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Orbitz Launches Refined Hotel Search

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Orbitz just announced the release of its revamped search engine, making the process of finding and comparing hotels that much simpler. What new features can you expect to see on the site?

Now when you search for hotels, you'll be able to compare property details on the results page; view an expandable interactive map (which not only plots the hotel, but shows its actual current rate); filter results by star/user ratings, price, and amenities offered; and my favorite: view the hotel via Google Street View (where available), so you know exactly what you're looking for when you show up. (Not to mention, take a look at the surrounding neighborhood.)

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29th Street: New York’s New Hotel Corridor?

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Continuing the precedent  set by the new Eventi of building hotels in unexpected Manhattan neighborhoods, the new Gansevoort Park Avenue will open on August 16 at the interesting but decidedly unhip corner of Park Avenue South at East 29th Street. In a sort of no-mans-land between Gramercy Park, Murray Hill, and Kips Bay (call it Grammurray Bay? Kipsmercy Hill?), the swanky new hotel may do for its neighborhood what its sister hotel, the Gansevoort, did for the now-ubertrendy Meatpacking District.

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China to Debut Bus That "Eats" Cars

One of China’s latest innovations—something being called the “straddling bus” (or as my friend says, "the bus that eats cars")—will help alleviate the heavy traffic issues found in major cities.

Part bus, part traffic tunnel, the invention—of which the renderings more resemble a monorail than a bus—not only rides right alongside street traffic, but on top of it as well. Crazy, right? (The video above shows how it works. Though it's in Chinese, you’ll get the gist.)

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Fierce Hurricane Season Predicted

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USA Today | Federal forecasters Thursday called for an "active" to "extremely active" hurricane season this year. They predict anywhere from 14 to 23 named storms to form in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

Of those named storms, eight to 14 should become hurricanes, including three to seven "major" hurricanes with wind speeds above 111 mph.

This prediction is the highest of any that federal forecasters have made since they began issuing seasonal hurricane forecasts in 1998.

Photo credit: iStock

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Mexicana Files for Bankruptcy

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Poor Mexico.  First its tourism industry takes a hit from the H1N1 virus outbreak.  Then an escalation of drug-related crime scares other travelers off.  Now, the national airline, Mexicana, has filed for Chapter 15. The airline, citing increased fuel and labor costs as well as the drop in tourism, has racked up $1 billion in debt. While the airline says that flights will continue as scheduled, 31 Mexicana flights in Mexico and the U.S. have been suspended since Monday and passengers rescheduled with other carriers.  If you’re holding a Mexicana reservation, check the airline’s website, http://www.mexicana.com, or call (877) 801-2010, to confirm your flight’s status.  Ay, caramba.

Ann Shields is a senior online editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City: MJ Photography/Alamy

Chicago is Worst Tax City for Travelers

USA Today |  Travelers pay up to $101 in sales, hotel, rental car and other extra taxes aimed at them on an average three-day domestic trip, a study out today from a business travel group says.

The study, commissioned by the National Business Travel Association, says travelers pay not only local sales taxes on goods and services when they go to a U.S. city, but up to 144% more each day they rent a car, stay at a hotel and dine.

The association, which represents 5,000 corporate travel departments and suppliers, estimates that each of its members pays $3.51 million a year in state and local taxes that target travelers—excluding what they pay in taxes on airfares.

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Obsession: Blue Bottle in Brooklyn

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I’ve been hitting the bottle for breakfast lately. Not just any bottle—the new outpost of Blue Bottle Coffee Co. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

This is the first time the cult Bay Area coffee roaster and café has branched out beyond its native turf. Since its opening in March, New Yorkers have given it our signature warm-slash-blasé welcome. Now that the shop has settled into its skin, it’s starting to host classes and public cuppings.

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Spirit Air: Money Talks, and Talking Costs Money

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In its latest salvo against the traveling public, Spirit Airlines said it is considering a new surcharge—a fee to speak with Spirit airport employees. Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza told ABC News that it is considering such a fee in light of its airport kiosks that allow customers to buy tickets, check-in, and select or change seats without any human interaction. Baldanza told ABC News that flyers won’t see this new surcharge “any time soon.” What customers are seeing this week, however, is Spirit’s newest surcharge—a fee of up to $45 for carry-on bags placed in an overhead bin. That new fee began on Sunday, August 1.

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Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is also the international editor at Travel + Leisure.

USTA Launches Gulf Oil Spill Information Website

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Travel Pulse
GulfTravelUpdate.com, a portal site that centralizes links to up-to-date travel and recovery information on Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi—the states directly affected by the BP Oil Spill. GulfTravelUpdate.com includes links to traveler information from federal, state and local sources, plus oil spill news coverage and a map featuring the spill's impact on gulf shores from media partner USA Today. Deals and special offers for travel to the Gulf Coast region are also available.

“This site compiles a tremendous amount of information from states, destinations and agencies on the status of beaches and coastal communities along affected areas of the Gulf Coast," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. (...) Photo courtesy of GulfTravelUpdate.com.

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Galapagos Off Heritage Endangered List, but Everglades Added

201008-b-galapagosjpgM&H NewsUNESCO has elected to remove The Galapagos Islands from the List of World Heritage in Danger due to significant progress in protecting its ecosystem, but the degradation of the Everglades National Park means it has been added to the at-risk list.

Described as a unique living museum and showcase of evolution, the islands were threatened by invasive species, rampant tourism and over-fishing, however, significant progress has been made by Ecuador in the past few years to address these problems, particularly in dealing with introduced species.

The same cannot be said of the Everglades.

The national park contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America, but  serious and continuing degradation of its aquatic ecosystem have seen it inscribed onto the list at the request of the United States. (Photo credit: Blue Footed Boobie, Courtesy of International Expeditions)

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