The global travel alertthat the U.S. Department of State issued at the end of last week has been met with a fair amount of criticism and head scratching. It’s vague. It’s frightening. And it’s not very clear what a traveler should do with this information.
The alert, which is valid through August 31, warns U.S. citizens about “the continued potential for terrorism attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.” It was prompted, according to news reports, by intercepted communications between al Qaeda operatives—chatter that Senator Saxby Chambliss, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee characterized on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.” Though Yemen is obviously a major area of concern right now (the U.S. has not only evacuated the embassy there, but urged all Americans to leave the country), the State Department’s alert is not restricted to any particular region. It even goes so far as to remind travelers of the possibility of attacks on “public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure,” including subway, rail, and aviation services. (A threat that is underscored by a recent ABC News story about terrorists working to develop an as-yet-undetectable explosive liquid.)
This is only the latest twist in what has been a decidedly rollercoaster couple of years for guidebooks. After Google bought, for $23 million, the stalwart Frommer’s brand of travel guides and then bled the books for content (see the new and improved Google Maps), it sold the brand back to Arthur Frommer himself in April. The 83-year-old recently announced that he would begin publishing guides again in October, introducing a short EasyGuides series aimed at attention-deprived audiences. As reported in the New York Times, he hopes to have roughly 80 titles published by the end of 2014. To call this plan ambitious is an understatement.
Q: Why does it seem that the more I search for an airfare online, the more the price increases?
A: Pure coincidence, say the online travel agencies that we put this question to. These sites simply do not have the ability to adjust airfares according to your searches. It’s likely that you are finding a fare with only limited seats available at that price. and, as the adage goes, you snooze, you lose.
21: The average number of days before departure that Kayak found domestic airfares at their lowest.
Tweet for More: Tweet the hashtag #AmexpubTLAirfare to get the Trip Doctor’s most valuable tip for saving money on international airfares.
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.