Paris's first Restaurant Week may be a bust for tourists
Following behind New York, London, and other hotbeds of gastronomy, the city of Paris has launched its very own Restaurant Week. More than 120 restaurants will be participating in Tous au Restaurant ("everybody in the restaurant") from June 7–13. The celebration promises specially priced menus—€20.10 ($25.56) at lunch and no more than €35 ($44.50) at dinner—and the ability to make reservations online.
Sounds tempting, but is this really a good bet for travelers? Not really. Reason number one: these special prices aren't actually very special. Most of the participating restaurants, including several that I really recommend (le Bistrot Paul Bert, Aux Lyonnais, Au Petit Marguery, l'Assiette) have everyday prices that are lower than the restaurant week offer.
Reason number two: the online reservation system doesn't work. When I tried (several times) to book a table, I was asked to provide personal information and enrolled in a newsletter before receiving an email that contained—get this—the restaurant's phone number. It doesn't help that the website is only in French.
For those who are able to reserve a table by phone, there are really only two good value options to consider booking: Gaya and La Table de Joël Robuchon. Among the 120-plus participating restaurants, these are the only places where you'll snag significant savings during restaurant week. A single dish at world-renowned chef Pierre Gagnaire's Gaya restaurant can run as much as €47, so the multi-course restaurant week menu represents a real steal. Ditto for Robuchon's formal restaurant in the 16th arrondissement, where diners usually spend well over €100.
So what do BT readers think? Does Paris Restaurant Week sound like a steal or a waste of time?
Loyalty News: JetBlue and Hilton team up
Are you a card-carrying member of Hilton's or JetBlue's loyalty programs? Both just got sweeter. Last week, the two companies announced a partnership: Members of Hilton HHonors program can earn points toward JetBlue flights. Here's how it works: For every $2 spent at a Hilton property, members will earn regular HHonors points and one point toward a JetBlue flight. HHonors members can also convert hotel-only points into points for JetBlue flights. JetBlue's program is called TrueBlue. Hilton's properties include brands such as Hilton Garden Inn, Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton, Homewood Suites, Home2Suites, and Hilton Grand Vacations. And until July 15, 2010, HHonors members can earn double the the TrueBlue points—one point per every $1 spent at a Hilton property. Book a stay at more than 860 hotels that qualify at hiltonhonors.com/trueblue. And here's another perk: HotelChatter reports that HHonors points have no blackout dates—meaning there aren't a ton of restrictions on when you can use your points, unlike some other hotel loyalty programs. In our recent Readers' Choice poll, both Hilton's and JetBlue's loyalty programs ranked in the top three as "favorite hotel loyalty program" and "favorite airline loyalty program." JetBlue relaunched TrueBlue back in November.
London: Free sights if you're stranded by the volcano
The volcanic dust cloud may slowly be lifting, but even the most optimistic doubt that all of the delayed passengers will have boarded planes until the end of this week. If your budget's stretched to the breaking point and you're saving your nickels and dimes by sitting in the airport terminal, think again. There are far better places to while away the hours. For free. Here are a few tips. Museums Most of London's best museums charge no admission fee. These include the V&A; (for fashion and costume down the ages), the Natural History Museum (for dinosaurs and kid-friendly interactive exhibits). There's even an RAF Museum—with a series of huge hangars filled with stationary aircraft—perfect for those looking to feel sorry for themselves. For something altogether more soothing try the British Museum's Asian collection. There are few public spaces in London more tranquil than Room 33—which is filled with serene Buddhas. Perfect for rising above it all. So to speak. Galleries Then there are the galleries. London has galleries to rival those of Paris—and unlike in the French capital, here they are all free. They include the National Gallery, stuffed full of European old master and early modernist paintings; the Tate Britain, with fine art from Britain's finest, including Turner, Constable, and Gainsborough; and the Tate Modern, the premier modern art gallery in Europe. Parks Incredibly, London is currently basking in warm, balmy weather. Hyde Park, Regent's Park, and St James's may be familiar to you if you've been here a while. But the city has dozens of others. Richmond Park in the far south is one of the largest urban green spaces in Europe, so much so that it is home to herds of wild deer. Hampstead Heath in the north has wonderful views out across the city, whilst Battersea Park—a mile south of Victoria rail station across the Thames—is the only large park in Central London abutting the river. Keeping up with the latest The BBC website has rolling news, updated every few minutes with the latest on both the weather and the movement of the ash cloud and aircraft. And the U.S embassy site has consular information about visas (for those few Americans who need visa extensions), prescriptions, medical facilities, and so on in London. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Visit our London City Page for more ideas
Spirit to charge $20 for carry-on, yes, carry-on bags
Spirit Airlines has taken the airline "fee-for-all" to a new level by announcing fees for carry-on bags—from $20 each way. The fees start applying to flights after August 1. Each passenger is allowed one free personal item, which must fit under the seat ahead of you. Other items aimed for the overhead bins must be paid for. If you belong to the $9 Fare Club, which gives access to lower fares, a carry-on bag costs $20. If you aren't, you can reserve a spot in the overhead bin for $30 by paying in advance online or at the ticket counter. So far as we know, Spirit is the first American airline to ever charge for carry-on bags. Some people say the new fees are a good thing. Passengers are less likely to try to cram the overhead bins with their belongings if they have to pay a fee for it. But others hate being charged a fee for what used to be free. What do you think? Are fees for carry-on bags okay? EARLIER FedEx and UPS win as airlines hike checked bag fees 40+ comments The airlines and a la carte passenger anger 50+ comments
New York's soccer team scores a European-style arena
After 14 seasons relegated to playing on artificial turf at 82,000-seat Giants Stadium, the New York Red Bulls took to the grass at their impressive new home, Red Bull Arena, for an opening exhibition game last Saturday. It was a gloriously sunny, 70-degree day and felt like an exhilarating new beginning: the team, which struggled last year, came away with a 3-1 win over Brazilian club team FC Santos, where the legendary Pelé once played. I was among the sold-out crowd of 25,000, which included the kind of hardcore fans you'd expect at a foreign soccer match. The Red Bulls supporters chanted throughout, waving flags, banging instruments, and getting everyone stomping on the aluminum stands and doing the wave. Built to be fan-friendly, the intimate arena puts spectators right near the players; the front row is only 21 feet from the sidelines, with a low dividing wall. It's also more accessible than Giants Stadium—just a few blocks from the Harrison, N.J., PATH station (the PATH train connects northern N.J. and Manhattan, $1.75 per ride). The Red Bulls will take on Chicago Fire next in their first MLS season game this Saturday, tickets from $22. With team captain Juan Pablo Angel calling it "the best stadium in the country," and a Sports Illustrated soccer columnist in "breathless" agreement, could Red Bull Arena finally kick start professional soccer's popularity here?