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no smoking hotel roomBaggage fees at the airport. Endless pitches for upgrades and insurance at the car rental counter. Resort fees and minibar charges at the hotel. Extra fees are an irritating but inescapable part of every trip — and now there’s a new one to worry about.

Skift reports that the Bellagio Las Vegas is charging $30 per night to guarantee your choice of a smoking or non-smoking room. (Other options this fee will ensure you: a high or low floor, a room near the elevator or with a pool view, or a room that does or does not connect with the one beside it.)

It’s one thing to charge extra for something like a pool view or a connecting room; these could be considered perks or upgrades. But a non-smoking room? For travelers with asthma, allergies or other breathing issues, this isn’t a preference — it’s a necessity.

This policy doesn’t favor smokers either. Skift points out that if they aren’t willing to shell out extra for a smoking room guarantee but then get caught lighting up in a non-smoking room, they’ll be hit with a $250 penalty. This type of charge is actually pretty common; many hotels want to avoid the inconvenience of deep-cleaning a room to remove the cigarette stench, and the hefty penalty serves as a deterrent. So why would the Bellagio force guests to pay extra to get into the type of room in which they belong?

Here’s hoping this isn’t a trend that catches fire (pun intended!) across the hotel industry.

Hidden Hotel Fees

Would you pay an extra fee to guarantee a smoking or non-smoking room?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Paris is known for many charms: fresh-baked croissants, sidewalk cafes, winding cobblestone lanes — and an iconic, low-rise skyline punctuated by the Eiffel Tower. This could change soon, however, as the city’s building height restriction was recently abolished, and construction on a new, 590-foot office tower could begin as soon as next year, reports CNN.

The project is known as the Tour Triangle, or Triangle Tower, designed by Herzog & de Meuron (the architecture firm behind the unique Bird’s Nest stadium used in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games). The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, recently tweeted a photo of the proposed building:

According to CNN, supporters of the project argue that the tower will provide much-needed office space and jobs, and raise the city’s profile in the eyes of international investors. But others aren’t convinced. A spokesperson from a local group called the Collective against the Triangle Tower tells CNN, “Tour triangle disrespects the existing place and Paris skyline. We are convinced that contemporary architecture can express itself in harmony with existing place. It is not the case with this isolated skyscraper which is 180 meters high and 150 meters wide.” Beyond aesthetics, the group has spoken out against the tower’s environmental impact as well.

Photos: 12 Best France Experiences

More worrisome to those hoping to preserve the current architectural landscape is the precedent that the new tower could set; CNN reports that a dozen other skyscrapers are in the works in Paris, even though 62 percent of Parisians are opposed to such buildings. The Triangle Tower will likely be challenged in court.

Do you support the building of skyscrapers in Paris?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

baggage claim airportLast month, the Los Angeles Times came out with a surprising report: According to academic studies, airline baggage fees have actually improved flier satisfaction.

Per the article, these oft-complained-about fees have “led to fewer lost-bag reports, fewer delayed flights and a drop in bag-related passenger complaints.”

While it’s not the news most of us want to hear — we’ll never get rid of these fees now! — it makes logical sense in some ways. The surcharges make passengers less likely to check bags, which means there are fewer bags for the airline to lose. Flight delays are also less likely since there aren’t as many suitcases for baggage handlers to load onto the plane.

But when we shared the L.A. Times report with our followers on Facebook, they didn’t seem too inclined to agree with the researchers’ conclusion that baggage fees have actually made fliers’ lives better.

“People try to drag much more in carry-on bags onto a plane, which causes issues when there is not enough room,” wrote Tom Vertrees. “Makes disembarkation much longer and more stress on travelers.”

Staxy Morrison concurred: “It adds to more people having to check baggage at the gate and more confusion when boarding!”

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Colleen R Costello pointed out that the airlines have an ulterior motive in the way they charge baggage fees: “From what I read it’s only been a way for them to divert income from one category to another! Seems baggage fees aren’t taxed or treated the same way as fare revenue is! Sneaky.” (Colleen is right: Airlines must pay a 7.5 excise tax on the base airfares that they charge, but this tax is not applicable to ancillary charges such as baggage fees.)

But our favorite response might just be the one from Mickey Morgan: “What bag fees? I fly Southwest.”

Quiz: How Well Do You Know the Airlines?

What’s your take? Do you think that baggage fees have been a net positive for fliers overall?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

cat in carrier While air travelers continue to suffer through carry-on fees and legroom reductions, their furry friends can enjoy spa treatments and splash pools in a new $48 million facility dedicated to the pre-flight comfort of pets.

The New York Post reports that, in 2016, John F. Kennedy Airport in New York will open the Ark Terminal, featuring a 20,000-square-foot facility where dogs can romp, a faux jungle setup where cats can climb trees, and even special stalls for larger animals like horses and cows, complete with showers and hoof-friendly flooring. Massages are on the list of amenities as well.

The Ark will also offer boarding for pets who aren’t actually traveling with their humans. The cost? A mere $100 per night for access to human-sized beds and the use of flat-screen TVs.

The Airplane Seat: Narrow, Cramped — and About to Get Worse

It all sounds a little over the top, but an article in Crain’s New York Business notes that the new terminal will serve some very real needs. The current facility used for animals passing through JFK dates back to the 1950s, and the nearest federal quarantine center is two hours away, requiring a tedious and pricey side trip. The new terminal will have a quarantine facility right on site.

Crain’s also reports that animal travel is on the rise; shipments of various creatures through the New York metro area have risen by 28 percent over the past three years.

Traveling with Pets

Do you fly with your pet? Would you use the new services? Share your thoughts below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

With the Greek economy in flux, travelers with upcoming trips to Greece have been wondering: How should we prepare for travel to Athens and the islands during the Greek financial crisis?

greek flag euros

I’m going ahead with my own planned cruise on Azamara Journey later this month that centers on Turkey and Greece, including port stops in Volos, Hydra, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini and Athens. Unless we hear otherwise from Azamara, my travel partner and I will hedge our bets against the currency upheaval by adhering to the following tips — which can also help travelers planning a land-based journey.

Bring euros: Usually we rely on ATMs overseas when we travel, as our bank doesn’t charge us foreign transaction fees. But with news reports noting some ATMs are out of money, we’ll be prudent and come prepared.

Contact bank in advance: Since we’re not stopping in the Eurozone before our flight, this means we’ll have to get some money in advance from our U.S. bank; we might end up taking a bit of a hit on currency conversion fees. That said, the Euro is $1.10 against the dollar right now — almost a record low. In the end, the fees are a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Haggle with cab drivers: Our itinerary has a few Greek islands where we’re fine with last-minute plans. If cash is king and we have enough of it, we suspect that Greek taxi drivers might be willing to drop prices for short day trips.

Slideshow: Greek Isles Revealed

Watch out for pickpockets: It’s a sad fact that crime goes up in times of financial instability. We’ll be doubly sure that our purses and wallets are secure when we’re out and about. We’ll also limit the amount of cash we bring with us on shore and leave important documents back on the ship. (We recommend the same if you’re staying in a hotel.)

meteora greece

Prebook (and prepay) some excursions: Financial instability means that some vendors do one of two things: Jack up their prices to compensate for a low euro or ask for cash payments. For those must-see tours — we’ve got our eye on the gorgeous monasteries of Meteora — we’ll make sure we’re working with a reputable company that takes credit cards and pay in advance. To be really safe, cruisers should book through their ship, in case the line changes port stops.

Keep up with the news: A financial crisis often brings accompanying strikes and demonstrations. We’ve signed up for the State Department’s STEP program, which sends you email alerts when situations change, and we’ll check newspapers daily. This is not the time to unplug.

Wait to book hotels: Many tourists have already canceled their trips to Athens because of the Greek financial crisis, which means the hotels will be hurting for business. We predict that hotel rates will go down significantly in the next few weeks, which means we might be able to snap up a room in a hotel that’s otherwise out of our price range (hello, Parthenon view). We also want to make sure that the area we’ll be staying in is safe and free of demonstrations.

Don’t panic: This is not the first time we’ve been to countries where things were less than stable. From demonstrations in Egypt, Thailand and Easter Island to erupting volcanoes in Iceland, incidents have cropped up frequently on work trips and vacations — and it’s always turned out fine in the end. We predict that the Greeks we meet on this trip will be happy to see tourists and do their best to make sure they have satisfying vacations, despite the Greek financial crisis.

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

— written by Chris Gray Faust

jetblue plane in flightWe first got wind of the impending bad news last year, and now it’s come to pass: JetBlue will no longer include one free checked bag with the cost of all its flights.

The discount carrier has rolled out a new fare structure, effective today, that offers varying baggage and other fees depending on how much you pay for your flight. If you book the cheapest available fare category, known as Blue, you’ll have to pay $20 or $25 for your first checked bag on most itineraries (it varies based on where you pay it — Web check-in, kiosk or airport counter). The second bag costs $35 in this fare category.

If you pay a little more for the Blue Plus fare, you’ll get one checked bag free, with the second costing $35. If you want to bring two complimentary checked bags, you’ll have to pony up for either the Blue Flex or Mint fare. (The latter is only available on cross-country flights.)

You can still get a free checked bag in any fare category if you’re headed to one of the following destinations: Santo Domingo, Santiago, Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, Kingston, Cartagena, Medellin, Bogota, Lima or Mexico City.

Other differences between the fare categories include cancellation and change fees, which are highest for Blue passengers, a little lower for Blue Plus and free for Blue Flex. The full fare chart is below (click to see a larger version):

jetblue fare chart

We did a few test searches to check out the fare differences between categories. On a flight between New York and Chicago, the Blue Plus fare was $15 more in each direction than the Blue fare, while the Blue Flex fare was $100 more each way than the cheapest option. That means it would actually be cheaper to book the Blue Plus fare than to buy the Blue fare and check a single bag.

When we changed the itinerary to San DiegoFort Lauderdale, however, that wasn’t the case; the difference was $30 – $31 each way between Blue and Blue Plus and $100 each way between Blue and Blue Flex.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Southwest is now the only American airline that offers free checked bags to all passengers.

Will these changes make you more or less likely to fly JetBlue?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

children jumping into swimming poolHave you ever wondered just how many travelers pee in resort pools or make off with hotel towels? TravelZoo recently released the results of a 9,500-person survey of people from five different countries and got the lowdown on which nation’s residents are the worst offenders.

When it comes to urinating in the ocean or pool, 64 percent of Americans say they’ve done it. Canadians are right behind us with 58 percent admitting to the deed.

What about permanently “borrowing” toiletries, robes, slippers or other amenities from hotel rooms? Again, Americans take the cake (and the linens … and drapes … and bathroom sink, for lack of a kitchen one) with 69 percent fessing up. (However, since toiletries are provided for guests to use as part of the room rate, we’re maintaining that taking them home with you isn’t actually stealing.)

Twenty-four percent — the highest number — of Americans also said they’ve called in sick after a vacation to extend their time off.

Survey Says: Travel Makes Us Happier

Meanwhile, Germans are the worst when it comes to visiting tanning salons after their travels to make people back home think they spent lots of time in the sun. Ten percent of Germans also claim to have been unfaithful to a significant other while on vacation. Yikes!

Does all of this icky behavior make you want to plan your next trip? A whopping 70 percent of folks from China said they’ve used work time to plan a vacation; frankly, we see nothing wrong with that at all.

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

Do you commit any of these common travel infractions? Leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

credit cards money We’ve all tried to dodge the airlines’ ever-present fees at least once or twice — maybe you’ve overstuffed your carry-on so you didn’t have to check a bag, or packed your own headphones so you didn’t need to shell out five bucks for the ones offered in flight. But a British student recently went far beyond that, legally changing his name because it was less expensive than paying Ryanair’s fee to correct a booking error.

The Guardian reports that Adam Armstrong made the change after his girlfriend’s stepfather booked him a flight to Ibiza with the wrong surname. (“Her stepdad got my name from Facebook but I had put it as Adam West as a joke, because he was the actor who played Batman on TV,” Armstrong told the Guardian.) Ryanair wanted 220 GBP (about $337 USD) in administrative fees to change the name on the booking to match the one on Armstrong’s passport.

Armstrong balked at the cost, calling it “completely ridiculous,” and instead decided to change his name legally (at no charge) and expedite a new passport for 103 GBP (about $158 USD). Gotta admire his creativity!

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Ryanair is hardly the only airline to charge steep fees for making changes to an existing booking. Delta charges anywhere from $200 to $450, depending on where you’re flying; American quotes a range of fees from $200 to $750(!) for any “voluntary change to ticket made prior to day of travel.” One notable exception: Southwest, which does charge any applicable fare difference for a rebooking but does not assess a separate administrative change fee.

Most airlines, including Ryanair, will give you a 24-hour grace period to correct errors.

In a statement published by the Guardian, Ryanair explains, “A name change fee is charged in order to discourage and prevent unauthorised online travel agents from ‘screenscraping’ Ryanair’s cheapest fares and reselling them on to unwitting consumers at hugely inflated costs.'”

10 Ways Air Travel Has Gone Downhill

Do you think the airlines’ change fees are fair? Share your thoughts in the comments.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

paris apartment buildingAirbnb is the latest darling of the lodging industry, renting attractive and affordable flats, houses and spare rooms in destinations all over the world. (You can count us among its fans!) But over the past few years it’s also faced some legal challenges. Recently officials in Paris raided nearly 2,000 rentals suspected to be illegal rentals, according to Road Warrior Voices; they discovered 101 violations.

Paris is one of several cities — including New York and San Francisco — that place restrictions on short-term rentals in an attempt to preserve the housing supply for their own residents. As a general rule, it’s legal in most cities to offer up a spare room as long as you’re present during your guest’s stay; what draws the ire of city governments is when hosts rent out unoccupied apartments or homes on a short-term basis when those could be used instead to provide housing for locals.

That hasn’t stopped droves of eager hosts from listing their properties and risking possible fines; there are currently more than 1,000 listings on Airbnb in each of the three cities mentioned above. (Worth noting: While Airbnb has gotten most of the notoriety for its recent legal battles, countless other vacation rental sites such as HomeAway and VRBO also have similar, potentially problematic listings.)

As a potential guest, are crackdowns such as the recent ones in Paris something you need to worry about? In Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals, Ed Hewitt notes, “In most cases, the law does not consider the traveler the offender — rather it considers the host the offender — so you are mostly in the clear. That won’t help if you experience a raid in the middle of your stay, however, or if you are subject to a more prosaic ejection, such as by the landlord — or even if you get the stink eye and a dressing down from unhappy neighbors.”

Hewitt goes on to offer numerous tips for how to protect yourself, including questioning your host about legal issues before your stay and researching a few nearby hotels to which you could retreat if the worst happens.

Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide

Personally, such crackdowns wouldn’t stop me from booking with Airbnb — though I might elect not to do it in Paris. What about you?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

overhead bin airplane flight attendantAs part of the eternal struggle to speed up the process of getting fliers onto planes, Delta Air Lines is trying a new strategy: preloading carry-on bags for its passengers. According to USA Today, the carrier will be offering a complimentary Early Valet service on select flights this summer, which will involve having airline employees take passengers’ carry-ons at the gate and put them into the overhead bins nearest their assigned seats.

The airline’s hope is that its employees will be more efficient in loading the plane than passengers would, helping ensure a timelier departure. USA Today reports that the airline has previously tested this strategy and found “some reduction in boarding time.”

The theory makes sense. After all, how often have you seen fellow passengers holding up the line while they heave and ho to get weighty bags into the bin? And then there are the fliers who force others to find other spots for their bags because they put their rolling suitcases in sideways instead of wheels first, taking up twice as much space. Let’s face it: Airline employees are almost guaranteed to be better at loading a plane than we passengers are.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

The question, though, is whether the process of taking people’s bags at the gate will cancel out most of the time saved during the actual boarding procedure. Frequent flier expert Gary Leff, quoted in the USA Today article, also raises a good point: “‘This has the potential to come across as a nice, high-end service,’ Leff said, ‘but I’m skeptical that it will go mainstream’ because of labor costs.”

How do you think airlines could optimize the boarding process?

— written by Sarah Schlichter