Articles filed under Travel

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  • Visa wants to track your smartphone to combat fraud Feb 21, 2015 7:31 AM
    Those days of calling your bank to let them know that, yes, you really are in Thailand, and yes, you really did use your credit card to buy $200 in sarongs, may be coming to an end. Visa will roll out a new feature this spring that will allow its cardholders to inform their banks where they are automatically, using the location function found in nearly every smartphone.

  • On the road: Get fit by day at Bloomingdale's Biggest Loser Resort Feb 21, 2015 7:15 AM
    The Biggest Loser Resort in Bloomingdale introduces the Town Program, which allows locals to spend all day at the resort experiencing the program but return home each evening. Snowstorm Winter Music and Arts Festival is the cold weather answer to the Chicago music festival. Set indoors at Navy Pier, headliners like Moby, Trippy Turtle, The Hood Internet and ASTR warm things up on Saturday, March 7.

  • Disney raises Magic Kingdom tickets above $100 Feb 21, 2015 5:43 PM
    Walt Disney Co. raised the cost of a single- day admission to its flagship Magic Kingdom park in Orlando, Florida, by 6 percent to $105, breaking the $100 level for the first time.Prices for the company’s three other Orlando resorts will rise 3 percent to $97. At Disneyland and the Disney California Adverture parks in Anaheim, California, tickets will rise 3 percent to $99. The increases take effect Sunday.

  • Automated plazas take a toll on rental-car drivers Feb 15, 2015 7:43 AM
    When Amos Peters picked up a rental car in Austin a few weeks ago, the only thing that stood between him and his destination was State Highway 130, a toll road. It was missing an important feature: a toll booth. Instead, it had an automated toll plaza — which seemed to give Peters two equally unacceptable, options. He could use back roads, which would lengthen his drive, or he could pass through the automated plaza and incur a daily “toll fee” from his car-rental company whether he used the highway again or not. (Charging customers by the day after they’ve used an automated toll road is a standard industry practice.) But Peters, who works for a marketing and Web design firm in Austin, was aware of a third option: a new smartphone app called PToll that allows users to register their rental’s license plates and make their own payment arrangements. PToll is one of several new devices drivers are using on automated toll roads. Of the 5,300 miles of toll roads in the United States, about 200 miles are considered all-electronic tolling (AET), or automated, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. In other words, there are no toll booths, so you have to register your license plate with the tolling authority to pay for using the road, or you’ll receive a fine in the mail. AET roads are expanding at a rate of about 100 miles per year, which makes this a growing concern. Things get a little confusing if you’re renting a car, as Peters was. Car-rental agencies strike deals with a toll authority or a third party, such as the Highway Toll Administration (HTA), to process toll payments. The rental companies then add a fee to the toll to cover their expenses. So Peters’s car-rental company billed him $50 for tolls and fees, even though he’d registered the rental car’s plates with PToll and had already paid his tolls. “It was an outrageous charge,” says Peters, who disputed it with the rental company. Brad Oshman, an IT analyst from San Ramon, California, used another strategy to avoid paying higher fees. Oshman sometimes rents a car and drives to San Francisco International Airport to catch a flight. Along the way there, he crosses the San Mateo Bridge. To save time on his last trip, Oshman decided to skip the toll booth and zip through the automated toll lane, using his own FasTrak transponder, which he took from his personal vehicle. “We didn’t hear the familiar ‘beep’ as we went through the toll gates,” he says. When he landed in Hawaii, he clicked on the FasTrak site to see how to handle the payment. The site advised him to wait for the violation notice in the mail, but that would be sent directly to his rental-car company. He had a better idea. He registered the rental plates to his FasTrak account, hoping to avoid his car-rental company’s system, which would have added fees and penalties. “A few days later, I saw the toll charged to my account, and I then removed the rental car’s license plates from my account,” he says. “My plan worked perfectly.” Well, for him, at least. I’ve rented a car and tried the same thing. Sometimes the transponder is recognized, sometimes not. I have the bills to prove it. In the meantime, PToll is still a work in progress. It began testing in Austin last summer with ambitious plans to expand. “Our ultimate goal is national deployment,” says Glenn Deitiker, president of PToll’s parent company, BancPass. One roadblock, Deitiker says, is HTA, which works directly with car-rental companies to provide transponders and toll-processing services. BancPass is suing HTA in federal court, accusing the firm of antitrust violations and of interfering with BancPass’s business by persuading Google and Apple to drop its app and discouraging toll authorities from participating in PToll. David Centner, HTA’s chief executive, said his company hasn’t interfered with PToll’s business or committed antitrust violations. The suit isn’t likely to be resolved until later this year at the earliest. A long-term solution may be in the works. Last year, regulators proposed a rule that would require new passenger cars and light trucks to have vehicle-to-vehicle communication capability. Observers predict that could lead to standardized toll transponders, eventually eliminating the need for a third party to provide billing services or act as an intermediary between you and your car-rental agency. But that, as they say, is a long way down the road. In the meantime, you have to read the fine print on your rental agreement. Robert Sher wishes he had when he rented a car in Florida during the Thanksgiving holidays. He used toll roads only four times, assuming each time that he could settle up later with his car-rental company. “In addition to the $4.50 in tolls, which I’m happy to pay, they are charging me a $15 administrative fee for each toll, or a total of $60,” he says. “Apparently, there is language in the rental contract — which I didn’t notice at the time — that authorizes this and gives the renter the option of renting a SunPass transponder.” Alas, the transponder rental would have cost more than $60, so either way, Sher would have lost. The incident is particularly galling because Sher, who lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is something of a specialist when it comes to fine print. He’s a lawyer. Like Peters, the manager from Austin who was dinged $50 by his car-rental agency, Sher is fighting the charges. There’s a little good news on that front: Often, car-rental companies and their agents roll over when they’re asked to substantiate these high bills, so they’re almost always worth disputing. But new technology, and maybe a tip or two learned from clever drivers, could make these struggles a thing of the past. • Elliott, National Geographic Traveler’s reader advocate and author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic), maintains a consumer advocate website at

  • 140 whales die after getting stranded on New Zealand beach Feb 14, 2015 2:46 PM
    “It’s very sad, they’re very intelligent animals,” Department of Conservation area manager Andrew Lamason said. “The pragmatic view is that it’s part of nature.”The focus will now turn to the dead whales, and the enormous task of dealing with the carcasses.

  • On the road: Chicago, suburbs fete Chinese New Year Feb 16, 2015 11:06 AM
    Lift the post-Mardi Gras blues with a celebration of the Year of the Sheep. Wear red (for good fortune) and help the Chinese Fine Arts Society kick off the New Year Saturday, Feb. 21, with Chinese dance, music and martial arts at the Chicago Cultural Center. On Feb. 21, you can also celebrate at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe with classic folk tales performed by professional puppeteers, the Shaanxi Folk Arts Group from China.

  • Selfie sticks latest objects deemed safety hazards by museums Feb 13, 2015 6:00 AM
    They may be ubiquitous in New York, but the selfie stick hasn’t taken over Washington, D.C., quite yet. Several museums — including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery of Art — have banned the use of the sticks that help visitors shoot self portraits in the galleries. Others may follow.

  • It’s a hoot hanging out with owls at this Tokyo cafe Feb 13, 2015 6:01 AM
    In the U.S., hanging out in a cafe with animals is such an exotic concept that people can’t get enough of it. In Japan, cat cafes are just the start. Judging by how complicated it was to get a reservation at Tokyo’s Fukuro no Mise (“Shop of Owls,”), the owl cafes there are just as much of a hoot there as cat cafes are here.

  • Greek archaeologists find couple locked in millennia-old hug Feb 13, 2015 5:37 PM
    Archaeologists in southern Greece have discovered the grave of a man and woman buried as they died some 5,800 years ago — still tightly embracing.

  • On the road: Chinese New Year celebrates sheep Feb 12, 2015 2:54 PM

    By Jacky Runice

    Daily Herald Correspondent

    Lift the post-Mardi Gras blues with a celebration of the Year of the Sheep. Wear red (for good fortune) and help the Chinese Fine Arts Society kick off the New Year with Chinese dance, music and martial arts. you can also celebrate at the Chicago Botanic Garden with classic folk tales performed by professional puppeteers, the Shaanxi Folk Arts Group, from China’s Shaanxi province’s capital city, Xi’an.

  • Lake Placid isn’t just for winter lovers anymore Feb 10, 2015 6:01 AM
    Perhaps it’s the fresh-baked cookie that’s offered to guests as they check into the Mirror Lake Inn, the village’s crown jewel of lodging. Or perhaps it’s how just about every quaint store and restaurant in town has some sort of reminder that miracles can, and have, happened there. Either way, it doesn’t take long upon arriving in Lake Placid to realize there’s something unique about the place. The vacation haven in the Adirondack Mountains is a town for all seasons now, though the sights this time of year are nothing short of Rockwellian.

  • On the road: Visit alien worlds at Iowa’s Putnam Museum Feb 7, 2015 7:00 AM
    Learn about the actual search for alien life at the new "Alien Worlds and Androids" exhibit at the Putnam Museum & Science Center in Davenport, Iowa. Discover birds of prey, watch dog-sledding demonstrations and catch live entertainment from the Old Town School of Folk Music during the free Polar Adventure Days Feb. 21 at Chicago's Northerly Island.

  • Masterpieces from New York's Frick on show at Mauritshuis Feb 5, 2015 11:28 PM
    How do you say "thank you" to a museum that loaned you Johannes Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius' "The Goldfinch" for a blockbuster exhibition? New York's Frick Collection is displaying its gratitude to the Mauritshuis by sending over a trove of masterpieces of its own for the first art show in a new wing for temporary exhibitions that was added to the intimate Hague museum during its recent renovation.

  • NYC to host 12-day celebration of design Feb 5, 2015 9:06 AM
    NYC to host 12-day celebration of design with events across all 5 boroughs in May

  • Denver International Airport had busiest year in 2014 Feb 5, 2015 9:06 AM
    Denver International Airport had busiest year in 2014 with more than 53.4 million passengers

  • Spotlight on historic Staten Island theater in Pacino film Feb 4, 2015 8:07 AM
    A new movie starring Al Pacino as an aging actor was partly shot at a grand old theater on Staten Island with an interesting history. Pacino performs several scenes in "The Humbling" on the stage of the St. George Theatre, which is located about a half-mile from where Staten Island's famous ferries cruise past the Statue of Liberty to Lower Manhattan.

  • Tourism group kicks in $2.5 million for New Orleans patrols Feb 4, 2015 9:06 AM
    Tourism group kicks in $2.5 million for New Orleans patrols in the spring

  • Arab civil rights group says Delta mistreated Muslim family Feb 4, 2015 9:06 AM
    Arab rights group: Delta employee mistreats, threatens Muslim family who were being harassed

  • Police: Flight attendant in NY stole $5K intended for UNICEF Feb 4, 2015 7:06 PM
    Florida flight attendant arrested in NY for stealing 700 pounds of coins intended for UNICEF

  • Dubai firm to build luxury resort in Bosnia Feb 4, 2015 7:06 PM
    Dubai company plans to build a 2.3 billion euro luxury resort in Bosnia

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