IN THE KNOW
Top Travel News of 2011
Travel was a hot topic this year, from the U.S. government allowing Americans to visit Cuba again to Groupon revolutionizing the way vacations are sold. Here are 2011’s most memorable stories.
Neither Delta nor Air France are providing quite the same level of detail as FedEx-style services do about shipments, but every bit of progress helps. In the meantime, given how airlines keep piling on the fees for checking luggage, you may want to hand your bag over to FedEx for domestic delivery in the first place and skip the uncertainty. (See Budget Travel’s post "How to Ship Your bag, From $70 Each Way.")
Deal-a-Day Sites Took the World by Storm
In July, 2011's biggest shopping phenom—the daily-deal site Groupon—teamed up with the largest online travel agency, Expedia, to create Groupon Getaways, a site devoted to e-coupons for travel. Discounts typically range from 30 to 80 percent off list prices. A recent example is a weeklong stay at one of hundreds of vacation rentals for $399 (valid for travel within the next year). The competition among daily-deal sites keeps growing, though, with companies like TripAlertz jockeying for dollars, too. At the same time, the discounts tend to be unprofitable for the companies providing them, and Groupon itself has just started turning a profit. At year-end, some critics wondered if the daily-deal sites might themselves expire soon. That's all the more reason for travelers to nab bargains while the going's good.
¡¡Bienvenidos a Cuba!!
The headline of a Budget Travel blog post from July says it all: "We Can Now Travel to Cuba!" But there's a catch: You still can't hop a plane to Havana all by yourself and wander freely along the concrete seashore, puffing on Sancho Panzas–brand cigars. No, unlike Canadians, Europeans, and other nationalities, los yanquis have to travel as part of an educational tour group run by a handful of licensed companies—Insight Cuba, for example. Government rules require that the tours be packed with a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities," such as meeting with local art gallery owners or children in orphanages. To our ears, these tours sound interesting. So we're not surprised that tour demand is strong. Here’s hoping the U.S. government licenses more companies to meet that demand soon.
The TSA Tests "Chat Downs"
In August, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began testing a new type of inspection technique at Boston's Logan Airport: "behavioral profiling." Specially trained officers quiz passengers about their journey. If anything seems suspicious, a passenger may be subjected to additional screening. In October, this trial expanded to Detroit. (See Budget Travel's article "4 Common Airport Security Questions—Answered!") In the same month, the TSA invited a select group of fliers to volunteer information about themselves—such as their home addresses and phone numbers—in advance of their trips, in exchange for a chance to zip through speedier screening lanes, which wouldn't require them to remove their shoes or jackets. This experiment is currently still taking place in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, and Miami and includes selected travelers in American and Delta airlines' frequent-flier programs. Critics of both experiments remain concerned that the new wave of security may squash some people's privacy rights without boosting safety.