What’s new on Elliott: New screening measures, a Christmas miracle, a visit to Seaside, Fla.

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In this issue. New screening measures after Northwest flight 253. Plus, a Christmas miracle and a visit to Seaside, Fla.

New posts

New carry-on luggage limits and screening measures after Northwest Airlines terrorist incident

“It’s a Christmas miracle”

Hey Southwest, if this isn’t bait-and-switch then why does it feel that way?

A few more thoughts on Florida’s Planhandle

Hotels imitate airlines, force us to book nonrefundable rooms

It’s almost a white Christmas in Seaside, Fla.

Wacky package price blamed on “anomaly” in program

Our underwriters

Skoobadesign.com — Where you can find innovative, award-winning tech/travel carrying cases and accessories. Have a look.

Cheapflights.com — Lets you search the best travel deals, then book your cheap airline tickets with one of its many partners. Check out Cheapflights.com.

Where I’ve Been — Helps you find out where you want to go from where your friends have been. Ask travel questions from local experts or become an expert yourself. Get the details.

TripInsuranceStore.com — Offers detailed trip cancellation travel insurance information. Call Steve, Deanna, Becky, Mary or Teresa directly at 1-888-407-3854 for personalized advice or visit it online.

Travel Feet Disposable Foot Covers and Face Masks — Find products that help you protect your health when you’re passing through security checkpoint areas where shoes are not allowed. And don’t forget to order your Travel Feet Face Masks, which offer some protection against Swine Flu. Get more information.

Travel Insurance Review — Where you can get articles, reviews, and guides to help you find an insurance policy that will fit your individual travel needs. You can buy directly or use its comparison site to find a trusted and reputable travel insurance provider. Get more information.

FirstClassFlyer.com — Helps you fly first class for the price of coach. Get more information.

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“It’s a Christmas miracle”

If you live in the Midwest, I don’t need to tell you that you’re having a white Christmas. A very white Christmas.

But for Christopher Clauson, it was almost a blue Christmas (cue Elvis, please). He’d booked a room on Dec. 24 at the Allerton Hotel in Chicago through Hotwire. As many of you know, Hotwire’s rooms are discounted, but they’re also completely nonrefundable — no exceptions.

When Clauson and his partner could not make it to Chicago because of the blizzard, they thought they’d lose their hotel room. He wasn’t expecting what he calls a “Christmas miracle.”

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Hey Southwest, if this isn’t bait-and-switch then why does it feel that way?

It just happened to me.

For years, I’ve patiently and dispassionately explained that when the price of your flight doubles while you’re making a reservation, it’s not bait-and-switch; it’s a function of the airline industry’s imponderable yield management software.

And yes, I’ve gotten the “I’m sorry, the fare is no longer available” message while I’ve tried to buy a flight online.

But never like this.
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A few more thoughts on Florida’s Planhandle

So long, Planhandle.

We’ll be making the tedious six-hour drive back to Orlando tomorrow morning, but already I’m thinking of an excuse to visit Northwest Florida again. My friends in Pensacola are interested in hosting a remote broadcast of the radio show, maybe this spring. That would be fun.

In the meantime, you’re probably wondering why Erysse (pictured above) is running again. We took a final walk through our neighborhood in WaterColor this afternoon, and for all the grief this area gets for being overplanned (they call it the Florida “Planhandle”) it’s really pretty nice.
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Hotels imitate airlines, force us to book nonrefundable rooms

Here’s a deeply troubling trend: Hotels, eager to lift their historically low earnings, are introducing more “nonrefundable” rates. Guests often have no choice but to pay them.

Reader and travel agent Suzan Alexander has a case-in-point, which I’ll get to it in a moment. Before I do, let me acknowledge that some of you may be uncomfortable with my choice of words. After all, no one is being herded into the hotel lobby at gunpoint.

But how else do you describe these pricing hijinks? This kind of thing has been happening with airlines for years. If you want an affordable ticket, you’re more or less forced to buy a highly-restricted, nonrefundable fare. Otherwise, the price of your ticket doubles or triples.
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It’s almost a white Christmas in Seaside, Fla.

It’s the sand. It’s white, like snow.

At this latitude, it’s about as close to a white Christmas as it gets.

We’re staying at the WaterColor Inn & Resort in nearby Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. Our house is a short walk to the beach. The kids are really excited about spending part of their Christmas here, mostly because they love the beach.

The adults? Well, if we can’t have a white Christmas, this’ll do.
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Wacky package price blamed on “anomaly” in program

When you buy a travel package through an online travel agency, you expect the price to be significantly less than if you booked each item separately, right?

So did Thao Tran when he was shopping for a trip to Chicago on Orbitz. But just for kicks, he asked for a price quote for the hotel and airfare.

Shockingly, the a la carte price was less than the package rate.

What the …?
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What’s new on Elliott: Pricing anomalies, dealing with weather delays, and trips you shouldn’t book online

This is the online version of Elliott’s E-Mail. If this doesn’t display correctly, why not switch subscriptions to my RSS feed or my daily e-mail newsletter?

Looking for great luggage? Please visit our underwriter, Skoobadesign.com, where you can find innovative, award-winning tech/travel carrying cases and accessories. Have a look.

In this issue. Trips you shouldn’t ever book online. Plus, package pricing anomalies and dealing with weather delays.

New posts

7 trips you should never book online (MSNBC)

The Olympian task of going head-to-head with travel businesses (The Washington Post)

Wacky package price blamed on “anomaly” in program

New airline rules address tarmac delays, retroactive contract changes, disclosures

Forensic weather expert: What to do when you’re snowed in

A quiet weekend in Pensacola Beach, Fla.

An all-inclusive hotel that wasn’t

An ice time at the Gaylord Palms

Our underwriters

Cheapflights.com — Lets you search the best travel deals, then book your cheap airline tickets with one of its many partners. Check out Cheapflights.com.

Where I’ve Been — Helps you find out where you want to go from where your friends have been. Ask travel questions from local experts or become an expert yourself. Get the details.

TripInsuranceStore.com — Offers detailed trip cancellation travel insurance information. Call Steve, Deanna, Becky, Mary or Teresa directly at 1-888-407-3854 for personalized advice or visit it online.

Travel Feet Disposable Foot Covers and Face Masks — Find products that help you protect your health when you’re passing through security checkpoint areas where shoes are not allowed. And don’t forget to order your Travel Feet Face Masks, which offer some protection against Swine Flu. Get more information.

Travel Insurance Review — Where you can get articles, reviews, and guides to help you find an insurance policy that will fit your individual travel needs. You can buy directly or use its comparison site to find a trusted and reputable travel insurance provider. Get more information.

FirstClassFlyer.com — Helps you fly first class for the price of coach. Get more information.

Best Travel Deals.net — Where you can share great deals you’ve found (or offer), join the community and save on your next trip. Navigate by price, destination or proximity to home. Click here for details.

If you want to feel the love of 80,000 weekly newsletter subscribers, you can become a corporate underwriter, too. Here’s how.


New airline rules address tarmac delays, retroactive contract changes, disclosures

Our friends at the Transportation Department have unleashed a blizzard of airline rule changes on us this morning. They’re being characterized as an early Christmas present for air travelers — particularly those with lengthy tarmac delays. And the government is not done yet.

But read the actual rule, and the DOT’s nuanced discussion of its final rulemaking (PDF), and a different picture emerges.

(A lot of people have asked me what I think of the changes. They’re fine. But I’d be naive to believe these revisions will improve the air travel experience for a majority of us. Like the “passenger rights” movement itself, this only helps a small fraction of special-interest air travelers. The airline industry and I are kind of in agreement when it comes to the issue of tarmac delays.)

Here are the big changes:
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Forensic weather expert: What to do when you’re snowed in

This weekend’s snowstorm in the eastern United States shut down several major airports and stranded tens of thousands of airline passengers. Most flights are operating normally this morning, but there’s always the trip home. I asked Howard Altschule, a meteorologist with Forensic Weather Consultants, what to do when weather threatens to ground your next flight.

Your flight is stuck in the snow. Now what?

If you’re stuck in the airport already because of weather delays with such a huge storm, one thing I would recommend is try to immediately get a hotel room nearby — especially if you have kids.
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A quiet weekend in Pensacola Beach, Fla.

Here’s the view that greeted us when we checked into the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front yesterday afternoon.

Beautiful? Yes. But it’s also 40 degrees, not counting the wind chill factor.

Maybe that’s why there’s no one here. But you know us — we’re contrarian travelers. We go where no one else does. And when no one else does.
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The Olympian task of going head-to-head with travel businesses

When Judy Galliher of Silver Spring sent me her hotel horror story, I had a reflexive, Scrappy Doo-like reaction: Lemme at ’em!

My rescue complex is the natural result of a career spent solving travel troubles. And Galliher’s problem was a doozy. She’d reserved a motel in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, but her booking had been canceled twice — once because of an “error” and then a few months later because the property lost its franchise contract.

Suddenly she had no place to stay during the Games.
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Gifts from the above: 7 presents we wish the airlines would give us

This was supposed to be a feel-good column for the holidays, where I asked readers what kind of presents they wanted from the travel industry, and all of the resulting good tidings left us warm and fuzzy.

And then I talked with you.

And here’s what you told me: First, your holiday list begins and ends with the airlines; and second, you do not feel warm and fuzzy. Not at all.
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An all-inclusive hotel that wasn’t

san juanQuestion: I hope you can help me with an issue that came up with our recent cruise on Celebrity that included a hotel the night before. When I scheduled the cruise, I added one night prior in San Juan at the Gran Melia Puerto Rico, because the hotel was offering an all-inclusive option, according to the cruise line.

I paid $634 for this property, believing I would receive not only a pre-night hotel with my meals and drinks, but also transportation to the pier the very next day to begin the cruise with my husband.

When I presented the voucher at the hotel on the scheduled date the front desk representative informed me that there was no reservation under my name. I quickly contacted my travel agent and the cruise line directly and over an hour later I was called back to the front desk and they checked us in. But they didn’t offer an all-inclusive option.

I called Celebrity back after settling into our room to find out why there was a mix-up, and they said there was nothing they could do about it. Since I had no other choice, I paid for my meals at the hotel — a total of $188 for dinner, breakfast and beverages. I also had to pay for a taxi to the port the next day.

I have called Celebrity since our return, sent e-mails and written a letter with copies of the vouchers and receipt, and the only answer we get is that we were refunded the $80 for the taxi and they are unable to grant our request for additional compensation. Can you help? — Vanessa Thompson, Toms River, N.J.

Answer: You should have been offered an all-inclusive — and hassle-free — room at the Gran Melia. Instead, you spent more than an hour of your hard-earned vacation arguing with your cruise line about a reservation. That’s not good.
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An ice time at the Gaylord Palms

ice
When I asked my kids if they wanted to see ICE at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, I heard a groan from the back of the car.

“It’s too long,” said Aren, my oldest.

“Too cold,” complained his younger brother, Iden.

I got my way. But the kids are glad I did.
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