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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

Peek.com Expands to London and Paris

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Peek.com, the trailblazing site that lets you book trip activities and attractions online, hopped across the pond today, providing a slew of things to do for London- and Paris-bound travelers, both on and off the beaten path. Among the experiences available for purchase? For the adventurous: bungee jumping over the Thames (pictured above); for the traditionalist, a three-hour-long French pastry class. (Peek.com also serves some 15 U.S. markets, including Boston, Miami, and Napa.)

In each city, a host of trips under $50 are joined by splurge-worthy, once-in-a-lifetime excursions (think volcano helicopter tours in Hawaii or a private tour of Paris’ Opera Garnier), catering to any type of traveler. It also offers itinerary suggestions, and is enlisting even more boldface names to share their favorite spots and activities. (Think Entourage star Adrian Grenier's Broooklyn, or Diane von Furstenberg's Los Angeles.) Needless to say, we’ll be staying tuned as the company expands throughout the Continent and beyond.

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 Peek

Trip Doctor: Webflakes.com Translates Foreign Blogs for You

A new website is making it easier for Americans to get the local scoop on international destinations. Webflakes, launched in May, uses its growing team of volunteers (currently at around 200) to translate foreign blogs into English, a major boon to anyone who’s ever been frustrated at the lack of English-language, international posts in the blogosphere.

The site compiles posts from over 60 hand-selected bloggers who hail from France, Italy, Japan, Spain, Argentina, Peru, and Switzerland. That list of bloggers and home-countries is set to grow, with German and Chinese blogs predicted for the near future. The posts cover traditional lifestyle topics including travel, design, architecture, relationships, fashion, wine, and food & dining.

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How to Guarantee You'll Get In-Flight WiFi

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Despite travelers’ obsessions with being plugged in on the road, only 38% of domestic flights—and less than 1% of international flights—offer WiFi on board. Change is coming, with over 2,400 domestic and international flights rolling out Wi-Fi in the near future, but even then, in-flight web surfing will be far from ubiquitous, says data by flight engine RouteHappy. So here’s what the study suggests you do to make sure you stay connected in the skies:

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Tech Thursday: Low Fare Alerts and More from Trip Watcher

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With so many new tools promising to help us find the best (or cheapest) flights, it’s easier than ever to turn flight searching into an all-day obsession. Enter Trip Watcher, a new site by Hotwire.com, which does all the constant searching for you. Enter your desired destinations and dates (or range of dates), and the site will monitor the fares on your behalf, sending you alerts every time it finds a new low price. You choose the preferred method of contact—email, Facebook, or Twitter—so that you can jump on the deal before it disappears.

I’ve been putting Trip Watcher to the test with five sample itineraries—three domestic and two international, some with set dates and others more flexible. In just one day, the engine found lower fares for three of those routes, dropping the price by 20% to Chicago, 15% to Lima, and a whopping 38% to Charleston. The latter—a deeply discounted fare of $102—disappeared quickly, but it was entirely within my reach thanks to the instant update.

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Tech Thursday: Two New Tools for Intelligent Flight Searching

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When Hipmunk released its airfare-focused "agony index" a few years back, it was the talk of the town here at T+L—frankly, we’re still pretty obsessed. But these days, a number of services are trying to one-up the flight search pioneer with what’s now being dubbed "intelligent searching," where users can pick and choose itineraries based on far more than just price and schedule.

Rising to the top of the pack is Momondo. The company recently launched a new Flight Insight tool, which makes the search process as transparent as it gets. By aggregating data that the company has collected since its inauguration in 2006, Flight Insight offers a tremendous amount of information on all the factors that can affect the price of your flight, from seasonality to airport combos. Plug in your desired itinerary, and the tool will help you find the best airlines, days of the week, or times of the day to search for if you’re hoping to snag a bargain. Interestingly, Momondo suggests that you’re almost always best off booking a flight 60 days ahead of your departure.

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Family Friday: A Travel Social Network for Kids

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Attention mini-jetsetters: a new travel social networking site for kids, ShrinkJet, is set to launch next month. Once your child signs up, he or she can share experiences about restaurants, museums, playgrounds etc. in his or her hometown and other cities around the world with other like-minded travelers. 

I was skeptical at first (how many of these sites do we need?) but after doing some research, I'll admit I'm impressed. Think of it as a well-curated version of Trip Advisor for little ones, with interactive maps, photo sharing, and a fun, user-friendly design.

Clara O. Sedlak is a mother of two and special projects editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of ShrinkJet

 

Go Around the World for 60 Days with DoubleTree

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This week, DoubleTree by Hilton debuted DTour, a devoted YouTube channel created in collaboration with Google that lets travel aficionados add their favorite tips—or find inspiration—on a constantly evolving map of the world. While the hotel’s budding relationship with Google raises our eyebrow, we’re currently most excited about the prospect of winning a DTour of a Lifetime—an eight-week, all-inclusive trip around the globe.

Want to enter for your chance to win? Upload a video with your favorite travel tip to the DTour map by May 31—the six most promising global correspondents will be sent around the world to document their adventures for the brand.

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 DoubleTree by Hilton

 

Tech Thursday: How to Turn Your Hotel Stays into Airline Points

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In the last few months, we’ve been tracking two new sites, PointsHound and RocketMiles—both trying to disrupt the stronghold of Expedia and Travelocity by offering airline points in exchange for hotel stays. How does it work? Consider it a big circle of back scratching, where hotel sale commissions buy airline miles that get passed on to you, the consumer, who’s still getting a best rate guarantee. And not only are the hotel rates good—an average booking can earn upwards of 7,000 miles with your preferred carrier.

To put them head to head, we entered an identical search heading to Chicago over Memorial Day weekend with United Mileage Plus as our preferred reward currency. The Tremont Chicago Hotel at Magnificent Mile showed up on both searches: $169 a night with 7,000 miles at RocketMiles; the same price at 6,500 miles with PointsHound. Some comparisons were less evenly matched: The Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown netted 2,100 miles on PointsHound, and almost double at RocketMiles, for the same price. Incidentally, prices were equal to or better than what the hotels were offering on their own sites, and the same as Expedia’s current rates.

But PointsHound gets an advantage in two key criteria: it offers much more variety in inventory (whereas RocketMiles had just 8 hotels available in Chicago, PointsHound had far too many to count, including some of our favorite properties). And by booking regularly on PointsHound, you “level up” and become eligible for even greater rewards. Regardless, both are tools we’ll be keeping in our back pockets.

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 PointsHound

 

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