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RSS Feed Posts by Nikki Ekstein

Mandarin Oriental Jumps on the Free Wi-Fi Bandwagon

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If free Wi-Fi has typically been the exception at luxury hotels, there’s more hope than ever that it will soon be the rule. Case in point: this week, Mandarin Oriental has announced that they will offer free, high-speed Wi-Fi to any guest who books on the mandarinoriental.com website and fills out a guest questionnaire. Why the caveats? The brand is better able to learn about their guests, anticipate their needs, and market to their audience with the help of online profiles, and direct bookings reduce the fees and commissions associated with outside booking vendors. Plus, Mandarin promises to offer the lowest rate on their site—or beat any better deals by a full ten percent. Want the Wi-Fi without the runaround? Try Peninsula, Shangri-La, or Hilton, which recently partnered with AT&T to provide free Internet for many of its guests.

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 Mandarin Oriental

The New iPad Air: The Best New Tablet for Travelers?

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Yesterday may as well have been declared unofficial tablet day: Microsoft unveiled its new Surface 2 (whose main selling point is an improved kickstand for better stability on your lap), Nokia released its long-rumored tablet debut (a sleek 10-incher running Windows RT), and Apple announced a completely redesigned iPad: the iPad Air. While the other two focus on productivity, with built in Office Suite and attachable keyboards, Apple outrightly balked at its competitors for being “confused” in their attempts to merge tablet and laptop.

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Now You Can Use American Express Rewards Points to Pay for Taxi Rides

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Travelers and locals can now use their American Express Rewards Points to pay for taxi rides in New York City.

As of today, American Express is letting cardholders use their rewards to pay for NYC cab fares in real time, at the end of their ride. Not only does it open the door to use smaller point balances efficiently—it’s the first time that cardholders (with any kind of plastic) can pay with rewards currency at the point of purchase. Amex loyalists who opt to pay for a NYC cab ride with credit card will automatically see their points balance upon swiping—they’ll then be given the choice to pay with, say, 2107 points for a $21.07 taxi fare. Not in NYC? Fret not: we’re inclined to believe that instant points payment might become the name of the game as banks re-examine the often-frustrating process of cashing out rewards.

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 American Express

Orbitz’s New Loyalty Program Puts the Focus on Instant Gratification

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There’s a new currency in the travel industry, and it’s called the Orbuck. Today, Orbitz launches its long-in-the-works Orbitz Rewards, a loyalty program that’s smart, transparent, and a hell of a business move for the popular OTA.

Here’s how it works: Book any flight on orbitz.com, and you’ll immediately be rewarded with at least 1 percent cash back (in Orbuck form); hotel bookings will yield at least 3 percent in returns. Book on the mobile app, and you’ll get bonus Orbucks—each Orbuck translates to a dollar off any future booking. Book a special deal, and you might net even more. The Orbucks show up in your account as soon as your transaction goes through, meaning you don’t have to wait to rack up tens of thousands of points before they’re redeemable. On the contrary: the cash you get back from a flight booking can be immediately applied when you book the hotel fifteen minutes later.

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Test Driving the New HP Chromebook 11

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This week, Google announced the next generation of Chromebook—a glossy white beauty with top-of-the-line hardware—and we’re impressed. It’s slim (under 18 mm), lightweight (at 2.3 pounds), and travel-proof, with a magnesium alloy frame that’ll withstand bumps and dings, a slick widescreen that’s great for movie watching, and speakers that port up through the keyboard for ultra-clear, fuzz-free sound.

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India Rolling Out Visa on Arrival

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We’ve heard countless horror stories about the process of getting an Indian visa (lost passports! slow service!), so imagine the relief when we heard that the country will soon be rolling out Visa on Arrival service for citizens of 40 countries—the United States included. As part of the new legislation, travelers will now be able to access an online application system for visas or simply secure their documents the moment their plane touches ground on Indian soil. And the service won’t just be available in Mumbai—airports such as Delhi, Chennai, and Hyderabad also have the program in the works.

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: iStockphoto

Free Global Roaming Announced with T-Mobile

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Today, T-Mobile announced a groundbreaking international roaming plan that squarely puts the carrier in the running for most travel friendly—a prize we’ve historically handed over to either Verizon or AT&T. What’s the fuss all about? All members of the carrier’s Simple Choice plans will automatically receive unlimited data and texting in more than 100 countries around the globe—and phone calls will be charged at a flat rate of 20 cents per minute from any of those countries. Another plus: there won’t be any activation or monthly fees for the service. Said CEO John Legere at T-Mobile’s launch event this morning, “Today’s phones are designed to work around the world, but we’re forced to pay insanely inflated international connectivity fees to actually use them. You can’t leave the country without coming home to bill shock. So we’re making the world your network—at no extra cost.” That’s logic we can all get behind.

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: iStockphoto

Five Things We Love About the New Kindle Paperwhite

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The one gadget I can no longer travel without? My e-reader. But now that I’ve seen the new generation of Kindle Paperwhites, I’m thinking it might be time to upgrade what I’m putting in my carry-on. Here, the three things I’m digging most about Amazon’s latest release.

Page Flip: The only thing I miss about the paper book experience is the ability to flip back to earlier chapters. The new Paperwhite lets you pull up a slider that lets you scan through any novel—improving on their previous X-Ray feature that simply found previous mentions of common characters or concepts.

Integration with Goodreads:This isn’t out just yet, but soon, Kindle users will get to share book recommendations with friends on this innovative social media network.

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The Suitest's Hotel Room Price Predictor

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Considering a visit to New York but turned off by the sky-high hotel prices? Try browsing The Suitest, a suite-focused hotel search engine whose new Price Predictor advises on the probable fluctuation of room rates in any major destination. Much like Bing’s airfare search, the tool also provides insight as to whether rates are likely to climb, decline, or sell out entirely in the next week. It’s all calculated with an algorithm that riffs off Wall Street hedge funds, which use the similar models to analyze mortgage-backed securities (topics not nearly as exciting as planning your vacation). Ignore the “Deal Grades,” or snapshots of a quote’s relative value—they seem largely arbitrary—and focus instead on our two favorite features: “fair value assessments” that compare your quote to the hotel's “usual price” and a six-month calendar showing the average rate each night in the city of your choosing.

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 TheSuitest.com

Tech Thursday: Foursquare’s New Menu Search

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In an ever-increased push to highlight the app’s exploration features, Foursquare has rolled out a new “menu search” feature that lets users find the best local spot for whatever it is they’re craving. Whereas users could previously search for general categories—Southern food; French restaurants—it’s now possible to hone in on more specific requests, like fried pickles or gluten-free dishes. For road warriors with picky palates or dietary restrictions, it’s a real game-changer, and one we hope will help broaden Foursquare’s reach to a wider demographic of travelers.

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 Foursquare

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