Hotels have harnessed social media to their advantage in innumerable ways in recent years, usually for marketing and customer service initiatives. But the medium has even more powerful and profound applications, as evidenced by the harrowing recent example of Egypt’s Intercontinental Semiramis, located adjacent to Tahir Square in Cairo.
As demonstrations in the city have escalated in recent days, the hotel has found itself in the hot seat. Two days ago, things took a particularly frightening turn as a group of armed marauders apparently used the demonstrations as an opportunity to break into the hotel and begin looting. After its attempts to reach the police for help yielded nothing, the hotel began sending out SOS messages on Twitter—the medium of choice for Egypt’s protest movement. The hotel’s Twitter feed reflects the staff’s growing desperation; “PLEASE SEND HELP #EMERGENCY! WE ARE UNDER ATTACK!” reads one tweet from the early-morning hours of Monday. A little later: “SOS If anyone knows anyone in #Military #Police #Government, please send help! Thugs in Lobby #Emergency #Tahrir #Jan28 #Egypt”
Everyone’s favorite airline seat-map compendium, Seatguru, has just upped the ante with a newly redesigned site that’s more user-friendly and—drumroll—includes flight search functionality for the first time. Though the service is in beta (it still has some kinks to work out), it’s already proving to be a refreshingly smart addition to the world of airfare search.
How it works: In addition to the usual flight-search filters (price, stops, departure time, duration), Seatguru introduces several new sorting mechanisms for travelers: Best Value (factoring in price, departure time, and duration), Best Times (weeding out early morning and overnight flights), and the site’s signature Guru Factor, which mines the site’s trove of cabin data to look at the “comfort” of flights. Taking account of cabin class, seat pitch, width, and recline, as well as inflight entertainment and amenities, the Guru Factor givers travelers an overall assessment of either “Love it,” “Like it,” or “Live with it” for any given flight. In our tests, it also alerted us when, for example, we could spend an additional $40 to trade up for a plane with an extra four inches of legroom.
Q: I’m renting a car abroad. Should I get collision insurance through the rental agency or my credit card? —Hannah W., Portland, Ore.
A: Domestically, the answer would be simple: go with the insurance offered by your credit card company (after reading the fine print, of course). Once you head overseas, though, it becomes much more complicated. All four major card networks offer qualifying cardholders some form of insurance for international rentals, but you have to check your policy carefully. American Express (Travel + Leisure’s parent company), MasterCard, and Visa do not cover rentals in Ireland, Israel, and Jamaica. American Express also disqualifies cars in Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. There are other exceptions (American Express doesn’t cover certain SUV’s; MasterCard won’t let you drive on unpaved roads; most policies preclude rentals of exotic and expensive vehicles), so do your homework. Cardhub.com provides an excellent annual comparison of all of these policies.
Q: What’s a Chip & PIN card, and do I need one if I’m going to Europe?
A: For the past decade, Europe has been moving away from the swipe-and-sign credit cards that we use domestically and toward those employing a Chip & PIN system (also called EMV). These cards protect users from fraud by asking them, with each purchase, to confirm a numeric code that’s stored in the card’s data chip. But although Chip & PIN is now the primary payment method in much of Europe, you can still get by with your American plastic—just as long as you can find an attendant to process the transaction. Even so, it’s best to prepare for the rare occasion when nobody is available. If you don’t already use one, call your bank to establish a four-digit PIN, which will make any card compatible with EMV machines. And while some travelers may feel it’s more hassle than help, you may buy a Chip & PIN Cash Passport from Travelex which allows you to preload euros or British pounds on to a universally accepted card (leftover cash can be transferred back into your bank account).
The news over the last few days about Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner has been unnerving—to say the least.
Last night, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority grounded the aircraft pending a comprehensive review of the fire risk posed by the plane's lithium-ion battery. This comes a day after a Dreamliner in Japan's All Nippon Airways fleet was formed to make an emergency landing because of a defective battery—and a week after the battery was faulted with starting a fire aboard a parked Japan Airways 787 at Boston's Logan airport. Both of Japan's airlines grounded their fleets after the emergency landing. With the FAA directive, other international carriers with 787s followed suit. Among them: Air India, Chile's LAN Airlines, LOT (Poland), Qatar Airways, and United Airlines here in the States.
The recent announcement that the Avis Budget Group is aiming to acquire the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company for nearly $500 million marked the pioneering car-sharing service's evolution from an upstart launched at the turn of the Millennium to a lucrative brand with serious international potential. Though Zipcar members (a.k.a. Zipsters) may squirm at the idea of a traditional (read: staid) car-rental agency holding sway over their quirky, beloved service, the deal could have great advantages for everyone.
Q: I booked a flight on Orbitz, and the price dropped the next day. Can I get my money back for the difference? —Heather Browne, Colorado Springs, Colo.
A: Most online booking engines offer price-assurance guarantees that protect you when fares fluctuate. Orbitz has a hassle-free policy that will automatically issue you a refund check if another customer books a cheaper fare. Other sites make you do the legwork: Travelocity, Expedia, and Priceline give credits toward future purchases on top of the price difference if you spot a better deal within 24 hours—but it can be time-consuming to make sure you’re matching all the criteria that qualify you for a refund (dates, fare category, cancellation policies, and more). Alternatively, if you book directly with a carrier, sites such as Yapta can monitor your fare and alert you when you can request a refund.
Q: As a frequent long-haul flier, I’m concerned about deep vein thrombosis—is there such a thing as stylish compression socks?
A: Surprisingly, there is! We found a great selection of colors, patterns (houndstooth, polka-dot, etc.), and styles on rejuvahealth.com. Look for socks with 15–20 mmHg compression—and be sure they fit correctly.