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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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Now You Can Use American Express Rewards Points to Pay for Taxi Rides

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Travelers and locals can now use their American Express Rewards Points to pay for taxi rides in New York City.

As of today, American Express is letting cardholders use their rewards to pay for NYC cab fares in real time, at the end of their ride. Not only does it open the door to use smaller point balances efficiently—it’s the first time that cardholders (with any kind of plastic) can pay with rewards currency at the point of purchase. Amex loyalists who opt to pay for a NYC cab ride with credit card will automatically see their points balance upon swiping—they’ll then be given the choice to pay with, say, 2107 points for a $21.07 taxi fare. Not in NYC? Fret not: we’re inclined to believe that instant points payment might become the name of the game as banks re-examine the often-frustrating process of cashing out rewards.

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 American Express

Test Driving the New HP Chromebook 11

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This week, Google announced the next generation of Chromebook—a glossy white beauty with top-of-the-line hardware—and we’re impressed. It’s slim (under 18 mm), lightweight (at 2.3 pounds), and travel-proof, with a magnesium alloy frame that’ll withstand bumps and dings, a slick widescreen that’s great for movie watching, and speakers that port up through the keyboard for ultra-clear, fuzz-free sound.

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Five Things We Love About the New Kindle Paperwhite

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The one gadget I can no longer travel without? My e-reader. But now that I’ve seen the new generation of Kindle Paperwhites, I’m thinking it might be time to upgrade what I’m putting in my carry-on. Here, the three things I’m digging most about Amazon’s latest release.

Page Flip: The only thing I miss about the paper book experience is the ability to flip back to earlier chapters. The new Paperwhite lets you pull up a slider that lets you scan through any novel—improving on their previous X-Ray feature that simply found previous mentions of common characters or concepts.

Integration with Goodreads:This isn’t out just yet, but soon, Kindle users will get to share book recommendations with friends on this innovative social media network.

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Enterprise Debuts Electric Cars in Orlando

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If you’re planning a vacation to Orlando this winter, you may want to consider renting an electric car. In an effort to make the Sunshine State a shade greener, the Electrification Coalition has partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, among other area travel companies, to launch their new Drive Electric initiative. The project is a big step towards eco-friendly travel, especially since Orlando is one of America's most visited cities (according to Forbes), attracting over 50 million guests annually.

Besides shrinking your carbon footprint, the perks also extend to your wallet. Orlando's metro area boasts over 300 charging stations—many of them free—with complimentary re-charging at participating hotels like the Peabody Orlando. And with no gas tank to go empty, you won’t have to waste time filling up between Kingdoms.

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Luxury Travel Grows On Sina Weibo

When the Chinese travel abroad, what do they want? Traditionally, they’ve been more focused on luxury products than luxury hotels. But as more Chinese develop a taste for high thread counts, that trend is changing—quickly. One important sign of this change: Ritz-Carlton has just launched on the Twitter-like Chinese-language social media site Sina Weibo, joining other luxury hoteliers like Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons (as well as luxury brands like Mercedes Benz and Burberry).

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Bollywood Backlash: Air India’s TV Screen Calls Passenger an Idiot

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You might not be fazed anymore by grouchy airline workers, or a surly passenger in the seat next to you. But when your in-flight system starts giving you attitude, that’s a whole new level of insult.

According to an article in the Times of India, Air India is investigating an incident on a flight from London to Mumbai in which a passenger was having some difficulties getting a movie started at her seat. According to her side of the story, she finally received a rather brazen error message: "This selection is not currently available. Please try again later," and, below that, "Lie low...Sit down you idiot!"

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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.

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