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Originally published Saturday, May 28, 2011 at 7:02 PM

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Travel updates: Weak dollar benefits foreign tourist

The price is right for foreign shoppers in the United States as the sagging dollar boosts their purchasing power. "When I come to New York...

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Foreign tourists splurge in U.S.

The price is right for foreign shoppers in the United States as the sagging dollar boosts their purchasing power. "When I come to New York, it feels like I am getting great deals," said Molly Lewis, a 40-year-old nurse from Manchester, England, who spent a recent afternoon hunting bargains on Louis Vuitton handbags in Manhattan. "Things are much cheaper here than back home."

The British pound had climbed 13 percent against the dollar in the past year, along with gains in the euro and Canadian and Australian dollars. That's given travelers a zest for spending, which may help retailers make up sales as budget-wary U.S. consumers stick to the sidelines.

Travelers from abroad spent $8.9 billion on food, lodging, gifts and entertainment in the U.S. in February, up 7 percent from last year, according to the Department of Commerce.

The dollar's sluggishness may last through the year because of slowing U.S. growth and the widening interest-rate gap between the country and the rest of the world.

A giant viewing wheel for Vegas

A 500-foot viewing wheel is planned for the Las Vegas Strip that will be taller than the London Eye and give visitors an unparalleled view of Sin City.

Developer Howard Bulloch plans to open the Skyvue Las Vegas Super Wheel in 2013 across from the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino. The Ferris-style wheel will have 40 gondolas, each holding 25 people. It will be part of a $100 million project that includes a roller coaster and 200,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space.

The London Eye, on the banks of the Thames River, attracts 3.5 million riders a year.

Mileage programs get more complex

The nation's first frequent flier program was launched 30 years ago this month and, by most accounts, the programs have only gotten more complicated with age.

When American Airlines introduced its frequent flier program in 1981, the concept was simple: Passengers received free tickets or upgrades based on how many miles they had flown. Today the programs are more complicated, with some airline passengers getting reward points for flying, hotel stays, car rentals and using certain credit cards.

A study published last month in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that members of these so-called loyalty programs are more likely to spend their reward points if it's easy to understand the savings they will receive. When the savings are hard to calculate, the study found, people tend to stockpile the points — even keeping them until they expire.

The findings were no surprise to Randy Petersen, founder of FlyerTalk, a website about frequent flier programs. He estimates that up to a third of the members of most frequent flier programs don't understand the reward plans.

Travel ticker ...

• Egyptian tourist arrivals dropped 45.7 percent from January to March, according to Egypt's statistical agency, after the political upheaval there early this year.

• An anti-mining protest has blocked traffic on a popular tourist and commercial route between Peru and Bolivia in recent weeks. Locals blockading the highway want the Peruvian government to cancel mining concessions in the Puno area because of pollution concerns.

— Seattle Times staff and news services

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