Featured Post

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Hotel Holiday Wish List: Part II

Santa Baby,

I know I wrote to you last week, but I’m snowed in today and thus am using the time to pen you another missive. Normally, I would appeal to other holiday present presences, but Hanukah Harry has already put away his menorah (not that he can compare to you, anyway, in terms of holiday excess), and frankly, I am not familiar with your Kwanzaa equivalent. But lest you think I am being greedy, please note that I write on behalf of nice travelers everywhere.

1. Please have your elves make hotel hangers with hooks. I know hotels once had your worker bees mass-produce hangers with necks resembling Captain Hook’s peg leg in order to reduce theft. But really, now that we are all reduced to traveling in a carry-on, we are no longer in the business of hotel thievery (with the exception of those three ounces-or-less bottles of shampoo and lotion that are just begging to be taken).

2. Please convince hoteliers to discard those pesky resort fees. Yes, I know they are a way to bring in revenue while keeping room rates down, but come on, we aren’t stupid. Ten extra dollars a night is ten extra dollars a night, whether it’s in the form of a “resort fee” or simply added to the room rate.

3. Please ask luxury hotels to furnish us with free in-room Wi-Fi. Why is it that when we pay $59.95 a night at Four Points by Sheraton, we get free Internet, but when we pay $595.95 at some five-star hotel, we have the pleasure of paying another $10.95 a day for Internet access? If your elves are too busy with the hangers, Dancer or Prancer or Donner or Blitzen are welcome to horn in on this one.

4. Okay, Santa, I realize that at this point, I am getting a bit avaricious. But I do have one more appeal to make on behalf of fellow travelers everywhere. Given that we are paying a per-day rate, let us have our hotel room for a 24-hour cycle. Let us check in at 11:00 AM and leave at 11:00 AM the next day. Or let us check in at 7:00 PM and stay until 7:00 PM the next night. We international travelers would be especially grateful for this gift, as we often arrive in a city in the wee hours of the morning. I know that’s when you do your best work, but most of us like to stumble straight into bed after a night flight that arrives at 4 AM.

Thank you, Santa, for considering my requests. Travel safe.

Laura Powell

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Hotel Holiday Wish List

Dear Hotel Santa:

When stocking hotel rooms for 2010, please have your elves keep the following in mind:

1. Just because we are tea-drinkers, we still need our morning jolt. Therefore, please leave bags of caffeinated tea next to the in-room coffeemaker, instead of just the herbal dreck (which isn't really tea, anyway). One more note: As you are gifting coffee drinkers with upscale brands like Wolfgang Puck and Starbucks, you should provide the teatotalers (sic) something better than Lipton bags, which are a mere step up from generic.

2. However, if your elves would like to get rid of those cheap plastic coffeemakers altogether, that would be a good thing. They always seems to leave the fresh taste of melted plastic in one’s morning beverage. It’s more obvious in tea, since the flavor of said beverage isn’t as brisk, but it can be discerned in a cup of joe as well. Instead, please deliver those nice electric water kettles. Stock with Starbucks Via or another gourmet instant coffee (not a total oxymoron) and Twinings teabags and you’re brewing.

3. The wise philosopher Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” Said statement is best encapsulated by hotel alarm clocks, most of which are as mind-baffling as a Rubik’s Cube. In reality, all we want for Christmas and beyond is an alarm clock that is easy to set, dependable, and quiet. Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance man extraordinaire, noted that “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Kudos to the Fairmont Battery Wharf in Boston for listening to Leonardo. The five-star property resorts to old-fashioned, non-electric, wind-up alarms. Perhaps these might befuddle the 20-something set, but for the rest of us, they are a godsend.

4. Elves, please add outlets. And please add them in spaces not located behind the bed or other heavy furniture. Plug them into logical places--by the bathroom sink (for hair dryers and electric razors); by the desk (for computers and cell phone chargers); and by the closet (for the iron).

That's all for now, Santa. But I'll be back with my airplane wish list soon. Thank you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fomites: Avoiding Germs Like the Plague

Okay, Ladies and Germs:

It's time to improve your word power. Today's lexeme is fomite. What it is, according to our friends at Merriam-Webster, is an inanimate object (such as a doorknob) that may be contaminated with infectious organisms and serves in their transmission. For the air traveler, fomites are lurking everywhere you look, and even places you don't.

Let's ponder the cribs of fomites at the airport. We'll start with the touch screens on the self-service check-in machines. Next, let's wander over to the elevator and ATM buttons. I like to feel I've escaped relatively unscathed from these areas thanks to the use of knuckles rather than fingertips.

You might want to avoid touching handrails lining stairways and escalators. But admittedly, it's pretty hard to avoid touching the locks on bathroom stalls and the flushing implements on toilets ('nuf said). At the very least, use a paper towel to open the door handle leading you out of the bathroom.

Now, even if you manage to make it through the airport fomite-free, good luck on the airplane, my friend. There's the fomite on your tray table. There's the fomite in your seatback pocket (which is a popular place to stuff used tissues, if you catch my drift). Speaking of drifts, there's the ventilation system to consider. Since you are dealing with recirculated air, the best bet is to avoid using the overhead air vent, which can blow fomites straight into your lungs. Other ventilation notes--air circulation tends to be better toward the front of the plane. So if you sit in the first 10 rows, you are exposed to fewer germs. That said, if a passenger in your row or in three rows behind or in front of you is hacking away, you're screwed, no matter where you are sitting. When you get off that plane, all you can do is take your Emergen-C, use other immunity-strengthening strategies, pray, and get plenty of sleep.

Back to our friends the Fomites. The Fo Fighters are at their mightiest in the airplane lavatory. Ah, yes, those lovely lockers that challenge even the most flexible contortionist when nature calls. Simply put, airplane lavs are disgusting. How often do you see them cleaned during flight? It really makes one question the mental health of those who use said privies to join the Mile-High Club.

But I digress. Even if you wash your hands prior to exiting the W/C, you are not out of the woods. First, consider that the Environmental Protection Agency has found that 17 percent of all water taps on airplanes contain coliform bacteria (and hold that thought as well...we'll get back to it in a minute). So, that water you are using to clean your hands--maybe not so much. Secondly, to escape from the W/C, you must touch that door handle. I have taken to using a towelette to open the escape hatch, so that I don't have to use hand sanitizer upon returning to my seat. (Then I dispose of the fomite-filled towelette in the seatback pocket).

Okay, back to those water taps. Included in the EPA tap list are those in the kitchen galley. That means the water used to make coffee or tea is running through a germ-filled tap 17 percent of the time. And since said water is seldom boiled to the point where germs will be eliminated, consider that your cuppa java may by plagued with pathogens. So, you might want to buy your Starbucks in the airport and bring it on the plane.

Remember, dear reader, I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. But let me proffer a few closing tips for fending off those foul fomites. The best advice I can offer is to be aware of your surroundings, wash frequently, carry hand sanitizer and a brawny supply of paper towels, and run like hell when the person sitting next to you in the waiting area starts sneezing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tips on Tipping

I’ve read many articles on tipping at hotels, but today’s USA Today article is one of the best summaries I’ve seen. Even I, the experienced travel expert, learned a tip or two.

To wit, I’ve always been confused about when and how much to tip the parking valet at a hotel. Here’s the deal, according to the six etiquette and hospitality industry experts polled in the article. When a valet opens the car door for you--no tip. When said valet takes your car to park it, no tip necessary (although half the experts say one could tip about $2). However, when said valet returns the car to you from the parking lot, our experts say you owe $2 to $5. I imagine if you have a clunker, $2 is acceptable, while Porsche owners should pony up $5. (Although perhaps there should be a reverse correlation between compensation and the value of the car. After all, the experience of propelling a Porsche is priceless, while prodding a Pacer is not so valuable to the valet).

But we digress. Back to tipping, this time inside the house.

The rules of tipping housekeepers are rather blurry. Many people don’t realize that maids are part of the tipping landscape. Most of the experts in the USA Today survey say $1 to $2 a night is fine, with higher daily amounts for luxury hotels. Instead of leaving one tip at the end of the stay, tip every day to ensure the person who is doing the work gets the reward. Plus, since one interpretation of the word “tip” is “to insure prompt service” (although methinks insure should be replaced with ensure or assure), a daily tip may result in a cleaner room or an extra bottle of skin lotion.

Most of the other basics are well-known: A bellman gets a buck or two per bag; the concierge is only tipped for special services (hard-to-get reservations at restaurants or the theater; filling out-of-the-ordinary requests); waiters get 15% to 20% of the pre-tip bill (unless they are working a buffet, when only 10% to 15% is necessary).

Who doesn’t get a tip? Generally, the front desk staff, the room service deliverer (assuming service is included in the bill), and the Maytag repairman. After all, if something is wrong with a guestroom, the occupant should hardly be required to compensate Mr. Fix-It.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum? No, Free-Wi-Fi-Fo-Fum!

It may cost you an arm and a leg to buy a ticket for holiday travel, and you may have to pay up to $100 more per trip for baggage check-in, in-flight food and a blanket, but Yes, Virginia, there is a skyward Santa Claus. Instead of riding with Vixen and Dasher, though, he’s Wi-Flying Virgin and Delta, courtesy of EBay and Google.

Right now, EBay is only playing Kris Kringle to fliers on select Delta flights during Thanksgiving week. Still, the free Wi-Fi by EBay means fliers can get an early start on holiday shopping. Meantime, Virgin America is teaming up with Google to offer free in-flight Wi-Fi to all passengers on all of its planes from now through January 15. Ho, ho, ho.

But the Google gift-giving doesn’t stop there. The Internet giant is truly getting into the holiday spirit by providing free Wi-Fi at 47 airports across the country through January 15. While most of the airports on the list are located in medium-sized cities (Baltimore, Nashville, Oklahoma City), travelers venturing through Seattle, Boston, Houston, and San Diego will also be recipients of Google’s magnanimity. However, if you’re traveling through JFK, Newark, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Washington, DC, there's no Google for the frugal. Still, the airports that Google is covering handle more than a third of all U.S. air travelers.

Travelers can pay the holiday cheer forward by making an optional donation to select non-profits while on line in the airport. Google will match donations up to a maximum of $250,000.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Laura Talks Travel Deals on TV

As promised, here's this week's appearance on DC's NewsChannel8. Please note that after the segment ran, several airlines, including United, American, Delta and Northwest, raised their "bah humbug fees" (for travel on holidates) from $10 up to $20 one-way.

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.