travel

Holiday Travel Deals to Grab Now

Even if you’re not traveling just yet, you can shop for future travel.

(This is an updated version of a story we prepared for NBC News)

A gift-season mantra the past few years has been “skip the things; give experiences and trips instead.”

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most travel adventures have been put on hold.

Does that mean you should ignore the travel and hospitality-related deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year and stick to sales on slippers and sweatpants instead?

Definitely not. Studies show that thinking about and planning trips makes people happier. And that happiness may get a boost from the deals many travel companies offer during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Travel Tuesday this season.

Many companies are expanding the purchase window. Others are loosening restrictions on how and when deals can be used.

If you decide to shop for travel during this Black Friday/Cyber Friday/Travel Tuesday season, experts recommend joining frequent travel programs and signing up for email alerts for brands and destinations you are interested in. Many deals are offered to club members early and often include a bonus member discount. You can always unsubscribe later.

And while many deals may seem to be more generous than usual, be sure to check for blackout dates, cancelation rules, and other conditions.

Some deals to get you started

Amtrak has rolled out its “Track Friday Sale.” Book November 27 through November 30 to get 50% off on coach fares nationwide for travel from December 8, 2020 – April 30, 2021. In past years the discount has been 30%, so this looks like a great deal.

Many cruise lines, which have been hard hit by season-long cancellations, are offering deals as well. Hurtigruten for example is offering savings up to 50% off per person on select 2021 and 2022 itineraries to destinations that include Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, Antarctica, and more.

Attractions and destinations

Orlando has a web site dedicated to Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals at theme parks, attractions, resorts, and shopping. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has a long list of Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals available to book now.

LEGOLAND New York Resort, set to open in New York’s Hudson Valley in 2021, is offering a Black Friday deal (November 26 – December 1) offering 60% off retail on an unlimited admission pass good for a decade and including a wide array of other perks.  

Hotels

Many travel booking sites, hotel brands, and destinations are offering site-wide discounts on stays.

Hotwire’s Cyber Super Sale offers 12% off Hot Rate hotel bookings made in the app with the code BF12 at checkout from Friday, November 27 to Monday, November 30.  

Priceline is offering more than $5 million in travel deal email alerts and flash sales through December 1 to its VIP members (signing up is free) and giving 1000 lucky VIPS a coupon for 99% off hotel Express Deals.

Red Roof guests can save 40% off bookings made November 27 through November 30 for stays through January 31, 2021.

The Cyber Sale from Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants offers 25% off Best Flexible Rates booked through December 7 for stays through September 7, 2021. The boutique brand will also donate $5 per night to charitable partner No Kid Hungry.

Members of the ALL-Accor Live Limitless loyalty program will be able to find deals up to 40% off accommodations + 2x Reward Points. This is for stays at select Fairmont, 21c Museum Hotels, Sofitel, Swissotel, and sbe properties around the world from November 26-30, 2020 for stays December 7 to March 14, 2021.

And Provenance Hotels’ 13 boutique hotels from Boston to Seattle, New Orleans, Nashville, Palm Springs, and Portland, OR is offering fully changeable rates starting at $59 per night through November 30 for stays December 1, 2020 through December 2021.

Newest airport amenity? Pre-flight COVID-19 testing.

Because so many countries, and some states, require arriving travelers to have proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test, airports and airlines are rushing to make those tests available at the airport.

We listed some of the programs in our recent post about the new normal in air travel.

Those services, many of which are labeled as pilot programs, include COVID-19 sniffing dogs at the Helsinki Airport; XpresSpa’s new XpresCheck program at JFK International and Newark Liberty International airports: and Alitalia’s COVID-tested flights.

In advance of Hawaii reopening its doors to travelers on October 15, United Airlines is offering COVID-19 testing at San Francisco International Airport. And Hawaiian Airlines is setting up drive-through testing at both SFO and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Elsewhere, COVID-19 testing is available at Vancouver International Airport (YVR), and at airports in Frankfurt, Munich and other German airports.  

In most cases there is charge from $80 to more than $250 for the tests. In some cases, the tests are free.

More COVID-19 tests for air travelers.

A new bundle of airport and airline-hosted COVID-19 testing programs was announced on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) will run a pilot program in October offering travelers both rapid antigen tests and PRC, Polymerase Chain Rection tests. Fees apply.

Oakland International Airport (OAK) will begin offering free, rapid-result COVID-19 tests to employees and the public beginning Oct. 6. An expansion of the program is planned for October 15, when travel to Hawaii reopens.

JetBlue Airways will begin offering flyers an at-home COVID-19 saliva test via provider Vault Health. Fees apply.

And American Airlines announced it is working with several foreign governments to offer pre-flight COVID-19 tests for customers flying to international destinations.

The program starts in October with flights from Miami International Airport to Jamaica for residents returning home and for flights to the Bahamas.

There are plans to expand to other markets soon.

For American’s domestic flights from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to both Honolulu (HNL) and Maui (OGG), the airline is working with a vendor offering several testing options, including onsite rapid testing at DFW airport. Fees apply.

No doubt other airlines and airports will be rolling out COVID-19 test programs soon. But already the offerings are confusing and, in many cases, costly. Here’s hoping some sort of consistency evolves in the next few months.

Museum exhibits worth planning a trip around in 2020

What Me Worry? by Patty Kuzbida Courtesy AVAM

Planning your 2020 travel? Some museum-centric ideas

If history, art and eclectic adventures are what you seek out when you travel, you’ll have plenty of excuses to pull off the road in 2020.

For CNBC we put together a list of great options, from a retrospective celebrating 25 years of outsider art to fresh shrines and exhibitions devoted to everything from eyesight, motion pictures, shoes, music and rodeo culture.

Celebrate Southern Rock in Georgia

Courtesy the Mercer Museum at Capricorn

In early December, Macon, GA celebrated the reopening of the Capricorn Sound Studios, which captured the music of the Allman Brothers and other emerging bands playing a new musical genre dubbed ‘Southern rock’ during the 1970s.

The new Mercer Music at Capricorn now operates as a music incubator, with the Museum at Capricorn opening on January 2 to tell the history of the iconic studio with artifacts, photos, recordings, album art and music-filled interactive digital kiosks. (Museum admission: $7; Studio tour: $5)

Radical rodeo in Fort Worth

Red Grooms – Rodeo Ruckus – Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

If you’re headed to Fort Worth, Texas to attend the parades, shows, contest and other events that take place during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas (January 17- February 8, 2020) be sure to stop by the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

The museum will display artist Red Grooms’ rollicking Ruckus Rodeo installation, a giant walk-through work that celebrates the Fort Worth rodeo with 3-D caricatures of rodeo regulars ranging from the rodeo clowns and cowboys to broncos to and bulls. (January 17-March 29, 2020; Admission: $16; half-price Sundays; free admission Fridays.)

Fancy Footwear in Florida

– Peep Toe Ankle-Strap shoes. Stuart Weitzman Collection. Photo Glen Castellano, New -York Historical Society.

The grandiose Gilded Age estate that is now the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida is an appropriate exhibition space for Walk This Way: Historic Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection. Organized by the New-York Historical Society, the 100 shoes in this exhibition are not just pretty to look at, they tell stories of culture, consumerism, power and history. (Jan 28-May 10, 2020; Admission: $18).

Garden of delight

©YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo Singapore Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York

In the Bronx, NY, the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) will present KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature, by celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama from May 9 through November 1, 2020. The garden-wide exhibit will include the artist’s signature mirrored environments, paintings, giant polka-dotted sculptures flowers and pumpkins, site-specific sculpture and a new greenhouse installation. Tickets go on sale on sale on January 20.

When women got the right to vote

Library of Congress

The 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative has an extensive list of museum exhibits around the country marking the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote.

Wyoming, which gave women the right to vote 50 years before the rest of the nation, kicked off its suffrage celebrations in 2019 and continues with many special exhibits statewide in 2020.

In Washington, D.C. the National Museum of American History will present “Creating Icons: How We Remember Women’s Suffrage,” with artifacts from 1919 and 1920 donated by the National American Women Suffrage Association, the precursor to the League of Women Voters (Opens March 6; free).

A visionary retrospective

Matchstick sculpture by Gerald Hawkes. Courtesy American Visionary Art Museum

Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) collects curates and celebrates self-taught artists and “outsider” art and presents workshops, parades and themed exhibitions filled with odd and exquisite creations. In November 2020, AVAM will mark its 25th anniversary with a retrospective show featuring work from its past 40 exhibitions, bring back some work which has been in storage for years. (Admission: $15.95)

Courtesy Museum of Science, Boston

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum opens in Colorado Springs, CO in April 2020, ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

In Spring 2020, keep an eye out for the opening of the Truhlsen-Marmor Museum of the Eye at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The free museum at the headquarters of the American Academy of Ophthalmology will feature a collection of more than 38,000 artifacts, books, and instruments and virtual reality activities.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, featuring a collection of photographs, films, videos, costumes, props and more, is scheduled to open in Los Angeles, CA (of course) in Spring 2020.

And in late 2020, the Museum of Science, Boston will open “Arctic Adventure,” a major permanent exhibition that will immerse visitors in a polar environment using state-of-the-art light projections and a real ice wall. (Admission included with Exhibit Halls ticket: $29 for adults, $24 for kids.)

Where will you go? 1500 museums are free on Museum Day

Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day is coming up on September 21 and we’re celebrating because on that day 1500 museums will be joining in to offer free admission to anyone who downloads a ticket.

Many science centers, aquariums, zoos and gardens will be offering free admission on Museum Day as well.

The free nationwide event presents a great opportunity to stop in and revisit a favorite exhibit at a local cultural institution or visit a museum in a town you’re visiting without worrying about all the admission fees.

Where can you go?

This year, Museum Day is celebrating the Smithsonian Year of Music, with many participating museums offering special music-themed programming.

The Lightner Museum in Saint Augustine, FL, will host a museum-themed scavenger hunt in its galleries. The music will also demonstrate the electric self-playing violin, the Gem Roller Organ and many other early mechanical musical instruments in its collection;  

The Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, MA will have live Armenian music in the galleries;  

In Missoula, the Montana Natural History City will offer demonstrations and experiments to show and explain how different animals hear;  

In North Carolina, a high school Rock Orchestra will play a selection of train related songs at the Wilmington Railroad Museum;

And in Mumford, NY, the Genesee Country Village and Museum, the state’s largest living history museum will be celebrating early shape-note music with a shape-note sing open to all.

Many all-music-all-the-time museums are participating as well.

Museum Day visitors to MoPOP in Seattle, WA will have full access to galleries and to exhibits dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and more. 

Music-fans will also get full access to the music history offered at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles; to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, VA; and in Memphis, TN, to the Blues Hall of Fame, the Memphis Rock ‘N Soul Museum and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

And in Kansas City, MO, the American Jazz Museum will host a jazz storytelling session that explores the sounds and styles of jazz and present a screening of “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary.” 

TThe full list of museums participating in Museum Day, September 21, can be found here. And Museum Day tickets can be downloaded here.

Only one ticket will be issued per email address, but each ticket is good for admission for two people.

(A slightly differen version of my story about Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day first appeared on CNBC)

Upscale travelers are just like us

Where are upscale Americans spending their travel dollars?

Should you do what they do?

Wealthy or not, it’s good to know where the well-do-to are vacationing and where the up-and-coming “it” destinations will be for the next few seasons.

A shortcut to that intel comes from the advisors who consult with upscale Americans about their vacation goals and bucket lists and then book those journeys.  

So where are well-to-do Americans jetting off to? Here’s a story I put together recently for CNBC.

Global luxury travel network Virtuoso polled advisors, crunched numbers from $49.5 billion in bookings and transactions for September through December 2019 and shared a couple of Top 10 lists as well as insights on some emerging travel trends.  

The Top 10 destinations

“Americans increasingly choose to travel domestically for the holidays,” notes Virtuoso, which puts the United States, with its vast array of destinations and attractions, in the lead spot in the Top 10 list.

As it has in the past, Europe’s appeal as a summer destination is extending into the fall this year, with destinations such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain in spots 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10, respectively, on the Top 10 list.

South Africa and Israel, in the middle of the list, at #5 and #6, remain popular destinations for families seeking “trips of a lifetime” during the holiday season, according to Virtuoso. And Japan, the top emerging “it” country in Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, takes its place on the Top 10 list of fall and holiday season destinations at #9.

Luxury leisure travel bookings being made by advisors in the Ovation Travel Group for 2019 and 2020 seem to be following those trends, said Gina Gabbard, Ovation’s Senior Vice President of Leisure & Independent Advisors.

“Italy is overwhelmingly the hands-down favorite among international destinations, with increased interest now in Southern Italy,” said Gabbard, “Our advisors note its amazing food and wine, culture and diversity of things to do, including history and art, along with available luxury accommodations. Direct flights from the U.S. are a plus.”

Despite concerns about Brexit, bookings to the United Kingdom are holding their own, said Gabbard, “The added benefit to our clients is that the value of the U.S. dollar is so strong against the pound.”

Virtuoso’s Hot 10 list

Virtuoso also shared its “Hot 10” list, which is made up of countries experiencing the largest increases by percentage in year-over-year bookings. In some cases, the increases come from a country and its offerings being “discovered” or better promoted; in other cases, political fears may be subsiding.

For September through December 2019, the list is topped by Uruguay (up 286 percent), which Virtuoso attributes to the country’s award-winning wineries, pleasant climate and adventure opportunities.

Bookings are also way up for travel to the beach retreats of the Maldives (up 171 percent) as well as Malta (up 140 percent), Romania (135 percent) and Egypt (up 122 percent). Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Qatar, South Korea and the fjords of Norway (up 96 percent) round out the “Hot 10” list.

Where are upscale Americans staying?

“We’re seeing a rise in exclusive-use travel as people look for the ultimate in privacy and seclusion while getting away from it all,” said Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s managing director for Global Public Relations, “Home rentals, from villas to condos, jumped 56 percent this year, with millennials and multigenerational trips both contributing to the growing popularity in residences.”

Belles says private yacht travel is also gathering momentum as people look to escape crowds and explore smaller, lesser-known ports of call.

When it comes to hotel stays, Becky Powell, President of Virtuoso-member Protravel International, says hyper-personalized stays are in.

“Increasingly, hotels are using technology to connect and build relationships with guests and instantly fix issues,” says Powell. Hotels are also focusing on sustainability and emphasizing connections to the destination or city they are in with local partnerships and unique experiences, she said.  

Upscale travelers and overtourism

Lots of stories about overtourism have been in then news, “But now we are seeing it translate into client conversations and influence decisions,” said Jack Ezon, founder of Virtuoso member Embark, “Our clients want to feel like travelers, not tourists. And no matter how wealthy they are, they don’t want to see a Prada or Gucci on every corner,” he said.

Instead, Ezon says upscale travelers are increasingly seeking out charming and “new” secondary destinations, staying in neighborhoods beyond the popular city centers and traveling during the off or shoulder-seasons not to save money, but to have more of the city to themselves.

Have a destination you’d like to tell us about? Please share your tips in the comment section below.