Archive for February, 2013

Availability for SXSW Music in Austin, TX

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

South By Southwest Music is less than two weeks away, but it’s not too late to plan a last-minute trip to see some great free music! Below are the links for more information on free SXSW Music concerts and hotel availability:

Free Concerts During SXSW Music

Several Downtown Austin hotels still have room availability for the music portion of SXSW (3/12 – 3/17). Check out these properties within 1.5 miles of the Austin Convention Center, which is in the middle of all the action.

Hotel Recommendations

Extended Stay America Austin - Downtown – Town Lake (3.6 rating)
0.7 miles from the Austin Convention Center
Rooms starting at $245/night
*No availability on 3/12

DoubleTree by Hilton Austin - University Area (4.0 rating)
1.2 miles from the Austin Convention Center
Rooms starting at $389
*No availability on 3/12 or 3/13

There are also a number of properties within 3-5 miles of Downtown Austin that have affordable rooms available and are great options If you’re driving or planning to rent a bike.

Crowne Plaza Austin (4.0 rating)
4.7 miles from the Austin Convention Center
Rooms starting at $254

SpringHill Suites by Marriott Austin South (4.1 rating)
3.6 miles from the Austin Convention Center
Rooms starting at $229

Book quickly and let us know which SXSW concerts you’re looking forward to this year!


 
 

 

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Best Air Routes for SXSW

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

If you haven’t booked your flight to SXSW yet, you’re in luck! Rather than recap the “10 tips for finding low airfare” posts that we’re all sick of reading (book at least two weeks in advance, be flexible, yadda, yadda, yadda), we thought it was fitting to introduce a new, innovative company that understands all flights are not created equal. Plus, you get to impress the tech elite at SXSW and reference a travel site that hasn’t even launched yet. (“What, you used Kayak? That was soooo two years ago.”)

Routehappy, currently in beta, has spent the last year gathering and analyzing experiential data for every flight in the world. For the first time, users can search by the flight’s Happiness Score, which factors aircraft, seat, amenities, and flyer ratings. Personalize the search results by sorting and filtering factors important to you (hello, roomier seats and on-demand TV: meet my friends, non-stop & WiFi.)

The founders of Routehappy took some time off their pre-launch prep to generate this list of happiest flights to Austin from top markets. If your home airport is not on the list, do your own search on Routehappy.com’s beta site. While Happiness Scores for non-stop flights are available on the site today, you’ll have to wait a few more weeks for rates, availability, multi-leg, and a ton of slick new features.

Happiest Flights to Austin on March 8 (scores based on 10 point scale)

  • From LA: The happiest flights depart from Long Beach, rather than LAX. With a Happiness Score of 8.42, JetBlue’s Flight B61416 leaves at 12:20 pm and offers a roomy 34-inch pitch and live TV and paid movies aboard an A320. If you are willing to swap happiness for LAX, Routehappy recommends Southwest Flight WN1890 (Happiness Score of 7.36) leaving at 9:55 am. You’ll be a tad more cramped with a 31-inch pitch but you’ll enjoy streaming entertainment on your tablet.
  • From SFO: JetBlue has two flights with a Happiness Score of 8.44, but we recommend Flight B61404 departing at 3:00 pm. Enjoy the A320’s roomier seats at 34 inches and Live TV and paid movies.
  • From NYC: It will not surprise any New Yorker that LGA is the least happy place on earth.  The world’s longest taxi line, one of the worst delay and cancellation records and limited dining are just a few of the factors that make the Routehappy algorithm sad. JetBlue has a number of happy options from JFK, so drive a little further for a happier flight. Choose between two JetBlue flights departing at 12:50 pm or 3:43 pm.  You’ll avoid rush hour traffic and enjoy the roomiest seats available in coach (34-inch pitch).
  • From SEA: Our love affair with JetBlue takes a temporary break in Seattle. Alaska Airlines offers an inch more legroom over the standard 31 inches with a 32-inch pitch. Roomier seats combined with an on-time rating of 95%, Wi-Fi, hand-held entertainment and a departing time of 11:40 am makes Flight A5670 our recommended option.
  • From SJC: Routehappy likes Southwest Flight WN910 thanks in part to its 9:20 am departure time and 97% on-time rating. Southwest is implementing WiFi across its fleet, so use Southwest’s WiFi finder up to 24 hours in advance of your departure to see if your flight offers it.
  • From BOS: JetBlue runs their roomy A320 to Austin at 7:05 am, although we can’t guarantee their 81% on time rating holds up during the next snowpocalypse.
  • From Washington, DC metro area: Southwest Flight WN1729 departing DCA at 5:00pm is the happiest flight with a score of 7.55.  SW’s 737’s configuration offers a 32-inch pitch in coach and streaming entertainment. The on-time record is not the best at 67%, but what can you expect when the airport is a few miles from the President, the Pentagon, and a boatload of politicians.
  • From London: United’s Flight UA35 scores an 8.0 from LHR. The flight departs at 9:20 am with a bearable 1 hour and 49 minute layover in Houston. In theory, you’d enjoy 32-inch pitch on the brand new 787 Dreamliner, which pampers fliers with a quieter cabin, less dehydrated air, upgraded bathrooms and enormous windows.  However, the Dreamliners are grounded until regulators can determine issues with recent battery fires. Until Dreamliners are back in the air, Routehappy recommends British Airways Flight 195 which departs LHR at 10:25 am with a 2 hour and 44 minute layover in Houston.  Seat pitch is a standard 31-inches but seats are extra wide for added comfort.
  • From Paris: Parisian fliers may want to consider splurging for a business class ticket. But if your travel policy requires economy class, Routehappy recommends US Airways Flight 755 with a Happiness Score of 7.1.  The A330-300 features a standard 31-inch pitch but the configuration of 2-4-2 means you have a good shot at scoring an aisle or window seat. The flight features a lengthy layover in Philadelphia (4 hours and 2 minutes) but turn that frown upside down with a tour of Philadelphia’s historic district and a cheesesteak.
  • From Munich: German fliers will have a slightly happier flight aboard Lufthansa Flight 412 departing Munich at 3:25pm. While the seat pitch on Lufthansa’s A340-600 is the standard 31 inches, you’ll enjoy a short layover in Newark (1 hour, 35 minutes) and seatback on-demand entertainment.


 
 

 

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Itinerary of the Month: Jackson Hole, WY

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

IF I HAD 36 HOURS IN JACKSON HOLE….

I’ve often said that Jackson Hole is truly God’s country. No other locale seems to have it ALL so completely. You have the natural geysers (think Old Faithful of Yellowstone) and then you turn your head and there are beautiful prairies, and then you go a bit further and you’ll see the majestic Teton mountains, and lakes, and animals… and I could go on. It is here that He puts it all on display for everyone to enjoy.

So how do you put it all into an itinerary? You don’t! You purposefully have to leave something out so you’ll always have an excuse to come back for more! So, if you are skiing – then ski. The below itinerary is designed for a non-ski visit.

DAY ONE

AFTERNOON

1.  Get oriented with a stroll around the town square, which is framed by four arches made from elk horns gathered in nearby forests. Truly, no elk were harmed in the construction of these arches. You could even hop on a stagecoach. Here are the details:

  • Open: Memorial Day to Labor Day
  • Location: Wooden Shack on Town Square (Corner of Broadway and Cache)
  • Length: 10 minutes around downtown
  • Cost: $4-$6
  • Seats 4-6 passengers.

2.  Visit the local watering hole, the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar to order up a drink and check out the spur collection and other Western memorabilia.

EVENING

Jackson has some really great restaurants that suit most any palate.

The Snake River Grill is one of Jackson’s best-known restaurants — reservations are recommended — and the menu is kept dynamic while maintaining worthy traditions.

Or you can taste the authentic Italian creations at Nani’s Cucina Italiana. The food is as comfortable as the restaurant itself. This family-inspired business is a local favorite and so delicious.

NIGHTLIFE

Most weekend nights find the Center for the Arts abuzz with music and entertainment. The center houses a 500-seat theatre, as well as office, studio and exhibition space for about 20 local arts nonprofits. For all its worldliness, Jackson is a tiny town of about 8,500+ residents.

Jackson Hole Playhouse
Just off Jackson’s Town Square, the Jackson Hole Playhouse puts on performances all summer long. Plays change every year. Enjoy just the show or you can have dinner in the attached Saddle Rock Saloon prior to the nightly performance.

DAY TWO

MORNING

Join local residents lining up for the best coffee in town at Pearl Street Bagels. This bagelry serves its bagels warm from the oven but untoasted – they are soft and oh so yummy!

If you are heading out in the summer or fall then take that warm bagel and head out for a morning hike around Jenny Lake.

Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point Trail
Many people cross Jenny Lake, either by boat or on foot around the south end, and then make the short, forest-shaded uphill slog to Hidden Falls (less than 1 mile of hiking if you take the boat; 5 miles round-trip if you walk around). Just another half-mile and you’re at Inspiration Point where you get an inspiring view of Jenny Lake and the glacial moraine that formed it.

Whichever route you take to Inspiration Point, start early in the day to avoid the crowds.

AFTERNOON

Grab your picnic favorites at Harvest Organic Bakery & Cafe and then a side order of scenery at Snow King Resort. Hike the piney switchbacks 1.8 miles and 1,571 vertical feet to the summit. The view stretches 50 miles to Yellowstone.

Trade in all that hiking for some driving! Fasten your seat belts for an excursion into America’s first national park, Yellowstone, for an ever-changing view of scenery. The park is open all year long. From Jackson, you’ll use the South Entrance. The major scenic attractions (Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Lake Yellowstone) are located on the Grand Loop Road. Its 142 miles long and can have heavy traffic, so be ready to take your time and enjoy the scenery and wildlife along the way.

EVENING

When in Rome… (I mean Jackson) hitch a ride on a Chuckwagon dinner trip for a true Western adventure. Contact BarT5 to recreate the culinary experience of the Old West.

DAY THREE

MORNING

As you say “See Ya Later, Pardner,” rise early to snag a table at Nora’s Fish Creek Inn. Trout and eggs, huevos rancheros and short stack of pancakes make for a hearty start on your day of travel.

Check out yesterday’s post on the Travel Smart Blog for more on Jackson Hole.


 
 

 

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City of the Month: Jackson Hole, WY

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Jackson Hole lies in the heart of Wyoming cowboy country, between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, near Yellowstone National Park and the Idaho border.

I first visited Jackson 12 years ago on my honeymoon. It was exactly what we were looking for: secluded yet not lazy, a place where we could explore and unwind, pack a picnic and enjoy great restaurants. We were there in September, and what I have learned since is that any time is a great time to visit.

In the winter, Jackson is at its peak… peak snow, peak visitors, and peak prices. The majesty of the Grand Tetons beckons with the hypocrisy of their jagged, cloud-like snowbanks. Visitors can ice skate, or take a sleigh or dog sled ride via the Winter Wildlife Safari at the National Elk Refuge to get up close and personal with the wapiti herd celebrating their 100th year.  Hotel pick-up, hot and cold drinks and souvenir safari mugs are included in the price of your trip.

As the Southern Gateway to both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park, many people base themselves in Jackson Hole and explore Teton hiking trails during the day. In the summer and early fall, you’ll see an abundance of awe-inspiring wild animals – Moose, bald eagles, elk, grizzlies, wolves, even mountain lions. Take a scenic float through the park or enjoy whitewater rafting in the Snake River Canyon. Sands Whitewater offers a lot of rafting and river trip choices. Mountain biking trails leave right from town or you can enjoy a horseback riding excursion.

Entertainment

Jackson has a truly astounding variety of art and entertainment considering its small geographical size. For art aficionados, there are galleries galore. For shopaholics – shopping abounds in downtown Jackson. You’ll find mainstream clothing stores such as Eddie Bauer mixed in with eclectic local establishments like the Etsy-seller store, MADE.

You can’t say you’ve been to Jackson Hole without having ridden in a stagecoach or gone on a covered wagon ride. The stagecoach tours the picturesque town and leaves about every 15 minutes. No reservations needed, just show up at the shack on the corner of the park. It’s a quick tour and an easy way for your kids to enjoy some authentic history.

For nightlife, The Stagecoach Bar has a lot of authentic cowboy going-on but you can literally saddle-up at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

In the summer, talented musicians from well-known orchestras participate in the Grand Teton Music Festival.

Out to Eat in Jackson Hole

Can I start with dessert first?

Oscar Ortega is one of two master chocolatiers in the United States, and owns the small but mighty shop of Atelier Ortega. Stop in for an espresso and dessert. Options include chipotle chocolate pudding, bon bons, decadent éclairs and fresh made gelato.

…Okay, now let’s back up to the other daily meals. You can hardly go wrong in Jackson.

Stop into the Pearl St. Market for a coffee and a pastry, an amazing made-to-order deli sandwich, or some fresh fish for your grill.

The Bird offers a quirky, laid back bar/restaurant scene. I’ve never heard a bad review, from the Bison burgers to its “Over 21 Ice Cream.”

Café Genevieve and Teton Thai are as different as they are equally delicious.

Hotels in Jackson Hole

The familiar dilemma of whether to stay slope-side at a mountain resort or stay downtown to take advantage of the atmosphere and nightlife is even more punctuated in Jackson Hole. Regular shuttles into Jackson run often, and parking at the resort is free.

The town of Jackson has lodgings to suit all pockets. The most famous is the Wort, a designated National Historic Landmark hotel dating back to 1941. Located within a minute of the main square, it is warmly welcoming with live après ski music in the Silver Dollar Bar.

The Inn on the Creek is a personal favorite and an affordable option. You’ll feel like you are staying a B&B in this 9 room hotel. The personal touches are wonderful; it is romantic, relaxing and perfectly located. The owners even stocked my backpack with snacks for our hikes.

The Rusty Parrot, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is a boutique hotel with an amazing spa and great dining to boot. The Wild Sage Restaurant specializes in culinary creativity.

A great place to explore, relax and indulge, Jackson Hole is the perfect getaway and therefore our City of the Month- what do you look for in a ‘perfect getaway’ vacation?

UPDATE: American Airlines is offering deals on skiing destinations (including Jackson Hole) if you book by Feb. 28, 2013 for a stay between Feb. 21 – Mar. 30, 2013. Check out your options here: http://bit.ly/Xs5zoW

 
 

 

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The Key to Success in Love… Lock it Up!

Thursday, February 14th, 2013
Love Locks- Paris France (AW)

Love Locks- Paris, France

Once upon a time, lovers carved their initials in a tree. These days, only iron-clad steel will do, as the phenomenon of “Love Locks” is taking hold of fences, gates and bridges all over the world.

Some locks are just plain luggage locks; others have names written on them. Some have a photo of the couple attached, others are shaped like turtles and some are bedazzled and decorated in glitter; to each couple that fixes a lock to the bridge there is some significance to the lock whether fleeting or for forever.

From Serbia to Rome, Paris, Uraguay, China, Japan, Germany, Vancouver…and yes, here in the US, the best way to show your eternal intention and ensure good luck, is to lock it up!

On a fountain in Montevideo, Uruguay, a plaque is affixed to the front of the fountain that provides an explanation: “The legend of this young fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked.

Isn’t Love Always a Bit Controversial?

Love Locks- Florence, Italy

Love Locks- Florence, Italy

Some controversy does surround this growing phenomenon as these essentially key-less locks are affixed to many government and historical structures.  As thousands of locks cover structures questions are raised whether they are causing problems for the preservation of architectural heritage.

For example: in Florence, Italy, 5,500 love padlocks on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge were removed by the city council. Just this week in Los Gatos, CA, couples are losing their locks from the Main Street Bridge as the city deemed them dangerous for passing cars.

The idea has even gone commercial. Order your custom padlock here. http://lovelocksonline.com/

Lock for a good cause – the virtual “love lock”

Masterlock has found a way to not cause any architectural harm and enable lovers to eternalize their romance with virtual love locks. I’ve already sent mine!
http://www.masterlovelock.com/

Do you have a love lock somewhere? Send us a photo of your eternal bond!

 
 

 

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Seven Beaches for Seven Winners in the “Wish I Was Here” Sweepstakes!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Feeling the urge to stick your toes in the sand of a Caribbean beach? Me too! Now through February 22nd, you can enter the “Wish I Was Here” Sweepstakes from Hotels.com. Simply choose where (of the seven beachfront hotels) you’d like to be, instead of wherever you are, and share it on your Facebook, Twitter, and/or Linkedin pages.

You’ll receive one entry in the sweepstakes for a two-night stay for two adults at the property shared on the social networks. And if your friends share the same property via the site, then you get an additional sweepstakes entry for each friend that shared that hotel, too.

Here’s the best part: if you have my kind of sweepstakes luck (which usually isn’t much) then you are already a winner! After you enter the sweepstakes and share your chosen beachfront bliss vacay, you’ll get a coupon from Hotels.com good for 10% off of your stay at the beachfront hotel that you shared.

Winners will be chosen randomly on or near February 27, 2013.

 
 

 

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A Cultural Tour: Best US Street and Flea Markets

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Marketplace
















When visiting a city I’ve never been to, I get really excited when I stumble upon a local street or flea market. For tourists, cities with bustling market scenes are great destinations. If you wat to toss out the guidebook and really see what locals are eating, buying, wearing, and decorating with, all you have to do is hit the local market. What probably once began on a small scale has become, in some cities, quite a shopping extravaganza. And shows like American Pickers and Market Warriors are certainly helping to mainstream second-hand shopping and collecting.

Here are four of the Best Street and Flea Markets in the US:

Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market
New York City, NY

Named one of the Top Ten Shopping Streets in the World by National Geographic, New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market sets the standard for distinctive vendors, where the fashion éclat, collectors and top-notch hagglers still delight at fine old things, memorabilia, original art & antiques.

Located: West 39th Street between 9th & 10th Avenues. The market is open 9 AM – 5 PM every Saturday and Sunday all year long (weather permitting). There is also the West 25th Street Market that is located on West 25th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue featuring vendors selling antiques, collectibles, and other types of vintage and mid-century modern items.

Rose Bowl Flea Market
Pasadena, CA

The Rose Bowl Flea Market is one of the most famous markets in the world, featuring over 2,500 vendors and 20,000 buyers on the second Sunday of every month. You can find just about anything at this flea market. Many celebrities who enjoy wearing vintage clothes are spotted from time to time.

Located: 1001 Rose Bowl Dr. Pasadena, CA 91103. Regular admission starts at 9 AM for the general public at $8.00 per person, children under 12 are admitted free with an adult.

Randolph Street Market
Chicago, IL

The Randolph Street Market Festival is home to the world-renowned Chicago Antique MarketIndie Designer MarketModern Vintage Chicago and the Holiday Market. This is one of the most awesome open-air (and indoor) markets for all things antique, Indie Design and vintage.

2013 Randolph Street Market Dates 
March 23/24, April 27/28, May 25/26, June 29/30, 
July 27/28, August 24/25, September 28/29,
October 26/27, November 23/24 and December 14/15

Michigan Avenue FREE Trolley
May through September, a FREE round trip trolley car picks up from the Water Tower Pumping Station (On South Side of Pearson, just East of Michigan Avenue).

Located: 1350 Block West Randolph and 1340 W. Washington Street between Ada & Ogden

Canton First Monday Trade Days
Canton, Texas

Just an hour outside of Dallas is a market with a history as long as the list of items for sale. Goods have been traded and sold here since 1850, when everything from hunting dogs to hand tools was bartered outside the courthouse during the circuit judge’s monthly visit. Today, the merchandise is more varied than ever, with vintage cowboy boots, handcrafted leather saddles, to period jewelry and china.

Don’t be fooled by its name, shopping takes place on the weekend (Friday – Sunday) BEFORE the first Monday of the month.

Location: 800 Flea Market Rd, Canton, TX 75103

Tips for Market Shoppers

HGTV’s newest hit show “Flea Market Flip” was created and is hosted by Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer. The show is part treasure-seeking adventure, part DIY project, with a dash of game show-style competition. Here are Lara’s top three tips for navigating flea markets, yard sales, thrift stores:

  1. “The early bird gets the worm. There are dealers who go before the sun’s even up and are hunting through boxes and the tables with flashlights.”
  2. “Bring cash. Nothing kills a negotiation more than asking if you can write a check.”
  3. “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Make sure you take a second to look past the fabric or the finish, try to see past that and imagine what piece could look like if you recovered it or refinished it. You have to see the bones, you want to look for good ‘bones.’”


 
 

 

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Today’s Business Traveler

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

In 2012, we saw the business sector of travel make its comeback after a few years of recession. Here’s an interesting infographic from the folks at Expedia showing how today’s business traveler stacks up to the average traveler. How do you compare?

 
 

 

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Strike a Pose, Snap a Photo, Win a Trip… Thank CouponPal.com and Hotels.com

Monday, February 4th, 2013

With Valentine’s Day falling on Thursday this year, surprise your sweetie with a long weekend away. You don’t have to go far to escape the routine of everyday life. Check into a hotel downtown and rock your hometown tourist-style, or pick a spot on the map that you’ve wanted to drive to and head out on a new adventure together. No matter where you go, be sure to take advantage of photo ops along the way.

It’s so much more fun to find a way to snap a photo together. Whether it’s at arm’s length, using the timer in a remote locale or befriending a stranger to capture the moment; stop and take a second to immortalize the good times.

Photo Ops for Valentines

Love Park in Philly
You’ve seen it movies, on post cards, in commercials and more. Located near City Hall, LOVE Park features the famous red-letter sculpture. Here’s a piece of trivia for you: The plaza was actually designed by a famous actor’s dad, who is famous in his own right, Edmond Bacon, father of actor Kevin Bacon.

The Bean in Chicago
The Cloud Gate Sculpture, otherwise known as the giant bean, is one of the highlights of Millennium Park. Photos will reflect both yourself and the city skyline, providing a truly unique vacation picture!

The Promenade in Brooklyn Heights
One of the most romantic spots in New York City, the Promenade is often the backdrop to many a romantic proposal and wedding. One-third of a mile long, it offers a vista of the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline and the majestic Brooklyn Bridge.

Cinderella’s Castle, Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL
Not just for pint-size princesses, many a couple commit to living happily ever after in front of the iconic fairy tale castle. Disney engagements and weddings are quite a business, designed to give your special someone a magical memory that they’ll never forget!

The Cable Cars in San Francisco
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” when a love song has been made about your city, you know you’re in a place of romance. San Francisco’s world famous cable cars take you from downtown Market St. and Powell St. to Fisherman’s Wharf, and provide ample opportunity to strike a pose and capture the good times!

Show Your Love Hotel-Stay Giveaway

On a ski date with my honey, Ryan, in Keystone, CO.

CouponPal.com is set to give away two free nights, courtesy of Hotels.com, as part of their “Show Your Love” Valentine-themed giveaway contest running through February 14. Win and you’ll receive 20 Welcome Rewards® credits from Hotels.com (equivalent to two free nights) and a $100 Visa Gift Card to book a trip to remember.

To enter, simply visit their Hotels.com Giveaway page and upload a picture of you and someone you love accompanied by a message sharing what that special someone means to you. Whether it’s your husband, grandma, or best friend – just “Show Your Love,” and you’ll be entered to win. Three finalists will be determined by popular vote, so be sure to share your entry with your friends to improve your odds of winning. CouponPal’s panel of judges will select the Grand Prize Winner on February 18.

Check into one of the hotels featured in the Valentines Hotel Deals from Hotels.com and you’re already a winner!


 
 

 

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