A: The salad days for points holders may be ending. In general, demand for rooms is rising, and with it rates, according to Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com. That means hotels no longer have to be quite so accommodating to loyalists. In the past few months, Kelly notes, both Marriott and Hilton adjusted their loyalty programs so that it takes more points to book many of their most desirable properties. Starwood, meanwhile, upped the amount of money you need to spend for its SPG Cash & Points redemptions. Hotel points haven’t gone off a cliff the way airline miles did about five years ago, but they’re definitely losing value. So keep racking them up. You’re going to need more to get what you want.
Q: How can I get through the airport faster? —Kathleen Francis, Oakland, Calif.
A: Over the past decade, between tightened security and the increased attention airlines are paying to premium fliers, airports have become as hierarchical and labyrinthine as the Sun King’s court. Lanes and lines have become defining features, and status has become essential for getting around.
So rule number one for a better airport experience: become an elite member of a frequent-flier program. If you travel often, stay loyal to a carrier, and follow the advice of loyalty-program experts such as the terrific Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com, you may be able to break into the upper tiers, gaining expedited check-in, private security lines, and priority boarding.
But good news for everyone else: status is no longer exclusively available to high-ranking frequent fliers. You just have to be willing to do a little extra legwork—and pay. Privilege, after all, has its price.
In a bold move for the Caribbean island, Jamaica is adopting a ban on smoking in public places. Notably, the new law specifically targets tobacco smoke. (But before you burn one down, the U.S. State Department would like to remind travelers that consumption of marijuana remains illegal in Jamaica.) Areas where smoking will be prohibited include enclosed public spaces, schools, government buildings, public transportation, workplaces, and sports facilities. Unsurprisingly, the government is receiving pushback from bar and nightclub owners; it hasn’t yet clarified if any such establishments will be exempted. The Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Trinidad, and Barbados are among the other Caribbean islands with tobacco controls in place.
The cause of Saturday’s crash of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport, which left two dead and a number of others critically injured, remains under investigation. The latest reports from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicate that the airplane’s approach speed for landing was well below what it should have been. The pilots apparently realized the problem, but it was too late to correct it. The NTSB investigation—which could take months, if not years—will determine whether a mechanical failure or human error (or some combination or the two) was responsible. In the midst of intense media scrutiny, both the NTSB and the Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s largest airline pilot union, have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the action of the crew in charge of the plane.
One thing that is apparent: the heroics of the flight attendants and other passengers who assisted in getting people quickly off the burning plane. Remarkably, 305 of the 307 passengers survived, a testament, as the Wall Street Journal reports, to on-board safety improvements (stronger seats; more flame-retardant materials), better crew training, and a nimble on-ground rescue crew.
Most travelers can adjust to elevations below 8,000 feet with only minor headaches, treatable with over-the-counter medications. Even individuals in the best of shape, however, can suffer from worse symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, and sleep disruption. Overexertion increases the odds of experiencing altitude sickness, so take things slowly, stay hydrated, and limit alcohol consumption. When ascending above 8,000 feet, where the air becomes markedly thinner, limit your climb to 1,000 feet per day. Prescription medications such as Diamox and dexamethasone can lessen the effects of altitude sickness. As always, consult your doctor before taking any medication.
What’s the easiest way to get the most out of your next hotel room? Extend your stay by arriving early and checking out late. Fortunately, hotels are making it easier for you to hold onto that room key as long as possible.
If you’re angling for an early arrival, some properties will let you pay for the privilege. For $30, you can check in as early as 9 a.m. at Aria and the Bellagio, in Las Vegas. Guests at the Peninsula Beverly Hills get their room whenever they like and stay as late as they please—even if it’s more than 24 hours later—just by calling in advance. Similarly, Starwood’s most loyal guests (those who log 75 nights a year) can check in at any time and keep the room for a full 24 hours. Top-tier members of the GHA Discovery Program (which includes Omni Hotels and Kempinski Hotels) are rewarded with a 9 a.m. check-in when available. Even if you don’t have elite status, it never hurts to ask. Phone ahead with a polite request and you may be accommodated.
Our informal poll of luxury hotels found that taking one set of toiletries a day is generally acceptable—even expected. (They know us well.) But don’t be surprised if the hotel—especially a mid- or lower-tier property—cuts you off during a longer stay. if that happens, you’ll just have to dig some of that shampoo back out of your suitcase.
17: The percentage of U.S. hotel guests who admit to taking linens and towels from their rooms in a Hotels.com survey.
A: Good question. And one you should ask of your hotel, too. Resort fees, which can add a full 30 percent onto a hotel bill, may cover everything from wireless Internet and gym access to faxing and use of a notary (huh?)—services and amenities that you may have no interest in using. Yet travelers who kick and scream about baggage fees are often surprisingly mute when it comes to these hotel charges. The difference? In the case of baggage, you’re at least paying for a service that you intend to use.
Pharmaceutical regulations are different in each country, so getting a new supply of meds on foreign soil isn’t as simple as it sounds. First, visit the U.S. State Department website to ensure your pills are legal: narcotics, psychotropics, and stimulants are banned in some destinations. Next, you’ll usually have to get a local prescription (you’ll need to know both the generic name and dosage for your medication). To find an accredited, English-speaking physician, check with the local consulate or the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, whose doctors often make house calls to hotels. Be sure to fill your prescription at a pharmacy recommended by the doctor or attached to a clinic or hospital—counterfeit drugs have become increasingly common abroad.