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Travel News: Best Time to Book Thanksgiving Flights, L.L. Bean Supports the National Parks, and Airline Loyalty Programs Are Still Confusing

By The Budget Travel Editors
January 12, 2022
man looking at flight schedules at airport
Mohd Hafiez Mohd Razali/Dreamstime
There’s a great big world out there, and our latest “news you can use” may inspire a trip you never knew you needed.

From the OMG-the-holidays-are-coming department to good news about America’s national parks, plus a look at the sometimes baffling array of airline loyalty programs, this week’s travel news is all about looking - and planning - ahead,

BEST TIME TO BOOK THANKSGIVING FLIGHTS

Don’t say we didn’t warn you: The best time to buy airline tickets for Thanksgiving 2018 may be… wait for it… next week. According to the data crunchers at the global travel search engine Skyscanner.com, the ideal window for savings is earlier than usual. The best week to book is the week of August 27, for savings up to 7 percent. The second best week to book is the week of October 1, for savings up to 6 percent. And don’t expect last-minute savings this year: The worst times to book are the weeks of November 12 and 19.

L.L. BEAN SUPPORTS THE NATIONAL PARKS

We wear our love for America’s national parks on our sleeve. We also wear our share of L.L. Bean apparel and gear. So today’s announcement that the Maine-based retailer will extend its support of the national parks with a multi-year, $3 million partnership with the National Park Foundation (NPF) for its Find Your Park program. “L.L.Bean’s investment helps power the movement to connect more people from all walks of life with the natural, cultural, and historical treasures found across the National Park System,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service. “Once people discover how accessible these places are, they develop a lifelong passion for exploring and protecting them.”

AIRLINE LOYALTY PROGRAMS ARE STILL CONFUSING

The J.D. Power 2018 Airline Loyalty Program Satisfaction Study pretty much confirms what some of you may already suspect: Roughly half of airline loyalty program members do not understand how to earn or redeem their points or miles. And, yes, since the whole purpose of airline loyalty programs is to earn and redeem points or miles, the finding is a bit of a Debbie Downer. The study does contain some good news: When airline staff address members by name and acknowledge their preferences, satisfaction rates rise. The top three loyalty programs in terms of overall member satisfaction are JetBlue Airways TrueBlue, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

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Travel News: Experience NYC’s New Pod Hotels, California’s Highway 1 Is Back in Action, and Save 30% or More With HotelTonight

From California’s ultimate epic drive to New York City’s beating heart, plus a new way to score incredible hotel savings, this week’s travel news is all about planning those fall getaways that are just around the corner. EXPERIENCE NYC’S NEW POD HOTELS Budget Travelers know that sometimes the secret to saving money on a trip is being open to new ideas. Maybe that’s why we’re psyched that The Pod Hotels have opened properties in NYC’s Times Square and Brooklyn. The concept is simple: Elegantly minimalist lodging at reasonable prices right in the heart of where you want to be. Pod Times Square launched in January and recently opened The Polynesian tiki-themed restaurant, all just a stone’s throw from Broadway theaters and hopping nightlife. And last month, Pod Brooklyn unveiled RFTP, a rooftop bar with stunningly Instagrammable skyline views and distinctive signature cocktails and food. CALIFORNIA’S HIGHWAY 1 IS BACK IN ACTION The Golden State’s most iconic road, Highway 1, is now completely reopened following 18 months of roadwork on portions that were closed due to flooding and mudslides. Last week, a “dream drive” caravan of more than 80 cars - from vintage to contemporary - made the (gorgeous!) drive down the Central Coast from Monterey to Morro Bay. “Driving Highway 1 is a bucket-list experience many travelers dream about, and its closure made headlines around the world,” said Caroline Beteta, Visit California President & CEO. “Many communities along this stretch have suffered while the road has been closed. We’re proud to announce to the world that Highway 1 is open and better than ever, and the Central Coast is ready to welcome travelers looking for the ultimate California road trip.” SAVE 30% OR MORE WITH HOTELTONIGHT You already know that the HotelTonight app can be one of the easiest ways to nab last-minute hotel deals, right? A new feature called ''Daily Drop'' will deliver at least 30% off online travel agency (OTA) rates. The only catch? You’ve got to pounce. You receive a daily deal on a hotel that’s matched to you, and you have 15 minutes to unlock and book the deal.

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Travel News: Tour the Queen of Soul’s Recording Studio, Free Museum Entry on 9/22, and Get a Slice of Pie on Your B&B Pillow

From the funkiest corner of Alabama to free museum entry across the U.S., not to mention the sweetest B&B perk we’ve heard in a long time (it involves pie), this week’s travel news is all about making the most of your vacation days. TOUR THE QUEEN OF SOUL’S RECORDING STUDIO It is impossible to overstate Aretha Franklin’s musical abilities and cultural impact. We mourn the passing of the singer, songwriter, and pianist whose songs helped define the American experience of the past five decades. Travelers who wish to celebrate the Queen of Soul’s legacy may want to head to FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals, in Florence, AL, where, in 1967, Franklin recorded her fiercely brilliant breakthrough album, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” including the classic “Respect.” Swampette Tours (visitflorenceal.com) can take you on a guided tour of the studio, which includes the piano Franklin played, plus a visit to the nearby Alabama Music Hall of Fame. FREE MUSEUM ENTRY ON 9/22 Our friends at Smithsonian magazine are delivering their 14th annual Museum Day, with tickets now available for download. On Saturday, September 22, 2018, museums across the U.S. will adopt the free-entry policy of the Smithsonian, opening their doors visitors who present a Museum Day ticket, which provides free admission to the ticket holder and one guest. Check out the list of participating museums and download a ticket at smithsonianmag.com. GET A SLICE OF PIE ON YOUR B&B PILLOW Sure, you’ve had turndown service. Maybe it included chocolate? Or flowers? How about pie? No? Well… Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast (caldwellhouse.com), in Salisbury Mills, in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley, is offering guests a slice of pie on their pillow from September 4 through 30. The inn will be baking fresh pies using locally sourced ingredients, then placing a tasty slice atop each guest’s pillow as part of its annual Pie on the Pillow turndown service. “The pie on the pillow gets bigger and bigger in demand each year,” said Dena Finneran, who co-owns the bed and breakfast with her husband, John. “Our guests return each Fall to enjoy the pies and the foliage.”

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Travel News: Last-Minute Labor Day Deals, Safety Apps for Solo Travelers, and Halloween Fun Starts in September

From exceptional savings for the closing weekend of the summer (New York to West Palm Beach for under $300, anyone?) to important steps every solo traveler must take to ensure peace of mind to the kickoff of spooky fall fun at Universal (yes, it’s almost that time of year again), this week’s latest travel news is all about making the most of the waning days of summer 2018. LAST-MINUTE LABOR DAY DEALS So you think we’re already past the best day to buy airline tickets for Labor Day weekend getaways? Think again. With Labor Day flights at their lowest price point in about four years, our friends at Skyscanner have been busier than every digging into super-low airfares, delivering tons of great deals under $300: Miami to Nassau, New York City, or San FranciscoNew York to Toronto, West Palm Beach, or Portland, MaineLos Angeles to Austin, Chicago, or Washington, D.C.Chicago to Boston or San DiegoHouston to Denver or Los AngelesSkyscanner offers a complete list of exceptional Labor Day Deals worth checking out asap. SAFETY APPS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS While we feel strongly that travel is accessible to everyone, and we’d be the last to tell you that traveling is “unsafe,” we’re also proponents of being prepared for all possibilities while on the road. When it comes to solo travel, that preparation can be all the more vital. With that in mind, we were psyched to learn about a few apps that can easily help solo travelers stay in control on their next adventure: Download Burner to obtain a “dedicated travel phone number,” so when you make new friends on the road, you’re not sharing your permanent mobile number. If you decide that your dedicated travel number has fallen into the wrong hands, you can just “burn” it and get a new one. Companion will connect your friend and family into virtual body guards by allowing them to view a live map of your trip and receive updates on your safety status. Noonlight is super-simple: You push a button when you feel unsafe, then the app gives you a few seconds to enter a 4-digit PIN that means “I’m ok.” If the PIN is not entred, Noonlight sends a message to local authorities telling them where you are and that you need their help. TripWhistle will give you the local emergency phone number anywhere you happen to be in the world. Think of it as the 411 on 911s. HALLOWEEN FUN STARTS IN SEPTEMBER We know, you want to enjoy the rest of your summer without thinking about stocking up on trick-or-treat candy or fabulous costumes. But tickets just went on sale for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, including an R.I.P. tour featuring a guide, trolley access, buffet dinner, and Unlimited Universal Express Privileges. The festivities open on September 14 and run on select nights through November 3. Now, resume your summer fun:)

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Travel News: Cruise Bookings Are Up, a Blowout Day of the Dead Celebration in San Antonio, and California's Wildfires Rage On

Got a hankering for adventure? So do millions of other travelers, which is giving a big lift to the cruise industry, a new report shows. In this edition of Travel News, we have the details on the study, an update on the ravaging wildfires, and a not-so-subtle reminder that it’s never to early to start planning fall travel, especially if you’re interested in the country’s biggest Day of the Dead celebration. CRUISES GROW IN POPULARITY AMONG ADVENTURE-HUNGRY AMERICANS More than 27 million people board cruise ships each year and that number is on the rise. According to a recent report from the Cruise Lines International Association, 62 percent of agents surveyed report a spike in cruises booked to Alaska, which now ranks the fastest growing destination in the cruise industry. The Caribbean/Bermuda/Mexico, Mediterranean Europe, and Canada/New England are also seeing popularity growth by 41 percent, 36 percent, and 36 percent, respectively. Most agents cite more vacationers with an itch for adventure as the driving force, a major reason for Alaska’s popularity. It makes sense, then, that the report found younger travelers taking more cruises. Over the past two years, bookings by travelers ages 40 to 49 have increased by 39 percent and by individuals aged 30 to 39 by 43 percent. The enthusiasm has also played out in consumers’ willingness to spend more, shelling out cash to add land-based excursions to their trip. IN TRUE TEXAN STYLE, SAN ANTONIO GOES BIG TO CELEBRATE DAY OF THE DEAD THIS FALL New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Boston has its St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and San Antonio has Día de Muertos. The ancient traditional Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, is a commemoration of those who have passed away. It’s so historic that it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. This year, as San Antonio celebrates its Tricentennial, it’s pulling out all the stops for the three-day holiday, holding 20 events from October 20 through November 3. Free music and cultural performances will take place pop-up-style in the city's public spaces. Plus there are various festival-esque events like Muerto Fest, a free festivity with traditional open-air alters, parades, live poetry and a remarkable range of live music. Local youth steal the spotlight on November 2 and 3 for Say Si Muerititos, a community event where students showcase their art as local dancers and musicians perform throughout the day. And restaurants around San Antonio are pitching in with specials throughout the two weeks. In short, if you haven’t arranged your travels to this city to celebrate its centuries-long heritage, you can double-down on the revelry if you start planning now. WEST COAST WILDFIRES CONTINUE TO BURN With 16 active blazes in the state and one just over the border in Oregon, California’s first responders are putting out fires on multiple fronts, from the Ferguson Fire, which forced parts of Yosemite National Park to close for the first time in nearly three decades, to the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest in the state’s history. In northern California, outside of Redding in Shasta County, firefighters continue to battle the Carr fire, the state’s sixth-most destructive of all time. As of Friday morning, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is reporting that the Carr fire is 51 percent contained, but it’s burned 181,496 acres and claimed eight victims so far, with a red-flag warning in effect through Saturday night due to hot, dry conditions and gusty winds. While the Whiskeytown recreation area has been evacuated and is closed to visitors until further notice, some of the region’s notable attractions remain open, including McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, the museum at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Lake Shasta Caverns, and Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge. “We have been so impressed by the tremendous efforts and sacrifices made by emergency services personnel, and we are so proud of this community,” says Laurie Baker, CEO for the Redding CVB and general manager of the SCWA.