The 6th-Annual Extra Mile Awards

Travel gets more complicated and expensive by the year. But amid all the chaos, there are bright rays of hope and bravery. That's precisely why each fall Budget Travel salutes the forward-thinking companies—and people—working to make your vacation simpler, more affordable, and way more fun.

Because you could still be stuck on the tarmac were it not for the work of some stubborn volunteers

Four years ago, Kate Hanni found herself sitting on the runway at the Austin airport with no food, no water, and no working toilets—for nine hours straight. At that moment, the Napa Valley, Calif., native decided to put her career as a real estate broker on hold and launch, a nonprofit organization devoted to empowering air travelers.

What began as one woman's passion slowly morphed into a grassroots movement. Volunteers across the country—88 in all—signed on to answer phones, offer legal support, send out petitions, and lobby local politicians and other consumer groups. Last winter, after 87 cross-country flights and seven appearances before Congress, Hanni and scored big: In response to overwhelming pressure, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that domestic air carriers were required to return their planes to the terminal after three hours on the tarmac or they'd face fines of up to $27,500 per passenger. In addition, travelers involuntarily bumped from planes could be compensated with as much as $1,300, up from $800. Yet even with these victories in hand, Hanni and company see more room for improvement. "We think there should be a cap on the number of seats airlines are allowed to oversell," Hanni says. And you can be sure she's well-prepped for the next fight.

To learn more, visit To report an air-travel-related problem, call the hotline at 877/359-3776.

Because your $2 can change the world

What if lending a hand was as easy as booking a trip? That's the goal of MassiveGood, a new program from the U.N. Millennium Foundation and the Clinton Health Access Initiative. Established earlier this year, MassiveGood has partnered with global hotel chains like Accor, major booking engines like Travelocity, and travel agents the world over to allow for travelers to make $2 micro-donations; the goal is to raise $1 billion annually for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria research. At the time of purchase, customers are presented with a clickable box, banner ad, or e-mail link—depending on the partnership—to put their dollars to work.

Because budget can, and should, be beautiful

Over the years, American motel chains have done little to better their somewhat dingy reputations. We're now at a distinct turning point. Three of the largest budget hotel chains—Motel 6, Red Roof Inn, and Holiday Inn—have been undergoing redesigns of unprecedented ambition. Improvements like completely reimagined rooms, upgraded bedding, rain-flow showers, and the latest high-tech gadgetry might just change your mind about motels forever.

Motel 6's new redesign emphasizes smart, efficient touches (think pedestal beds and multimedia units that double as closets). What's more, all of the nearly 100 renovated properties are specially flagged on the revamped website.

With 32 hotels opened and 50 more coming (17 built from the ground up), Red Roof Inn is having its own little construction boom, adding tech-ready rooms, walk-in showers, and common spaces with cozy seats and stone walls.

By the end of 2010, Holiday Inn will have upgraded all 3,300 of its properties with crisp duvets and pillows in two comfort levels (soft and firm), spruced-up lobbies, and a custom scent (citrus and white tea).

Because the future of travel is now on your phone

Imagine searching the web without making a single keystroke. Google Goggles allows just that. The Android-only app, released last winter, uses your smartphone's camera and image-recognition technology to perform Google searches. Want to know more about that baroque building in front of you? Just point your camera and Goggles pulls up all relevant information, from architecture websites to Wikipedia. What about that foreign-language menu or a baffling street sign? At a glance, the app translates French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Currently, Goggles can recognize between 50,000 and 100,000 landmarks around the world and hundreds of thousands of works of art. But that's just the beginning: Project manager Shailesh Nalawadi says full translations of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian are in the pipeline, and the collection of landmarks—in locations everywhere from Paris to Uzbekistan—is growing daily.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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