sitting during one's flight an excruciating ordeal.

... read more»

Aruba Beach at Sunset (Photo: iStockPhoto/Denis Jr. Tangney)

Summer means vacation time for many travelers, which means jackpot time for the travel industry; prices on everything from airfare to hotel stays soar. And once you reach your destination, it may not be the picture-perfect setting you imagined: Paris is a massive throng of tourists, for example, while the sweltering temperatures in New York don't seem to have any slowing effect on the stream of visitors pouring into the city. Fortunately, though, there are a few places where summer is actually low season; if you can handle the accompanying heat and humidity this often entails, the tradeoff for cooler prices is usually worth it. ... read more»