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Trip Doctor: Why Is It Getting Harder to Redeem Hotel Points?

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A: The salad days for points holders may be ending. In general, demand for rooms is rising, and with it rates, according to Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com. That means hotels no longer have to be quite so accommodating to loyalists. In the past few months, Kelly notes, both Marriott and Hilton adjusted their loyalty programs so that it takes more points to book many of their most desirable properties. Starwood, meanwhile, upped the amount of money you need to spend for its SPG Cash & Points redemptions. Hotel points haven’t gone off a cliff the way airline miles did about five years ago, but they’re definitely losing value. So keep racking them up. You’re going to need more to get what you want.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Hilton Hotels

Trip Doctor: Airport Security Tips—How to Get Through TSA Faster

Airport Security Tips

Q: How can I get through the airport faster?Kathleen Francis, Oakland, Calif.

A: Over the past decade, between tightened security and the increased attention airlines are paying to premium fliers, airports have become as hierarchical and labyrinthine as the Sun King’s court. Lanes and lines have become defining features, and status has become essential for getting around.

So rule number one for a better airport experience: become an elite member of a frequent-flier program. If you travel often, stay loyal to a carrier, and follow the advice of loyalty-program experts such as the terrific Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com, you may be able to break into the upper tiers, gaining expedited check-in, private security lines, and priority boarding.

But good news for everyone else: status is no longer exclusively available to high-ranking frequent fliers. You just have to be willing to do a little extra legwork—and pay. Privilege, after all, has its price.

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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

Trip Doctor: Get a Better Hotel Room (Without Paying More)

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When we’re checking into a hotel, few things make us feel more special or appreciated than a room upgrade. The great thing is that it can happen to just about anyone—especially if you use a little strategy to tip the odds in your favor. Here, four ways to maximize your chances of scoring better accommodations.

1. Check in later in the day, when hotels have a better sense of their open inventory for the night.

2. Be a loyalty-program member.

3. Look for new hotels. They have added incentive to court return guests by giving them upgrades.

4. Book with the website Room 77, a hotel search engine that scans prices and availability through numerous online travel agencies and automatically contacts the hotel you choose to request a room that matches your preferences (room views, higher or lower floors, distance from the elevator, and more).

Jennifer FlowersJennifer Flowers is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @JennFlowers.

Photo credit: © Louis Laurent Grandadam/Corbis

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

Jamaica Bans Smoking...Tobacco

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Jamaica bans smoking...tobacco

In a bold move for the Caribbean island, Jamaica is adopting a ban on smoking in public places. Notably, the new law specifically targets tobacco smoke. (But before you burn one down, the U.S. State Department would like to remind travelers that consumption of marijuana remains illegal in Jamaica.) Areas where smoking will be prohibited include enclosed public spaces, schools, government buildings, public transportation, workplaces, and sports facilities. Unsurprisingly, the government is receiving pushback from bar and nightclub owners; it hasn’t yet clarified if any such establishments will be exempted. The Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Trinidad, and Barbados are among the other Caribbean islands with tobacco controls in place.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Everynight Images / Alamy

Trip Doctor: New Airline Survey from Skytrax Picks Global Favorites

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The plane surveys keep on coming. Just a few weeks ago, Trip Doctor reported on a slew of recent polls that give insight into what Americans think about flying nowadays. And at the recent Paris Air Show, Skytrax announced its winners for the 2013 World Airline Awards.  While the surveys we wrote about earlier show what American flyers are thinking, the Skytrax awards offer a more global scope, with respondents from over 160 countries taking part in the poll.

Some of the takeaways?

  • Emirates earns the coveted “Airline of the Year,” and wins for best Inflight Entertainment

  • Garuda Indonesia wins best Economy Class Seats and best Economy Class overall, making it a Top 10 scorer for the first time

  • All Nipon Airways claims the best Aircraft Cabin Cleanliness award

  • Cathay Pacific Airways is awarded best Cabin Staff

  • Etihad Airways nabs best First Class Seats and best First Class overall

  • AirAsia is the best Low-Cost Airline

If you’re thinking that the list seems dominated by Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, you’re correct. Of the Top 10 airlines, only 10th ranked Qantas hails from outside Asia and the Middle East.

See the full results here

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team.

Photo courtesy of Emirates

The Doctor Recommends: Must-Reads for the Week Ending July 12, 2013

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Tired of waiting at customs? This pilot program lets businesses pay to ease border delays, as covered by TravelMole. (Adrien Glover)

A tongue-in-cheek look from Gadling's Libby Zay as to why it might be nice to live in an airport. (Peter Schlesinger)

The Economist investigates how five-star hotels have become the only place for Mumbai's new rich to socialize. Brunch, anyone? (P.S.)

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Tech Thursday: Google Maps Launches New Explore Feature

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In what has become routine news, Google has announced this week that they are, once again, pushing the envelope with Google Maps. So what are they up to this time? The cornerstone of the update is Explore, a new feature that acts as your personal assistant on the road. At the heart of it, Explore helps find whatever it is that you’re looking for, from gas stations and pharmacies to restaurants and local attractions. The listings (there are dozens in each category) include useful details, like hours, directions, and Zagat ratings, all within the app itself—that means no navigating back and forth between your browser and map. And if you prefer to note one of the suggestions for later in the day, a useful “starring” feature lets you bookmark places to your map. It’s available today for Android, and coming soon for iOS. If Google's predictions ring true, those of us on Apple devices will be able to jump on the bandwagon in just a few days.

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 Google

Kickoff: Pet Travel Wednesdays

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From their wind-sniffing snouts to their wagging tails, dogs truly are travelers' best friends. Besides the obvious perks (wet kisses), travel companies are also rewarding us for bringing Fido along. Virgin Australia and JetBlue offer frequent flier miles for your pet, while D Pet Hotels Chelsea takes care of feeding (private chef) and grooming (“pawdicures”).

So we decided to show some appreciation to our furry friends, as well. Each week, we’ll turn to our most trusted pet travel experts—our followers—for tips on traveling with your four-legged companion.

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