Travel News: Holiday Planning Edition

Pat-downs ramp up, but getaways to Paris make security worth it

By: Sophie Gilbert

Happy Friday, Beltway backpackers! If you’re thinking of flying anywhere in the near future, be prepared to get up close and personal with a TSA official. As of this week, anyone who refuses to submit to a full-body scan will be required to go through an “enhanced pat down.” Take it from our personal experience that the “enhanced” part is no joke. We were traveling from Reagan at the end of September and politely declined to go through the full-body scanner, more out of curiosity than any desire to cause trouble. After being labeled an “opt-out,” a female officer basically groped us from head to toe. It wasn’t pleasant, and it was exceedingly thorough. So from now on you have a choice: let the TSA take pictures of you naked, or submit to the probing hands of a security official. Thank you, Janet Napolitano.

That said, if you’re planning to fly somewhere for the holidays and haven’t yet booked your trip, you may want to get a move on. CNN asked Orbitz’s Jeanenne Tornatore whether there are any chances of prices going down, and the answer was a resounding no. “A lot of people may be procrastinating because they think there might be those last-minute deals or sales that pop up,” Tornatore said. “We’re not expecting to see that this year.” To try and cut costs, be flexible: Consider flying on Thursday or Monday for Thanksgiving, and avoid December 23 and 26. And don’t write off making a connection if you don’t want to pay a premium.

Two Paris deals this week: a six-night stay over Thanksgiving for $849, including flights and breakfast (but excluding airport taxes and fees), or six nights next year for $749 (both trips leave from New York, so be prepared to pay a small surcharge if you want to leave from Washington). Considering that flights to Europe are often more than $800, this is a pretty thrifty way to visit the City of Light.

If you’re feeling the winter blues (and with rain like this, who isn’t?), here are two good options to thaw out: The Millennium UN Plaza Hotel in New York is offering a “Summer in the Winter” package from November through March, with a one-night stay in a superior room, an hour on the indoor tennis court, access to the heated pool, and two drinks tickets for the Ambassador Grill, starting at $249. The hotel has spectacular views over the East River, so you can check out the skyline while you swim. Book by calling 212-758-1234 or online with the code SUMMERW.

MSC Cruises has a seven-night Caribbean cruise departing Fort Lauderdale on November 28 for $299. The price includes an upgraded ocean-view cabin and a $50 onboard credit (kids 17 and younger can sail for $99 each when sharing a cabin with two adults). The boat stops at St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and the Bahamas. Thanks to Travelzoo for the tip.

And finally, if you’ve ever wanted to travel to a galaxy far, far away, here’s some idea of what the advertising in the airport might look like. Illustrator Steve Thomas has created posters advertising eight destinations from the Star Wars movies, including Tatooine, Mos Eisley, and Dagobah.

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