Show off your photos, win a free trip.
Next month, your underwater photography skills could win you a free dive trip in the Seychelles, a check for $5,000, and loads of other prizes.
Anyone with less–than–stellar equipment (or subpar swimming skills) can attest to the difficulty of taking underwater photos worth a hoot. All too often, the results are bubbly, blurry, or just–blue. Which makes any crystal–clear, full–color shot you manage to capture below sea level even more impressive—and valuable, thanks to Epson's annual World of Underwater Images Competition, coming up next month.
Here's how it works: Amateurs and pros alike are invited to take their best underwater shots between August 1–August 8, 2011, then submit the most spectacular images via the Epson World Shootout web site. (Contestants must register by July 30, 2011, and will be given a specific date to program into their cameras to verify the timeline.) The contest is only for images taken in natural environments—think rivers, lakes, oceans, and swimming holes, not the Lazy River at the local water park. There are seven categories to choose from, each with their own rules and submission guidelines: fresh water, ship or plane wreckage, underwater conservation, wide angle, macro and super–macro, dive destination, and amateur (which is only for photos taken with compact cameras, not DSLRs).
The cost to enter the amateur category is about $50 for three images, or $36 for one—but the prizes make it worth the investment. The 21 winners (three per category) will walk away with treats like dive vacations in the Seychelles, Galapagos, Micronesia, Palau, and Papua New Guinea; a $4,000 underwater camera system; and cash prizes up to $5,000. Winners will be announced November 19 in Eilat, a Red Sea resort town in southern Israel, and on the contest's web site.
Of course, it doesn't cost anything to submit your underwater photos for our upcoming Readers' Best Underwater Photos slideshow. Just upload them here, and you may be featured on BudgetTravel.com or in a future issue of the magazine!
Just getting your feet wet with underwater photography? May we recommend a hands–free camera like Liquid Image Works's mask-mounted snorkel cam? Also useful: Budget Travel's two-part series on how to take better vacation photos. Happy shooting!
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Flight Network's got you covered when your airfare drops
We've all been there: you book a pricey flight, thinking "well, the airfare's only going to go up from here, right?" Later, you check the rates again, only to find out you could've saved yourself a decent chunk of change if you'd bucked conventional wisdom and waited until the last minute to book. Remember how your level of travel-planning anxiety was never quite the same afterwards? Canada-based online travel agency Flight Network feels your pain, and they're here to help with their new Price Drop Protection program, which aims to simplify and de-stress the booking process, despite those mercurial prices. "Our customers clearly told us that their number one airfare booking worry is price fluctuations after they make a purchase," explains CEO Naman Budhdeo, "and the Price Drop Protection plan is our response." Here's how it works: you book your trip with Flight Network; if the airfare drops, you're credited the difference in Price Drop Protection Dollars, which can be used for future airfare or travel insurance. There's a bit of a gamble involved—although you can check prices at any time after your initial booking, you only have one chance to commit to a lower fare (if the price drops again after that, you're out of luck.). The amount you can earn back from a price drop on an international flight is capped at $100, but there's no limit on domestic flights (whether your airfare drops $100 or $1000, you can get that money back in credits). There are some similar programs out there—the most prominent, Yapta (also free), alerts you to price changes and refund opportunities via email. MasterCard recently partnered with Yapta on an initiative called PriceAssure, which grants cardholders credits when airfare drops. FlightNetwork is carving out its own niche, however, by covering all the bases—booking your flight, tracking price changes, accessing and using your credits if the fare drops—in one place. Says chief marketing officer Gail Rivett, " The difference between this program and others is that you can get the credit if the lower fare is available on our site—no other customer has to purchase the flight at the lower fare. Other programs that we are aware of only offer the lower fare discount if another customer purchases. A service like Yapta, alerts customers when a fare drop exists on their flight that would exceed the cancellation or change fee. Only then does it make economic sense for the customer to change their fare. For Flightnetwork.com's PDP, there is no fee. So at any point that the fare drops on our site, it makes sense for the customer to grab that new deal then." Another plus—although Flight Network is based in Canada, US customers can still get in on Price Drop Protection by booking from FlightNetwork.com/us. What methods have you used to get the lowest airfare, or recoup your cash when the price of your flight drops? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Is the Era of Cheap Airfare Ending? World's Best Airlines Announced at Paris Air Show Cheaper Fares for Sneaky Risk-Takers
Know your new rights as a flier to avoid getting ripped off
New rules issued today by the federal government require that fliers who get "bumped" against their will from their flights receive much fatter payouts than before. The new rules also extend the "passengers bill of rights" protections against tarmac delays to international flights. So, what do you need to know about the new Department of Transportation rules? First, a weather delay gets you nothing, ever. Second, you're owed higher pay-out rates by your airline if it bumps you involuntarily to a later flight. This regulation comes amid soaring bump rates, with more than 700,00 passengers expected to be pushed back this year, a big jump from last year. The reason for the spike? Most airlines oversell flights. (JetBlue is the main exception.) Once upon a time, if you were bumped from your flight, and the airline was able to get you to your destination within two hours of your planned arrival, you were paid the value of your one-way ticket, with a maximum of $400. If they couldn't get you there within 2 hours, you were paid double the amount, up to $800. Not bad. As of today, if the airline boots your from your flight (and you didn't volunteer to be booted) and the airline gets you where you need to go within two hours, you can look forward to getting double the value of that ticket (with a cap of $650). Beyond that, the payout is four times the ticket's one-way value, for a max of $1,300. That's big money, paid in vouchers. But, as we've said before, you should insist on cash—as in green hundred dollar bills—because the alternative, vouchers, can have expiration dates, and the airline may not offer the best ticket for you for routes you're flying before the expiration date. The other big news is that the federal government threatens to fine foreign airlines, not just domestic airlines, up to $27,500 per passenger if they leave an INTERNATIONAL flight on a tarmac for more than FOUR hours without taking off. That said, it's worth saying that this rule already applies to US airlines (with a shorter time window for domestic flights) and the federal government has yet to act on it. So it may be toothless legislation. (Fun fact: Federal agencies aren't required to enforce their regulations. It's true! Congress gives them discretion to decide when to invoke their regulations. This is probably why lawyers make so much money—parsing this stuff.) One other thing to know: Airlines are now required by law to reveal "all ancillary fees on their websites, including fees for checking bags, providing meals and canceling reservations," in the words of USA Today, whose reporting on this topic has been first-rate. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: A new way to get cash back when fares drop Would you book a flight with Spirit Airlines? Top sites Yapta and TripIt team up
Best hotel rate guarantee ever?
The world's largest hotel company says no one can beat the prices on its website: Find a cheaper rate elsewhere, and your first night is free. Best price guarantees are a dime a dozen for hotel-booking websites. Just about every travel site has one, from Expedia to Marriott to Hyatt and beyond. Typically, the guarantee states that if a traveler finds a cheaper rate after he's already made reservations, the original booking site will match the lower rate -- and often, throw in an additional discount. Expedia, for instance, promises to refund the difference in rates and send the customer a $50 travel voucher. Marriott and Hyatt will match the lower price and knock an additional 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively, off the rate. The InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), the world's biggest hotel company, which operates major lodging brands like Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and StayBridge Suites, just announced a new "Best Price Guarantee" that, at least upon first glance, blows the doors off all the other guarantees out there. Here's the deal: Say you book a room with any IHG hotel through the company's website. If, within 24 hours of booking, you find a cheaper rate for the same property (same date, same type of room, same restrictions) through another booking site, IHG will give you the first night of your reservation free of charge. Is it likely you'll actually get a free night out of the deal? Um, not exactly. There's plenty of fine print that makes it difficult to land a freebie. The 24-hour limit for locating a cheaper rate is one of the restrictions. The rules also stipulate that to qualify you must use IHG's Best Available Rate when booking (as opposed to other rates such as AAA or military discounts), and select the lowest available hotel rate found in your search (presumably, this means no suites or family rooms). Finally, the original booking and the cheaper rate found afterward must be an apples-to-apples comparison: same hotel, same dates and length of stay, same restrictions (refundable or non-refundable), and so on. Winding up with a free night because of the guarantee is also unlikely because, as you might guess, IHG works extremely hard to ensure that its website prices are never undercut by the competition. Many hotel companies, in fact, have contracts with third-party booking sites that specify hotel rooms can never be sold at rates cheaper than those booked directly with the property. But perhaps the biggest reason few travelers will ever realize a free night out of such a guarantee is that scouring the web for cheaper prices takes up too much time and effort. After all, who wants to keep searching for hotel rates after their room is already booked? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Hotels: When a best online price guarantee isn't best Priceline now guarantees your hotel bid is the best deal Get money back when prices drop