Nonstop flights from NYC to Canadian cities rarely drop below $400 which can seem like a hefty amount to pay for such a short flight. However, every week United publishes its list of web specials which often include weekend flights from Newark to several cities in Canada for $240 nonstop! Montreal and Toronto are frequently included in the web specials as well as other beautiful destinations like Quebec City and even Moncton.
In order to get these low fares, travelers are required to depart on Friday evening after 7pm or anytime on Saturday. The return flight must be the following Monday or Tuesday. Most of these flights are operated by United Express and offer 6am Monday departures that still get you back to NYC in time for work. For all of the details or to sign up for the weekly web specials visit:
I recently took advantage of these web specials with a December trip to Quebec City to frolic in their very festive winter wonderland. Ben was a few miles short of earning status on United for the following year, so this weekend jaunt secured another year of perks.
Quebec City is a beautiful historic city that oozes charm from every corner. Being a sucker for all things quaint, I was in awe of the old towns cobblestoned streets and perfectly manicured shops and cafes decked out in Christmas decor. Rising above the walled old town and overlooking the St. Lawrence River is the iconic Chateau Frontenac. This 618 room grand hotel was built in the late nineteenth century and claims to be the most photographed hotel in the world. I personally snapped at least 30 photos of the massive structure with its glimmering green copper roof. The hotel is now owned by Fairmont and boasts a beautiful indoor pool and several restaurants. Unfortunately the Chateau was booked full for Saturday night of our visit, but I was able to scoop up a Sunday night room for just $180 which was well worth the experience of staying in such a spectacular castle for our last night.
For our first night, I selected a top rated hotel on Tripadvisor in the Lower Town section of the city called Hotel Le Germain. Unlike the Chateau Frontenac, this hotel included breakfast and offered free wifi which is critical for staying in touch while abroad. For a Saturday night stay the rate was $274 but I cashed in a free night from my Hotels.com Welcome Rewards and paid only the taxes of $33.
The Lower Town section of Quebec City reminded me of Manhattans Tribeca neighborhood and is a must-see for any visit. It is a bit quieter than the Upper Town but easily accessible via a breathtaking $2 funicular ride from the front of the Chateau Frontenac.
Many of Quebec Citys finest restaurants can be found in the Lower Town including the scrumptious Panache which is housed inside an old stone warehouse adjacent to the Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel (one of Travel and Leisures best hotels in the world for 2012). My favorite meal of the trip was a cozy lunch at Café le St. Malo complete with a mouth-watering ham and cheese croissant.
Quebec City is a wonderful place to explore and wander. It exudes all of the charm of a small town in France while conveniently located just 300 miles from New York City. For photos from the trip, be sure to check out the ATC Facebook page at:
I was not looking forward to flying American Airlines after all of the recent news about their plummeting on-time performance as the unions rebel against management. But, for a short flight to Chicago and $100 in savings versus Delta and United I decided to give it a go. Big mistake.
My first disappointment came when I tried to select my seat for the flight. American now charges a fee for all aisle and window seats, so in order to secure the advertised price it is necessary to select a middle seat. Thankfully, this was not supposed to be long flight.
To my delight, it appeared that my flight was going to be on time and boarding was fairly smooth. The aging McDonnell-Douglas S80 was clearly on the wait list for a bed at Shady Pines. The carpets, seats, and overhead bins were worn and torn and the flight attendant call buttons oozed 1970s flare. I soon figured out that the ashtray at my seat made for a perfect ipod holder.
As we taxied to the runway at LGA my usual visions of impending doom from the film Castaway, the tv show Lost, and the real life Miracle On The Hudson filled my mind. As much as I love traveling, I cannot seem to shake my pre-departure fear of flying. Usually I enforce a 2 drink minimum prior to take-off, but at 9:30 in the morning that seemed a bit aggressive- even for me.
Before long we were airborne and for a few moments it seemed like American Airlines was actually going to deliver me safely and on-time to my final destination. Then came an announcement from the pilot:
Ladies and gentlemen we are having an issue with the galley door. It is not shutting properly and the cabin is not pressurizing. We are carrying a lot of fuel so we are going to turn back and land at JFK.
As I quickly tried to process this unexpected information, the woman behind me decided to scream for the flight attendant- asking if we were ok and if it was safe. The flight attendant assured her that everything was under control. Meanwhile, I noticed that my ears were popping rapidly and I decided to tighten my seatbelt in case people suddenly started to get sucked out of this problematic galley door.
The next 20 minutes felt like an eternity. I kept wondering why no one had noticed that the door was broken before we took off. I thought these planes had safety checks and computerized monitoring systems? Were we going to have to take a crash landing brace position? Will I get frequent flyer miles for this unplanned flight leg from LGA to JFK?
Finally we were on the ground at JFK and everyone let out a huge sigh of relief. It seemed that we were not going to become a CNN breaking news story. I cursed myself for putting my life in the hands of American Airlines and swore that I would never fly them again. The passengers all deplaned and we were told to wait for information from the maintenance crew.
It was at this low point when I could not have had more horrible things to say about American Airlines and their aging fleet and penny-pinching schemes that things actually started to turn around. The gate agent announced that they were handing out food vouchers to all passengers! I ran up to claim my $12 in airport funny money and ran to the nearest deli to claim a sandwich, drink and cookie courtesy of AA. A freebie goes a long way with me.
We finally did get under way after two hours at JFK and the gate agents did a wonderful job of keeping us informed about the progress of the maintenance. The flight attendants cheerfully distributed granola bars and free drinks (it was now early afternoon and perfectly appropriate cocktail time). With all of the concessions that the unions have made to keep AA afloat all of these years and all of the current uncertainty, it amazes me that any of them can still crack a smile. Finally we made it to Chicago and our plane, hopefully, was put out to pasture.
I arrived at the airport with tons of time to spare for my return flight home the next day. I checked the monitors and saw that there was an earlier flight to LGA and I decided to see if I could swindle my way onto the earlier flight. To my astonishment, the gate agent confirmed me on the earlier flight without any fees or hesitation! Even Delta charges $50 to do a same-day standby for an earlier flight, no matter how empty the plane is. Wow! Could I actually be having warm fuzzy feelings about American?
The final redeeming moment came the following day when I saw an email from American in my inbox. Due to the unfortunate delays I had experienced as a passenger on flight 319, I was being awarded 3,000 AAdvantage miles in my frequent flyer account! I did not have to ask for anything, call anybody to complain, or write to the CEO- they were just giving this extra award to me proactively to ease my pain and suffering!
At a time when almost no one has anything nice to say about American Airlines- and mostly for good reason- I was shocked to find that they could actually impress me, especially after nearly killing me.
I had just finished packing up my overnight bag for a 2-day trip to Nantucket. My trusty mini-cooler was stocked with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few granola bars to keep me well-nourished while lounging on the beach. My boarding pass was printed and I was all set for my 8am Jetblue flight the next morning from JFK to ACK that I had scooped up for $143. And thats when the call came from Maureen, my travel-partner-in-crime:
Hi Maureen!!! Are you all packed?
This is NOT good news!
And with those words I suddenly felt my imaginary Whales Tale beer being snatched out of my hand as I prepared for a last minute cancelation from my travel buddy.
To me there is nothing worse than the last-minute cancelation. We all have those flakey friends that you almost can count on to throw a curve ball at the last second. Maureen had been a reliable travel companion for several whirlwind trips including a weekend excursion to Alaska, a safari in Tanzania, an all-inclusive jaunt to the Dominican Republic twice, and a previous midweek Nantucket escape after which I swore off all rum-based drinks. However, those trips had all occurred during our 2 year hiatus from real life we refer to professionally as Business School. Nowadays, Maureens job makes it nearly impossible for her to schedule Thai food delivery so I was weary of committing to another whirlwind adventure to Nantucket with her. To ensure Maureens commitment to the trip, I insisted that all reservations be made using her credit card. These married-to-their-job types need to have skin in the game in order to show up. Or so I had hoped
Turns out Maureen had decided to make a trip to her hometown in the middle of Wisconsin- lets call it Wallawalla, Wisconsin since I can never remember the actual name. I guarantee that you have never heard of this town. Her flight out of Wallawalla had been canceled and it looked like there was no way she was going to make it back to New York in time for our 8am departure to Nantucket the next morning. I should also point out that Maureen had never mentioned to me that she was squeezing in a trip back home to the dairy farm in dangerous proximity to our Nantucket voyage. Her voice was filled with frustration and defeat as she tried to explain that Delta could not get her back to New York until noon the next day.
Unwilling to envision a trip where I would have to hit up all of my favorite island spots as a solo travel, I refused to let Maureen bail on the plan. Delta was able to confirm her arrival at LGA at 11:45am. That gave Maureen exactly one hour to dash across Queens in a taxi to JFK and get on the 12:45am Jetblue flight to Nantucket. Since she already had her boarding pass for the 8am Jetblue flight, the plan was to head directly to security and then to the gate for the 12:45pm flight to ACK and beg and plead for a seat. It was a longshot, but thankfully Maureen was willing to do almost anything to get a taste of the paradise that is Nantucket, even if just for 24 hours.
The next morning as I headed to the airport at 6:30am, Maureen was already at the airport in Wallawalla reporting that the first of the three flights on her mission was on time. Relieved, I embarked on my rather simple journey to the beach and awaited updates from Maureen who was staging her own stressful version of The Amazing Race. She arrived in Detroit without incident and then departed on time for LGA just as I was arriving at the sunny Memorial Airport on Nantucket. I headed into town to check in to our hotel and then boarded the town shuttle out to Surfside beach to set up camp for the afternoon and await the finale of Maureens expedition. Word of an early arrival at LGA set off a new wave of optimism that our plan may actually succeed! As fast as the flight attendant could open the cabin door, Maureen was on the move again and in the backseat of a yellow cab barking praises at the cabbies reckless maneuvers to get her to JFK in record time. She slipped through security seamlessly and at 12:12pm I received the text that was worthy of a celebration- I am confirmed on the 12:45 flight to Nantucket!! Somehow Maureen had managed to secure a seat after missing her originally schedule 8am flight without having to pay a change fee! This seems to be a benefit that only women enjoy- much like the ability to talk their way out of speeding tickets.
At 2:04pm as a floated in the warm calm water at Surfside beach, I spotted the Jetblue flight approaching from the south. I can only imagine the expression of delight and relief exhibited from one particular passenger who had started her day at 5am in Wallawalla, Wisconsin. Best of all, no one could accuse her of canceling last-minute.
I am a sucker for rustic charm and quaintness, and I have not found a place in the US that exudes more authentic charm than Nantucket. The island town 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod is home to over 800 structures built before 1900, and thanks to the downturn is the islands economy after the fall of the whaling industry in the late 1800s combined with its isolation from the mainland, most of the historic buildings were able to retain their original beauty and detail well into the twentieth century. As Nantuckets popularity as a vacation destination grew, the town ensured the continued preservation of its historic charm with strict building codes that limit the style, colors, and building materials permitted and a land trust that protects open lands from development. The cobblestone streets, naturally-faded shingled walls, and abundant roof-walks in town are a result of the exhaustive efforts taken to ensure that tacky never finds a home on Nantucket.
On my recent rainy day June visit to Nantucket, I was able to take advantage of some of the local historic attractions. Just outside of town, the Jethro Coffin House offers a glimpse into early island life. Built in 1686, it is the oldest house on Nantucket and tours are offered by volunteers from the Nantucket Historical Association. The NHA also runs the Whaling Museum in town which features a 46 foot long sperm whale skeleton and a restored 1847 candle factory. The best way to learn about the rich history of the town is through one of the daily walking tours held at 11am and 2pm. And for those who want to explore outside of town, a two-hour bike rental for $20 is ideal for viewing the plethora of adorably quaint homes all over the island. Nantucket is truly a unique and remarkable vacation spot that guarantees an overload of charm, and it is one of my favorite places to visit each summer.
I am nowhere near the 200,000 frequent flyer miles that I will need for a business class award ticket to Bangkok. I think I have about 27,000 with my credit card and 15,000 with American Airlines. How do you always end up with so many airline miles and upgrades? Do you have any suggestions for beating the system such as buying miles? Can you tell me what economy plus means and is it worth it?
Hi Rosemary- there are many tricks to accruing a mass of airline miles but it does take some determination and usually A LOT of flying.
The best ways to accrue a ton of miles is with the airline credit cards- which you have. They usually offer bonus miles when you hit a certain threshold of spending per year and double miles on flights booked with the credit card. The initial mileage offer for a new card member typically ranges from 25,000-50,000 bonus miles which will really help you get closer to an award ticket.
If you have accrued a mass of Amex points- they can be converted into Delta Skymiles at a 1:1 ratio. For airline tickets, your Amex points will always get you farther for less points if you use them as Delta Skymiles than if you book travel directly with Amex Points. For example, a trip I recently researched would have required 240,000 Amex points for a NYC-Milan business class roundtrip, but only 100,000 Delta skymiles were required. However, once converted you cannot change Delta miles back into Amex points.
I also travel a ton and am addicted to any cheap flights I can find so I accrue a lot of actual frequent flyer miles from these flights. In addition, elite status gives me a 25-50% bonus on those miles. Just to retain elite status for a year requires flying a minimum of 25,000 actual miles per airline so it is essential to fly on the same airline(s) whenever possible. I rarely upgrade with miles because I prefer to get as many free award tickets as possible. I have been getting a lot of free upgrades within North America with my elite status on United and Delta (although most of my upgrades come from Delta- United has been a disaster since the merge with Continental), but for intercontinental travel I usually book economy and occasionally pay an upgrade fee at check-in when they are offering super cheap upgrades- but that is rare and definitely not to be expected.
Economy Plus is the same meal and beverage service as economy but with 4-8 inches of extra legroom and increased recline with a slightly wider seat. It is usually about 25% more space than an economy seat, but it is usually double the price. It is by no means similar to business class which is an entirely superior level of service and comfort on every front.
I would not suggest buying miles. You pay an enormous premium when buying miles that it only makes sense when you are just a few thousand miles short of a mileage ticket that you would otherwise not be able to purchase.
There are tons of chatrooms and forums set up to discuss airline miles because of all of the complexities they entail. My favorite is www.flyertalk.com but there are so many different ways to accrue and redeem miles that it can make your head spin! The simplest rule of thumb is to try to stick with one airline partnership (OneWorld, SkyTeam, or Star Alliance) for the majority of your flights and supplement the frequent flyer miles you earn with a credit card from an airline in that partnership.
Airline miles are a very valuable asset and many travelers are unaware of all of the advantages they wield. From free stopovers and extended layovers to partner airlines and zero change fees, using your miles wisely can add a lot of perks to your next award trip.
Last December I began looking into a trip to Thailand using my Continental/United frequent flyer miles. The lowest award seats from North America to Southeast Asia within the United Star Alliance network is 65,000 miles for a round trip economy class ticket. An award seat to Europe requires 60,000 miles. Since one free stopover is permitted for an award ticket, it seemed like a great opportunity to combine a free visit to Germany on my way to Thailand!
As I began searching flight options online, some wonderful mileage arbitrage opportunities surfaced. I could choose to fly United partner airline Lufthansa to Munich, and then 3 days later continue on Thai International Airways through Bangkok to the resort island of Koh Samui. Unlike United, the partner airlines offered free cocktails in coach, better meals with real china and stemware, as well as on-demand seatback entertainment with increased legroom (a whopping 34 inches on Thai!). I figured that if I missed the rude service of the disgruntled United employees, I could send them a postcard.
Even though my final destination was a small island in Thailand, I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to visit Bangkok. Fortunately, the return flight options included an itinerary with a 14-hour layover in Bangkok! This gave me a full day to explore this intriguing city and get a taste of the Thai Capital. Equally as exciting was an option to return to New York via Tokyo which created an around-the-world journey for the bargain price of 65,000 miles! I was able to add an extended 8-hour layover in Tokyo as well so I would have a few hours to explore beyond the airport without the hassle of picking up my luggage which was checked through to New York.
In total the trip encompassed nearly 25,000 miles on 6 flights across 3 continents. The total price of the flights if they had been booked separately would have been $2,300 but only 65,000 frequent flyer miles were required to purchase this ticket. As an added bonus, when I decided to extend the trip by two days, I was able to make the changes to the itinerary without paying any fees- perhaps one of the best advantages of booking award travel!
I can only think of two negative aspects of award travel. The first is that you cannot earn any additional mileage when traveling on a free ticket- which kind of makes sense. The second drawback is that you cannot receive any complimentary upgrades on award travel.
If you are someone who is hoarding a ton of frequent flyer miles and has not redeemed them for anything- what are you waiting for? You can go online and look at flight options through the frequent flyer program website and get started on your free travel today.
QUESTION: Dear Dave- We are going to Europe again in June on a cruise of the Baltic. I was wondering if you could help lead me in the right direction for making our travel arrangements. I am going to look for hotels in Stockholm and Copenhagen and flights to go with these locations. Are there particular websites/airlines that you would suggest I look into?
RESPONSE: Hi Joan- I have not yet been to Stockholm but Copenhagen is wonderful and the best part about Scandinavia is that almost everyone can speak English. For hotels in cities I have become a big fan of www.Hotels.com because they always seem to have the best available price (often even lower than the individual hotel website), you can view your search on a map to select exactly where you want to stay in each city, they have an excellent reward program (FREE night after 10 nights), and they clearly state the cancelation policy etc. I always cross reference a hotels.com selection with www.tripadvisor.com to make sure the hotel is highly recommended. On tripadvisor- I pay more attention to the overall rating (I like to see more than 60% of ratings fall in the excellent or very good category) rather than individual reviews. The individual reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt- there are ALWAYS some complainers- so they are more useful to check that the location was convenient or that the amenities were as advertised- like free wifi or breakfast included.
For flights- the best European site is www.bravofly.com because they search all airlines including the low cost carriers that are often omitted from sites like Expedia and Travelocity. Often there are nonstop options on the discount airlines, while the national carriers require layovers through their hub city. Just be aware of the baggage restrictions on the discount airlines and boarding procedures. If the prices and route are on par with a national carrier (like SAS, KLM, British Airways, or Lufthansa) then go with the name brand airline because its almost always a better flying experience.
Copenhagen is linked to Sweden via a train that goes over a series of bridges across the sea to Malmo, Sweden on the southern tip. The crossing takes about 40 minutes and there are hourly trains making this journey, so if you are exploring southern parts of Sweden you can make the journey from Stockholm to Copenhagen via Malmo without taking a flight. Trains area great option for shorter trips and you usually do not need to purchase tickets ahead of time.
Have a great trip and please let me know if you have any other questions!
Picture it: A giant yellow bulldozer is backing up towards you and the driver has no idea that you are in its path. Even at a snails pace, the 4 ton behemoth of steal threatens to crush your aluminum rental car to smithereens. You start honking frantically, but your desperate attempt to alert the driver of your puny obstructed presence goes unheard. Then you hear the screeching sound of metal crushing metal as the bulldozers enormous shovel arm cuts through the hood of the car like a hot knife through butter.
This was the scene outside the Jackson Hole Elk Refuge last month as Ben and I watched- in slow motion- as our rental car was crushed by a bulldozer doing snow removal in the visitor center parking lot. As we sat gobsmacked watching the demolition unfold in front of us, just two thoughts went through my mind: (1) There is no way we are going to make the 4pm sleigh ride through the Elk Refuge, and (2) It was probably not a good idea to decline the option to add me as a registered driver on the rental car contract.
The next few hours would be spent dealing with the local police, the supervisor of the Elk Refuge, Avis customer service, a tow company, and hours of phone calls and paper work with the insurance companies. The grueling process of dealing with a rental car accident taught me that there are several myths and misconceptions about rental car insurance policies that I thought I should share:
Rental Car Myths:
Adding additional drivers is an unnecessary expense Avis had offered to add a second driver for an additional $12.95 per day which we declined as an unnecessary sales gimmick, kind of like paying the $100 for the stain guard on a new couch. However, since I was driving the car during the accident and was not added to the contract, Ben was solely responsible for covering all damage incurred. The rental car company reserves the right to charge the credit card on file for a damage estimate- which in this case was over $2,000- if an unauthorized driver damages the car. The authorized driver assumes all of the risk if others will be driving the rental car, so the additional cost of adding extra drivers is a small price to pay to limit your financial liability for an accident.
If you pay with American Express, rental car insurance is automatically included The Amex Rental Car Insurance policy is full of loopholes! The coverage and benefits vary for each card and it is critical that you fully understand the coverage provided by your card before you decline the loss/damage protection offered by rental car agencies. For example, several of the cards exclude any protection for SUVs, luxury sedans, convertibles and pickup trucks. In addition, the coverage may be supplemental to your personal auto insurance which means you are still responsible for any deductibles. Furthermore, Amex only protects the cardmembers listed as authorized drivers on the rental car contract, so if you declined to add any additional drivers who then had an accident (a la moi), you are out of luck.
The Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) is a waste of money Many of us cannot decline the LDW fast enough when renting a car- its like when the waiter asks if you would prefer organic sparkling volcanic imported shiny bottled water instead of tap water. The LDW does come at an extra cost and it is quite profitable for the rental car companies, but the added protection and peace of mind that it provides should be carefully considered. The LDW benefit allows the authorized driver to basically walk away from any accident or damage to the car without any responsibility. In my case, it would have saved hours of phone calls and paper work dealing with my personal car insurance and any worry that I would have to pay anything out of pocket. But, for anyone who does not own a car and have personal auto insurance (like many New Yorkers), the LDW should never be waived. It is your only insurance option if anything happens to the rental car and without it you open yourself up to unlimited financial liability that simply is not worth the risk.
The entire accident was caught on video surveillance. Please be aware that the footage is quite disturbing:
Panama City has come a long way in the last decade. The city skyline encompasses an endless view of gleaming skyscrapers with 30 more towers currently under construction. Tocumen International Airport, just 15 miles from the city, is the largest and busiest airport in Central America and home to Panamas Copa airlines which offers nonstop service to dozens of cities throughout the western hemisphere. The fury of expansion and construction is palpable throughout the city and is a direct result of its proximity to the Eighth Wonder of the World: The Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal is a 51 mile manmade waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was completed by the US government in 1914 after almost 35 years of construction nightmares and turned over to Panamanian control in 1999. The canal features a series of locks that lift ships nearly 100 feet above sea level to pass through the manmade Gatun Lake before being lowered nearly 100 feet back to sea level. A passage typically takes between 8-10 hours and almost 15,000 ships make this journey every year. The canal has established Panama as a transportation and financial hub for the Americas and investment in the future of the canal is essential to Panamas economy. The people of Panama showed their overwhelming support for expanding the canal in a national referendum in 2006. Nearly 80% of voters approved a $5.25 billion expansion project to increase the maximum ship size and capacity within the canal which is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
No visit to Panama City is complete without a visit to the canal. The easiest way to view the impressive operation is to visit the Miraflores Locks at the edge of the city. From here, visitors pay just $5 for an up-close view of enormous cargo ships as they are raised or lowered through the locks. A guide announces the details of each ship’s cargo and specifications to the crowd as it passes through. The Miraflores locks are a stop on the double-decker tourist bus which is a great option for a solo traveler to see the entire city at $22 for a 24-hour pass. A taxi ride to the Locks is about $20 round trip. There are also weekend boat excursions through the canal with half crossings (6 hours) and full crossings (10 hours) available.
I first experienced Jackson Hole on a cross country road trip with 4 friends after college. We arrived after a 6 hour drive from Salt Lake City in a red minivan complete with a rooftop cargo holder and it was love at first site. The town motto The Last of the Old West describes it perfectly and there is no shortage of cowboy hats, horse ranches, and mind-blowing scenery. After a 10 year hiatus from this magical town at the doorstep of Yellowstone, I was delighted to return for a ski vacation and experience the winter side of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. As a popular destination for the private jet-set and celebrities like Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock, it can be easy to blow your budget in this mountain town. However, with some careful planning you can visit Jackson Hole for less than the cost of a ski weekend in Vermont:
Use Airline Miles Flights to Jackson Hole from the east coast typically cost between $400-$700 and always require a layover, but award seats start at just 25,000 miles round trip! This is an excellent route for cashing in those miles and getting the most bang for your buck. We booked our trip back in July using 25,000 AAdvantage miles each for a Thursday-Tuesday visit in January. At the time of booking, the same flight would have cost $575 each!
Stay in Town Jackson has a myriad of economical lodging options of the motel variety that range from $70-$125 per night. Staying in town is an excellent choice because you can walk to popular bars and restaurants like the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and the Snake River Brewing Company.
Ski at Grand Targhee The favorite ski area among the locals lies over the Teton Pass about a 90 minute drive northwest of Jackson Hole. Known as having more snow than its more well-known competitor near town, Grand Targhee also offers a $69 lift ticket which is significantly less expensive than the $95 lift ticket at Jackson Hole. Along with this $26 savings comes nonexistent lift lines, spectacular views of the Tetons, and a quick taste of Idaho along the drive!
Use reward points If you are looking to splurge on lodging there is no better choice than the Four Seasons located a few paces from the Bridger gondola at Jackson Hole. Heated robes at the outdoor heated pool, in-room fireplaces, and ski valets who actually insist on helping you put on your ski boots all come as part of the experience. But at $500 per night, the Four Seasons comes with a price tag that is easier to digest if one can redeem Amex or Hotels.com reward points. I was able to score a free room by cashing in a free night reward I received after booking 10 nights at hotels.com.
Eat Thai As odd as it may sound, Jackson Hole seems to be known for their Thai food. Justin Timberlake and Jessica Beil were spotted canoodling at Thai Me Up during their engagement trip in December. Other noteworthy Thai spots include Bon Appe Thai in town and Teton Thai in Teton Village, all offering delicious and hearty entrees for under $12. If you do feel compelled to splurge on a meal however, the best choice would be Couloir at the top of the gondola. Their $22 Kobe beef burger is the best of the west and comes with an epic view of the valley that is worth every penny. We even had a celeb appearance at Couloir- Val Kilmer having lunch and martinis with his ski buddies at the table next to us!
The Conde Nast Readers Choice Awards ranked the Stowe Mountain Lodge among the Top 10 Resorts in the US this year, beating out all Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons resorts in the country.
But at $685 per night during ski season weekends, I did not think I would have the opportunity to experience the Stowe Mountain Lodge for myself. Fortunately, this new luxury slopeside property does take advantage of flash sale sites to sells rooms months in advance of ski season, so I was delighted to scoop up a studio room for a weekend in January on sniqueaway.com for just $299 per night!
There is perception among many that east coast skiing cannot compare to skiing out west. But if there is one place that can give the Rockies a run for their money, it is Stowe. Located in northern Vermont, Stowe offers a massive network of ski runs on Vermonts highest peak, Mount Mansfield. When the southern Vermont resorts are struggling with natural snow droughts, Stowe often looks like a winter wonderland with an abundance of fresh powder thanks to its unique microclimate and high altitude. The two main lifts, the gondola and Fourrunner high speed quad, provide top to bottom runs of over 2,000 vertical feet that seem to go on forever! Rimrock and Chin Strap are quintessential New England ski runs that twist and turn with unexpected dips and powder stashes. The world famous front four runs: Star, Liftline, National, and Goat offer some of the steepest and longest lift served runs on the east coast that can challenge even the most seasoned skier. And best of all, crowds are almost nonexistent- perhaps due to the $92 weekend lift ticket, but also due to the lack of slopeside lodging options which delays most visitors from enjoying the early morning runs. Thankfully, guests at the Lodge can hop on the Fourrunner Quad starting at 7:30am and indulge in several first track runs.
The Lodge takes slopeside luxury to a new level. An enormous lobby with 30 foot windows and birch trees provides a panoramic view of the ski slopes. An award winning restaurant, Solstice, actually draws visitors from outside the hotel who value the locally sourced 5-star cuisine. The guest rooms are decked out in hand-made Simon Pearce finishings and accessories and feature a stone fireplace and enormous marble bathroom. And then there is the spa and heated outdoor pool and hot tubs to help ease the ski muscles. Our visit coincided with the Stowe Winter Rendezvous which is an annual LGBT ski gathering. One of the highlights of the weeklong celebration was a drag show at the beautiful Spruce Peak Performing Arts center at the base of Stowe staring Varla Jean Merman:
The adorable town of Stowe deserves as much recognition at the mountain. The town resembles a mountainous version of Nantucket with extremely strict restrictions on business signage and development to ensure that every square inch of town oozes Vermont charm. Even the gas station offers homemade soups and a pleasant lack of any neon signs. The Stowe Mercantile offers samples of Vermont-made jams, cheeses, and crackers and the Vermont Ski Museum next door has an impressive collection of old gondola cabins and chairlifts that have long been retired from service. The Von Trapp Family Lodge (still operated by relatives of the famous singing family from The Sound Of Music) infuses the area with an Austrian flare that is apparent at many of the local inns and restaurants. If you own a brightly colored ski sweater adorned with snowflakes or other winter sparkle that you have been reluctant to wear at home, rest assured that it will fit right in at Stowe.
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I was watching Kathy Lee and Hoda on the TODAY show over the summer and they did a segment about the oceanfront town where Kathy Lee spent summers growing up, called Rehoboth Beach. To be honest, I did not know that Delaware had any noteworthy beaches but the segment sparked my interest:
A few months later I was looking into visiting the Dogfish Head brewery and learned that this award winning craft beer company had a brewpub in Rehoboth Beach! It seemed that Rehoboth Beach was calling for me to visit so I decided to make a road trip to Delaware for MLK weekend.
Rehoboth is like the slightly more mature and refined cousin of the Jersey Shore. It is popular with the DC crowd since it is the closet ocean beach to the nations capital 120 miles away. The main street is lined with shops and restaurants and bisects a beautiful boardwalk stretching for a mile along the ocean. The surrounding neighborhoods are lined with old Victorian homes that border the pristine Cape Henlopen state park- one of the first tracts of public land in the US. The family connection to the Jersey Shore is still apparent from the Hooters in town as well as the apparent lack of strict zoning guidelines for the waterfront hotels and high rise apartments.
We stayed at the oceanfront Atlantic Sands which is perfectly located a block from main street on the Boardwalk. The off season is exceptionally cheap at $108 per night, but during the summer rooms at this standard 3 star hotel run north of $300 per night with a 2 night minimum. There is no shortage of accommodation options in the area ranging from chain motels along the highway into town to quaint B&Bs and oceanfront resorts.
The main attraction for us on this cold January weekend was the Dogfish Head Brewery and Pub on the main street, a short walk from our hotel. Self-described as off-centered beer for off-centered people, Dogfish Head has amassed a staunch following of craft beer drinkers since it opened in 1995. The brewery has grown to over $52mm in sales in 2011 making it one of the top 10 craft breweries in the US. The brewpub features an extensive menu loyal to local dairy, fish, and vegetable suppliers with exceptionally reasonable prices ($9 for crabcake sandwich and salad or fries) that is perfectly complimented by the selection of craft beers. The best selling 60-Minute IPA (6% ABV) is a delicious ale with robust flavor that can be enjoyed all night. For more adventurous beer drinkers, the limited edition 120 Minute IPA (20% ABV) is sharp enough to knock your socks off. Thankfully its served in a smaller snifter glass. Friday and Saturday nights always feature live music after 10pm and there is guaranteed to be a good crowd, no matter how off-season your visit may be.
About 10 miles from Rehoboth in the town of Milton you can find the multi-million dollar brewing facility that Dogfish Head created to meet their exponential growth. Tours at this brewery are in high demand and must be reserved online well in advance. In addition to free beer, visitors also can view an 40 foot-tall iron treehouse created for Burning Man and was relocated to the brewery at a cost of $40,000 as a permanent and fitting home for off-centered things.
Another Noteworthy establishment in Rehoboth Beach is Go Fish, a fish-and-chips restaurant adorning the iconic British flag on its storefront, just steps from the boardwalk. Hungry beach-goers can dine on scrumptious seafood, wings, and even mushy peas at reasonable prices in a funky Anglophilic atmosphere. And like almost every establishment in Delaware- Dogfish Head beers are served.
I could only imagine how different Rehoboth Beach must be in the summer months when the hotels are full and the streets are packed with the sun worshipping crowds. I will definitely be returning for the high-season experience and to stock up on some more 60 Minute IPA.
QUESTION: I'm thinking about planning a trip to Hawaii for my parents who live in Buffalo. They want to go in January or February if possible but are flexible as to other winter-ish months. I've never been to Hawaii and thought I should get a professional involved! -Madeline
RESPONSE: I just went to Hawaii for the first time in November and fell in love with it! I only had time to explore Maui and I highly recommend it. The best beaches and sunniest weather are on the west coast of the island, but there are wonderful treasures to explore all over Hawaii. Its very easy to rent a car (and a GPS) and explore the island for a day or two to see the Volcano, waterfalls, and unique surfer towns like Paia.
December through February is the rainy season and may not be ideal for reliable beach weather, but there will be great deals available that time of year and it will definitely be preferable weather to Buffalo! The driest time is in the summer when all of the newlyweds flood the hotels, so many people told me that spring and fall were the best time to visit when crowds are low and weather is still magnificent.
Tis the season to make the annual trek into midtown Manhattan to do some holiday shopping and see the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Unfortunately, New York is not renowned for its public bathroom selection. Few people are brave enough to venture into the public toilets in the Times Square subway station or Grand Central, and even fewer live to tell about it. Fortunately, there are some wonderful restroom options available to visitors who may have had one too many hot chocolates while perusing the windows along Fifth Avenue:
Saks Fifth Avenue, 49th and 5th- The Gentlemens Lounge on the 7th Floor offers a clean and meticulous pit stop from the crowds across the street at Rockefeller Center. Bathroom attendants ensure that the rest room is always in top condition and it is conveniently located just to the right as you walk out of the elevator. A womens lounge is also available to the left.
Uniqlo Global Flagship Store, 53rd and 5th- Brand new store featuring brand new sparkling clean bathrooms right off of the main escalator whisking shoppers up to the third floor. Be sure to grab a super cheap cashmere sweater on your way out, or take advantage of the free tailoring on some new jeans.
Bloomingdales, 59th and 3rd- Very large restrooms on the 6th floor to the left as your exit the elevators. The 6th floor also houses the Bloomingdales holiday department with gorgeous and unique Christmas ornaments for your tree. Perhaps grab lunch at Le Train Bleu- an old fashioned dining car themed restaurant at the far end of the floor. And if shopping is starting to stress you out, they serve wine.
The Plaza Hotel, 59th and 5th- tucked away on the lower level near the food halls and not easy to find if you dont know where to look. Best to use the Food Hall entrance located on 59th street and then treat yourself to a scone. Just dont drink too much water.
The Mandarin Oriental, 60th and Broadway in the Time Warner Center- you will need to enter through their lobby on 60th street and take the elevator up to the 34th floor but it is well worth the wait if you can hold it. The Bathrooms are to the right as you enter the front desk area and feature Molton Brown products in an exquisite retreat from the Columbus Circle mobs. Afterwards, sneak a peek at the incredible view overlooking Central Park.
Monday night on my way home from Miami to LGA I did something that I had been able to avoid for 31 years- I PAID to check a bag. Of course I did not intend to pay to check a bag. I had flown Continental down to Florida and with my newly refreshed elite status (see Mileage Run) and my Continental Mastercard (see Credit Card Miles) I could check a bag for me and almost everyone in coach for free. On the way home, I had to fly American Airlines because of a significant price difference. On AA, I lack any preferential treatment and have to resort to my usual tricks to avoid bag fees. So, I zipped up my rollerboard suitcase to shrink it down to its smallest size, put all of my lotions and potions in a clear ziplock bag for security screening, checked in online and headed right for security. I knew my 24 inch rollerboard was 2 inches longer than AA permits as a carry on (though welcomed with open arms on Jetblue), but by the time they caught me at the gate- if they caught me- I would just be asked to gate check the bag which has always been free for me in the past. WRONG.
As I wheeled my ever-so-slighty oversized carry-on up to security, I was greeted by a militia of AA employees pretending to check boarding passes. But, they were really checking carry-on sizes! My inconspicuous Tumi was suddenly surrounded by security forces and identified as TOO BIG! I begged and pleaded, but to no avail. They didn’t even offer to have me place my bag in the carry-on box to publicly demonstrate that I was in clear violation- they just somehow knew and had sniffed me out!
No problem, I thought. There are 3 different security lines at Miami International for AA flights and they all connect past security, so I pretended to head off to pay a baggage fee but really to attempt to break through a weaker boundary. NOPE. At both of the other security gates I was immediately singled out for oversized baggage as if I had been branded with a giant scarlet O on my shirt.
Defeated and with my tail between my legs, I headed back to the check-in desk and begrudgingly handed over $25 to check my nearly empty suitcase. I was in such a huff that I forgot to transfer my toiletries back into my checked bag so I didnt even get to avoid the humiliation of displaying my zit cream in the security screening tray.
I should give credit to AA for being so on top of policing their customers. But in actuality it has just made me resent the airline even more than I already had. AA has routinely proven itself to be my least favorite US airline, and now I just have another reason to avoid them as best I can. I may have snuck a quick smirk when the CNN Breaking news text showed up on my phone indicating that they had filed for chapter 11 yesterday. Guess my $25 wasnt enough.