Are gift cards better for you — or better for the business?

Ask Richard Brigleb about gift cards, and he’ll tell you about the $200 worth of plastic for a wine store and local restaurant he just found in his kitchen drawer.
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Why Scrooge loves to fly — and why you won’t

I’m stunned by the reaction to two of our most popular stories of the week — my intervention in this case, which resulted in single mom and her kids finally being able to board their flight, and my efforts to secure a refund for this passenger in need.
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Pack these tips for a better holiday trip

Did you forget something?
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This Frigidaire doesn’t refrigerate – why won’t my warranty work?

Lisa Veyka’s air conditioner stops working just before a hot holiday weekend. Why won’t anyone help her?
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The unauthorized guide to fine print, holiday edition

Zoon/Shutterstock
Zoon/Shutterstock

When Ben Blout invoked a big-box store’s “low price promise” after discovering a lower price on his merchandise, he learned something customers rediscover every holiday shopping season: some restrictions apply.

Make that lots of restrictions.

“They told me they won’t match any printed advertisement that is not valid for at least one week,” says Blout. “Specifically, their price match excludes timed events like early bird specials and door busters.”

Fine print is a problem any time of the year, of course. But most consumers get foiled by it around the holidays, in part because more people are shopping, and in part because of the extra offers with the extra restrictions.
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Happy holidays? JetBlue slams grieving grandson with booking fee, walk-up fare

Micha Klootwijk / Shutterstock.com
Micha Klootwijk / Shutterstock.com
If an airline tells you it offers a more humane way to travel, should you hold it to that promise?

That’s the question raised by David Seltzer’s case on JetBlue Airways, a case that comes to us at an appropriate time of year.

Seltzer’s grandfather died unexpectedly a few months ago, and he immediately paid JetBlue a walk-up fare of $1,258 to fly from Long Beach, Calif., to New York, so he could be with his family. JetBlue then piled on the fees, charging him $20 for a phone booking and then hitting him with a $104 fare differential when he had to change his return flight again.

Seltzer then did what many distraught passengers do after the funeral. He politely asked the airline to adjust the price to a so-called “bereavement” fare. After all, Seltzer wasn’t just a random passenger requesting a fare adjustment, but a loyal, card-carrying JetBlue frequent flier, according to his mother, who contacted me for help.
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The most congested national park in America is …

… Yosemite National Park in California. That’s according to a new survey by TomTom, which aggregated the average speeds of vehicles traveling through the parks, based on anonymous user-shared data using its navigation devices.

Of the top 10 most visited National Parks, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have the longest individual traffic jams, with 3.5 and 2.8 miles respectively, it found.
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Post-holiday travel bargains abound, but are they worth it?

Everything you’ve heard about Dead Week may be dead wrong.

Dead Week, for those of you who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool bargain hunters, takes place the first week of every year. After the New Year’s holiday, travel falls off the map, figuratively speaking, as occupancy rates and prices plunge to their lowest levels in months.

So why ignore the conventional wisdom and stay home during the first week of the year?
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It’s holiday travel time! You heard it here first!

snowy roadTake your car in for a tuneup. Give yourself extra time if you’re flying. Oh, and it’s going to be one for the record books.

You’ve read that before, haven’t you?

When it comes to the travel tips you see just before every major holiday, you can count on paint-by-numbers reporting: a AAA prediction followed by a sound bite from one of three travel “experts” (always the same three) followed by that familiar advice, dispensed in easy-to-read bullet points.

But which tips are cliches that should be ignored, and which are bona fide, you-must-do-this advice? If you’ve been reading these stories as long as I have, you must be wondering.
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Holiday travel forecasts: “Cautious optimism” — or billion-dollar bloodbath?

snowyThere are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Maybe Mark Twain, or Benjamin Disraeli, or whoever first said that, worked in the travel industry. Because this week, as we look ahead to the busy holiday season, we are presented with two conflicting views of the future. One of them is probably wrong.

(And don’t even get me started on yesterday’s AAA Thanksgiving forecast, which basically said nothing was going to happen.)
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