Andaz
The Andaz hotel chain, owned by Hyatt, bucks the trend of expensive minibars by offering free local snacks to guests.

Image: Flickr, Simon Q

Forget traffic jams, the Are we there yet?! whines, and bad weather.

The real headache for many travelers is a quickly-growing list of hotel surcharges, even for items they never use.

Guaranteeing two queen beds or one king bed will cost you, as will checking in early or checking out late. Don’t need the in-room safe? You’re likely still paying. And the overpriced can of soda may be the least of your issues with the hotel minibar.

Vacationers are finding it harder to anticipate the true cost of their stay, especially because many of these charges vary from hotel to hotel, even within the same chain.

Coming out of the recession, the travel industry grew fee-happy. Car rental companies charged extra for services such as electronic toll collection devices and navigation systems. And airlines gained notoriety for adding fees for checking luggage, picking seats in advance, skipping lines at security and boarding early. Hotel surcharges predate the recession, but recently properties have been catching up to the rest of the industry.

“The airlines have done a really nice job of making hotel fees and surcharges seem reasonable,” says Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s hospitality school.

This year, hotels will take in a record $2.25 billion in revenue from such add-ons, 6% more than in 2013 and nearly double that of a decade ago, according to a new study released Monday by Hanson. Nearly half of the increase can be attributed to new surcharges and hotels increasing the amounts of existing fees.

It’s small in comparison to airlines, which made more than $6 billion in 2013 for checked baggage and itinerary changes, but it will likely continue to grow.

Hanson says guests need to be “extra-attentive” to the fine print. Fewer and fewer services come for free.

Need to check out by noon but don’t have a flight until after dinner? Hotels once stored luggage as a courtesy. Now, a growing number charge $1 or $2 per bag.

Shipping something to the hotel in advance of your trip? There could be a fee for that too. The Hyatt Regency San Antonio, which subcontracts its business center to FedEx Office, charges $10 to $25 to receive a package, depending on weight.

Some budget hotels charge $1.50 a night for in-room safes.

Convincing a front desk employee to waive a fee at check-out is getting harder. Fees are more established, better disclosed and hotel employees are now trained to politely say no.

“It’s the most difficult it’s ever been to get a charge removed,” Hanson says.

U.S. hotels last year took in $122.2 billion in room revenue, according to travel research company STR. Fees only add an extra 2% in revenue, but Hanson notes the majority of that money is pure profit.

Some guests are revolting.

Royce Breckon travels frequently for his job marketing outdoor sporting equipment but refuses to spend the night at any hotel charging for Internet. Charges typically range from $10 to $25 a night.

“You can walk into just about any coffee shop and have it for free,” Breckon says.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association says fees are common in the travel business and that its members disclose them at the time of booking.

Hotels first started adding surcharges in 1997, mostly at resorts with expansive pools, tennis courts and fancy gyms. The so-called resort fees paid for staff to set up beach umbrellas and lounge chairs. Three years later, hotels added energy surcharges to cover rising utility bills.

Hotels then refrained from adding any major surcharge for several years. But as airlines and car rental agencies made fees commonplace, hotels started to think up new ones, collecting record amounts in each of the past four years, according to Hanson’s research.

Even the in-room minibar – a decades-old splurge – isn’t safe from the new wave of add-ons.

At the Liberty Hotel in Boston a cold can of Coke from the minibar costs $5. That’s just the base price. The fine print on the menu reveals an 18% “administrative fee” to restock the bar.

Elsewhere, the in-room offerings are more conspicuous. Jimmy R. Howell was shocked by the W San Diego’s efforts to sell him snacks and drinks.

“Usually these extras are kept under lock and key,” Howell says. At the W, they were “strewn about” the room, above the bar, on the desk, nightstands and in the bathroom. “It seems like an effort to tempt you.”

Any traveler who has picked up a $9 bottle of water on the nightstand thinking it was complimentary will understand.

Even moving an item in the minibar can generate a fee.

The Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, like many other hotels, bills items to guests’ rooms if sensors in the minibar note they have been removed for more than 60 seconds – enough time, hotels say, to read the nutritional information and make a decision.

The Aria goes one step further. It also charges a $25 a day “personal use fee” if a guest puts their own soda or bottled water in the minibar. A guest in need of a mini refrigerator can have one delivered to their room – for an extra $35 a night.

Some hotels — primarily those on the more expensive end — are bucking the trend. Hyatt’s upscale boutique Andaz chain offers complimentary local snacks and non-alcoholic drinks from its minibars.

Hotels are also revisiting resort fees, upping the price, especially at the high-end.

For $650 a night, guests at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort — set on a former coconut plantation in Puerto Rico — enjoy rooms with 300-thread-count sheets and walk-in-closets. But that’s not the full price. There’s a $60 nightly resort charge, which provides for a welcome drink upon check-in, Internet access, the use of beach umbrellas and lounge chairs, bicycles and a daily poolside ritual iced tea service that includes fruit skewers. Guests pay whether they use the services or not.

Other hotels are adding mandatory tips.

The Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda, which was recently charging $469 a night, charges a resort fee and mandatory gratuities for each person in a room. So two adults and two kids sharing a room would incur $48.28 a night in resort fees and $40.80 tips — adding 19% to the nightly rate.

And the fees aren’t limited to resorts anymore. The Serrano hotel in downtown San Francisco adds on a $20 per night “Urban Fee” that includes Internet, local phone calls, newspapers, morning coffee and use of bicycles.

Perhaps nowhere are hotels pushing fees further than in Las Vegas. Forget resort fees. Those are taken for granted there. Resorts like The Bellagio are learning from airlines and selling enhancements.

Want to skip the notoriously long Las Vegas check-in lines? That will be $30 extra. Want to check-in early? That’s another $30. Check-out late? Also $30.

And if you want two queen beds or one king bed, it will cost extra to guarantee your preference. For an extra — you guessed it — $30, the Bellagio will lock in three room preferences such as bed type, requests to be near or far away from the elevators, rooms on a high or low floor or the option to have quieter non-connecting rooms.

Then there was the fee Hank Phillippi Ryan, a mystery writer, faced while in town to sign copies of her new book “Truth Be Told” at a convention. Before heading to the airport, she went to the lobby of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino to print her boarding pass. There a kiosk offered the service — for $7.95.

“I think I actually yelped,” she recalls. “I had never seen that before.”

Additional reporting by Mashable

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/08/25/hotels-fees/

5-tech-tools-making-classrooms-better-6a95fc21aa

Online education made it possible for people to continue studies while juggling jobs, parenthood and other responsibilities that formerly inhibited the learning process.

Teachers are integrating tools like the cloud and social media to provide a better learning experience for students. Platforms like Facebook and Tumblr are used heavily every day. But adding another platform to the daily routine can seem overwhelming. By bringing new light to how each tool is utilized, students might be more inclined to participate.

Cameron Pittman, a high school physics and chemistry teacher at LEAD Academy, uses video games stored in the cloud to teach physics.

“Any successful education system prepares students to enter the world as knowledgeable, responsible citizens,” says Pittman. “We’re doing students a disservice if their education does not reflect the challenges they’ll face. Technology has irreversibly altered the world around us, and as such, education must follow suit.”

The game, called Portals, runs through a school-friendly game distribution service, Steam. Portals has a site called Teach With Portals, which allows teachers to access lesson plans and unique puzzles, and join a teachers-only community forum to share experiences.

Below, we’ve rounded up a few other ways that social media and technology are bring innovation to the classroom.

1. The Cloud

A big part of nontraditional studies comes from the cloud. Virtual communities provide the same quality education, while meeting the unique needs of students.

Indiana University High School is one of the schools utilizing the cloud, and it enables students worldwide to earn an accredited diploma through virtual learning. Because everything is in real-time, students and teachers have access to all material at all times — all they need is an Internet connection.

The cloud also makes education more streamlined for students and teachers, and at times, less expensive. Rather than carrying notebooks, textbooks and other physical learning materials, all resources are stored in the cloud, making it easy to send and save files for assignments and note-taking.

2. Facebook

In April, Facebook tapped into its former “College Only” days with Facebook Groups for Schools. These online communities serve as digital bulletin boards, so group members can share files, post jobs or internships and stay up to date on what’s happening on campus.

Students and professors are also utilizing Facebook as an online study group — one that can be open or closed to the public.

Schools such as John Cabot University created a public forum to keep students and parents informed, share photos or videos from classroom activities or schedule upcoming events.

Facebook also provides tips and guidelines for educators and school counselors.

3. Twitter

Twitter may not provide the same cloud-like backup that a site like Facebook has, but that doesn’t make it less valuable.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, professor Les Harrison required all students register a Twitter account (if they didn’t already have one) and use it collectively as a book club.

Just as Twitter users carry out television and movie-related conversations online, students can apply the same methods to reading assignments or projects. Harrison requires the students to tweet thoughts and inquiries on reading assignments. Each student was asked to also respond to other classmates’s comments.

Students and teachers are encouraged to bring other notable figures and organizations into the conversation, or they can subscribe to lists of people who are relevant to the subject matter.

Twitter is particularly useful for lecture courses that are too big for in-class conversation. To get students involved without interrupting, University of Texas-Dallas history professor Monica Rankin used Twitter so students could post messages or ask questions during class.

4. Tumblr

Instead of doodling in a notebook, students can create a more organized and less messy collection of notes, thoughts and clips with a micro-blogging platform like Tumblr.

Professors at the Columbia School of Journalism utilize Tumblr in a way that’s similar to online education sites such as Blackboard. With the pages feature, professors can post their syllabus and other relevant information in a way that’s easy to access. At Missouri School of Journalism, Jen Lee Reeves’ class Tumblr is a great resource for students and anyone else interested in journalism trends.

Students can either have individual Tumblr accounts, or professors can set up a group blog. They can then submit assignments, reblog, ask and answer questions, and engage with each other on a platform they’re already using heavily.

Tumblr also has an education tag — managed and curated by a handful of professionals in the education industry — that’s a great resource for students.

5. Pinterest

Don’t think Pinterest is only useful for your wedding plans. The hot social pinboard can be a valuable resource for teachers, too, as a way to create and organize lesson plans online.

Furthermore, it can be a great tool for collaboration — whether that’s with like-minded professionals, or encouraging parents and students to post pictures or ideas that pertain to the classroom.

Students can use Pinterest as an individual tool for organization, or in a group project. It’s a great way to keep ideas and visuals in one storyboard. Similar to Tumblr, it can also be used as a digital notebook, full of quotes, images, artwork and videos.

How does your school — or your kids’ school — integrate tech into the classroom? Tell us in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/20/innovative-tech-classroom/

For-health-answers-people-consult-the-internet-over-doctors-study--78dc323a50

Are you a bit shy when it comes to asking your physician personal health questions? Or maybe you avoid the doctor because you worry certain medical services won’t be covered by insurance? If so, you’re not alone, according to a survey by Pearl.com, a site that connects users to doctors, lawyers and other professionals for advice.

Out of 1,000 people surveyed, 63% said they are more likely to ask about sensitive topics like sex and STDs online rather than in-person at the doctor’s office. And 65% said they have avoided going to a doctor in favor of seeking medical information online. People mostly turn to the interwebs due to concerns over health insurance coverage (24%) or embarrassment (21%).

“Pearl.com seeks to help improve people’s lives, and one way that we’re doing this is by providing health and medical access to people who prefer online access to an expensive doctor’s visit, need help after hours, are uncomfortable asking questions in-person, and/or want to get some initial information from a doctor online before scheduling the in-person appointment,” said Allison Leeds, head of user experience for Pearl.com, in a statement.

Pearl.com, which launched this past June, lets you interact with doctors and lawyers to get professional advice on a variety of topics for a monthly fee. The site was founded by Andy Kurtzig when he and his wife were new parents and had lots of questions for the doctor. Having programming experience, he wanted to make it easy and quick for his wife to talk to a doctor.

HealthTap is a similar service, except it’s free. The only caveat is you have to post your health concern in a public forum, so if embarrassment is your reason for avoiding the doctor, this site might not work for you.

The online survey of 1,000 U.S. adults 18 and older was conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Pearl.

When you’re not feeling well or think you have a medical problem, how often do you turn to the Internet for guidance? And how often do you follow that up with a real doctor appointment? Tell us in the comments.

Image credit Flickr, Alex E. Proimos

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/12/health-questions-online-than-doctor/