Finally! Affordable hotels in New York City have arrived
For all of the great attractions New York City has to offer tourists, a choice of appealing, reasonably priced accommodations has never really been one of them.
But that may be changing, thanks to a slate of new hotels opening up in Harlem and the outer boroughs—Brooklyn and Queens, in particular.
In fact, about 40 percent of the new properties scheduled to open in New York this year are located outside of Manhattan, according to new data from NYC & Company—the official marketing and tourism organization for New York City.
The opening of Aloft Harlem last spring seemed to kickstart the trend. The 124-room hotel is located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, alongside a stretch of new bars and restaurants in the up-and-coming Harlem neighborhood. Central Park and the classic Apollo Theater are just a short walk away, as is bustling 125th St., where you can catch many subway and bus lines to the rest of Manhattan's attractions. Rates for doubles go as low as $170.
The Aloft brand—which is run by the chic company behind the W—will expand its footprint in New York this summer with Aloft New York Brooklyn, its 50th boutique-style hotel around the world. The 176-room Aloft is located in Downtown Brooklyn, just a short walk away from the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and the locals' favorite, Junior's Most Fabulous Cheesecake and Desserts restaurant. Numerous subway and rail line connections are nearby, as well. Bonus: The hotel's rooftop terrace bar will offer panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline. Rates start at $169 per night for a double room.
The Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood will also be welcoming a new B&B; this summer, called 3B. The hotel is run by eight young artists and writers, who live nearby, and has high ceilings, wood floors, and large windows, with lots of natural light. 3B has four rooms—two private rooms with a queen bed, one private room with two single beds, and another room with two bunk beds for up to four travelers. A complimentary breakfast is served each morning. Rates start at $120, including breakfast.
A number of chains are also getting in on the outer-borough action. Best Western Plus opened a hotel in Brooklyn's Prospect Park neighborhood in December, 2010, and Fairfield Inn & Suites and Sheraton will follow suit with Brooklyn properties of their own later this year.
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Is it time for major bus companies to send drivers to charm school?
From time to time, companies decide to send their workers to "charm school" to learn how to interact positively with customers. In the world of travel, there's a strong history of this type of staff education. In February of 2010, for example, Delta reacted to horrible customer service ratings by sending all of its consumer-facing employees to charm school. Just a month earlier, the city of New Delhi started signing cabbies up for charm school in advance of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. And as far back as 1991, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey created a program called "Airport Nice" to train airport employees on how to greet arriving travelers in a more pleasant manner. Customer service education is not a bad idea. Often times, a company's ability to retain its clientele has as much to do with the level of service it provides as it does with the products it offers. I'm a veteran bus rider. I have friends across the Eastern Seaboard and I frequently find myself four-wheeling it between cities. Sometimes, the bus drivers are kind and considerate, but other times they're downright surly. I'll never forget the bus ride I took where the driver ranted for at least 15 minutes about how cell phone calls were not allowed. He threatened to leave offenders on the side of the road. When I tried to call my family to let them know when I would be arriving, he screamed at me so forcefully that I wouldn't be surprised if he scared passing automobilists. Then there was the driver who, in an effort to be helpful, I'm sure, gave a 30-minute welcome spiel on an ear-shatteringly loud sound system that covered everything from the location of the bus bathrooms (in the back of the bus) to the current weather (sunny) to polite requests to keep phone conversations to a minimum. He reminded us (repeatedly) to let him know if we needed anything (change in temperature, rest stop, questions about our destination). He encouraged us to get to know our seatmates. He told us what he had had for dinner. He assured us he was well rested. And he did this every time he picked up new passengers—as this was a local bus, this happened five times. It was thoughtful, but it was too much. Even my iPod couldn't drown him out. I arrived in New York with a headache and an eye twitch. On my most recent bus trip, the driver, while kind and jovial, showed a complete lack of filter by declaring loudly into her walkie talkie "oh yeah, I'm back on the road now. My lawsuit is pending, they said they saw me at the bar but they didn't. I was just dizzy." Now, I'm not saying that her lawsuit was justified or not or even questioning whether or not she was drinking—I have no way to know. But I do know that that was an unsettling conversation to overhear just as we were taking off down the highway. I texted the conversation to a friend who promptly responded "wow, she must be wasted—buckle up!" Not funny. (For the record, we made it to New York without incident.) I reached out to Greyhound to see what kind of customer service training their staff must go through and they responded with this note: Customer service training is an integral part of the Greyhound driver education program. New Greyhound drivers receive extensive customer service training as part of their orientation and driver school. The training focuses on foundational service skills that build customer loyalty and help drivers work through challenges if they occur. In addition, drivers are trained on wheelchair and special needs safety, as well as how to assist passengers with different abilities. Once students complete training school, they return to their home terminals for additional training under the direction of their certified instructor. I'm not sure what exactly that customer service training entails and, to be fair, the majority of bus drivers I've experienced on Greyhound are perfectly pleasant. But the exceptions have been so outrageous that they're blog-post worthy. It's possible that as a frequent bus traveler I am not only more exposed to situations, I'm also more sensitive. But I'm wondering—has anyone had a similar experience? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: A Neat Freak's Guide to a Clean Suitcase The 7 Most Dangerous Travel Jobs Secret Hotels of Paris
Poll: Would you pay for American's new pay-per-view movies?
American Airlines is testing a service that streams video content on flights. For a fee, a passenger could watch movies or TV episodes on his or her laptop while in the air, reports USA Today. A movie is expected to cost about $4 and a TV episode about $2, though prices haven't been finalized yet. You won't have to pay additional fees beyond that. Lucky passengers on two transcontinental American routes will soon be able to test the service. American says it is adding AC powerports to all of its economy class sections by the end of this year, so that batteries don't drain. One way of looking at this news is that airlines may start charging for in-flight movies, a former free perk for everyone on long flights. Airlines may also soon expect you to bring your own "screen" via a laptop or tablet to watch a movie or TV show, which could lead to the removal of TVs shared by everyone. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('63092411-62f0-425e-842a-e148415bced4');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)A more positive look at this news is that airlines are improving their on-board entertainment options, giving passengers broader choices. You're more likely to have something entertaining to watch when you can choose from hundreds of choices. No reporter has test-driven American's service yet, so no one knows if it works well. The movies are stored on a server on a plane and transmitted wirelessly. No air-to-ground connection is needed, except at the beginning of the process, when users need to pay for the movie by credit card over WiFi, reports The Cranky Flier. What do you think? Would you pay about $4 to for a menu of thousands of on-demand movies and TV shows that you could stream onto your own device mid-flight? Please vote in our poll.
They want to know what?! A new passport questionnaire could get very personal
Do you remember the names and contact information for every supervisor you've ever worked for? How about the names of everyone present at your birth? A proposed passport questionnaire asks these questions and others that are equally unexpected. Be prepared to list out the addresses of every place you've ever lived from birth until now, every school you've attended and where your mother received pre-natal or post-natal medical care. You'll also be asked for the names, job descriptions, and contact information for every job in your repertoire. The new form, DS-5513, would only be used in cases when passport applicants cannot provide "sufficient proof of citizenship or identity," the State Department says. Critics claim the new questionnaire is discriminatory, whether towards elderly travelers who would be expected to list 65 years worth of supervisors, or towards people of different religious and geographical backgrounds. Some questions (ie. "List your mother's residence one year before your birth; List your mother's residence at the time of your birth; List your mother's residence one year after your birth") hint at racial profiling towards illegal immigrants, while others (ie. "Was there any religious or institutional recording of your birth or event occuring around the time of birth? Example: baptism, circumcision, confirmation—at birth?—or any other religious ceremony. Please provide details including the name, location of the institution, and date.) beg the question as to why these topics are appropriate to deem someone worthy of obtaining travel documents. Perhaps the strangest thing is the part where they ask you to describe the circumstances of your own birth, "including the names (as well as the address and phone number if available) of persons present or in attendance at the time of your birth." As one anonymous reader commented on BoingBoing.com's article, "Circumstances of my birth? How would I know, I wasn't there until the very end!" What's even more laughable is the fact that the State Department suggests the form shouldn't take more than 45 minutes to complete. Given the amount of detail they're asking for, it would probably take me a few hours to compile all of this information, and I keep fairly accurate records of my former employers and addresses. What about someone who is adopted or moved around a lot as a child and no longer has parents around to verify old addresses? And every single job? Even the three month ice-cream-scooping gig from four summers ago at a place that probably went under by now? Come on. What do you think about this newly proposed passport questionnaire? Does this seem too personal or are deep, thought provoking questions the way to go? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: The Antarctica One Is Really Cool Should you need a passport to visit Canada? The Family Travel Handbook
Google acquires travel software company for $700 million
The Justice Department has given Google the green light to purchase ITA Software, a Cambridge, Mass-based company that organizes airline data and controls the reservation systems of most major US airlines and online fare-comparison sites such as Kayak, TripAdvisor, and Hotwire. Google announced their intentions to acquire the company last July. Antitrust regulators reviewed the deal, and approved the $700 million acquisition provided that Google comply with certain conditions. Google will be required to license the software to other companies, and cannot access any proprietary data or technology that exist in the ITA system. Google has stated that they will honor ITA's existing contracts and extend them into 2016. This acquisition may very well revolutionize the way we search for airfares. If all goes according to plan, type "flights to somewhere sunny for under $500 in May" and your search results will give you exact flight times, prices, and quick links to airlines and travel websites where you can buy a ticket. Although ITA does not sell tickets and this is unlikely to change under Google's direction, other online fare-comparison sites—such as Kayak, HipMunk and Bing—may be hurt by the merger. What do you think? Is this good for travelers? What would you like to see in a travel search engine or fare comparision site? — Madeline Grimes MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: The threat of rising airfares Is google killing the Great American Road Trip? What's the best day to buy a plane ticket?