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Trip Doctor: Why Is It Getting Harder to Redeem Hotel Points?

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A: The salad days for points holders may be ending. In general, demand for rooms is rising, and with it rates, according to Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com. That means hotels no longer have to be quite so accommodating to loyalists. In the past few months, Kelly notes, both Marriott and Hilton adjusted their loyalty programs so that it takes more points to book many of their most desirable properties. Starwood, meanwhile, upped the amount of money you need to spend for its SPG Cash & Points redemptions. Hotel points haven’t gone off a cliff the way airline miles did about five years ago, but they’re definitely losing value. So keep racking them up. You’re going to need more to get what you want.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Hilton Hotels

Cruise News: New Regent Ship + More

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Huge news: Regent Seven Seas Cruises is building a new uber-luxe ship, the 738-passenger Seven Seas Explorer (hitting the high seas in summer 2016). Specific details have yet to be released, but one thing is certain: the all-suite, all balconied cabins will range in size from 300 to 1,500 square feet; there’s going to be an outpost of Canyon Ranch spa on board; and the art collection will be worthy of the Met.

Also making waves this week?

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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

Coming Soon: New Trail Set To Trace Historic Explorer's Route from South Sudan to Uganda

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Fans of the T+L Hiking Guide who've already completed the Appalachian Trail, the pilgrimage to Santiago, or the climb to Machu Picchu will soon have another path to traverse: The Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker Historical Trail, covering nearly 360 miles in South Sudan* and Uganda.

The route is the same one that Samuel Baker, a British officer, took with his wife in the 1860s. Traveling south from present-day South Sudan, the couple became the first Europeans to see what they would name Lake Albert, which marks the terminus of the new trail.

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Topnotch Takes It Up a Notch

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As a four-season destination, it’s hard to beat Vermont: warm summer days, vibrant fall colors, great ski resorts. So we’re excited to see a newly unveiled renovation in Stowe, at the Topnotch Resort & Spa.

The $15 million re-do brought some big changes. Gone is the flowery, bright-colored décor, replaced with a darker, starker, more modern look. You’ll find a pair of new restaurants: an all-day spot called Flannel, as well as a new lobby bar and restaurant, The Roost, featuring a shuffleboard table (!) made by a local artist.

Add two pools for those warm summer days, as well as a location surrounded by fall color and just minutes from winter skiing. We can’t wait to check it out.

Photo courtesy of Topnotch Resort & Spa

Jamaica Bans Smoking...Tobacco

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Jamaica bans smoking...tobacco

In a bold move for the Caribbean island, Jamaica is adopting a ban on smoking in public places. Notably, the new law specifically targets tobacco smoke. (But before you burn one down, the U.S. State Department would like to remind travelers that consumption of marijuana remains illegal in Jamaica.) Areas where smoking will be prohibited include enclosed public spaces, schools, government buildings, public transportation, workplaces, and sports facilities. Unsurprisingly, the government is receiving pushback from bar and nightclub owners; it hasn’t yet clarified if any such establishments will be exempted. The Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Trinidad, and Barbados are among the other Caribbean islands with tobacco controls in place.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Everynight Images / Alamy

Message in a Bottle Lands Irish Family a Trip to Quebec

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In a day and age where we’re constantly hounding websites, iPhone apps, and Twitter feeds for the best travel deals, it’s nice to know that serendipity still plays a role.

Eight years ago, two Québec girls threw a message in a bottle into Montréal’s St. Lawrence River, uncertain if their letter would ever be answered.

Fast-forward to 2013, and the same bottle has made it across the Atlantic Ocean and into the hands of ten-year-old Oisín Millea from County Waterford, Ireland. His spontaneous discovery (which he suitably deemed as ‘treasure’) stirred the hearts of Tourisme Québec minister Pascal Bérubé, who then invited Oisín and his family to the province for a 12-day visit, gratis. Besides meeting up with the two girls (now young women) to celebrate the bottle’s long-awaited arrival, the family trip will include visits to Montréal, Québec City, the Irish Memorial park on Grosse Ile, sleeping in a yurt, and whale watching on the St. Lawrence River.

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New York Hilton Midtown Hits the Big 5-0

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Pop quiz: Where did John Lennon write the lyrics to “Imagine”? Wandering the greenery of Central Park? Sitting at a piano in his Dakota apartment? Nope—it was at Midtown New York’s Hilton, on a piece of hotel stationery. (The original hangs in Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.)

That happened in 1971, when the New York Hilton Midtown was just 8 years old. Now it’s celebrating its 50thbirthday. That means it opened in 1963—the real Mad Men era. (Check out their archival video footage here.) And while the Hilton today stands out by its sheer size—it’s the largest hotel in NYC with 1,981 rooms—it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking this venue has been. A couple fun facts: At opening, it was one of the world’s first hotels to feature original art in guest rooms. In 1999, it was the first hotel in America to have a “smart card” keyless entry system. And earlier this month, New York’s first permanent ice bar, Minus5, opened at the hotel.  

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Trip Doctor: New Airline Survey from Skytrax Picks Global Favorites

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The plane surveys keep on coming. Just a few weeks ago, Trip Doctor reported on a slew of recent polls that give insight into what Americans think about flying nowadays. And at the recent Paris Air Show, Skytrax announced its winners for the 2013 World Airline Awards.  While the surveys we wrote about earlier show what American flyers are thinking, the Skytrax awards offer a more global scope, with respondents from over 160 countries taking part in the poll.

Some of the takeaways?

  • Emirates earns the coveted “Airline of the Year,” and wins for best Inflight Entertainment

  • Garuda Indonesia wins best Economy Class Seats and best Economy Class overall, making it a Top 10 scorer for the first time

  • All Nipon Airways claims the best Aircraft Cabin Cleanliness award

  • Cathay Pacific Airways is awarded best Cabin Staff

  • Etihad Airways nabs best First Class Seats and best First Class overall

  • AirAsia is the best Low-Cost Airline

If you’re thinking that the list seems dominated by Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, you’re correct. Of the Top 10 airlines, only 10th ranked Qantas hails from outside Asia and the Middle East.

See the full results here

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team.

Photo courtesy of Emirates

The Doctor Recommends: Must-Reads for the Week Ending July 12, 2013

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Tired of waiting at customs? This pilot program lets businesses pay to ease border delays, as covered by TravelMole. (Adrien Glover)

A tongue-in-cheek look from Gadling's Libby Zay as to why it might be nice to live in an airport. (Peter Schlesinger)

The Economist investigates how five-star hotels have become the only place for Mumbai's new rich to socialize. Brunch, anyone? (P.S.)

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