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Resort renovations, cruise expansions, and new cultural experiences are putting Bermuda back on the map. ... read more»

Cruise: Ship with Plane Overhead (Photo: Shutterstock/Pablo Scapinachis)

Enter the United Cruises "1,000,000 Million Mile Cruise" sweepstakes by December 31, 2014, for a chance to win the grand prize: a $3,000 cruise voucher, plus 250,000 United MileagePlus miles. (Among other things, the miles could be used to fly the winner to and from the cruise ship.) Runner-up prizes include 250,000 MileagePlus miles (one winner) and 100,000 miles (five winners).

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

Hilton to Penalize Same-Day Cancellations

In a significant departure from the current industry standard, beginning on January 1, 2015, Hilton will no longer allow same-day penalty-free cancellations.

Expedia Adds Flight Details to Search Results

In a novel and intriguing effort to distinguish itself from other online travel agencies, Expedia has partnered with Routehappy to add an extra dimension to its flight-search results. ... read more»

United: Docked Planes (Photo: Shutterstock/Songquan Deng)

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Delta must be positively blushing at United's recent mileage-program moves.

First, there was United's wholesale copying of Delta's new-for-2015 spend-based program. Apparently, when it comes to the design of loyalty programs, intellectual property rights don't apply. If they did, Delta would have a strong case against United for copying, detail for detail, Delta's new scheme.

And now, on a smaller scale, United has cut-and-pasted into MileagePlus Delta's upcoming change to its elite-qualification requirements, announced last month.

As with Delta, United will require 20 percent more spending during 2015 to qualify for elite status in 2016. ... read more»

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

When news broke of Starwood's move to keyless hotel rooms, it raised the question of which other chains would go keyless, and when.

The answer wasn't long in coming. We are now hearing from Hilton that they are also in the midst of developing and testing the hardware and software necessary to support keyless room entry. ... read more»

By 2016, all Carnival ships will have expanded Wi-Fi capability. New service will be up to 10 times faster than the current standard—comparable to the Wi-Fi speed at your average coffee shop. The service will consist of a combination of land-based Wi-Fi in port and satellite-based at sea.

So far, Carnival has not announced how much it will charge for the expanded Wi-Fi service. Instead, said a spokesperson, each individual brand will set pricing policy. ... read more»

Woman shopping online (Photo: Image DJ/Index Open)

In a novel and intriguing effort to distinguish itself from other online travel agencies, Expedia has partnered with Routehappy to add an extra dimension to its flight-search results.

From Routehappy, the self-described "product differentiation platform for air travel, providing the industry with Scores and Happiness Factors for every flight worldwide," Expedia will have access to specific details of the aircraft type, seats, layout, WiFi, entertainment, meal service, and power outlets for most flights available for sale through Expedia.

Sounds great. But so far, all Expedia shoppers get is a summary that supposedly boils down all that Routehappy data into a one-word descriptor: Good, Excellent, Amazing, and so on. ... read more»

American today confirmed that current AAdvantage elite members will once again enjoy the option of paying to either retain or boost their status for 2015.

The options, similar to last year's, are as follows:

The Boost

  • Current elite members who are within 5,000 miles or five segments of qualifying for Gold status can pay $399 for Gold through 2015.
  • Current elite members who are within 5,000 miles or five segments of qualifying for Platinum status can pay $699 for Platinum through 2015.
  • Current elite members who are within 10,000 miles or 10 segments of qualifying for Platinum status can pay $899 for Platinum through 2015.
  • Current elite members who are within 5,000 miles or five segments of qualifying for Executive Platinum status can pay $1,199 for Executive Platinum through 2015.
  • Current elite members who are within 10,000 miles or 10 segments of qualifying for Executive Platinum status can pay $1,799 for Executive Platinum through 2015.

The Buy Back


  • Current Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum members who are not within boost range can pay $649 for Gold through 2015.

  • Current Platinum, and Executive Platinum members who are not within boost range can pay $1,199 for Platinum through 2015.

  • There's no buy-back option for Executive Platinum status.
  • ... read more»

Crowded Airport Interior (Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

Whether you're at a store that facilitates "duty-free" or "tax-free" shopping, or the departure area of an international airport, the following applies: What you buy is not subject to local excise tax or value-added tax (VAT). But "duty-free" does not mean that what you buy there is exempt from U.S. customs limits; this is important.

U.S. Customs folks may penalize travelers for failure to declare items bought at duty-free stores. This probably doesn't surprise many SmarterTravel regulars. But it's important to remember the rules. ... read more»

Virgin America plane parked at the gate (Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

Among the 10 initial public offerings scheduled for this week, Virgin America's isn't among the largest. The airline hopes to raise a relatively modest $300 million by selling 13.3 million shares at between $21 to $24 per share, giving it a market cap of around $1 billion.

Here's the NASDAQ quick take on the airline:

Virgin America (VA), one of the few major airlines to remain private, positions itself as a low cost carrier with a loyal customer base. Mainly flying in and out of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the company plans to expand its fleet and increase service to new cities. Virgin remains a relative newcomer in a highly competitive space that has recently benefited from favorable fuel costs.

That "loyal customer base" has been built through the company's insistence on delivering an especially robust package of perks at Southwest-level prices.

The cost of all those extras, combined with its competitive pricing, has left the carrier at a disadvantage as a profit generator. For all the love it inspires among its customers, Virgin America is widely viewed as a business laggard by financial analysts.

So long as the company remains private, the pressure from Wall Street to squeeze more profit from operations can be safely ignored. But once its shares become publicly traded, the financial pressure to improve its financial metrics will soar.

Those nicer meals? Maybe there are some cost savings to be had by making them a bit less nice. Those comfy seats? Maybe they can be nudged closer together, to make room for an extra row. That state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system? How much could be saved by downgrading to less extravagant hardware? ... read more»

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