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


Use Your Cell Phone to Travel Better

On your next trip, make your cell phone work for you. Cell phones, which traditionally operate as communication tools, are fast becoming a widely used interface for online information as well.

You've probably seen people typing away on their complicated, expensive mobile devices -- you know, the kinds of phones that take pictures, send e-mail and can communicate with animals. But travelers don't need to purchase an expensive iPhone or BlackBerry to use their cell phones for something other than gossip exchange.

Use your cell phone to take a guided tour of a museum, facilitate an airport pickup or check the status of your flight. Any simple cell phone can do this and more, and largely at no cost beyond what you pay for a standard phone call or text message. And don't worry, using a cell phone as a travel tool does not require a degree in mechanical engineering. (It only necessitates a thorough read of this article.)

Cell Phone Parking Lots:
Cell phone parking lots aren't available at every airport (especially smaller local airports), but they're a comfortable alternative to the traditional airport pickup dance that involves circling the airport eight times in search of your friend or family member. And better yet, they're free!

Airports with cell phone parking lots, sometimes called cell phone waiting lots, include Los Angeles International, Seattle-Tacoma, San Diego, Houston Intercontinental, Philadelphia International, JFK and Chicago O'Hare. The airports allow drivers to park for up to half an hour -- for free -- while calling their arriving loved ones to arrange a meeting point. Check your local airport's Web site to see if it has a cell phone parking lot.

Travel Text Messages:
SMS, or Short Message Service, allows you to text your friends to ask about a good local spot to grab a meal, or to get directions to a museum. But your loved ones may not have all the answers (or they may innocently misdirect you). So add Google, Orbitz and a host of other knowledgeable organizations to your phone book for instant information. These services are free, but standard text messaging rates do apply.

Google: To get addresses, directions, weather forecasts, movies, currency rates and more, send your inquiry to GOOGL (46645). For an overview of all that Google text messaging -- officially known as Google Short Messaging Service, or Google SMS -- can do for you, click here.

Orbitz: Orbitz traveler updates provide flight delay information and weather conditions. Text your inquiry (you can find a list of commands here) to ORBITZ (672489).

Yahoo: Text YAHOO (92466) to get flight information, movies, weather, local restaurant locations and more. Yahoo's oneSearch feature also gives you answers to queries about, well, pretty much anything, by bringing Wikipedia to your phone.

4INFO: This free service offers less travel-related information, such as horoscopes, sports scores and the "daily insult," but it can also give you weather and news. Text the appropriate code for what you want sent to your phone (codes can be found here) to 4INFO (44636).

Cell Phone Tours:
An increasingly popular way to tour a city or attraction, cell phone tours are great for someone who wants to get some in-depth information instantly. Although unreliable reception or the accumulation of valuable cell phone minutes may make this option seem less attractive to some, for travelers who love their independence, the chance to skip a guided tour may be a breath of fresh air.

Many museums and other attractions, such as parks, universities, aquariums and even festivals, offer cell phone tours (sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee, depending on the attraction) -- so bring your cell along the next time you're walking the halls of your favorite art gallery and you may learn something new. Contact the attraction before your tour to find out what number you can call and how much the service costs. Keep in mind that costs may be accrued in addition to your regular cell phone minutes.

Flight Notification Updates:
Do you obsessively call your airline over and over again the day of your flight to check its status? Save your sanity and your cell phone minutes -- the next time you book your reservation online, opt to have flight status updates automatically sent to your cell phone via text message.

This feature is available on many airlines (American, Continental, Southwest and Delta are a few) and the drill is pretty much the same across the board. Punch in the details of your flight, such as departure date and flight number, along with your cell phone number. You will be notified via text message (though you can elect to receive a voice mail from some airlines) if changes are made to your flight. Visit your airline's Web site for instructions on how to use the service.

Driving Directions:
Don't use your cell phone while driving. However, the next time you use the Internet to get driving directions, forward them to your cell phone via text message rather than printing out several pages (or you can text your direction questions to the services listed above). Just make sure there is someone else in the car to fumble with the phone while you concentrate on the road. This service is available from Yahoo! and is as simple as clicking on the "Send to Phone" icon and punching in your cell phone number. Your cell phone service provider may charge you for this.


         
Big carriers add $10 surcharge on 3 busy days

Several big airlines this week have added $10 surcharges for most of their tickets for travel on three busy days around


Thanksgiving and New Year's holidays. American and United airlines added the charge for most of their fares for travel on Nov. 29, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, as well as Jan. 2 and 3. On Friday US Airways Group Inc. matched the surcharge, and Delta Air Lines Inc. added it, too.

Spokespersons for Southwest Airlines Co. and Continental Airlines Inc. both said they had not added the surcharge.

Sunday after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year, and that the two dates in January are heavily traveled as well. The airlines probably added the charge rather than raise base fares because it was a quick, targeted way to charge more on busy travel days.

The bottom line this year for consumers is that it's pretty clear that if you procrastinate on your holiday travel, you're going to get stung.


Holiday fares are still running 15 percent to 20 percent lower than last year, with prices to bigger cities carrying the bigger discount from a year ago.


Tips for holding down business travel costs
 

With fuel surcharges, baggage fees and rising ticket costs, flying employees around the globe is more expensive than ever. American Express Business Travel has cash-saving tips for companies and road warriors:


 

• Confirm travel plans before booking; airlines often charge $150 or more for flight changes.

• Check as few bags as possible: Overnight delivery of presentation materials may be more cost-effective than checking an extra bag.

• Keep passports up to date and make sure you have all required visas for foreign travel.

• Check flights to all airports in a region, not just the one closest to your final destination.

• Coordinate car service or taxis to save on expense costs if several employees are traveling to the same place at the same time. Some companies now require traveling workers to share hotel rooms.

• Book flights for the lowest fares. American Express advises staying on top of hotel and airfare prices: If you see a price lower than the one you paid, ask for a discount.

• Extend a midweek trip over a weekend to cut down on airfare costs.

• Choose "offseason" destinations if the location is up to you — for instance, a group meeting in Las Vegas during the summer.

    
8 Essential Tips for Your Next Flight

Make your next airplane trip a much more enjoyable experience by following these simple tricks.

Ever get thirsty during your flight and wished you didn't have to wait an hour or so for the beverage cart to come down the aisle?You may not have realized you could bring a bottled drink onboard. You can – your best bet is to buy it after you go through security. Screeners limit the size of liquids you can bring through checkpoints.

That's just one of many options passengers may not know they have to make their air travel experience more comfortable.

Here are some others you should know about.

1. Airport VIP lounges are not restricted to members. Several airlines offer one-day or monthly passes. Delta Air Lines charges $50 for a one-day pass. If your flight is delayed and you have a long wait, check out one of the lounges, which offer a comfortable atmosphere, Internet access, drinks and snacks.

 2. Don't fret the annoying checked-bag fee when bringing strollers and infant car seats. Airline personnel will put those items on the plane for you for free when you get to your gate, and they will not count against your carry-on bag allowance. Always bring them with you when traveling, especially so you can push the little one through the terminal rather than have to carry him or her.

 3. You don't have to pay big bucks to fly in business class. Several airlines offer deeply discounted rates on upgrades to business class on the day of travel if seats in the front cabin are still available. Members of airline frequent-flier programs can use miles or flight credits to upgrade from coach to business class.

 4. You don't have to pay big bucks to fly, period. The best time to shop for domestic tickets is Tuesday afternoon because airlines typically file sales on Monday evening and other airlines match them through noon on Tuesday. Be wary of shopping on the weekends, Most discounted airfares expire or are removed from the reservation systems on Friday, leaving higher prices in the system over the weekend."

 5. Don't worry about printing out your boarding pass at home. At some airports and with some airlines, travelers with Web-enabled mobile devices like a BlackBerry or iPhone can download their boarding passes, then hand over the devices for scanning by federal security screeners and airline gate agents. Continental Airlines offers the mobile boarding pass option at 28 airports, including ones in Houston and Newark, N.J. Even if that isn't available at your airport or with your airline, at many airports you can print out your boarding pass quickly at a self-service kiosk in the terminal. You can generally find out from your airline's Web site if it offers the mobile boarding pass option and at which airports the carrier offers self-service kiosks. AirTran Airways says all of its ticket counters have self-service kiosks for printing boarding passes.

 6. Traveling doesn't have to be a hassle. If you fly at off-peak times like in the early morning hours or on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays, flights are less full, and often the lines at security are much shorter. At the right time of day there are no lines at all, and many smaller airports are rarely congested.

 7. Speeding through security is easy if you pack certain items in your carry-on bags before reaching a checkpoint. Alaska Airlines' in-flight training manager stores his belt and small wallet in his briefcase. According to the airline, he no longer carries a laptop, just memory sticks. Often, he does not even need a tub when traveling without liquids; he stores metal items in his briefcase.

 8. If you've ever wondered how close you are to your destination or how long the security line is at your airport, you don't have to be in the dark. You can track your flight online by entering the flight number at flightaware.com. Several airlines offer Wi-Fi on some or all of their flights. As for security wait times, the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, posts that information on its Web site and updates it regularly.
 


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


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