Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

The long and short of premium economy

February 14th, 2011 by Mariah

(CNN) –Premium is a pretty hazy concept in the airline industry. A flat bed is obviously a premium experience, but some airlines are putting just a couple of extra inches of legroom into that category as well.

That seemingly un-premium experience refers to the increasing number of “premium economy” seats that airlines have introduced over the last several years.Delta’s recent announcement of its own stepped-up economy class raises the question: What’s premium economy, and is there a real benefit?

The idea behind it makes a lot of sense. As airlines have raced to add flat beds, swankier amenities and more personal space in business class, economy has pretty much stayed the same, at best. So the gap between business and economy has grown to cavernous proportions. And that space opened the door for a new option for people who want more than they get in economy but are unwilling to take out a second mortgage to sit in business.

But “premium” economy can mean a lot of things, depending on the airline you’re flying. Generally, for U.S.-based airlines, premium economy really means a little more legroom with a few amenities thrown in for kicks.The most well-known is United’s Economy Plus, which gives up to 5 extra inches of legroom as its sole perk. JetBlue’s Even More Legroom is similar, and its name should win a prize for truth in advertising. Delta’s new Economy Comfort now joins that category on international routes this summer, throwing in more seat recline, early boarding and complimentary alcoholic beverages as well. Delta’s new service runs an additional $80 to $160 one way.Snyder: Why airline fees are good for travelersInternationally, premium economy tends to be more like “business minus” than “economy plus.” You’ll find it on airlines like Japan’s ANA, British Airways, Taiwan’s EVA Air, Qantas, Turkish, Virgin Atlantic and more. All of those airlines offer wider seats with leg rests. You’ll also generally receive upgraded service, in some cases with the same meals as business class.

Of course, the difference in product offerings means that prices vary widely. Economy Plus on United can start at an additional $18 roundtrip for a short hop and go beyond $200 for a long international trip.On foreign airlines, the better product costs way more than that. Picking random dates in June, New York-to-London looks like it’s running about $750 more for a roundtrip in premium economy on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. I’ve seen much larger premiums, depending on the time of year, availability and, presumably, the position of Jupiter in the evening sky.

The biggest problem with adding this new class of service is that it makes fliers do a lot more work to figure out which option is best. For example, if you’re flying from Los Angeles to London, you have five different airlines on the route and four with premium economy offerings. You could just go by price, but then you would probably end up in United’s Economy Plus, a far inferior offering compared with what’s offered by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand is an interesting case in that it recently poured a ton of money into premium economy service to create a new seat that is unlike anything you’ll find on other airlines. The seats on the side are angled toward the window but are offset so you don’t have to share your space with the person next to you. On the other hand, the seats in the middle are designed so that people traveling together can share their space to create a larger area in which to relax. So you’re comparing apples and oranges when you throw Air New Zealand’s unique seats into the mix.

You also can’t trust that a single airline will offer the same type of premium economy on its entire fleet. Finding a premium economy seat on a short flight is rare except for on United and JetBlue. On long hauls, airlines like British Airways and Air New Zealand are in the process of refurbishing their offerings, so it’s a matter of doing some research and sometimes just rolling the dice to hope you get the improved experience.

Possibly the most confusing of all premium economy offerings comes from Air France/KLM. Even though the two airlines are owned by the same parent company, Air France offers Premium Voyageur, which has a wider seat with leg rests and more. KLM, however, offers Economy Comfort, with just the couple of extra inches of legroom that Delta is adding. Be careful if you book a codeshare between these partners, because you might end up with an unpleasant surprise.

In the end, premium economy can make life far better on a long flight, even for a short guy like me. You just need to make sure to do your homework before you buy to ensure that you’re not disappointed when you get on board.

Rome Taxing Tourists Rather Than Locals

December 16th, 2010 by Mariah

Tourist tax in Rome is now offical.

As of January 1, a hotel stay will cost an extra $4 (€3) per person per night at four- and five-star properties and an extra $2.70 (€2) per person per night at other hotels. (Hostels and kids under age 2 are exempt.) A maximum of 10 nights can be taxed, so you could pay up to an additional $40 per person on your next trip—about the cost of a dinner out. This is in addition to a 10 percent hotel tax that’s typically included in the advertised room rate.

The new tax revenue will help to compensate for slashed funding from Italy’s national government and will go toward the much-needed restoration of Roman monuments. Cultural treasures are literally crumbling in Rome and across Italy. Three chunks of Roman mortar fell from an arched ceiling at the Colosseum back in May, and a few structures collapsed in Pompeii last month.

So some may agree that the tax is going to a good cause, and tourists do leave an impact on local monuments. But does that really mean we tourists should be stuck footing the bill? Local councilor Frederico Guidi has readily admitted: “In order for the city of Rome not to tax Romans, we have decided to tax the tourists,” according to the Daily Mail.

Venice has similar plans in the works to charge tourists an entry tax of perhaps $1.33 (€1) upon arrival by train, plane, or cruise ship—which means we’ve got the beginnings of a trend. What’s your reaction to these tourist taxes?

Top Bed and Breakfasts in Mexico

December 6th, 2010 by Mariah

Casa de las Flores

“A Bed and Breakfast”

Santos Degollado #175

Tlaquepaque/Guadalajara, Mexico. 45500


Named one of the world’s ten best places (bed and breakfasts or hotels) to stay in a San Francisco Chronicle readers’ poll and praised in the Washington Post, Guadalajara’s Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast is also a guidebook favorite for Guadalajara Mexico. Trip Advisor also named Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast as their 2010 Best B&B in Mexico. Such public recognition is welcome, but a better measure of guest satisfaction is that people who stay once often return—typically more than half the guests at any given time have come back to experience a bit more of the magic of Mexico at Guadalajara’s Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast, or are friends or family of past guests who have had Casa de las Flores Bed and Breakfast recommended to them.


Innkeepers: Jose Luis Gutierrez Llamas

Rates: $95-$105 USD

Rooms: 7

Phone: 011-52-33.3659-3186

Toll Free: 1 – 888- 582-4896

Fax: 011-52-33.3659-3186 ext 321





Las Bugambilias

“A Bed and Breakfast”

Reforma # 402 Col. Centro

Oaxaca, Mexico. CP. 68000


Let our family welcome you to our beautiful city.

We offer family service first class rooms a traditional breakfast, a garden setting and promise to make your stay in Oaxaca an unforgettable experience.

Oaxaca offers museums, theater, grand churches, a symphony orchestra, markets, galleries, and restaurants. Delicious food, fine arts and crafts, beautiful music, and the warmth and generosity of the Oaxacan people — all just waiting for you to enjoy.


Innkeepers:Mariana Arroyo and Aurora Cabrera

Rates: $54-$110 USD

Rooms: 8

Phone: 011-52-951-51-61165Fax: 011-52-951-51-61165






Agua Azul la Villa

“An Ocean View Bed & Breakfast”

Lote 18. Manzana 6 Res. Conejos

Huatulco, Mexico. CP70989


With spectacular ocean views and spacious private terrazas from all six guest rooms, Agua Azul la Villa offers a tranquil vacation in a pristine, tropical location. Designed as a Bed and Breakfast in the Pacific coast style, the Villa integrates landscape and architecture relying heavily on natural materials such as clay, wood, rocks and palapa (palm-thatch). We are a mere three minute walk to a sandy, safe, swimable beach. Your Canadian hosts Richard and Brooke Gazer live on-site year round and can recommend restaurants and beaches as well as arrange tours and activities. Huatulco is Mexico Premier eco-resort, with nine bays and 36 pristine beaches, some of which are accessible only by boat. It is georgeous, safe, clean and unspoiled.


Innkeepers:Brooke and Richard Gazer

Rates: $109-$139 USD

Rooms: 6

Phone: (011-52-958) 58-10265

Mexican Road Trip

December 6th, 2010 by Mariah

(CNN) – With “Mexico only turns 200 once” as their motto, iReporter Michael Hilburn and his girlfriend took a five-day bicentennial road trip in September.

“Starting in Guadalajara, our 792 mile trek took us through some of Mexico’s most beautiful and historic cities including Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo and Zacatecas,” Hilburn, 28, wrote on

Hilburn, of Patterson, California, has been living in central Mexico, where he teaches at a small bilingual Christian school in Guadalajara.

The areas visited by Hilburn and his girlfriend, Jensine Pulford, were far removed from the violence making headlines along the U.S. border. “Even on the highways and among the large crowds of Independence Day celebrators we felt extremely safe,” Hilburn said.

Share your travel stories on

CNN asked Hilburn to answer these questions about his experience:

First impression

Prior to our trip, my first impression of a “Mexican city” was one dense urban sprawl polluted with noise and smog. However, walking through the enchanting back alleys, or callejones, of Guanajuato and Zacatecas, I quickly remembered that the beauty of these romantic old colonial towns was one of the reasons why I moved to Mexico in the first place.

Don’t-miss experience

If you are traveling from Zacatecas to Guadalajara like we did, the ruins of La Quemada are not to be missed! The impressive remains of this giant settlement stretch across the top of a mountain and overlook a breathtaking valley.

Adjectives that capture this place

Three adjectives that would describe our experience would be enchanting, intriguing and delicious.

Lasting memory

A lasting memory was participating in the “Grito” [a shout of independence] from the steps of the Alhondiga de Granaditas [an old grain storage building in Guanajuato City], the site of the first major [victory] for Mexican Independence.

Most delicious food or place to eat

I had one of the best meals of the trip our first night in Zacatecas at a small restaurant called Los Dorados de Villa. My order of enchiladas came drenched in a “Durango style” sauce that was sweet, spicy and chocolaty, all at the same time!

Biggest surprise

Our biggest surprise along the way was our “discovery” of an abandoned hacienda on the road to San Luis Potosi called Jaral de Berrio. We spent hours roaming through the passageways, courtyards and towers of this football field-sized mansion that was built around the turn of the 20th century.

All in all, this trip was one that will not quickly be forgotten.

Heavy snow creates European travel chaos

December 2nd, 2010 by Mariah

London, England (CNN)–Britain’s second-largest airport was closed for a second day Thursday because of unseasonal wintry weather that was also affecting the European continent.

All flights into and out of London’s Gatwick Airport were canceled until 6 a.m. (1 a.m. ET) Friday, the airport said. It asked passengers to check with their airlines before heading to the airport.

Planes sat at the gates covered in snow and a spokesman said the snow was falling on the airport’s lone runway faster than crews could clear it.

“We are doing everything we can to resume operations,”the airport said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to make the runway safe for aircraft to use and get our passengers flying again.”

Thursday, airport officials handed out 1,000 blankets along with food and water to stranded passengers who had little to do but sit around and hope for the weather to improve.

The United Kingdom has seen the heaviest and most widespread amount of snow since 1993 and the deepest November snow since 1965, the Met Office, Britain’s weather forecaster, said.

Forecasters issued severe weather warnings Thursday, predicting heavy snow for many parts of the country including Scotland, northeast England, parts of central England, and the entire south from Cornwall to London and the southeast.

Edinburgh Airport in Scotland was closed because of heavy snow, the airport said. London’s Heathrow Airport was open, but said some airlines were experiencing delays and cancellations because of snow disruptions at other airports.

Eurostar, which operates trains between London and the continent, said it was operating a “significantly reduced” timetable on Thursday with a number of cancellations, along with delays of as much as 90 minutes.

It said disruptions were expected through the weekend, and it advised passengers booked to travel through Sunday to postpone their journeys if not essential.

The main reason for the snowfall is the cold polar air sweeping across the North Sea, said Mari Ramos of the CNN World Weather Center.

The sea is still relatively warm, at 9-10 degrees Celsius (48-50 degrees Fahrenheit), so as the water evaporates and is hit by the cold polar air, it turns to snow.

“You normally have this change in the wind pattern later in the season, but it won’t bring snow because the ocean will be colder,” Ramos said.

Snowfall has also been widespread across Europe, with unseasonably low temperatures — easily 10 degrees below average for this time of year — lasting much longer than normal, Ramos said.

Snow was expected across France, from the northern part of the country into the southern parts, near Switzerland and Italy, Ramos said. As much as six centimeters (2.4 inches) were expected in some areas.

Meteo France issued an orange weather warning — it’s second-highest — across central France, and forecasters predicted icy conditions and heavy snowfall.

A quarter of flights out of Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport and 10 percent of flights out of Orly were canceled Thursday, air traffic control said. Trains were delayed throughout France but were expected to run regularly Friday.

The snow was stretching into northern Portugal and central and southern Spain, with an unusual snowfall in Grenada earlier in the week, she said.

Temperatures were another big concern.

“The temperature will be in many cases 8-12 degrees below the average, and that’s not factoring in the wind,” Ramos said.

The chilly weather began over the weekend and is scheduled to last for a week, she said.

Hyatt Introduces Hypoallergenic Hotel Rooms

November 8th, 2010 by Mariah


If you are the sort of traveler who can not leave home without your antihistamine, Hyatt may have a solution for you: a hypoallergenic guest room.

For an extra $20 to $30 a night, guests can stay in one of 2,000 specially scrubbed and air-filtered rooms, most of which will be available by year’s end, in all of its 125 full-service North American properties. Though many hotels offer purified guest rooms, Hyatt will be the first chain to offer them across a broad swath of its properties. Hyatt cited as a study from Cornell University — commissioned by an air purifying company — that found that 83 percent of travelers prefer an allergen-free room, even if they don’t have allergies.

In order to satisfy those travelers (and others who do actually have allergies or asthma), Hyatt said it uses a six-step cleaning process to sanitize its special rooms that includes disseminating tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant, through the ventilation system, and using a blast of ozone to get rid of lingering odors. Also, the hotel is using a medical-grade air-purification system that it says eliminates at least 98 percent of airborne viruses, bacteria and pollen.

Guests may still open the windows on low pollen days. The system will zap intruding irritants within an hour.

Oprah Unveils Plane

November 5th, 2010 by Mariah

(CNN) – The Queen of Talk’s influence is reaching new heights with the unveiling of a plane marking the 25th and final season of the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

United Airlines debuted a 757 Thursday newly painted from nose to tail with the logo for the show’s farewell season. During its inaugural flight from Chicago, Illinois, one ticketed passenger will receive enough United miles for a trip around the world.

“As Chicago’s hometown airline, United is proud to celebrate The Oprah Winfrey Show’s Farewell Season with our customers, employees and ‘Oprah’ show fans,” said Mark Bergsrud, senior vice president of marketing for United, in a statement.

“This unique plane represents the global reach of two great Chicago icons.”

The Oprah plane will fly United customers between cities in the airline’s domestic network through May 2011. An onboard video featuring Oprah Winfrey will greet customers.

United is also launching a sweepstakes that will award 1 million United Mileage Plus miles to one passenger each month through May 2011.

Passengers on the inaugural flight to Los Angeles, California, will take home “Oprah 25″ fleece blankets.

10 Summer Travel Tips

June 5th, 2010 by Mariah

To go along with our Summer Specials Blog, here are 10 Summer Travel Tips to help your getaway go smoothly. Even if you have the best of intentions when planning your trip, there are a few major things everyone should remember before heading out on a summer road trip.




1. Tend to your tires. Exchange your winter tires for summer or all-season tires. Winter tires wear out quickly on dry, hot pavement; switching them early will keep them in optimum shape for next year, not to mention improve your car’s handling during the summer months.

Check your tire pressure — and check it often. With every passing month, the average tire loses about a pound of air pressure. Proper tire inflation is critical to achieving the best possible contact between the tire and the road and avoiding blowouts and tread separation. Most cars have a decal mounted in their driver doorjamb that lists the correct tire pressures depending on tire size and vehicle load. Properly inflated tires will also improve fuel economy, particularly important if you’re doing lots of high-speed driving on a long family vacation.


2. Stay on top of your fluids. If you’ve fallen behind on maintenance, get your car’s oil changed before you hit the road. Keep in mind that any of today’s oils, including 5W-30, 10W-30 or 10W-40 grades, are multiviscous, and get a bit thinner the hotter it gets outside, thereby increasing the chance that the engine might not get the proper lubrication (it’s the opposite in winter). Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will list the manufacturer’s oil recommendations for different climates. If you have a dealership or local garage perform the oil change, ask the manager what type and viscosity of oil they are putting into your vehicle. Consider changing it to a compound that’s slightly thicker if you’re going to be driving in extreme temperatures. While the hood is up, check the coolant/antifreeze mixture inside your vehicle’s radiator. The ideal ratio of coolant to water is 50-to-50 for optimal temperature regulation in both cold weather and hot. You can check this with a simple and inexpensive antifreeze tester, which you can find at all auto parts stores.


3. Give the rest of your car a once-over. Inspect the belts and hoses. In modern cars, they are designed to last a long time, but still have the potential to fail. Before summer begins, have the belts and hoses inspected by a mechanic. And if your car is at least a couple of years old and you’re not sure when they were last replaced, consider having them changed, especially before setting out on a long road trip.

Inspect the wiper blades. The life expectancy of a wiper blade is just one year, and wipers often get dried out or chewed up during a hard winter. If yours are not making full contact with the windshield, replace them. Also, keep an eye on your windshield washer fluid reservoir, which you can top off in less time than it takes to fill your tank with gas.

Finally, check the battery. Extreme heat and cold put additional strain on an automobile battery, particularly older ones. If yours is more than 3 years old, have it tested at a certified automotive repair facility. If you don’t know how old it is, think about replacing it. This may seem like an unnecessary expense — especially for those on tight budgets — but trust us, it’s better than trying to find a replacement battery while you’re stuck on the side of the road with three screaming kids.


4. Prepare an emergency kit for your car. Here’s what we recommend carrying in a safe, secure part of your trunk or cargo area:

a. A flashlight, flares and a first-aid kit

b. Jumper cables

c. A mat or blanket to protect your clothing in the event that you need to change a tire or reach debris that might be lodged underneath your vehicle

d. Extra clothes and gloves

e. Paper towels

f. Extra washer fluid

g. Nonperishable food

h. Jug of water

i. Basic tools (wrenches, ratchet/socket set, screwdrivers, pliers or Vise-Grips, etc.)

Many of these items are available (often prepackaged) at auto parts stores or major department stores. Also, keep the phone number for your emergency roadside assistance program, if you have one, in a convenient location.


5. Pack smart. Many of us are guilty of taking everything but the bathtub with us on road trips — stuffing our vehicles to the roof with pillows, coolers, suitcases, CDs, etc. — to the detriment of the vehicle’s comfort, handling and outward visibility. Our advice: bring only what’s necessary.

In the days before you leave, then, make a list of what you’ll need on your trip, and pack as many of those things ahead of time as possible instead of throwing everything in the car in a panic at the last minute. Ask yourself: do you have to bring shampoo when it will be provided by your hotel? Can you afford to eat some meals along the way instead of packing up the entire pantry? Do you really need to bring eight pairs of shorts when you’ll have access to Grandma’s washer/dryer?

That said, we do recommend packing a small cooler with bottled water, crackers, cereal bars, fruit, etc., to keep you and your family hydrated and hunger-free. Replenish these supplies at gas stations or rest stops. Try to avoid salty foods and sodas, as they can actually make you thirstier. And don’t stuff yourself when you eat; food comas at 70 miles per hour are not good, to say the least.



6. Load smart. Once you’ve decided what to bring, don’t pack items so high that they completely block your outward vision. Don’t bury items that you may need to access at a rest stop. If possible, even out your load from side to side, and if you’re hauling something in a pickup or SUV, try to keep the heaviest items as close to the center of the vehicle as possible for optimal handling.

7. Avoid fatigue. Drowsy driving is one of the leading causes of highway accidents. There are a few measures you can take to avoid getting tired on the road. Make absolutely sure you get a good night’s rest before spending a long time behind the wheel. Be mindful of caffeine; a short-term coffee buzz will be followed by a lull, and it’s all but impossible to sustain one’s energy for hours on end. Switch drivers every hour or two if you can. If you find yourself getting tired, by all means pull over at a safe spot, switch on your hazard lights and rest for a few minutes. Finally, stop often. Some people complain about having small bladders, but frequent bathroom stops actually help lower the risk of freeway fatigue. Besides, you never know what cool trinkets, local vittles and photo ops may be waiting for you in those random small towns you might otherwise skip over.


8. Tow, tow, tow your boat (or any trailer) with safety in mind. Keep it slow, keep it smooth. When towing, everything you do while driving needs to be done at significantly reduced speed when compared to driving without a trailer. Smoothness and caution are paramount to successful trailering, including accelerating, turning, changing lanes and especially braking. Plan all maneuvers well ahead of time and be especially cautious when towing a slab-sided trailer in windy conditions. Also, familiarize yourself with trailering-specific traffic laws and heed reduced speed limits.



9. Take the scenic route. Life really is about the journey, so for Pete’s sake, have some fun on your trip. If you’re particularly confident in your navigator (or navigation system), consider taking the more picturesque side roads instead of broad, mind-numbing interstates that may be packed with big rigs and holiday travelers. Pad your trip with extra time so that you can stop at historical landmarks, soak in the beauty of natural landmarks or enjoy a picnic.


10. Be nice. While the high costs of gasoline may keep some families off the road this year, you’ll probably encounter quite a few fellow road-trippers anyway. But consider this: you’re tired, they’re tired, and highway driving (especially with little ones) can shorten our collective fuses, making road rage all too common on our interstates. Some words to the wise: be nice. Use your signals. Let faster drivers pass. Don’t tailgate. Be patient with trucks and vacationing families in RVs. They have a right to the road, too, and if we all can just learn to get along, the road can be an awfully fun place to spend time.