Archive for March, 2011

LivingSocial Escapes Offers Hotel Deals

LivingSocial has expanded its portfolio to offer hotel deals. A few months ago, the daily-deal maker launched LivingSocial Escapes, a travel division that offers 1- or 2-night travel experiences. The company provide its members with deals on a few hotels within driving distance and a few choices that would require a quick airplane trip. The airline tickets are not included in the deal.

So here’s how it all works. LivingSocial sends its members a weekly email that touts several hotel deals. The deals are available for purchase for 7 days. The time frame for use varies, but it generally expires after 1 year. “Once you make your purchase, you have to set up your trip, which gives the hotel a chance to sell you an extra night or 2,” said LivingSocial exec Doug Miller in a recent USAToday.com interview. But wait there’s more, members can get a free escape if he or she shares a deal with friends and 3 of them buy it.

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Ski resorts, located along the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, are attracting more skiers and snowboarders after record snowfalls. The Sierra typically gets snowfall in April, but this season the area has seen more than 61 feet of snow — just a few feet shy of the 65-feet record set from 1950 to 1951.

Ski patrol guides had to create tunnels to reach their warming huts, and avalanches broke out windows at two life stations at Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics. According to Associated Press, almost 59 feet of snow has fallen there, breaking the old record of 29 inches.

The unexpected snowfall has sparked Squaw Valley to extend its season through Memorial Day, and Heavenly Mountain Resort, on Mammoth Mountain, may remain open through the 4th of July.

Despite the booming business at ski resorts, the snow is causing problems, including roof damage for some homeowners and businesses. The good news is that the snow has increased California’s water supply, which may spark Gov. Jerry Brown to declare the end to state’s lingering drought.

New Business Class Perks on United Continental Airlines
Photo: United Continental

Great news for business travelers and frequent fliers! United Continental has announced plans to offer more perks to its customers, including free in-flight Wi-Fi. United Airlines will add Wi-Fi to more than 200 planes, including its Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft.

United Continental also includes Continental, which merged with United late last year.  The airlines are in the process of moving to a unified brand. Continental already offers LiveTV to its customers, but soon both airlines will provide fliers with access to Wi-Fi and 95 LiveTV stations.

The airline merger has even bigger plans on the horizon. United Continental is exploring adding international Wi-Fi service and looking at striking a deal with other broadband providers to help wire its fleet of more than 700 jets, according to United Continental CEO Jeff Smisek.

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Sheraton Hotels Get A Makeover and Expand to China
Photo: This is the outdoor lounge at the Sheraton Tribeca in the Big Apple, where club
members can enjoy amenities while looking at the city skyline. (Sheraton Hotels)

Sheraton has renovated 103 of its hotels in North America. Starwood, Sheraton’s parent company, kicked off a $6 billion global revamp of the chain in 2007, and now it’s looking to expand in China.

An article on USAToday.com, claims the chain’s makeover has made Sheraton more competitive with other hotel chains, including Marriot, Hilton, Radisson and Hyatt.

Hoyt Harper, Starwood’s SVP of brand management, says the company cut 41 hotels from the chain because they did not meet Sheraton’s new standards, and it wasn’t a cheap move either.

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Looking for an easier, new way to book hotel rooms? Expedia.com will launch a new app soon for travelers to search for and book hotel rooms. The free app will be available for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

According to MSNBC.com, Expedia Hotels app is the first in a series of mobile apps that the company will launch this year for the iPhone and phones that use Google’s Android operating system. No word on when the new app will be released for you to download,  but stay tuned for more details. We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, check out Travel Channel’s travel gear guide, app reviews and more, to help make traveling for your next trip a little easier.

Disney in China

Construction on a new Disneyland theme park is scheduled to start as early as May in Shanghai. The Disney project will include 3 parks including Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. The first phase of the theme park will cost $3.7 billion dollars.

According to a Chinese government statement earlier this month, plans indicate several water features, including a lake and 6-mile, man-made river surrounding the park, which will be located 13 miles from People’s Square. The gates of Shanghai Disney aren’t expected to open until 2015.

China will also be home to another new theme park. World of Warcraft, modeled after the online game, has been touted as the first video-game-themed attraction. There were rumors that the theme park was a hoax, but the Huffington Post claims there are plenty of construction photos and Chinese news stories about the project. The park will be built in China’s Wunjin district.

No word yet on when gamers will get their chance to explore the new theme park.

Update: Cruise News 2011

Cruise News 2011 will keep you updated on all the latest changes in the cruising industry. Find out about hot offers like the an “All You Can Drink” beverage package on Royal Caribbean and the live broadcast of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding on Norwegian Cruise Line.

As you make your summer plans, be sure to read our Cruise Trends post to find out what’s hot in 2011. We checked in with Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief at CruiseCritic.com, who told us to be on the lookout for more super-sized ships, new river cruises and Alaska’s comeback as a popular cruise destination.

Increase in Gas Prices May Spark More Family Staycations

Increasing gas prices may prompt travelers to pump the breaks and put a halt on their plans for a road trip. Gas prices could take a bite out of the travel market if American families pull back on spring and summer road trips.

According to AAA, gas near Yosemite National park in California, is already running close to $4.50 per gallon for regular. The east coast isn’t any better. In Washington, DC, the average price for gas has risen 40 cents over the last month to $3.68.

Business may drop a bit as people tailor their plans to suit their budgets if fuel prices stay high and continue to rise. For some, staying closer to home may be an option. That’s what travelers did during the summer of 2008 when fuel prices reached record highs, according to AAA national spokesman Troy Green in a recent CNN.com article.

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Luxury Hotels Pull Japanese Food Off Menu

Luxury hotels in Hong Kong are taking Japanese fish, beef and other foods off their menus due to Japan’s nuclear crisis, according to Bloomberg.

The concern is that food may have been contaminated after radiation was released from the deteriorating nuclear power plant.Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons hotels in Hong Kong have all stopped buying fresh foods from Japan even though no clear risk has been confirmed yet.

At the Four Seasons in Hong Kong, chefs are no longer cooking up Wagyu beef, sea scallops and abalone from Japan. The hotel is using products from New Zealand and Australia, according to hotel publicist Claire Blackshaw.

Hotel officials say they won’t add Japanese food back on the menu until the situation stabilizes.

U.S. Travel Association Recommends Airport Security Changes

The US Travel Association wants to make traveling easier for fliers. According to CNN.com, the group is calling for a trusted traveler program that would allow passengers who volunteer certain information about themselves to go through less rigorous security before their flight.

Under this proposed program, passengers would be considered low-risk based on information such as a background check, employment history, lack of a criminal record and other factors. Each participating passenger’s identity would be confirmed at the airport using biometric info, allowing them to pass through security at a quicker pace.

TSA Administrator John Pistole believes something needs to change. “The TSA screens more than 628 million airline passengers every year at US airports, and the vast majority present little to no risk of committing an act of terrorism,” he said earlier this month.

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