Where to Watch 2014 FIFA World Cup Stars in the United States This Summer

FIFA_coverThe 2014 FIFA World Cup™ caught the attention of the U.S. population like no previous World Cup ever.  The final game on July 13, in which Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 on a goal by Mario Götze in extra time, drew a combined audience of 25.6 million on ABC and Univision, making it the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history.  The U.S.-Portugal group-stage match-up on June 22 set an English-language broadcast record, with 18.7 million people tuning in nationwide.  If you’re hoping to continue to feed your futbol fever this summer, you’re in luck:  Quite a few World Cup stars will be playing the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup in North America this summer.  Below are a few opportunities for you to catch the action, live or on TV.

Manchester United v. Inter (Milan), July 29, FedEx Field, Washington, D.C.

Under the watchful eye of new manager Louis van Gaal, who led the Netherlands to a third-place finish in the World Cup, Manchester United is hoping to rebound from a disappointing 2013-14 English Premier League (EPL) season.  Among the World Cup stars expected to play for Man U. are Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck (England), Juan Mata (Spain), and Shinji Kagawa (Japan).  Inter plans to field World Cuppers Yuto Nagatomo (Japan), Saphir Taider (Algeria), and Fredy Guarín (Colombia).

FIFA_kick

Liverpool FC v. Manchester City, July 30, Yankee Stadium, New York, NY

Following its second-place EPL finish last season, Liverpool plans to use World Cup stars Pepe Reina (Spain), Sebastian Coates (Uruguay), Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, and Daniel Sturridge (England), and Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast).  Manchester City will counter with a squad of international stand-outs like David Silva (Spain), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Joe Hart (England), and Edin Dzeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Olympiacos vs. Manchester City, July 30, Yankee Stadium, New York, NY

Champions of the Greek Super League last year, Olympiacos will field several Greek national team members, including Ioannnis Maniatis, José Holebas, and Konstantinos Manolas, against a Man City squad preparing to defend its 2013-14 EPL crown.

Manchester United vs. Real Madrid, August 2, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI

Although James Rodriguez (Columbia), the 2014 World Cup breakout star and Golden Boot winner who recently signed with Real Madrid, probably won’t play, the squad will feature World Cup participants Pepe and Fábio Coentrão (Portugal), as well as Xabi Alonso (Spain).  Unfortunately, though, Real Madrid stars Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Toni Kroos (Germany), and Keylor Navas (Costa Rica) will be skipping the tournament.

FIFA_goalie

Join Travel Plus

When traveling across the U.S., be sure to earn 5% cash back on airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You can also save on a variety of travel extras, including in-flight entertainment, hotel services, rental-car gear, and Wi-Fi wherever you go.  And if you’re among the millions of Americans who got caught up in the excitement of the 2014 World Cup, be sure to check out the August 6 MLS All-Star Game in Portland, OR, featuring eight U.S. men’s team performers.

Save Money When You Travel with Your Pets

TravelPets_topMaking travel plans for your family (or any group) can be difficult and time-consuming, but when your travel party includes one or more pets, the degree of planning difficulty can seem Herculean.  While you consider your pets valued family members, worthy of top-notch treatment, many travel providers, hotels, and even rental-car agencies regard them as nuisances at best and as the animal equivalent of personae non gratae at worst.  As a result, the cost of traveling with your pets might seem so high that you begin to question the very idea of traveling with your pet.  Fear not, though:  Below are a few tips to help you save money when you travel with your pets.

DogCarHit the Road

We mean that (somewhat) literally.  Traveling by car is one of the surest ways to save on long-distance travel with pets.  You and your pet are presumably already familiar with road trip guidelines, and it’s easy to find a place to park and deal with urgent needs, which you can’t do in airports, planes, or trains.

CatPetTravelBeyond that, airlines aren’t required to let pets fly, and those that do sometimes charge such exorbitant fees that you may be tempted to buy Fido his own ticket.  There are also a variety of federal regulations, on top of the individual carrier’s policies, that you must follow when flying with a pet.

Perhaps incredibly, trains are less pet-friendly than airlines.  Unless your pet is a service animal, it can’t enjoy passage on Amtrak, even if it’s a search-and-rescue dog.  Some city-specific train systems (e.g., Metro-North, which offers service to the north of New York City) allow small, controlled pets onboard, but that policy is of little use if pets can’t accompany their owners to those destinations.

Take Your Own Wheels

Most rental-car agencies allow their customers to take pets along as passengers, but some locations can be more restrictive.  However, if your pet has an accident (or simply sheds an excessive amount of fur), you’ll be liable for a cleaning charge.

hoteldogcheckinFind the Right Nest

Thankfully, hotels in recent years have become much more obliging to pet owners (and pets) than transportation providers, and identifying pet-friendly hotels can be done via simple online searches.  Certain hotels charge a pet fee (including a non-refundable deposit), though; to find the most affordable accommodations, be sure to inquire about the full cost of your pet’s stay before booking a room.  Once you arrive, just keep in mind the proper etiquette for visiting pets.

Join Travel Plus

Wherever you and your pet(s) go across the United States, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations when you make them through Travel Plus.  You can also claim rebates on all sorts of travel extras, from in-flight meals and entertainment to hotel perks, rental-car extras, and Wi-Fi service anywhere.  When you vacation with your pets, make sure you know and follow the rules of the road — and travel safely!

How to Stay Safe on Ocean Cruises

cruise_coverSummer is a popular season for family cruise vacations, although peak times for specific destinations vary according to their attractions.  (The busiest season for Canada and New England cruises, for instance, is in September and October, when fall foliage flourishes.)  More than 20 million people take cruise vacations every year, and the vast majority return with blissful memories and happy stories.  Cruises often travel outside the legal borders of individual countries, though (and, more specifically, outside the scope of U.S. laws), so wherever your voyage may lead, you’re responsible for your own safety.  To help you and your travel companions enjoy a safe, secure trip, we’ve put together a few tips on how to stay safe on ocean cruises.

Research Potential Ocean Liners

The Vessel Sanitation Program, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tracks gastrointestinal illnesses aboard cruise ships.  CruiseJunkie.com compiles anecdotal information about Events at Sea (“All the Things that Can Go Wrong On A Cruise”) from media reports, passenger accounts, and messages sent to the website.  Review as much data as possible about potential ships before booking your cruise.

cruise_firstaidTake All Necessary Medical Precautions

Any reputable cruise ship offers qualified medical care, generally on par with ambulatory care centers.  Research your chosen ship — and its various ports of call — beforehand to ensure that it can provide the medical services and resources to handle any pre-existing condition(s) among the people in your party.  Also, stock up on all essential medications before boarding the ship; you should have enough on hand to last well beyond the scheduled cruise length, in case your return is delayed for some reason.

Use “Street Savvy”

Ocean liners are basically floating towns.  The largest ship in the world, Allure of the Seas, contains 16 passenger decks, 24 passenger elevators, and accommodations for up to 6,318 guests and 2,384 crew members.  It may be comforting to think that everyone is there to have (or contribute to) good clean fun, but most large groups include at least a few troublemakers.  Follow certain safety measures:

  • Know the ship’s emergency procedures
  • Travel in groups (or at least pairs)
  • Drink responsibly
  • Avoid (and report) shady behavior
  • Supervise children at all times
  • Leave valuables at home

cruise_oceanUse Common Sense

Beyond the usual risks that life offers anywhere, the hazards on a cruise ship include going overboard.  It’s been estimated that more than 200 people have fallen overboard since 1995, and rescue efforts in open water can be incredibly difficult.  Recognize and respect the potential perils of ocean travel, and make sure you don’t place yourself (or anyone else on the ship) in harm’s way.

Try Travel Plus

Through Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations to and from your cruise ship embarking and debarking destinations — and get rebates on all those perks that make vacation travel that much more enjoyable.  Be sure to leave us a comment to share your favorite cruise ship memories.

Popular U.S. Travel Destinations in April 2014

With the extreme weather events of winter 2013-14 slowly fading into the past, April (with any luck) will mark a return to spring’s eternal promises of hope and renewal.  As people across the United States begin to shed their overcoats and break out the 2014 spring fashions, many of us will try to erase memories of the harsh winter via warm-weather activities, including rejuvenating vacation trips.  If you’re looking to put an extra hop in your spring, you might want to consider one of these popular U.S. travel destinations this April.

Opening Month of Major League Baseball Season - Image of a BaseballOpening Month of the Major League Baseball Season

Fans of every major league team can still dream of post-season glory when the 2014 Major League Baseball season moves into full swing this April.  (Technically, it starts on March 22, in Sydney, Australia, with an “Opening Series” between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks; details, details.)  While the season essentially opens on March 31, baseball fans can still enjoy opening-day festivities in 15 ballparks this April.  Can Boston remain strong enough to repeat?  Will the purchase power of the Yankees and Dodgers translate into on-field success?  Can the St. Louis Cardinals perform up to their expectations?  The answers to these and other riveting questions start unfolding in April.

Coachella, Indio, California, April 11-13 and 18-20

Coachella, Indio, California, April 11-13 and 18-20

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is already sold out, but admission passes can still be had on secondary ticketing sites.  It’s no surprise that tickets went so quickly; the 2014 Coachella line-up boasts serious star power, including Arcade Fire, Beck, Fatboy Slim, Nas, Outkast, and Pharrell Williams, among dozens of performers.  While many festival attendees will camp out (on-site and off-site), Palm Springs is within a half-hour drive, for those who prefer hotel accommodations.

New Orleans Jazz FestivalNew Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana, April 25-May 4

The Jazz Fest was launched in 1970 with little fanfare, selling only 350 tickets even though it featured such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, and Mahalia Jackson.  Since that inauspicious start, the Jazz Fest has blossomed into a bucket-list destination for musicians and fans alike.  Consider just a few of the hundreds of artists in the 2014 Jazz Fest line-up:

  • Aaron Neville
  • Al Jarreau
  • Arcade Fire
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Eric Clapton
  • John Fogerty
  • Keb’ Mo’
  • Lyle Lovett
  • Phish
  • Public Enemy
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Robin Thicke
  • Santana
  • Vampire Weekend

You can purchase tickets for single weekend days, the Big Chief VIP Experience, the Grand Marshal VIP Pass, and the Krewe of Jazz Fest VIP Pass.  Make your reservations soon, though; admission is limited, and VIP Passes in particular sell out quickly.

Try Travel Plus

To save on travel, not just in April but year-round, join Travel Plus, where you can earn 5% cash back when you make your flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations through the program — and enjoy rebates on a wide variety of travel perks.  If you could vacation anywhere this spring, where would you go?

Get Ready for the Start of Your 2014 March Madness Pool

marchmadness_coverMarch, it’s said, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Most people think that’s a comment on the weather, but anyone who fills out NCAA men’s college basketball tournament brackets knows that it actually refers to their dwindling chances of winning a March Madness pool.  More than 50 million people participate in the annual ritual, trying to claim part of the $3 billion that Americans bet on the tourney.  Instead of just joining a 2014 March Madness pool, why not attend a game and experience the thrill and excitement of unpaid athletes playing for glory, entertainment, and the financial benefit (usually) of their schools?

marchmadness_hoopBelow are the sites, dates, and arenas for every round of the 2014 Division I men’s college basketball tournament.  To purchase tickets, you’ll need to visit the NCAA Tickets & Hospitality page; tickets aren’t available through the individual arenas.

First Four (play-in games)

Dayton, Ohio, March 18 and 19; UD Arena

Preliminary Rounds (second- and third-round games)

Buffalo, New York, March 20 and 22; First Niagara Center

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 20 and 22; BMO Harris Bradley Center

Orlando, Florida, March 20 and 22; Amway Center

Spokane, Washington, March 20 and 22; Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena

Raleigh, North Carolina, March 21 and 23; PNC Arena

San Antonio, Texas, March 21 and 23; AT&T Center

San Diego, California, March 21 and 23; Viejas Arena

St. Louis, Missouri, March 21 and 23; Scottrade Center

Regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games)

West Regional:  Anaheim California, March 27 and 29; Honda Center

South Regional:  Memphis, Tennessee, March 27 and 29; FedExForum

Midwest Regional:  Indianapolis, Indiana, March 28 and 30; Lucas Oil Stadium

East Regional:  New York, New York, March 28 and 30; Madison Square Garden

Final Four and Championship Game

Arlington, Texas, April 5 and 7; AT&T Stadium

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

To spice things up for the Final Four in Dallas, the NCAA and various sponsors are staging the 2014 NCAA March Madness Music Festival, a series of free concerts from April 4-6 at Reunion Park.  Featured performers include Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Killers, Tim McGraw, and Jason Aldean.

At this point, those folks are the only guaranteed performers at the Final Four.  No heavy favorites emerged from the regular season.  Kentucky and Michigan State were ranked #1 and #2 in the AP’s preseason poll; by the end of the season, they were barely in the top 25.  Wichita State went undefeated in regular-season play but competes in the Missouri Valley Conference, a mid-major league.  Syracuse, Arizona, and Duke all have weaknesses. Senior-laden Florida might be the best bet, but a lot of March Madness brackets will be banking on surprise Final Four sleepers this year.

Want a sure bet?  Try Travel Plus, which offers 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations and rebates on travel perks that can ease the pain of seeing your March Madness brackets crumble.  Which team are you picking to win it all?

How to (Diplomatically) Ask Travel Guests to Leave

travelguests_coverWe tend to connect travel costs with our own trips out of town.  Sometimes, though, such costs show up unexpectedly on our doorsteps, in the form of people who violate Ben Franklin’s maxim about houseguests, overstay their welcomes in our homes, and lower their own expenses by transferring them to their hosts’ budgets.  As a public service, we therefore offer a few tips on how to (diplomatically) ask unwanted travel guests to leave.  (Please note:  These suggestions aren’t guaranteed to work.  In fact, you really should review your specific state’s laws on houseguests before letting them into your home.)

Stop treating them like guests.  travelguests_dishesThe longer someone stays in your home, the more that person becomes a part of the family (or an unofficial tenant).  Just as you expect your children to do household chores to earn their allowance, ask unwelcome visitors to work (and/or pay) for their accommodations.  One potential drawback (beyond the possibility of creating an implicit pay-to-stay agreement):  Once your guests start chipping in for privileges, they may expect better service.  You might avoid this by assigning them particularly unenviable, unenjoyable chores.

Stop acting like a host(ess).  Most of us behave differently when guests are around.  Our ingrained living habits — casual clothes around the house, dinner in front of the TV, milk gulped straight out of the container — often vanish, at least temporarily.  Go back to your preferred lifestyle:  Play your favorite music whenever you want, catch up on TV shows according to your own desires and schedule, fix single-serving (or strictly family-size) meals, and tell your guests they’re on their own.

travelguests_walkingMake yourself unavailable.  Even the rudest guests might find it difficult to justify staying in your home if you suddenly got sick or had to go away.  (Don’t accept their offer to look after you or your house.  If necessary, tell them you have a long-time nursing/house-sitting arrangement with someone who owns a Doberman pinscher that doesn’t like strangers.)  If your guests don’t take the hint, start packing your bags or exhibiting uncomfortable signs of illness, and shoo them out as you go along.

Show them the (hotel) door.  If you can afford it, pay for a night at a local hotel, tell your guests it’s non-refundable, and present the offer in a way that makes it hard to decline (e.g., “I really can’t recommend this hotel highly enough” or “you’d be doing me a huge favor”).

Be honest.  If worse comes to worst, the truth can set you free.  Tell your guests you need to get back to your previous life — the one you enjoyed before they arrived.

Houseguests who refuse to leave can take an unexpected bite out of your household finances.  To stretch your travel budget as far as possible, try Travel Plus, where you’ll earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations, as well as rebates on a wide range of travel perks.  Happy trails (and please remember to go home at a reasonable time)!

Safety Tips for a Winter Road Trip

From the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to Sal and Dean in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, from Peter and Ellie in Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” to the Delta House frat brothers in “Animal House,” Americans have always been attracted to the idea that our hopes and dreams may be waiting for us down the road, around the next corner, or over the next hill.  The lure of the open road can pop up at any time, even in winter, when Mother Nature isn’t exactly warm and welcoming to voyagers.  If your urge to travel outweighs any concerns about the weather, be sure to heed the safety tips for a winter road trip; we share a few of them below.

Check the weather forecasts, research traffic conditions and highway construction plans, and plot out a route — including reservations at overnight rest stops — that will get you where you want to go with minimal hassle and inconvenience.Plan your itinerary in advance.  The idea of just hopping into your car and going wherever the road takes you can be very appealing, but it’s a recipe for potential disaster.  You may be heading directly into a paralyzing storm or straight into a long series of traffic jams, which are less dangerous than blizzards but just as frustrating.  Check the weather forecasts, research traffic conditions and highway construction plans, and plot out a route — including reservations at overnight rest stops — that will get you where you want to go with minimal hassle and inconvenience.  Then make sure you share your plans with someone who can alert and inform the authorities if you get lost.

Prepare your vehicle for anything.  Hoping for the best isn’t an effective strategy.  Have your car tuned up before you leave home, and stock it with everything you might possibly need along the way, including (but not limited to):

  • Emergency Kit - Prepare your vehicle for anything.  Hoping for the best isn’t an effective strategy.  Have your car tuned up before you leave home, and stock it with everything you might possibly need along the wayA first-aid kit
  • A car emergency kit, complete with any potential repair needs and a fire extinguisher
  • Enough non-perishable food, drinks, water, and sanitary items to last several days (in case you’re stranded)
  • Cold-weather gear
  • Entertainment items (again, in case you’re stranded)
  • Your cellphone (preferably equipped with GPS), chargers, and up-to-date maps (cellphones don’t always work)

Once you’re packed, remember to fill the gas tank, and try to follow a route that offers access to quick, easy refills.

Get your rest.  Drowsy drivers are dangerous drivers — and not just to themselves.  Coffee may be an effective pick-me-up in the morning, but it shouldn’t be used as a remedy for driving fatigue.  If your eyelids are drooping well before your next planned stop, find a place to pull over for a nap; sleeping in your car is far preferable to (and much more affordable than) waking up in a hospital room.

Drive safely.  In inclement weather, safe driving means driving slowly, keeping your headlights on, maintaining more distance between your car and other vehicles, braking early and slowly, forgoing cruise control, and taking every precaution.

Hitting the open road can be quite rewarding — and/or just plain fun.  To enhance your enjoyment, make car and hotel reservations through Travel Plus:  You’ll earn 5% cash back on bookings and rebates on travel perks.  Happy trails!