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Originally published Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 7:00 PM

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Alaska, other airlines explore self-boarding

Delta Air Lines recently tested a self-service turnstile for boarding planes in Atlanta and Las Vegas.

Seattle Times travel writer

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Alaska Airlines is in the "early stages" of exploring a self-boarding system that lets passengers scan their own boarding passes at the gates.

Spokeswoman Bobbie Egan confirmed that the airline is exploring a pilot program at a single airport. No details yet on timing or which airport the Seattle-based airline might use.

Alaska introduced do-it-yourself, checked-bag tagging in June.

Delta Air Lines recently tested a self-service turnstile for boarding planes in Atlanta and Las Vegas. Some airlines in Asia and Europe, including Lufthansa, already use automated systems to scan boarding passes.

Automation eliminates the need for a gate agent to physically check boarding passes.

Some unions see the move as a way to cut labor costs, but Steve Lott of Airlines for America, a trade group representing U.S. airlines, says airlines still will need agents at the gate to help passengers change seats or solve other problems.

My guess is that these days, that could include monitoring the size of carry-on bags.

Ditching the gun

The Transportation Security Administration's blog (http://blog.tsa.gov) makes for entertaining reading. Posted is a report that just before passing through security in late June, a passenger in Portland "remembered" he had a .22 caliber pistol in his carry-on.

A TSA agent directed him to the baggage counter to declare the firearm and check it as luggage. A few moments later, another agent saw the man place the gun in a potted plant. He was arrested.

Shopping hotel sites

Shopping online hotel-booking sites for the lowest room rates is a mixed bag. These sites are convenient to use, but the actual room rates are often the same as you'd find on hotel websites.

Average hotel prices are rising across the U.S. In the Seattle area, they were up nearly 5 percent during the first five months of 2012 compared with last year, reports Smith Travel Research. So it never hurts to hunt for a bargain.

Now that Bellevue-based Expedia is the world's largest travel agency — responsible for booking one of every 20 occupied hotel-room nights in the United States, — I thought it might be a good time for a spot check.

I found no screaming deals, but in some cases I turned up a savings of a few dollars a night on Expedia, its sister site, Hotels.com; and other sites such as Orbitz and Travelocity, even though the room rates were the same as what the hotels quoted.

An example: A queen room at the Kimpton chain's Hotel Monaco in San Francisco was $239 on the hotel's website, plus $37.20 in taxes for a total price of $276.20. Expedia also listed the room at $239, but with taxes and fees of $35.37 for a total $274.37. Finally, Travelocity also quoted $239 plus $36.49 in tax and recovery charges, for a rate of $275.49.

What gives?

Kimpton's Brandyn Hull says the variance has to do with the use a different formula for applying various taxes to the base rate. The difference is just a few dollars, but in Kimpton's case, it does affect the hotel's guarantee to match any rate found on another site, plus throw in a $25 dining credit. That guarantee applies to the base rate, which in all the above cases, was the same.

Looking for real savings? Try calling a hotel and asking for discounts that don't show up elsewhere. I called the Hotel Monaco, asked for an AAA discount, and was quoted a rate of $204, or $235.75 with taxes.

Quiet, please

Travelers who can't afford membership in one of Sea-Tac Airport's airline lounges can escape to a new "Quiet Zone" set aside at Gate B-4. The space has closed-caption TV and power outlets for charging cellphones and laptops. You won't hear any announcements here, so be sure to check on gate changes and flight times.

Have a question for travel? Contact Carol Pucci: cpucci@ seattletimes.com. On Twitter @carolpucci.

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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