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16 Magic Web Tools To Save You Time, Money, and Headaches
Should you buy your airline ticket now or wait because the price may drop? Is there a better coach seat on your overnight flight than the one you've been assigned? How long will it take to walk from your hotel or cruise-ship dock to the sights and restaurants on your itinerary?
The real live human-being fare wonks behind AirfareWatchdog find low fares that automated airfare search engines may miss. The result: a list that includes unadvertised sales and promo-code fares (AirfareWatchdog tells you which codes to use). Sign up for e-mail alerts for low fares from your home airport, as well as "to a city" alerts that list fares from various airports to your destination. Say you want to fly from Houston to Kona, Hawaii. The Houston-Kona fare might be $800, whereas the Dallas-Kona one might be $350. If you'd signed up to see all the fares to Kona, you'd know to combine the Dallas-Kona fare with a cheap Houston-Dallas ticket.
Seeking the best price for a car rental? It's tough if you haven't got time to check back every so often to see if rates have dropped or to sort through all the rental-car discount coupons you get in the mail (often from airline loyalty programs). Luckily, AutoSlash does this for you. It searches for the lowest rates, using all manner of publicly available discounts in its search (you needn't know any promo codes; it enters them for you), and once you've booked, keeps repricing your rental automatically. If the rate drops, it alerts you so you can rebook at the lower price.
Read the full list, then click "Leave a comment" below and tell me: What's your favorite magic tool for planning and booking travel?
How I Picked the Right Plane and Had My Choice of 335 Movies on a 2 1/2-hour Flight
I got my own individual touch-screen TV with AVOD (audio video on demand) on a Continental flight from Houston to Newark on Saturday.
How is it that on a 2 1/2-hour domestic flight this past weekend, I had my choice of 335 movies, 19 short programs, music, games, even foreign-language lessons? And I could start, pause, rewind, or fast-forward whenever I wanted? This wasn't just dumb luck. I picked the right plane.
On most domestic routes, most U.S. airlines use narrow-body planes (such as 737s or 757s). Occasionally, though -- usually on flights between hubs and international gateways -- they use a wide-body jetliner configured for international service. On such flights, coach passengers like me can find nice international-flight amenities such as individual TV screens, multiple entertainment choices, comfier seats that are slightly wider with slightly more legroom, and more spacious overhead bins.
How can you end up on such a flight? Find out after the jump.
How to Snag the Comfiest Coach Seats
by Wendy Perrin
Note to those of you who aren't Conde Nast Traveler subscribers: My Perrin Report in our April issue is now online and can be read here. It's full of tips for how to nab the best coach seat possible by choosing your airlines and aircraft wisely and then engineering yourself into their coach cabins' prime seats. Quick taste:
"The most pleasant airplane experience my family of four has had was a Continental flight from Barcelona to Newark last December. If you're wondering how on God's green earth a 9.5-hour flight on that one-aisle winged sardine can known as a 757 can possibly be described as anything remotely resembling 'pleasant,' I have one word for you: AVOD . . . . "
AVOD stands for Audio Video on Demand, of course. Continental has installed it on all its 757-200s, and all I can say is it's God's gift to parents of restless 5- and 7-year-old boys. We had AVOD again on our flight from St. Maarten to Newark last month, and it was as if the airline had given us a free babysitter for four hours.
On another note . . . I'm off to Washington, D.C., tomorrow to speak at this conference and won't have time to blog while I'm gone: Not only am I dragging my kids and husband along, but I need to finish writing my annual villa-rental feature (the reason for the aforementioned trip to St. Maarten) for Conde Nast Traveler's June issue. But you can always follow my Twitter feed from D.C., as well as the Twitter stream from the other conference attendees. Meanwhile, Julia will be bringing you Daily Deals as always. See you back here again on Tuesday.
"The Best Value in the Sky"
by Wendy Perrin
"I'm convinced it's the best value in the sky right now," biz travel guru Joe Brancatelli of JoeSentMe told me a couple of days ago. He was talking about new transatlantic airline Open Skies' premium economy class (a.k.a. Prem+), the subject of his Seat 2B column on Portfolio.com this week. "Frankly, Prem+ on Open Skies is every bit as good as business class on Delta and Continental," said Joe. And it's a helluva lot cheaper: His flight from New York (JFK) to Amsterdam cost less than $1,200 roundtrip.
So, if you need to fly to Amsterdam or Paris (Orly) and want a business-class level of comfort on the cheap, consider Open Skies. It's owned by British Airways--and thus would seem to be more financially secure than certain transatlantic start-ups that have gone bust lately--and it's even got a cool blog.
Hitting the Hot Spots in NYC
The winners of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine's Behind-the-Scenes Hot List Experience at DB Bistro Moderne in Manhattan, April 17, 2008.
by Wendy Perrin
Three great travel tips came out of my lunch earlier today with Mike and Paula Hlastala, the charismatic and incredibly nice Seattle couple who bid for, and won, this year's Behind-the-Scenes Hot List Experience. The Hot List Experience is a trip to New York City that includes two nights in your choice of Hot List hotel (one of the properties on the magazine's annual Hot List in our May issue), dinner at your choice of Hot Table, entry to the magazine's Hot List party happening tonight at Mansion--including access to the party's VIP area, where the celebs hang out--and lunch with yours truly.
The hotel Paula and Mike chose? A new Kimpton property called 70 Park Avenue in Murray Hill, where they checked in earlier today. The restaurant they chose for dinner tomorrow night? Market Table in Greenwich Village. As for lunch with me today, we chowed down on chef Daniel Boulud's signature $32 hamburgers--sirloin burgers, actually, filled with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffle--at his not-so-new but still hot (and close to my office) midtown bistro.
Of course, I had to ask Mike, who runs a Seattle real estate development firm called Othello Partners, and Paula, the stay-at-home mother of their two children who plans all the family trips, what travel secrets they've gleaned so far during this New York City jaunt. Three excellent tips came up:
1. Flying JetBlue? Get one of the seats up front with extra legroom.
The magazine paid $25 extra per flight so that Mike could get one of JetBlue's Even More Legroom seats, with a pitch of 38 inches. On some flights these seats cost only $10 extra. Mike says they're well worth it: He's six feet six, and the extra legroom is the reason he was able to sleep on his red-eye last night. (Paula flew into town a couple of days earlier.)
Read on for the two other tips.
How To Switch To A Better Plane Seat
by Wendy Perrin
A great question came in from loyal reader Lori B. re: the SeatGuru vs. SeatExpert debate:
"Isn't the real question this: Is it even possible to get a good seat on an aircraft these days? The airlines are 'saving' so many of their best seats for their preferred flyers, that for the infrequent flyer your choice is often the best of the worst. I have found that often you can change to those saved seats on the day of departure, but this works best if you have just one or two people to rearrange."
I too have found that you can often switch to a better seat on the day of departure. Two strategies I use:
(1) Ask the gate agent if an exit-row seat is available. These are typically assigned at the gate rather than in advance.
When I flew to Boston on Continental last week, I ended up in what I consider to be the best seat on the plane: an aisle seat in the emergency-exit row -- which meant I had extra legroom. It's definitely not frequent-flier status that got me there, though, since I have zero status with Continental. I got there because when I arrived at the gate I asked the gate agent if an exit-row seat was available.
(2) Ask the gate agent if he/she can please move you to a seat next to an empty seat.
I find it helps when I point to my laptop and say that I'm desperate to get work done on the flight and having the extra elbow room would help a lot. (Everyone knows how tough it is to type on a laptop in coach when the passenger in front of you has reclined his seat right into your computer. With an empty seat next to me I can position my laptop on the traytable next door).
You're right, Lori, it's tough to switch seats when you've got more than one or two people. Tomorrow night, when Tim and the boys and I fly to Spain, there's no way we'll be able to move: Children aren't allowed in exit rows, and the plane is packed.
Note to anyone who thinks flying to Spain sounds like a cool way to spend Valentine's Day: Both my 4- and 5-year-old have an ear infection and head cold (for which they are on antibiotics). One of my fave hotel blogs, Kitty Bean Yancey's Hotel Hotsheet, reports that, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. women, the Valentine's gift they'd like most is a trip. Clearly they didn't survey me.
Before I stock up on Children's Sudafed and bubble gum, anyone got any tried-and-true tips for lessening congested children's ear pain on flights?
SeatGuru or SeatExpert?
Here you see the aircraft I'm flying to Spain on Thursday. I'll report back on which site, SeatExpert or SeatGuru, provided the most accurate info about my seat.
by Wendy Perrin
Regular readers of this blog know that I've always recommended checking out SeatGuru when making airline reservations to ensure you land in the best seat (or at least avoid the worst seats) on the aircraft you're planning to fly. Now, thanks to trusted savvy traveler Gary Leff over at View from the Wing, I've just learned about SeatExpert -- a similar online tool that Gary says has recently proven to be a more accurate source of airline seat information. Clearly the smart thing to do before accepting a seat assignment these days is to check both sites first. Which is what I've just done for the coach seats that my family and I will be sitting in en route to Madrid later this week.
I'd love to hear from anyone who's had recent experiences -- good or bad -- with SeatGuru and/or SeatExpert. Just click on "Comments" below.
Top Airline-Travel Secrets, Part 2
Save money on fares to Europe by flying through Dublin International Airport.
By Wendy Perrin
On Monday I shared some of the top 30 travel secrets compiled by yours truly for our 20th Anniversary issue. Here are a few more tips that have garnered the most thank-yous from Conde Nast Traveler readers over the years.
Which are the best days to fly for a long weekend?
Taking two days off work? You'll find cheaper fares and greater seat availability if you fly on a Saturday and return on a Tuesday, instead of going from Thursday to Sunday or Friday to Monday.
How do you bypass the airline phone tree and speak to someone who can actually help?
If a family member has elite frequent-flier status with the airline, use his or her special elite phone number (as well as frequent-flier number and PIN). If not, press the number for booking international flights.
Want to save hundreds of dollars on an international flight?
Find out if it's a code share. When a U.S. airline and its foreign partner both sell seats on the same flight (making it a code share), one carrier's fares could be substantially lower, so check prices on both. The same seat on the same New York-Hong Kong flight could cost hundreds of dollars less through Cathay Pacific than through American Airlines.
More strategies for international flights after the jump.
Top Airline-Travel Secrets, Part 1
Here are a few of my favorite travel secrets, collected for our 20th Anniversary issue. These are the tips that have garnered me the most thank-yous from Conde Nast Traveler readers over the years.
How do you get the lowest airfare?
ITA Software provides the most comprehensive and least biased list of fare and route options. Find out which airline offers the best itinerary for the lowest price, then go to that carrier's Web site to book. Itasoftware does not list flights on foreign low-cost airlines, however, so to find out which fly where, use WhichBudget or WeGoLo.
How do you get the best seat in coach?
Before accepting an airline seat assignment, go to SeatGuru and look up the aircraft you're flying. Seatguru will tell you which seats offer extra leg or elbow room and which to avoid -- such as those that don't recline, have immovable armrests, or have an obstructed view of the movie screen.
How can you snag mileage-award seats to your destination?
Lo and behold, there is someone who can help: LaDonna Epler, who used to work for the now-defunct AwardPlanner, knows the tricks and strategies for redeeming miles to get you where you want to go -- by, say, flying on partner airlines or alternate routes you haven't thought of. E-mail her at email@example.com. Another option: Call the carrier you have your miles with immediately after midnight in the time zone where it has its U.S. headquarters. Typically, award reservations expire if they're not ticketed by midnight, so you can possibly nab the seats that someone else has just forfeited.
Which credit card allows you to collect the most miles you can actually use?
The Starwood AmEx card lets you redeem your miles on any of 30 airlines (including every major U.S. carrier) and earns you the equivalent of 1.25 miles per dollar spent: AmEx gives you one point per dollar, but when you redeem points for miles, Starwood throws in an extra 5,000 points for each 20,000 you redeem.
What's the easiest way to earn miles?
Do your online shopping via airline Web sites. Continental, Delta, and other carriers link their sites to an enormous range of stores -- such as Land's End, Staples, and Barnes & Noble -- where you can earn up to ten miles per dollar spent.
Stay tuned for more top travel secrets over the next couple of weeks!
Flying With A Toddler? How Not To Get Kicked Off A Plane
by Wendy Perrin
Last week we learned about the mom and tot who were booted off a plane after the aircraft's flight attendant objected to the 19-month-old's behavior: He kept saying, "Bye-bye, plane" during the flight safety instructions and preparations for takeoff. The mom, Kate Penland, says the flight attendant suggested giving her son Benadryl to quiet him down. "I'm not going to drug my child so you have a pleasant flight," responded Penland. The flight attendant then told the captain that Penland had threatened her. He returned the plane to the gate, and Penland and her son were forced to disembark, even though by then the boy was sound asleep.
The incident has stirred up passionate opinions. There are nearly 2,000 comments about it on MSNBC.com, and loyal Perrin Post readers have added their two cents to Stephan's post "Bozo Flight Attendant Tosses A Toddler."
I've got far too many unanswered questions about this incident to opine on who was right and who was wrong, but I can tell you, as a mother of two preschool boys who were toddlers not long ago (they are now 5 and 3), that there are steps Penland could have taken that likely would have prevented the entire unhappy incident in the first place.
My tips for any parent taking to the skies with an active or fussy (in other words, normal) toddler this summer, when planes are so packed and delays so rampant:
1. Buy your child his own seat on the plane.
Kids under age two can fly for free if they sit in a parent's lap, but most of the one-year-old boys I've observed on planes are far too squirmy to sit happily on a lap in the close confines of an aircraft for a prolonged length of time. In Diane Sawyer's interview with Penland and her son, Garren, on Good Morning America, Garren was "fussy" (Penland's term), wriggling free from her lap, kicking, climbing onto the coffee table, and being such a busy wiggleworm (normal for a child that age) that he was removed from the set by co-anchor Chris Cuomo. Penland told Sawyer that Garren's behavior on the show was similar to how it had been on the plane before they were kicked off. This tells me he would have been better off in his own seat. Once my own sons turned six months old, I found I had absolutely no choice but to buy them their own seats. The reasons for strapping a toddler into his own seat:
Increase Your Comfort In Coach
Singapore Airlines' coach seats have extra knee and leg room, a 10.6-inch
personal screen, and hundreds of movie, TV-show, game, and music options
plus an in-seat power supply and USB port.
by Wendy Perrin
Headed overseas this summer and want to enjoy the comfiest flight possible? Pick the highest-rated airline that flies your route. Sometimes it may even be your cheapest option.
An article in yesterday's New York Times recommended choosing relatively empty planes that fly your route -- say, Air India from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, Germany; Air Tahiti Nui from J.F.K. to Paris; Delta from J.F.K. to Pisa, Italy -- but left out essential advice: Avoid planes with poor-quality coach seats! What good is an empty seat next to you if you can't get any shut-eye because your chair is twisting your lower back and neck into contortions?
Yes, by all means choose Asian and Pacific Rim carriers that fly unexpected non-Pacific routes, but be sure to differentiate among these airlines and choose those with the best coach seats and service! Air India and Delta seats pale in comparison with those on, say, Singapore Airlines (rated #1 in the world), which flies from J.F.K. to Frankfurt; Emirates (rated #2), which flies from Houston to London; Cathay Pacific (rated #3), which flies from J.F.K. to Vancouver; Malaysia Airlines (rated #8), which flies from Newark to Stockholm.
More Comfort On Overnight Flights
by Wendy Perrin
Question from reader John Held:
"We read with interest your April Perrin Report, as my wife and I are flying to South Africa via London in May. Do you suggest that we use the Self-Inflating Seat Cushion with the First Class Sleeper on our two overnight flight segments? The sketch in your April issue seems to show both products being used. The Magellan's web site also shows an Inflatable Leg Rest. Is this product usable with the other two products? Thank you."
I'm so glad you asked, and I'm sorry if the illustration (shown above) was confusing. First of all, you would not want to use the Self-Inflating Seat Cushion and the First Class Sleeper simulaneously! Second, the only way I'm comfortable using the First Class Sleeper, I've found, is if my legs are propped up, BUT it's not clear that the leg rest you've found will work well with it. The extent to which each of these pillows will work for you, and work well in combination with the other pillows, depends on the shape/length of your body and legs, as well as the shape/design of the airplane seat you'll be sitting in, and, most unfortunately, it's very hard to predict until you're actually sitting on the plane.
Bad News For Delta Biz Travelers, Part 2
The Piazza di Spagna (or, the Spanish Steps) in Rome
Photo: Index Stock Imagery, Jupiter Images
By Wendy Perrin
Yesterday's post about Delta eliminating business class on its Cincinnati- Rome route led reader JSG to post this:
"I beg to differ that this is bad news for business travelers. It appears that whilst the entire aircraft is being sold as economy class, the front cabin is fitted with domestic-style business-class seats. These seats are available to those with status on Delta (e.g., its business travelers) while on an economy ticket."
"JSG is wrong and makes the kind of sloppy assumption that dooms arrogant travelers all the time....
Bad News For Delta Biz Travelers
By Wendy Perrin
"Did Delta really eliminate business class on its flights from Cincinnati to Rome?" writes reader Marjdavies. "Delta.com shows only coach seats available for various May/June dates. A Delta rep confirms the accuracy of the plane configuration shown on the website: Rows 1-7 are 2-3-1, rest of plane is 2-3-2. I'm incredulous."