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Tech Thursday: Facebook's New Shared Albums

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This week, Facebook unveiled shared photo albums—a small change perhaps, but with big benefits for travelers. As many as 50 contributors will be able to add up to 200 photos each (that's a lot of photos—much more than the old limit of 1,000 pics—if anyone is counting). The albums can still be kept private, or limited just to invited friends; aside from the album's owner, pics can be edited only by the person who uploads them. All that to say: there will no longer be a need to pore through your friends' profiles just to find the one great shot from your last group vacation. Thank goodness.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

Tech Thursday: A New Way to Score Free Hotel Wi-Fi

Thanks to an interesting new partnership between Hilton HHonors and AT&T, members of the phone carrier—or those with Gold and Diamond HHonors status—can now enjoy free Wi-Fi at more than 3,000 Hilton hotels worldwide as part of the joint StayConnected program. It’s a first for the hotel industry, where free Wi-Fi is shamefully difficult to come across—and we can’t help wonder if other such collaborations are soon to follow. Verizon and Starwood: we’re looking at you!

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Tech Thursday: Google Takes on Siri

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In a move that many might see as either Orwellian or plain-old useful, Google has just launched a new feature that lets you canvass all your personal information—appointments, bookings, photos—simply by asking spoken questions. It’s a bit like Siri, but smarter: ask Google to show you all the pictures you took in London, and those will pop right up. Ask whether your flight is delayed, and it will cross check your confirmation email with the airline’s most current information. Want to figure out how to get to your hotel? It won’t just show you the booking record—it’ll find the address and pop it into your Google Maps. Naturally, it works best if you use all of Google’s organizational tools, from Gmail to Google Calendar. But those on Apple devices reap the same benefits as long as they’re signed into their Google accounts. Importantly, all the information is kept private and secure, and the feature can be disabled for those who find it creepy. But why would you? This is smart technology at its best.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo by istockphoto

Tech Thursday: The Future of Hotel Check-In

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How many people does it take to run a hotel’s front desk? Soon enough, the answer will be zero. Just last month, Marriott Hotels debuted a new app that lets guests check in from their smart phone starting at 4PM the day before their arrival. As it stands, these guests still need the help of a front desk clerk—if only to pick up their room key.

But Marriott isn’t alone. InterContinental Hotels Group (which owns the flagship InterContinental brand as well as Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn) has recently debuted a similar technology, letting guests at select properties check in via a mobile app. With theirs, a machine in the lobby can dispense your room key upon arrival, so long as you can supply some basic identifying information. (Can you hear the collective weeping of receptionists around the globe?) We’re also hearing rumblings that some clever hoteliers are attempting to take mobile check-in to a whole new level—perhaps even eliminating the need for a room key overall.

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Tech Thursday: Hipmunk Gets a Last-Minute Upgrade

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We’ve long loved Hipmunk for its brilliant intelligent search capabilities, which help you find the least agonizing flights or the hotels that are best suited to your individual needs. Today, the app launches an update that once again changes the game: this time, it takes on the last-minute hotel booking sphere that has become quite the competitive space as of late.

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Tech Thursday: RocketMiles Goes International

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Three months ago, we introduced you to RocketMiles, a disruptive booking service whose purpose is to score its users thousands of airline points for every hotel reservation made on the site. This week, RocketMiles is breaking away from its competition as it announces international service—in terms of both hotels and airline partners. With the upgrade come properties in Europe’s capital cities, among other popular destinations around the globe (think London’s Langham Hotel, which nets a cool 5,000 Delta SkyMiles a night, or the Shangri-La Tokyo, good for 2,500 AAdvantage points per night). Don’t fly either of those airlines? The site’s service expansion brings aboard carriers such as KLM, AirFrance, Etihad, and Alaska Airlines—so it’s easy to cash in on the RocketMiles’ promise.

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 Rocketmiles.com

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

Tech Thursday: Google Maps Launches New Explore Feature

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In what has become routine news, Google has announced this week that they are, once again, pushing the envelope with Google Maps. So what are they up to this time? The cornerstone of the update is Explore, a new feature that acts as your personal assistant on the road. At the heart of it, Explore helps find whatever it is that you’re looking for, from gas stations and pharmacies to restaurants and local attractions. The listings (there are dozens in each category) include useful details, like hours, directions, and Zagat ratings, all within the app itself—that means no navigating back and forth between your browser and map. And if you prefer to note one of the suggestions for later in the day, a useful “starring” feature lets you bookmark places to your map. It’s available today for Android, and coming soon for iOS. If Google's predictions ring true, those of us on Apple devices will be able to jump on the bandwagon in just a few days.

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 Google

Tech Thursday: Jack of All Trades Travel Adapter

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The one gadget that makes every hotel a workstation: CB2's ultra-compact Universal Travel Adapter ($23). It's half the size of its competitors and has one simple switch that toggles between built-in plugs for virtually every destination around the world. It comes in four bright colors, making it easy to find in your suitcase.

Nikki Ekstein is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of CB2

Tech Thursday: Google Glass—Half Empty or Half Full?

Google Glass

Blending in with the locals. For most travelers, that’s the goal. We know that pulling out a guidebook never helps. But what about sporting funky headgear?

That’s what I was trying to figure out as I did a test drive yesterday of Google Glass at the company’s New York offices. Lens-less glasses with wraparound arms and a tiny screen above your right eye: Glass isn’t obstructive (that’s the whole point, after all), but it’s also not unobtrusive. And as my Google handler—who has worn hers in public—told me, you have to be prepared for some stares.

So do the benefits outweigh those stares?

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