Coming and Going: Prices rise on flights and cruises; new buses to BWI

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Friday, March 4, 2011; 11:23 AM

Costlier flights and cruises, allied hotels, and new buses to BWI

Pricier cruises

Thanks to higher demand, at least one cruise line is jacking up its prices.

Norwegian Cruise Line plans to raise its fares by as much as 10 percent starting April 1. At the same time, the company will extend its Free Upgrades for All sale through March 31.

The Wave Season promotion provides up to a four-category upgrade on select cruises as well as e-coupons for onboard savings of as much as $400. Wave Season, which runs January through March, is typically the heaviest booking period of the year.

"We've seen exceptional demand spurred by our Wave Season promotion, particularly for the popular summer destinations," said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian's chief executive. The company, which has 11 ships, has surpassed its weekly booking record three times in the past eight weeks, he said.

Info: www.ncl.com.

Profits, into thin air

It's shaping up to be a bad year for the airline industry, which probably means a bad year for passengers, too.

With unrest in the Middle East and North Africa pushing the price of oil past $100 a barrel, the International Air Transport Association has downgraded its 2011 outlook for the airline industry.

The global airline trade group reduced the profits it expects the industry to make this year from $9.1 billion to $8.6 billion. That's nearly 50 percent less than last year's $16 billion profit.

Fuel costs account for about 30 percent of airlines' expenses, so the spike is already causing fare hikes and cuts in capacity. So far this year, airlines have raised fares five times, according to FareCompare.com, which tracks 500 airlines worldwide. Last year, there were four fare hikes; in 2009, there were three.

Some major airlines, including American, Continental, Delta and United, recently increased fares, primarily domestic, by $10 per round trip.

American and Delta have also cut their projections for increased capacity. Which may mean, yes, higher fares.

Hotels of the world unite

Call it the Star Alliance of the hotel world.

The newly created GHA Discovery loyalty program, modeled after the popular airline alliance, officially launched last week, giving guests who stay at its 12 participating hotel chains VIP status and access to more than 1,000 "Local Experiences" - off-the-beaten-path activities designed by individual hotels.

The participating chains, which have almost 300 hotels worldwide, are: Omni Hotels & Resorts, Anantara, Doyle Collection, First, Kempinski, Leela, Mirvac, Marco Polo, Pan Pacific, Parkroyal, Shaza and Tivoli.

Levels of membership are gold, platinum and black. Gold status is yours upon joining, and you're eligible for a local experience after spending one night in a participating hotel. Other perks include complimentary pressing of two items, morning beverage delivery and a shoeshine. Possible local experiences include learning to play traditional drum in the Maldives and taking a sunset drive through a nature reserve in Namibia.

After 10 to 29 nights in a calendar year, you earn platinum status, which entitles you to late checkout and a local treat prepared by the chef and delivered at evening turndown. You might also be able to attend a rubgy match in New Zealand or take classes at a samba school in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

After 30 or more nights, black status earns you such benefits as access to executive lounges and laundry service, a private cruise along the Potomac in a former presidential yacht in Washington or a helicopter tour over the Los Angeles skyline.

Book a reservation at any of the 12 chains at www.gha.com and learn more about the loyalty program at www.ghadiscovery.com.

A new ride to BWI

The Maryland Transit Administration has begun express bus service from Gaithersburg to BWI Marshall airport.

Route 201 provides 14 round trips between the Gaithersburg Park and Ride lot at I-270 and Route 124 in Montgomery County and the airport hourly, seven days a week. Gaithersburg service operates from 4 a.m. until 5 p.m. BWI return service runs from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Service will be free until March 15, when the one-way fare will be $5. Senior citizens and people with disabilities will pay $3.20. Information: www.mtaiccbus.com.

- Nancy Trejos

Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


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