Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

justice planeAir passengers bemoaning the loss of their luggage will now be legally entitled to receive baggage fee refunds from the airlines. It’s about time. And there’s more good news: Other passenger safeguards, including increased compensation for bumped fliers, improved airline fee disclosure guidelines and new tarmac delay rules, are on the way, courtesy of the good ol’ DOT.

It’s all part of the Department of Transportation’s new airline passenger protection rules, which we blogged about in April. Starting August 23, some of those rules go into effect. But other proposed passenger protection regulations are being delayed until the beginning of next year.

The following new rules start August 23:

Tarmac Delays: International flights will not be permitted to remain on the tarmac for longer than four hours without allowing passengers to deplane; this rule is a follow-up on a similar rule for domestic flights. (Exceptions are permitted for safety or security reasons.) Additionally, carriers must establish tarmac delay contingency plans, and passengers must be updated on the status of delays every 30 minutes.

Fee Disclosure: Fees for optional services, like booking a ticket by phone, must be posted prominently on airlines’ Web sites.

Better Customer Service: Airlines must offer reimbursed baggage fees to travelers when luggage is lost. (This does not apply if luggage is merely delayed.)

Denied Boarding Compensation: The minimum compensation amount for passengers who’ve been involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight has increased to 200 – 400 percent of the value of a one-way ticket, up to $1,300. For more details, see Bumping and Overbooking.

Here are the rules that have been delayed until January 24, 2012:

Baggage Fees: Airlines will have to post any changes in baggage fees on their Web site home pages for at least three months.

Flight Status Changes: When operating any aircraft with 30 or more seats, all airlines will have to notify passengers of cancellations or delays of 30 minutes or longer within 30 minutes of becoming aware of those changes.

Better Customer Service: Airlines will have to permit ticket cancellations within 24 hours after reservations are made, without penalty.

Post-Purchase Price Increases: Fare increases that take place after a passenger has purchased a ticket will be banned (except when the passenger is given full disclosure of a potential price increase or when the increase is in government taxes or fees).

Full-Fare Advertising: Airline ads will be required to state the full fare to be paid, including government taxes and fees. (This rule wasn’t originally scheduled to take effect till October 24, but now, like the others, it’s been postponed until January 24.)

For more information, read How Will the DOT’s New Airline Passenger Rights Affect You?


– written by Caroline Costello

Scarborough Fair Here’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel quizzes 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 $249 a night. Eileen Horkan, the first person to post the correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured was the Hickory Vale room at Scarborough Fair, a B&B in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood. The historic 19th-century townhouse features six distinct rooms, each outfitted with antique furnishings in addition to modern amenities like two-person whirlpool tubs and iPod docks. Guests receive free off-street parking, complimentary breakfast daily and free day passes to a local fitness center. Read more about Scarborough Fair in Baltimore Essentials.

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).

What’s the going rate for Victorian ambience in “Charm City?” 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 T-shirt. Here’s the room:



As always, here are three little hints:

-This room has 10-foot ceilings, a working fireplace, a two-person whirlpool tub and a queen-size bed.

-This property is located in a historic neighborhood in “Charm City.”

-A free breakfast and off-street parking are included in the rates.

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, August 21, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

– written by Caroline Costello

europe map question markSure, you’ve strolled along the Champs Elysees, taken a train through the Alps or explored crumbling ruins in Rome. But how well do you really know Europe?

Challenge yourself with our trivia quiz! Answer the eight questions below and then post your score in the comments.



How did you do? Share your results in the comments! For more quiz fun, check out our World Capitals Challenge and our Packing Personality Quiz.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

crowdIn “Super Sad True Love Story,” Gary Shteyngart’s fictional novel set in the near future, bar patrons use advanced smartphone-like devices to detect the best-looking person in an establishment and rate all patrons on a numeric scale of attractiveness. Such an app, thank everything that is holy, does not exist. Yet. But a similar kind of app is rolling out across the U.S., and it could, surprisingly, offer some advantages for travelers.

11 Essential Travel Apps

SceneTap, a free app for iPhone, Android and the Web, uses facial detection cameras to determine the male-to-female ratio of people in select bars, as well as calculate the average age of everyone inside. It’s kind of like Big Brother — that is, if Big Brother were a sleazy rake seeking gender-specific bar patrons of a certain age.

The app, which launched last month, presently functions just at bars in Chicago. But the folks at SceneTap are working hard to bring their app to a drinking hole near you. SceneTap spokesperson Andrew Cross told me in an e-mail that more than 250 bars and nightclubs around the U.S. have signed up to join SceneTap. And the company is in the process of researching international markets.

Now, here’s why I might actually use SceneTap. In addition to serving up the creepy age and gender stats, the app shows how many people are in a bar, and lists relevant food and drink specials. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve showed up at a historic pub listed in my guidebook, only to encounter a sweaty pack of patrons pushing out the door, half of whom were likely led there by the same mass-produced guidebook. Crowds spook me. So when this happens, I usually turn around and go someplace less interesting. I think it’d be useful to know how packed a place is before taking two tubes and a bus to get there.

What’s your take on SceneTap? Is it a useful travel tool … or an app for tools?

– written by Caroline Costello

smartphone smart phone cellphone cell man park textEvery 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.

So you’re going overseas and you’d sooner cut off a limb than leave your smartphone behind. (We understand. There’s nothing like a little Angry Birds to while away a long flight.) You probably already know that you can call your carrier and have an international calling/data plan temporarily added to your account to cover the dates of your trip. But Ed Hewitt identifies one potential pitfall:

“When you make a connection overseas, you are typically not connecting to your own carrier’s service, but to a third-party carrier, which then bills your carrier, which bills you. Some of these carriers will not bill your account in an entirely timely manner, such that data connections made in July might show up on your August bill. As such, you will want to make sure the dates for your data package extend long enough after your trip to cover these late-billing companies, and you will want to watch your account to make sure all charges have been applied before turning off your international package.”

If you remove your international package too soon, any subsequent overseas calls or downloads could be charged at your cell phone carrier’s normal (read: exorbitant) rates.

Don’t assume that your carrier’s international plan is your best option. Hewitt offers his own secrets for avoiding calling and data charges in Traveling with a Smartphone: Cut Costs Overseas.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Westin ArubaEvery 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: Guests staying for two or three nights at select Starwood Hotels and Resorts are eligible to pay rates equal to their birth year for their second and third nights’ stays. For example, if you were born in 1960, the nightly rate for your second and third nights’ accommodations comes to just $60, but you’ll have to pay full price for your first night’s stay.

This promotion is valid at select Starwood properties in the U.S., the Caribbean and Canada. At some luxury resorts, rates for second and third nights’ stays amount to your birth year plus $100.

Is this deal worth your money? If you can remember the moon landing, yes. For younger travelers, it depends.

At the Four Points by Sheraton Caguas Real Hotel & Casino in Puerto Rico, nightly rates start at $169 before taxes. Say you were born in 1950. The price for your next two nights drops to $50 plus taxes. That’s a savings of roughly 70 percent on your second and third nights. A traveler born in 1980 will save about 53 percent. The older you are, the greater your savings.

The Catch: At some properties, the hotel’s standard nightly rate is actually cheaper than the first night’s rate with the age promotion; watch out for that. In a few cases, the special first-night age promotion rate is so expensive that your stay could actually cost more than it would without this promotion — especially if you’re a younger traveler.

Here’s an example: At the Westin Resort and Casino in Aruba, first-night rates start at $499 for guests booking with the age promotion. But standard nightly rates for the same room come to just $189. Only travelers born in 1934 or earlier will save money.

The Competition: You can find a number of similar age-related offers in our Senior Travel Deals, including 20 percent discounts at Days Inns for AARP members and 15 percent savings at Marriott properties for travelers ages 62 and older.

– written by Caroline Costello

In Airport Security Q&A, we provide a basic breakdown of TSA carry-on rules and security checkpoint do’s and don’ts. Still, we continue to receive scores of e-mails from justifiably confused travelers whose specific questions about all manner of packed possessions fall into the gray areas of TSA rules.

Here’s a medley of our latest reader e-mails, with answers provided by IndependentTraveler.com Editor Sarah Schlichter. Got your own burning airport security question? E-mail us or post your question in the comments, and we’ll do our best to solve your problem.

jalapenosQ: May I bring a 3-ounce can of jalapenos? I would take it in my carry-on.

A: I assume that your can of jalapenos would have some liquid in it, so as long as it’s smaller than 3.4 ounces and you put it in your single clear, quart-size, zip-top plastic bag with your other liquids and gels, you should be fine.



saucepanQ: Can I carry a 1.5-quart saucepan in my carry-on luggage?


A: As long as the sauce pan is empty, it’s no problem to bring it in your carry-on.





trail mixQ: I would like to carry chips, a 12-ounce bag of trail mix and a 12-ounce bag of chocolate bars. Will I be able to pass through security? I’m going to Barcelona.

A: Since those foods are solid items, you shouldn’t have a problem at security. But many countries have restrictions on nuts, seeds, fruits and other similar items, so you may want to contact the Spanish embassy before your trip to see whether your foods will be acceptable to bring into the country.

bug sprayQ: Can I take cockroach insecticide in my carry-on or in my checked luggage?

A: The TSA doesn’t permit aerosol insecticides in carry-on or checked bags. If the insecticide is in non-aerosol form, it should be okay to bring it in your checked luggage; however, if you want to bring it in your carry-on, it must adhere to the TSA’s liquid and gel rules. You may bring a non-aerosol container no larger than 3.4 ounces, and it must be in a quart-size plastic bag with other liquids and gels.

yogurtQ: Can you bring a container of yogurt through security?

A: Because yogurt is a gel-like substance, it is subject to the TSA’s 3.4-ounce limit; if your container is that size or smaller, you may put it in your single clear, quart-size, zip-top plastic bag with your other liquid/gel items to get it through the checkpoint. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait to purchase yogurt once you get into the secure part of the airport.

tiger lilyQ: I am traveling to California next week and want to bring flowers with me. Are they permissible (tiger lilies)?

A: Assuming you’re traveling from another location within the United States, it’s fine to bring along the flowers. If you’re coming into the U.S. from another country, you will most likely have issues at Customs, as there are restrictions on plants and other agricultural products when crossing international borders. You can contact the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol if you have further questions.

– written by Caroline Costello and Sarah Schlichter

lakeshore inn oregon Here’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel quizzes 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 $129 a night. SELENE JORDAN, whose guess was closest without going over, has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured was a studio queen room at the Lakeshore Inn in Lake Oswego, Oregon, which is about a 10-minute drive south of Portland. The Lakeshore is the only hotel located on Oswego Lake, and the highlight of this property is its beautiful waterfront views. Many rooms feature private decks overlooking the lake. Additionally, all rooms have kitchens, and the larger accommodations offer separate bedrooms and living areas. Read more about the Lakeshore Inn in Portland Essentials.

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).

What’s the price tag on this room with a view? 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 T-shirt. Here’s the room:



Here are three hints to boost your chances:

-This newly remodeled studio room has two queen beds, a private lakefront deck and a small kitchen.

-This hotel is located by a lake south of Oregon’s most populous city.

-This property has a heated outdoor pool and free Wi-Fi, and a complimentary breakfast of pastries and coffee is included in the rate.

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, August 14, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

– written by Caroline Costello