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Tech Thursday: The Future of Hotel Check-In

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How many people does it take to run a hotel’s front desk? Soon enough, the answer will be zero. Just last month, Marriott Hotels debuted a new app that lets guests check in from their smart phone starting at 4PM the day before their arrival. As it stands, these guests still need the help of a front desk clerk—if only to pick up their room key.

But Marriott isn’t alone. InterContinental Hotels Group (which owns the flagship InterContinental brand as well as Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn) has recently debuted a similar technology, letting guests at select properties check in via a mobile app. With theirs, a machine in the lobby can dispense your room key upon arrival, so long as you can supply some basic identifying information. (Can you hear the collective weeping of receptionists around the globe?) We’re also hearing rumblings that some clever hoteliers are attempting to take mobile check-in to a whole new level—perhaps even eliminating the need for a room key overall.

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Tech Thursday: Hipmunk Gets a Last-Minute Upgrade

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We’ve long loved Hipmunk for its brilliant intelligent search capabilities, which help you find the least agonizing flights or the hotels that are best suited to your individual needs. Today, the app launches an update that once again changes the game: this time, it takes on the last-minute hotel booking sphere that has become quite the competitive space as of late.

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Tech Thursday: RocketMiles Goes International

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Three months ago, we introduced you to RocketMiles, a disruptive booking service whose purpose is to score its users thousands of airline points for every hotel reservation made on the site. This week, RocketMiles is breaking away from its competition as it announces international service—in terms of both hotels and airline partners. With the upgrade come properties in Europe’s capital cities, among other popular destinations around the globe (think London’s Langham Hotel, which nets a cool 5,000 Delta SkyMiles a night, or the Shangri-La Tokyo, good for 2,500 AAdvantage points per night). Don’t fly either of those airlines? The site’s service expansion brings aboard carriers such as KLM, AirFrance, Etihad, and Alaska Airlines—so it’s easy to cash in on the RocketMiles’ promise.

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 Rocketmiles.com

TSA Opens PreCheck to the General Public

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It’s official: the days of long airport security lines are over—if you want them to be. At least that’s what TSA Administrator John Pistole promised on Friday, when he announced that the PreCheck program will be opening to the general public before the end of the year. To sign up, travelers will have to pay an $85 fee, provide identification and fingerprints, and undergo a background check at an established PreCheck enrollment center—all for the luxury of walking through the x-ray machine with your shoes on.

Almost one year after the service’s launch, 12 million travelers have signed up—all frequent fliers—and complaints of longer lines in these expedited service lanes have already started to bubble up. Another 3 million will join by the year’s end if the TSA’s predictions ring true—so will PreCheck lose its advantage? This much remains to be seen, though we’re encouraged by the volume of airports that are angling to meet the program’s growing demand.

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: © dbimages / Alamy

Tech Thursday: Stayful.com Offers a New Way to Strike a (Boutique) Hotel Deal

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A new day, a new way to score a deal—or so it seems with travel start-ups these days. Joining the pack is Stayful, a site that launched yesterday with a premise that borrows bits and pieces from familiar players like Priceline, Luxury Link, and Hotel Tonight

The mission is simple: help trendy boutique hotels move unsold inventory by putting rooms up for bidding. Browse their inventory—currently limited to New York City and San Francisco, but featuring such hotspots as The Standard High Line and Hotel on Rivington—and name your price. You’ll find out within 24 hours if the hotel has accepted your offer, or if they’ve decided to rebut. Should you want to suggest a big to a hotel that’s not already on Stayful’s list, the site allows you to do so, inviting the hotel of your choice to participate with them if they’re ready and willing.

Our preliminary thoughts? Stayful seems better built to accommodate hotels’ needs than travelers’ (the name itself should be a clue), but if it nets value-driven results at sought-after properties, we’ll enthusiastically be jumping aboard. The service is currently in beta, and accepting invitation requests, so you’ll hear more on our verdict once we’ve fully put it to the test.

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 Stayful.com

Peek.com Expands to London and Paris

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Peek.com, the trailblazing site that lets you book trip activities and attractions online, hopped across the pond today, providing a slew of things to do for London- and Paris-bound travelers, both on and off the beaten path. Among the experiences available for purchase? For the adventurous: bungee jumping over the Thames (pictured above); for the traditionalist, a three-hour-long French pastry class. (Peek.com also serves some 15 U.S. markets, including Boston, Miami, and Napa.)

In each city, a host of trips under $50 are joined by splurge-worthy, once-in-a-lifetime excursions (think volcano helicopter tours in Hawaii or a private tour of Paris’ Opera Garnier), catering to any type of traveler. It also offers itinerary suggestions, and is enlisting even more boldface names to share their favorite spots and activities. (Think Entourage star Adrian Grenier's Broooklyn, or Diane von Furstenberg's Los Angeles.) Needless to say, we’ll be staying tuned as the company expands throughout the Continent and beyond.

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 Peek

Tech Thursday: Google Maps Launches New Explore Feature

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In what has become routine news, Google has announced this week that they are, once again, pushing the envelope with Google Maps. So what are they up to this time? The cornerstone of the update is Explore, a new feature that acts as your personal assistant on the road. At the heart of it, Explore helps find whatever it is that you’re looking for, from gas stations and pharmacies to restaurants and local attractions. The listings (there are dozens in each category) include useful details, like hours, directions, and Zagat ratings, all within the app itself—that means no navigating back and forth between your browser and map. And if you prefer to note one of the suggestions for later in the day, a useful “starring” feature lets you bookmark places to your map. It’s available today for Android, and coming soon for iOS. If Google's predictions ring true, those of us on Apple devices will be able to jump on the bandwagon in just a few days.

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 Google

Live and On Demand TV Now Free on Southwest

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In this day and age, it’s pretty rare to hear about new services on flights—unless they come with a side of sticker shock. Southwest is an exception to the rule, as they’ve always maintained an anti-fee ethos, but we’re still impressed by their latest announcement: as of this week, the airline’s customers will enjoy free On Demand and live TV—all streamed to their mobile devices—via DISH Network on every WiFi-equipped Southwest flight. The lineup features most major networks (along with dedicated sports channels) as well as 75 on demand titles. The catch? It’s only free for a limited time. According to a spokesperson, the promotion will likely run through the end of the year; even then, all signs point to a reasonable $5 price tag for in-flight streaming once the deal expires. 

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 Southwest Airlines

Spotted: New Boarding System for United

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On a recent trip through Houston’s IAH, we noticed these unusual—but clever—markers, which United is now using to corral flyers waiting to get on their plane. Yes, we thought it was a bit odd as well—until we realized how much it organized the chaos of zone-by-zone boarding, eliminating the pre-emptive swarms that tend to crowd the gate.

Have you noticed any changes at the airport lately? Tell us at tripdoctor@aexp.com.

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 Nilou Motamed

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

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