TripTracker: Whip up a no-fuss, insta-itinerary
Today the newly launched website TripTracker called itself to our attention for finding a way to save us from the sin of sloth. The site manages your itineraries similar to TripIt, which we've blogged about before. But it fully automates the process so you don't even have to email or upload info. You punch in your frequent flier and rewards program info once (United, AA, Starwood, Hilton, Hertz, Avis, etc.) and then every time there is an update to those accounts (such as when you make a reservation for a flight or a hotel), the data appears in the application.
Glance at your trip's essential details, from hotel booking confirmation codes to the address of a key restaurant booked through OpenTable.
Access the info from a PC or smartphone on the go. Your itinerary is presented in creative, helpful ways, such as a map of your flight route with live weather radar, live terminal and gate info, and your hotel's location plotted on a map.
Bonus: It's free, but advertising-supported. (The ad-free version costs a buck.)
TripTracker is not a product of some fly-by-night Internet startup. Instead, it's run by a Pageonce, a company that's already the top personal finance application across iPhone, BlackBerry, Android.
Here at This Just In, we're just psyched someone has found a way to round up every important detail of our upcoming trip, so we have one less thing to worry about. But we haven't had a chance to take this new service during an actual trip yet. (It only launched with car rentals last Friday, and flights and hotels the week before.) If you have thoughts in the meantime, feel free to chime in.
Details at TripTracker
New site PackLate lets you rent a place after all
Have you ever been tempted to take advantage of the vacation-rental clearance—booking a beach home or mountain condo mere weeks before check-in? Luckily, a Web site launching today will help make it easier for you to book an affordable vacation rental at the last minute: PackLate.com. The site has a simple motto: "The closer to check-in, the bigger the discount." A condo in Utah that ordinarily rents for $150 a night on a vacation rental booking site like HomeAway will be offered on PackLate for about $100 a night two weeks in advance, and then, say, $75 a night a week in advance. The site is free to use, but you have to provide your e-mail address or Facebook account access in order to sign up to see deals. This news is part of a larger trend than the mere launch of a small website. PackLate's arrival means that—at last!—the vacation rental industry is becoming more technologically savvy and its yield-management systems will be hard at work. A sale can now be launched and then ended within hours. For example, many PackLate deals are available for only a three-day, 24-hour, or even 10-minute periods. That means discounts will be lower than ever before, but only sophisticated travelers will benefit the most. Rates drop by at least 10 percent for bookings made within two or three weeks of arrival. Brokers become desperate to put some heads in their beds, rather than leaving their places empty. PackLate allows owners to offer even discounts of 45 percent off when I looked today, even for Presidents' Week rentals that are normally sold out at peak prices by now. I've got two criticisms with PackLate as it "gets out of the gate." First, it doesn't have a broad inventory of properties yet. As of today, it's focused on Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, especially Aspen, Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone, Park City, and Telluride, though some other areas, such as South Tahoe, Calif., are also covered. Resorts in other states will be added over time, the site says. Another complaint: PackLate is primarily courting vacation rental management companies to get its listings. Our readers have found that those companies often add middleman's fees of up to 50 percent of the rent to a travelers' bill. We hope that more property owners will become hands-on landlords themselves and use sites like PackLate let them rent their rooms directly to you—with deep discounts. One bit of good news: The site plans to soon let travelers contact the vacation rental companies direclty to make an offer below the current price. One final word of caution: Don't let the time pressure force you into making a decision before you read the fine print, ask the key questions, and ask about fees. During this lingering recession, renters have enormous bargaining power. Don't settle for what's on offer at any website. You may still find that negotiating with an owner directly gives you the best rate. MORE TIPS ON VACATION RENTALS Check out our Vacation Rental Handbook. Prefer to rent through a mainstream travel agency that specializes in advance bookings? Here are the best vacation rental sites to use. EARLIER Short-term vacation rentals made easier with Zonder.com
Introducing the "Skycouch"
Air New Zealand has introduced a new couch-style seating arrangement, with cushions that flip up to make for comfortable and easy lounging. Most innovative of all: The Skycouch is in economy class. Premium economy actually, but still. Seats should be way less expensive than business class. The first flights with Skycouches will take to the air in December of 2010 on routes between Los Angeles and Auckland, and it's unclear exactly how much they'll cost. With the Skycouch design, there are three seats in a row, just like in a typical coach section. But each of the Skycouch seats has a futon-like cushion that folds up from beneath, and all of the arm rests can be tucked away, creating a flat mini-mattress that should allow you to snooze in comfort. The space seems ideal for two adults and a child. If two adults are interested in a Skycouch, they must purchase all three seats, though it's expected that Air New Zealand will throw in the third seat for half-price. EARLIER Best economy-class seats yet?
Paris Treat Dec. 25: Edible Christmas ornaments
It's especially difficult now to find treats in Paris because of the weakened buying power of the dollar in France. So I've assembled an Edible Advent Calendar. As with the paper versions that I loved opening as a child, this calendar will reveal a new treat on every morning leading up to Christmas day. Each surprise will showcase the best of the city for less than €10. PARIS TREAT Dec. 25: Edible Christmas ornaments The first sight of these golden treats, falling like snow in the shop window at Poilâne, took my breath away. The shortbread cookies from this legendary baker are a local favorite year-round, but in December they perform double duty as dazzling Christmas tree decoration. The melting butter cookies are punched with a hole so that they can be hung (until you're hungry) from the sapin de Noël. A single bag with about 15 ornaments is €4.20 ($6). I can't imagine anything better than gathering around a twinkling tree, sharing some egg nog or vin chaud, and pulling snacks from the nearby branches. Merry Christmas! Poilâne, 8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th arrondissement, +011-33/1-45-48-42-59. PARIS TREAT Dec. 24: Alsatian Christmas cookies The eastern region of Alsace, which has at different times belonged to Germany and to France, has a culinary tradition unlike that of any other French region. These little cookies—called Bredela—are a cheerful part of the holiday season. Flavored with citrus, spice, and plenty of butter, they're perfect with a steaming beverage on a cold December day. This assortment for €8.50 ($12.20) comes from Le Garde Manger, an adorable Alsatian shop near the marché d'Aligre. Also amazing: their hot flammekueche (savory tart with smoked bacon, onions and cream) for €5 ($7.17). Le Garde Manger, 17 rue d'Aligre, 12th arrondissement, +011-33/1-40-01-02-31. PARIS TREAT Dec. 23: Les Christmas logs The bûche de Noël is a curious tradition—a cake that's decorated to look like undergrowth. They appear every Christmas, and Parisian pâtissiers try to out-do one another by devising the most artistic log of the season. Rather than the half-sawed cake from Pierre Hermé or the "Diva" ballgown log from Dalloyau, I'm a fan of the kitschy confections that come with fork-drawn bark, marzipan mushrooms and powdered sugar snow. These miniature versions here come from Stohrer, a bakery that's been operating on the market street of Montorgeuil since 1730. It's a classic institution, and a great place to buy this classic holiday dessert for €4.80 ($6.85). Stohrer, 51 rue Montorgueil, 2nd arrondissement, +011-33/1-42-33-38-20. PARIS TREAT Dec. 22: Candied chestnuts Excluding chocolates that are dusted with gold (such things exist), these little chestnuts may be the most expensive candy in Paris. That's because a single marron glacée (candied chestnut) takes three days to make, with most of the twenty production steps being done by hand. The resulting bite is rich but not cloyingly sweet, with a soft pasty texture not found anywhere else. They're traditionally consumed at Christmas and difficult to find outside of the holiday season. These particular marrons come from Dalloyau, the venerable traiteur that's been catering to aristocracy since the days of Napoleon. You can get a taste of this luxe holiday tradition by popping a single candy for €3. Because they're so rich, one is more than enough. Dalloyau, 101 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, 1st arrondissement, +011-33/1-42-99-90-00. PARIS TREAT Dec. 21: Oysters on the half shell As we told you about in this earlier post, Parisians love to get together during the cold months over a plate of raw oysters. During the Christmas and New Year holidays (right now!), the oysters appear on celebratory menus alongside foie gras, sea scallops, and other delicacies. But the most jovial place to toss back an oyster isn't a fancy restaurant—it's a bustling wine bar in the Aligre neighborhood. The Baron Rouge is positively hopping on Saturday and Sunday mornings when the oyster man from Arcachon sets up service on the sidewalk outside the bar. Order a glass of crisp white Muscadet inside for €2.30 ($3.30) then head outside to choose your oysters. With bread and lemon accompaniments, a half-dozen on the half-shell will run between €5.50-9 ($7.90-12.90). If you can't find a table inside, join the crowd on the sidewalk who happily balancing their bi-valves on stacks of crates, parked cars, and every other available surface. Le Baron Rouge, 1 rue Thophile Roussel, 12th arrondissement, +011-33/1-43-43-14-32. MORE Our Edible Advent Calendar: Paris Food Treats Week 3 Our Edible Advent Calendar: Paris Food Treats Week 2 Our Edible Advent Calendar: Paris Food Treats Week 1 The photoblog of our expat correspondent in Paris
Gear: Shake it like a Polaroid picture
I recently tested the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S, which debuted this fall for $96. The camera may be a good substitute for people who thought that instant film was dead. (Polaroid film disappeared from store shelves earlier this year after production ended.) The new camera's instant film is sold in a twin pack, with 20 photos costing $20. The images are smaller than Polaroids, too: Each print is about the size of a credit card. While testing the camera on a recent trip to San Francisco, I found that the price of the film forced me to be more selective about my photography. Rather than shooting off 10 frames of the same thing, I was aware that each click was essentially a buck. Even though I was sparing with my landscape shots, it turns out the Fujifilm Instax Mini was a crowd-pleaser. My 8-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew were completely enthralled by the magic of watching instant film appear. (Obviously, they're too young to remember Polaroid). They ended up collecting the snapshots like baseball cards. With the holidays just around the corner, the Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S could be just the unexpected gift for kids. Weighing just over half a pound, this camera feels slightly heavier and bulkier than a typical digital point-and-shoot. But it's still kid-friendly. The device is also great for using at a party, so that everyone gets to see the progress of the revelry as the hours go on. As for the photo enthusiasts who mourned the end of Polaroid film, take heart: limited-edition Polaroid instant cameras may be available in mid-2010 through the Impossible Project, which promotes the use of instant film. There's also talk that Polaroid cameras are poised to make a wider comeback. Learn more at fujifilmusa.com/mini. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Our blog coverage of travel gear