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The Rise of the Mobile Concierge

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For those who make a habit of frequenting the concierge desk before a day on the town, there’s a new way to tap into the local scene—no fold-out map necessary. These four hotel brands are putting the concierge in your pocket. What could be more convenient?

Conrad This all-in-one concierge app handles wake-up calls, dinner reservations, valet parking, bath amenities, and even check-in. Android, iPad, iPhone.

Hyatt  When you use the tag @hyattconcierge on Twitter, you will get a response from a concierge within 15 minutes.

InterContinental Concierges from each of InterContinental’s 127 destinations package their little black books for your smartphone in an app that has tips on where to shop, what to eat, and what to pack. iPad, iPhone.

Ritz-Carlton Along with location-based suggestions for sites and activities, this app includes QR codes that unlock anything from cocktail recipes to kid-friendly scavenger hunts. Android, iPhone.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Conrad Concierge App

Tech Thursday: Low Fare Alerts and More from Trip Watcher

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With so many new tools promising to help us find the best (or cheapest) flights, it’s easier than ever to turn flight searching into an all-day obsession. Enter Trip Watcher, a new site by Hotwire.com, which does all the constant searching for you. Enter your desired destinations and dates (or range of dates), and the site will monitor the fares on your behalf, sending you alerts every time it finds a new low price. You choose the preferred method of contact—email, Facebook, or Twitter—so that you can jump on the deal before it disappears.

I’ve been putting Trip Watcher to the test with five sample itineraries—three domestic and two international, some with set dates and others more flexible. In just one day, the engine found lower fares for three of those routes, dropping the price by 20% to Chicago, 15% to Lima, and a whopping 38% to Charleston. The latter—a deeply discounted fare of $102—disappeared quickly, but it was entirely within my reach thanks to the instant update.

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Trip Doctor: TSA Caves on Knife Policy

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Cue a collective sigh of relief: after much hoopla several months ago, the TSA has finally retracted their effort to take small knives off their banned items list. Also still prohibited: novelty baseball bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, golf clubs, and lacrosse sticks—all of which fell under the same (now dropped) proposal that would have allowed the potentially dangerous items on planes. We asked a TSA spokesperson what pulled the final straw, and it seems there was plenty of consensus between the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, law enforcement officials, passenger advocates, and "other important stakeholders"—opening this can of worms simply wouldn’t be a good idea (told you so). Instead, the TSA says they’ll continue to focus on Risk-Based Security, which allows them to “keep passengers safe by focusing on those we know less about.”

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo credit: Anthony Dunn / Alamy

Tech Thursday: Two New Tools for Intelligent Flight Searching

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When Hipmunk released its airfare-focused "agony index" a few years back, it was the talk of the town here at T+L—frankly, we’re still pretty obsessed. But these days, a number of services are trying to one-up the flight search pioneer with what’s now being dubbed "intelligent searching," where users can pick and choose itineraries based on far more than just price and schedule.

Rising to the top of the pack is Momondo. The company recently launched a new Flight Insight tool, which makes the search process as transparent as it gets. By aggregating data that the company has collected since its inauguration in 2006, Flight Insight offers a tremendous amount of information on all the factors that can affect the price of your flight, from seasonality to airport combos. Plug in your desired itinerary, and the tool will help you find the best airlines, days of the week, or times of the day to search for if you’re hoping to snag a bargain. Interestingly, Momondo suggests that you’re almost always best off booking a flight 60 days ahead of your departure.

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Tech Thursday: Duolingo Launches Free Language-Learning for Android

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It may be a far climb to reach the ranks of Rosetta Stone, but pioneering language learning app Duolingo is taking the world—literally—by storm. In just under one year since its conception, three million users around the globe have signed up to learn any of six languages without paying a penny, either on the iPhone, iPad, or online. As of yesterday, Android users can join in the fun as well—and the jump to Google’s smartphone platform is expected to double the app’s user base.

An iPhone user myself, I’ve been using Duolingo to brush up on my basic Italian for months (admittedly inspired by the gaping holes in my vocabulary on a recent trip) and can’t recommend it highly enough. For one, it’s truly free, and not just for a trial period. The company intends to turn a profit by incorporating optional translation services into your learning; as a result, their success hinges on their teaching ability.

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Tech Thursday: New Canon Facebook App Turns Your Vacations Shots into Comic Strips

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Do you have epic plans for this Memorial Day weekend? Whether you do or not, Canon’s new Pixma Comix app—accessible through Facebook—will make your holiday snapshots just a bit more, er, heroic. The easy-to-use app lets you upload photos either from your computer or existing Facebook albums, making four-to-six photo compilations augmented by thought bubbles and call outs (to add pizzazz to your bellyflops and cannonballs). Choose from a variety of comic-inspired layouts and image filters, add your text, and publish straight from the app—it’s a natural way to make the story of your vacation come to life in a playful that’s admittedly more share-able than frame-able.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo credit: Canon U.S.A

 

New Book for Barbecue Fans

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Need inspiration for a summer road trip? Look no further than The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue, by T+L contributor Daniel Vaughn. The new release is jam-packed with over 200 pit stops throughout the Lone Star State—as well as a guide to the different style of Texas ‘cue and the stories behind the pitmasters. To execute this true labor of love, Vaughn clocked an estimated 10,000 miles—but with chapters devoted to individual regions, it offers plenty of smaller itineraries that’ll ramp up your appetite. Need extra persuasion? See the Austin-based, BBQ-obsessed trip that Vaughn created for T+L right here.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Bourdain/Ecco

 

 

Tech Thursday: A Playlist to Cure Your Fear of Flying

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Listen up, airlines—it’s time to start playing Adele’s Someone Like You on the PA as you’re boarding your flights. According to research launched today by music service Spotify, the song is the perfect tune to settle travelers’ jittery nerves, thanks to its ideal tempo (67 bpm) and harmonious tones. About one in four fliers suffer from some sort of travel-related fear, says the study by London-based anxiety psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman, who helped Spotify identify characteristics in songs that are most de-stressing (see the full recommended playlist here). But tuning in is just the first step: breathing in time to the rhythm, listening on headphones, and closing your eyes will all work together to theoretically lower your heart rate and blood pressure, stimulate both sides of your brain, and calm your mind. Fly on, frazzled road warriors, fly on.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

 


New York's Soho Grand Launches the City's First Hotel Dog Park

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Thinking of bringing Spot to the Big Apple? Guests at the Soho Grand Hotel—a dog-friendly hotel if there ever was one—now have a couple of new amenities for their furry companions. This weekend, a dedicated dog run opened its gates—complete with fire hydrant water stations, bespoke benches, and design by gardener-to-the-stars Rebecca Cole.

But make no mistake: this isn't a place where your pup will run laps on end (this is New York after all; space comes at a predictably high premium). With downtown-inspired graffiti and oh-so-chic garden decor (yes, that's ornamental kale), it's the ideal place to teach your pup about the virtues of unwinding—that's what vacation is for, right?

See: America's Best Dog-Friendly Hotels.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of SoHo Grand

HotelTonight Introduces New “Snap Your Stay” Feature

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With a new update that was released last week, HotelTonight is seemingly taking a page out of the TripAdvisor playbook by adding user-generated content. But unlike the user-generated review giant, HotelTonight’s “Snap Your Stay” feature cuts out the issue of subjectivity: What they’re calling “reviews” are really no more than user snapshots documenting their hotels room’s view, bed, bathroom, and so on. Semantics aside, it’s a natural fit and welcome addition for the mobile booking platform, where users aren’t particularly inclined to read paragraphs of unreliable content. And it offers a genuine, objective look at whether a hotel will fit your particular needs.

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