Boo! In a year in which airlines cut flights and imposed fees, hotel rates fluctuated and gas skyrocketed to $4 a gallon, traveling became downright scary. In honor of Halloween, USA TODAY's travel staff share the tricks played on them by the fickle industry — and reveal some surprising treats found on the road.
Trick: Grounded by air-travel realities
I'm an innocent who still marvels at the miracle of flying. I've been blessed over the years by having remarkably few bad experiences, and I even forgive the industry's growing stinginess in charging for blankets, food, extra bags and headphones.
Same thing with security — I get the bigger picture, I go with the flow, and my patience usually has been rewarded. But this year the laws of average caught up with me. In January, a strike by baggage handlers in Buenos Aires meant we never got off the ground in New York.
In February, my flight from Helsinki to New York was rerouted through London because of a security scare elsewhere, causing me to miss a long-planned romantic dinner. In the spring, my jar of precious elderberry preserves was confiscated at security in Canton, Ohio, for being an ounce over the volume limit. In August, I was denied entrance at a security line at JFK because a ticket agent spelled my first name with a 'G' instead of a 'J.'
The final straw came in September when my wife — evacuating from Hurricane Gustav with two Shih-Tzu pups — resorted to tears in Atlanta before ticket agents relented on the one-dog-per-person rule. And on and on. I hated losing my innocence.
Treat: An appetizing deal from Ducasse
Is this the bargain of the year, or an indicator of how desperate things are — and are going to get — in the upscale restaurant industry?
Multi-Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, who operates some of the priciest eateries in the world, offers a $1 appetizer at his Benoit bistro in New York. The "egg mayo," on the menu since the April opening, resembles a deviled egg and comes with a slice of toasted French bread and a lettuce leaf.
Maybe this tasty morsel is just Ducasse's wry commentary on the state of the economy — all of the other appetizers cost an average of $14. Or it could be that he's pulling out all the stops to keep customers coming through the door of his restaurant, which is located on some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
If it's the latter, he's joining the legions of restaurateurs across the country who are lowering prices, adding low-cost bar menus, offering coupons and two-for-one specials and expanding their open hours to keep traffic flowing. Consumers should take advantage of these deals while they can because the cost of produce and ingredients continues to rise and restaurateurs' rents probably aren't coming down.
Trick: Even the fleas had vacated
Here's what almost $200 a night bought in the way of lodgings last month on a trip to the French Mediterranean island of Corsica: a tiny, grim room with bad carpet, acoustical tile ceiling and threadbare linens. And that was the off-season rate.