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United Door-to-Door Baggage Service Just $25/Bag

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United Airlines is conducting an exciting short-term experiment: If you book their Door-to-Door Baggage Service before 5 p.m. this Friday, they’ll arrange to pick up and deliver up to 9 pieces of luggage for $25 each.  The service can be booked up to 10 days in advance of a domestic trip, so even if you’re not flying for a few days, you can book it now.  The $25/bag fee covers one-way travel (so $50 roundtrip) and is only available in locations served by FedEx.

To get an idea of just how great a value this is, consider that United currently charges $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for a second bag.  (Think bypassing the airline and shipping directly through FedEx may be a deal?  Think again.  The company charges upwards of $230 to overnight one 50 lb. bag from New York to Los Angeles. Costs drop significantly with 2nd- or 3rd day delivery, but still don't merit savings enough to live out of a carry-on bag.)

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Invisibility Cloak for Your Camera

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While traveling, I'm either too slow to take my camera out of my bag to capture that perfect moment, or too nervous to flash such a pricey piece of equipment in public.

Enter the Cloak Bag, the world's first shoot-through camera bag. The bag's unique bottom zipper design allows photographers to snap away without removing their SLR cameras from the bag, which saves time and also affords photographers a bit more discretion when taking photos in unfamiliar locals where thieves may target tourists. For $49, it's a steal to have that peace of mind.

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(Language) Practice Makes Perfect on the iPhone

For the last week or so, I spent some time playing around with a couple of iPhone/iPod Touch apps created by a company called MemoryLifter.* As the name suggests, the apps are of the brain food sort. While they offer an assortment of genres—anatomy, chemistry abbreviations, world flags, etc.—I was most interested in the language apps.

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Each language available—there are 10 right now: German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Swedish—comes with an assortment of area-specific apps, like basic vocab, verbs, education & work, family, shopping & restaurant, and more.

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More Hotels Offer 'Pay Before You Stay' Discounts

USA Today |  Pay before you stay, and save. That has been the deal with online travel sites and discount tour operators. Now, an increasing number of hotels are slashing room rates if you ante up in full in advance and forego a refund if you don't show up.

Last year, Fairmont hotels began offering savings up up to 30% to those who book ahead and pay in full.

Now, "I would say the majority of our hotels offer 'Savers' rates. It's one way we can offer a discount" without cheapening the upscale brand, Fairmont spokeswoman Lori Holland says. Prepaying also guarantees revenue ahead of time: "We know people are coming," she says.

Las Vegas hotels often charge a credit card when a stay is booked. But Station Casinos, with 10 properties in the area including the upscale Red Rock Resort, just announced a tiered, online pre-pay program that offers deep discounts.

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Paperless Boarding Takes off at United

CNN |  More air travelers may soon be scanning their smartphones instead of paper slips at airport gates.

United has become the latest airline to offer mobile boarding passes for customers equipped with Web-enabled mobile phones or devices, such as iPhones or BlackBerrys.

United passengers traveling within the United States, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands can now log on to mobile.united.com to check in for their flights via their smartphones.

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Review: MyTouch Android Travel Apps

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I recently had the chance to borrow one of the newish T-Mobile MyTouch Android smart phones so I could test out a handful of travel apps. (Proof that, as cool as they are, you don't need an iPhone to have useful programs on your cell.) I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of the phone itself—the touch screen is not as sensitive as I would like it to be; plus, I'm an avid texter and prefer to have an actual keyboard at my disposal—but it does have some apps worth pointing out.

CarDar Lite: Driving in a strange city can be tricky. Finding your car in a strange city can be trickier. CarDar Lite let's you pinpoint your parking spot on a map, using either GPS or a manual marker, and when it's time to head home, it will point you in the right direction. The biggest downfall for me? Even if you have a good signal, you need to be outside for the phone to pinpoint where you are. (I had to manually lock down a parking spot.)
Cost: Free for the Lite version, with unobtrusive ads; $.99 without.

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The Perfect Bag for the Perfect Vacation—Down Under

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Steven Alan, the man responsible for the proliferation of plaid shirts throughout New York and, increasingly, around the country, recently took a break from his day job. He went to Australia, in fact, to soak up Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. It was the Perfect Vacation—one that you can take, too—with an itinerary crafted by Tourism Australia in collaboration with Virgin Airlines. And from it, he designed the Perfect Bag—a leather and waxed cotton carryon with rope detailing (and, yes, some signature plaid cotton lining the exterior pockets) inspired by his experience Down Under.

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Flight Attendants Union Wants Combat Training

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USA Today | Flight attendants press for hand-to-hand combat training as anti-terror measure The Association of Flight Attendants is pushing Congress to fund combat training as part of a four-point plan that the union says would improve security inside aircraft cabins. The Los Angeles Times reports the union "hopes that lawmakers will include money to put some of their ideas into action under an upcoming funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration."

According to the Times, the attendants' four-point plan includes: "Mandatory hand-to-hand combat training for all crew members"; portable communication devices that would allow attendants to speak with pilots during emergencies; a standard maximum size for carry-on luggage "so that flight attendants can look for suspicious passengers instead of struggling with oversized bags"; and the ability to shut down in-flight Wi-Fi "during high-threat periods to prevent terrorists from communicating with collaborators on the ground."

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Photo courtesy of iStock

Airlines Will Cancel Flights to Avoid Delay Fines

NBC News - Dallas, Ft. Worth |  Passengers may soon be seeing more cancellations on airport departure boards. Several airlines, including Fort Worth-based American and Houston-based Continental, say they will cancel flights rather than risk paying stiff penalties for delaying passengers on the runway.

Continental's CEO told investors Tuesday that the airline will opt to cancel flights rather than chance being fined. Aviation consultant Denny Kelly expects other airlines to follow suit.

“I think all of them will cancel flights,” he said. “They'll do it partially because they think they are going to punish passengers, and if they punish them, someone will get this legislation removed.”

Under new federal guidelines that take effect next month, airlines can be fined up to $27,500 per passenger if a plane is stuck on the tarmac for longer than three hours.

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HomeAway Expands to South America

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Good news for those thinking about an affordable spring or summer rental. We learned this morning that HomeAway, one of the largest vacation rental companies, is expanding its offerings to include homes in South America. With its purchase of Brazil’s top rental site, AlugueTemporada.com.br, HomeAway, with more than 12,000 new properties to choose from, now has the most vacation rentals in the region—and some 453,000 additional homes spread across North America and Europe.

HomeAway appears to be on an acquisitions roll; the company also announced last week it purchased BedandBreakfast.com for an undisclosed sum.

Adrien Glover is the online deputy editor at Travel + Leisure.

Image courtesy of HomeAway

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