U.S. ESTA trouble for SAS passengers

It has been more than seven months since the new U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) has been mandatory for airlines that fly citizens of visa-waiver countries to the United States. Yet some carriers’ computer systems are reportedly experiencing serious problems, resulting in denied boarding for travelers with valid ESTAs.

Last week, I received a disturbing e-mail message from an Austrian citizen who had read my previous coverage of ESTA issues. On July 5, she wasn’t allowed on a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flight from Stockholm to Chicago, for which the carrier blamed problems with the passenger’s ESTA…

Hilton or Starwood? Not even a close call

How do you decide which hotel to choose in the city you are visiting if you want to redeem your points for a free night? I had to make that decision this month, and unlike in many similar situations, it wasn’t even a close call.

I usually start with the chains where I have top elite status — Hilton HHonors and Starwood. Hilton’s Diamond benefits are inferior to Starwood’s Platinum perks — Hilton doesn’t give you suite upgrades and free Internet. The only advantage with Hilton is that award stays count toward elite status, which is rather significant in my book…

Hotel rates too high? Get creative!

Is the room rate for your next hotel stay too high for your travel budget? No need to cancel that trip yet. There are creative ways to pay for your accommodation, and using your own money is just one of the options.

The creativity I have in mind involves more than just redeeming your hotel points with a loyalty program. In fact, let’s assume that you don’t have enough points for your intended stay. Mike Schlappig was recently in that position. He was planning a trip to Egypt next month and wanted to spend the last two nights at Le Meridien Pyramids in Cairo. However, he was unpleasantly surprised by the rate of $220 per day, which is relatively high for that market…