In the last few months, we’ve been tracking two new sites, PointsHound and RocketMiles—both trying to disrupt the stronghold of Expedia and Travelocity by offering airline points in exchange for hotel stays. How does it work? Consider it a big circle of back scratching, where hotel sale commissions buy airline miles that get passed on to you, the consumer, who’s still getting a best rate guarantee. And not only are the hotel rates good—an average booking can earn upwards of 7,000 miles with your preferred carrier.
To put them head to head, we entered an identical search heading to Chicago over Memorial Day weekend with United Mileage Plus as our preferred reward currency. The Tremont Chicago Hotel at Magnificent Mile showed up on both searches: $169 a night with 7,000 miles at RocketMiles; the same price at 6,500 miles with PointsHound. Some comparisons were less evenly matched: The Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown netted 2,100 miles on PointsHound, and almost double at RocketMiles, for the same price. Incidentally, prices were equal to or better than what the hotels were offering on their own sites, and the same as Expedia’s current rates.
But PointsHound gets an advantage in two key criteria: it offers much more variety in inventory (whereas RocketMiles had just 8 hotels available in Chicago, PointsHound had far too many to count, including some of our favorite properties). And by booking regularly on PointsHound, you “level up” and become eligible for even greater rewards. Regardless, both are tools we’ll be keeping in our back pockets.
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 PointsHound
If you're like me, you've often stood at a crowded airport gate, clutching your plastic container of sad, limp salad-to-go and gazing enviously at the door of the business-class lounge just across the concourse. What wonders might lie beyond that forbidding threshold: Cocktails? Delicious nibbles? Spotless bathrooms??
If you're also like me, you probably dabble a bit in social media, tweeting and Facebooking and checking in on Foursquare. As it turns out, enough dabbling can get you through that door. American Airlines just announced a partnership with Klout, the service that measures influence on social media. Klout scores are determined by a mysterious algorithm based on your activity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networks; if it's 55 or higher, you'll earn a free day pass to any of American's Admirals Club lounges around the world. They don't even care if you're flying AA or not: The goal is to attract people who are likely to tweet gratefully about the comfortable seats or Instagram their glass of Champagne—using the lounge's complimentary Wi-Fi, of course. (Those with humbler Klout scores get a chance to win a free year's Admiral's Club membership.)
I don't pay much attention to my Klout score, but after reading about the new initiative on Skift.com, I checked it, and—lo and behold—discovered that it's 59! That pales next to Justin Bieber's 93, but it was enough to gain me entry. I immediately signed up and got an email with my day pass attached. I plan to use it during a four-hour layover in Boston this Sunday (and I'm flying on United). Keep an eye on my Instagram feed for pictures of peanuts!
Peter J. Frank is the director, editorial product development at Travel + Leisure.
Photo courtesy of American Airlines
With all the news recently about bans on skimpy swimwear at UAE beaches, T+L wanted to clear the air and figure out what travelers need to know when heading to the Emirates.
First off, the bathing suit laws aren’t laws. After initial reports that bikinis and bikini briefs were banned, UAE newspapers reported that police backtracked, and later clarified that the regulations were only guidelines. After receiving multiple complaints from local families, authorities posted signs stating, "All coastgoers should commit to public morality and modest clothing." Police "strongly discourage" individuals from wearing revealing swimwear, and to respect "cultural sensitivities."
Secondly, these official recommendations apply only to the country’s northernmost emirate, Ras al-Khaimah. The emirate attracts few tourists compared to flashier Dubai, which sees nearly 10 million visitors annually, although it is home to 2011 It List property Banyan Tree Al Wadi.
So does that mean it’s acceptable to wear a thong on the beaches of Dubai?
I checked with the emirate’s Legal Affairs Department to get the final say. Here’s what beachgoers in Dubai will want to know:
° All beaches, even those next to hotels, are public, so local families and international vacationers have access to the same sandy stretches in Dubai.
° Several beaches offer women-only days one day a week. On these days, males—excluding toddlers—are prohibited.
° There is no Dubai law prohibiting a particular bathing suit, but swimwear should not be worn off the beach. Nudity is strictly prohibited.
Still, when considering which suit to wear on their UAE holiday, bikini-toters should consider that the local population, along with the majority of international visitors, in Dubai are Muslim, and therefore unlikely to appreciate skimpy swimwear.
If looking for a destination where scanty suits are a-okay, try Egypt, whose tourism minister stated on Monday that "bikinis are welcome in Egypt and booze is still being served."
Related: See the Future in Dubai.
Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.
Photo credit: © Jon Hicks/Corbis
Q: I will be traveling to Paris and Barcelona for 12 days. How many pairs of jeans do I need? Jacket or sweater? —Marianne Van Auken, Chandler, Ariz.
A: Pack two pairs of denim in different washes and one pair of black leggings (or slim black pants). Since it’s a warm-weather season, opt for a knit blazer over a coat. We love the candy red version from Strenesse Blue (pictured; $625)—the fabric is comfortable, and the shape will keep you looking sharp. Shabby-chic outfits just don’t work in Europe, so try to be as dressy as you can (adding ballet flats and some well-placed statement jewelry goes a long way).
Mimi Lombardo is Travel + Leisure's style director. Packing is rarely easy-we're here to help. Send your question to email@example.com.
Photo by John Lawton
As river cruising continues to gain steam, Jane Wooldridge shares the best new itineraries for every sort of traveler.
For the History Buff: Tauck has introduced a 10-night Mississippi voyage designed by filmmaker Ken Burns aboard the American Queen paddle wheeler. Don’t miss the tour of Louisiana’s 1837 Oak Alley, or Oakley Plantation, where John James Audubon worked on his Birds of America. In Europe, AmaWaterways’ Jewels of France sets out from Arles and cruises along the Rhône and Seine, with stops in the medieval town of Perpignan and at Avignon’s massive Gothic papal palace.
For the Epicure: Visit Porto, Portugal, the birthplace of port wine, on a 10-day Douro River journey aboard a Viking River Cruises longship. The Po River trip from Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection sails from Venice to the foodie haven of Bologna (think mortadella, tortellini, and Parmesan cheese).
For the Explorer: In Egypt, Sanctuary Retreats’ 32-passenger Sanctuary Nile Adventurer ferries guests along a stretch of the Nile that has just reopened after 15 years. (The rock tombs at Beni Hasan are a notable stop.) Even farther afield: Burma, where Orient Express Trains & Cruises is adding a second, smaller boat for sailings on the Irrawaddy to the temples of Bagan and into the remote, rugged region along the Chindwin River.
Jane Wooldridge is the cruise editor at Travel + Leisure.
Photo courtesy of Viking River Cruises; Illustration by Michael Hoeweler
New York City is launching its bike share program sometime this month (no details on a date yet), bringing 6,000 two-wheelers to the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Citi Bike, so-named due to a hefty sponsorship from CitiBank, is the country’s largest bicycle-sharing program. While there is a great FAQ on the project’s website, T+L had a few follow-up questions that we’ve answered here:
Where can you pick Citi Bikes up?
The website’s station map is impressive to say the least. There seem to be Citi Bike stations at almost every block! Until you zoom out, that is. The 330 stations stretch from the Battery up to Central Park South in Manhattan, and from the Brooklyn Bridge down to Atlantic Ave and east to Norstrand Ave in Brooklyn. Riders will never be more than a few blocks from a bikeshare station thanks to the highly concentrated layout, but residents of Uptown Manhattan, the vast majority of Brooklyn, and all of Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx are left bikeless.
What are the helmet laws?
Citi Bike “strongly encourages” all users to don helmets, and it offers annual members a $10 coupon to buy them in any New York City bike store. But there is no legal obligation to wear helmets. New York State laws require cyclists under the age of 14 to wear helmets, but Citi Bike members must be at least 16. Last year, NYC rejected a proposed mandatory helmet law last year. Still, helmets may decrease the risk of head injury to cyclists by as much as 85%, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
How safe is it to bike in New York City?
2011 saw 22 biking fatalities and 369 severe injuries. While up slightly from 2009, those numbers still reflect a downward trend in bike risk, according to city data. The NYC Cycling Risk Indicator, which reflects biking safety while taking into account increased cyclists, has fallen by 73% since 2000. Research from UC Berkeley cited in the Wall Street Journal shows that with ever-more bike lanes, and now thousands of more bikers, New York City’s bike accidents will decrease as drivers adjust their behavior and become more aware of bike riders on the roads.
Users have 45 minutes to ride Citi Bike before needing to check back in to a station. How far does that take you?
Theoretically, a rider can travel from Columbus Circle to the Whitehall South Ferry Terminal building in under 35 minutes, meaning that all of Citi Bike’s Manhattan stations are accessible within the 45-minute limit. From Columbus Circle to the stations in Brooklyn Heights takes just under 40 minutes, while the longest possible ride, from West 59th Street at 11th Avenue to Norstrand Avenue in Brooklyn Columbus Circle could run as little as 55 minutes.
Will it work?
Only time will tell, but all signs point to Yes. Similar programs in Boston, Washington DC, Paris, and Hangzhou, China, have all proven very successful and popular. Here's hoping Citi Bike follows in their footsteps—er—bike paths!
Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.
Photo credit: Lars Klove /New York City Bike Share
I don’t know about you, but this fantastic spring weather makes me want to dust off my hiking boots and go explore one of the world’s most beautiful rural landscapes on foot. Thankfully, all I need to do for inspiration is to flip through the May issue’s Trekking, Walking and Hiking package. Every week this month, I’ll highlight a trip from our story that I hope might inspire you to take an adventure of your own.
Hike: Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks
Where: idaho, Montana, and Wyoming
Off the Beaten Path creates bespoke trips that combine the ragged peaks and pristine lakes of Glacier National Park with the abundant wildlife of Yellowstone. This spring the outfitter is partnering with Airstream 2 Go to provide top-of-the-line trailers as part of custom itineraries in the Rocky Mountains. Nine days from $2,900.
Jennifer Flowers is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @JennFlowers.
Photo courtesy of NPS / Jim Peaco
The Skies Belong to Us author Brendan I. Koerner points to this lovely Flickr photo album of Czech matchbox labels. Check out this great one from Czechoslovak Airlines. (Matt Haber)
The New York Times sent humorist Henry Alford to exotic Williamsburg, Brooklyn to see if he could blend in and go native. The result? How I Became a Hipster. (M.H.)
Meanwhile, across the pond, Christian Lorentzen, an American writer in London is having some trouble adjusting, as he relates in this wonderfully cranky London Review of Books essay Buck up, old boy, at least there aren't hipster there! (M.H.)
Airbnb fans take note: a new verification program requires your official photo ID, according to All Things D's Liz Gannes. (Jennifer Flowers)
Walk/Score blog's new tool allows you to find hotels within walking distance your ultimate destination and has published their Top 10 U.S. Cities to Travel Car-Free. (Ann Shields)
TimeOut London employs some cool graphics to overlay historic photos with new ones by Rob Greig to create Soho: Then and Now (A.S)
Gizmodo's Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan shares German photographer Michael Wolf's images of aging high rises in Hong Kong. Very surreal. (Peter Schlesinger)
Swissinfo's Susan Vogel-Misicka has a fascinating update on the $2 billion Andermatt Swiss Alps construction project, including the Chedi Andermatt hotel at the (formerly?) quiet Swiss village. (P.S.)
Alaska's cruise season has started, and this year there are stricter fuel standards. The Anchorage Daily News's Becky Bohrer takes an in depth look at the new law and what it means for the environment and for the cruise industry. (P.S.)
Google Now is finally available for iPhone users, and The Associated Press' Anick Jesdanun does a remarkably thorough job of putting it to the traveler's ultimate road test. (Nikki Ekstein)
CNN rounds up a list of the 10 ways our travel experience can be improved, and we agree with all 10 of them. (N.E.)
In-flight yoga? New York Times travel writer Stephanie Rosenbloom shows you how to strike a pose with just 17 inches of airplane space. (Maria Pedone)
Photo credit: iStock photo
Q: We’re off to Buenos Aires, and I want to pack light. Can you recommend some dual-purpose clothing? —Patricia Broder, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: If you’re headed to the tango-shoe capital of the world, you’d better pack light—you’ll need lots of room in your bag for new acquisitions, especially footwear. We’re excited about Derek Lam’s affordable DesigNation line for Kohl’s—it looks good but isn’t too precious to throw in a suitcase. Our pick for your trip? The wood-grain-print cotton shirtdress ($70), to be worn alone or over leggings. We also adore this space-saving Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent dress ($298)—it can be worn with the V-neck in front, in the back for a boatneck look, as pictured, or over your swimsuit as a cover-up.
Mimi Lombardo is Travel + Leisure's style director. Packing is rarely easy-we're here to help. Send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TLTripDoctor on Twitter.
Photo by John Lawton
Love the portability of a MacBook Air and the versatility of the Surface? Somewhere right in between is Dell’s XPS 12 (from $1199), which hit shelves last October with a slick, rotating touchscreen that flips around from laptop to tablet. You won’t get bogged down with this one in your carry on—it weighs in at under 3.5 lbs (less than a pound heavier than its Apple competitor) and its 12-inch monitor feels substantial enough for productivity, with the advantages of a full chicklet keyboard and Windows 8 Pro (which we prefer by leaps and bounds to the less-intuitive, tablet-specific Windows 8 RT). Unlike other ultrabooks, the XPS12 comes with 256 GB of storage in a Solid State hard drive—doubling most of its close competitors—but all this means you’ll want to use it as a laptop first, and tablet second.
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 Dell