Lady Gaga’s attire not an immediate threat, says TSA

When leaving Los Angeles after the MTV Video Music Awards, performer Lady Gaga was spotted with a handcuff hanging directly in front of her from a belt around her waist. The singer was leaving town after picking up eight awards and was dressed, well, as expected.

Always clad in shocking attire, Lady Gaga’s exploits looked like they were putting her on a collision course with the TSA, as handcuffs and chains were incorporated into the clothing. She had no problems, however. According to the Daily Mail: “A spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration said the prohibited items list is based on what experts assess and analyse as a threat to aviation security.”

Now, if they are paired with mile-high ambitions – that would be a much different story!

Hotel employees nailed in $20 million airline ticket scam

The feds just threw down indictments against 38 people accused of pushing fraudulent airline tickets at hefty discounts. They were slashing between $100 and $200, usually, from the normal price of a (real) ticket. And at least two of them worked in hotels, where they were accused of swiping credit card and debit card information to keep the con afloat. Among the charges are: conspiracy, credit card theft and identity theft. The rings appear to have begun in 2001.

How did it work? In Los Angeles, according to USA Today:

The government’s 25-page indictment against Jason Burks and eight other defendants says that Raun Lauderdale Jr. was one of the people who would obtain stolen credit card and debit card information and sell it to Burks, who would then use it to fraudulently buy airline tickets. Lauderdale worked at an unidentified hotel in Long Beach, Calif. On one particular day in September 2009, Burks allegedly used a stolen American Express card number to buy $3,466.03 worth of airline tickets – an Alaska Airlines ticket from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and three US Airways tickets for travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans, records show. Prosecutors say this ring operated from July 25, 2007 to May 14, 2009.

And in Atlanta:

The government’s 31-page indictment against Steven James Palmer, based in Brooklyn, and nine other defendants based in cities such as Orlando, Los Angeles and Atlanta names another hotel worker. According to the document, Alexander Lewis, 25, of McDonough, Ga., stole credit card and debt card numbers from his jobs at unidentified Atlanta hotels. Lewis also went by an alias: “Mike Gotti,” the indictment says. Prosecutors say this ring operated between August 2008 and March 27, 2010.

The alleged scammers would pick up the tickets online with stolen credit card info and use text messages or e-mail to push discount codes to their customers, which could then be parlayed into boarding passes. To stay under the radar, the bookings were kept close to departure times. Advertising was kept to a minimum, and word of mouth was used to generate new “business.”

[photo by abardwell via Flickr]

Top U.S. ports of entry in 2009

Travel to the United States was off 5 percent last year, but this didn’t change how people enter the country. The top 15 ports of entry owned 85 percent of all overseas visits, gaining a full percentage point from 2008. New York JFK, Miami and Los Angeles took the first three positions and took 39 percent of the total, also picking up a full percentage point of “arrival share” relative to 2008. Five of the top 15 ports of entry actually gained inbound traffic over 2008, three of them in Florida: Miami, Orlando, Houston, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale.

Use Facebook to plan your next park vacation

Municipalities are always feeling a financial squeeze, and the fallout from the financial crisis has only made an already grim norm even worse. It’s hard enough to get money for maintenance, let alone marketing. So, how can you get the info you need to plan your next park trip?

Try Facebook.

According to Inside Facebook, cities, counties and states are flocking to the social networking site to promote their parks to locals and prospective visitors from across the country and around the world. Most of the pages created, says Inside Facebook, focus on photos and Wall content, with few using notes and none really relying on Facebook’s discussion tools.

Most of the pages belonged to cities, though some states and counties were represented. Interestingly, larger destinations, such as New York City, Los Angeles County and Oregon haven’t experienced the level of success seen among smaller or less prominent locations. The little guy, it seems, already has a tight community feel that translates easily into a social media presence. Monterey, California’s page, for example, boasts 222 fans of a 61,000-person municipality. Meanwhile, Los Angeles County’s Department of Parks and Recreation Facebook page has only 55 fans. The county is home to 10 million people.Cost is among the reasons for the migration to Facebook. Using existing photos and content to populate a page brings no incremental cost to a medium that’s already free. Says Dan Costley, Monterey, California Park Recreation Superintendent: Literally we were told, ‘If you can borrow something from another department, cut back.’ You can look at something like Facebook and say, ‘Nobody is charging us for this.'” He continues, “So if it helps us save money and send the message to the right people, that’s always going to help us.”

Need some ideas? Check out these local park Facebook pages:

Click here to become a fan of Gadling on Facebook.

[Photo: Flickr | Buck Forester]

Starwood bets on Hollywood allure

What do you do when lenders take over two of your hotels, as your coping with the worst recession in seven decades? Well, if you’re Starwood Hotels, you make a $350 million bet with a single property from your W line. The hotel opened on January 15, 2010, and it’s banking on the reputation of Los Angeles as the center of the entertainment world. Located on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, the new W Hotel hopes to attract star-struck tourists who want to get up close and personal with the movie industry.

The only problem is that fewer and fewer people are heading out to Los Angeles, which is putting a bit of a squeeze on the new property. There’s an opportunity hidden in the situation, however. Carlos Becil, W’s North American vice president, says, “When we come out of this down cycle we’ll own the upswing with all these newer hotels,” Becil said to Bloomberg News.

The financial crisis has been particularly hard on the W chain. The W San Diego was taken back by its lenders after Sunstone Hotel Investors, which had owned the property, couldn’t get the terms of its $65 million securitized mortgage changed. The W New York Union Square was bought by Dubai World in 2006. Well, it missed a payment, which wound up pushing the property onto the auction block back in December. Dubai World also has an interest in the W Washington, D.C., a loan on which is 30 days delinquent. The debt servicer and borrower are working on a solution.