The car rental promotion that actually costs you double
Quiz time: When is a $20 daily car rental rate promotion a rip-off?
Answer: When you could just as easily be paying $10 a day.Long ago, I signed up to receive promotional "Hot Deals" e-mails from Alamo Rent A Car. Recently, I received a message alerting me to "Weekend Rentals from $10 a Day."
Curious about how truly "hot" this deal was, I opened a new window on my computer to check out Alamo's website, where I found a similar-looking weekend promotion. Only this one had the headline "Weekend Rentals from $20 a Day."
I clicked on the $20 promotion and saw a blond model with a gray tank top, standing and smiling in front of a Chevy. Around her were the details to the promotion: compact cars from $20 a day, mid-size cars from $24 a day, full-size cars from $28 a day, premium cars from $30 a day, with restrictions including a four-day maximum rental and validity dates of August 20 to September 21.
Next, I went back to the e-mail that heralded the $10 weekend promotion. I clicked through the link provided, and saw the exact same blond model, same Chevy, same restrictions, same validity dates. The only differences were the words "EMAIL EXCLUSIVE" on the top of the web page, and the prices listed for cars: $10 for compacts, $14 for mid-sizes, and $18 a day for full-sizes, and $20 a day for premium cars.
The lesson? If you've ever thought that all promotional e-mails do is clog your in-box, here's a case for signing up for them. The bigger point is that you should never assume that a "deal" is actually a deal. Sometimes, you can do much better than a "special" promotional rate.
Where hotels are hiding their lowest rates now: Priceline, Twitter, and e-mail offers
Memphis: A new Holiday Inn shows off the brand's new look
Relatives of founder Kemmons Wilson turned out for the official opening of Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Memphis-Wolfchase Galleria last weekend in the city where the iconic American brand got its start in 1952. It was another big moment for Holiday Inn, which is in the middle of an unprecedented relaunch of all its franchises worldwide—that's now more than 3,200 hotels and 419,000-plus guest rooms. We blogged about the chain's $1 billion new look almost two years ago, when it announced plans to introduce contemporary furnishings, brighter lighting, shower heads with stronger water pressure, and a restyled logo. The 133-room Memphis property shows off these features while also paying tribute to the brand's history. A bed, a desk, a lamp, and a chair from the first Holiday Inn are arranged in the lobby, and 80 displayed photos include Wilson pictured with Pope John Paul II. It's about 18 miles from the hotel to attractions like Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Beale Street. Rates start at $136 a night. Holiday Inn's changes stem from the results of a survey of 18,000 customers as well as a desire to be even more competitive and appealing. (Consider the company's stat that 9 out of 10 travelers have stayed in a Holiday Inn.) Interestingly, the under-30 crowd already ranks the brand as its preferred hotel chain. Does this makeover pique your interest in Holiday Inn? Anyone stayed at a revamped hotel yet?
Paris cuts its sales tax, but are bistros cutting prices?
You may have heard that the sales tax (TVA) for French restaurants was recently slashed, dropping from 19.6 percent to 5.5 percent on July 1. Does that mean that prices have fallen in eateries across town? Sadly, no. Only some restaurants—not all—are passing on the savings to customers. Unlike the sales tax you see on most American restaurant tabs, the French TVA is largely invisible to consumers. The tax is included in the price of each item. And rather than pass the savings on to customers, many restaurant owners are keeping their prices the same—and keeping more of your money. Some of that money will be used to hire additional staff or complete renovations. Some of it will simply help restaurants, who are struggling in this recession, to keep from going under. Price reductions are varied but underwhelming. Mom and pop bistros are discounting more modestly than Applebee's-type franchises, some of whom (Hippopotamus, Bistro Romain) are trying to lure new business with splashy ads about their falling prices. The Secrets of Paris site noticed "a big sign promoting lowered prices at the Ristorante Bottega aross the street from me (the same group as Bistro Romain and Léon de Bruxelles)," but blogger John Talbott wrote that "two chefs I've talked to, both before and after July 1st, said they were just trying to hold their own, keeping costs down, not increasing prices, trying to hire a sous-chef and praying." For my part, I've seen the plat du jour at Mon Vieil Ami drop in price from €15 to €13, and (at the other end of the price spectrum) the special-occasion lunch menu at l'Arpège has dropped from €130 to €120. These reductions are hardly impressive, but we're hoping that the lower tax means means restaurants will be unlikely to raise their prices anytime soon. MORE ON AFFORDABLE PARIS Which Paris restaurants are open in August? Great Paris 'hoods: The Canal Saint-Martin Budget Travel's picks for hotels in Paris
A blow to Turkey's new smoking ban
Enraged at having his cigarettes confiscated, a customer shot and killed the owner of a restaurant in the southwestern town of Saruhanli, according to a report by Reuters earlier today. It's the first—and hopefully last—casualty since a nationwide ban on smoking inside bars, coffeehouses, and restaurants took effect on July 19. Similar bans have caught on in places where smoking seemed stubbornly ingrained in the everyday culture (consider Paris, Rome, NYC, and more recently India), but Turkey has a daunting number of smokers to win over. More than half the Turks aged 15 to 49 who were surveyed in a May 2007 Gallup poll said that they had smoked on the day before the survey. Among the 100 countries surveyed, the next up were Lebanon (41%), Greece (40%), and Cuba (40%). Official statistics say almost one in three adults smoke in Turkey. On the other hand, recent surveys suggest overwhelming public support for the ban, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who the AFP describes as "a tobacco hater," has thrown his weight behind the issue. City establishments will face regular inspections, with fines starting at $381 for a first offense; individuals who light up will be fined $45. With the smoke clearing, are you more likely to consider spending time in Turkey and its cafés?
Lights out: A total solar eclipse captivates millions in Asia
Reports are streaming in from the 21st century's longest total solar eclipse, which unfolded over more than six minutes on Wednesday morning. Special eclipse-viewing glasses were a common theme among spectators who gathered everywhere from the banks of the holy Ganges River to downtown Shanghai. Watching the sun temporarily disappear as the moon slips between the sun and the earth can provoke astonishing responses, as we noted in a story on how to witness the eclipse. The BBC reported on mixed reactions in India and Nepal, where some viewed the eclipse as a bad omen. Schools were closed in Kathmandu, and some pregnant women in Delhi hid indoors. The BBC's article includes photos, video, and a first-person account. The Lede blog has posted videos of the eclipse from several news agencies. A clip from Al Jazeera focuses on the Indian town of Taregna, an epicenter of the eclipse, where residents' enthusiasm about the event (and the related press attention) was dampened by overcast weather. Among the locally-based news coverage, Xinhua News Agency has posted photos from across China; The Japan Times shows kids in Hiroshima gazing skyward; and Bdnews24 reports that spectators at Panchagarh Stadium in northern Bangladesh broke out in applause and a standing ovation when the sun reappeared. Wish you'd been there in person? Six more total eclipses are on the horizon between 2010 and 2017, including one that will be visible in the U.S. Our eclipse-chasing story has details and route maps.