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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: How to Avoid Paying for Checked Bags

Tired of paying $15 or $25 or $50 for checking your bag prior to a flight? Well, you no longer have to be a member of the military, fly Southwest, or pony up for a first-class seat to check a bag or two for free. Here's the scoop.

First, consider credit cards that are affiliated with airlines. Now, some such cards only give you frequent flyer miles for every dollar charged. But two, the Delta SkyMiles American Express Card and the Continental OnePass Chase Mastercard, also allow their carriers to fly their bags for free. The actual terms: One bag free per passenger for up to nine people per reservation. The Delta card has a $95 annual fee, while the Continental card costs $85, but both waive the fee for first-year cardholders. If you fly frequently on Delta or Continental, the price, even after the first complimentary year, may be right. However, if you tend to carry a balance on your credit cards, beware. Interest rates do tend to be higher on co-branded cards.

If you usually travel in large packs, United’s Premier Baggage might be of interest. For a $349 annual fee, you can check up to two bags per passenger for free on any United flight--domestic or international. The waiver applies to up to nine people traveling together under the same confirmation number.

If you are a United Premier Baggage member or a Continental OnePass cardholder, check throughout the year to assess how these programs are being affected by the merger of the two carriers. Currently, for example, flights and passenger-reward programs are operating independently. As the year progresses, though, the United-Continental marriage will come closer to fruition and more terms of the pre-nuptial agreement will come into effect.

Finally, during the past year, several hotel companies been running promotions offering to reimburse guests for airline bag fees. The most recent deal is from Intercontinental Hotels Group. Through April 30, guests can get up to $100 back in baggage fees whenever they book a two-night weekend stay at any of the company’s properties. That includes Holiday Inns, Crowne Plazas, and, of course, Intercontinental Hotels.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sweetheart Deals

Please enjoy my most recent television appearance on TBD in Washington, DC. I get to the heart of the matter, offering tips for romantic getaways.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Suites for Sweethearts; Rooms for Romeos

For those who watched the travel segment today on TBD TV, more information on various Valentine’s Day deals within 200 miles (or so) of Washington, DC can be found by clicking the links below:

Kimpton Hotels (for Valentine’s Day deal, enter ROBES in the rate box)
Washington Court Hotel, Washington, DC
Inn at Perry Cabin, St. Michaels, Maryland
Keswick Hall, Charlottesville, Virginia
The Boar's Head, Charlottesville, Virginia
The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia
Omni Bedford Springs Resort, Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Morning Delights

Given that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it follows that I must be the most important contributing columnist at Hotel F & B. Why, you ask? Because I am the pub's saucy breakfast editor. For a sampling of my tasty morsels, dig in.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Airline Etiquette

As my writing mojo seems to be in hibernation, I figured, environmentalist that I am, that I would recycle an old column. This story, written by my alter-ago Jane Air, originally appeared on www.womenontheirway.com.

Jane Gets to the Bottom of Airplane Seat Etiquette

Now that planes are more crowded than ever, the likelihood is the middle seat in nearly every row will be occupied. Hopefully, dear reader, it will not be your delightful derriere that will be dwelling in said seat. Still, regardless of whose behind is there, the bottom line is that there are accepted rules of behavior when it comes to middle seat manners. In fact, as Jane will discuss, other seats have their specific rules as well. But middle seat suavities are of greatest consequence.

Herewith are hints from Jane’s Book of Travel Etiquette.

1. To the middle seat belongs the armrests. Window Woodrow gets the armrest next to the wall. Aisle Annie gets the armrest at the other end of the row. Unfortunate Middle Seat Mickey gets both of the middle armrests. Period. However, Middle Seat Mickey does not have the right to lift either armrest up without the expressed permission of fellow seatmates. After all, it is every passenger’s right not to be rubbed up by a nearby thigh.

2. Those occupying both the middle and window seats should limit their fluid intake. Yes, it is important to stay hydrated on a plane. But if you have a weak bladder, or like to imbibe gallons of fluids, reserve an aisle seat.

3. That said, if you are in the aisle seat, do realize it is your duty to get up when your fellow aisle mates have to go. Don’t build a fortress of magazines, beverages and laptops around you that has to be dismantled every time someone needs to get out. The fortress-building privilege is solely reserved for those in the window seat.

4. Now, what happens when it appears that the middle seat will be unoccupied? First, wait until the cabin doors actually close before getting excited. How many times has Jane’s pulse quickened and her heart rate increased in anticipation of additional amplitude, only to experience the heartbreak of that last-minute arrival sprinting down the aisle directly toward Jane’s extra elbow room? However, if said passenger doesn’t show up, congratulations. The middle seat is fair game….but only by half.

If the middle seat stays empty, immediately lay claim to your share of the seat by discreetly placing a jacket or a book on it. This prevents the passenger on the other side of the middle seat from hogging the entire space for himself. Likewise, feel free to use half the storage room under the middle seat. Once you are airborne, if it appears that your fellow aisle mate has not laid claim to the other half, feel free to use it all. Jane also says it is perfectly kosher to use the middle tray table for beverages. But don’t use it for the meal service. For one, if you do so, you will likely be using more than your fair share of the table, which is not seemly for a lady of your stature. For two, in the event of turbulence, your meal could end up in your aisle mate’s lap.

Speaking of which, do not use the middle seat as a place to stretch out, unless you have the other passenger’s expressed consent. If said person is kind enough to grant you full-body access to the middle seat, make sure your feet are pointing in the direction opposite his olfactory organ. Also, make sure that the armrest between the two seats is down. Otherwise, you might end up in your fellow passenger’s lap….and that, dear reader, is not acceptable airline etiquette.

Jane is always happy to add new rules to her book. Please post your thoughts.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A U2 Christmas Miracle

Given the mysterious ways of the debacle that is Spiderman on Broadway, I guess we should desire that Bono, the Edge, and the U2 gang have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year's Day. However, with thousands stranded at European airports this holiday season, thinking they are stuck in a moment you can't get out of, it somehow seems unfair that the Irish supergroup can walk on to a closed luxury hotel at the snap of their fingers. Not to mention that the group did so this week upon being stranded at Shannon Airport in Ireland. You mean Bono and his pop band couldn't find at least one friend, family member or fan with whom to stay during this sort of homecoming? I mean, that's like the Virgin Mary being turned away at the Inn of the Immaculate Conception. The thought leaves me verklempt with vertigo.

Achtung, baby. Here's the tale, courtesy of Dromoland Castle's PR firm:

Even the royalty of rock n’ roll can’t fly above the terrible weather plaguing Europe, it seems. No sleeping on the floor of the airport lounge for U2, though. When their plane was diverted to Shannon International Airport recently on return from a five-week tour in Australia, Bono declared that the destination was acceptable ... if the group could stay at Dromoland Castle, County Clare’s five-star luxury resort. Only a celebrity of Bono’s stature could dictate such a thing, of course, and only a bespoke Irish castle hotel could rise to the occasion. One of Ireland’s finest, Dromoland is a secluded retreat located just 7.5 miles from Shannon Airport. The resort was closed for refurbishment, (but) unfazed by Bono’s decree, Mark Nolan, the Managing Director of The Dromoland Collection, stepped into service, finding a room at the inn for the band. In the true spirit of the holidays, he even managed to arrange a festive Irish dinner for his guests -- in the form of the huge Shepherd’s Pie his wife Maria had put up for the family’s holiday.

Well, isn't that the sweetest thing? Despite the weather, U2 had a beautiful day, thanks to Mark and Maria. Just goes to show that sometimes you can't make it on your own. Meanwhile, back at Shannon and Berlin's Zoo Station or other transportation hubs in winter-weather-weary Zooropa, a pride of stateless wanderers still haven't found what they're looking for and are planning to spend Sunday, bloody Sunday in waiting areas, left to imbibe on Xanax and wine and other miracle drugs. So cruel. Mercy and Mofo. I guess some days are better than others.

To check on the italics, note this U2 song and album list. And yes, I know, I left out Where the Streets Have No Name. If you can find a place to fit it in, rise up and love, rescue me. And while you're at it, do you know how to dismantle an atomic bomb?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Audacity of Grope

Now, dear readers, as someone who travels for a living, I realize that going through airport security isn’t a barrel of monkeys. But when I read about groups going ape about full-body scanning machines, or farcockt factions calling for travel boycotts to avoid Transportation Security Administration (TSA) pat-downs, I say get over it.

My ire is currently aimed at the inane idea of Opt Out Day (I shall not deign to dignify the premise with a link). Opt Out organizers want to make November 24...the day before Thanksgiving...the time when passengers just say no to advanced imaging machines, aka virtual body scans. Ah, brilliant. Encourage people to hold up security lines on the busiest travel day of the year. That'll work like a charm, I'm sure.

There is an option, of course, for opting out of the scanner. However, the full-body pat-down opens a whole new can of worms for civil libertarians and harried passengers who say the touching is too much.

Hence, another protest group, called wewontfly.com, is asking its sympathizers to reject the pat-downs. Prima facie evidence of this group's acumen: Its website equates pat-downs with groping and suggests "jamming TSA checkpoints...until they remove the porno-scanners." Porno-scanners? Really?

"It is irresponsible for a group to suggest travelers opt out of the very screening that could prevent an attack using non-metallic explosives," TSA Administrator John S. Pistole says (as quoted in the Washington Post). "This technology is not only safe, it's vital to aviation security and a critical measure to thwart potential terrorist attacks."

I agree. The choice between an overly-friendly pat-down or a body scanner that might reveal a blurred image of one’s privates to a solitary TSA agent versus being blown up in an airplane seems like a no-brainer to me.

Seems logical to the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) as well. The group can barely contain its excitement about the technology. “Put it in perspective, America,” an AANR press release says. “Allowing body scanners aids in travel safety and security, which is far more important than parochial concerns over a scanned image of a clothed body.” AANR’s executive director suggests imagining imaging as “a virtual skinny dip, something regarded as American as apple pie since before Norman Rockwell. (Then), everyone wins in the name of better air travel security.” Good points all (though it does give me pause to agree with a group that promotes nudist vacations as the ultimate way to avoid baggage fees).

Now, there are some arguments against scanners and pat-downs that I might buy. For example, some people are concerned with possible radiation being emitted by the scanners. I can't comment knowledgeably on that, given that I am not a scientist. Some true believers and some who are truly prudish balk at being patted down. But instead of pitching a fit, those groups can walk through a scanner.

Then there are the political theories. To wit, some say pat-downs and scanners are merely window dressing/government propaganda, and that the real evil-doers will always be one step ahead of our security systems. And there's the noted nexus between high-level DC insiders, like ex-Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, who are touting scanners as the ultimate security option, and the manufacturers of whole body imaging machines. It's a crowded lobby, indeed.

Of course, on the other side of the coin is one Mr. Ralph Nader. The consumer activist and former presidential candidate is getting his Nader’s crusaders to take an anti-scanner stance. Now, there’s a Morton’s Fork...self-interested politicians versus the guy who screwed up the 2000 election.

Nearly 500 scanners will be in U.S. airports by the end of the year, Another 500 are expected to be installed next year. Ultimately, TSA plans to have the machines replace metal detectors at nearly every airport checkpoint. So, in the 2000-teens, body imaging is going to be a fact of life. As for pat-downs, I truly doubt they are designed to provide TSA employees with a cheap thrill. That said, if a guard is the subject of frequent complaints, he or she should be retrained or reassigned to patting down cargo packages.

Perhaps a better idea is to get robots on the case. After all, if you can train Cody to give a sponge bath, scientists should be able to develop a robot that can render a reliable rubdown.