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Originally published Saturday, June 19, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Travel updates: App turns cellphone into room key

The InterContinental Hotels Group plans to test a digital app that can turn your cellphone into your room key.

App turns cellphone

into room key

Airlines have replaced some airport check-in agents with self-service kiosks. Will hotels be next to eliminate the front desk?

Probably not, but many hotel companies are investing in ways to make the check-in process faster.

The InterContinental Hotels Group plans to test a digital application that can turn your cellphone into your room key.

Under a program set to begin this month, guests at two hotels, one in Chicago and one in Houston, will be able to download an application to their phone.

Once guests get a code from the front desk, their phones can play a tone that opens the sound-activated locks on the doors to their rooms. Under a second phase, guests will be able to get the code sent directly to their phone, eliminating the need to stop by the front desk.

Oil-spill refunds

Online-travel agency Orbitz is offering to refund lodging costs for Florida travelers with stand-alone hotel reservations if a beach at their destination is closed due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The offer applies to about 100 coastal hotels in Florida but may be expanded to other states. Customers who book for travel between June 14 and July 31 are eligible for a refund if a government agency closes a beach within 20 miles of the property or declares it dangerous. The offer does not apply to rooms booked as part of a package deal.

Nepal travel alert

The United States has cautioned its citizens about travel to Nepal after months of street protests and political turmoil in the Himalayan nation.

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The warning, issued by the U.S. State Department, urged Americans to obtain updated security information before traveling and said they should be prepared to change their plans on short notice.

The Maoist rebels shut down the country for more than a week last month protesting against the government. Street demonstrations turned violent with clashes between demonstrators and police. No tourists were harmed, but a general strike shut down hotels, restaurants and transportation.

Gay-friendly travel

Visitors to Seattle looking for gay- and lesbian-friendly travel opportunities can access a new website launched by the Greater Seattle Business Association in partnership with Alaska Airlines. Travelers can book hotel stays and find information about restaurants, shopping and neighborhoods at Travel Gay Seattle, www.thegsba.org/travel.

Baggage-fee changes

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air are now charging most passengers $20 to check a first bag, up from $15, but lowered the price for checking a second and third bag.

Passengers checking one to three bags will pay $20 per bag, $5 less than previously charged for the second bag and a $30 decrease for the third. Charges for the first two checked bags are waived for first-class passengers and certain mileage-plan members as well as passengers traveling within Alaska and to or from Mexico City and Guadalajara.

Seattle Times staff and news services

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