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TIPS ON MAKING HOTEL RESERVATIONS:

When traveling for business or fun, there’s nothing worse than thinking you have a reservation and learning your hotel reservations been lost, your room has one bed and not two bedrooms, or you thought your check-in time was noon, only to find out it is really 3:00pm. To help avoid these things from happening, there are a few helpful hotel reservation tips seasoned travelers recommend:

Always use a credit card when making a hotel reservation. A credit cards offers the guest some level of protection should the hotel stay go awry. Any disputes a guest may have with the hotel, or with the billing can more easily be rectified through the credit card company. The card company will act as a mediator once their client can show effort to resolve the dispute. Additionally, if a dispute cannot be resolved, the credit card company has the authority to remove the charge from a client’s bill. If cash were paid, a hotel guest would have no recourse. Note: If you don’t use your own credit card to secure a reservation, be aware that the person whose name is on the card will be responsible for showing the card and signing at check in. If the card does not belong to the person staying at the hotel, notify the desk before leaving home (prior to arrival) and ask what their identification procedure is. They may accept a letter from the credit card holder authorizing use, and a copy of both the front and back of the card.

Ask for deals/discounts at each hotel. Many hotels offer corporate, AAA, senior, or even mid-week/off-season discounts. If one is not offered - ask about them. Many hotels now offer ‘rewards’ programs and some hotels reduce rates by $50 or more, for simply signing up for their program. If making reservations online, look for internet-only rates and shop various websites to find the best deals. Travel agents can often secure unadvertised specials or late check-in opportunities which can translate into huge savings.

When making reservations speak clearly and repeat spelling of all names. There have been many reservations lost because of inaccurate spelling and guests have been told they did not have rooms when a hotel or an entire city was booked to capacity. If any special requests are made, verify them and if possible get them in writing. Also make sure to get the name of the employee. Verify everything spell names and verify information/requests etc. Double check reservations prior to leaving for hotel and make sure names of all hotel employees you’ve spoken to are taken.

When reservations are made, changed and cancelled-confirmation numbers are given. Make sure all numbers are kept in a safe place until credit cards are billed and all charges are verified. Cancellation and confirmation numbers are often the difference between being charged for a hotel reservation that was cancelled, the possibility of a free upgrade when the hotel overbooks and you can prove when your reservation was made, and being stranded away from home without a room for the night.
Discuss hotel policies prior to making reservations, and verify them at check-in. Some hotels require credit cards at check in for any hotel charges, such as telephone usage, room service, meals in the hotel, or even take -out arranged through the hotel with area restaurants, etc. If a credit card is not available, a cash/check deposit maybe required for any services/fees that may accrue during the hotel stay. Determine when check-in/check-out times are, when cancellation policies go into affect and verify occupancy limits if staying in a room with multiple occupants.

Remember these hotel reservation tips when scheduling your travel plans. Whether by internet, through a travel agent, or by telephone, it pays to research the hotel and be meticulous when making arrangements. A little pre-planning when making reservations can save major headaches when traveling away from home.


DID YOU KNOW:
FINDING THE BEST HOTEL RATES:
Due to the internet, the manners in which hotel rooms are procured have drastically changed over the last couple of decades. Prior to internet access, guests called hotels directly to book rooms. While some guests continue to book rooms this way, many have learned that calling a hotel directly may not be the most economical choice. However, it is also been found that hotel rates also vary a great deal from website to website, especially discount travel sites.

Hotels are in constant competition with each other for your business. The goal of every hotel is to achieve 100% occupancy. Not only are they competing with each other, they are often competing with themselves. Look at how many hotels have various hotel chain subsidiaries beneath them. They must stay competitive, but still continue to make a profit while keeping their rooms occupied. This said, many hotels offer blocks of rooms to a variety of other entities to sell. Travel agents and online brokers typically compete to sell rooms for hotels, and they receive a percentage of the purchase price. The rate disparity comes into play two ways. First, the hotel is offering rooms at their standard rates or discount club rates. Second, because hotels offer these agents and booking websites various rates, someone who is getting a larger percentage of the sale price, can afford to offer the room at a lower rate than someone who is getting a small percentage from the sale.

Finding the best room rate:
If contacting the hotel directly, ask if they have any current specials. If your travel plans are flexible, inquire about any future specials, and the specific parameters of those specials.

If you’re a ‘select’, ‘rewards’ or hotel ‘member’, mention this, and ask if they have any special discounts available for members of their programs. Additionally, if you are affiliated with a corporate account, or a roadside assistance plan which offers travel benefits, mention that too. Sometimes guests are eligible for more than one discount and can pick and choose the one that provides the greatest savings.

When placing reservations online through a hotel booking service, first find the service that offers the best deal. The best deal may not be the one which provides the lowest price, but the service with the best room guarantee, who is willing to price match. If you’ve found the room for a lower rate elsewhere, tell your preferred vendor and ask them to match the price. Several websites will even provide a 30-day guarantee against lower prices - so even after booking your reservation, stay vigilant.

Hotel rates vary so much because there are numerous entities vying to secure your business by competing with each other. With a little investigative prowess, you can secure the best rates possible for your hotel stay, despite the varying rates.
DID YOU KNOW ARIZONA IS A VERY POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION?

Arizona-the Grand Canyon State-is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. Beyond the iconic Grand Canyon, experiences await you in every direction and in every corner of the state. Arizona is home to 47 national parks, monuments and refuges as well as 29 state parks that showcase mountains, buttes, deserts and hidden lakes. Visitors often start exploring Arizona from Phoenix, the state capital and the fifth largest city in the United States.

Phoenix and Outskirts
Today, Phoenix is a destination as well as a gateway to further adventure in the rugged deserts, lakes and canyons around its edges. Here are some sites to visit around the city:

Phoenix was not the first town to arise along the banks of the Salt River. Explore Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park to see where the ancient Sonoran Desert people once lived and farmed.

The145-acre Desert Botanical Garden strives to be the premier center in the world for the display, study and understanding of desert plants and their environments. Visitors from around the world come here to appreciate the beauty of the garden and to enjoy its outdoor trails, special events and education programs.

The Heard Museum is one of the world’s finest destinations for learning about American Indian arts and cultures with its 11 exhibition galleries, free guided tours, outdoor sculpture gardens, renowned café, art gallery, trading-post style shopping and more. Be sure and watch the Heard’s Native People of the Southwest video series.

There is a reason National Geographic named Phoenix one of "America’s Best Hiking Cities." Phoenix’s South Mountain Park is the largest municipal park in the United States with 16,000 acres and 51 miles of trails for hiking, wildlife viewing or horseback riding. Other Phoenix area trails and desert preserves include Camelback Mountain, Shaw Butte and Piestewa Peak. The Tonto National Forest is another “backyard” desert playground for urban dwellers-tubing on the Salt River is an Arizona summer tradition!
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SYDNEY AUSTRALIA - A PLACE DOWN UNDER 

In Sydney, Australia The Circular Quay is the landing site for the convict-laden vessels from Britain, which founded the penal colony in 1788. From the busy terminal, ferries come and go under the Sydney Harbour Bridge or around the Sydney Opera House. Grand plans to revamp the venerable Opera House are in the works, but new dining venues, such as the outdoor Opera Bar, are already breathing new life into the precinct.

On the other side of Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art reopened in March after adding a new wing. The resulting streamlined spaces flanked by harbor-view windows host exhibitions by Australian notables (sculptor Stephen Birch, neon artist Peter Kennedy) as well as global art stars (Annie Leibovitz, Anish Kapoor).

Behind the museum lies the Rocks, early Sydney’s center. “It was Sydney’s most cosmopolitan place in the 19th century, a working district which welcomed, and also at times abused, the ships and sailors of the world,” says Murray. Press gangs would kidnap hapless sailors along the Rocks’ cobbled alleys, where visitors on weekends now shop for boomerangs and other Australian-made products at the Rocks Markets and spice blends and hand-pressed olive oils at the new Fridays-only Foodies Market. So-called bond stores once stocked with brandy, tobacco, tea, and flour currently house art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and watering holes such as the Argyle, the epicenter of nightlife in the Rocks, with its multiple bars and live music.

Bordering the Rocks to the north, the old commerce-focused wharves of Walsh Bay have become the city’s arts hub. At Wharf 4/5, the Sydney Theatre Company produces new Australian plays and classic works under the artistic guidance of Cate Blanchett, while the contemporary Sydney Dance Company runs drop-in ballet, jazz, and hip-hop classes.

The waterfront rejuvenation began at Darling Harbour, where a host of attractions include an 1874 tall ship, one of only four of its kind in the world and on permanent display as part of the Maritime Museum. Go for a last ride on the iconic monorail that loops from Darling Harbour to the city center, destined to be torn down in the next year or two and turned into scrap metal-a government decision that shocked the city.

But taking to the water remains the best way to appreciate the harbor. Catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island, Sydney’s new favorite harbor island since the former prison and dockyards opened to the public. Tour the heritage buildings, attend a concert or art exhibition, or join the sunset hubbub at the Island Bar, which is constructed from recycled shipping containers.

Alternatively, the classic ferry ride to the famous surf beach at Manly cruises the length of Sydney Harbour before docking at Manly Wharf. Swim, sign up for a surfing lesson, or leave the crowds and rent a kayak next to the wharf. Paddle around Manly Cove’s forested headlands to the secluded inlets and sheltered beaches of Sydney Harbour National Park. Landlubbers can hike the Manly Scenic Walkway. The national park also contains the historic buildings of Q Station, an old quarantine outpost that once cloistered passengers from contagion-hit ships, now a boutique hotel and a popular venue for weddings and conferences.

Where to shop For indie shopping, wander the Victorian streetscapes of inner suburbs Paddington, Woollahra, Newtown, and Surry Hills. Saturday’s Paddington Markets has been in operation for the past 37 years. Vendors hawk everything from watercolor paintings and antique silverware to little girl dresses in eucalyptus print fabric. Many of the designers graduate to the boutiques spread out along Paddington’s Oxford Street, such as Dinosaur Designs, makers of hand-sculpted jewelry. Local fashion labels like Neil Grigg Millinery and Jiva reside on adjoining William Street.

In Surry Hills, Grandma Takes a Trip stocks vintage dresses, coats, and accessories from the 1950s to the ’70s.

Though a long way from the outback, Sydney has plenty of Aboriginal art galleries selling classical dot paintings and contemporary works. The Artery in Darlinghurst specializes in art from such remote Aboriginal communities as Utopia, Mount Leibig, and Pupunya in the Northern Territory, and Kate Owen Gallery in Rozelle features emerging and established artists, including Clifford Possum, whose larger dot canvases set auction records at Sotheby’s.

Where to eat The food truck scene has finally hit Sydney as the city recently approved ten new mobile vendors. Find organic spelt pizzas, gourmet fish tacos, hot chocolate cakes, and more rolling out to fill late-night dining voids in locations like Circular Quay and Pitt Street Mall. The Eat Art Truck serves kingfish seviche and doubles as a street art canvas. The granddaddy of Sydney food trucks, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels has sold meat pies smothered in peas and gravy, a unique local offering, since 1945. It sits incongruously adjacent to Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, now one of the city’s most exclusive residential and dining complexes.

The Opera Kitchen at the Opera House has hit on a winning formula: Combine outlets from some of Sydney’s best known gastronomic brands to form the fanciest food court in town. The wagyu burgers may be a tad expensive, but the harbor views are priceless. Highlights include the sushi bar at Kenji, the plank-roasted king salmon at Cloudy Bay Fish Company, and tiger prawn and green mango rice paper rolls at Misschu.

Gastro Park in Kings Cross has set local foodies abuzz since opening last year. The dining room’s clean lines frame the innovative, intricately styled food, which is anything but casual. Grant King, former executive chef at the seafood-inspired Pier restaurant, produces such playful and adventurous dishes as snapper fillet topped with crunchy fried fish scales.

Sydney has no shortage of waterfront dining, but it’s worth the trip to Bondi for Italian-inspired dishes at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, on the top floor of the famed swimming club at the end of the beach. A favorite: Berkshire pork cutlet with grilled radicchio.

AUSTRALIA TRAVEL FACTS:
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport and visa.

Security: By world standards, Sydney is a safe city, but it’s still prudent to keep your eye on your bags and your wallet in a secure pocket. Don’t leave valuables on display in your car. Areas to avoid at night include the back streets of Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross, and Glebe.

Time: Sydney is 14 hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.

Money: Sydney’s currency is the Australian dollar. For conversion rates visit www.oanda.com/convert/classic.

Phone Calls: Sydney’s area code is 02. For calls to Sydney from within Australia, dial 02 before the eight-digit phone number. From outside Australia, dial your country’s international access code followed by 61, 2, and the eight-digit number. Within Sydney, drop prefixes and use the eight-digit number. Local pay phone calls cost 50 cents.

When to Go: Sydney’s weather is reliably good, with summer maximums around 77°F (25°C); 63°F (17°C) in winter. Rainfall peaks through late summer and autumn; winter and spring are drier. January is peak local holiday season.

Getting There: Sydney Airport (SYD; www.sydneyairport.com.au) is five miles (eight kilometers) south of downtown. Public transportation (bus and train) services the airport.

Getting Around: It’s easy to get lost in Sydney and parking is expensive, but public transport (bus, train, and ferry) is excellent. Taxis are prevalent downtown; your hotel or restaurant can call one for you.

Tips: “March and April or September and October are the best times to visit, as the crowds have thinned and the weather is warm and sunny.”-Anne Matthews, author, Fodor’s Sydney’s 25 Best guidebook. “Always bring layers in case of a sea breeze or sudden downpour.”-Meg Worby, editor, Lonely Planet’s Sydney Encounter and Sydney & New South Wales guidebooks

Passport/Visa: Australia has rigorous border controls. All visitors require a passport, valid for six months from entry. Proof of funds and an ongoing ticket may be requested. Visas are required for nationals of all countries except New Zealand. See www.immi.gov.au and www.eta.immi.gov.au for more information.

Sunscreen: Mandatory for any Sydney trip, even if you’re not a beachgoer. Apply sunscreen to exposed skin at the start of each day, reapplying regularly.

Insect Repellent: Sydney summers can be hot and humid-ideal conditions for bugs and critters. The only ones to worry about, however, are mosquitoes (“mozzies” in local parlance). Apply insect repellent if you’re sitting outside in the evening.

Hat: Australia has an alarmingly high incidence of skin cancer: Wear a broad-rimmed hat in summer.
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