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OpenTable Offers New Program for Last-Minute Reservations

OpenTable

The most frustrating part of planning a trip? Not being able to score the right restaurant reservations (well, for this foodie, anyway). Several city-specific tools have cropped up to serve those of us who are both discerning eaters and poor planners (SoonSpoon.com in Boston; TableSavvy in Chicago; New York’s @LastMinuteEatin’ on Twitter), but today OpenTable is announcing a new program that will take the model coast to coast.

With Hot Tables, OpenTable lets VIP users (those who make at least 12 reservations a year) sign up for alerts when their preferred restaurant is already booked—anyone who has signed up for the alert will get a text message notification the second a table opens up. (In other words, there will still be competition.) Sound a lot like Rezhound? That’s because it is—the independent site had been offering the exact same service without being under OpenTable’s purview, proving just how much demand there might be for an official product.

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First Look: Priceline Debuts New Hotel and Flight Search Tools

Priceline's Hotels Near Me

Priceline’s introducing some exciting new features today—and we’ve gotten a sneak peak at what to expect. Exclusive to users on iPhone and iPad, the upgrade includes a partnership with intelligent fare search Routehappy as well as a location-based hotel search tool. When looking for a place to stay, the Deals Near Me feature will now scan the thirty mile radius around you to find great room discounts in the vicinity—it pulls from Priceline’s entire database, featuring both Express Deals and retail prices. As with any dynamic zone hotel search, this lends itself best to last minute bookings, but don’t count it out as a planning tool—you can manually change your position on the map to anywhere in the world, accessing deals that are say, walking distance from the Prado—and search for reservations months out in the future.

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Apple's New CarPlay Set to Take Over Your Next Road Trip

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This week, Apple introduced their new CarPlay system, and it’s something of a revolution for road trippers. A follow up to iOS in the Car, which launched quietly last year as a way to have your iPhone screen show up on your in-car dash, CarPlay is set to ship in Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo cars any day, with nearly every auto maker following suit by the year’s end (notable exceptions include Fiat, VW, and Chrysler). Included in the release? Full integration via your phone’s lightning port, offering access to Siri, Apple maps, hands-free calling, and text messages through voice commands and in-car controls. One feature we can’t stop thinking about: controlling Spotify (or any other music app) without having to take your eyes off the road.

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 Apple

Lufthansa Ups the Ante with New Premium Economy Class

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After making waves with their incredible new business class cabins last year (lie-flat seats; multiple outlets; leg room galore), Lufthansa is upgrading its fleet once again. And this time, the news is in the back of the plane. Starting in November, you’ll find Premium Economy Class seats on the German carrier’s planes—not only with 50% more leg room than Economy, but a slew of luxe amenities as well. Passengers in Premium Economy will be greeted with a welcome cocktail, receive complimentary amenity kits (we’ve yet to learn what brands might be found inside), and will be served meals on porcelain tableware. Sound a little like business class? Good news: the prices will skew closer to Economy, with a return flight across the Atlantic carrying an average premium of $800 (that’s almost $2,000 less than the cost of your typical Lufthansa business seat).

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International Texting Free for All

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Great news for travelers: international texting is soon to be a bygone worry. Yesterday, Facebook has announced a $19 billion purchase of free text service What’s App, not long after Viber, its main competitor, was bought out by Japan’s Amazon-esque Rakuten. Why do we care? The proliferation of free global texting apps is making huge waves—as evidenced by What’s App’s soaring price tag—and phone carriers are responding. First out of the gate was T-Mobile, with their free global data plan. Now AT&T and Verizon are stepping up to the plate: the former announced price cuts to its wireless plans earlier this month, while Verizon just launched their More Everything plans late last week, with unlimited messaging to any mobile number in the world.

Also in the world of global communications news? A promising announcement coming out of the EU, where roaming charges will be made illegal come July. For those heading across the pond, it’s a pretty exciting change—all you’ll need is one SIM card for continent-wide service. Here’s to telecom companies finally getting things right.

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

Photo credit: Folio Images / Alamy

Google Maps Gets a Big Upgrade

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If you’re a plugged-in traveler, you likely lean pretty heavily on Google Maps as a planning tool—we sure do. But today, Google is re-launching the service with an impressive slew of new functions that will no doubt change the way you plan and navigate your next vacation. Here, a guide to what’s new and notable:

• Responsive search: Now when you search for a place, Google will subtly glean what type of experience you’re after and flag comparable places for you to consider. For example, search for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and you’ll get what you’re looking for—plus flags for the Frick, the MoMa, and the Whitney nearby. Search for Italian restaurants in Chicago, and the options will shift as you start to poke around (clicking on a pizza joint will trigger Google to flag affordable or casual spots, while clicking on Spiaggia might trigger a slew of high-end, Michelin-starred tables).

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Call for Applications: T+L’s 10th Annual Global Vision Awards

Global Vision Awards

We're looking for a few good travel companies that are changing the world.

Now in its tenth year, Travel + Leisure's Global Vision Awards recognize the standard-bearers for responsible travel—companies that are investing in the communities around them, protecting natural and manmade treasures, lightening their footprints, and inspiring others to follow their lead. From airlines to hotels, tour operators to cruise lines, the winners represent the travel industry’s best ideas for a better world. (You can find the 2013 Global Vision Awards here.)

Please drop a note to TLGlobalVision@timeinc.com if you know of a company or organization that should be among this year’s winners, or encourage them to submit an application, available here. The deadline is April 1, 2014.

Related Links:
2013 Global Vision Award Winners
Coolest Up-Close Animal Encounters
T+L Hiking Guide

Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins/Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

Two New Ways to Learn Chinese

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Looking to brush up on your Mandarin while Chinese New Year is still hot? We’ve recently discovered two apps and websites that might help you along. To get you reading in no time, there’s Chineasy, a clever site designed by a Taiwanese venture capitalist turned entrepreneur. The method is simple: traditional characters are converted into stylish illustrations that serve as visual pneumonics. Once you’ve learned a few basics, you’ll be shown compound characters that read like math problems (to come + to return = round trip). It’s all very playful, fun, and easy to use. For now, it's all online, but an app is slated to hit the iTunes store next month.

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Marriott Hotels Launches Mobile Checkout at 329 Properties Worldwide

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Everyone’s going mobile in travel these days—and if you thought you’d heard enough of that already, think again. It’s just the beginning. Proving that is Marriott Hotels, which today launches mobile checkout at all of its 329 hotels nationwide and another 20 international properties (all 500 will be on board later this year). While other hotels and resorts have individually brought mobile checkout to life—I just checked out of the Aria in Las Vegas without even stopping at the front desk—Marriott’s move marks the first brand-wide conversion of its scale, and is no question a signifier of what’s to come for the rest of the industry.

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Orbitz Steps Up Their Game with Orbitz Labs

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The OTA wars are heating up: just weeks after Expedia released three smart new features, Orbitz has one upped with their cutting-edge Orbitz Labs, meant to give travelers a whole new level of transparency when booking their flights and hotels. Think of Orbitz Labs not as one tool, but as a whole new toolbox: inside, you’ll find personalized hotel picks based on properties you’ve said you love (like Pandora for hotels), a hot rates heat map that lets you compare hotels’ average daily rates to historical trends, and “best bets,” a feature that lets you see which days or weeks offer the best hotel prices in any city. Also available: charts that show you when it’s most affordable to head to specific destinations, and trend maps that offer insight on where other Orbitz customers are traveling.

The takeaway? From loyalty programs to user-friendly functions like these, OTA’s are racing to meet their users ever-growing needs—and consumers have everything to gain.

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 Orbitz

 

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