10 ways to make holiday travel jolly
Almost everyone wants to go somewhere over  Christmas, and/or New Year's -- and that's the problem. In fact, if you have not booked your trip already, it may be too late to get the trip you want.
1. Book now for Christmas and New Year's.
2. It's standard travel advice: Be flexible. The lowest prices will be on flights very early or late in the day, and morning routes are best for avoiding delays. Flying on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day usually costs far less than on busy days before or after the holidays themselves.
3. Unless a connecting flight costs a lot less, go nonstop. If a connection is necessary, try to fly through a southern hub, such as Dallas, Charlotte, or Phoenix, where you can at least eliminate weather as a problem. A layover in Chicago, Detroit, or Minneapolis raises the probability of getting held up because of a storm.
4. Thinking about a resort getaway? The year's highest rates kick in over the Christmas/New Year's holidays at ski and beach resorts. Shifting your trip to before or after this period, even by a day or two, can reduce costs significantly.
5. Airport parking lots get filled up around the holidays, so use public transportation. If you must drive, consider a private parking lot near the airport: They'll shuttle you to and from the terminal, and they let you book in advance so you won't have to worry about finding a space. People who live far from an airport and have an early flight might want to stay at an airport hotel the night before; some allow you to park your car at the hotel until you return.
6. Bringing presents on your flight? Don't wrap them. All luggage -- gifts included--might be examined by security. Keep expensive or fragile items in your carry-on to cut down on the chances that they'll be damaged or stolen. There has been a serious rash of thefts recently.
7. Check out new check-in procedures. Many airlines' Web sites now make it possible for passengers to print out bar-coded boarding passes at home. There are also options at the airport. If you have luggage to check, use a curbside skycap; some airlines let them issue boarding passes as well. Inside the terminal, look for a self-service check-in kiosk, where you can quickly get your boarding pass and sometimes check your luggage.
8. Worried about long security lines? The Transportation Security Administration's website, tsa.gov , allows travelers to scope out how long waits are at about 450 U.S. airports. You search by airport, day of the week, and time of day. The problem is that the waits listed are averages and don't really reflect how long screening will take on, say, the day before Thanksgiving. To get around this glitch, look up an airport's wait times on what's usually the busiest travel period -- Friday evenings -- and assume that it'll take at least that long during the holidays.
9. Confirm your car reservation. Car-rental outfits figure on a no-show rate of 20 percent, allowing them to overbook. The result is that sometimes there are too many people and too few cars. To avoid being the one without wheels, try to arrive at the rental counter in late morning or early afternoon, when the lot is most likely to be full. Calling to confirm your reservation before you arrive lets them know that you won't be a no-show. Also, inquire ahead of time about express check-in programs so you can skip the lines. The fee to join might just beat the time you'd spend waiting.
10. Look into business hotels. Over the holidays, you'll find low rates at classy city and suburban hotels that normally depend on business travelers. Families should consider all-suite hotels or long-stay hotels, which have more room and good holiday prices.

  
Free baggies for air travelers
Hefty, others couple with TSA to help with holiday treks

With the holiday travel season nearing, plastic bag manufacturers are coupling with airport authorities to give travelers the plastic bags they need to carry shampoos and other liquid items on airplanes.

Bag maker Hefty announced late Wednesday it is offering more than 1 million 1-quart zip-top bags to airports around the U.S. to help with holiday travel. Glad Products Co. is also offering thousands of free bags to travelers.

The holiday travel season — which kicks off with Thanksgiving next week — marks the first major holiday since new regulations were imposed by the Transportation Security Administration.

In late September, the TSA declared that passengers can carry lotions and gels onto airliners only if they’re in clear, 1-quart zip-top plastic bags and if they are 3 ounces or less in size.

That followed a six-week ban of all gels and liquids on all planes, ordered on Aug. 10 after an alleged plot to bomb U.S.-bound jetliners was foiled.

Now the TSA is touting its 3-1-1 initiative, urging travelers to remember they can have a 3-ounce bottle or less, in a 1-quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag, and only one bag per passenger.

Hefty, a subsidiary of Pactiv Corp., based in Lake Forest, Ill., said it wanted travelers to be prepared this holiday season, so that’s why it is offering its Hefty OneZip bags at airports in Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York, among many others.

Cheap, clean, safe, but you make the bed

Does a hotel room for $159 a week sound good? It's safe, it's clean. But if you want your bed made more than once a week, you'll be doing that yourself.

The concept is called Value Place and is brought to you by Jack DeBoer, the self-described "father of extended-stay'' who built the Residence Inn and Candlewood Suites chains.

Gina-Lynne Scharoun, a Value Place executive and owner of a franchise in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says business travelers are hungry for low-cost lodging, and they don't mind going without some amenities to get it.

She calls this growing group "gray collar'' types — computer consultants or corporate managers­ — staying somewhere between 30 to 45 days, but not on the company dime.

The challenge for such travelers is in finding a cheap place that doesn't require packing a stun gun or roach motel.

Value Place, along with competitors like Motel 6's Studio 6, solves that problem. But it leaves travelers on their own when it comes to extras.

"Our challenge is to educate people so they don't expect to get a free bottle of shampoo,'' says Scharoun. Guests can purchase extra cleaning and linen service, Internet access, laundry detergent and a "kitchen value pack'' filled with dishes and basic cooking utensils ($60).

Indeed, guests truly treat the Value Place properties as a home away from home. A company survey found that lodgers eat in their rooms more frequently than the average American eats at home.

This lodging model may sound less than appealing to some travelers. But they'd better get used to it, because it's growing fast. Value Place counts 25 properties open now, with commitments for 500 more.


Airfares, hotel fees have a double standard

The fact that flights and hotel prices are up won't surprise frequent travelers who've been experiencing the increases first-hand. But what's interesting about the rise is the double standard that exists in how airlines and hotels are allowed to advertise their rates.

Airlines have been trying to loosen rules that say they have to include extra fees in their advertised fares. They have argued that they should be able to post airfares excluding things like the recent surcharges to cover higher fuel costs. This week, the carriers got turned down by the U.S. Transportation Department. Citing the public interest, the DOT issued a decision to stick with the one-price policy for airlines posting fares.  

Bad news in bold, please

Hotels, on the other hand, have been getting away with separating published room rates from multiple surcharges for years, which drives most travelers crazy. And those surprise extras for tips, "energy'' charges, and local phone service that appear on the bill at front desk checkout — a time when travelers are not in the mood to quibble — have been getting bigger.
While there isn't any end in sight to the surcharges, hotels may begin publishing more realistic rates that include some of the extras. A New York Times article this week looks at what some hotel companies are doing, or thinking about doing, to be more open about what travelers can expect upon checkout.

Cruise lines and the big internet travel agencies advertise base rates for their cruises, and do not include taxes and port charges, which can increase the price substantially . Get the total price for the cruise before you commit to the trip.

Bottom line: You won't pay any less to fly or sleep in the next year. But there's a chance you'll have a better idea of exactly what you're paying for.
 


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