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E-Hail Apps Back in New York City

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While car-sharing services are getting shot down on the West Coast, things are finally looking up for “e-hailing” taxis in New York City. Last week, a State Supreme Court case prohibiting their use was dismissed, and as of today, two e-hail apps are back in action in the Big Apple.

Uber made its debut in the New York marketplace last September, but was quickly snuffed out of business over legality concerns; now, it’s back in action as of Tuesday night. Users can book black cars from their mobile phones, but mobile payments are currently not available as they were previously.

Hailo, the only other app approved thus far, launches today with less name recognition but extra perks, from mobile payment to $10 credits for early adopters. Rather than livery-style cars, Hailo works exclusively with yellow taxis in New York.

Expect a glut of new NYC-based e-hail apps to hit the market in the next months, as developers wrap their heads around the new legislation. Part of the deal: participants must be able to integrate with the existing meter system for NYC cabs, and go through an approval process by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Still, the value of these apps is greatest in cities like San Francisco, where hailing a cab isn’t as easy as stepping onto any street corner and sticking out your arm. The laws keeping e-hail apps out of business in California—and other parts of the country—are antiquated at best; we can only hope New York’s example sets a precedent for the cities that need these services most.

See: How to Hail a Cab in NYC.

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 by Maria Pedone


 

SFO Moves to Block Car Sharing Services

Here today, gone tomorrow: FlightCar, that quirky car-sharing company we recently told you about, has been shut down by SFO.

And it's not alone: Also on the airport's cease-and-desist list are five other ride sharing companies, from UberX to InstantCab, according to The Huffington Post's Aaron Sankin. Why the sudden crackdown on automotive sharing startups? Apparently the tech-forward companies have been getting an easy break thanks to legal loopholes that don't require them to hold licenses from the California Public Utilities Commission, and taxi drivers—who not only need the licenses but pay fees for each airport ride—aren't too happy about it. But that doesn't mean it's game over for the six companies at stake, as a hearing is scheduled to determine their future later this month.

Our prediction? FlightCar will live on, sans curbside pickup service. As for the companies whose core premise includes a driver? They may not be so lucky.

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

Lost and Found in Spain: Windmills, Wine, and Tapas

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With two days to drive from Madrid to a resort in Marbella on the Costa del Sol, my traveling companion and I wanted to see something of the Spanish countryside. If you've been to Castille-La Mancha, you know the countryside is rather flat and uninspiring, which can make for a long, boring drive. We are both interested in history and architecture, and also wanted to sample some of the local wines. So as we headed south on the A-4 highway, I used our GPS to look for some interesting diversions off the main route, and found two that only added an extra hour to our drive, and led to a great lunch as well.

Anybody familiar with Don Quixote will remember his "battle" against the windmills, and will probably find Campo de Criptana a worthwhile side trip. At the top of a hill in the center of this small town are 12 windmills from the 16th-Century, like the one faced by the famous knight-errant. Two of them are open for tourists to explore, and you can learn how medieval Spaniards used wind power to grind wheat into flour. An art studio nearby exhibits (and sells) paintings and drawings of the "molinos."

Our second stop was at the Museo del Vino in Valdepeñas. The wine museum has several rooms that explain the climate and soil conditions in the region, the types of grapes grown in the area, and the history of viniculture in Spain, including the efforts the locals went through in the Dark Ages to continue making wine despite official objections by the Muslims when they controlled the area. The exhibits also include farm implements and tools used in winemaking from grape crushers and hand pressers to the enormous barrels where wine is aged. We stopped for tapas at La Fonda del Alberto, Calle Cristo, 67, Valdepeñas for a delicious meal. A glass of vino blanco, some delicately grilled calamares, langostinos cocidos and pulpo a la gallega, and we were ready to get back on the highway and continue our journey south.

See also: José Andrés: Chef's Tour of Spain and A Tapas Tour of Spain.

 

Photo by Ron Harris

Tech Thursday: Free Airport Parking, Courtesy of FlightCar

FlightCar

Certain things can only work on the West Coast—take, for instance, FlightCar, a new San Francisco-based startup that lets you loan out your car while it's parked at the airport. The concept is a win-win in theory: travelers get their expensive parking tab subsidized by approved renters, who get a better deal (and maybe even a nicer car) in return.

The program has recently piloted at SFO, with expansion plans in the works. And so far, the selection of cars is promising, ranging from a 2005 BMW 3 Series to a 2008 Honda Accord on a trial search (both would cost $46 a day to rent—compared to $150 for similar models at Hertz or Enterprise).

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How to Book Insurance for a Foreign Rental Car

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Q: I’m renting a car abroad. Should I get collision insurance through the rental agency or my credit card? —Hannah W., Portland, Ore.

A: Domestically, the answer would be simple: go with the insurance offered by your credit card company (after reading the fine print, of course). Once you head overseas, though, it becomes much more complicated. All four major card networks offer qualifying cardholders some form of insurance for international rentals, but you have to check your policy carefully. American Express (Travel + Leisure’s parent company), MasterCard, and Visa do not cover rentals in Ireland, Israel, and Jamaica. American Express also disqualifies cars in Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. There are other exceptions (American Express doesn’t cover certain SUV’s; MasterCard won’t let you drive on unpaved roads; most policies preclude rentals of exotic and expensive vehicles), so do your homework. Cardhub.com provides an excellent annual comparison of all of these policies.

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Trip Doctor: Avis + Zipcar- What It Means for Travelers

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You've come a long way, Zipcar.

The recent announcement that the Avis Budget Group is aiming to acquire the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company for nearly $500 million marked the pioneering car-sharing service's evolution from an upstart launched at the turn of the Millennium to a lucrative brand with serious international potential. Though Zipcar members (a.k.a. Zipsters) may squirm at the idea of a traditional (read: staid) car-rental agency holding sway over their quirky, beloved service, the deal could have great advantages for everyone.

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Rent a Car by the Minute with Car2go

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When by-the-hour car-sharing services such as Zipcar and Hertz on Demand arrived on the scene, they upended the traditional model for short-term rentals. Now it’s their turn to be upended. Taking a page from bike-sharing programs, the latest car-sharing services offer by-the-minute rentals. The most traveler-friendly of the half-dozen or so services that have recently emerged is Car2go ($35 one-time membership fee), which rents smart cars in five U.S. cities (Austin; San Diego; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; and Miami), and 15 more across the globe (Toronto, Berlin, and Amsterdam, among others).

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Riding in Style

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Touring wine country with a hired driver was hot, but now it just means you can't control your drinking. Today, real oenophiles rent classic cars and self-drive their vineyard peregrinations. Wine industry veteran Ramiro Marquesini's new Slowkar in the Argentine winemaking capital of Mendoza rents lovingly restored Citroën 3CVs from the 1970s and 1980s. In Italy's Tuscan wine country, the father-son duo of Danilo and Federico Dini's five-year-old Chianti Classic Car outfits wine lovers with 1970s AlfaRomeos and Fiats for their tasting room tours. Both provide guides for the map-disabled.

Photo courtesy Slowkar

Last Dash to London! Essential Booking Tips for the Olympic-Bound

201205-b-london-cityscape95605583jpgLast Saturday, the Olympic Torch relay set off in Great Britain and began a 70-day journey through the United Kingdom that will end on July 27 at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games. The countdown has begun.

Set on making it across the pond this summer? It’s not too late—but you must act now! To inspire you procrastinators to begin booking, we present our last-minute get-to-London guide.

The good news: flights to the city’s hub airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, London City) are still available. Right now, a search of round-trip fares from major U.S. cities range from $1,100 to $1,500. Departing from Chicago, you’ll fork over about $1,200 for a round-trip economy ticket on Virgin Atlantic Airways (a seat in the carrier’s newly revamped Upper Class cabin will cost you $2,800).

These fares are steep—and getting steeper—but they aren’t higher than this time last year. “I don’t think airlines are price gauging,” says George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, a site that monitors ticket prices. “It’s still the summer season and we’re seeing reasonable fares for this time of year.”

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Best Apps for Managing Frequent Flyer Miles

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Staying on top of your many mileage, hotel, and rental-car programs is one of the biggest headaches for frequent travelers. Ditto figuring out whether or not you’ve accumulated enough points to book a first-class ticket for your next big getaway. But luckily, online mileage trackers have stepped in to help, letting travelers input their various member ID’s and passwords to conveniently consolidate all of their programs in one place. Besides displaying your latest balances, these services also notify you of all upcoming expiration dates, which is essential for keeping (and amassing more!) points.

Each site has its own edge: MileBlaster is particularly good at tracking your miles and alerting you whenever your points are about to expire, while AwardWallet smartly provides users with a convenient wallet-size card listing all of their loyalty numbers. We like TripIt’s iPhone- and iPad-optimized apps, which let you quickly access your details on the fly.

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