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Orbitz Steps Up Their Game with Orbitz Labs

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The OTA wars are heating up: just weeks after Expedia released three smart new features, Orbitz has one upped with their cutting-edge Orbitz Labs, meant to give travelers a whole new level of transparency when booking their flights and hotels. Think of Orbitz Labs not as one tool, but as a whole new toolbox: inside, you’ll find personalized hotel picks based on properties you’ve said you love (like Pandora for hotels), a hot rates heat map that lets you compare hotels’ average daily rates to historical trends, and “best bets,” a feature that lets you see which days or weeks offer the best hotel prices in any city. Also available: charts that show you when it’s most affordable to head to specific destinations, and trend maps that offer insight on where other Orbitz customers are traveling.

The takeaway? From loyalty programs to user-friendly functions like these, OTA’s are racing to meet their users ever-growing needs—and consumers have everything to gain.

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 Orbitz

 

Underwater Hotel Offers a Fresh View of Zanzibar

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We've told you about the Maldives and its underwater restaurant and underwater nightclub. Now, Zanzibar has gotten into the underwater game, with a hotel room that's partly submerged in the Indian Ocean. Set about 820 feet off the coast of Pemba Island, the three-level room is part of the Manta Resort and created by the Sweden-based Genberg Underwater Hotels company. (Their first project is the Utter Inn, in a lake near Stockholm.) Guests have access to a sea-level deck and a roof lounge, but the real draw of course is the glass-paneled (and somewhat bare bones) double bedroom below the water. According to Matthew Saus, co-founder of Genberg, guests have reported seeing squid, garfish, pipefish, an octopus, even a Spanish dancer. As Saus puts it, “I guess the word for it is ‘privilege’—you certainly do feel privileged to be part of this special world.”

Brooke Porter
Brooke Porter Katz is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.

Photo credit: Jesper Anhede

Major Hotels Fall Victim to Credit Card Hack

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Hotels across the country have been hacked, reports CNN. Fourteen locations owned by Marriott, InterContinental Hotel Group, Sheraton, and Westin franchises, are confirmed victims of a nationwide data breach.

Guests who used their credit and debit cards on site between March 20 and December 16, 2013, may have had their personal financial details compromised.

Banking sources were initially perplexed by the report, as the hotels range from a Radisson in Florida to a Sheraton in Pennsylvania. Later in the day, the common denominator revealed itself as White Lodging Property Management.

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San Francisco's New United Terminal Gets an Artsy Upgrade

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United is celebrating the reopening of its Terminal 3 East at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) with an online sweepstakes for two free tickets. All voters need to do is choose their favorite feature at the $138 million renovation of T3E, helmed by design firms Hansel Phelps, Gensler, and KPA.

Here, six aspects of the new space T+L loves most:

  1. You can stay connected: Over 375 power outlets dispersed at work stations, make it easier than ever to keep your gadgets up and running—to better enjoy SFO's free WiFi.

  2. Or you can disconnect: Yoga studios let visitors find their zen before that longhaul to Hong Kong.

  3. You'll actually want to visit the bathroom: With private dressing rooms and comfortable nursing areas, it's no wonder SFO is touting these as “5-star restrooms.”

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Google Glass Gets a Redesign—And A Killer New Travel App

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Today, Google Glass got a big makeover. Once a standardized design that said little more than “Look at me—I’m tech savvy!” the frames now come in four new looks, each worthy of a spot in Warby Parker’s lineup. Along with the upgrade is a practical twist, too: the new models can be fitted with prescription lenses, making the frames (which cost $225) eligible for insurance reimbursement. It’s a huge move for the product, which is expected to hit mass market by the end of the year. And as Google gears for the big launch, Glass is kicking it up both with style and substance, introducing a slew of new apps—some perfectly suited for travelers.

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LGBT Rights Around the World: What You Should Know

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My recent Why We Travel post discussed the potential risks of traveling to the Sochi Olympics in the wake of Russia's new anti-gay law. But the Duma is far from the only legislative body on earth enacting prohibitive policies against LGBT individuals.

The list of countries with draconian laws includes many of the expected players: Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria call for the death penalty as punishment for homosexual activity. In Bangladesh and Guyana, life imprisonment awaits transgressors. Yet these countries are not exactly top destinations for most Americans. So however they may feel about the laws, US travelers are unlikely to base their vacation plans off of them. A travel boycott by Americans to the Solomon Islands, where homosexuals face up to fourteen years in jail, is unlikely to hold much sway.

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Expedia Introduces Three Killer New Features

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Our kudos goes to Expedia; the online booking giant has kicked off 2014 with a slew of intuitive, new features. Filling a void we’d always lamented, there’s itinerary sharing, by which customers can share live itineraries with whomever they choose (updates on delays get sent as real-time notifications). Also new: Scratchpad, a dashboard where you can save your searches and then access them from any device, or sign up for email notifications on price drops on your select routes. And finally, there’s Flight Recommendations, which analyzes your search parameters and suggests alternate airports or itinerary tweaks that might get you a better deal. And none of this could have come at a better time for Expedia, given the groundswell of rumors surrounding Google’s reinvented travel search tools—likely to hit the web come March.

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 Expedia

Bitcoin Digital Currency Now Accepted By PointsHound and Las Vegas Casinos

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The bitcoin continues to establish itself in the travel industry, with online booking site PointsHound and two Las Vegas casinos joining the growing list of companies utilizing the cryptocurrency this week.

PointsHound, a website which helps travelers book vacations and earn points for their various loyalty programs, will now let users earn their rewards in bitcoins. For example, rather than boosting their AAdvantage points by 3,400 miles, PointsHound users can opt for 0.1093 bitcoins instead when purchasing a night at over 150,000 hotels worldwide. (Those numbers come from booking a $1,124, one-night stay at the T+L World's Best Award winner Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora.)

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2013 Safest Year on Record for Flying Since 1945

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The numbers are in, and 2013 was one of the safest years on record to board a passenger plane. According to Dutch research group Aviation Safety Network, the year's 29 airline “accidents” led to 265 deaths, well below 2012's 475 casualties and nowhere near the ten-year high of 1,074 fatalities in 2005.

Data shows a sharp decline in both casualties and incidents since the late 1990's, while the 1960's and 70's repeatedly saw over 80 accidents and upwards of 2,000 fatalities a year. So even though this month's Southwest debacle may keep some Americans afraid of flying, the reality is that there hasn't been a safer time to take to the skies since the 1940's. See the full charts here.

Peter Schlesinger is a Research Assistant at Travel + Leisure, and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @pschles08.

Photo credit: Stan Fellerman / Alamy

Montreal's Airport Introduces New Security Checkpoint Reservation System

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Last month, the TSA debuted its first Precheck enrollment center at the Indianapolis Airport—with 300 more to open by spring—making an expedited security process more accessible than ever. Meanwhile, Canada’s Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International airport is testing another strategy to alleviate waits: a free, timed reservation system called SecurXpress. Here’s how it works: Enter your flight number and phone number on the airport website. Then, you’ll receive a text message, which acts as a ticket, with a reserved time for a specific SecurXpress checkpoint. Think of it like Disney’s FastPass. One text message is good for up to five people traveling together, and it’s up to you to get there on time. Unfortunately, the system only works on domestic and some international flights within Canada—but if it’s successful, maybe we’ll see it cross the border one day soon.

Brooke Porter
Brooke Porter is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.

Photo Courtesy of Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

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