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Introducing Frequent Flier Miles… For Your Pet

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Clearly we’re not the only ones obsessed with globetrotting pets. This week, Virgin Australia launched a new program for its furry fliers, making them the second airline to offer frequent flier miles to its four-legged jet set (JetBlue, with its JetPaws initiative, has been offering miles for a few years). Miles get added to the human handler’s account—Peaches sure isn’t carrying her own status card—and members can expect a minimum of 300 points per pet flight. Now if only the flight attendants could pass out some kibbles along with those pretzels…

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: istockphoto

Tech Thursday: Jack of All Trades Travel Adapter

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The one gadget that makes every hotel a workstation: CB2's ultra-compact Universal Travel Adapter ($23). It's half the size of its competitors and has one simple switch that toggles between built-in plugs for virtually every destination around the world. It comes in four bright colors, making it easy to find in your suitcase.

Nikki Ekstein is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of CB2

How to Guarantee You'll Get In-Flight WiFi

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Despite travelers’ obsessions with being plugged in on the road, only 38% of domestic flights—and less than 1% of international flights—offer WiFi on board. Change is coming, with over 2,400 domestic and international flights rolling out Wi-Fi in the near future, but even then, in-flight web surfing will be far from ubiquitous, says data by flight engine RouteHappy. So here’s what the study suggests you do to make sure you stay connected in the skies:

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Breaking Down the Trends in Pet Travel

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When my husband and I welcomed our first pup into our lives just over a year ago, little did we know how it might change our travelling style. After frantically trying to coordinate back-up dogsitters from across the pond in Scotland on my first international trip post-adopting, I couldn’t help worry about my big bear of a cuddle buddy for the rest of the trip. Hence the marathon of road trips that followed (luckily, she’s good in the car). Clearly, I’m not alone, though. According to a study released this week by DogVacay.com, “pet owners aren’t fully enjoying the benefits of what should be a relaxing travel experience because they are worrying about their pets.”

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Tech Thursday: Instagram Launches Video

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The rumors turned out to be true: today, Facebook announced that Instagram would gain video sharing capabilities after two years devoted strictly to photos, meaning your travel videos can now be broadcast at the push of a button. We can’t say we’re surprised: Vine and Cinemagr.am, the leading apps for short, looping videos, have been the talk of the town—and Facebook’s not one to fall behind on social sharing trends. The new app is now available on Android and iOS, with 13 cool filters that borrow from the app’s photo-driven aesthetic. Record right in the app, and take up to 15 seconds of video at a time—more than double the average clip on rival services, while maintaining low upload times. Then, choose a cover frame to set the tone for your super-short-film, use the same hashtags you would for normal pics, and you’re all set. The key distinguishing points? Videos won’t loop—and with a little bit more time to share, they’ll have a different look and feel from other services (which we’ll continue to use enthusiastically). And thanks to a nifty feature called Cinema, videos will be automatically stabilized. Says CEO Kevin Systrom, “It’s the Instagram you know and love—but it moves.”

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

Photo courtesy of Jessica Zolman

 

The Best New Hiking Backpack for Your Next Adventure

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Since we’ve been talking a good bit about hiking around here lately, here’s the one accessory you should plan to pick up before your next adventure. Known more for their tech-friendly messenger bags than for their outdoor gear, Timbuk2 has just launched a new collection of urban-inspired camping backpacks, which are rugged enough to survive your toughest mountain climbs but designed to convert into a rolling suitcase for less elemental pursuits. The Aviator Travel Pack (from $179) is smartly designed with carbon ballistic nylon for durability, padded straps and a hip belt that stow away when not needed, and a water-resistant rain shedding pack cover that tucks into its own dedicated pocket. But what really does it for me are cleverly placed compartments that store (and protect) a 17” laptop, important-to-reach items like your phone and wallet, and separate spill-protecting toiletry panels. If only we could custom-order them in pretty colors and patters, like Timbuk2’s flagship messenger line.

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 Timbuk2

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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