Baggage getting you down?

TRAVEL SMARTS

For travelers who can afford it, shipping luggage avoids hassles

October 27, 2002

Three years ago, the idea of paying $50 or $100 to ship a bag to your destination seemed like a luxury for the rich.

"People thought we were way ahead of the curve," says Richard Altomare, who founded such a shipping service in 1999 after he popped a shoulder hoisting a bag.

At first, his service was not widely used, but since the Sept. 11 attacks, as security-related luggage hassles have grown, so has Altomare's business. He heads Universal Express Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., which runs Luggage Express (866-744-7224, www.usxpluggageexpress .com) and a similar company, Virtual Bellhop (877-235-5467, www.virtualbellhop.com).

At least two other companies, Sports Express in Durango, Colo. (800-357-4174, www.sportsexpress. com), and Skycap International in Anchorage, Alaska (877-775-9227, www.skycapinternational.com), specialize in luggage shipping for airline passengers.

Typically, such services pick up bags from your home and ship them to your destination hotel using FedEx or other couriers, timing them to arrive when you do or sometimes the day before, and coordinating with the hotel staff. On return, they ship the bags back to your home.

Airlines, cruise lines and upscale hotels are starting to refer customers to such services. So don't be surprised if your travel agent asks you, "Window seat? Aisle seat? Baggage shipping?" when booking your plane ticket.

CLIFFSIDE BATHS REOPEN IN BIG SUR

Goodbye, funky redwood tubs. Hello, $6 million bathhouse. Esalen Institute, the 40-year-old New Age retreat in Big Sur, Calif., known for its seminars, massages and hot mineral springs, has reopened its ocean cliffside baths in a new stone-and-concrete structure.

The original baths, in a building that dated to the 1930s, were destroyed four years ago by a landslide. Temporary redwood tubs have been used since then. The new bathhouse, perched about 50 feet above the Pacific, is a two-level structure with clerestory windows, verandas and sandstone floors warmed by the springs. It can hold about 60 bathers in seven tubs.

Starting Nov. 15, visitors can use the tubs on a limited basis by paying a $20 fee. Esalen guests can stay on a room-and-board plan that includes meals, classes and bath access for $170 per person per night on weekends; weekday rates are lower.

Guests at the nonprofit institute can attend residential seminar programs of varying lengths that begin at $545 for a weekend, with lower rates for bunk-bed rooms.

For more information about Esalen and its offerings, call 831-667-3005 or visit www.esalen.org.

Visiting the not-so-leaning tower

Reservations to visit Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa, which reopened this year after 10 years of work designed to prevent it from leaning farther, are available through the tour operator Select Italy.

The cost is $10 per person for a timed reservation; the ticket is about $17 additional.

For more information, call 800-877-1755, or go online to www.selectitaly.com

-- From wire reports

American drops fee for in-flight entertainment

American Airlines will eliminate its $5 charge for in-flight entertainment in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean starting Nov. 1. Instead, coach passengers will pay $2 to buy a personal headset that they can reuse. (Entertainment continues to be free for noncoach passengers on these flights and for all classes on international flights.)

Spokesman Todd Burke said the move will save the cash-strapped airline about $6 million per year in labor and reprovisioning costs. In another change, American has reduced vouchers to passengers who volunteer to give up their seats on overbooked flights. Such vouchers, formerly $100 to $1,000, are now capped at $300 in most cases.

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