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How to Use Your Tax Return for Travel

Those looking to travel domestically could take a full two weeks to visit the Pacific Northwest (think: Seattle, Portland and the surrounding area.
Couples can spend a week in Sedona, Arizona hiking the red rocks, or lounge on the beach in Florida’s Key West, with airfares in the low $300s roundtrip from many East Coast airports, according to Jauntaroo.
International destinations are still a possibility for couples on a $2,400 budget, including getaways to Croatia, where roundtrip airfare can be found from $483 per person and hotels can be booked for less than $100 per night. (Sadly, outside the capital, there arent a ton of points hotel options.) Theres also Budapest, Hungary. Hunt for a roundtrip flight just over $400 and boutique apartment rentals for $60 per night on Airbnb.
$2,700 to $2,850For international vacations, Midwest residents can head to Spain from the Midwest for just $481 roundtrip per person, or take a quick flight to the island of Aruba for just $371, according to Skyscanner. Entire families can enjoy a trip here by using points to reserve a stay at one of the islands many great points properties.
Photo by Tashka / Getty Images.$3,000 to $3,150The average tax return has historically been about $3,000 per person, and most states land in this range, from Alaska to Georgia, Maryland and Nevada.It’s still a sizable return, and even travelers who don’t want to spend their entire tax return on a trip can find great options within this budget.For residents of Nevada, Alaska, or any of the other western states, the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington are a short flight and boat ride away.
The rural archipelago is filled with state parks and greenery, making it the perfect option for nature lovers who want to hike, kayak, swim or watch for orcas starting in May. Flights originating from the west can be as low as $103 per person, according to Skyscanner, and hotels on the islands usually run from $70 to $150 per night.For international locations, residents of the West Coast can fly to parts of South America in just a few hours. Flights from California to Sao Paolo, Brazil are usually less than $500 in May.
East Coast residents can turn to the British Isles for a great getaway, where flights to Scotland are $499 round trip and flights to London are just $341, according to Skyscanner. Travelers can splurge on the recently renovated Ritz-Carlton in London, or stay at the highly rated Hilton Metropole for less than $150 per night.(Cash in your points for an award night, and youll have plenty of your tax return left over for food, beverages and activities.)$3,700 to $3,850States in the Northeast see some of the highest average tax refunds, with Connecticut taking the number one spot of $3,844, according to Smart Asset.
Travelers in the highest tax return bracket could jet off to Bali for two weeks to visit ancient Hindu temples. Flights from New York City to Bali can get as low as $481 roundtrip in the month of May (though if you want to book something quick, its not difficult to find flights in the mid-$700s) and hotels run in the low hundreds per night.North African temperatures tend to be relatively mild in the spring, making it a great time to visit Morocco or Egypt (one of our top places to travel this April). Flights to Africa tend to run on the more expensive side, regardless of the time of year, but flights to Casablanca can be found in the low $600s roundtrip.Visitors can rent entire homes near Casablanca for roughly $50 per night — and some even include their own pools.For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips please .

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Sindh tourism authorities want foreign travel websites blocked

KARACHI.: Amid the centre’s attempts to rebrand Pakistan into an attractive travel destination, tourism authorities in Sindh appear to be headed the opposite way as they move towards blocking all international ticketing and hotel reservation websites, seemingly on a single complaint.
Without consulting both foreign and other local tour operators, the Sindh Directorate of Tourist Services (DTS) has asked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to block over 60 websites that it says are operating in the country without valid travel and tourism operation licenses. The list includes globally popular websites like Booking.com, Expedia, AirBnB and Agoda.“These online services have a competitive advantage over local travel and tourism operators as they are not subject to Pakistan’s tax regime,” Sindh DTS Controller Manzoor Hussain Mari told The Express Tribune.
“They often enjoy a price advantage of up to 15 to 20 per cent over local companies,” he said, citing local tour operator Travel Horizontal’s complaint.Travellers allowed only one cellphone in a year to bring to Pakistan duty-freeThe DTS approached the FIA on Travel Horizontal’s complaint, which also alleged that unregistered foreign travel companies mislead customers regarding room rates and availability, and cancellation policies.The local operator further complained that foreign companies bypass financial scrutiny and regulatory due diligence due to these reasons.With the current emphasis on promoting travel and tourism, improved regulation is essential.
As the primary tourism and travel regulator, all travelling and booking services operating from the country are registered with each province’s directorate of tourist services. The provincial DTS are also responsible for ensuring fair pricing, ethical practices and consumer satisfaction.However, when asked how the foreign companies concerned responded to the concern, Mari said the Sindh DTS has not contacted any of them yet. The department’s decision is also seemingly based on one complaint, which appeared to have been filed away haphazardly under bundles of other documents when The Express Tribune requested to review it.The complaint was referred to the department by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), with a request to review it in light of section 37 of the cybercrime act. The DTS then approached the FIA for action before returning the complaint to PTA with some recommendations.In all of this, the directorate has failed to take into account how other local travel operators as well as users of such websites view this situation. It also appeared not to pay serious heed to how a blanket ban on such websites could disturb the travel plans of those relying on them.Syed Shahbaz Ali, who runs a local travel agency, says he regularly uses online booking portals for his clients and also recommends it to them as they often offer the best options and rates. It also helps smaller set-ups who don’t have international partners, he added.Similarly, all those travelling abroad will be unable to access such booking and ticketing websites in case of a ban. Ali Shah, a frequent traveler, says he will use proxies to access Airbnb in case such a situation arises.

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Mixing Luxury and Budget Travel on the Same Trip

While my favorite way to maximize travel is through points and miles, my husband and I have come up with a few other tricks over the years to find.Our go-to technique for a vacation with the right mix of off-the-beaten path adventure mixed with pure luxury and true downtime is our high/low technique.Much like pairing an Ikea mirror with an Eames chair in your living room, mixing high-end travel with lower-cost experiences in the same trip can work well. It also has helped us tame our childrens unrealistic expectations around travel.
On a boat we rented for $15 in rural Vietnam High/Low in Practice.Our budget for accommodations during a recent weeklong vacation in Vietnam was an average of $350 per night. This was on the higher end, but it turned out to channel us toward hotels that we found didnt cater to families.Instead we chose to look for somewhere in the $75–$100 per night range for four nights followed by somewhere in the $500–750 range for the next three nights. We also tried to find a third or fourth night for free through select hotels in Amex’s Fine Hotels Resorts (FHR) program.FHR is available to holders of certain Amex cards, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express. We loved exploring Hoi Ans food markets.

Tips for the Lower End:The key to the low end of the stay is to realize that while it may cost less, it isnt actually less enjoyable because it is culturally rich. During the low, we do lots of sightseeing and driving, eat at local restaurants or cook and keep costs relatively low by engaging in the local economy rather than staying insulated within a resort economy.Our family is able to see areas we wouldn’t normally get to enjoy if we were only sheltered at luxury hotels and resorts. It is also a great time to do purposeful travel.
Plus we often travel with our two young kids and want an Airbnb or family-run hotel for reasons beyond budget.Make sure youre using the best credit cards to book an Airbnb.We sometimes are able to book our low accommodations through Hotels.com/Venture and use my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for 10x the points on the room stay, then use it toward our 10th night free with Hotels.com, which is effectively a 20% return.You can also choose a lower-category points hotel for your stay.
A large welcome bonus, such as the one offered by the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card that earns you 100,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, could get you several nights at a Category 1–4 Marriott redemption.Tips for the Higher EndWhen we head over to the high end, we enter pure resort mode — we don’t have to worry about driving or where to go for lunch because everything is right there.
We often do not leave the grounds because we’ve already explored and just want to stay put. We like to book the luxury piece at the end of the stay and utilize early check-in and late check-out to really stretch the stay (FHR benefits and elite status are great for this).This can be a fantastic time to use a high-end redemption to bring down costs and use the savings for extras such as cooking classes or a spa experience.During a 10-day trip to Bali, for example, we spent five nights in a low-cost villa and then did a five-night redemption at The Ritz-Carlton, Bali (Category 6, from 50,000 Marriott points), taking full advantage of its incredible kids club and inexpensive babysitting.
Here are many different ways to stay with your family in Bali using points.Our one-bedroom villa at Four Season Resort The Nam Hai.Riding on the sleeper train between our high- and low-cost stays in Vietnam.Lower End: Rural VietnamIn Vietnam, our lower end stay was in the Bong Lai Valley at Phong Nha Farmstay for $85 per night, including breakfast.It was essentially a backpackers spot, but had a large family room next to the owner’s apartment. My older son became fast friends with the owner’s son, Howie, and talked about him for months afterward.Enjoying the cooler weather at Phong Nha Farmstay.In Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, we rented a private 14-seat boat for just for the four of us where I could easily breastfeed the baby; the privacy gave us the flexibility to turn back if our 2-year-old was scared of the caves.The three-hour cave gondola ride was $15, plus a $6.50 entrance fee for the national park.Rather than a scary experience, the ride turned out to be peaceful and done at the perfect pace for our family.Another day, we took advantage of the advertised free bikes at the farmstay.
The only family bike had a flat seat on the back. We used my sarong to tie my older son on the back, and my husband wore the baby on his front over the bumpy, muddy roads to the only local attraction called The Duck Stop.Using a hand-drawn map, we found the family-run spot, which offered a package of food and a visit to see their raft of ducks ($4, kids free). Suddenly, we were in borrowed sandals and feed was being thrown on our feet.The ducks chased us while trying to bite our feet with their bills as the owner screamed, “It’s like a massage!” We then greeted the resident water buffalo before heading back on our bikes. These are the types of peculiar travel experiences that I had while backpacking in my 20s and love having again with my family (my husband less so).

High: Four Seasons The Nam HaiAs much as I love reliving my backpacking days, entering the Four Seasons Nam Hai was extraordinary. We booked with a fourth night free, which brought the cost down from $750 per night to $660 per night for a one-bedroom, ocean-view villa with an included exquisite breakfast.Yes, that is pricey, but that is why we balance it out with more affordable accommodations. We also considered the Intercontinental Nha Trang, Vietnam using IHG Rewards Club points from the generous IHG®  Rewards Club Premier Card (bonus currently up to 120k points) and the fourth consecutive award night free for cardholders.
The magical thing about a luxury resort is that they pretty much know where you are at all times and can reach you. With the kids safely in childcare, we attended a Vietnamese cooking class arranged by the hotel that included a visit to the local market.
When we returned from the market with our fresh ingredients, the cooking assistant notified the babysitter to bring my youngest son to me at the cooking school via a golf cart because he needed to breastfeed.When the baby finished his lunch, his babysitter whisked him away again, which made me feel like a mother in “Downton Abbey.” We could not have dropped the fresh shrimp into hot sizzling oil with our tiny children in tow. The Cooking Academy was $115 each and included our fantastic five-course lunch of grilled calamari skewers, grouper in banana leaf and wok-fried prawns in tamarind sauce.To round off the experience, on our last night we went into the ever so photogenic Hoi An to see the lanterns lining the streets. We wandered the streets until our children melted down, and then hopped in a taxi back to the hotel and into bed.
When packing the next morning, we realized that my DSLR camera was gone and must have been left in the taxi. Normally, that might been adios to the camera, but the hotel quickly pulled the license plates off the security camera of us arriving the night before, located the driver and had my camera back in my hands by our 11am departure.That could have been a sour note to end the vacation. Instead we were happy to be staying somewhere where we were just taken care of — our problem suddenly became their problem.We enjoyed the bountiful breakfast buffet rather than scrambling to track down the camera and avoided the sadness of losing all the photos from our trip in Asia with the kids, including those in this story. It was also a reminder to make sure I know what insurance protections my credit cards have.

Bottom Line:The adage goes that a vacation with kids is just a trip and never a vacation. After enjoying sightseeing and adventure time, end your family trip at a luxury resort with safe, reliable on-site childcare so you have time to truly unwind and maybe even have a date before returning home.Using this high/low method, you can average out the costs either with points or cash while enjoying both secluded luxury and local culture.Have you ever tried a high/low vacation? How does your family balance different interests during travel?Know before you go.News and deals straight to your inbox every day.The Business Platinum® Card from American ExpressAside from the 75,000 points welcome bonus, Amex recently made huge improvements to the Business Platinum Card, including the fact that you will now earn 50% more points on purchases of $5,000 or more, earn 5x on flights and eligible hotels at Amextravel.com and cardholders will receive a $200 airline fee credit each year.

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Real estate giants try to be more like WeWork, before it overtakes them

In the fight for the future of the real estate industry, legacy firms are trying to figure out how to contend with WeWork.
The beer-loving co-working startup that landlords once welcomed has grown into something much more complicated and powerful, in part through technology.
The company has developed both consumer facing tech, like an app for booking conference rooms and checking out events in its co-working spaces, as well as operational analytics that makes its offices and overall business more efficient.But at Dock 72, an innovative new building in Brooklyns Navy Yard where We Works custom co-working offices and Rise by We fitness studio will soon fill a third of the square footage, landlords are claiming a small victory.The building, co-owned by Boston Properties and Rudin Management, has its own tech. Rudins technology subsidiary, Prescriptive Data, has developed a mobile app to serve as tenants main portal for interacting with the building.For Dock 72, Rudin developed a mobile app to serve as tenants main portal for interacting with the building. [Image: courtesy of Boston Properties]For a long time, the real estate industry collectively slept on technology adoption, but the success of WeWork and Airbnb has been a blaring makeup call.
The recognition was, we needed to be more formal in our process to vet and review technology and innovation in this space, said Kent Tarrach, vice president of asset management at Brook field Property Partners, speaking at the Real Estate Capital Management Conference in January.To remain competitive in real estate, developers and landlords realized they had to pay more attention to innovation in the field.As technology has made aspects of daily life more convenient and as We Works ambitions and breakneck expansion have upended the real estate industry landlords and building managers have scrambled to figure out where they fit into a tech-enabled landscape.You think about Starbucks, says Georgia Collins,head of workplace experiences for U.S. Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE), a research and industry service provider, It used to be that we all waited in line and waited for our name to be called.Now theres so many people who order ahead of time and just walk in and pick it up.Customers have come to expect that kind of service for everything from meals to dry cleaning and fitness.
Landlords know that in order to attract and keep tenantsand boost the value of their properties they need to be creating similar experiences inside their buildings. The result has meant an investment in cultural amenities and services, with a more thoughtful approach to retail, restaurants, and other programming.
Increasingly landlords and building managers are considering what kinds of events they should be hosting.Software can help pull all of these investments together.
As were building smarter buildings the idea of connecting the building technology to something that is user facing is much more real and appealing, says Collins. Still, she says, there are very few landlords who have come out with their own technology infrastructures.
To fill the gap, CBRE recently launched its own platform called host, a mobile app that businesses can license to connect employees with each other and to on-site amenities. Host also has a concierge service reminiscent of We Works community member service.
Brooklyns Dock 72 [Image: courtesy of Boston Properties]Some landlords are taking equity in new startups as a way to prepare for the future. Brookfield, for example, has invested in project management software for commercial real estate through Honest Buildings and flexible workspace through Convene.
Co-working companies are seen as an opportunity to introduce fledgling companies to a building brand they might eventually grow into on their own lease.Tishman Speyers Zo appAmong those that are innovating inside legacy brands is Tishman Speyer, which owns Rockefeller Center among other properties.
Last year, it launched an app called Zo, to connect tenants with amenities on site. With the app tenants can, for instance, bookfitness classes or order food.
The app also showcases events like wine tastings, talks, and book clubs.Rudin Management was one of a few early adopters.
Around 2009, amid the rise in smartphones, the New York firm began incubating its own technology. The thought was, okay, something this small or that small has an operating system.Why doesnt a building of this size or any size have something comparable? says Rudin.In 2016, the firm released what Michael Rudin refers to as a building operating system, called Nantum.
The software integrates with technology attached to a buildings various subsystems as well as existing building management systems. Its main purpose is to create insight into operations and offer up suggestions for better efficiency.With it, he says, building managers can address problems quicker and tenants can have more control over their heating and cooling. Using a network of beacons and other sensors, Nantum can also analyze office foot traffic to give tenants a sense of how they use their own space and how they can save on energy costs.In 2017,Rudin Management spun out its technology division into a company called Prescriptive Data. It now serves over 30 buildings in 12 separate real estate portfolios.

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