Travel Notes: Alaska, other airlines explore self-boarding

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Alaska Airlines is in the "early stages" of exploring a self-boarding system that lets passengers scan their own boarding passes at the gates.

Spokeswoman Bobbie Egan confirmed that the airline is exploring a pilot program at a single airport. No details yet on timing or which airport the Seattle-based airline might use.

Alaska introduced do-it-yourself, checked-bag tagging in June.

Delta Air Lines recently tested a self-service turnstile for boarding planes in Atlanta and Las Vegas. Some airlines in Asia and Europe, including Lufthansa, already use automated systems to scan boarding passes.

Automation eliminates the need for a gate agent to physically check boarding passes.

Some unions see the move as a way to cut labor costs, but Steve Lott of Airlines for America, a trade group representing U.S. airlines, says airlines still will need agents at the gate to help passengers change seats or solve other problems.


Hotel rate game

Shopping online hotel-booking sites for the lowest room rates is a mixed bag. These sites are convenient to use, but the actual room rates are often the same as you'd find on hotel websites.

Average hotel prices are rising across the U.S., so it never hurts to hunt for a bargain.

Now that Expedia is the world's largest travel agency -- responsible for booking one of every 20 occupied hotel-room nights in the United States -- I thought it might be worth a spot check.

I found no screaming deals, but in some cases I turned up a savings of a few dollars a night on Expedia, its sister site, Hotels.com, and other sites such as Orbitz and Travelocity, even though the room rates were the same as what the hotels quoted.

An example: A queen room at the Kimpton chain's Hotel Monaco in San Francisco was $239 on the hotel's website, plus $37.20 in taxes for a total of $276.20. Expedia also listed the room at $239, but with taxes and fees of $35.37 for a total $274.37. Finally, Travelocity also quoted $239 plus $36.49 in tax and recovery charges, for a rate of $275.49.

What gives?

Kimpton's Brandyn Hull says the variance has to do with the use a different formula for applying various taxes to the base rate. The difference is just a few dollars, but in Kimpton's case, it does affect the hotel's guarantee to match any rate found on another site, plus throw in a $25 dining credit. That guarantee applies to the base rate, which in all the above cases, was the same.

Looking for real savings? Try calling a hotel and asking for discounts that don't show up elsewhere. I called the Hotel Monaco, asked for an AAA discount and was quoted a rate of $204, or $235.75 with taxes.

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