Welcome to the December 2009 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.

Tis the season...for long lines and frayed nerves. Here's how to cope.

Lighten up

Do yourself a favor and ship your presents. Nearly every U.S. airline charges a fee to check a bag, so shipping gifts is now cheaper and more convenient than carrying them in your luggage. If you decide to tote your gifts aboard (we warned you!), don't wrap them first -- the Transportation Security Administration reserves the right to open anything, including the presents you so painstakingly prepared.

Weigh your options

Not knowing what you're going to pay for your luggage is annoying. So calculate your overweight-luggage fees at home. You can scope the fees out in advance by visiting new site Luggage Limits, which provides the latest info on more than 90 airlines.

Have a drink later

Bottles of wine and gin? Perfume? Gift baskets? You can't take any of 'em on through security. Liquids in containers larger than three ounces are a no-no, and even three-ouncers must be stored in a single quart-size, clear bag. You can bring cakes and pies through airport security, but you may be subject to additional inspections. For full rules, go to the TSA's site.

A blue Christmas

Fly nonstop, even if it costs a little more. The combination of huge crowds and bad weather is a massive delay waiting to happen: One big storm and the system backs up, leaving you and all the others stranded. And that's a terrible way to spend the holiday.

Cut your wait time

During the holidays, the longest lines at airports aren't at security; they're at check-in. You can usually check in for a flight and print your boarding pass 24 hours beforehand, and you should. If you're checking bags, pay for them online in advance, too: You'll save time and money, because airlines typically charge $5 or more extra if you wait to pay at the airport.

Pick a prime spot

It's the nightmare scenario: You get to the airport, and the parking lots are sold out. You won't have to worry about that as long as you book a spot in advance at an off-site parking lot via airportparkingreservations.com or airportdiscountparking.com. The best part? Off-site lots are almost always cheaper and typically have free shuttles to the terminal.

Leave amateurs in the dust

Trust us and get to the airport an extra half-hour early. The check-in and security lines are filled with inexperienced fliers, and it's a slog. Plus, if you decide to cut it close you may not get onto the flight at all. To reduce costs, airlines have dramatically scaled back on flights and routes. The remaining flights are more likely to be oversold, especially on busy travel days. Fliers who check in early are the least likely to get bumped from oversold flights.

Google it

Worried about a flight delay because of stormy weather? Type your airline's name and your flight number into a Google search bar. The site will fetch up-to-date flight status info.

And speaking of Google...

Through January 15, 2010, Google is giving travelers a holiday present by sponsoring free Wi-Fi at 54 U.S. airports. Google is also partnering with Virgin America, which offers free Wi-Fi on all of its planes through January 15, too.

Yes, it's a race

Get your bags on the plane pronto. Fliers don't want to pay fees for checked bags, and more and more of them are traveling with just carry-ons. The amount of space in overhead bins on planes, meanwhile, has remained the same. To nab a spot for your carry-on near your seat, get on the plane ASAP and be ready to store it right away. But don't elbow anyone. Remember: Santa is watching.

Self-sufficiency wins

Movies, food, pillows -- it's hard to keep up with exactly what airlines will nickel-and-dime you for nowadays. Cut the guesswork and bring your own amenities, including snacks, entertainment, and a travel blanket. A homemade sandwich usually tastes better than the $7 airline version, anyway.

BYO antibacterial wipes, too

No one wants to get sick, especially during the holidays, when people always seem to be fighting colds. Wipe down the airplane seat-back tray and the armrest, and anything you'll touch in the plane and airport bathrooms.

Take it public

The rates for renting a car at the airport have more than doubled over the past year because rental lot inventories have decreased dramatically. True, renting at the airport is convenient, but it's just not worth it anymore. Unless you really need a car, take public transportation, hop a cab, or beg a friend to pick you up at the airport instead.

Say no to bumper cars

Tell the people picking you up to avoid parking their car and instead idle it in the airport's cell-phone lot. They can hang out in their car for free while waiting to get a call from you when you land -- and avoid the usual honking and chaos. Many airports, including JFK and LAX, now feature this sensible alternative.

Increase in Travelers Expected to Pass Through LAX; 208,000 Through ONT During Year-End Holiday Season

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is expected to serve 2.4 million travelers during the annual year-end holiday travel season that begins Saturday, Dec. 19, and continues through Saturday, Jan. 2, 2010. This year's holiday-period total of air travelers is forecast to exceed last year's comparable period by 1.9 percent due to airlines shifting their flight schedules resulting in more flights to and from LAX.

At LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT), more than 208,000 passengers are expected this holiday season, a decrease of 7 percent over last year.

The busiest travel days during this holiday period are expected to be the three days before Christmas and Jan. 2, when airlines forecast flights to be nearly 80 percent booked.

Airport officials suggest passengers departing LAX during the daily peak travel periods - from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.; from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; or from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. - to be in their airline's ticketing lobbies two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international flights.

Travelers at ONT are urged to arrive at the airport 1-1/2 hours before domestic flights and two hours before international flights serving Mexico.

A number of airlines have changed terminal locations since last year. Midwest Airlines now operates from Terminal 6, while Aeromexico operates at Terminal 2. Mexicana Airlines is now located on the Upper/Departures Level at the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Passengers should check with their airline for their location or visit Los Angeles World Airport's (LAWA) website at www.lawa.org.

Travelers are advised they are not required to give money to solicitors or anyone appearing as airport employees on the curbside of terminals wearing badges and street clothes. LAX Ambassadors wearing red jackets and straw hats inside the terminals provide complimentary information to travelers in addition to the Airport guides and Travelers Aid desks located throughout the terminals.

The Volunteer LAX Passenger Assistance Program service initiative will also be active during this holiday travel season. LAX employees wearing red vests will provide information and friendly smiles to passengers at curbside on the Upper/Departures Level on Wednesday, Dec. 23 and Thursday, Dec. 24.

Holiday cheer will be evident throughout the terminals with Santa Claus and his elves greeting travelers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) choir singing holiday songs, a Craft Area available for children, and holiday decorations.

LAX AiRadio 530 AM is the only broadcast source of information on ground transportation, parking, airline terminal locations and security. Broadcasts are streamed onto the airport's Internet website at www.lawa.org.

reLAX public lounge in TBIT at LAX is the only lounge located before passenger security screening. Travelers can pay $10 for a one-hour period, $25 for three-hours, $35 for five-hours, and $50 for all day to use a comfortable and relaxing waiting area, with refreshments and business services such as wireless internet access, faxing, photocopying and printing. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to midnight daily. For information, visit www.relaxloungelax.com.

New services at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) airports this year include:

•LAX FlyAway┬« bus service expanded to Irvine, its fourth location, at Irvine Station at 15215 Barranca Parkway. This new route is expected to become as popular as the service from Van Nuys' terminal at 7610 Woodley Avenue (intersection of Woodley and Saticoy), the Union Station East Portal at Berth 9 in Patsaouras Transit Plaza, and from Westwood on Kinross Avenue west of Gayley, adjacent to UCLA Parking Structure 32. FlyAway fares are $7 each way for adults for Van Nuys and Union Station; fares are $5 each way for adults for Westwood; and $25 each way for Irvine. All children age 5 and under ride free. For more information, visit www.lawa.org/flyaway

•New concessions Pinkberry, Gladstone's 4 Fish, and Petals are now open at LAX, offering traveler's additional food and service options with an LA signature. Known for its tart yogurt flavors and fresh-cut fruit and dry toppings, Pinkberry is located in Terminal 1. Gladstone's 4 Fish, offering menu favorites from its landmark seafood restaurant in Malibu, is in Terminal 3. Petals flower shop, located in the Meet and Greet area of TBIT, features a wide selection of flowers and floral arrangements grown in Southern California.

Information on all of the services and amenities available to passengers at LAX and ONT can be found at www.lawa.org.

A comprehensive list of what passengers can and cannot pack in checked luggage or carry-on bags is available at www.tsa.gov. Passengers traveling overseas for the holidays also are advised to review customs regulations on what one can bring into the United States at www.dhs.gov.

Airport security officials also remind passengers of the federal air travel 3-1-1 rule for liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-on bags: 3 ounce or smaller-sized containers of liquids, gels or aerosols placed in a one-quart size plastic zip-top bag with one bag per traveler. Of special note, popular seasonal gifts such as snow globes fall into the category of liquids that cannot be packed in carry-on bags. Presents also should not be gift-wrapped, whether in checked or carry-on bags.

SOURCE Los Angeles World Airports

Continental Airlines sets upgrades at 100K miles

Elite-level frequent fliers eligible for new benefits beginning Jan. 1

Continental Airlines Inc. said Wednesday elite-level frequent fliers would be eligible for new benefits.

The airline said beginning Jan. 1 that Platinum Elite members of its OnePass program would be eligible to get invitation-only Presidential Platinum Elite status based on how much they spend on travel at Continental and its affiliates.

Passengers who reach 75,000 miles can get Platinum Elite status.

Customers who earn at least 100,000 Elite miles or 120 points will get four one-way certificates to upgrade to domestic first class or international business class on Continental, Continental Micronesia or Copa Airlines.

Weird Foreign Laws (Don't Get Busted!)

Seasoned travelers know to watch out for the accidents, illnesses, and delays that can ruin a vacation. But a few laws are so unexpected that they can catch even the biggest travel junkies off guard.

A penny spurned: The phrase "legal tender" isn't entirely straightforward in Canada. There are lots of pennies in circulation, but there's a limit on how many can be used at a time. The maximum number allowable per transaction is 25, so no getting cute with excessive change at the mini-mart.

(Suda)fed up: Careful what you try to bring into Japan. Medicines that can be bought without a prescription in the U.S. are sometimes illegal there, and that includes some Vicks and Sudafed products and anything else containing pseudoephedrine. Getting caught at customs with such products can lead to detainment. Who cares if your sinuses are clear if they and the rest of you are stuck in jail?

A flush of pride: Along with many other things, Singapore puts a great deal of effort into keeping its public toilets pristine. And visitors are expected to help keep them gleaming. Failure to flush may result in fines.

Red-light special: In Sweden, traveling lonely hearts shouldn't expect any sympathy from ladies of the evening if they get caught in a clinch with one. The independent businesswomen there are well within their rights to practice their profession. However, the gentlemen paying for their services are at risk for punishments ranging from a fine to as much as six months in jail.

A canine "autoban": Planning a long Alpine adventure with Puddles, your lovable pit bull? Read up on animal laws first. In Germany, breeds that the government considers dangerous aren't welcome for more than a four-week visit—and they aren't allowed to live there at all. Even a bit of mastiff, Rhodesian ridgeback, or Staffordshire terrier blood may mean no lederhosen for Fluffy.

No Lone Ranger for you: Thinking of an autumn trip to Scandinavia? Hoping to show them what an American Halloween's all about? Stick to the simple costumes. In Denmark, wearing a mask in public can lead to your arrest.

Playing the numbers: Rush-hour regulations in many major cities of the Philippines seem meant only for mathematicians: A vehicle can only be driven on days determined by the last digits of its license plate—this is called, for murky historical reasons, the "color-coding scheme." So borrowing a local's car may require more number crunching than it's worth. Even traveling by scooter has its challenges, since you can get ticketed for driving in sandals or bare feet.

Gun control: New Year's in Southeast Asia is often a watery celebration, with lots of buckets, water balloons, and drenched revelers. But in Cambodia, you must choose your method of aquatic conveyance carefully. Water guns will be snatched away on sight. Rumor has it some ruffians filled their Super Soakers with, er, "used" water, ruining the party for everyone.

Watch your mouth: Think foreigners in Thailand are exempt from the country's famous "never bad-mouth the King" laws? Think again. Non-Thais may have a better chance of being able to claim that it was all a big misunderstanding, but as one disrespectful Australian novelist just discovered, their pardon may come after five months in prison.

Listen up: In Finland, taxi drivers playing music in their cars are required to pay a copyright fee. The idea is that the music is being presented to the "public"—the cabs' paying customers. If a cabbie won't turn on the radio for you, understand that he's not necessarily interested in talking instead. He might just be trying to save a few euros.

Remember: Without a travel agent you're on your own.

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