So let's celebrate with a list of who was naughty and nice this year to people on the go. For example, we paid more for hotels in New York (naughty) but flew there seemingly for pennies (nice).
U.S. airlines were
Nice, for giving us cheap fares. We got by with paying nearly 50% less, on average and adjusted for inflation, than we did in 1978, the year that the industry was deregulated, the Air Transport Assn. reported in July. Even airlines' attempts to add sorely needed fuel surcharges mostly fell under the wheels of low-cost carriers and penny-pinching passengers.
Naughty, for charging us $5 and $10 to book seats by phone or in person.
Nice, for reducing walk-up fares and not making us fly round trip or stay Saturday night to get good prices — even if these courtesies were often limited to routes where so-called legacy carriers confronted low-cost competition.
Naughty, for taking back extra inches of legroom. Saying it needed the fares, American announced it would reinstall some seats it took out only four years ago in its "More Room Throughout Coach" program. Just when we were getting comfy.
Nice, for putting more self-service check-in kiosks at airports. It saves us time. And it saves airlines money.
Naughty, for reducing food service on domestic flights. Among the cutbacks: US Airways, which earlier ended free meals in coach, stopped offering special meals, such as vegan and gluten-free, even in first class. American indicated it will end free meals in coach next year.
Nice, for expanding electronic ticketing. By the end of next year, two big alliances of U.S. and foreign carriers — the Star Alliance and Sky Team — plan to have agreements among all their members that will enable passengers to use a single e-ticket when their itineraries include more than one airline.
The lodging industry was
Naughty, for raising room rates. OK, they crawled up less than 4% at U.S. hotels overall in 2004, according to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, after three years of slipping and stagnation. But rates in New York shot up more than twice as fast as the nation as a whole, and Las Vegas was raking it in too. And really — $40 per day to park your car at an urban hotel? $4.50 for a bottle of water in your room? Not a jolly prospect.
Nice, for otherwise treating us well. Nearly 70% of readers surveyed by Consumer Reports magazine said they were "very" or "completely" satisfied with their hotel stays — up from 60% in 2001. The lodging industry also scored a respectable 71 of 100 points in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, produced by the University of Michigan Business School and other entities.
NCL Corp. was
Naughty, for converting the genteel art of tipping into a mandatory service charge on its new Pride of Aloha ship sailing the Hawaiian islands.
Nice, for suspending, at least temporarily, the $10-per-day charge after persistent service problems.
The cyber-world was
Nice, for giving us more one-stop shopping, including Mobissimo.com and Kayak.com. These aggregators, an idea pioneered by SideStep, scour gobs of websites for the best airfares, saving us many mouse clicks.
Naughty, for making us pay to play in our forests and on other federal lands. I'm talking about the Adventure Pass program, which Congress last month voted to extend for a decade. Yes, I know our forests are underfunded. But the government should allocate more money instead of dinging users at the doorstep. What's next? Pay toilets?
Nice, for aiding passengers who may be stranded by a bankrupt airline. Congress on Dec. 8 renewed a law that requires other carriers, on a standby basis, to honor these fliers' tickets. The law has plenty of fine print and loopholes, but at least it puts a $25 one-way cap on fees that airlines can charge in this situation.
California state government was
Nice, for curbing rental-car spies. Starting Jan. 1, companies can't use satellite tracking devices to fine car renters for crossing state lines or other alleged violations of their contract, thanks to a bill sponsored this year by former Assemblywoman Ellen M. Corbett (D-San Leandro). Using this gambit, some rogue outlets had extracted thousands of dollars from customers.
Not so nice: A provision in Corbett's bill that would have required companies to disclose that the device is in your rental car was dropped before passage. That leaves us to wonder: How can you guarantee that bored car jockeys won't silently monitor your every move? And what happens to the records of your whereabouts?
Naughty, for nearly doubling the price of annual park passes and raising other park fees too. The real culprit was a $15-million reduction in the park system's budget.
Nice, for pulling the plug on cruise-ship pollution. A new law sponsored by then-Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) prohibits waste incineration on cruise ships within three miles of the California coast. Another, by former Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance), bars ships from draining water from sinks, showers and laundries into the ocean within three miles of the California coast.
The big picture
On balance, I'd stuff a few more oranges than lumps of coal in the stockings of the travel industry and its regulators.
So happy traveling to all this holiday season.
And to all a good flight.
Hear more tips from Jane Engle on Travel Insider topics at latimes.com/engle. She welcomes comments but can't respond individually to letters and calls. Write to Travel Insider, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012, or e-mail email@example.com.