A peek behind the scenes at Budget Travel
We just finished sending the last few pages of Budget Travel's September issue out the door. While I hope the final product appears effortless, you might be surprised to learn just what happens behind the scenes—all in the service of providing you with the best affordable vacation ideas your $4.50 can buy. Here's a taste of the highs and lows at our offices (and outposts) this month:
Number of images considered for the September cover: 88
Number of images considered for the first Table of Contents page: 30
Number of editors who got married in the middle of producing the issue: 1
Earliest morning by an editor: 7 a.m., working on a piece about Ely, Minnesota
Latest night by an editor: 8:45 p.m., working on a piece about how to reduce your data rates abroad
Number of hotels considered for the Essentials section on Europe's Best Values: dozens
Number of hotels that made the final cut: 5
Number of minutes spent trying to assess whether a person pictured in an image (page 20) was actually wearing clothes: 3
Number of people involved in assessment: 4
Final answer: yes, a bikini
Price of parking ticket a photo editor received shooting the image on page 37: $10
Most heated response (from a contributing illustrator): "I'm afraid I've been in this business too long to be fulfilling loopy, trivial requests like this."*
Second most heated response (from a contributing writer): "one more question and it's coming out of your salary."**
When you'll be able to see the fruits of all said labor: August 24th
*the person who comes closest to guessing what the request might have been will win a copy of Budget Travel's newest book, The Smart Family's Passport: 350 Money, Time, and Sanity Saving Tips.
** we think he was kidding, but we're not sure.
Barcelona Controversy: Banning bullfights in Catalonia?
For centuries, the battle between man and beast has played out in Spanish arenas, with about 13,500 bulls killed yearly. But like Britain's ban of the traditional fox hunt since 2002, bullfighting may soon become extinct. On July 29 28*, a vote from local parliament has blocked the sport from taking place in Barcelona and the rest of northeast Catalonia. (The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.) Similar bans may be voted into place elsewhere in the country. What animal activists are considering a victory—it was an international petition signed by 140,000 campaigners, including Pamela Anderson and Ricky Gervais, that was the catalyst for championed the ban—two-thirds of Spaniards are calling a blow to their national identity and what they believe to be an art form. But many Catalonians don't agree with the rest of the country, and are trying to shrug off some of Spain's traditions, especially since more than a million locals marched in Barcelona two weeks ago in support of calling their autonomous region a nation, making the timing of the bullfight vote appear more political than humane. Although there are only two arenas located in Barcelona (one holds 15 fights per year, and the other is being converted into a shopping mall), an estimated $390 million in revenue may be lost from the regional ban. There's already a 50,000-signature petition circulating to extend the ban to Madrid, but there's little threat that the sport will ever completely leave the nation. With a regional government that's declared bullfighting to be a part of its "protected cultural patrimony," the battle will continue to go strong in the capital city, as well as abroad in Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. *Update: We published the wrong date. Sorry! So what's your take: Is bullfighting a cultural treasure, or a cruel bloodsport?
OTA update: Orbitz makes hotel-search improvements
In the past, Orbitz has earned our kudos in the past for its customer-friendly attitude. The company's Price Assurance program sends an automatic refund if another Orbitz customer books the same hotel room for the same night for less. And with the Enhanced Low Price Guarantee (which we blogged about last fall) travelers who find their hotel room for a lower price on another site can get a refund for the difference and a $50 discount on a future Orbitz booking. Plus, Orbitz also shows up-front prices with taxes and fees included—a particularly nice feature for us budget travelers. Orbitz was founded as an airline-booking site 10 years ago and has lost a little ground to other huge OTAs who have focused on hotel bookings, like Expedia and Priceline. Orbitz CEO Barney Harford was quoted in the Chicago Tribune recently, saying his focus for the past year has been: "hotel, hotel, hotel." So, it's no wonder Orbitz is working to improve its hotel search. Now, let's get to the good stuff! What's new: Orbitz now displays its hotel search results in a pleasing, easy-to-navigate template. Each hotel has "tabs" that you can click on to get photos, a list of amenities, and a map. You can "save" hotels to go back to later, and of course you can sort all results by lowest price, star rating, or location. Here's what's exciting, at least for a quick decision-maker like me: You can compare hotels side-by-side on the same web page, without having to navigate away. For instance, I decided to check out hotels in Paris. In the "photos" tab, I found a photo of a guestroom in each hotel. By scrolling down, I could quickly look at what my room would look like in each hotel, without having to click elsewhere (or line up different web browsers, which I have admittedly done before). This gets even cooler when you use Google Street View. Within the same framework of the search-results page, you can click on the "map" tab and then click on "street view." Spin it around and see what the hotel environs are. I was completely in love with a hotel on the outskirts of Paris (an all-suites property that started at just $133!) until I realized, via street view, that this place was right by the airport. Like, depressingly close—I could see the airport in street view. Naturally, Orbitz's new look and feel isn't perfect; I wish there was an "under $200" search option, which would be great for budget travelers. Also, comparing hotels side-by-side is certainly nice, but there's no way to move the hotels around within the search results, so there's still a lot of scrolling. And I couldn't figure out how to get into my saved hotels and compare those side-by-side—the saved hotels appear as just a list. But, overall, it's great to see a huge OTA like Orbitz freshen up its look. The question is, what do you think? What else would you like to see from Orbitz in the future?
NYC weighs an outdoor smoking ban. What's your take?
We've been tracking the spread of smoking bans around the world, often to places that were once notorious for having a culture that loves to light up: Paris, Fort Worth, Dublin, London, the nation of Turkey, and many more. Now New York City is going a step further. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has voiced his support to expand the city's 2003 ban on smoking in restaurants and bars to now include parks, beaches, marinas, boardwalks, and pedestrian plazas as well. That would most likely mean that fines would be enforced in areas like the Coney Island boardwalk, the Times Square pedestrian plaza, and throughout Central Park. Last week's news release listed many reasons for the proposed ban, including that "a person sitting within three feet of a smoker outside can be exposed to levels of secondhand smoke similar to those experienced indoors," and also that "research shows that 65 percent of New Yorkers favor banning smoking at outdoor recreational places such as parks, ball fields and playgrounds." But a smokers' rights group, called NYC Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, strongly disagrees with these claims of support. The AP quoted founder Audrey Silk as arguing that smoke dissipates quickly outdoors where "there's room for everybody and nobody will be affected." Similarly, in California, a state typically known for its progressive laws, a measure failed earlier this year which would have banned smoking in state beaches and parks (it was vetoed by the state's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a cigar aficionado himself). The New York City ban still faces a series of public hearings and approval from City Council before becoming law. So what's your take: Do you consider the proposed smoking ban an infringement on New Yorkers' rights, or a welcome change for some of the Big Apple's most iconic landmarks?
Pizza Party! Delta Buys Pies for Rerouted Passengers
Fact: Pizza makes everything better. Even flight delays. On Wednesday, passengers on Delta flight 802 from Atlanta to NYC's LaGuardia airport got a tasty surprise when their flight was rerouted due to bad weather: boxes upon boxes of pizza pies and bottled water waiting for them when they de-planed in Syracuse, New York. Watch the video, reported by the Weather Channel, here. This isn't the first time Delta Air Lines has bought pizza for its passengers. Back in May, the airline's crews placed orders when weather delayed more than 650 flights. Same with storms in Atlanta this past November—flight attendants passed out slices from the aisle. Delta's dough-licious behavior can be traced back several years. In 2013, station managers arranged for a cop car to pull up and deliver 60 pizzas to a plane stuck on the tarmac for hours in Boston. Not too long before that, 160 pizzas were delivered to a Delta plane delayed in Savannah. Back then, a Delta spokesman told USA TODAY, "Delta can't control the weather, but we can control how we respond to weather delays and irregular operations. In situations like these, Delta people have the decision-making power to take care of our customers — even having pizza delivered plane-side."