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suitcase pack packing clothes overflowEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

While creases are a common consequence of stuffing shirts and pants into a suitcase for hours on end, that doesn’t mean you need to consign yourself to the ironing board the moment you arrive at your hotel. In Four Signs You Have a Packing Problem, we recommend the following tips for avoiding wrinkles:

“Before your trip, lay your clothes out ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need — but don’t actually put them into your bag until shortly before you’re ready to depart. That way you’ll minimize the time they spend scrunched up in your suitcase. On the other end of your trip, be sure to hang up your clothes as soon as you arrive in your hotel. (If they’re looking a little rumpled, hang them in the bathroom while you take a shower — the hot, moist air will relax away most minor wrinkles.)”

Letting your clothes hang out while you shower is almost as effective as ironing — but with a lot less work for you.

To further ward off wrinkles, choose your clothing wisely. Linen and cotton garments are most prone to creases; animal fibers (like wool) and synthetic fabrics (nylon, polyester) are less so. And knitted garments tend to fare better than woven ones. These days, travel supply companies like Magellan’s and TravelSmith offer wrinkle-resistant clothing in a wide range of styles and prices.

Tell us how you keep your clothes wrinkle-free in the comments below — and don’t forget to check out our solutions to the Five Worst Packing Problems.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Washington D.C.Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: For just 48 hours, JetBlue is slashing prices on fall fares to destinations in the U.S. and the Caribbean. Discounted flights start at $29 each way plus taxes and fees, and travel is valid between September 6 and November 16, with the exception of some blackout dates and day-of-week travel restrictions. Prices for select routes are rather competitive. For example, you can fly between Los Angeles and New York for $159 each way, between Chicago and Boston for $52 each way, and between Orlando and Washington D.C. for $74 each way.

The airline is touting this deal as “The Fall Shipping & Handling Sale,” advertising free first checked bags for JetBlue passengers. While a complimentary first checked bag isn’t particular to this sale (it’s simply JetBlue’s policy), it’ll save you as much as $25 each way when compared to what many of the major carriers charge for checked luggage.

The Catch: Travelers looking to cash in on this sale will have to think ahead and act fast. This offer expires at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow, and travel isn’t valid until the beginning of September. Additionally, there’s a web of day-of-week travel restrictions that apply to select destinations, so be sure to keep an eye on the fine print when booking.

The Competition: AirTran Airways just announced this systemwide sale featuring fares to destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico starting at $54 each way plus taxes and fees. JetBlue beats AirTran’s prices on many routes, but AirTran offers a wider range of travel dates (fly from the end of July through mid-November) plus a healthy selection of cut-rate fares to Caribbean gateways.

— written by Caroline Costello

globe little girl confused scratch head quizThink you’re a geography genius? Test your city smarts with our world capitals challenge. We’ve surveyed the globe for fun facts about the history, landmarks and famous people of capital cities both great and small. Take our quick eight-question quiz and then share your results in the comments below.

How did you do? Share your results in the comments! To get our travel trivia questions in your inbox every week, sign up for the free IndependentTraveler.com newsletter.

If you can’t get enough quizzes, check out our TSA Carry-On Challenge and our Packing Personality Quiz.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

wine country inn Here’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

We have a winner. The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $645 per night. Warren, whose guess was right on the money, has won a free IndepedentTraveler.com duffel bag.

The room pictured was the Sunny Garden Cottage at the Wine Country Inn and Gardens, a Napa Valley hotel surrounded by picturesque vineyards. Prices for the Sunny Garden Cottage range from $555 to $645 per night, for two people. The private cottage is decorated with antiques, and features a four-poster king-size bed, and a bathroom with a jetted tub and a separate shower. There’s no TV in the room, but guests can keep busy with spa treatments, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and vineyard tours. Read more about the Sunny Garden Cottage in Napa Weekend Getaways.

Check back this Friday for another shot at winning a prize.

— written by Caroline Costello

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified hotel here, on our blog, and we want you to guess how much it costs to stay there. Leave your guess in the comments below, and you could win a prize. Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right).

For the second week in a row, we’re offering some pretty cool swag: winner gets a full-size travel duffel bag. Guess the maximum standard nightly rate of the hotel room pictured below. Enter your guess in the comments, and be sure to include a valid e-mail address (so we can contact you in case you win). The first person to guess closest to the price of the room — without going over — wins an IndependentTraveler.com duffel. Here’s the room:

Here are three things you should know before you post your guess:

-This room is in a private cottage that has a working fireplace, a king bed, a private garden patio and a two-person jetted tub.

-This hotel is located in a famous wine-producing county north of San Francisco.

-Rates, which are based on double occupancy, include a complimentary full breakfast, wine and appetizers, and free Wi-Fi.

We’re looking for the maximum nightly price for two people as listed on the property’s Web site, excluding holidays, coupon codes or package rates. Enter your answer by Sunday night, July 17, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

— written by Caroline Costello

airline airplane forbidden no fly zone signEvery airline has its haters. Maybe you’re still holding a grudge against Delta for losing your bag back in 2003, or you can’t get over that time Aeroflot literally stranded you in Siberia. In fact, the whole airline industry rated lower than the IRS in a recent U.S. customer satisfaction survey.

But in the airline hall of shame, a couple of carriers truly stand apart. Ultra-discounters Spirit Airlines (based in Florida) and Ryanair (which flies across Europe) make headlines as often for their bad behavior as for their eye-poppingly low fares. From tasteless ad campaigns to an endless parade of fees, these airlines seem to be trying to outdo each other in a race to the bottom — with no end in sight. Who’s the worst offender? We’ll let you decide.

Egregious Fees
Spirit: The airline’s most recent money-grubbing venture is a $5 fee to print your boarding pass at the airport. (Seriously? How much does a piece of paper and a little ink cost?) And it’s the only airline in the U.S. to charge not only for checked bags but for carry-ons as well. Plan on paying $18 – $43 for a first checked bag, $25 – $50 for a second and $20 – $45 for a carry-on, depending on where you’re going, how you pay for the bag (online or at the airport) and whether you’re a member of the $9 Fare Club.

Ryanair: The Irish airline imposes so many extra charges that its home page features a handy “Fees” link at the top, right between “Contact Us” and “General Conditions.” The link takes you to a lengthy chart detailing such costs as an Infant Fee (20 GBP each way), a labyrinthine system of checked baggage fees (15 – 45 GBP depending on the weight of your bag and whether you’re flying peak or off-peak) and an Administrative Fee of 6 GBP that’s charged to every booking except those paid for with a MasterCard prepaid debit card. The airline has even considered charging to use onboard toilets.

Biggest Offender: Spirit by a nose. (At least until Ryanair starts making us pay to pee.)

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Offensive Ads
Spirit: Any press is good press, right? Spirit sure thinks so. Over the years its promotions have frequently been decried in the media as tasteless or downright offensive. “We’re no Virgin! We’ve been cheap and easy for years,” proclaimed one 2009 fare sale (competing with Virgin America). More recently, the airline poked fun at the demise of the Schwarzenegger-Shriver marriage with “fares so low, you can take the whole family! Including the half-brother you just met.” But perhaps the worst offender was the following, in response to the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill:

spirit airlines check out the oil on our beaches

Ryanair: Ryanair has done its share of cheeky advertising, bringing it into frequent conflict with the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The watchdog agency banned the following 2008 ad, saying that it “appeared to link teenage girls with sexually provocative behaviour and was irresponsible and likely to cause serious or widespread offence.” Ya think?

ryanair ad hottest back to school fares

Biggest Offender: Spirit.

Bare-Bones Flights
Spirit: Forget complimentary water or peanuts — you’ll have to pay for every snack or beverage aboard a Spirit flight. And you’d better bring your own entertainment as well. Spirit offers no Internet, movies, TV or music.

Ryanair: Like Spirit, Ryanair charges for beverages and snacks, and offers no in-flight entertainment.

Biggest Offender: Tie.

Crummy Customer Service
Spirit: IndependentTraveler.com reader Richard Rosichan was a loyal frequent flier on Spirit until last year, when a poorly handled flight cancellation had him taking the airline to small claims court. Rosichan isn’t alone in his displeasure: Spirit is rated only 3.3 out of 10 on airline review site AirlineQuality.com.

Ryanair: Ryanair scores even lower on AirlineQuality.com — 2.4 out of 10, based on nearly 1,000 reviews. Disenchanted fliers can hook up with other haters at Facebook.com/ryanairsux, which currently has 505 fans.

Biggest Offender: Ryanair.

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

Outrageous Comments by Senior Management
Spirit: CEO Ben Baldanza made waves in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer service complaint that had been forwarded to him, inadvertently sending the following message to both his own employees and the offended passenger: “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.” Oops!

Ryanair: Head honcho Michael O’Leary is famous for speaking his mind, describing himself in 2006 as “just an obnoxious little bollocks” (it’s hard to disagree). He’s unapologetic about Ryanair’s business plan — “our strategy is like Walmart: we pile it high and sell it cheap” — and ruthless toward those he sees as foes, calling British Airways “overcharging rapists” and offering the following charming perspective on travel agents: “Take [them] out and shoot them. What have they done for passengers over the years?”

Biggest Offender: Ryanair.

All right, readers, let’s hear it: Which airline do you think is the ugliest of them all?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

tsa peanut butter“It’s not every day that a passenger tries to walk through a checkpoint with over a dozen knives in their carry-on,” reads the TSA’s latest “Good Catch” post.

Hidden within the TSA Web site like marijuana in a jar of Skippy is “Good Catch,” a series of press releases brimming with obvious statements (“currency cannot bring down an airplane”) and tales of security screenings gone awry.

In March, illegal items “artfully concealed in peanut butter” proved no match for checked baggage screeners at Los Angeles International Airport. The peanut butter is an approved item. The marijuana, which was stashed in three prescription pill bottles, is not. (Unless you’re talking about a modern art exhibit or an inside-out Reese’s cup, “artfully” and “concealed in peanut butter” probably don’t belong in the same sentence.) According to the post, a TSA officer noticed something suspicious in the jar and alerted management.

Kudos to the TSA. You can’t pull the old “drugs in peanut butter” trick on a TSA forensic bag-ologist equipped with a spoon, a dull knife, a red plastic cup and paper towels.

The TSA appears to use “Good Catch” as an opportunity to defend screening protocols that fliers find invasive (controversial imaging technology) or irksome (remove your shoes, place large electronic devices in the bin). Knife concealed in a shoe? We found that. Knife, again, “artfully concealed” in a DVD player? That too.

And any good TSA press agent knows: When security finds $55,000 in cash strategically concealed in a woman’s undergarments, as a TSA officer did in San Juan, there’s an opportunity to tout the benefit of the millimeter-wave imaging. The TSA explains: “While currency cannot bring down an airplane, the fact that our officers are able to use technology to spot artfully concealed cash shows our ability to pick-up on other non-metallic items like the explosives we saw in the Christmas day plot in 2009.”

Learn about the TSA’s latest rules in Airport Security Q&A.

— written by Dan Askin

credit cards upsetEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

American globetrotters, take note: On your next trip overseas, you could find yourself in a credit card quandary. A growing number of countries in Europe, Asia and South America are adopting a new chip-and-PIN credit card system that isn’t fully compatible with the standard magnetic stripe cards we use here in the States. Here’s the scoop from The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas:

“Designed to reduce fraud, [chip-and-PIN] cards rely on an embedded chip that transmits information to a merchant, which the consumer then verifies by entering a PIN. While U.S. cards with magnetic stripes will still work as long as there’s someone to swipe them, many travelers report problems using their cards in ticket vending kiosks, at gas stations or in other places featuring automated payment machines. If you find yourself in this dilemma, your only alternatives are to find an attendant to scan your card or to use cash instead. … However, [to solve this problem] Travelex has introduced a prepaid chip-and-PIN MasterCard that works like a hybrid between a credit card and a traveler’s check.”

While a few U.S. banks have begun offering chip-and-PIN cards to a limited number of customers, this prepaid offering from Travelex is the one that’s widely available to all travelers. The Chip & PIN Cash Passport can be purchased online at Travelex.com and must be preloaded with at least $250 worth of funds in either euros or British pounds. There are no fees for loading the card, making purchases or withdrawing money at ATM’s, and if the card is lost, Travelex will immediately offer a replacement — or emergency cash up to the remaining balance on the card.

Of course, there is a caveat: the lousy exchange rate. This morning, I tried loading the card with $1,000 (USD), which translated to a balance of 664.90 euros — an exchange rate of $1 USD = 0.6649 EUR. Compare that to the inter-bank rate listed on Oanda.com, a popular currency site: $1 USD = 0.7153 EUR. (The inter-bank rate is what large financial institutions use when exchanging currency with each other, and it’s the rate you’d get if you made a purchase with a regular credit card overseas, minus any conversion fees.) If the Travelex card offered that exchange rate, my $1,000 USD would have given me over 715 euros of spending money.

The Cash & PIN Passport card could still provide a decent value for your purchases, depending on how steep the foreign transaction fees are on your usual credit card. But even if you’ve got cheaper alternatives, it may be worth carrying the Travelex card as a backup when traveling in a country where chip-and-PIN systems are the norm.

See more tips on how to Get the Best Exchange Rate.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Hyatt Key West Resort and SpaEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Stay at participating Hyatt properties and receive up to $500 in free resort credit. The credit can be used for activities, spa treatments, meals, drinks, you name it. In short, anything that could be charged to your room can be paid for with resort credit. (Exceptions include casino charges, resort fees and hotel taxes, and gratuities.) The longer you stay, the more you can save:

-Get a $100 resort credit with a two-night stay
-Get a $200 resort credit with a three-night stay
-Get a $400 resort credit with a four-night stay
-Get a $500 resort credit with a five-night stay

While Hyatt has hundreds of properties around the world, only 20 resorts are participating in this promotion. But the eligible resorts, we must add, are all located in popular vacation destinations, such as Maui, Aruba, Cancun, Clearwater Beach, Key West, Lake Tahoe and San Diego.

The Catch: You’d better be set on your vacation plans, because nothing about this deal is refundable. To get the free resort credit, you have to submit a full nonrefundable payment at time of booking. And if you don’t use all of your credit during your stay, you won’t be able to receive a refund of any kind for the never-touched bonus bucks.

The Competition: Wyndham Resorts is offering a $100 American Express Reward Card plus free one-night accommodations to guests who stay at participating properties for five nights or longer. In addition, Hotels.com is running a summer “GIFTAWAY” sale featuring discounts on hotel stays plus perks like free Kindle e-readers.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Hotel Deals.

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which also owns Hotels.com.

— written by Caroline Costello

corfuNow that the days are getting shorter and July has crashed the party, it’s time to think seriously about booking that summer vacation if you haven’t already. Yes, you still have a shot at planning an awesome summer trip this year. But you should step on it. Travel providers are already rolling out autumn deals for some destinations, and it won’t be long before you’ll need to pack sweaters and stockings on your European getaway.

But this glorious season has yet to fade, and deals are still available for late-blooming summer travelers. Here are five of our favorites:

August Flights to Ireland from $330 OW
We’re loving these affordable Aer Lingus flights, which seem priced more for shoulder-season travel than for departures in the height of summer (the most popular time to visit the Emerald Isle). August flights from select U.S. cities to Dublin are on sale starting at just $330 each way plus taxes and fees.

Save 30% on Summer Stays + Receive Free Gas Card or Kindle
This Hotels.com deal is comprehensive on multiple levels. The savings are varied — receive discounts on accommodations, a $25 gas card or even an Amazon Kindle — and the offer is applicable at hundreds of participating properties in destinations around the world. Travel is valid through September 5, but you must book your stay by August 2 to take advantage of this deal.

Last-Minute Tokyo Fare Sale: Fly from $388 OW
The Japanese tourism industry suffered a devastating decline after the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck northeastern Japan in March. But you can help. Planning a trip to Japan is a wonderful way to show your support and boost relief efforts by contributing to the local economy. (You could even take a volunteer vacation.) Moreover, it’s now safe to visit most parts of Japan. The U.S. State Department’s current travel alert for Japan declares, “The health and safety risks to land areas which are outside a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are low and do not pose significant risks to U.S. citizens.”

It’s pretty inexpensive to travel to Japan now, too. American Airlines is offering low fares from select cities to Tokyo, with prices dipping down to $388 each way plus taxes and fees. To get these fares, depart in July and complete your trip by the end of August.

HostelBookers Summer Sale: Save Up to 40%
Luxury travelers, skip this one. But if you’re not choosy about where you spend the night on vacation, pay attention: you could book a stay in a major European city for less than the price of movie theater popcorn. Make your reservation with HostelBookers.com and save up to 40 percent on already-dirt-cheap digs in Europe, Australia, South America and Morocco when you travel in July and August. This late summer sale features a wide selection of hostels and other budget-priced properties, with rates as economical as 2 euros per night.

Late Summer Europe Fares from $261 OW
We’ve unearthed even more pocketbook-friendly summer fares to the Continent. Even better, this Air France sale’s not so last minute, with a spate of discounted fares that are valid for travel through the end of September. Fly for as little as $261 each way plus taxes and fees when you head to Europe in August or September.

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which also owns Hotels.com.

— written by Caroline Costello