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JetBlue’s Super Fast Wi-Fi Arrives at Last… For Free!

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Finally, the day that travel-obsessives have been waiting for is here: JetBlue’s new in-flight Wi-Fi, the product of endless chatter for months on end, is finally making its debut. This morning, a beta version of Fly-Fi (Simply Surf, as they’re calling it) was made available on three inaugural flights, indicating a slow launch for the carrier.

Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s manager of corporate communication, says the airline will be bringing connectivity to five planes by end of year, and 140 more throughout 2014. But compensating for the slow roll out is super-fast service, thanks to a unique high-speed satellite that’s unrivalled among other airlines. An extra perk? Simply Surf will be free for the first six months, with an intention to make complimentary service available on an ongoing basis.

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Instagram Direct Launches For Private Sharing

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Today, at a rare NYC-based launch event, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom announced a new feature called Instagram Direct. Like your private inbox on Twitter or Facebook, it’s a new way to share privately—either with one individual or a group of up to 15 friends. Simply select who you want to share your photo with, and each person’s avatar shows up in a bubble underneath your caption—first grayed out, then in color with a green check mark once they’ve seen your message.

The new feature (available today on mobile) comes in response to the tendency of self-curating—not wanting to overwhelm your feed with every single shot of your Roman holiday, for instance—and the need to share those extra images with the people who really do want to see them. (Named groups, such as “Family” or “Foodie Friends” will follow in the 2.0 version of Direct, making it easier to share that ump-teenth baguette and cheese shot in Paris without annoying your best carb-avoiding gal pal.) So why have the launch in New York? Said Systrom: “Instagram isn’t just about Silicon Valley. Instagram is all about sharing moments all around the world.” We couldn't have put it better ourselves.

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 Maria Pedone

T+L Tech Pop-Up Store Opens in Chicago

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In our Decemeber issue, Travel + Leisure spun out a list of the top tech gadgets in 2013. Now, we’re giving our fans in Chicago a chance to test drive and buy a selection of winners, from Wi-Fi equipped cameras to super-slick laptops at the T+L Hot Spot Tech Pop-Up. Hosted by the Thompson Chicago, the shop will run this weekend, Friday, December 12th through Sunday, December 15th, in conjunction with ShopLatitude.com, where you’ll be able to make all your purchases. Gevalia coffee will fuel the holiday shopping with their tasting station, as guests listen to the likes of T+L News Editor, Amy Farley and Style Director, Mimi Lombardo during live editor chats.

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Skyscanner Launches Soccer Flight Finder for 2014 World Cup

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Skyscanner already helps travelers compare flight prices for the best deals, but they’ll be focusing on the sports-crazed in 2014. Just as soccer fans around the globe are gearing up for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Skyscanner has launched their Soccer Flight Finder. The search engine compares outbound flights from each of the 32 participating countries to Brazil, as well as internal flights so that fans can follow their team directly to the field. Simply select which of the eight groups your team is placed in, and Skyscanner lets you search for free across web and mobile devices, in 30 different languages. Hotel and car rental comparisons let spectators further plan their visit to Latin America's largest country—all the more reason to stand and cheer (or shout) during the high-energy tournament.

Maria PedoneMaria Pedone is on the digital team at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @mariapedestrian.

Photo credit: Skyscanner

Turkish Airlines Brings Startups Into the Spotlight for Flying Investors

Turkish Airlines is now catering to specific kinds of fliers—namely, investors. The airlines’ new in-flight entertainment, Invest on Board, highlights a selection of startup pitches from the online platform eTohum to help investors support the next big idea.

Eleven videos are currently available to watch on the Invest on Board website, and while most of the companies are based in Turkey, the service may expand to include international startups if investors take a liking to it. With in-air resources like this, along with WiFi availability and a lift of the ban on electronic devices, it looks as if airlines are working to keep you plugged in—no matter how many thousands of feet above the office you may be.

Maria PedoneMaria Pedone is on the digital team at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @mariapedestrian.

(Travel) Agents of Change: PhoCusWright Announces Winners of its 2013 Travel Innovation Summit

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All sweat and nerves and butterflies last night, some 30 next-gen travel innovators eagerly awaited the results of this year's PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit. Which start-up would be crowned the industry's next change agent? After two days of schmoozing, courting VCs, and convincing the travel industry's top players they they were the Next Big Thing, only one young company would walk away with the coveted top prize: General Catalyst Award for Travel Innovation.

The competition was stiff—and the stakes high. A win all but guaranteed a steady stream of calls from investors.

“This year’s presenting companies are amongst the most exciting we’ve seen present to date at The Travel Innovation Summit,” said PhoCusWright vice president, research Douglas Quinby.

Not surprisingly, it was a tough decision for this year's panel of judges—made up top travel and technology experts—to choose from this already elite group of companies hailing from across the U.S., and as far away as Russia, Melbourne, and India. But there could only be one winner.

SafelyStay, an Atlanta-based start-up that powers safe and instant vacation rental reservations for online travel agencies, vacation rental marketplaces and property managers, walked away with the title, and $250K.

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Travel Innovation at the PhoCusWright Conference

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November means T+L’s annual pre-Thanksgiving trip to the epicenter of travel technology, otherwise known as the Phocuswright conference, being held right now in Hollywood, Florida. And Day 1 of the conference yesterday—the Travel Innovation Summit—is when we get a sneak peak at some of the cool new ideas that these innovators are launching.

One of our favorites: Peek, where you can find things to do in destinations all over the world, then book those activities right from the site. Another cool innovator: What Now, a soon-to-launch destination guide tool you can use in offline mode when abroad (bypassing roaming fees) with some great twists, like pulling in weather, public transportation, and other data that you’d expect to need a signal for.

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Gogobot’s New Tribes Feature Finds Opinions From Likeminded Travelers

If you haven’t been on Gogobot in a while, it’s a good time to make your return—today, the site announced a new feature called Tribes, which lets you filter for recommendations from likeminded travelers, both online and on your smartphone. Tribes cover various travel personalities and interests, from luxury travel to wellness or art and design. Join the Local Culture and Foodie tribes before a trip to Chicago, for instance, and Stephanie Izard’s hotspot Girl and the Goat is your first dining recommendation. Family travelers, on the other hand, will get Giordano’s, the classic deep dish pizza haunt, as their top pick for places to fill up. 

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Mandarin Oriental Jumps on the Free Wi-Fi Bandwagon

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If free Wi-Fi has typically been the exception at luxury hotels, there’s more hope than ever that it will soon be the rule. Case in point: this week, Mandarin Oriental has announced that they will offer free, high-speed Wi-Fi to any guest who books on the mandarinoriental.com website and fills out a guest questionnaire. Why the caveats? The brand is better able to learn about their guests, anticipate their needs, and market to their audience with the help of online profiles, and direct bookings reduce the fees and commissions associated with outside booking vendors. Plus, Mandarin promises to offer the lowest rate on their site—or beat any better deals by a full ten percent. Want the Wi-Fi without the runaround? Try Peninsula, Shangri-La, or Hilton, which recently partnered with AT&T to provide free Internet for many of its guests.

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 Mandarin Oriental

The New iPad Air: The Best New Tablet for Travelers?

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Yesterday may as well have been declared unofficial tablet day: Microsoft unveiled its new Surface 2 (whose main selling point is an improved kickstand for better stability on your lap), Nokia released its long-rumored tablet debut (a sleek 10-incher running Windows RT), and Apple announced a completely redesigned iPad: the iPad Air. While the other two focus on productivity, with built in Office Suite and attachable keyboards, Apple outrightly balked at its competitors for being “confused” in their attempts to merge tablet and laptop.

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