Where to Celebrate the New Year in the United States

newyears-destinations_coverAs a diverse population of over 300 million people, Americans embrace a variety of traditions and beliefs during the holiday season, from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to Festivus, ChrisFSMas, and more.  One holiday that the vast majority of us recognize, if only because the calendar forces us to do so, is New Year’s Day — and its lead-in, New Year’s Eve.  Of course, the proper way to mark the transition from one year to the next can be as personal a decision as the December holidays are.  If you’re still trying to determine where to celebrate the New Year, here are a few locations you might want to consider, depending on what your interests and desires may be.

New York Citynewyears-destinations_nyc

One of the things “the city that never sleeps” is known for is its televised Times Square ball-drop, which rings in the New Year in millions of homes throughout the Eastern time zone.  Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a popular bucket-list item, though, so if loud, boisterous crowds are on your agenda, try to get there early; revelers start staking out the best spots on the morning of December 31.  (Fortunately, there are dozens of other entertainment options in the area if you’d prefer a roof over your head that night.)

Pasadena, California

Looking for a warmer clime (and a longer tradition) than Times Square offers?  Try the Pasadena Tournament of Roses® Parade, which celebrates its 126th year with an “Inspiring Stories” theme.  You’ll have to buy a ticket if you want to sit in the grandstand, but you can save money simply by watching the festivities from the sidewalk.  After the parade, football fans will want to head to the Rose Bowl for the first-ever FBS College Football Playoff game, which kicks off at 2:10 pm PT.  This semifinal match-up features #2 Oregon and #3 Florida State.

Key West, Floridanewyears-destinations_keys

If you’re not looking for tradition, large crowds, or hoopla, head to the southern-most spot in the continental United States.  Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, an eccentric gathering, or just some time alone, Key West offers a variety of events, sites, and sights to help you contemplate (or forget) the last 365 days and get ready for the coming year.

Estes Park, Colorado

If you’d rather embrace the cold than escape from it, try Estes Park, where you’ll find plenty of New Year’s activities, as well as all sorts of winter fun.  Its location in Rocky Mountain National Park provides an abundance of outdoor adventures to help you kick off 2015 in style — skiing, sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, and more.

Travel Plus

Earn 5% cash back on your New Year’s airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You’ll also enjoy cash-back rebates on a variety of flight, hotel, and rental-car perks that will help your 2015 budget.  With Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

Top 2014 NFL Training Camp Sites

NFLTrainingCampDiehard football fans look forward to August in much the same way that children look forward to Christmas morning.  After a five-month post-Super Bowl hiatus, the National Football League finally starts staging games again every August.  The slate begins, as always, on August 3 with the Hall of Fame Game, which features the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills this year.  The 2014 NFL regular season kicks off a month later on Thursday, September 4, when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks.  If four weeks of exhibition games aren’t enough to satisfy your football urges, we recommend checking out the following NFL training camps:

Pittsburgh Steelers, Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania

With six titles, the Steelers are the most successful team in the Super Bowl era.  Since 1967, they’ve been training in Latrobe, hometown of the first Rolling Rock brewery, golfer Arnold Palmer, and Fred Rogers (a.k.a. “Mr. Rogers”).  If you’re hoping to watch the Steelers train, consider staying in Pittsburgh, which is 40 miles from Latrobe and offers world-class attractions.

NFLTrainingCamp_FootballGreen Bay Packers, St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin

The Packers, the only publicly-owned team in the NFL, have captured four Super Bowl titles.  2014 marks their 57th straight year of training in De Pere, a suburb of Green Bay.  Visitors can take in all of the charms and amenities of the third-largest city in Wisconsin, including Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Botanical Garden, and more.

Oakland Raiders, Marriott Napa Valley Spa and Resort, Napa, California

The Raiders have three Super Bowl rings, not to mention perhaps the nicest training-camp location in the NFL.  Since their 1995 return to Oakland, the Raiders have been working out in Napa Valley, i.e., Wine Country, which boasts approximately 400 wineries across the county.  A renowned tourist destination, Napa offers plentiful accommodations to suit every taste.

Dallas Cowboys, River Ridge Playing Fields, Oxnard, California

The Cowboys, named “America’s Team” by NFL Films after losing Super Bowl XIII to the Steelers, have five Super Bowl titles, tied with San Francisco for second all-time.  They return to Oxnard in 2014, the ninth time they’ve held camp there.  A coastal city about 40 miles southeast of Santa Barbara, Oxnard visitors can catch the Ventura County Fair, Concerts by the Sea, and other events when they’re not watching the Cowboys train.

(Please note that public training sessions for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in Renton, Washington, are already sold out.)

Travel Plus, Everywhere, USA

Whether you’re attending an NFL training camp or just getting away from it all, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus — plus you can get cash back on all sorts of travel services, including airline needs, hotel perks, rental-car extras, Wi-Fi, and more.  Wherever you go, there you are, but when you get there with Travel Plus, you know you’re saving on all your travel plans.

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.

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)!

Great U.S. Destinations for Solo Travelers This Winter

solo_vacaWanderlust tugs at everyone, and as appealing as it often is to travel with your family or close friends, sometimes the urge to hit the road by yourself — to truly get away from it all — is too strong to resist.  The benefits of an independent adventure can be boiled down into a simple statement:  You’re in charge — of everything.  You choose the itinerary, the food, the resting points, the places to stay, the things to do, and the people to see (or avoid).  Far be it from us to intrude on such a personal decision, but if you’re looking for some ideas, we’re happy to offer you a few great places for solo travel across the U.S. this winter.

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Austin, Texas.  The capital of the Lone Star State, Austin also bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with a vibrant music scene that includes over 250 live venues.  One annual highlight is the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference and festival.  Taking place this year from March 7-16, SXSW features top stars and the hottest up-and-comers in the music, film, and interactive industries.  You’ll want to check out the movie premieres and concerts, but be sure to catch the various keynote speakers.

ArizonaArizona.  With average highs of 70 to 76 degrees in February and March, Arizona can provide a much-needed break from cold, inclement weather.  The Grand Canyon is the favored spot for most travelers, but the Cactus League (15 Major League Baseball teams that head to Arizona in late February for “spring” training) is a popular destination for fans who like to get a jump on the coming season.  Preseason ticket prices remain less expensive than regular-season tickets, and the ballparks are cozy enough to offer up-close views of all the players.

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

New York City.  “The city that never sleeps” has a slew of attractions and activities that appeal to tens of millions of travelers year-round.  From Broadway shows and museums to sporting events, 4,200+ restaurants, 1,700+ parks (including Central Park, of course), and a sprawling transportation system that can ferry you around town while protecting you from winter’s elements, you’ll likely find more ways to spend your time than you’ll find time to spend in New York City.

Kirkwood, California.  Adventurous solo ski buffs can test their skills with a trip to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which has averaged well over 400 inches of annual snowfall since 2008.  Just 47 minutes south of Lake Tahoe, and within reach of 14 other resorts in the area, Kirkwood is nevertheless uniquely isolated from the outside world, offering “Rare Earth” views and challenging trails that will leave you breathless.

Whether you just want to escape or are trying to find yourself, getting away on your own is a worthy pursuit.  Whatever your reason for solo travel in the United States this winter, Travel Plus can help you save on your journey, with 5% cash back on plane, hotel, and rental-car reservations, rebates on travel perks, and much more.