How Clean is Your Hotel Bed?
We've all heard horror stories from hotel maids about the things that get cleaned and the things that are often skipped after guests check out. Namely that the bedspreads and duvet covers that look spick and span may not be washed on a regular basis, mostly due to the cost of washing such heavy material every time a guest checks-out. But some hotels are taking measures to assure guests that they're sleeping on clean sheets with fresh duvet covers, bedspreads, and blankets.
Earlier this year, CNN.com reported that Best Western hotels around the world would start "I Care Clean," a new aggressive process involving the use of ultraviolet sterilization wands to clean commonly touched areas like light switches, telephones, and bathroom sinks. Items like remotes, pillows, towels, and blankets would also be wrapped so hotel guests would know they were fresh. The housekeeping staff at the 1,900 Hampton Inn hotels are going one step further to ease your stress—post-it notes will be left on headboards saying, "Duvet covers and sheets are clean for your arrival," to ensure guests that their linens are all fresh. The cleaning process isn't new, though. Staff at the hotel chain has been washing duvet covers and linens after every stay since 2006, but since so many people assume bed covers are dirty, the extra step reassures even the biggest germaphobes.
I've long questioned the cleanliness of hotel bedspreads. Every time we arrived in a hotel room on family vacations, my mother would insist we take off the bedspreads and toss them in the corner or stash them in the closet. She always talked about seeing blacklight hotel inspection specials on the news and reminded us that they were rarely washed. While it's become a habit for me now, it's still nice to know I can be a little less neurotic at Hampton Inns and Best Westerns.
What do you think about this? Does this ease your mind about the cleanliness of your hotel room?
Southwest Adds a Surprising New Fee to the Mix
Starting in 2013, Southwest Airlines has plans to start charging a fee for travelers who don't show up for their flight without canceling ahead of time. According to a report by Skift, this new fee is expected to contribute to $100 million in new fee revenue for the airline (their other fee revenue will come from early boarding, which will cost $12.50 in 2013, and the price of overweight bags, which will rise from $50 to $100 in the new year). I heard that and my first reaction was—great, just what travelers need, another fee to worry about. Upon second thought, however, the fee makes sense. If you're not going to be able to make a flight, the airline should be able to re-sell that ticket—something they can't do if you don't notify them in advance. The CEO Gary Kelly said as much during a press conference when he introduced the fee. The only time I can see it being especially painful to travelers is if you miss your flight by accident—say—you get stuck in traffic or held up at airport security. In that case, I hope the company will be willing to accept a last-minute phone call explaining the situation—because I can't imagine anything worse than missing your flightandbeing hit by a fee. How Southwest handles that type of situation remains to be seen, as does the exact amount of the fee. The company has also not yet indicated when it plans to institute the fee. In the meantime, it's worth nothing that bags still fly free on Southwest and the company doesn't charge a fee if you need to change your ticket, two things that I can't say about most domestic airlines these days. Better yet, they've said that they will get rid of AirTran's bag fees once they have fully integrated the company into their structure (they acquired the airline last year and will start cross-selling flights with them next year). Right now AirTran charges $25 for the first checked bag and $50 for the second one. So, all in all, while a new fee is never a welcome development, this one is lot easier to swallow than some of the others we've seen airlines institute in recent years. What do you think about the new fee?
1. BOOK EARLY By reserving six to 12 months ahead of your cruise, you can lock in an early-bird rate that's 25 to 50 percent lower than the published "brochure" rate most lines advertise. You'll also have a wider selection of itineraries, dates, and cabins, and possibly get better deals on airfare and hotels. If prices go down after you book, a good travel agent—or the cruise line itself—should help you get the new lower rate. See the 10 Most Popular Cruise Ports on Earth 2. OR BOOK LATE Yes, it runs completely counter to what we just said about booking early, but if you wait 60 to 90 days before you want to sail, cruise lines often drop prices significantly to fill any remaining spaces on their ships. If you're willing and able to white-knuckle it, this is when you can nab a weeklong Caribbean cruise for under $500. But of course, you won't have as much choice of itinerary or cabin, it may be tricky to find a low airfare to your port, and last-minute fares are typically nonrefundable. 3. REQUEST A DISCOUNT Asking the right questions can work magic. If you're a return customer, mention it when booking and politely inquire whether you're eligible for a discount—it can shave 5 to 15 percent off your fare. Since cruise prices are based on double occupancy, a third or fourth person in your cabin should get a 30 to 60 percent discount. If you're 55 or older, don't be shy about asking for a 5 percent discount; likewise, active and retired servicemen and women should always ask if the line offers them savings. 4. USE A TRAVEL AGENT Sites like Kayak and Expedia have put you in the driver's seat—sometimes literally—but don't underestimate the role a good agent can play in finding you the right deal. Many have reserved spaces they can sell you at a discount, and they can explain whether an advertised "free" upgrade or all-inclusive package is for real or just a ploy. They can also advocate for you if rates drop after you've booked your cruise. 5. GO BIG Large groups—like family reunions at sea—can be complicated to pull together, but they can also knock big bucks off the price of cabins. A group of 16 people in eight cabins, for instance, can sometimes get a steep discount on the 16th fare, or in some cases a free berth. For large groups, booking a year in advance is advised to ensure you get the block of cabins you want. 6. TRY SHOULDER SEASON You won't save a ton, but sailing when most folks stay home can nab you a modest bargain—maybe 10 percent off typical high-season rates. Here are the best times to find deals in four highly popular cruise regions: Caribbean. September and October, the non-holiday weeks in December, and early January to Presidents' Day. Europe. Mid-March and April, September to December Alaska. May and September Bermuda. April and October
5 Surprising Ways to Outsmart Burglars
After a long weekend relaxing on a Caribbean beach or two weeks on that dream trip to Australia, you pull into the driveway and think, "Funny, I swore I closed that window." And that's when it hits you: You've been robbed. Most travelers worry about getting their wallets stolen or passports pinched while on the road. But you should also take steps to protect your home while you are away—especially since more than 2 million burglaries were reported in 2011 in the U.S., and that number goes up every year (almost 2 percent since 2002). And in 2011, victims lost $4.8 billion worth of property. Odds are you will come home to a house that is just as you left it, but these five tricks are so easy, it's not worth taking chances. Burglarize yourself No, you don't have to sneak up to your front door wearing a ski mask. Security expert Chris McGoey suggests taking a critical look at your home and finding any security lapses. He even organizes block parties where neighbors help neighbors make their homes impenetrable. Once you find your way inside, think like a burglar. Look for quick things to grab (like the iPad on the counter or the checkbook on the desk). And if you are leaving a car in the garage, don't hang the keys on the hook by the door. "They can just load up your own car and drive away," cautions McGoey. He also suggests rethinking your hiding places, like that jewelry or cash in your sock drawer. Everyone does it, and burglars know that. Wondering if you missed anything? Consult your teenagers. According to McGoey, "Chances are they've already ransacked your house." Keep it clean Every expert's top tip for keeping your house safe while you're away is to be neighborly. And that goes beyond waving across the driveway and buying Girl Scout cookies once a year. Keep a trusted neighbor in the loop about your vacation plans. While you are away, they can keep an eye out for flyers and papers accumulating on your front stoop that scream, "No one has been home for days." Other red flags for an empty house are a snow-covered driveway or a messy yard. Sweet-talk your neighbor into shoveling your driveway and front walk if there's a snowstorm while you are away, or trimming your grass if it starts to look unruly (but be prepared with a thank-you souvenir when you get back). Chances are they will go on vacation someday, and you can return the favor. Isn't that what neighbors are for? Don't recycle Putting out the recycling before you hit the road is just one more thing to check off the pre-vacation to-do list. Consider this, though: Those boxes from your new TV, computer, or tablet aren't trash as much as advertisements for the great new gadgets just inside your door, warns Kern Swoboda of the New York State Police. Whether you are traveling over the holidays or not, it's best to wait until you get home to put out the recycling. If you can't stand the thought of coming home to clutter, another option is to bring everything straight to a recycling center. Putting out the trash too early can also be a beacon for burglars, as are empty trash cans sitting on the curb. Yet another thing that friendly neighbor could help with (make that a really nice souvenir). Make your house look inviting The knee-jerk reaction when going away is to close up your house like a tomb. Of course you should lock all the doors and windows. It's the blinds and curtains you should leave open. It may seem like a good idea to keep anyone from seeing inside your house, but Swoboda actually recommends leaving the blinds open if you usually leave them open. Burglars notice details like these. Don't just put lights on timers Everyone has seen the classic movie Home Alone, where the bungling burglars case the neighborhood and learn the residents' typical schedules. Yes, that was Hollywood, but according to Swoboda, this is a very common tactic. Burglars tend to case neighborhoods so they know exactly when to strike—and which house is likely to be empty. Swoboda's advice is to invest not just in light timers, but TV timers as well. (Intermatic makes timers that can handle large appliances.) You can set it for the times you typically watch TV (like if you never miss The Daily Show) as well as random times during the day to make the house look lived-in.
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