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Travel News: 500 Million Hotel Guests Hacked, Sleepbox Comes to Dulles, and Europe's Most Instagrammed Christmas Markets

By The Budget Travel Editors
January 12, 2022
View of a laptop on. wooden desk and a woman's hands typing.
Lesia Sementsova/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 one of the biggest hacks of customer data in U.S. history at Marriott to a convenient (if somewhat bare-bones) way of catching some sleep at the airport to the delights of Europe’s holiday markets, this week’s travel news is all about surprises (the bad and the good, that is).

500 MILLION HOTEL GUESTS HACKED

“Were you hacked?” may become one of the most commonly asked questions amont travel enthusiasts over the next few weeks. Marriott announced last week that around 500 million guests of Starwood hotels (owned by Marriott) had their personal data - including credit card, passport, dates of birth, and other information that could put them at risk of identity theft - potentially exposed due to a massive breach dating back to 2014. That’s right: If you stayed at one of Starwood’s properties, which include Sheraton, St. Regis and Westin, over the past four years, your data may very well have been compromised. Your first step? Visit the special website Marriott has set up for customers at answers.kroll.com, or call 877-273-9481. In addition, we always recommend common-sense steps such as changing passwords on your accounts, limiting the online availability of account numbers and personal information, being vigilant when logging into WiFi anywhere other than home or work, and using a dedicated credit card for online transactions.

SLEEPBOX COMES TO WASHINGTON DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

If your travel plans will bring you to Washington, D.C., you may want to catch some shuteye at the Sleepbox Lounge on Concourse A, which USA Today reports is scheduled to open in time for Christmas and New Year’s fliers. If the word Sleepbox sounds a little too tight for comfort, you’ll be relieved to learn that the micro hotel rooms are eight feet tall, 30 square feet total, soundproof, and boasting memory foam beds. Rooms can be rented by the hour or overnight, with the timing of the stay up to the guest. Sleepbox may take the sting out of long layovers for sleepy travelers.

EUROPE’S MOST INSTAGRAMMED CHRISTMAS MARKETS

Our friends at On the Go Tours (onthegotours.com) have done it again, crunching the numbers on the most popular Christmas markets in Europe via Instagram. Sure, you know that some of the most charming, scenic, and historic holiday shopping takes place at Europe’s legendary markets. But were guessing you didn’t know that Manchester Christmas Market, in the U.K., clocks in at number one, with 31,059 #manchesterchristmasmarkets hashtags. Manchester has a solid lead, with its nearest competitor, Edinburgh Christmas Market coming in with 18,888 hashtags, Bath in third place with 16,985, and Striezelmarket, in Dresden, in fourth place with 13,868.

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Travel News: Why You Need to Fly With Global Entry, Save on NYC Hotels in January, and the World’s Top 50 Beaches

From the best way to breeze through customs to the most perfect beaches on earth, plus unbeatable Big Apple hotel deals that kick off after the holidays, this week’s travel news is all about making 2019 your year to see more of the world. WHY YOU NEED TO FLY WITH GLOBAL ENTRY As much as we love international travel, one of the drawbacks has always been the return flight home and the subsequent lines at customs before we’re reunited with our luggage and friends and family. Global Entry, a program of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is perhaps the best solution, a bit like TSA PreCheck for those returning to the U.S. from overseas. If your application for Global Entry is approved, your time spent in line is cut to practically zero, and your reentry is expedited by a self-serve kiosk where you can easily scan necessary documents and head to the baggage carousel. To learn more and start the process of obtaining Global Entry status, which includes a background check and in-person interview, visit cbp.gov. And, as an added bonus, if you don’t already have TSA PreCheck, your approved Global Entry application will include that status as well. SAVE ON NYC HOTELS IN JANUARY Start booking your post-holiday getaways by jumping on New York City’s biggest hotel promotion, the eighth annual Hotel Week NYC, with savings of up to 30 percent for January 4 through 14, 2019 (hotelweeknyc.com). Search hotel options in all of the city’s five boroughs (The Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island), get details about design, food options, and room amenities, and filter properties by factors such neighborhood and price (rates for standard rooms are fixed at rates of $100, $200, $300, or $400, which is a big savings in a city where $500/night rates are normal at many properties). “Hotel Week is one of the best times of the year to explore New York. The crowds have dispersed, but the city is still a winter wonderland, and travelers have wonderful options to take advantage of low prices and luxurious hotel amenities,” says Hotel Week NYC founder Nancy J. Friedman. “It’s also a wonderful opportunity for locals to enjoy a staycation and relax after the stressful holiday season without causing a financial hangover.” WORLD’S TOP 50 BEACHES If you’re like us, this time of year always stokes a yearning for a warm beach, and our friends at Canada-based FlightNetwork (flightnetwork.com) have swooped in with their World’s Top 50 Beaches 2018, the result of a comprehensive polling of more than 1,200 travel writers, editors, and travel agents from around the world. The top beaches on this year’s list are a big far-flung for Budget Travelers: Shipwreck Beach, Greece, is no. 1 on the list, followed by Whitehaven Beach in the heart of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef region at no. 2. While we are personally big fans of both Shipwreck and Whitehaven, we were also glad to notice that a few Caribbean (read: closer-to-home) beaches ranked quite highly, including Tulum Beach, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, at no. 5, and Grace Bay, in Turks and Caicos, at no. 6.

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Travel News: Black Friday & Cyber Monday Travel Deals Now Through 11/28, Holiday Hotel Packages, and Ski Bargains

From incredible deals on exciting international destinations you thought you couldn’t afford to drop-everything holiday hotel packages and yes-you-can ski deals, this week’s travel news is all about giving you the inside scoop on seeing more for less. BLACK FRIDAY & CYBER MONDAY TRAVEL DEALS NOW THROUGH 11/28 Savvy travelers (that’s you) know that Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, often including the weeks preceding and following Thanksgiving, can be the most wonderful time of the year to nab bargains. In that spirit. our partners at Intrepid Travel are offering 20 percent off all their 2019 package tours from today through November 28. Follow @BudgetTravel on Instagram for a taste of Intrepid’s offerings, including trips of a lifetime such as Morocco, Egypt, the Northern Lights, and much more. Intrepid also offers family-friendly trips, trips under $1,000, and something to suit just about every traveler’s taste. HOLIDAY HOTEL PACKAGES Hilton Hotels are rolling out a red carpet to travelers this holiday season with some fun holiday-themed hotel packages. Here are just two examples: Book a special package at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel (part of the Curio Collection by Hilton) and you can take the kids on a ride on the Polar Express, a 45-minute train ride to see Santa at his workshop. Or explore the holidays in New York City through January 10 by booking a special NYC hotel package that includes a $25 gift card for Macy’s Herald Square, 20 percent off tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, and the chance to skip the lines and save 15 percent on ice skate rentals at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, among other perks. SKI BARGAINS Speaking of winter, this is the right time to remind you that Liftopia is the world's biggest consumer marketplace for ski tickets and other mountain activities. The company recently announced plans to offer dynamic pricing, which holds the potential to deliver further savings based on a variety of supply-and-demand factors for ski resorts and comes alike. In the near term, whether you’re eager to give the sport a first try or are already an avid skier, Liftopia.com offers one-stop shopping that allows you to browse regions from New England to the Rockies to Europe and beyond and zero in on the right ski experience for you, be it luxury, family-friendly, close to home, or simply drop-dead gorgeous. It’s smooth gliding from there. See you at the apres-ski bar!

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Travel News: 5 Things You Don’t Know About New Year’s Eve in NYC

Sure, everybody knows about New Year’s Eve in Times Square: The enthusiastic crowd, the iconic ball drop, and the tons of confetti. But this week’s travel news is all about some cool NYC New Year’s events you may not yet know about. As Frank Sinatra sang, “Start spreading the news…” SHARE YOUR WISHES FOR 2019 Visit Times Square Plaza’s Wishing Wall from December 1 through 29 to share your aspirations and hopes for 2019. All wishes will be turned into confetti to be dropped at midnight in New Year’s Eve. (Even if you can’t make it to NYC, you can participate by posting your wishes on Twitter or Instagram and tagging them #ConfettiWish.) NAB AN INSTAGRAMMABLE PHOTO OPP The numbers 1 and 9, each 7 feet tall, will be delivered to Times Square on December 13, allowing photographers to snap shots in the area’s various plazas through December 22. LITERALLY SHRED THE OLD YEAR December 28 is Good Riddance Day. Hit Times Square at noon and bring your bad memories of 2018 on paper to be eliminated by the document-shredding company Shred-it. SEE THE WORLD’S COOLEST MODEL TRAIN SHOW For a delightful family-friendly New Year’s Eve activity, New York Botanical Garden’s annual Holiday Train Show, in the Bronx, takes the idea of toy trains to an incredibly creative extreme. Classic model trains chug along tracks set up throughout the NYBG’s beautiful greenhouses past a hand-crafted panoramic display of NYC’s landmarks (skyscrapers, train stations, museums, and more) made entirely out of plant parts - leaves, roots, bark, stems, and even mushrooms. JUMP INTO THE OCEAN The Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s annual New Year’s Day Plunge is free (but you have to pre-register at polar bear club.org). Be there at 1 pm, at the Stillwell Avenue boardwalk entrance, and be prepared to kick off 2019 with a frigid dip in the Atlantic that Budget Travel Senior Editor Liza Weisstuch enthusiastically participates in each year. Afterward, plungers will get free admission to the nearby New York Aquarium. To learn more about holiday celebrations across New York City, visit nycgo.com.

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Travel News: Airlines Try New Boarding Rules, a Thanksgiving Feast Made Entirely of Ice Cream (Really!), and Eurail's Family-Friendly Holiday Experiences

From the new rules of boarding at some major airlines to an incredible Thanksgiving feast (spoiler alert: it involves ice cream) to fabulous holiday experiences across Europe, this week's travel news is all about trying something new. TWO AIRLINES TRY NEW BOARDING RULES Airlines’ baggage fees aren’t the only thing getting a makeover. In an effort to improve the often-stressful boarding process, Alaska Airlines announced changes to its procedure in June and implemented new rules in mid-July; two months later, United followed suit, becoming the latest major carrier to revamp its approach. (Delta and American tweaked their boarding processes in early 2017.) So what’s really different now? For starters, both Alaska and United have streamlined their boarding groups. After preboarding for those who require more time or special services, active members of the military, and first-class passengers, Alaska’s customers are called in four groups: million-milers and gold-status MVPs, regular MVPs and premium class, guests seated in the back half of the plane, and guests seated in the front half. United has downsized to two color-coded lanes: Group 1 (premiere platinum and gold members, Star Alliance gold, and those seated in premium cabins) queues up in the blue lane; group 2 (premier and Star Alliance silver, anyone who’s purchased Premier Access or Priority Boarding, and United cardholders) in the green lane; and after that, groups 3 through 5 (the rest of the plane, basically) line up in the green lane. In addition to the group changes, Alaska has redesigned its boarding passes to highlight each passenger’s boarding group and gate, and made its boarding timeline clear in hopes of eliminating confusion and gate-side congestion. For economy and basic-economy travelers, though, overhead bin space isat a premium, and there’s always a sense of urgency to be the first in line to claim it, so whether or not these modifications are effective remains to be seen. A 5-COURSE ICE CREAM DINNER FOR THANKSGIVING One of our favorite ice cream shops, Salt & Straw (saltandstraw.com), in Portland, OR, is offering a uniquely sweet idea for Thanksgiving: A five-course "dinner" that consists entirely of ice cream. The family-run shop renowned for its delightfully experimental flavors (as well as traditional favorites) will ship you ice creams in flavors that include salted caramel turkey, sweet potato casserole with maple pecans, and roasted peach and sage cornbread stuffing. (Their Thanksgiving-themed ice cream is also available up and down the West Coast in shops in Portland, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, San Diego, and Disneyland's Downtown Disney.) And Salt & Straw is spreading the love - for each pint purchased in November, they will donate a pint to a local organization working to feed the hungry. EURAIL'S FAMILY-FRIENDLY HOLIDAY EXPERIENCES Europe knows how to celebrate the holiday season, and Eurail (eurail.com) is offering deals and experiences that Budget Travelers will love - prices start around $50. The Santa Claus Express is a double-decker train that travels by night from Helsinki to Lapland, with a stop in Rovamiemi, the official residence of Santa Claus. The Chocolate Train takes travelers from Montreux to Luzern with a visit to a chocolate-making destination in Broc and a cheese factory in Gruyere. The Scandinavia Pass allows visitors to explore Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland for an array of holiday- and winter-themed activities including skiing, sledding, and skating.