Volunteer and earn a free stay at any Sage hotel

Volunteer one day to a registered 501C3 nonprofit organization and your next stay at a Sage Hospitality property could be free. The hotel group is offering a limited number of free rooms at each of its 53 hotels around the country to those who can verify – with a signed letter from the organization – that they have donated eight or more hours of their time to charity.

Under the “Give a Day, Get a Night” promotion, those who miss out on the complimentary stay will still get 50% off the published room rate. Volunteer hours must be completed by December 18, 2009, and the promotion ends on December 20. Complimentary rooms must be booked 48 hours prior to arrival and taxes still apply. A guest is only allowed one free stay at each Sage hotel for the duration of the promotion.

That’s not the only deal Sage is offering. Heroes (active and retired military personnel and first responders) and educators (active and retired teachers and school administrators) also receive 50% off their stays through the end of the year.

JetBlue, United jump on Twitter for cheap tix

JetBlue and United Airlines are pushing the first taste of cheap fares out on Twitter. They hope to use what USA Today calls the “uber-trendy form of messaging” to push seats on flights that may have vacant seats prior to wheels-up. After deals appear, they don’t always stick around long. JetBlue’s first “Cheep” (a variation on “tweet”) offered a $9 one-way fare from JFK to Nantucket. The model that’s emerging puts JetBlue’s fare tweets out on Monday mornings and offers around eight hours to act on them.

United Airlines has had its “twares” in action since May, and the element of surprise is a factor. The discounts can be released without warning, and there’s no discernable schedule. The deals can live for as little as two hours, forcing Twitter-using travelers to act fast.

EasyJet survival guide: six simple steps

The name is seductive: EasyJet. This low-cost airline boasts occasional fares of below €10 (one way) and can get you almost anywhere in Europe. What’s not to love? Of course, entering the experience, you know deep down that there has to be some unpleasantness involved, but you accept that as a condition for cheap travel. After all, you’re only inconvenienced for a few hours at the most – it’s not like you’re crossing the Atlantic. These are short, easy flights that would be called “regional” back home.

Nonetheless, the whole gig can be an absolute drag.

The most difficult part of the EasyJet excursion is the rush of the crowd … which you’ll endure more than once. At some point, the line at the gate descends into chaos, as boarding “zones” decompose from a single line to several crowds of travelers jockeying for position. Then, the bus from the gate to the airport is little more than a cattle car and sets the scene for another crowded push in which any semblance of order is but a wish. By the time you get to your seat, aisle, window or middle no longer matters. You’re just happy that the uncertainty (as well as the shoving) is finished.

Fortunately, here are ways to make your EasyJet flight a bit easier (and, for those of you bouncing along the northeastern United States [LINK:tag], you can apply some of this to the Delta Shuttle). It’ll never be a first-class experience, but you’ll be able to avoid some of the stress involved in this form of air travel.

[Photos thanks to EasyJet]

1. Get to the gate early, and sit as close to it as possible
Since there is no assigned seating, preparation has its rewards. By arriving at the gate early, you can find a seat as close as possible to the gate itself. When it is time to get in line for boarding, you’ll be among the first to know.

2. Help start the line rather than join it
Once you see a few people start to hover around the gate (not necessarily forming a line but signaling their intentions to do so), join them.

3. Stand near the door on the bus
Those at the front of the line, naturally, will be the first to board the bus that takes you to the plane. The common mistake is to go as deep into the bus as possible, to make it easier for those who follow. Don’t do this. Step through the door and move immediately to one side or the other. You’ll be out of everyone’s way but will still be among the first to step off the bus when you arrive at the plane.

4. Move quickly to the plane
If you think a line forms somewhere between the bus and the plane’s door, you’re out of your mind. Movement continues to be by crowd. Step off the bus as quickly as possible and find your way into the plane. Hesitate, and you will find yourself jostled and (worse) passed en route to the best seats in the house. You’ll be reduced to the same primal urges as your fellow travelers – instead of watching this animalistic drama unfold from the comfort of your seat … which happens to be both bulkhead and aisle!

5. Use your overhead storage
Getting onto the plane early means that you can take advantage of the overhead storage, which does fill quickly. Miss this opportunity, and you will lose that precious legroom under the seat in front of you (as I did). I measured the space from the front of my seat’s cushion to the back of the one in front of me. I can’t give you an exact number of inches, but I can confirm that it’s less than the length of a size 9 ½ shoe. The floor-space, of course, is a bit larger, but not much. Every inch counts. If you can recapture some space under the seat in front of you by tossing your bag above your head, don’t give it a second thought.

6. Bring your own nourishment
If you thought domestic airlines in the United States were stingy, EasyJet will change your perspective. Even the basics start at €1, and shooting a desperate look will only get you a shrug or an apology – neither of which will address your thirst. Eat before you board, and bring a bottle of water. If you have a longer flight, maybe grab a small snack. Remember: this is not long-haul. I brought neither water nor food on my two-hour flight from Madrid to Marrakech and was fine. But, if the thought of even a short period of time without some sort of refreshment is akin to unchecked brutality, pay either before you board or on the plane. The price will be about the same.