Saturday, June 30, 2007

The pen is mightier...

Whenever you travel, it's a good idea to carry a pen. You can use it to jot down a reservation number, write a postcard, or sign the upper left hand corner of a train ticket (which you have to do if it was purchased using a credit card, and conductors don't always carry pens).

In fact, bring two. Put one in your bag in case you lose the one you're carrying. They don't take up much space or add much weight, and that way, you can be sure you'll have one when you need it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bundled Discounts Save You Money

When you visit a new city--whether you're spending a week or taking the Spontaneous Tourist's approach and dropping by for a quick weekend--odds are that you want to see a few of the major attractions. That leaves you with two challenges: figuring out what you want to see, and paying for the admissions and tickets you'll need to see it.

Bundled discounts like CityPass and Go Card can help. Available in select cities, these programs can save you as much as 50% off the price of admission to popular attractions and include maps and travel tips. They'll also save you time, because when you show up with tickets in hand, you won't have to wait in line.

When you're planning your next trip, check and see if a bundled discount is available. It's hard to pass up a chance to save time and money.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Spectacle Island: The Best View of Boston's Skyline

Over the course of its history, Boston Harbor's Spectacle Island has been a quarantine site for Smallpox victims and a landfill for the city's trash. Over the last decade, however, the millions of tons of dirt created by Boston's Big Dig project were put to use transforming the site into something of which Boston residents can be proud.

With beaches, wooded areas, and marinas, the new and improved Spectacle Island provides the highest vantage point from which to enjoy Boston's skyline. Best of all, it's just a 20-minute ferry ride from downtown's Long Wharf. The next time you're in Boston, take a few hours to enjoy this newly rediscovered treasure.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

ClubAcela: An added benefit of Continental's Presidents Club

You may already know the benefits of airport clubs (and if you don't, I discuss the pros and cons of club memberships in my article, "Join the Club? The Case for Airport Lounges.") So let's say you do decide you want to belong to an airport club, at an annual cost of around $400.

Sure, it makes sense to join the club operated by your favorite airline. All things being equal, though, SkyTeam lounges--including those operated by Continental, Delta, and Northwest--are better than Star Alliance lounges, which include United and U.S. Airways: the SkyTeam lounges provide free Internet access and complimentary alcoholic beverages, while United's Red Carpet Club and the U.S. Airways Club charge for both.

Savvy travelers looking to extend that value further may be aware that they can get complimentary access to the Delta, Northwest, and Continental lounges by presenting an American Express Platinum Card along with a same day ticket. At $399 per year, the Card has a hefty fee, but it's the same fee you'd pay for Club membership anyway, and you get more benefits. Case closed, right?

Not so fast. Aside from the potentially annoying twist that the American Express benefit is limited to the three domestic SkyTeam airlines listed and not to the overseas carriers that belong to SkyTeam, there's another benefit the members of Continental Airlines' Presidents Club in particular get that no one else does: access to Amtrak's ClubAcela facilities when traveling on a same-day Amtrak ticket.

True, not everyone travels Amtrak, and ClubAcela is only available at four locations on the Northeast Corridor (Washington-Union, Philadelphia-30th Street, New York-Penn, and Boston-South). But if you are an Amtrak traveler, this benefit can be tough to top. That's because Amtrak doesn't offer a way to buy ClubAcela access; other that Presidents Club members, the lounges are open only to passengers traveling First Class and those who have attained Select Plus status in Amtrak's Guest Rewards program.

So, if you find yourself taking the train on the Northeast Corridor and have been weighing the benefits of an airport club membership, take a close look at Continental's Presidents Club. It might be the best way to go.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The National Zoo - free family fun!

The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is only one of several excellent zoos to be found in America, but it does have one compelling advantage over its counterparts: as part of the Smithsonian Institution, it's free.

While visiting this past weekend, I saw elephants, otters, a crocodile, several snakes--including one who was just a passerby, wandering along the sidewalk in a manner only slightly different from the rest of us--and a particularly endearing sloth bear. The giant panda exhibit no longer requires tickets, either, and it was fun to get to see Tai Shan, the adolescent panda born in 2005 to still-present parents Tian Tian and Mei Xiang on loan from China.

The lack of an admission fee has a surprising impact on the overall zoo experience. Since there's no need for visitors to pass through a central ticketing location, it's possible to enter the zoo from several different locations. The main entrance, for instance, is just a few blocks north of the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan stop on Metro (the Red Line), but those who prefer to drive will appreciate being able to walk directly into the park from one of five different lots.

Next time you make it out to D.C., plan to come by and see the zoo. You can't beat the price.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Passport Delays

With the turnaround for passports now as long as three months, Congress has finally conceded that it's not practical to require a passport for all land and sea travel to and from the United States by the original deadline of January 1, 2008.

The new deadline to have a passport for land and sea crossings of American borders has been set for June 2009. In the meantime, the backlog is so bad that the U.S. Government has even temporarily loosened the requirements for air travel.

But that doesn't mean you should wait to apply. If you don't have a passport, put in for it now before you need it so you'll have it when the time comes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

SkyBus adds three new airports!

You've probably heard the buzz about RyanAir. Europe's biggest low-cost airline routinely offers flights with fares as low as $0.01, has an a la carte fee structure for everything from sodas to checked baggage, and puts advertising on just about every surface of its planes.

Skybus, America's newest airline, is looking to emulate that model -- and cash-in on the enviable 30% profit margin that it's yielded. The Columbus, Ohio-based airline offers flights starting at $10 each way.

The secret? Like RyanAir, Skybus flies to smaller, less-used airports rather than the major international airports favored by most airlines. Going to Boston? Skybus can get you to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Seattle? Your flight lands in Bellingham.

On July 16, the airline is adding three new destinations: Daytona Beach (St. Augustine), Hartford (Chicopee), and San Diego (which actually is San Diego International Airport).

It's not a solution for everyone. For one thing, no matter where you're going, every Skybus flight goes to and from the carrier's main hub in Columbus, Ohio. But the price of a bus ticket from one of these outlying airports to the local metropolitan area is often a lot cheaper than buying a ticket with a larger carrier.

Do the math and it may save you a lot to give Skybus a try.