Travel News & Deals
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The best hotel deals? Not always at the hotel's website

Although many consumers book rooms directly on hotel websites — out of loyalty to a brand or because they think they'll find the best prices that way — such sites don't always have the best deals or make the search easier.

Here are options the next time you're searching for a hotel stay:

 

Online travel agencies: Easy comparison shopping is the key. You want a good price but don't want to spend hours searching individual hotel websites. TripAdvisor, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Kayak and dozens more will do the comparison for you, allowing you to filter by ratings, price, location and amenities.

Caveat: You may have to pay for the room in advance, although most bookings are usually refundable subject to the individual hotel's policies. Most prices are within a few dollars of one another, but differences can result from changes in availability and rates.

 

Hotel websites: You've shopped around, or maybe you haven't because you're brand-loyal, and you're going to book...

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Santa Claus, a bit offbeat: Unusual St. Nicks around the world

In some parts of the world Santa Claus -- also known as Sinter Klass, St. Nick, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Kris Kringle and a whole bunch of other names -- goes diving or rides motorcycles. It's enough to put a mall Santa to shame.

At the Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise outside Tokyo, Santa isn't making a list or checking it twice. He's diving into an aquarium to bring enormous sunfish some Christmas treats -- and lure some visitors to take a look.

Ditto for Santa divers at aquariums in Singapore and Malaysia.

In Moscow and Madrid, hundreds of runners in Santa outfits took to the streets to raise money for charity during the holiday season. And a sea of motorcycle Santas buzzed the Piazza Venezia in Rome.

One of the most unusual: German bicycle designer Dieter "Didi" Senft dressed as Santa to showcase his wheel-powered replica of Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate. The moving mobile has about 6,000 LED lights, according to media reports.

Check out offbeat Santas around the world in...

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With NameShouts, foreign names can now roll off your tongue with ease

Stop botching the names of foreign business partners, hosts or even new friends you meet on the road.

Name: NameShouts

Website: NameShouts.com

What it does: Sounds out the correct pronunciation of names in 14 languages, including Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Bengali and Russian.

What's hot: It's great if you know how to spell the name of the person before calling or meeting him or her. Input the spelling of a "full name" in the search bar. Once it finds the name (if it can't locate the original among the 14,000 in its database, it will suggest a similar alternative or invite you to add the name), click the sound icon and listen to the pronunciation. Go ahead — you can listen to it as many times as you need to. There's even a "Slow" button if you need the name pronounced more slowly.

What's not: This tool needs to be pocket-size. Thankfully, NameShouts knows that. It is currently working on apps for both iOS and Android.

 

travel@latimes.com

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Foreign briefing: Travel warning on violent crime in Venezuela

The U.S. State Department has issued these warnings:

Venezuela: On Dec. 11, the State Department warned visitors that "violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive … both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior." It notes that the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, and that kidnappings also are a problem.

Haiti: On Dec. 4, a State Department warning outlined issues pertaining to the country's emergency medical facilities and the emergency response network. "Travelers to Haiti are encouraged to use organizations that have solid evacuation and medical support options in place," it said. "Some U.S. citizens injured in accidents and others with serious health concerns have been unable to find necessary medical care in Haiti and have had to arrange and pay for medical evacuation to the United States." It also notes that violent crime is down but that robbery in Port-au-Prince or soon after leaving the airport...

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Travel letters: Ontario Airport and other alternatives to LAX

Ontario and other alternatives to LAX

Regarding "Airport Convenience Comes at a Price" by Catharine Hamm, Dec. 14: My wife and I are passionate about flying from LA/Ontario International Airport. The last time I drove to LAX, I narrowly missed being in a very bad accident on the 210 Freeway. I'd rather pay extra and fly from Ontario.

I would estimate there are more than 2 million people who are closer to the Ontario airport than LAX. There definitely is a market, and if Ontario were to regain control of the airport, you'd see the number of people using it rise dramatically. Los Angeles does not want to give up the airport because it does not want the competition.

We go to England twice a year. Before 9/11, we flew Ontario to Chicago to London. Then, United stopped flying directly to Chicago.

We also flew Ontario to L.A. and then to London. If I want to go from Ontario to L.A., I have to go through San Francisco, which makes no sense. Our flights from Ontario to Houston to London are...

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Films & programs: Explore the Point Fermin tide pools in San Pedro

SAN PEDRO

Tide pool walk

Watch an informative slide show at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium followed by a naturalist-led walk to the nearby Point Fermin tide pools.

When, where: 3-4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro.

Admission, info: Free, (310) 548-7562.

 

JOSHUA TREE

Photography

A professional photographer will share tips on how to take better pictures with your cellphone or point-and-shoot camera.

When, where: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms.

Admission, info: $70. (760) 367-5535.

 

Please email announcements at least three weeks before the event to travel@latimes.com.

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