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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»

Man working at computer (Photo: Index Open)

If you posted a bad review of the Bates Motel on TripAdvisor because you found a dismembered corpse in the bathtub, wouldn't you be outraged to find a letter from a lawyer demanding that you either retract the review or pay $3,500? That prospect arises out of "non-disparagement" clauses, the newest "contract of adhesion" terms that plagues travelers around the world.

Judge Thomas Dickerson, one of the country's leading experts on travel law, recently published an article about the consumer implications. The problem starts when a hotel, a restaurant, or some other business adds fine print allowing it to bill you if you submit a disparaging review. One such contract reads this way (as reported on Consumerist.com): ... read more»

Angry Woman on the Phone (Photo: iStockPhoto/Stephanie Horrocks)

Overcharged? Misinformed? Didn't get what you paid for? Travelers with a gripe against an airline, a hotel, an online travel agency, a credit card issuer, or some other travel seller often copy me on their complaints. And I never cease to be surprised at how many of those complaints are rambling, unfocused, and weak. Certainly, there's no "sure thing" way to have a complaint resolved in your favor, but you can improve your odds of success fairly simply.

First, establish what you want—what would be the ideal solution, from your viewpoint.

Money or Equivalent: If you are actually out some money, you will almost surely want reimbursement. And if a supplier caused great inconvenience, you might also decide that the mistreatment warrants a monetary compensation. ... read more»

(Photo: Rick Steves)

I've always been a fan of budget-travel tips. For more than 30 years I've written and lectured about ways to stow away, picnic, and get special deals to be able to afford international travel. My feeling has long been that "you experience more by spending less." While that's still true, over the years I've realized that you can also justify splurges as good values when you consider the experience gained and the time saved.

If you stay in a B&B rather than a fancy hotel, you'll enjoy twice the cultural experience and intimacy for half the cost. When it comes to hotels, the irony is that the more you spend—in many cases—the farther you get from the culture you traveled so far to experience. Spend enough money … and you won't even know where you are. ... read more»

Hotel cancellation policies matter.

Imagine everything that might crop up at the last minute to prevent you from checking in as planned for your next hotel stay. Airline flights get cancelled. Kid get sick. You get sick. The boss decides to reschedule the sales meeting.

Which is why the industry standard policy allows travelers paying most rates to cancel their hotel reservations even on the day of arrival, without penalty. Soon, however, that policy won't be nearly as standard as it is today. ... read more»

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