Cyber Monday 2012: Our Favorite Airfare And Entertainment Deals

Cyber Monday is the newfangled cousin of Black Friday, when the Internet bursts with the money-saving deals that Black Friday offers in stores the Friday before.

Cyber Monday is probably best known for deals on tech and electronics, but the online shopping extends to airfare and other travel deals, as well. In fact, Gadling has already covered the best hotel deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Here’s a sampling of the best airfare and entertainment deals we’ve found to celebrate Cyber Monday. Find any awesome travel deals, yourself? Let us know in the comments.
Air Deals
LAN and TAM: Up to 40% off flights to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Cathay Pacific: Up to 15% off flights, plus a prize drawing in which 30 passengers are selected to win 10,000 Asia Miles.
Vayama: Special Cyber Monday rates on international airlines such as China Airlines, Emirates, El Al, Korean Air, TACA, AirEuropa and more.
PayPal airfare matching: From now until December 31, PayPal will match prices for airfare you purchase, if you find that the tickets are advertised for a lower price at any merchant within 30 days of purchase. If, say, you buy tickets for $200 and the price goes down to $150, PayPal will simply pay you the difference, with a maximum $1,000 total and $250 payout per item.
StudentUniverse: Planning to offer up to $65 off certain flights to locations like Latin America, South Pacific, within the U.S. and more.
Other Travel Deals
MSC Cruises: Offering special “Cyber Monday Sale” rates on select 7-night, round-trip Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale, beginning at $399.
Mauiva AirCruise: If you want something rather untraditional, you can try a sky version of a cruise with Mauiva. They’re offering 20% off select departures as part of a Cyber Monday sale.
Crested Butte ski package: Airfare to Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado and 41% off the regular season rate, starting at $649 for four nights of lodging and three days of lift tickets (plus taxes and resort fees).
Goldstar deals on entertainment: Cyber Monday offers include 20% off all Goldstar gift certificates, 40% off Cirque du Soleil’s “IRIS” in L.A., 38% off the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” 60% off the Snowbomb Tahoe Platinum Card – which grants four lift tickets, ski rentals and two free nights at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno – and more.
Extra Tips
Check out airlines that have had Cyber Monday deals in past years: Many Cyber Monday deals aren’t announced until the day-of, so start by checking out airlines that have worked in the past. These include American Airlines, JetBlue, Frontier, Southwest and AirTran.

Follow them on Twitter: Often, airlines update Twitter with their most by-the-minute deals. Try following @Delta, @AmericanAir, @VirginAmerica, @SouthwestAir and @JetBlueCheeps.

[Image credit: Flickr user Mike Miley]

How To Stay With Strangers Around The World For Free

It’s no secret I’m a fan of couchsurfing. Finding hosts online to put you up in their living rooms sounds sketchy, but I’ve never had a real negative experience. The value isn’t just in a free place to crash. The biggest plus is meeting incredible people, real people who can show you a side of their city that you normally wouldn’t see as a tourist.

For me, that meant everything from a house party in Paris to sipping beers in Munich while discussing German historical consciousness. Oh, yeah. And staying for free.

Here’s how to crash with strangers around the world, without landing yourself in a shady situation du jour:

Be Discerning
When I was traveling alone in Europe in my early 20s, I set specific guidelines: I limited my search to women in their 20s and 30s with good English and favorable reviews from former guests. Luckily, I was traveling in populated areas with lots of options for hosts, and I used that to my advantage. You can actually filter your results by certain criteria like language skills, something I thought was important as someone traveling alone, so there were no misunderstandings.

Have A Backup Plan
You never want to be beholden. If you get a bad vibe, be prepared to leave. The best bet is a list of hostels or hotels in the area. It’s great to save on accommodations, but if you feel weird about a certain place, suck it up and pay. The closest I got to a bad situation was when I showed up at a host’s house and she told me I could stay in her roommate’s room, and use her roommate’s laptop. I gladly obliged … until her roommate came home and they started a screaming match. I was prepared to up and leave. Luckily, the roommate said it wasn’t my fault and I slept in the living room. Needless to say, I cut my tenure short by leaving first thing in the morning.Come Armed
When you show up to your host’s place, always come with a gift. It can be small, but you’re not paying, so be courteous. In my experience, the best gifts are less about money value and more about history or a back-story. Generally, as I backpacked from place to place, I brought my new host something from the place I was leaving. I brought a decorative plate from Madrid for my first host in Paris. She had never been to Spain and told me it was like a small piece of the travels themselves.

Follow Their Lead
Some hosts would rather act like your personal hotel: “Stay with me for a night, but I don’t have a lot of time, so leave with me in the morning when I go to work and be home by X time.” Others really want to bond and hang out. As a couchsurfer, it’s on you to figure out what your host is expecting, and to be adaptable. Hosts occasionally gave me keys, but not usually. That often means coming and going on their schedules. There were times my host and I would cook dinner together, share a bottle of wine – I spent a whole day walking around with one host, who took me to the hippodrome, the park and a museum. Others just don’t have the time.

Tell Tales
Everywhere I stayed, I asked my hosts why they chose to let people stay with them for nothing in return. I got a smattering of answers, but for the most part they fell into two camps: for some, they wanted to pay the kindness forward either because they had stayed with hosts in different countries, themselves, or because they’d like to in the future. For others, the only price they asked was for me to tell them stories of my experiences. My first Parisian host was also my best; she hosted couchsurfers all the time and wanted to embark on solo travel of her own someday, but had never worked up the courage. In the meantime, she traveled vicariously through us.

We stayed in touch, and less than a year after I stayed with her, she proudly told me that she had finally gone traveling, inspired by the incredible stories she heard from her guests.

[Image credit: Flickr user Wonderlane]

Why A Cash-Back Card Is Better Than An Airline Miles Card

For frequent travelers, it’s the Holy Grail: a free flight, a free upgrade, the ability to say, “Oh, this? I got it with my airline miles.”

But when push comes to shove, are credit cards that give you airline miles really worth it?

Let’s go point by point.

Value For Your Money
Running the math requires making a few assumptions, but here’s a rough sketch.

Option A: Let’s say your travel card gives you a mile per dollar you spend. Let’s also say that it takes 25,000 miles to get a free round-trip domestic U.S. flight, which is the going rate at airlines like American and United. Obviously, the dollar value of a domestic flight will vary, but for argument’s sake, let’s call it roughly $500.

To earn the 25,000 miles you need, you’d have to spend $25,000. If that flight is normally worth $500, you’re getting back 2 cents on every dollar you spend.

Option B: Let’s say your cash-back card gives you 5% back on certain categories of spending, and 1% back on everything else, pretty standard for its card type. For the sake of our math, let’s say, on the whole, that averages out to roughly 3% back per month.

Instead of using miles, you want to earn $500 to buy your ticket the old-fashioned way. At an average of 3% back, you’d have to spend just under $16,700. That comes out to about 3 cents per dollar.

The outcome? If these numbers hold true, you’re getting better value with a cash-back card.

Of course, not all cards are created equal. If you found a travel card offering 2 or more miles per dollar, then that card would beat most cash-back cards. Try it out with your own numbers with these basic equations:

% money back = cost of your flight / amount you need to spend to earn that flight

From there, you can compare your percent back with a travel card to your percent back with a cash-back card.

Annual Fees
Most airline mile cards waive the annual fee the first year, but then have fees ranging from about $59 (for the Capital One Venture Card) to as much as $175 (for the AmEx Premier Rewards Gold Card).

Meanwhile, with a few exceptions, most of the top cash-back cards don’t have annual fees, ever.

This one’s obvious. If you travel a ton then, yes, you’ll probably want to use your reward to fund your next trip. But it doesn’t hurt for there to be no rules on how you can use your reward cash, and cash-back cards are literally that: your credit card company sends you a check in the mail and you can do with it whatever you please.

Sign-Up Rewards
A lot of travel cards offer initial sign-up bonuses, like 20,000-30,000 bonus points. Cash-back cards don’t do that. This is a huge, obvious perk of travel cards.

(My) Moral Of The Story
In my experience, the best way to maximize all these different factors is to sign up for a miles card, use it just enough to get the introductory offer, and then close the account before the end of the year to avoid paying an annual fee. Once you’ve earned the introductory miles, switch to a cash-back card, which is often better day-to-day money value and has better flexibility. (A quick caveat: for the sake of your credit score, try not to close more than one card in a year.)

Final verdict? A miles card sometimes, a cash-back card always.

[Image credit: Flickr user The Consumerist]

Is There A Perfect Way To Board A Plane? Researchers Say Yes

It’s little surprise that China is crowded. Given a booming population that can afford to fly – and without an equally booming plane population – researchers in Beijing have been examining ways to make boarding planes most efficient.

The idea is to accommodate the heightened Chinese flying demand and relative scarcity of planes. Western Australia’s ScienceNetwork reports that researchers are doing something new by looking into boarding patterns, as opposed to just luggage congestion and takeoff scheduling.

The findings? Move over, screaming children and slowpokes.

The researchers found that there is an “optimal” way to board a plane, and it involves categorizing passengers by their “individual properties.”

Under our current model of assigned seating, passengers at the front can reach their fastest possible boarding speed, but after that things slow down. The “optimal” system would categorize you by your luggage type, timeliness at the gate and other factors, and sort you into boarding order that way.

Although this is nice in theory, there are some obvious problems. Math can’t, after all, account for factors like passengers’ personalities, how distracted they are or even how large they are. Oh, and the fact that humans aren’t generally as predictable as variables in an equation.

[Image credit: Flickr user Reuben Whitehouse]

Adventures Of A Couchsurfer: London Edition

One of the hairless cats cozied up to me. The other looked on, like a bald alien. My friend and I were sitting on a leather couch, listening to a guy we’d just met share intimate – and disturbing – details of his sex life.

I was traveling with a guy friend through this leg of my Europe trip. I’d stayed with a few couchsurfers before. When I was traveling alone, I’d always been careful to choose hosts who seemed safe. Read: nice, sweet-sounding women in their 20s or 30s.

Traveling as a pair presented new challenges and opportunities. First, a lot of those reliable-sounding hosts only opened their places to a singular guest, so it ruled out a whole demographic of non-axe murderers. But, on the upside, traveling as a pair – especially when one of us was a guy – meant I also felt more comfortable staying in a place of a shadier persuasion.

London, obviously, can be very expensive for travelers. So the first order of business was finding a reliable couch to crash on.

A guy I’ll call Wes offered to host us. He was from Italy, but spoke with a perfect British accent (to my American ears, at least). His job was in fashion, and he sported a mohawk with buzzed-out designs all over his head, black leather pants and jacket, and extremely tall platform shoes. That description sounds Marilyn Manson-esque, but there was no makeup. Wes noted that most fashion stylists were gay, but wanted to make it very clear that he wasn’t. He just liked his own style.

Wes lived near Kings Cross, and met us at the station before taking us to his favorite Chinese dive. The food was good and cheap, and that was the point.

Next, he took the two of us back to his apartment. We put our stuff down, set up camp in the living room, and, without any bidding I remember, he began to tell us about his sexual escapades. I’m nearly positive he wasn’t planning on inviting us or anything, but perhaps he wanted to impress us.
Apparently, Wes went clubbing every night of the week. Not every weekend night, or even every weekday night, but literally every night. I asked when he’d last taken a night off. His answer? About three weeks prior. He didn’t strike me as the let’s-giggle-and-drink-and-dance-til-the-sun-comes-up type, and that’s where his escapades came in. He treated clubbing like a job. He often went alone and scouted out women who seemed interested. Usually, he succeeded in finding someone as excited about him as he was them – in sometimes graphic ways.

While Wes regaled us, his hairless alien-cats came to join. After story time, he gave us the tour of his apartment. It was spacious considering the neighborhood, but also dirty.

The craziest part was he had a tarantula exoskeleton in his kitchen – on the counter … near where he prepped food. According to Wes, there was a tarantula in his house, it molted and he kept the exoskeleton around because it was cool. How a tarantula found its way to a kitchen in a highly urban corner of London, I’ll never know.

Most of the things that came out of Wes’s mouth were hardly credible, and yet I couldn’t find any evidence to the contrary.

That night, he took me and my friend to “his guy” for falafel before we went with him to a club. The owner of the restaurant came out to greet Wes and give us our food.

After, at the club, it was clear Wes didn’t want to hang out with us anymore. My friend and I walked aimlessly around the multi-story space, but watching Wes prowl was far more fascinating than the music. Tall in his platforms, he scanned the crowd, a man on a highly questionable mission. After an hour or two, we told him we were going to head back to rest up. Wes said he’d be out a few more hours and gave us his keys.

We left the next morning around noon, when our host was still asleep. We wrote him a note thanking him for the free accommodations, and saying that, truly, meeting him was a unique experience.

Wes, sleeping off the night before, didn’t hear us slip out.

[Image credit: Flickr user Tomi Tapio]