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Tech Thursday: A Playlist to Cure Your Fear of Flying

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Listen up, airlines—it’s time to start playing Adele’s Someone Like You on the PA as you’re boarding your flights. According to research launched today by music service Spotify, the song is the perfect tune to settle travelers’ jittery nerves, thanks to its ideal tempo (67 bpm) and harmonious tones. About one in four fliers suffer from some sort of travel-related fear, says the study by London-based anxiety psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman, who helped Spotify identify characteristics in songs that are most de-stressing (see the full recommended playlist here). But tuning in is just the first step: breathing in time to the rhythm, listening on headphones, and closing your eyes will all work together to theoretically lower your heart rate and blood pressure, stimulate both sides of your brain, and calm your mind. Fly on, frazzled road warriors, fly on.

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

 


American Airlines Offers New Ways to Show Off Your Klout

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If you're like me, you've often stood at a crowded airport gate, clutching your plastic container of sad, limp salad-to-go and gazing enviously at the door of the business-class lounge just across the concourse. What wonders might lie beyond that forbidding threshold: Cocktails? Delicious nibbles? Spotless bathrooms??

If you're also like me, you probably dabble a bit in social media, tweeting and Facebooking and checking in on Foursquare. As it turns out, enough dabbling can get you through that door. American Airlines just announced a partnership with Klout, the service that measures influence on social media. Klout scores are determined by a mysterious algorithm based on your activity on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other networks; if it's 55 or higher, you'll earn a free day pass to any of American's Admirals Club lounges around the world. They don't even care if you're flying AA or not: The goal is to attract people who are likely to tweet gratefully about the comfortable seats or Instagram their glass of Champagne—using the lounge's complimentary Wi-Fi, of course. (Those with humbler Klout scores get a chance to win a free year's Admiral's Club membership.)

I don't pay much attention to my Klout score, but after reading about the new initiative on Skift.com, I checked it, and—lo and behold—discovered that it's 59! That pales next to Justin Bieber's 93, but it was enough to gain me entry. I immediately signed up and got an email with my day pass attached. I plan to use it during a four-hour layover in Boston this Sunday (and I'm flying on United). Keep an eye on my Instagram feed for pictures of peanuts!

Peter J. Frank is the director, editorial product development at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

Tech Thursday: Dell’s New, Travel-Friendly Convertible Ultrabook

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Love the portability of a MacBook Air and the versatility of the Surface? Somewhere right in between is Dell’s XPS 12 (from $1199), which hit shelves last October with a slick, rotating touchscreen that flips around from laptop to tablet. You won’t get bogged down with this one in your carry on—it weighs in at under 3.5 lbs (less than a pound heavier than its Apple competitor) and its 12-inch monitor feels substantial enough for productivity, with the advantages of a full chicklet keyboard and Windows 8 Pro (which we prefer by leaps and bounds to the less-intuitive, tablet-specific Windows 8 RT). Unlike other ultrabooks, the XPS12 comes with 256 GB of storage in a Solid State hard drive—doubling most of its close competitors—but all this means you’ll want to use it as a laptop first, and tablet second.

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 Dell

E-Hail Apps Back in New York City

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While car-sharing services are getting shot down on the West Coast, things are finally looking up for “e-hailing” taxis in New York City. Last week, a State Supreme Court case prohibiting their use was dismissed, and as of today, two e-hail apps are back in action in the Big Apple.

Uber made its debut in the New York marketplace last September, but was quickly snuffed out of business over legality concerns; now, it’s back in action as of Tuesday night. Users can book black cars from their mobile phones, but mobile payments are currently not available as they were previously.

Hailo, the only other app approved thus far, launches today with less name recognition but extra perks, from mobile payment to $10 credits for early adopters. Rather than livery-style cars, Hailo works exclusively with yellow taxis in New York.

Expect a glut of new NYC-based e-hail apps to hit the market in the next months, as developers wrap their heads around the new legislation. Part of the deal: participants must be able to integrate with the existing meter system for NYC cabs, and go through an approval process by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Still, the value of these apps is greatest in cities like San Francisco, where hailing a cab isn’t as easy as stepping onto any street corner and sticking out your arm. The laws keeping e-hail apps out of business in California—and other parts of the country—are antiquated at best; we can only hope New York’s example sets a precedent for the cities that need these services most.

See: How to Hail a Cab in NYC.

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 by Maria Pedone


 

Hotel Chatter's Wifi Report and T+L's Top Picks

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This morning, Hotel Chatter published its 2013 Hotel Wifi Report, showcasing the best and worst internet service in the industry. The exhaustive study finds that 64% of hotels worldwide offer free wifi, a service Hotel Chatter insists is “as essential as a working shower or air conditioning.”

Paradoxically, as many T+L readers have discovered, the hotels most likely to charge extra for internet service are high-end properties that demand hefty nightly rates to begin with. In fact, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 84% of luxury hotels charge for in-room internet service, while just 8% of economy hotels do.


Travel + Leisure has been keeping tabs on which hotel brands provide free wifi to guests, and acknowledges these few major brands that buck the trend:


Third Place: A tie between Fairmont, Kimpton, and Omni hotels
Each of these brands gives free wifi in common areas and in guestrooms if you join their (also free) loyalty programs.



Second Place: Andaz

All Andaz properties provide free in-room and lobby internet access to all guests.


First Place: Peninsula and Shangri-La Hotels

Both of these hotel companies give free wifi not just in the hotel rooms and common areas, but also in their automobile fleet!


Be sure to check out Hotel Chatter's in depth report here.

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by John Huba

Best Travel Websites and Apps

Sometimes you need a vacation from planning your vacation. Take the stress out of trip-planning with these seven essential resources that will save you time and money.

AIRFARES + FLIGHTS
GetGoing
If your plans are flexible, take advantage of the website GetGoing, which promises to save travelers up to 40 percent. Choose two destinations in the same region of the world (for example, Vienna and Geneva, or Costa Rica and Panama) and enter your travel dates. Then provide your billing information to complete your reservation. The Get Going team randomly selects one of your two options.

Related: Avoid These Online Travel Scams

Pintrips
The idea of pinning something on the web began with Pinterest. Now, Pintrips brings that kind of functionality to online airfare searches. You can pin fare results you like and collect them in a personal folder on the Pintrips site. It makes it easy to compare your flight options and share them with others.

SeatGuru
Enter an airline and flight number and SeatGuru calls up a detailed airplane plan, indicating seats that are desirable (emergency exits, those with extra legroom, etc.), average, and simply bad (reduced legroom or recline). It also has reviews of different airline services, as well as quick-scan icons for such in-flight amenities as food, entertainment, in-seat power ports, and Wi-Fi.

HOTELS
Hipmunk
You can filter hotel searches by price, quality, and distance, as well as "Ecstasy," a rating based on a mix of price, amenities, and reviews. Hipmunk also offers a series of heat maps that show you which hotels are closest to food, shopping, and nightlife.

Guestmob
Guestmob lets travelers choose between collections of similar hotels in one city-all with names and picture galleries—at the same price. Pick a collection and you're guaranteed a spot in one of its hotels at the advertised rate (up to 50 percent off).

TRAVEL SERVICES
WordLens
Aim your phone's camera over a written phrase for an instant translation courtesy of WordLens—no costly data connection is needed. The service is available in English, French, Italian, and Spanish.

GlobeTipping
With tipping guidelines for more than 200 countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia, GlobeTipping is the most comprehensive of the global tip calculators. It can factor in tips by percentage and divide the overall bill by number of diners.

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America’s Strangest Taxes
Best Affordable All-Inclusive Resorts

Tech Thursday: The Solar Plane Heading Across America

Think solar-powered airplanes are the talk of futurists? Not really. Solar Impulse, a company started by two innovative engineers, has been flying by the power of the sun since 2010, when it accomplished an incredible 26-hour flight without an ounce of fuel. Their plane, covered in solar panels across the length of its 208-foot wingspan, is now embarking on a new mission, criss-crossing America to raise awareness for sustainable energy.

The journey begins on May 1, with stops in San Francisco, Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York. But keep an eye out for open houses, where guests will be able to check out the plane in all its high-tech glory at various airports (the first is tentatively slated for next Saturday at Moffett Federal Airfield, in San Francisco).

As for the company’s next goal? A flight around the world, currently scheduled for 2015.

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

 

SFO Moves to Block Car Sharing Services

Here today, gone tomorrow: FlightCar, that quirky car-sharing company we recently told you about, has been shut down by SFO.

And it's not alone: Also on the airport's cease-and-desist list are five other ride sharing companies, from UberX to InstantCab, according to The Huffington Post's Aaron Sankin. Why the sudden crackdown on automotive sharing startups? Apparently the tech-forward companies have been getting an easy break thanks to legal loopholes that don't require them to hold licenses from the California Public Utilities Commission, and taxi drivers—who not only need the licenses but pay fees for each airport ride—aren't too happy about it. But that doesn't mean it's game over for the six companies at stake, as a hearing is scheduled to determine their future later this month.

Our prediction? FlightCar will live on, sans curbside pickup service. As for the companies whose core premise includes a driver? They may not be so lucky.

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

Surprising Number of Travel Innovations Announced Today

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Strange things are afoot in the travel world today. It seems like our inboxes have been flooded by announcements of weird and wonderful innovations. Here's a selection of the most interesting news of the day (that would be April 1, by the way).

Ever the publicity hound, Richard Branson announced that his engineering team has secretly developed the world's first glass-bottom airplane. (Picture above) The plane's underbelly will be completely see-through, allowing travelers the "opportunity to look down on the beautiful scenery of Great Britain as they fly." But rest assured: Cabin crew will be trained to calm the nerves of vertigo-prone fliers. (Amy Farley)

Read More

Free WiFi Coming Soon to IHG Hotels

The winds of change are upon us. IHG, the company behind InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Hotel Indigo, announced that it will offer free internet access to all 71 million members of its loyalty program beginning in 2014. With this decision, it joins Fairmont, Kimpton, and Omni Hotels, all of which offer free Wi-Fi access to members of their (also free) loyalty programs.

By covering more than 4,600 hotels, IHG is certainly the largest company to make such a commitment to its loyalists of all ranks. And the IHG twist: you won’t need to be a guest of the hotel to access the internet. The service will be available free of charge even to loyalty-program members who just pop into the lobby.

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