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Travel News: New Budget Flights to Paris, TripAdvisor Announces Readers' Choice Awards for Hotels, and Lounge Around in an Igloo in Maine

By The Budget Travel Editors
January 27, 2022
Eiffel Tower aerial view
Splosh/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 announcement of winners of TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Awards for hotels to new flights from more U.S. airports to and from Paris, today's travel news is designed to get you in the mood to book your next getaway.

Paris on Your Mind? A French Budget Airline Debuts Flights From Several U.S. Airports

We hate to break it to you, but we’re closing in on the moment when it’ll be too late to start thinking about Valentine’s Day gifts, and it’s never too early to start thinking about your summer vacation, either. If you’re looking to knock out that vacation planning and a present for your sweetheart in one fell swoop, XL Airways (xlairways.com) has a pretty enticing proposal. A French airline that’s offered seasonal nonstop flights to Paris from NYC at value prices for a decade, XL is expanding its American footprint to a total of four U.S. gateways. In addition to JFK, passengers can now fly to and from Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. What’s more, the carrier is updating its jets' economy-class cabins, adding ergonomic seats with adjustable head rests, individual entertainment screens, and USB chargers. The flights are seasonal and currently available for booking. The New York to Paris route resumes on April 6 and runs through January 2020; L.A. flights will run from June 8 to September 9; San Francisco from June 23 to September 8; and Miami from June 24 to September 10.

TripAdvisor Announces Its Travelers' Choice Awards for Hotels

TripAdvisor, billed as the world’s largest travel site, revealed the winners of its 17th Travelers' Choice Awards for hotels last week. Millions of reviews, collected over the course of a year on more than 1.2 million properties on the site, were analyzed using a proprietary algorithm to recognize 7,812 hotels, B&Bs, inns, and resorts in 94 countries. That might sound like an astronomical number of winners, but it actually only accounts for less than one percent of the properties reviewed on the site. Charleston’s French Quarter Inn took top place as the #1 hotel in the U.S., but as far as concentration of top-rated hotels goes, California and Florida won 22 awards apiece, South Carolina clocked in with 14, and Massachusetts won 12. Globally, the United States proved its hospitality supremacy with 165 awards, the greatest number of winners, just ahead of Italy and Spain with 164 and 163 award winners, respectively. Now, about those top prizes. Desert Rivera Hotel in Palm Springs scored highest for Best Small Hotel. Jail Hill Inn in Galena, Illinois, won the prize for Best B&B or Inn, and Homewood Suites by Hilton Anaheim Resort (Convention Center) ranked best for family accommodations. Best Bargain honors went to the Trails Inn in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. For a list of winners, visit tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Hotels.

A Maine Hotel Puts Frosty Beverages on the Menu

We love a warm-weather winter escape as much as the next sun-starved Northeasterner, but leaning into the cold is often just as fun. Case in point: the igloo-style ice lounges at Maine’s Kennebunkport Inn, where visitors can cozy up for cocktails—think toasty toddies and bourbon-spiked cocoa—beginning January 25th. The lounges are stocked with thick blankets and fur-lined seats to keep the chills at bay, but if the cold gets to be too much, there are also communal firepits just outside the door (plus a cornhole board for those who prefer to embrace the frigid temps). Pop in for a drink or book an igloo-themed package and spend the weekend. (From $395 for two nights; kennebunkportinn.com/igloo-ice-lounge)

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Travel News: Santa Fe Is All About Kids This Spring, a New App Aims to Ease Winter Driving Worries, and Marriott's Newly Revamped Rewards Program

From the low-down on Marriott's new loyalty program to a new app that makes winter driving a little less daunting to a wonderland of activities for kids in Santa Fe this spring, this week’s travel news has you covered. Santa Fe Offers Big Deals for Kids This Spring It’s easy to think you have to plan your family’s spring break destination based on whether you’re seeking culture, adventure, or just plain relaxation. Choose a flavor, pick the place accordingly, right? Think again. Each year, Santa Fe's hotels and cultural institutions open their arms to families with kids 12 and under with a roster of appealing enticements, fun perks in many hotels not least among them. During the fourth annual Kids Free Spring Break 2019, which runs from March through April 21, numerous attractions and businesses—everything from museums to sports events and adventure attractions to art classes to dining—offer deals to families. There’s free admission for kids under 16 to the Museum of International Folks Art. At the Wildlife West Nature Park and the Santa Fe Climbing Center, each adult ticket purchased includes one free child admission. Kids eat free at Terra Terra, the restaurant in the Four Seasons, and throughout March, kids ski free on Wednesdays at the Santa Fe Ski Co. Even hotels have deals. The Drury Plaza's Junior Artist package includes a 10 percent discount on rates and art kit. That's just a small sampling of the experiences that are sure to entertain the kiddos and have them talking about their next vacation the minute they get home. (santafe.org/Spring_Break) A New App Helps You Safely Plan Your Winter Driving There are plenty of apps that can help drivers get from Point A to Point B and no shortage of weather apps, but for the first time, someone combined the two. Drive Weather (driveweatherapp.com), which launches today on iOS and Android, was created to alert motorists of weather conditions along their route to help them plan accordingly. The app uses government-recognized weather reports and clear-cut icons to indicate conditions like cloud cover, precipitation, fog, hail, smoke, haze, snow, thunderstorms, temperature, and wind. There’s also a seven-day “time machine” that shows the forecast. With approximately 1.2 million weather-related traffic accidents in the U.S. each year, planning for extreme conditions is in everyone’s best interest. A subscription for the app is $10 per year, and a seven-day trial is free. Marriott's New Rewards Program Is Official Say goodbye to Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guests (SPG). Beginning February 13, the three longstanding loyalty programs are officially becoming the single Marriott Bonvoy. (They actually merged last summer, a result of Marriott International’s merge with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, but now is the official christening, so expect the name to show up on websites and individual properties going forward.) Bonvoy rewards apply to Marriott’s 30 hotel brands—a total of 67,000 properties in 129 countries. Popular SPG perks, like free upgrades when available, will remain a cornerstone of the program, and new advantages, like members earning about 20 percent more points per dollar spent, will be implemented. Plus there will be added ways to redeem points. A new platform, Moments, will let members use points to make purchases from a selection of more than 120,000 experiences, including uniquely local attractions, activities, and meals.

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Travel News: TSA Staffing Woes, Kayak Gives Diners a New Reason to Hit the Road, and Eurail Reaches a Milestone

From the latest on how the government shutdown is affecting the airport experience to Eurail’s 60th anniversary celebration, plus a new way to use your OpenTable rewards points, this week’s travel news has you covered. TSA Worker Absences On the Rise As the government shutdown rolls on, airports continue to struggle with staffing and security concerns. The Transportation Security Administration announced today that “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations”—not surprising, given that they’re going on 27 days without pay. The TSA released data for Wednesday travel showing that unscheduled worker absences were up 22% from the same date last year, and the agency tells The Washington Post that the trend will only continue. “The number of people calling out because of financial concerns is increasing,” Michael Bilello, TSA’s assistant administrator for public affairs, told the paper. “As we go further and further away from having a missed paycheck and going into unknowns...people will have to make a decision: ‘Can I afford to go to work today?’” Air traffic controllers are facing the same financial strain, and with a federal judge denying a request by the air controllers’ union, among others, that aimed to force the government to pay them during the shutdown, the situation doesn’t look likely to improve. Though there were reports earlier in the week of wait times stretching to two and three hours in some locations, the TSA says that national averages are on par with the usual standards. Wednesday’s max was only 39 minutes at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport—the country’s busiest. But with major events like the Women’s March and Super Bowl on the horizon, it remains to be seen just how our nation’s transportation organizations will respond to the heavy crowds that are expected with limited personnel. Kayak's New Dining Deal As of today, OpenTable devotees have a fresh way to earn rewards. The dining-reservations platform is teaming with booking site Kayak to allow its users to put their hard-earned loyalty points toward hotel stays, both at home and abroad. U.S. diners with 2,000 points or more can now receive discounts of up to $200 at some 400,000 participating hotels, the first in a series of new redemption options the two platforms’ parent company plans to roll out in the coming days. “OpenTable diners are avid travelers, so we are excited to offer a Dining Reward that will help them save on their next trip,” said Kayak CEO Steve Hafner. “Creating shared value for our respective users—diners that love to travel and travelers that need to eat—is a priority.” (opentable.com) Eurail's 60th Anniversary Love ‘em or hate ‘em, airplanes are a modern miracle. (If only Christopher Columbus knew how long it takes us to travel the distance he covered in a lifetime!) But for travelers with more wanderlust and the luxury of time, railroads are the way to go, and with Eurail, a network of dozens of train systems—including high-speed, international, and smaller regional lines—in 31 different countries throughout the continent, you can design a European vacation for the ages. Eurail offers unparalleled flexibility and an extensive menu of travel packages that lets you make your decision based on factors like the length of time of your trip, seating preferences, and more. And on the occasion of its 60th anniversary, the company is proving that it's only getting better with age. Its roster includes three new destinations—Macedonia, Lithuania, and Great Britain—and five new carriers that will give travelers even more route options. As an added bonus, they've introduced new lower prices on Global and One Country passes as well as passes for seniors (60 years and older) and youth (under 27 years), and they're now offering a 2nd Class option too, making it possible to see more of Europe for less in 2019. (eurail.com)

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Travel News: Top 5 Gen Z Travel Destinations, Liftopia Gives Skiers a Lift to the Lifts, and a Special Offer for New Southwest Cardmembers

From slightly off-the-beaten-path cities that are attracting travelers who are 24 and younger, to the most convenient way to get to popular ski resorts this winter, plus a limited-time offer from Southwest that frequent fliers may want to jump on, this week’s travel news is very much aimed at shaking off the winter blues and getting you out and about. Top Gen Z Travel Destinations If you’re a member of Gen Z, born roughly between the mid-’90s and the mid-’00s, 24 years old or younger, the new HomeAway 2019 Trend Report predicts that you’re more likely to travel with friends than with family or alone, and that you prefer to spend your vacation time in cities. In fact, vacation rental company HomeAway is seeing increased demand for some wonderful cities that are sometimes overshadowed by more famous neighbors. With vacation rentals starting at well under $100/night in some destinations, these five spots should be calling your name: Pittsburgh, PA Budapest, Hungary San Antonio, TX Genoa, Italy San Sebastian, Spain Liftopia Will Give Skiers a Lift to the Lifts Do you love skiing—or have a yearning to learn—but dread the hassle of driving to the mountains in winter weather? Liftopia, the largest online and mobile marketplace for ski-lift tickets, has big news for skiers and snowboarders and other fans of mountain activities. Liftopia Experiences are hosted bus trips that can get you to 20 popular resorts in 26 major ski regions across the U.S., including transportation in luxury coaches, lift tickets, ski and snowboard trips, lessons, visits to local breweries, tubing trips, and more. Trips from major cities including New York City, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles start at $89 per person. “Liftopia has always been about improving accessibility to the mountains, and Liftopia Experiences is our next step to decrease friction for customers looking to enjoy more time outside in the winter,” said Liftopia CEO Evan Reece. “These trips take the guesswork out of getting to the mountains.” A Special Offer for New Southwest Cardmembers When we gave Southwest the 2018 Budget Travel Award for value airline, it was an acknowledgment of how the company goes the extra mile in terms of fare transparency and customer service. A special offer for new cardmembers underscores all that we admire about Southwest: New cardmembers who open an account by February 11 will earn a Companion Pass (which allows you to designate a companion to fly free on any Southwest flight anytime you fly through December 31) and 30,000 Rapid Rewards Points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of your membership. The offer is for Southwest’s Plus, Premier and Priority consumer credit cards (southwest.com).

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Travel News: Meet the New TSA Dogs, a New Money-Saving Airline Trend, and Monty Python’s Michael Palin Is Now an Actual Knight

From a cute new development in the seldom-cute world of transportation safety to the latest noteworthy developments among major airlines, plus a knighthood for an iconoclastic British comic and travel advocate, this week’s travel news is a quirky way to start the new year. MEET THE NEW TSA DOGS The Transportation Security Administration is all ears, at least where its canine team is concerned. In an effort to make its dogs less intimidating to travelers, the TSA is increasingly turning to floppy-eared dogs to patrol its passenger-screening lines. The new dogs, such as Labs and golden retrievers, are considered more friendly-looking than their pointy-eared cousins like German shepherds, which are being reserved for other, less visible, assignments. "You'll see parents kind of pull their kids away from a dog with pointy ears because, I think, we as a culture recognize that as a tactical dog or a police dog," TSA Assistant Administrator Michael Bilello told ABC News. That said, the agency’s focus is on ensuring that its dogs are healthy and well-trained, regardless of their ears. “No dogs will be pulled off because they have pointy ears. All the dogs are good—as long as they pass the test,” TSA spokesman James Gregory told The Washington Post. “At the end of the day, the dog’s going to be out there because they’re qualified, not because of their breed." The TSA’s floppy-eared pivot comes on the heels of the news that the first certified third-party canine team began screening air cargo at the end of December, expanding the agency’s network of explosives detection canines even further. A MONEY-SAVING AIRLINE TREND We appreciated the recent piece by Skift’s Jay Shabat about noteworthy airline developments over the past year. Among the cool new trends, there is one that will particularly please Budget Travelers: United, American, Alaska, JetBlue, Air Canada, and WestJet are following Delta’s lead and will soon be offering basic economy fares aimed at fliers just like you seeking ultra-bargains. This trend is part of a larger effort by airlines to cater to specific segments of their customer base, and while that “segmentation” often targets luxury and long-haul fliers, basic economy fares target folks just like us. And, even better, the new fares most likely won’t be just for domestic flights but will include budget fares to Europe as well. MONTY PYTHON’S MICHAEL PALIN IS NOW AN ACTUAL KNIGHT Michael Palin became world-famous in the late 1960s for his offbeat sense of humor as a comedy writer and performer on the BBC’s mind-bendingly bizarre Monty Python’s Flying Circus television series (perhaps best known for the “Dead Parrot Sketch,” written and performed by Palin and partner John Cleese). In 1975, Palin portrayed Sir Galahad the Pure and other characters in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, an extremely unorthodox retelling of the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Now, in a delicious turn of events for fans of the ultra-irreverent Pythons, Palin has received an actual knighthood for his subsequent career as a travel writer and travel-focused television personality, most notably in the 10-part documentary series Full Circle with Michael Palin.

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