Airlines cite high fuel costs as they raise fares (AP)

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel News

DALLAS – If you’re buying an airline ticket soon, get ready to pay a few bucks more.

According to fare trackers, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines are leading a round of price increases that will boost the base fare on many medium-length and long flights by $10 per round trip.

United, Delta, American and US Airways said Thursday that they had matched the increases.

J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker, who tracks fares, said United and US Airways expanded the price increases to routes that Southwest doesn’t fly and included Denver, where Southwest had not raised prices. Rick Seaney, CEO of, said at midday Thursday that all the largest U.S. airlines had raised fares.

Baker and Seaney said JetBlue took price increases that other airlines limited to a few markets such as Florida and expanded them nationwide last week. Southwest jumped in on Wednesday, they said.

JetBlue did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Southwest spokeswoman Ashley Dillon said her airline raised prices to match JetBlue and “cover operating costs including the high price of jet fuel.”

Jet fuel accounts for about one-third of an airline’s costs — about the same as labor — and the bill has been rising along with crude oil prices. This week, the spot price for Gulf Coast jet fuel was 12.1 percent higher than a year ago and up 8.5 percent so far in 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That could mean more fare hikes ahead.

“It is pretty clear airlines will continue to try to recoup fuel increases regularly this year, with passengers telling carriers exactly when the price of middle seats has stepped over the line,” said Seaney.

Airlines raised base fares about a dozen times in 2011. But at the same time, they sacrificed revenue by simultaneously running sales to fill seats during slower travel periods or in specific markets. This week, even as it raised base fares, American launched a sale on Miami flights. Many consumers are savvy enough to wait for sales before buying tickets.

As a result of this yo-yo pricing, average fares don’t rise as fast as the number of increases would suggest. The average fare on Southwest, one of the few airlines that discloses such figures, was $140 in late 2011, up 7 percent from a year earlier.

Southwest carries more U.S. passengers than any airline and heavily influences prices that competitors charge on many routes.

In some cases, including several times late last year, other airlines attempted to raise prices but gave up when Southwest refused to go along. Airlines are reluctant to set prices higher than competitors, because many consumers will switch carriers to save just a few dollars.

At times Southwest has hinted that in a weak economy, price increases might drive away customers. But chief financial officer Laura Wright told investors two weeks ago that demand was holding up despite many recent fare increases, including eight last year.

Traffic on some airlines, including industry leader United, fell in January compared with the same month last year. Others, including American, saw more traffic.

Thanks to fare increases, all the major airlines that reported figures said they earned more revenue for every seat flown one mile. That’s a closely watched measure of pricing power in the airline business.


Follow David Koenig at

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Airports set to offer expedited security this year (AP)

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel News

The Transportation Security Administration last week expanded its new passenger screening program that allows certain travelers to keep on their shoes, jacket and belt through security lines. Here’s a look at where the program is starting this year:

• Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport

• Boston Logan International Airport

• Charlotte Douglas International Airport

• Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport

• Denver International Airport

• Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

• George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston)

• Honolulu International Airport

• Indianapolis International Airport

• John F. Kennedy International Airport (New York)

• LaGuardia Airport

• Lambert-St. Louis International Airport

• Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

• Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (Puerto Rico)

• Newark Liberty International Airport (New Jersey)

• O’Hare International Airport (Chicago)

• Orlando International Airport

• Philadelphia International Airport

• Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

• Pittsburgh International Airport

• Portland International Airport

• Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

• Salt Lake City International Airport

• San Francisco International Airport

• Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

• Tampa International Airport

• Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

• Washington Dulles International Airport

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Airport security gets simpler — for a select few (AP)

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel News

NEW YORK – You can keep your jacket, belt and shoes on through airport security. You just need to fly a lot, or pay for the privilege.

The Transportation Security Administration last week announced plans to vastly expand a new passenger screening program that speeds up check-in at airports. It’s the TSA’s first major move toward a security plan that gives a break to passengers that are considered less of a threat.

The program is already in the test phase at seven airports, and will be expanded to 35 by the end of the year. Travelers chosen for the expedited screening get to keep their shoes on, as well as leave liquids and laptops in their bags.

The catch? It’s only available to select frequent fliers, or those who qualify for special screening plans, which cost up to $100.

Here’s an overview of the screening programs, who’s allowed in and how to enroll:

The fast lane

The first thing you need to know is that every airline isn’t eligible — at least not right away.

Right now, only high-level frequent fliers at Delta and American Airlines can be invited to join the program. The TSA won’t say what level status a frequent flier must have in order to be eligible, citing security concerns. The airlines are inviting qualified fliers directly — but if you only fly for holidays or the occasional vacation, don’t wait by your inbox.

Fliers with top-tier status on US Airways, United and Alaska are also getting invites. But the option for those fliers won’t start until later this year.

There’s a backdoor way to get on the list of chosen ones. Members of Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs Global Entry, Sentri and Nexus who are U.S. citizens are eligible to apply at The downside is, they’re not free. Prices range from $42 to $100 for a five-year membership. While they’re intended for frequent international travelers, they provide the same ability to speed through security anywhere you fly.

How it works

There will be a criminal background check run, for sure, and possibly a requirement to provide extra personal information. When a qualified passenger accepts an invitation — or pays for special screening — the membership becomes part of their frequent flier profile. TSA agents will know this upon scanning the bar code on these passengers’ boarding pass. They then shuttle those passengers to an expedited screening line.

Belts and shoes stay on, laptops and liquids remain in bags and everything moves faster. But even these passengers can be subjected to scanners and pat-downs. The TSA reserves the right to give extra screening to anyone.

Where and when

The program is currently available for American Airlines customers in Dallas, Miami, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. For Delta fliers, the speedy screening is available at airports in Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis. If you’re a Delta frequent flier taking a flight on American Airlines, or vice versa, it’s only available where the two overlap: Las Vegas and Minneapolis.

New York’s John F. Kennedy and San Francisco International Airports will be added by the end of this month. Salt Lake City International Airport, Washington Reagan and Chicago O’Hare will join by the end of March. By the end of the year, 35 airports will offer special pre-check security lines for those travelers lucky enough to get in.

“TSA wants to reduce the size of the haystack and focus more on passengers that we know less about or on those we know more about because they’re on a watch list,” spokesman Greg Soule said.

TSA wants to eventually get pre-check at every airport, but that will probably take years. About 336,000 passengers have been screened through the program since the testing began last year, according to the TSA. That’s less than one in a hundred fliers.

Everybody else

If you’re hoping these new speedy security lines will reduce the wait for everyone, don’t hold your breath. Despite the expansion, members in the new program will only make up a small sliver of daily passengers. So it’s still important to get to the airport well ahead of your flight, put your liquids in three-ounce containers and — you guessed it — wear slip-on shoes to take off at the metal detector.

What the experts say

“From my perspective, this is nothing but good,” said aviation consultant Russell McCaffery, a former TSA executive. He said it solves the traveling public’s main gripe about the TSA: subjecting every traveler to the highest level of scrutiny, regardless of their risk.

The program can make the traveling public happier while not risking security, McCaffery said, because it’s removing the parts of screening considered the least vital. A laptop in its case, toothpaste in your suitcase or shoe on your foot is still being screened.

Ken Button, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia, agrees that the pre-check program is an effective way of removing the lowest risk traveler from the more onerous parts of the security process. Because the program only accepts U.S. citizens, Button noted, it’s also a politically correct way of profiling.

“Terrorists aren’t frequent fliers,” he said.

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TripAlertz Deal Distribution System(TM) Aggregates the Aggregators

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel Deals

BOSTON, Feb. 16, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ –
The power of social media and the Internet, combined with travelers’ endless appetite for great deals, is driving exponential demand for flash-sales and private-sales of hotels and other travel products. This has left the travel industry navigating the challenges that come along with this rapidly changing, booming new marketplace – a market that’s ripe with opportunity, and which is the fastest-growing sector of e-commerce globally. In a commitment to solving these challenges, TripAlertz Travel Solutions now offers a customizable twist on the traditional Global Distribution System (GDS): the first-ever Deal Distribution System(TM) (DDS).

“The DDS has been designed to ‘aggregate the aggregators,’ which allows hoteliers to move large volumes of unsold inventory to an international network of private member websites,” explains Mark Donohue, Chairman and CEO of TripAlertz Travel Solutions. “In most situations, hotels can avoid GDS fees and even credit card fees, which can greatly improve yield.”

The DDS already reaches a private network of more than 10 million customers in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, United Kingdom, Russia, Mexico and more, offering a free-to-use, fully automated way for hotels to discreetly sell excess inventory through the daily deal space worldwide. Distributions can be customized for hotels’ needs and are fully underwritten by TripAlertz Travel Solutions, including options like:

Global geographic targeting with the ability to custom-design distribution;

Providing add-ons or even “opaque” pricing to protect rate parity;

Date-specific offer windows that drive bookings only during need periods;

Travelzoo Top 20(TM) listings, for select, mutually agreed offers;

Access to TripAlertz’s targeted affiliate publisher networks;

Expert SEO/SEM/CPC support and more resources to optimize yield.

Travel suppliers have the flexibility to set these options and differentiate their inventory through a turnkey, fully automated Deal Management Console(TM) (DMC). This is the only platform in the world that offers two options for redeeming reservations – either booking real-time, or alternatively booking with the flexibility of a voucher – unlike the challenges presented by virtually all flash sale sites of only redeeming coupons. This reduces headaches and service for hoteliers, and gives the consumer greater confidence in buying, since a confirmed reservation is available.

“This creates new rules for flash selling, equipping hoteliers with a powerful new tool to effectively drive real-time bookings or confirmed bookings, which allows hotels to better manage their revenue optimization and margins,” notes Donohue.

The DDS offers no up-front marketing costs to registered and approved suppliers, with TripAlertz’s margins set lower than those of the leading online travel agencies and daily deals sites.

TripAlertz Travel Solutions’ DDS is expected to reach more than 30 million weekly customers in various markets by the end of 2012. The company aims to engage in year-round contracts with all of its supplier partners to provide long-term relationships that support revenue needs with customized solutions, which will be listed in its Top Destinations section of its site and its distribution partners.

For information, or to become a registered supplier, visit .

MEDIA CONTACTS:Amanda Drake(727)

Mary Jane Kolassa(407)

SOURCE TripAlertz

Copyright (C) 2012 PR Newswire. All rights reserved


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United-Continental rolls out gift card-air miles exchange program

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel Deals

Gift cards accounted for 18% of holiday spending last year, so likely some of us still haven’t gotten around to using the prepaid presents. Here’s a new way to spend them down: United-Continental airlines allows members of its frequent-flier program to exchange gift cards from major retailers for air miles.

The Mileage Plus Gift Card Exchange accepts more than 60 types of gift cards — Best Buy, Crate Barrel, JC Penney, Peet’s Coffee Tea and Walmart, among them — that have at least $25 credit and no expiration date.

Whether this is a good deal depends on many things. First, United determines the exchange rate based on “market pricing and other factors,” according to the airline’s website. Second, the same value of the same gift card may vary depending on when you cash it in. (Members, however, don’t have to accept the bid offered by the airline.)

United-Continental did not respond to my requests for information.

But Darren Booth on a Frequently Flying blog post tested a $25 Target gift card that translated into 670 air miles — which comes out to 26.8 miles per dollar, not as good as the 28.6 miles per dollar you would get by buying the miles outright. “The benefit of this program is subjective, in my opinion, as it depends on whether or not you’d personally get more for your dollar redeeming gift cards as they are originally intended,” Booth writes.

Of course, you also can go to such websites as CardPool, Plastic Jungle, Gift Card Granny and get cash for leftover or unwanted gift cards.



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Ducks coach Boudreau deals with travel grind

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel Deals

PITTSBURGH — Bruce Boudreau has played and coached in a lot of big cities and small outposts over his four decades in professional hockey and the travel in between different stops has certainly had its interesting moments.

But the Ducks’ coach said he hasn’t gone through an excursion like their current road trip, which covers eight games, 15 days and more than 7,700 miles. And, he said, teams in the Eastern Conference need not ever complain about their travel.

Article Tab: image1-Ducks coach Boudreau deals with travel grind

“I haven’t been on a vacation for 15 days,” Boudreau said. ”This is ridiculous. The East has no idea how lucky they are. And I think every team in the West should start with 10 points before the season starts.

“Eight games and 15 days. And I’m sure Pittsburgh goes through it, too. But when you have a four-game road trip in seven days, you’re coming home exhausted. We’re at seven days right now and this is just the halfway point in our trip.”

The Ducks are 3-0-1 thus far on the franchise’s longest trip that will either propel them back into the playoff picture or put the final nail in their coffin. It is one reason why Boudreau marvels at how teams out West will succeed despite spending a greater amount of time on airplanes.

“For a guy that’s played in the East or coach in the East as well, I don’t know how they do it,” he said. ”I really don’t. It’s quite a testament to every team in the West’s character for not griping as much as I’m doing right now about it.

“You don’t even know what hotel room you’re getting into. You forget the hotel rooms and everything during the course of the day on this trip. It’s pretty wild. But it is what it is. You can’t use it as an excuse and you’ve got to keep going.”

The Ducks headed to New Jersey on Thursday morning and have remaining stops at Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina.

Also on the Ducks Blog:

The latest news from The Orange County Register Ducks blog. Text OCRDUCKS to 56654 to get free Ducks news alerts.


See this post in its original form, and read more on Ducks blog.

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Trial starts in kids’ forced Grand Canyon hikes (AP)

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel News

PHOENIX – A federal trial began Wednesday for an Indiana man accused of forcing his grandsons to hike for miles in the Grand Canyon without food or water in brutal August heat.

Christopher Alan Carlson, of Indianapolis, who is in his mid-40s, has pleaded not guilty to six counts of child abuse.

Jury selection in his trial began Wednesday and was expected to wrap up by Thursday. Opening statements from the prosecution and defense will follow.

Judge Frederick Martone started questioning a pool of 56 jurors whether they had heard about details of the case from the news media.

A dozen people said they had heard about it on the news, and one of them said the coverage combined with his own experience with abuse at the hands of his father would affect his ability to be impartial.

All the potential jurors are from northern Arizona’s Yavapai County, requiring some to drive more than an hour to Phoenix for the trial.

Martone explained to jurors that child abuse cases are typically tried in county courts but that since the alleged crimes occurred in a national park, this case is under federal jurisdiction.

Carlson’s grandsons — who were 12, 9 and 8 years old at the time — told investigators that Carlson hit, pushed, choked, and squeezed them, and forced their fingers down their throats to make them vomit during trips into the Grand Canyon.

A ranger with binoculars spotted the group on what would be the last of the hikes on Aug. 28, when the temperature soared to 108 degrees and a man died on another trail from heat exposure. The ranger reported seeing Carlson shoving the oldest boy and whipping him with a rolled-up T-shirt.

Rangers fed the boys and gave them water after one showed symptoms of heat stroke and the other two had signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. They were placed in the care of state Child Protective Services.

Investigators said Carlson told them that the boys were overweight and that he thought hiking the Grand Canyon would help get them into shape.

“He told me that he loved his grandchildren very much, but at the same time there were tough people in the world and his grandchildren needed to be tough as well,” National Park Service Special Agent Chris Smith said at the time.

Defense attorneys have questioned the boys’ statements, saying that it seemed improbable that they could have gone on such a hike without food and water.

The boy’s mother, Tara Danaher, of Indianapolis, sobbed at a court hearing on Sept. 1 and said her children went on trips with Carlson over the summer, including to Central America and Jamaica. She said she talked with her children throughout the summer and that they never expressed any concerns.

The highlight of the latest trip that included the Grand Canyon was supposed to be Disneyland, she said.


Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at!/AmandaLeeAP

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Mexican official: US travel warning ‘ridiculous’ (AP)

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel News

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s top domestic security official says a U.S. State Department travel warning on almost half of Mexico’s states is “ridiculous” and “out of proportion.”

Interior Department Alejandro Poire says million of tourists visit Mexico without incident.

Poire told a news conference Tuesday that he believes “these alerts overstate or misstate the standards and security situation that exists in our country.”

The State Department issued an updated travel warning Feb. 8 urging travelers to “defer nonessential travel” to 14 of Mexico’s 31 states due to drug-related violence that has cost more than 47,500 lives since 2006.

The warning notes “millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year” and resort areas are generally safer.

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Obama to join black history museum groundbreaking (AP)

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel News

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and former first lady Laura Bush will celebrate the groundbreaking for a new national museum showcasing black life, art and history on the National Mall.

The Smithsonian Institution announced Wednesday that Obama will speak at the Feb. 22 groundbreaking for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Actress Phylicia Rashad will host the event.

Early construction work has already begun at the museum site near the Washington Monument. Officials have said the museum is on track to open in 2015. Congress has pledged to provide half the cost of the $500 million museum project.

Designers for the project have been planning a layered bronze structure with a stone base.

Bush serves on the museum’s advisory council with Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones and others.

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$22M Japanese garden planned for West Michigan (AP)

February 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Travel News

DETROIT – The Frederik Meijer Gardens Sculpture Park on Wednesday announced plans for a $22 million Japanese garden on its West Michigan grounds that could open in 2015 or 2016.

The 8 1/2-acre garden designed by Japanese landscape architect Hoichi Kurisu will be called “The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden” in recognition of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos Sr. and his wife, Helen, who are helping fund the project.

The garden will be in the northeast corner of the 132-acre Grand Rapids cultural attraction, with a design that aims for tranquility, simplicity and beauty. Zen, moss and bonsai gardens are planned, as well as bridges, waterfalls and a tea house.

“It has some of the important elements: elevation changes, water,” Meijer Gardens Sculpture Park’s President and CEO David Hooker said of plans for the site. “Because of the elevation changes, a certain tranquility already is there.”

Excavation could begin as early as this year, with the groundbreaking planned for no later than spring 2013. Contemporary sculpture will be incorporated into the garden, including a granite work by award-winning sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Hooker said the Japanese garden was billionaire retail pioneer and philanthropist Fred Meijer’s last major wish for the cultural attraction that bears his name. Fred Meijer, who built the regional retail powerhouse Meijer Inc., died in November at age 91.

Fred Meijer and his wife, Lena, also made significant gifts to help fund the Japanese garden.

“Japanese gardens are one of the most ancient and profound horticultural traditions in the world and we’re pleased to bring it to this Midwest cultural gem,” Richard DeVos said in a statement.

Meijer Gardens Sculpture Park’s master plan long had called for an international garden, and Hooker said Fred Meijer about two years ago raised the idea of a Japanese garden. He discussed the plans with Hooker the week he died, Hooker said.

“It’s going to give us another great opportunity for our guests to connect with art and nature in a different way,” Hooker said.



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