Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2009: The year of the deal

While we all have heard plenty of gloomy news regarding the economy recently, most travel experts agree that 2009 will be the year of the deal.

My inbox has been flooded recently with special offers for almost everything - cruises, hotels, tours, destinations, etc. Two months ago I was getting about 20-25 e-mails per day, and a high of about 40 on Thursdays. Now, I'm getting at least 40 e-mails every day.

Yahoo Travel had an interesting article a couple of days ago about "The Year of the Deal." Click here to read it.

As you start thinking about your vacations for 2009, please give us a call, so we can maximize the value you get for your money.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Delta, Northwest merge frequent flyer programs

With the recent merger of Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines having received governemnt approval, the carriers have begun to merge their frequent flyer programs. Both airlines maintain that all members will retain their current mileage balances in the new program.

Last week, Delta announced elite and reward changes to both the Delta SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks programs to better align member benefits. Beginning in 2009, the programs will offer segment qualification, currently a WorldPerks benefit, to allow members to reach elite status by flying a designated number of flight segments on either Delta or Northwest flights. Additionally, SkyMiles and WorldPerks members will continue to earn a minimum of 500 Elite Qualifying Miles and base miles per flight, making Delta the only major airline to maintain this minimum for all customers.

SkyMiles and WorldPerks elite members now have the ability to receive complimentary upgrades on both airlines. Complimentary upgrades are subject to availability and offered on most Delta and Northwest flights within or between the 48 contiguous United States, Alaska, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and northern South America.

In an effort to closely align the two loyalty programs’ benefits, Northwest WorldPerks will introduce three-tiered award availability and SkyMiles and WorldPerks members will have the ability to transfer miles between their respective accounts in early 2009. Delta plans to merge both programs in late 2009.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Elite" travel experiences available in more countries

My recent trip to Israel was organized by Isramworld, a supplier that's been in business for more than 40 years.

A couple of years ago, the company introduced "Elite" travel packages in a handful of countries. The basis of each program is a series of hotel stays in top-level rooms and suites at the finest hotels. Atop this basic framework is laid a private limousine with driver and a professional escort-guide who are with the passengers from the moment of arrival at the destination to their departure. A suggested touring itinerary is provided, with all entrance fees included, as well as a series of events available only to a privileged few.

Originally available only for India, IsramWorld has expanded to eight destinations. For 2008, the concept was expanded to China, Vietnam, Peru, Central Europe and Israel. For 2009, Brazil and Southern Africa have been added.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Six more cruise lines drop fuel surcharges

Plummeting oil prices have led the six cruise lines owned by Carnival Corp. to also drop their fuel surcharges.

Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Yachts of Seabourn are the lines affected.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Disney Cruise Lines ends fuel surcharges

Disney Cruise Line is eliminating fuel surcharges for all new bookings, effective Dec. 1.

The decision comes as a result of decreasing fuel price trends. For clients already booked, the following guidelines have been established for the refund of fuel supplements paid. If the closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange of West Texas Intermediate fuel is below $70 a barrel two weeks prior to the beginning of the calendar quarter, the company will refund fuel surcharges paid in the form of an onboard credit. The quarter that the cruise falls in will be based solely on the sailing date. The entire cruise will be considered to be part of the quarter that the sailing date originates in. The elimination of the fuel surcharge for new bookings applies to sail dates through the end of 2010. The company will continue to closely monitor fuel prices. Reinstatement of a fuel surcharge may be necessary in the future.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Holland America to debut new pool concept

Holland America Line is adding a new resort-style pool area on the aft of the Lido deck on Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam, Veendam and Rotterdam. The five ships are undergoing $200 million month-long dry-docks. The main focus of the new pool area will be a shallow area with 44 lounge chairs where guests can dip their toes in the water. Built-in benches are another place for dangling legs in the water.

The Retreat’s pool will be divided into three sections separated by low, curving walls running the length of the pool. The middle section is 16 inches deep so guests can sit on the built-in benches in the water. The two side sections feature lounge chairs in eight inches of water. Waterfalls and spouts enhance the d├ęcor. At the aft end of the pool will be a hot tub.

Slice, an upscale pizzeria, will be incorporated into the area, serving whole pies and slices to order. Tables and padded chairs under a sunscreen provide a place to dine al fresco. A stage will be added near the pool for live music. For added entertainment, an LED screen and sound system will be integrated into the ship’s superstructure.

The first dry-dock begins with the Veendam in spring 2009 and the last will be completed on the Maasdam in early 2011. While in dry-dock, ships will also get a new bar concept called Mix that features separate areas -- Martinis, Champagne and Spirits & Ales. Enhancements will be made to all existing staterooms and additional staterooms will be added. The ships will introduce 38 lanai staterooms (39 on Rotterdam) with direct access to the Lower Promenade Deck. New spa staterooms near the Greenhouse Spa and Salon will offer in-room spa amenities. Overall, Holland America Line has committed $525 million to its Signature of Excellence program.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Oberammergau - Passion Play

I was doing some research tonight in anticipation of the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2010.

For those of you who don't know the story, the town of Oberammergau, Germany was being ravaged by the Plague in the 1630s. The townspeople cried out to God to save their town with the promise to perform a Passion Play about the life of Jesus Christ.

Not one more soul perished and the town has been putting on a Passion Play once every 10 years ever since. In 2010, it will be the 41st performance.

For the first time, the 2010 show will start in the middle of the afternoon. After a couple of hours, there will be a break for dinner. Then the show will conclude in the evening.

I had the opportunity to attend in 2000, and it was amazing. The play is put on by more than 2,000 local townspeople, who begin growing beards, constructing sets and rehearsing more than a year in advance. The outdoor theater - partially covered - offers tremendous accoustics. While the play is in German, translation books are readily available, and it's easy to follow along.

The town itself is nestled in Bavaria and offers many nice dining choices and lots of shops featuring the local woodcarving.

The premier is in mid-May 2010 with 102 performances before the conclusion in early October.

When I went in 2000, we took the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Munich, tour Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau before heading further north. Many of the organized tours being planned for 2010 include trips through the Alps, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and France.

Tickets will go fast - more than 500,000 people attended in 2000 - so let me know if you're interested in going, and we can start planning right away.