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»

Miles & Points (Photo: Shutterstock)

If it's a good deal (or a notably bad one), you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly. ... read more»

Photo: Southwest Airlines

For most of its 44-year history, Southwest was a domestic-only carrier.

It was only in July that the carrier pushed beyond U.S. borders, with flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.

On September 12, Southwest further expanded the scope of its network with the announcement of service from Baltimore/Washington International airport to San Jose, Costa Rica, beginning on March 7, 2015 (subject to government approval).

Looking north, South has recently signaled its interest in flying to Canada, a more likely prospect given the airline's purchase of longer-range B737-800 jets.

Earlier this year, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly alluded to a list of 50 new destinations under consideration by the airline's planning department, half of which he expected to see launched within three years. How many of those will be outside the country remains to be seen. ... read more»

SlapIt (Photo: Nite Ize)

What Is it: The SlapLit LED Slap Wrap, a slap bracelet type item with an LED illuminating function to keep you visible in the dark.

Price and Where to Buy: At the time of publication, the SlapLit was on sale on Amazon for $10.51. Also available on Nite Ize's website for $11.99.

... read more»

Peak foliage is entirely dependent on the weather. Ideal conditions for seeing beautiful foliage vary from year to year, so there's no way to pinpoint in advance the prime days to see the changing leaves. In many places, though, state tourism boards, local bloggers, and park rangers keep close tabs on local foliage conditions. If you know where to look, you can get up-to-the-minute information on exactly when and where to see the most vivid fall landscapes. ... read more»

Please enable JavaScript to properly view and use this web site.