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Sunday, October 4, 2009

21 Secrets to Save on Travel

By Stacy Rapacon, Reporter, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

The travel industry continues to smart from the recession, so deals abound. You just need to know where to look. Search no further than our 21 tips to save on lodging, airfare, vacation packages and cruises:

Book a bargain stay

1) Check TripAdvisor.com for 25 million property reviews from real travelers and professional critics. For details on cozy and often less-costly venues, go to BedandBreakfast.com.

2) Visit Hotels.com every Thursday for its new last-minute deals. While you’re there, watch for other rate sales and package specials.

3) Book directly through the hotel's Web site. Many places offer special online-booking and prepaid deals. You can also opt in to hotels’ free rewards programs and receive e-mails about special promotions and discounts.

4) Book blindly for rock-bottom rates. The auction-style booking pushed by William Shatner’s “Priceline Negotiator” in the popular commercials really can cut up to 50% off regular hotel rates (and 40% off airfare and car-rental rates). And Hotwire.com’s “Hot Rates” can knock up to 60% off retail room prices. With either, you specify your length of stay, preferred neighborhood and a guaranteed minimum star class. But you won’t know the exact hotel or location until after you pay – an especially big risk when visiting unfamiliar areas, particularly overseas. (Blind booking is a safer bet for car rentals; a sedan is a sedan is a sedan. But it’s a big gamble for flights because you won’t know exact flight times or airlines.)

5) Call your hotel to confirm an online reservation, especially if you made one at the last minute, and ask about any additional fees you should watch out for. Most hotels are especially willing to waive fees for frequent visitors or rewards-program members. Also, request a copy of your bill the night before you check out so you have time to dispute any extra charges.

6) Consider specialty lodging, such as condos, villas and vacation home rentals, especially when traveling with a big group. These options often offer more space and amenities for prices similar to or less than hotel rates. HomeAway.com offers the biggest selection of rentals, with more than 176,000 listings worldwide.

Fly for less

7) Use Kayak.com to quickly scan hundreds of travel Web sites for the best airfares. And don't forget to check Southwest.com; Kayak does not include the discount airline’s fares.

8) Sign up with airlines’ free loyalty programs to get the best bargains delivered straight to your in-box. Or visit Airfarewatchdog.com, where the site’s employees join airlines’ rewards programs to snag those promotional codes and special offers to share with you.

9) Plan your purchase at Bing.com/travel, formerly Farecast.com. The site’s “price predictor” forecasts whether fares on major domestic routes will go up or down. Enter your itinerary and it will return a list of airfares with a recommendation to either buy now or wait for a fare drop.

10) Try flying at less-traveled times; flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturday afternoons typically see the least demand and therefore offer the best rates.

11) Choose your destination based on the cheapest flight. For example, if you’re interested in a Caribbean vacation but don’t have a specific location in mind, you can use Kayak’s Buzz tool to search for flights to anywhere in the Caribbean and then pick the place with the lowest fare.

12) Dodge flying fees. To avoid charges levied for buying tickets in person or by phone, book directly with the airline's Web site or with one of the big three online travel agencies – Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz- which recently dropped their flight-booking fees. . And pack lightly to dodge baggage costs. At FlyingFees.com, you can compare the baggage fees carried by 30 major airlines, and other types of fees charged by 20 major airlines.

Save a bundle on vacation packages

13) Online travel agencies Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz are well known for their bundled bargains. But don’t forget to check packages offered by airlines such as United Vacations and smaller operators such as Apple Vacations for some of the sweetest deals.

14) Check the cost of add-ons, such as rental cars, show tickets, tours and museum passes, when booking packages with online travel agencies. Sometimes the agencies offer those extras at a discount.

15) Get one price on your trips with all-inclusive deals from resorts such as Club Med and Sandals.

16) Add travel insurance to your bundle. With Expedia's Package Protection Plan, for example, you're ensured a refund if you need to cancel or change plans. You'll also be reimbursed for trip delays, baggage losses and medical expenses. The package costs $40 to $89, depending on your destination. If you're not offered this protection when you book, or if you need more insurance than what you are offered, go to TravelGuard.com.

Cruise to savings

17) The best deals are close to the departure date -- just don't expect the really cheap tickets to get you a stateroom with a view.

18) Understand the different elements of a cruise, including theme, cabin types and ports of call. CruiseMates.com provides useful reviews and advice columns to get you started. But if you're a first-timer feeling overwhelmed, consider using a travel agent.

19) Visit CruiseCompete.com, where you submit your cruise preferences and more than 300 travel agents compete for your business.

20) Book your flight separately. Using Kayak or Bing.com/travel, you can often find fares that are lower than what a cruise line will package in for you. Make sure you allow enough time to reach the departure port; the ship won’t wait for you if your flight is delayed.

21) Sail into big savings with a repositioning cruise. Ships need to take these one-way voyages in order to relocate for the season. For example, ships that cruise near Alaska in the summer head south once fall arrives, and cruise lines invite passengers aboard for the ride at deeply discounted rates.

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Save Money on Organic Food: Join a Natural Foods Co-op



Derek Markham

By Derek Markham

One common reason you might shy away from purchasing only organically grown food is the relatively higher price when compared to conventionally grown and sourced foods.

If your budget doesn't seem to cover it, then even if you know the importance of eating organic foods for your own health (and the health of the soil and water), you'll choose the foods you feel like you can afford.


Luckily for us, the tradition of natural food cooperatives still survives
. Many food cooperatives (co-ops) were formed out of necessity - natural foods and health food items were not readily available at the corner grocery store - but have survived because of the community-powered principles behind them.

The definition of a co-op, from the International Cooperative Alliance:

"A cooperative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others."

Co-ops are guided by the cooperative principles:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Cooperation among Cooperatives
  7. Concern for Community


In essence, co-ops serve their member's needs. They aren't out to make huge profits for absentee stockholders, they're out to provide maximum value for their shareholders (the members). And one of the things they can do is save you money on food - sometimes on regular prices, but most often in the form of bulk purchasing.

Many co-ops have discounted pricing for bulk orders, for example, on bags of grains, beans, oats, even produce, personal care, and prepared foods. This means that by purchasing the foods you eat regularly in large quantities, you'll not only be assured of having your staples on hand, you'll also pay less per serving. You do have to come up with the cash up front, plus a place to store the food, but it's definitely worth it.

Other advantages of buying in bulk:

  • You may have access to other food choices that aren't carried on the shelf at the store.
  • It uses much less packaging than buying packaged goods.
  • The foods you usually eat will be on hand, making it less likely to eat junk food or go out to eat.
  • The less times you have to enter the grocery store, the better, as you're likely to purchase extras each time you go.
  • Whole natural foods purchased in bulk generally means fresher food.
  • By ordering ahead and keeping staples on hand, you will be better able to plan your food budget and stick with it.
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What Went Wrong With Saturn?: Analysis

By John Pearley Huffman

With the announcement that General Motors and the Penske Automotive Group have broken off negotiations to transfer ownership of the Saturn brand between them, the Saturn saga sadly ends. Over the next few months, GM will implement the "wind-down" agreements it has with Saturn dealers and start closing up the division. As you read this, the last bundles of Saturn sales brochures are likely being heaved into dumpsters around the country.

It's an almost tragic end to one of GM's boldest experiments. Devised back in the early '80s, the Saturn concept was for GM to set up an entirely new company that would be owned by GM but operate outside its entrenched culture. It would build small cars to compete with Toyota and Honda that many analysts believed couldn't be manufactured profitably in North America. Saturn was a startlingly creative burst from then GM Chairman Roger Smith—not a man known for indulging much creativity.

After years of development, Saturn was created. Dealers were recruited. A new assembly plant was built in Spring Hill, Tennessee and a new, innovative labor contract was negotiated with the United Auto Workers. Saturn developed its own S-Series small sedan, coupe and station wagon that shared little with any other GM product. When the first Saturn rolled off the line in July 1990, Roger Smith and UAW President Owen Bieber were both in it.

Saturn dealerships operated under a no-haggle pricing mandate and early buyers of Saturn cars were thrilled with the service and attention they received from the dealers. It was a premium buying experience for small cars. Yet Saturns were anything but premium priced. The S-Series sold well, but cracks were already appearing in the Saturn architecture.

The front-drive S-Series wasn't a bad car, but it wasn't a particularly good one either. About the only innovative aspect of their engineering was space-frame construction covered in plastic panels impervious to most parking lot damage. The S-Series engines ran roughly, the handling was mediocre, the interiors were chintzy and those plastic panels needed big gaps at the seams to deal with their expansion and contraction in heat. Some S-Series buyers loved (and still love) their Saturns, but they weren't cars that had every owner turning into a repeat buyer.

Roger Smith left GM shortly after Saturn opened and his pet project quickly became an orphan. Rumors abounded that within GM other division heads saw Saturn sucking up resources they thought were needed by GM's established brands. The internal politics soon had Saturn starving; when satisfied S-Series buyers returned to their dealers to trade up to a new car, there was nothing to trade up to. Saturn didn't get a larger car to sell until the 1999 model and the car it got, the L-Series, was pure mediocrity. By then, the S-Series was getting more and more tired.

In short, Saturn was a great buying experience that didn't have the right products to sell.

But with the turn of the century, GM re-committed itself to Saturn. The Vue small crossover joined the line in 2002 and the S-Series was redesigned as the Ion in 2003. By 2007 Saturn dealers had a thick portfolio of significantly improved vehicles to sell including the mid-size Aura sedan, versatile Outlook crossover and the two-seat Sky roadster. But buyers had lost the habit of shopping at Saturn and sales for all of them were lackluster.

Ironically, while Saturn started going downhill because of a lack of attractive products, its fate was sealed when it couldn't sell a full range of solid products.

Penske broke off negotiations, it says, because of the inability to secure future vehicles to be sold at Saturn dealers once the current GM-produced products had run through their life cycles. It's a pity. Because for a few moments in the Nineties it looked like Saturn had the potential to be something special.

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The new rules of news

Dan Gillmor

You may have noticed – you could hardly miss it – the blizzard of anniversary stories last month about the fall of Lehman Brothers, an event that helped spark last year's financial meltdown. The coverage reminded me that journalists failed to do their jobs before last year's crisis emerged, and have continued to fail since then.

It also reminds me of a few pet peeves about the way traditional journalists operate. So here's a list of 22 things, not in any particular order, that I'd insist upon if I ran a news organization.

1. We would not run anniversary stories and commentary, except in the rarest of circumstances. They are a refuge for lazy and unimaginative journalists.

2. We would invite our audience to participate in the journalism process, in a variety of ways that included crowdsourcing, audience blogging, wikis and many other techniques. We'd make it clear that we're not looking for free labour – and will work to create a system that rewards contributors beyond a pat on the back – but want above all to promote a multi-directional flow of news and information in which the audience plays a vital role.

3. Transparency would be a core element of our journalism. One example of many: every print article would have an accompanying box called "Things We Don't Know," a list of questions our journalists couldn't answer in their reporting. TV and radio stories would mention the key unknowns. Whatever the medium, the organisation's website would include an invitation to the audience to help fill in the holes, which exist in every story.

4. We would create a service to notify online readers, should they choose to sign up for it, of errors we've learned about in our journalism. Users of this service could choose to be notified of major errors only (in our judgment) or all errors, however insignificant we may believe them to be.

5. We'd make conversation an essential element of our mission. Among other things:

- If we were a local newspaper, the editorial pages would publish the best of, and be a guide to, conversation the community was having with itself online and in other public forums, whether hosted by the news organization or someone else.

- Editorials would appear in blog format, as would letters to the editor.

- We would encourage comments and forums, but in moderated spaces that encouraged the use of real names and insisted on (and enforced) civility.

- Comments from people using verified real names would be listed first.

6. We would refuse to do stenography and call it journalism. If one faction or party to a dispute is lying, we would say so, with the accompanying evidence. If we learned that a significant number of people in our community believed a lie about an important person or issue, we would make it part of an ongoing mission to help them understand the truth.

7. We would replace PR-speak and certain Orwellian words and expressions with more neutral, precise language. If someone we interview misused language, we would paraphrase instead of using direct quotations. (Examples, among many others: The activity that takes place in casinos is gambling, not gaming. There is no death tax, there can be inheritance or estate tax. Piracy does not describe what people do when they post digital music on file-sharing networks.)

8. We would embrace the hyperlink in every possible way. Our website would include the most comprehensive possible listing of other media in our community, whether we were a community of geography or interest. We'd link to all relevant blogs, photo-streams, video channels, database services and other material we could find, and use our editorial judgement to highlight the ones we consider best for the members of the community. And we'd liberally link from our journalism to other work and source material relevant to what we're discussing, recognising that we are not oracles but guides.

9. Our archives would be freely available, with links on every single thing we've published as far back as possible, with application interfaces (APIs) to help other people use our journalism in ways we haven't considered ourselves.

10. We would help people in the community become informed users of media, not passive consumers – to understand why and how they can do this. We would work with schools and other institutions that recognise the necessity of critical thinking.

11. We would never publish lists of ten. They're a prop for lazy and unimaginative people.

12. Except in the most dire of circumstances – such as a threat to a whistleblower's life, liberty or livelihood – we would not quote or paraphrase unnamed sources in any of our journalism. If we did, we would need persuasive evidence from the source as to why we should break this rule, and we'd explain why in our coverage. Moreover, when we did grant anonymity, we'd offer our audience the following guidance: We believe this is one of the rare times when anonymity is justified, but we urge you to exercise appropriate skepticism.

13. If we granted anonymity and learned that the unnamed source had lied to us, we would consider the confidentially agreement to have been breached by that person, and would expose his or her duplicity, and identity. Sources would know of this policy before we published. We'd further look for examples where our competitors have been tricked by sources they didn't name, and then do our best to expose them, too.

14. The word "must" – as in "The president must do this or that" – would be banned from editorials or other commentary from our own journalists, and we'd strongly discourage it from contributors. It is a hollow verb and only emphasizes powerlessness. If we wanted someone to do something, we'd try persuasion instead, explaining why it's a good idea and what the consequences will be if the advice is ignored.

15. We'd routinely point to our competitors' work, including (and maybe especially) the best of the new entrants, such as bloggers who cover specific niche subjects. When we'd covered the same topic, we'd link to them so our audience can gain wider perspectives. We'd also talk about, and point to, competitors when they covered things we missed or ignored.

16. Beyond routinely pointing to competitors, we would make a special effort to cover and follow up on their most important work, instead of the common practice today of pretending it didn't exist. Basic rule: the more we wish we'd done the journalism ourselves, the more prominent the exposure we'd give the other folks' work. This would have at least two beneficial effects. First, we'd help persuade our community of an issue's importance. Second, we'd help people understand the value of solid journalism, no matter who did it.

17. The more we believed an issue was of importance to our community, the more relentlessly we'd stay on top of it ourselves. If we concluded that continuing down a current policy path was a danger, we'd actively campaign to persuade people to change course. This would have meant, for example, loud and persistent warnings about the danger of the blatantly obvious housing/financial bubble that inflated during this decade.

18. For any person or topic we covered regularly, we would provide a "baseline": an article or video where people could start if they were new to the topic, and point prominently to that "start here" piece from any new coverage. We might use a modified Wikipedia approach to keep the article current with the most important updates. The point would be context, giving some people a way to get quickly up to speed and others a way to recall the context of the issue.

19. For any coverage where it made sense, we'd tell our audience members how they could act on the information we'd just given them. This would typically take the form of a "What You Can Do" box or pointer.

20. We'd work in every possible way to help our audience know who's behind the words and actions. People and institutions frequently try to influence the rest of us in ways that hide their participation in the debate, and we'd do our best to reveal who's spending money and pulling strings. When our competitors declined to reveal such things, or failed to ask obvious questions of their sources, we'd talk about their journalistic failures in our own coverage of the issues.

21. Assess risks honestly. Journalists constantly use anecdotal evidence in ways that frighten the public into believing this or that problem is larger than it actually is. As a result, people have almost no idea what are statistically more risky behaviours or situations. And lawmakers, responding to media-fed public fears, often pass laws that do much more aggregate harm than good. We would make it a habit not to extrapolate a wider threat from weird or tragic anecdotes; frequently discuss the major risks we face and compare them statistically to the minor ones; and debunk the most egregious examples of horror stories that spark unnecessary fear or even panic.

22. No opinion pieces or commentary from major politicians or company executives. OK, this is a minor item. But these folks almost never actually write what appears under their bylines. We're being just as dishonest as they are by using this stuff. If they want to pitch a policy, they should post it on their own web pages, and we'll be happy to point to it.

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George Romero to Write His Definitive Guide to Zombies

By Lauren Davis

Filmmaker George Romero birthed the modern zombie, and now he's finally ready to reveal all the secrets of the walking dead. In his first novel, Romero will explain the full capabilities of the undead and how the zombie plague began.

UK publisher Headline has signed Romero for a book delving into the mythology he helped create, simply titled The Living Dead. The book will explain what zombies can and cannot do, and will finally give us Romero's take on the origin of zombies and how the world at large reacts:

It starts in San Diego, where a corpse sits up and begins to walk during an autopsy, while a reporter from Atlanta shows viewers "glimpses of increasing chaos from around the globe."

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