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A hostel or a bike tour: how to make shopping more affordable

Owners of a Mexican tile importing company in Austin, Texas, Nick Barreiro and Canan Kaba had to travel on business during the pandemic. But the opportunity to stay as the sole guests of the five-bedroom Amparo Hotel in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for $ 500 a night last summer, served two of the couple’s goals: to enjoy a hotel they had discovered on a previous trip and make sure they were not contributing to the spread of the virus.

They missed out on meeting other travelers and having more menu choices, but, said Barreiro, “all of this is easily offset by having the hotel entirely to yourself.”

In these socially remote times, many travel agencies are adapting to offer their accommodation, tours and experiences to private groups of families or groups of friends. Most of these buyouts tend to target one percent travelers – the 20-bedroom Greydon House in Nantucket, for example, costs $ 20,000 a night in the summer – but savvy planners will find more affordable options for private travel for satisfy their desire to travel now or in the post-vaccination future.

“We’ve found that if we can keep it relatively affordable per room or per guest, then it’s something in the normal vacation range and people are very intrigued,” said Brent Reynolds, Managing Director of Nolan Reynolds International, which runs a few small hotels in Costa Rica where private bookings have quadrupled since the pandemic. Its Casa Chameleon in Mal Pais, which can accommodate 20 adults in 10 villas, on the Nicoya Peninsula costs $ 3,000 a night.

Keeping a buyout affordable depends on reaching the maximum number of travelers to spread the costs. In some cases, per-person rates may seem economical, but depend on larger groups – the laid-back Hotel San José in Austin, for example, sells for $ 15,000 a night for 80 people. The new 17-room Dubbel Dutch hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where rooms start at $ 150, has made buyouts to accommodate small weddings and retreats.

Some destinations limit group bookings based on Covid-19 restrictions; California, for example, currently only allows accommodation for essential travelers in areas under stay-at-home control. But as private bookings tend to require planning up to six months in advance, now is the time to think about a bubble trip for the summer or beyond, when increased vaccine distribution could. enable safer travel.

Beyond renting a private vacation home, here are some ways creative tour operators make redemptions realistic for many travelers.

Group tour operators have had a very difficult pandemic year. But some of them have adapted to the demand for social distancing and isolation by reconfiguring their tours for small private groups, often not much larger than the average American household.

Over the summer, Escape Adventures, which specializes in bike tours in the American West, increased its minimum of private tours from 10 to five in response to the pandemic, making tours more affordable for groups of families and friends. His four-day trip on the 100-mile White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park in Utah – described as a “natural roller coaster” for its dips and climbs – starts at $ 999 per person, meal and two. guides included: a savings of $ 1,900 a person compared to private pre-Covid tours. Bring your own camping gear or rent it for around $ 100 each.

Tour operator Backroads has created a travel division somewhere between buyouts and group tours. New Rendezvous option allows a small group – up to seven in Europe and nine in North America – to have their own assistance van and guide, as well as the ability to check in and out of scheduled events for the large group. The semi-private option has an additional cost per group of $ 2,400 in Europe and $ 2,900 in North America. A four-day hike in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park starts at $ 2,699 per person, before the Rendezvous supplement.

Small-group specialist G Adventures has added 80 tours for private departures called “Book Your Bubble Collection” designed for eight to 12 travelers. Options include eight days in Morocco starting at $ 671 per person and 16 days exploring Costa Rica starting at $ 1,423 per person (Morocco and Costa Rica are open to American travelers with some restrictions).

As always, before booking a private group tour, check the cancellation policy to understand its terms and possible penalties. G Adventures currently offers a flexible cancellation policy that allows reservation changes up to 30 days prior to departure.

Most affordable accommodation, such as hostels, tends to run the finances by hosting a lot of rooms or guests, making them expensive to buy. (One exception is the relatively small Cache House in Jackson, Wyo., Where groups can purchase a 24-bunk room for $ 199 per person at full capacity, including a ski pass and dinner).

Getting a complete campground for yourself offers privacy, social distancing, and a communion with the outdoors.

“When it comes to Covid bubbles, camping is potentially the only way for some groups to escape and comply with current regulations,” said Dan Yates, founder and CEO of Pitchup.com, a booking site of campgrounds in more than 50 countries.

About a quarter of Pitchup listings have less than 10 campsites and nearly 20% have between 10 and 25 sites, which puts them in the realm of buyout opportunities. Not all campsites accept groups – about 40% of the site is open to them – but of those doing the off-grid Glamping Canyonlands, about 40 miles south of Moab, Utah, will offer four platform tents at from $ 85 per room with toilets, showers and a common kitchen area.

For a true glamping experience, including a chef, guided hikes, and yoga classes, New Mexico-based Heritage Inspirations offers pop-up camps above the Rio Grande Valley in Taos, for up to 14 people in furnished tents for three days at $ 1250 a person.

In addition to demanding budgets, buybacks generally represent a significant investment of time. But the operators at the day trip and attraction arenas offer creative ways to indulge an afternoon.

At the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, dedicated to displaying neon signage of the Strip and surrounding areas, private groups of 20 people can purchase an entrance slot for $ 20 each, giving them 45 minutes alone with the relics.

Free Tours by Foot normally offers free walking tours (travelers are encouraged to pay what they want) to dozens of cities around the world. But they also offer relatively affordable private tours for groups. In New Orleans (where public tours are currently suspended until March, due to the pandemic), a two-hour private tour costs $ 25 per person for up to six people.

You can take your private wellness goals to the Sound View Hotel in Greenport on the North Fork of Long Island in New York City, where a private yoga class for five, followed by a three-course lunch starts at $ 700. or $ 140 per person.

Booking where the dollar is strong is one way to get more value from any trip, in this case turning a luxury like a buyout into something achievable.

In Mexico, open to American visitors arriving by plane despite a surge in coronavirus infections, a dollar is currently worth more than 19 Mexican pesos. So while rates for the five-bedroom boutique hotel Casa Delphine in San Miguel de Allende are quoted in US currency at $ 1,250 for a full buyout that can accommodate 10 people, local spending, including dining, offers more. purchasing power for the dollar.

“Everything here is reasonable compared to US prices, so this isn’t a crazy vacation,” said Amanda Keidan, the hotel’s owner.

While considerably larger with 25 rooms, the Casa Salles Hotel Boutique in Tequila, Mexico is available for buyouts at $ 4,053 a night, around $ 162 a room (or around $ 330 if you want to limit your bubble to a dozen. of rooms). The property, featuring an outdoor pool, spa, restaurant and bar, is on the grounds of the El Tequileño Distillery and is about a 10-minute walk from the town center.

Chartering your own small boat is a reach for most budgets, but fares in some areas are low during the travel crisis. Rainforest Cruises, an agency specializing in small vessels, offers the six-passenger Amazon EcoBoat on the Amazon River in Brazil for $ 8,400 for four days, or about $ 350 per person per day, including meals and daily excursions. led by a naturalist (Brazil is currently open to international arrivals by air with certain requirements, including a negative coronavirus test).

Requests for private browsing are ongoing, though most travelers are waiting for the fog of the virus to clear.

“Not everyone is ready to pull the trigger,” said Jeremy Clubb, founder and director of Rainforest Cruises. “We’re finding that people are researching and collecting options, but are inclined to book close to the trip.”


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Supreme Court to hear arguments over fate of affordable care law

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday morning in connection with the third major challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the sprawling 2010 healthcare law that is President Barack Obama’s defining national legacy.

Tens of millions of Americans have obtained insurance coverage under the law, which includes popular provisions on guaranteed coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, emergency care, prescription drugs, and maternity care. . Republican state officials, backed by the Trump administration, say a key provision of the law is unconstitutional, and that means the whole law must fall.

The law has survived two previous challenges to the Supreme Court. In 2012, the court upheld the law’s requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty – the “individual warrant”. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. drafting the dominant view that the mandate was authorized by the power of Congress to assess taxes. He was joined by what was then the liberal wing of four members of the court.

In 2015, the court said the federal government could provide nationwide tax subsidies to help the poor and middle classes buy health insurance, dismissing the argument that the subsidies were only available in the provinces. States that had created markets, called exchanges, to allow people who lack insurance to purchase individual health plans. A decision to the contrary would have wreaked havoc on the insurance markets and undermined the law. The vote was 6 to 3, with the four Liberals, Chief Justice and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who retired in 2018, in the majority.

Since the last major challenge, three new judges have joined the tribunal, all appointed by President Trump. One of them, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, has publicly criticized the earlier decisions.

In a 2017 law review article, she questioned the Chief Justice’s 2012 opinion. “Chief Justice Roberts took the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the law,” Justice Barrett wrote.

In an interview after the 2015 ruling, she said, “I think dissent has the best of the legal argument.”

“That’s not to say the outcome isn’t better,” Judge Barrett said at the time. “It is clearly a good result that these millions of Americans do not lose their tax subsidies.”

The new case, California v. Texas, No. 19-840, was brought by Republican officials who said the warrant became unconstitutional after Congress in 2017 overturned the penalty for failing to obtain health insurance because it could no longer be justified as a tax. .

They went on to say that the warrant was a crucial feature of the law, which means all other parts of it should be deleted.

The challenge has largely succeeded in the lower courts. A Texas federal judge ruled that the entire law was invalid, but he postponed the effects of his ruling until the case can be appealed. In December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans agreed the warrant was unconstitutional but declined to rule on the fate of the rest of the health bill, asking the lower court to reconsider the matter in more detail. .

Democratic States and the House, which intervened in the case to defend the health law, asked the Supreme Court to intervene, saying a swift ruling was needed to remove the uncertainty caused by the decisions of the lower courts.

Defenders of the law are hoping the Republican challengers can’t turn the table on three distinct legal arguments they would need to win: that they suffered the kind of harm that gives them standing to sue; whereas reducing the tax penalty to zero has made the individual mandate unconstitutional; and that the rest of the law cannot hold without the individual mandate.

Republicans also face the challenge of the enormous practical effects of overturning the law. That would increase the ranks of uninsured people in the United States by more than 20 million people – an increase of almost 70% – according to new estimates from the Urban Institute.

The biggest loss of coverage would be among low-income adults who became eligible for Medicaid under the law after all but a dozen states expanded the program to include them. But millions of people would also lose private insurance, including young adults who were legally allowed to stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26, and families whose incomes were small enough to qualify. grants under the law that help them pay their monthly premiums.

Tuesday’s arguments, which will be heard by telephone, are scheduled for 80 minutes but will likely last two hours or more. Michael J. Mongan, the Solicitor General of California, representing a coalition of liberal-leaning states, will defend the law; Texas Solicitor General Kyle D. Hawkins, representing a coalition of conservative-leaning states, will urge judges to overturn it.

Two other lawyers will also appear: Jeffrey B. Wall, the acting U.S. solicitor general, will advocate for the Trump administration in support of Texas. And Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who successfully defended the law in 2012 as solicitor general in the Obama administration, will be the House advocate for California.

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Affordable care law faces yet another Supreme Court test

At the time, many health economists believed the success of the law would depend on its “three-legged stool” approach: preventing insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, forcing everyone to purchase insurance. insurance and provide subsidies to make it affordable. If there was no penalty for everyone to get insurance, it was thought that many younger and healthier people would forgo it, leaving only the older and sicker people in the insurance pool. This, in turn, would force insurers to raise rates, leading more people to drop their coverage in a self-reinforcing cycle.

But in fact, after Congress overturned the law’s financial penalty for dispensing with health insurance in 2017, removing one of the legs turned out to have little effect on the number of people. subscribed to coverage through the law markets. Market registrations have declined slightly since 2017, but have shown no signs of a ‘death spiral’, when only sick people buy blanket and the cost skyrockets as a result.

In a friend of the court defending brief, many economists concluded that “economic data demonstrates that the ACA remains fully effective and operational even in the absence of an individual mandate.”

In addition to arguments about the constitutionality of the warrant and whether it could be separated from the rest of the law, challengers must also demonstrate that they have suffered the type of harm that gives them standing to bring an action. It is uncertain whether the States and the two people who initiated the lawsuit can shoulder this burden.

A mandate without penalty, say supporters of the law, does not affect state budgets and does not harm individuals, who no longer have financial consequences for not being insured.

The lower courts have so far sided with the challengers. A Texas federal judge ruled that the entire law was invalid, but he postponed the effects of his ruling until the case can be appealed. In December, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans agreed the warrant was unconstitutional but declined to rule on the fate of the rest of the health bill, asking the lower court to reconsider the matter in more detail. .

If the Supreme Court overturns the entire law, political responses remain possible. If the Democrats manage to take control of the Senate with the House, they could adopt a simple legislative solution that would render the matter moot. They could earn a nominal penalty, even $ 1. Or they could repeal the individual mandate entirely, deflating the plaintiffs’ argument.