Hotel room price protection from familiar watchdog group

hotel room doorTravelers booking hotel rooms often use a variety of sources while trying to get the best price. Once satisfied that they have found the best price, they book it and forget it. What they don’t realize is that between booking and staying, the price may very well go down. A price drop might happen for a number of reasons and might be a limited-time offer too. Now, a new service tracks hotel pricing and automatically refunds the difference between what a traveler paid and the lower, sale price.

Tingo is the first hotel booking site that automatically rebooks hotel rooms at a lower price if the rate drops, and then automatically refunds the difference to travelers’ credit cards.

“Travelers could have saved millions last year had there been a simple system in place that automatically rebooked their rooms,” said Smarter Travel Media General Manager David Krauter in a release. “And that’s what Tingo does, by taking the gamble out of booking and refunding travelers’ money when rates drop.”

The deal is simple: Book a “Money Back” room and Tingo watches that room’s rate to see if it changes. If the price drops, Tingo rebooks that same room at the lower rate and refunds the difference to the booking credit card.

The process adds up to big numbers too. Using comScore Media Metrix for TripAdvisor, Inc. and its subsidiaries, Worldwide, January 2012, Tingo estimates that in 2011 alone, Americans could have saved nearly $314 million if they had had access to a site like this.

“It’s a no-brainer,” adds Krauter. “And just to put it in perspective, $314 million would book the $2,000 per night Penthouse at The London NYC, straight through for the next 350 years.”

If this all sounds a bit familiar, it is. Tingo is a sister site of Gadling favorite AirfareWatchdog, a site best known for tracking airline fares and notifying members when point-to-point fares become available that match what the member is willing to pay.

Hotel Tonight - Last Minute Booking Application



Flickr photo by Bob B. Brown

Luxury Travel: Four Seasons New York’s $35,000 a night Ty Warner Penthouse

luxury travelThanks to Fox News for alerting us to this crazy luxury suite. Boasting world-class views of Manhattan from the Four Seasons New York’s 52nd floor, the Ty Warner Penthouse is a superlative suite, no matter what way you cut it. Going for a whopping $35,000 a night, the 4,300 square foot suite is a nine-room monstrosity that takes over the entire top floor of the hotel.

A collaboration between owner Ty Warner, designer Peter Marino and architect I.M. Pei, who came out of retirement just for this project, the hotel features cantilevered glass balconies and floor-to-ceiling bay windows, set beneath 25-foot cathedral ceilings and a private elevator entrance.

From the $60,000 Hastens Vividus mattress (hand made in Sweden) to the 22 carat pure gold bed canopy, you’re surely sleeping in luxury – if you’ll even want to shut your eyes for a moment.

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Amenities are as impressive as the rooms themselves: TVs programmed for every channel worldwide, unlimited global telephone calling, the services of both a personal butler and a personal trainer/therapist, and a private chauffeur for unlimited travel during your stay in your choice of a Rolls Royce Phantom or a Mercedes Maybach.

You’ll also get access to every service the hotel provides – including dining, drinks, spa treatments and more, included with the price of your stay. Yes, we said everything. Bring. On. The. Dom. And Caviar, while you’re at it.

The room holds three, so get ready for a party.

Additional suite highlights include:

  • Cream colored walls inlaid with mother of pearl in the living and dining rooms.
  • A dramatic 4-foot-high (1.2-metre-high) cut-glass chandelier by Deborah Thomas and the bronze table by designer François-Xavier LaLanne. Seating is grouped around a marble fireplace, and four French doors open to glass railings.
  • The library is illuminated by a LaLanne chandelier in gilded bronze. The extensive book collection is set in bookcases framed with an elaborate bronze vine-and-leaf motif, again by LaLanne. The library is also furnished with a chess table and a Bösendorfer grand piano.
  • Four French doors reveal a view of Central Park that is almost surreal in its perfection.
  • An indoor-outdoor Zen garden with a green bowenite waterfall overlooks downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
  • The breakfast room is furnished with a LaLanne tree table and opens to its own large balcony 700 feet (213 metres) above Central Park.
  • The Penthouse also features a private spa room with a serene screen of living bamboo.
  • Adjacent to the spa room is an oversized dressing room clad entirely in leather.
  • With its ceiling, walls and floor gleaming with onyx, the master bathroom includes another outdoor balcony overlooking Central Park. Among the pampering features are an infinity-edge bathtub complete with chromatherapy, a separate glass-enclosed rain shower, radiant-heated floors, and sinks carved from a solid block of rock crystal.

Q & A with Grantourismo round-the-world slow travel bloggers

Lara Dunston Grantourismo travel round the world bloggersWith all the holiday travel madness just beginning, sometimes it’s nice to take a breath and think about taking travel more slowly. I recently had a chance to meet up with blogger Lara Dunston and her photographer-writer husband, Terence Carter, of the round-the-world travel project and blog, Grantourismo while they were traveling through Istanbul. Lara and Terence hosted me at their fabulous terraced apartment with glasses of Turkish wine, travel chat, and views of nearby Taksim Square and the nostalgic tram.

Grantourismo is a yearlong grand tour of the globe to explore more enriching and ‘authentic’ (and they get how those words have been debated and abused by travel bloggers!) ways of traveling, which began in Dubai this February and will wrap up in Scotland in January. In order to slow down and immerse themselves in each place, they are staying in vacation rentals (rather than hotels) in one place for two weeks at a time.

Read on for more about their slow travel philosophy, tips about renting a holiday apartment, and how they found Austin’s best tacos.

What’s the essence of Grantourismo?
We’re attempting to get beneath the skin of the places we’re visiting and to inspire other travelers to do the same. We’re doing very little sightseeing and if we’re taking tours, we’re doing small group tours with expert local guides ran by sustainable companies, such as Context. Mostly we’re experiencing places through their food, markets, music, culture, fashion, street art, sport, etc, and doing things that locals do in their own towns rather than things tourists travel to their towns to do. We’re trying and buying local produce and products, and seeking out artisanal practices we can promote. We’re also highlighting ways in which travellers can give something back to the places they’re visiting, from planting trees in Costa Rica to kicking a football with kids in a favela in Rio. And we’re blogging about this every day at Grantourismo!

How did you make it a reality?
Our initial idea was 12 places around the world in 12 months, learning things like the original grand tourists did. Terence, who is a great musician and a terrific cook, wanted to work in a restaurant kitchen and learn a musical instrument while I was going to enroll in language classes and learn something different in each place. But we couldn’t figure out how to fund such a project. We were lucky in that I saw an ad from HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (the UK arm of HomeAway) looking for a travel journalist-photographer team to stay in their vacation rentals and blog about their experiences for a year. I presented Grantourismo to them, they loved it, and here we are! We’re in the 10th month of our yearlong trip, we’ve stayed in 27 properties in 18 countries, and we have a ski town and five cities to go! We’ve written 369 stories on our website – and only 27 of those have been about the properties, the rest have been about everything from winetasting to walking – and we’ve done loads of interviews with locals we’ve met, from musicians and chefs to fashion designers and bookbinders.

Terence Carter Grantourismo travel round the world bloggersWhat’s the biggest difference about staying in an apartment vs. a hotel?
The biggest difference and best thing is that when you’re staying in a vacation rental you’re generally living in an everyday neighbourhood rather than a tourist area, which means you can meet people other than hotel cleaners and waiters. You can pop downstairs or down the road to a local café or pub that’s full of locals rather than other tourists. You can shop in local markets or supermarkets that are significantly cheaper. Sure if you’re staying in a hotel you can go and look at the markets, but your hotel mini-bar probably won’t hold much, whereas we go with a shopping list or we simply watch what the locals are buying, and we go home and cook.

You can generally get off the beaten track far easier than you can when you stay in a hotel. If you’re relying on the concierge for tips, you’re going to see other hotel guests eating at the restaurant he recommended. Then there’s the beauty of having lots of space, your own kitchen so you don’t have to eat out every meal, and a refrigerator you can fill that doesn’t have sensors going off when you open it. There might be shelves filled with books or a DVD library – in Cape Town we even had a piano, which Terence played every day! The privacy – we got tired of housekeeping ignoring DND signs, people coming to check the outrageously-priced mini-bar, and the phone always ringing with staff asking, when were we checking out, did we want a wake-up call, could they send a porter up. It became so tedious, especially as we were spending around 300 days a year in hotels on average. There are downsides to holiday rentals too of course. If something goes wrong the property owner/manager isn’t always around to fix it, whereas in a hotel, you phone the front desk to let them know the Internet isn’t working and they’ll send someone up.

What should travelers consider when renting a holiday apartment?
Location first. What kind of neighbourhood do you want to live in, how off the beaten track do you want to get, do you want to walk into the centre or are you happy to catch public transport or drive, what kind of facilities are in the area if you’re not hiring a car, and is there a supermarket, shops, restaurants, café, bars in walking distance? After that, the quality of accommodation – in the same way that people decide whether to opt for a budget hotel if they just want somewhere to lay their head, or a five-star if they want creature comforts, they need to think about how much time they intend spending at the property and the level of comfort they want. We stayed in a budget apartment in Manhattan, which was fine as we were out a lot. In Ceret, France and Sardinia, Italy we had big charming houses with terrific kitchens, which was perfect as we stayed in and cooked a lot. If it’s a family reunion or group of friends going away together and they want to enjoy meals in, then it’s important to ask detailed questions about the kitchen and facilities, as we’ve had some places that only had the bare basics, while others like our properties in Austin and Cape Town had dream kitchens.

Favorite destination/apartment?
We’ve been to some amazing places but my favourites have been Tokyo and Austin. We’d only visited Tokyo once before on a stopover, stayed in a cramped hotel and just did the tourist sights. This time we really saw how people lived by staying in an apartment, we discovered different corners of the city we didn’t know existed, and we made new friends. In Austin, it was all about the people, who must be the USA’s friendliest and coolest. We spent a lot of time seeing live music and met lots of musicians, and we also got into the food scene – locals take their food very seriously in Austin! We even hosted a dinner party there with Terence cooking up a multi-course tasting menu for our new friends. In terms of properties, I’m torn between the rustic traditional white trullo set amongst olive groves that we stayed at in Puglia where we had our own pizza oven and bikes to ride in the countryside, the penthouse in the historic centre of Mexico City, and the two houses in Costa Rica, one set in the jungle and the other on the beach, literally within splashing distance of the sea!

Funny story about one of your stays?
The funniest moments weren’t funny at the time but we look back at them and laugh now. At our the Puglia trullo we had terrible internet access. It barely worked in the house because the walls were so thick, yet internet is crucial to what we’re doing so we had to work outside, which wasn’t much fun in the rain. Terence discovered that he could get the best access in the middle of the olive grove next door; you can see him working here! The monkeys that visited us everyday in our houses in Costa Rica were also hilarious. One morning I was enjoying a rare moment reading in the sun when I saw a rare red-backed squirrel monkey run across the fence, and then another leapfrog that one, and then another join them! I quickly got up and raced into the kitchen to make sure there was no food left on the bench, turned around and there was a family of 30-40 monkeys trooping through the house. These guys are endangered, but it didn’t look like it from where I was standing in the kitchen in my bikinis and towel, trying to protect our food as the property manager had warned us that they know how to open the cupboards! The manager also told us to leave the lights on at night, because otherwise the bats will think the house is a cave. She wasn’t kidding.

How is social media playing a role in your travels?
We decided not to use guidebooks this Lara Dunston Grantourismo travel round the world bloggersyear and rely on advice from locals, many of which we come in contact with through social media. We’ve met many locals via their blogs or Twitter. We use Twitter every day, as a research and networking tool, to make contacts ahead of our visit and get tips from people when we’re there. We’ve had some amazing advice from our followers, from restaurant recommendations to suggestions on things we should do. When we were in Cape Town, loads of tweeps said we had to do the Township Tour offered by Cape Capers and we did and they were right, it was life-changing.

Terence learns how to make the quintessential dish of each place we visit and often asks tweeps what he should make. We’ve had great tips from food bloggers who use Twitter such as Eating Asia and Eat Mexico. We’ve ended up meeting loads of tweeps, including a bunch of New Yorkers – bloggers, writers and travelers – we met for drinks one night, including Gadling’s own Mike Barish and David Farley, while in Austin we had lunch with ‘the Taco Mafia‘ from the Taco Journalism blog and got the lowdown on Austin’s best tacos. We also use Twitter to share our own travel experiences and let people know when we have new stories on the site and we run a monthly travel blogging competition which we promote on Twitter (with very generous prizes donated by HomeAway Holiday Rentals, AFAR, Viator, Context, Trourist, and Our Explorer); the aim of that is to get other travelers to help spread our messages about the kind of traveling we’re doing.

What’s next?
As far as Grantourismo goes, we just left Istanbul (where we were delighted to meet another fascinating Gadling contributor!) and are in Budapest. After this it’s Austria for some fun in the snow, then Krakov for Christmas, Berlin for New Year’s Eve, and our last stop is Edinburgh end of January. After that? We’ve been invited to speak at an international wine tourism conference in Porto, Portugal, about Grantourismo and wine, as we’ve explored places through their wine as much as their food, doing wine courses, wine tastings, wine walks, and wine tours, and really trying to inspire people to drink local rather than imported wine. Then we’re going to write a book about Grantourismo and our year on the road, and later in the year – after we’re rested and energised – we’re going to take Grantourismo into a slightly different direction.

All photos courtesy of Terence Carter.

Daily deal – 1 year digital subscriptions to many popular magazines

My daily deal for today is part freebie, part eco friendly deal. Through the “Read Green Initiative” you can sign up for a 1 year subscription to 100’s of different magazines.

This is perfect if you want to save some trees, or if you want to lighten the load if your carry on bag on your next trip.

The magazines can be read through the Zinio online reader in your web browser, or through their offline reader which is available for Windows and Mac machines. Best of all, Zinio also offers specially formatted access for iPhone users, which could be a great way to kill some time at the gate.

The magazine lineup includes popular titles like Elle, Penthouse and Ebony. No credit card is required to sign up, and the only personal information you need to supply is your email address.

You’ll find the magazines here, just be sure to click on the various topics on the left of the page to see more of the magazines on offer.

The World’s Sexiest Penthouses

Intercon hong kongPrivate, elegant, and with a hint of superiority, penthouses are, by their very definition, sexy. Way up high, looking down on all the little people scurrying about like so many ants, penthouse users seem eternally to be sipping cold drinks (brought to them by their in-house butler) and snuggling by the fire (sparked by the aforementioned butler). Though I like my adventure a bit more rough-and-tumble, I could certainly enjoy a night or two of high class in a penthouse. Don’t agree? Check out the view from Trump Towers’ Penthouse, and your opinion might change. Golden…and dizzying.

If you’d like to try a night of living large, then check out Concierge’s list of the top 10 sexiest penthouses. From Miami to St. Barths, from Australia to the Maldives, the list is To Do List for people who love Big Pimpin’.

Generally, penthouse luxury doesn’t come cheap, however. The costliest penthouse profiled (the Hong Kong Intercon) runs a hefty $11,215 per night. Yikes. For the rest of us, Milan’s The Gray runs a more affordable $648 a night — and, frankly, looks way cooler. Now you just have to get to Italy.