New horizons for Escape Artists

Posted on September 23rd, 2009 – 8:10 PM
By Kerri Westenberg

Dear readers, Escape Artists is moving to a new server. The updated format is sleek and I think you’ll like it. Check it out by clicking here. You can update your RSS right here.We’re looking forward to a  carrying on the conversation with you about all things travel.

Q&A: Car rental

Posted on September 21st, 2009 – 2:04 PM
By Kerri Westenberg

Q. I’m taking my daughter to visit colleges in Providence, RI, and Syracuse, NY, over the upcoming MEA weekend.  I booked tickets on Southwest at a great rate, flying into Boston and back out of Buffalo, to accomodate the driving between the colleges we’ll be visiting.  I’m now realizing that any savings on the airline tickets will be eaten by the fees to rent a car in Boston and drop it off in Buffalo.  Any ideas on how to get a reasonable car rental when picking up and dropping off in different places?A. You present a perfect case for the importance of considering all costs before booking any travel. Unfortunately, the benefit of dropping off a rental car in Buffalo instead of Boston nearly doubles the price. You’re looking at roughly $100 a day instead of $55, and that’s without the taxes and fees. There are a few tricks to try: First, research rates so you’ll know a good one when you see one, and then call a local agent – not the national 800-line – to see if you can score a deal. Try car rental agents away from the airport, which generally offer better rates (you might even catch a hotel shuttle to downtown Boston for the rental). Also, especially if you are landing toward the end of the day, reserve a compact car; often you’ll be upgraded for free because the car rental company has run out of the smallest vehicles.But would you considered forgoing a rental car for at least a portion of the trip? You could zip down to Providence from Boston in a rental car and return the car to the same location. Then you could take Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited train the long way to Buffalo, where you can rent another car for the drive to Syracuse. Alternately, if the once-a-day schedule permits, you could take the route from Boston (South Station is closest to the airport) to Syracuse and catch the train to Buffalo (Buffalo-Depew, NY station) the next day. It may not save a ton of money (one-way fare between Boston and Buffalo in mid-October hovers just above $50), but it’d made a lovely way to see the Berkshire Mountains and spend quality time with your daughter.Good luck finding the right deal — and the right college.

Megabus booking for Thanksgiving

Posted on September 17th, 2009 – 10:45 AM
By Kerri Westenberg

Megabus – the bus carrier with service as low as $1 between Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago with points beyond — is temporarily altering its reservation system. Usually, travelers book no more than six weeks in advance. Now the popular bus service is taking reservations through November 30, which should help its devotees plan their Thanksgiving travels.

Weekly travel deal: Chicago (again), this time $80 roundtrip

Posted on September 16th, 2009 – 4:41 PM
By Troy Melhus

Chicago seems to be one of the best deals around these days when it comes to last-minute airfare deals.

This week United Airlines is boasting a last-minute airfare deal departing Saturday and returning Monday (or Tuesday) for $96 roundtrip. The fare goes even lower if you wanted to fly to Chicago next weekend: $80.

United has been quite consistent in offering these last-minute deals each week, which this week include fares to Akron ($142), Columbia, SC ($168), El Paso ($172) and several more.

Most of the same cities are available for the same days next week, along with a roundtrip fare to Vail, Colo., for $222.

All those deals and more can be found here:

U.S. Airways is also offering a last-minute e-saver to Amsterdam for $618 roundtrip, available through Sept. 21.

That deal can be found here:

As always, lots of fine print applies.

Other online deals spotted this week:

- Travelzoo is promoting an October sale to Hawaii this week here:

The site says several airlines, including Delta, Hawaiian, Northwest and United are boasting great sale fares to the islands. The sample fare from Minneapolis was $563 roundtrip.
- Sun Country’s fare sale continues this week with fares out of Minneapolis to everywhere from Boston ($198 roundtrip) to Fort Myers to San Francisco ($218 each).
Deals of that sale can be found here:

Q&A: The Pacific Northwest

Posted on September 14th, 2009 – 10:01 AM
By Kerri Westenberg

Q I am going to Portland, Oregon, for business and want to extend my stay. Should I visit Seattle, Washington, or Victoria, British Columbia, or both?A Do both hip, green Seattle and Victoria, with its wedding cake turrets, pristine parks and British history. Seattle may strike you as a larger version of Portland — a casual, eco-conscious vibe, farm-to-table restaurants and ample green space define both cities — but the differences are worth exploring. Microsoft and other mega-companies based in Seattle help fuel world-class arts organizations like the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Plus, a trip there let’s you trade Portland’s Velveteria (a museum devoted to black-velvet  paintings) for Seattle’s Experience Music Project.  Once in Seattle, you can catch the best ride into Victoria: the Victoria Clipper ferry, a nearly 3-hour passage through Puget Sound and into the Straight of Juan de Fuca.  The schedule makes even a day trip possible, with a morning ferry from Seattle and a return in the early evening. (Remember that you need a passport or passcard now to get back into the U.S. after a ferry trip to Canada.) However your itinerary turns out, I hope you enjoy your time in the Pacific Northwest!

Is airplane food getting better?

Posted on September 11th, 2009 – 12:47 PM
By Elizabeth Larsen

There’s been a bit of blogosphere buzz about whether or not airplane food is actually getting better. On a recent flight to Amsterdam, I noticed that while the food wasn’t much different from past years, there were definitely some enhancements to the drink menu, courtesy of Delta. So I decided to try the Rande Gerber (a.k.a. Mr. Cindy Crawford) Margarita signature cocktail. The flight attendant had never served one before (we were flying on a Northwest plane), but she gamely tracked one down and mixed it into a very cute plastic cocktail shaker.

The verdict? Better than what I’ve had at Applebee’s, but certainly not what you would find at Barrio. Still, given the length of the flight, it was a nice alternative. It also relaxed me to the point where I fell asleep before the opening credits of “I Love You, Man” were finished.

What have you noticed about airplane food and beverages recently? Have you seen any improvements?