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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Like a Virgin? For 25¢, What's Not to Like?

Who knew that the term guest quarters could become a double entendre? Well, it is now, thanks to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In celebration of the release of the U.S.V.I.'s freshly minted U.S. quarter, some hotel rooms on St. Thomas and St. Croix are selling for 25 cents a night. The centsational (sic) deal is available for travel up through December 15, but it has to be booked by Monday, November 2.

Aside from 25¢ guest quarters (for a maximum of three nights), visitors will also receive a $25 per person dining credit and a $25 per person activities credit at participating resorts. Those, by the way, include Marriott Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort, Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, Club St. Croix, and Sapphire Beach Resort. They'll also get a U.S. Virgin Islands quarter, which, I suppose, can be used to pay for one room night.

The fine print: the 25¢ rate does not include taxes or resort fees; bookings must be part of an air/hotel package; and quarter quarters are subject to availability.

And remember, folks, the U.S. Virgin Islands is an American territory. That's why it has a special quarter...and that's why you don't need a passport to visit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Laura Talks Travel & Historic Hotels on the Radio

For those who heard my segment about historic hotels on Around the World Radio today, here's a bit more information.

If you are interested in finding out more about The Jefferson Hotel, visit http://www.jeffersondc.com/.

For more on the Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, which is located just 2 1/2 hours northwest of Washington, DC, visit http://www.omnibedfordsprings.com/.

For those of you who were hanging on my every word, you were probably quite disappointed when the host cut me off. So, let me add in print what I didn't get to express verbally. If you visit the Omni Bedford Springs Resort, be sure to find out what's cooking in the kitchen. Guests can enjoy Cooking With Chef (that would be Konrad Meier), which is a 45-minute midday instruction session during which participants get to eat the fruits and vegetables and meats of their labor. The cost--just $20 per person. For something a bit more extensive and expensive, the Chef's Table dinner experience includes a lengthy cooking lesson; a multi-course meal; wine, wine, and more wine; and plenty of personal attention from Chef Konrad and his staff. The cost--$220.50.

If you didn't hear the travel segment live, click on http://www.aroundtheworldradio.com/, go to the archives section, and search for the October 22 show.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: Part X

Hallo, ladies and gents: Did you hear the one about British Airways charging a fee for reserving a seat? Yep, in a new twist to the fee-for-all frenzy, BA is saying that if you "want to have more control" over the seat you get, you have to pay for the privilege. To reserve a specific seat more than 24 hours in advance, international business class passengers have to pay $90, while international coach passengers have to fork over a minimum of $30. If one opts for an especially desirable seat in coach, say, the emergency row aisle, the price is $75. If you wait to reserve your seat within the 24-hour window prior to the flight, it's free (woo-hoo), but it's unlikely you'll get a window...or an aisle.

Since it's been awhile since I've fee-fi-fo-fummed, let me catch you up on other recent developments. For a mere $249, United is now offering an annual pass allowing a customer to check up to two bags per flight for "free." This deal might make sense for frequent travelers, except for the fact these types often have elite status in the airline's frequent flyer program. That means they already get to check bags for free.

Then, of course, are the recently-announced Bah Humbug fees. Delta, American, United, Continental, and US Airways are charging $10 extra for those who choose to fly on the weekend after Thanksgiving; on December 19, 26 and 27; on January 2 and 3 (Happy New Year, indeed); and on assorted other key post-holidates (March 14, 20-21, 28; April 11; May 28). Why don't the airlines just increase the cost of tickets on high-demand days instead of tacking on a fee? Partly it's a matter of accounting and partly it's a matter of appearances. Fees are not subject to the same government tax structure as fares, which means the airlines can keep a greater share of the fee revenue. And, of course, doesn't it look better to charge the passenger $199 (plus $10, plus $30 for the bag, plus God knows what else for what else), than to charge a one-size-fits-all ticket fare? Maybe the fare-plus-fees strategy made sense a year ago. But now that consumers understand the system, my belief is that most would prefer to pay a comprehensive fare upfront rather than be nickel and dimed along the way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Kind of Town

So, Chicago isn't getting the 2016 Olympics. The IOC's loss is Chicago's win. Many locals weren't exactly thrilled with the idea of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent to subsidize the Games. Plus, there was widespread fear about how the construction would impact the city's lakefront.

So, forget about the Olympics. There are still Da Bears, the hapless Cubbies, the White Sox, the Bulls, and the Blackhawks (and The Storm, The Sky, The Fire, the Windy City Rollers and others).

Even lengthier than the city's list of sports teams is the roster of museums. There are 70 in The Windy City. The Art Institute of Chicago, the country's second largest museum, is sporting a new modern wing, designed by Renzo Piano. Just opened in May, the wing features 20th and 21th century European art. If you are drawn to older masterpieces, you'll find plenty in the "old wing." To wit, there are 3,500 European works dating from the 12th through the mid-20th century. Holdings include a rare group of 15th-century Spanish, Italian and Northern European paintings, an important collection of French Impressionist paintings, and European sculpture. For those who favor American art, stop by American Gothic by Grant Wood and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Museum admission is $18. Art is free on Thursday evenings between 5 and 8 PM.

Opening this Thursday at the Museum of Science & Industry is YOU! The Experience. The exhibit is an interactive tour of the human body. Having attended a preview, I can tell you it's very cool, very fun and very educational for kids and adults alike. Allow at least one hour to explore YOU! Other museum highlights to take in: a 700-ton German submarine, the only one captured during World War II; The Smart Home--showcasing the latest in green living; and the Genetics & Baby Chick Hatchery section. The museum normally costs $13 for adults and $9 for kids (entrance into the submarine is extra, although the surrounding exhibit is complimentary). However, to celebrate the opening of YOU!, general admission during October is FREE!

For more on Chicago, visit http://www.choosechicago.com/. Or listen to my report on Around the World Radio, airing live on October 8 at 1:14 EDT. If you miss it, go to http://www.aroundtheworldradio.com/aarchives.jsp and click on the October 8 show.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Pet Peeves

My recent trip to Chicago has reminded me of more pet peeves. Mind you, said peeves are not about Chicago, which is one of the most fabulous cities in the world (despite what the IOC thinks). Instead, visits to three different hotels left me with a brand new pile o’ peeves (see 8/28 post for previous peeves).

Peeve #1: No coffeemaker in the room. Staying at The Hotel Allegro (a Kimpton hotel), I was chagrined to find no coffee-making device was available in the room. My choices: Stay put in my comfy zebra-striped robe (kudos on that, Kimpton) and order an $8 cup of joe from room service, or get dressed and go to the lobby and pay $4 for a large dose of caffeine. As Colbert would say, a wag of the finger to the Allegro. Why, even the Ritz-Carlton brand, a long-time holdout, finally gave in to consumer demand and now provides in-room coffee makers. To be fair to the Allegro, though, I will give the Colbert tip of the hat to the fact that outlets are everywhere. If you want to plug in an iron or your computer (to access the free Wi-Fi available to frequent guest members), outlets are plentiful and conveniently placed.

Peeve #2: Luxury hotels charging for Wi-Fi. I know, no one uses the room telephone anymore, so that profit center is out the window. But when I’m paying $300 a night for a room, throw in the Wi-Fi for free…really. In Chicago, the high-end Trump throws it in for free, while the high-end Swissotel doesn’t (although you can’t beat the Toblerone at turndown at the latter). At the very least, chain hotels should do what Kimpton does--throw in free Wi-Fi for frequent guest program members. It’s a win-win move--Kimpton gets more people to join its program (for free) and members get an immediate money-saving benefit.

Peeve #3: Magical mini-bars. During a tour of theWit Doubletree in downtown Chicago, there were two things I wasn’t amused by--the charge for in-room Wi-Fi (which escalates depending upon the bandwidth you choose), and the automated mini-bar that charges your bill the moment you move an item…even if you do not consume it and later put it back in its rightful place. These mechanized mini-bars chill those of us who prefer to purchase the 75¢ Coke from the 7-11 and chill it in the spot of the $4 hotel version. (As I figure hotels may mysteriously mark their sodas--even though I have no proof--I drink the 7-11 Coke, instead of using it to replace the mini-bar Coke). Yes, you can argue with the front desk clerk about the charge and get a refund, but how many of us don’t even look at the bill when rushing off to the airport?

Now, lest you think I am Wendy Whiner, I do want to offer a tip of the hat to the rooms manager at The Hotel Allegro. After filling out an on-line survey about my stay, which outlined the complaints above, said manager actually called me to discuss my concerns. I'm not sure if said call was due to my status as a travel journalist, but I did stay at the Allegro incognito. At any rate, he did clarify a couple of things. He said that while most Kimptons do not have in-room coffeemakers, most do not charge for morning coffee in the lobby. Secondly, he apologized about the lack of acknowledgment of my frequent guest status upon check-in, and went on to report that the chain tracks the stay of each Kimpton InTouch member in order to "customize" his or her next stay. To which I asked, somewhat rhetorically, does this mean I will have a coffeemaker in my room the next time I stay at a Kimpton? I didn't get an answer.