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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

 

TripAdvisor Launches GreenLeaders, Just in Time for Earth Day

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How green is your getaway? To determine exactly how evironmentally responsible your destination is, TripAdvisor has lauched its GreenLeaders program. In the works for over a year, GreenLeaders rates green hotels and B&B’s on a scale of five levels, and broadcasts the exact details of what each of those properties is doing to operate on an energy budget.

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Tech Thursday: Mosey.com Launches

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There’s no shortage of tools to figure out how to make the most of your limited vacation time. Launching today, Mosey.com jumps into a crowded space of itinerary planners and micro-guides—but with a few unique features that make it stand out. Like our own Weekend Getaways or The New York Timeswonderful 36 Hours pieces, Mosey offers condensed itineraries for travelers, but here, they hover closer to a short four hours. Want to try a bar crawl in New York’s East Village or art-hunting around San Francisco’s Mission District? Mosey offers focused, niche adventures, each compiled by users looking to serve as digital tour guides. Naturally, each Mosey can be shared via social networks or kept private—but just scrolling through user suggestions provides a lovely way to get inspired.

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L.A. by the Book: Los Angeles Times Literary Map

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If, like me, you’re as likely to read a novel about a city as a guide book when preparing for a visit, the Los Angeles Times book staff has pieced together an excellent resource for you.Their Literary L.A. map pinpoints bookstores and lit landmarks around town (the library at UCLA where Ray Bradbury tapped out Fahrenheit 451 on a coin-operated typewriter!), and also includes passages from great fiction inspired by the the city and includes hardboiled L.A. classics like Double Indemnity and The Black Dahlia to more modern works like Steve Erickson’s Zeroville. The map has been released in time to accompany this weekend’s Festival of Books at USC.

LA Times Festival of Books, April 20-21, 2013, at USC, free. (events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/)

Ann Shields is a senior digital editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of L.A. Times

TripAdvisor Acquires Jetsetter

After much speculation, travel reviews giant TripAdvisor announced yesterday that it had acquired Jetsetter, an invitation-only luxury vacation deals site previously part of the Gilt Groupe.

Details are scant, but a Wall Street Journal article last October revealed that Gilt Groupe was seeking $50 million for Jetsetter. Given the six months that have passed since then, business experts quoted by Upstart Business Journal’s Alex Dalenberg believe that TripAdvisor likely paid much less than that original asking price.

The deal brings two such members-based travel sites under TripAdvisor’s wing, as the reviews site also owns SniqueAway. The Next Web's Alex Wilhelm reports that there are no plans to merge the two sites, with Jetsetter’s operations remaining in New York City and SniqueAway's staying put at TripAdvisor's headquarters near Boston. As TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer said in the release, "the Jetsetter team has built a great site with a loyal following that we value and plan to continue to let it operate independently."

 

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Kudos to the Webby Awards’ Travel Nominees

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Since 1996, the Webby Awards have been saluting the best web-based innovations of each year, from site design to the best e-shopping destinations and everything in between. This year’s nominees were announced today, and the travel candidates include some of our favorites, from Kayak to Hipmunk and TripAdvisor—all of whom took prominent spots on our own Best Apps and Websites list. One surprise nominee: Unique, a website focusing on city-specific micro-guides, primarily in European cities like Brussels or Rome. It’s new on our radar, but a gem of a find.

Among the 11 honorees from which the five nominees were chosen is yet another treasure trove of resources, from The Most Perfect View (which finds hotel rooms with postcard-worthy exposures) to yours truly—Travel + Leisure. (Thanks, Webbys! We couldn’t be prouder to be part of such great company.)

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

Tech Thursday: NowCation and the Rise of the Destination Agnostic

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We’re noticing a funny trend around here. From GetGoing, the site that surprises you with one of two affordable vacation choices, to mystery vacation deals at numerous airlines and travel agencies, all fingers point to the rise of the Destination Agnostic: A traveler who cares not where she goes, so long as she goes somewhere without breaking a budget.

Into this trend falls NowCation, a site that offers "getaway deals" at rock-bottom prices—if you’re willing to leave the dates and destination up to the computer. Just plug in your departure city and the program gets to work, instantly suggesting where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. This morning, deals from New York’s JFK included ten nights in New Orleans (hotel and air included) for $802 and San Juan, Puerto Rico for four nights for $467 (also inclusive of hotel and air). Package deals like these offer the best value, but those who prefer to choose their own accommodations can purchase airfare alone.

The deals don’t always make sense—we’ve seen suggestions for vacations whose departure date was in the past, or for 2-day stints in Europe where you’d barely get settled in before checking out. But that’s what happens when you let an algorithm—not a human—tell you where to go.

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 Nowcation

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)

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Tech Thursday: Your Travel-Friendly Google Reader Replacement

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New reading apps and aggregators are in the spotlight this week, as Google Reader officially goes dark. And as it turns out, our favorite replacement for Google's popular RSS reader is a proving a great tool for travel planning, too: Feedly not only aggregates content from your favorite blogs, it also de-clutters the search process so that you can easily find the inspiration you’re looking for. (Think: #London #food.)

For users of the old Google Reader, Feedly will still deliver all the basic functions you’ve come to know and love (though we haven’t yet found a way to search for other people’s reading bundles). Google Reader subscriptions are automatically updated into your Feedly stream, to make the transition seamless. And to improve upon the old model, Feedly introduces magazine-style reading, with big, splashy images that feel far less daunting than a long list of headlines.

After a pilot run, our favorite travel features are without a doubt access to hotel deals. A reading list filled with special offers from Expedia, Orbitz, and each of the Starwood brands (Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, W, Westin, to name a few), is teasing us today with free champagne and breakfast in bed in Paris, or a free night’s stay in Hong Kong. And on other tabs, our London, Paris, and Rome lists offer the latest on museum exhibits, restaurant openings, and cultural events. What’s not to love?

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 Feedly

New Website Saves on Airfare By Choosing Your Destination For You

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Getgoing.com, a new website that officially launches on March 6, promises to save leisure travelers up to 40 percent on airfare. How do they know you're really a leisure traveler? Simple. You choose two different 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 chooses one of your two options. The "surprise" is supposed to be part of the website's charm. The savings is the other part.

The website covers hundreds of cities in more than 50 countries. Here are some airfares from New York I found on getgoing.com and the lowest comparable fares on Kayak: Milan, $568 ($635 on Kayak); Istanbul, $577 ($705 on Kayak); Las Vegas, $247 ($338 on Kayak); Beijing, $815 ($1,020 on Kayak). I didn't find any 40% discounts, and the flights on getgoing.com may be different from those on Kayak, but in every example I tried, getgoing.com had the lowest fare.

And now for the drawbacks: Getgoing.com is the wrong choice if you are a business traveler who needs to be in Los Angeles on Monday morning or you're traveling to a family reunion in Glasgow, because you may not get your preferred destination. You won't know which airline you'll be flying or the location of your stop-over airports (if any) until you complete your purchase. Even more important: your tickets are completely nonrefundable and changes are not allowed, even if you're willing to pay a penalty fee. You can, however, buy cancel-for-any-reason trip insurance at a cost roughly equal to 10% of the airfare.

For free-and-easy travelers who choose their destinations using a blindfold, a dart, and a map taped to the wall, getgoing.com could be a useful booking tool. But for the rest of us, maybe not.

2012-hs-mark-orwolljpgMark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.


Image courtesy of Getgoing.com

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