Predictions for U.S. Travel in 2014

train-sunsetEvery holiday season, retrospectives on the previous 12 months and forecasts for the coming year pop up virtually everywhere.  As a favor to our readers (and on the theory that travelers care less about where they’ve been and more about where they’re headed), we’ve scanned the Internet to try to get a handle on what the travel industry might look like in 2014.  Below are a few of the predictions we found for United States travel in 2014.  (Disclaimer:  Please remember that these predictions are simply estimates and opinions, not guarantees.)

businessTravelBusiness travel spending will increase.  According to CNBC, a Global Business Travel Association study forecasts growth of 7.2% in business travel expenses, resulting from continued economic expansion and travel rate hikes.  However, the study also predicts that most of that increase will come from travel in Latin America and Asia, while short-haul business class travel in North America drops 8-13%.  Assuming U.S. airlines don’t try to make up the difference by raising airfare on vacationers, this could be good news for leisure travelers.  In fact …

planeU.S. airfares will decrease.  Condé Nast Traveler reports that an American Express Business Travel study believes fare wars will heat up between U.S. carriers.  Coupled with tighter corporate purse strings (likely due to other rate hikes mentioned above), this will bring about lower prices for domestic flights (which might also offer more and better Wi-Fi connectivity).  Lower airfares would be good news for travelers; however …

bellHotels and rental cars will be more expensive.  Carlson Wagonlit Travel predicts a 3.9% rise in room rates and an increase of up to 2% in rental-car prices in North America.  While such rental-car charges aren’t substantially higher than current overall inflation rates, that sort of hike in hotel fees might put off a number of would-be travelers.  Fortunately …

Hotels will work harder to appeal to travelers.  These efforts, according to Condé Nast Traveler, will include a greater focus on personal needs, enhanced layouts, more office amenities, and better Wi-Fi offers.  These features will be implemented in part to fend off potential revenue loss from a greater number of voyagers who opt to stay in homes rather than hotels.  Then again …

“Wellness” trips will increase.  Travel to Wellness predicts a surge in “wellness vacations” in the coming years as travelers (and their doctors) begin to embrace the benefits of improving one’s health and well-being.  Hotels will therefore expand their services to attract tourists who are looking to extend their lifespans and enhance their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Making predictions is a risky business, and forecasting the validity of other people’s predictions is even more dangerous.  We can make this prediction about U.S. travel in 2014, though:  Travel Plus members will continue to earn 5% cash back on their flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations and enjoy rebates on a variety of travel perks and comforts.  We invite you to share your own 2014 travel predictions in the Comments section.  Happy trails!

Money-Saving Travel Tips: How to Save on Travel to Super Bowl XLVIII

superbowl_2014With the NFL regular season ending, only 12 teams will have a shot at Super Bowl XLVIII (that’s “48” to regular folks), and no one knows which one will be crowned league champion.  Nonetheless, diehard supporters of that team will want to witness the achievement in person, and it’s not too early for fans of the playoff teams to start planning to attend the game in MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014.  We can’t help you score cheap Super Bowl tickets (which are among the most expensive tickets in sports), but we can offer tips on how to save on your Super Bowl travel plans.

superbowl_hotelBook your hotel room now.  Hotel reservations are easier to cancel without penalty than flights are, and New York City hotels aren’t yet at full occupancy.  In fact, some hotels are currently offering Super Bowl discounts that probably won’t be available to last-minute planners.

Consider non-NYC destinations.  Even discounted hotel rooms in New York City can be more expensive than rooms in the greater tri-state area, so shop around.  Beware that the game is in East Rutherford, New Jersey, so rates in that area have recently increased.  Connecticut hotel rates are traditionally lower than those in New York City, although the longer MetLife commute could be more expensive.  Speaking of which ….

superbowl_bus

Plan to use public transportation.  Some people are calling this year’s game “Mass Transit Super Bowl I,” because driving to MetLife Stadium will be a challenge.  (FYI:  Even if you do drive, you can’t tailgate.)  Travel restrictions include:

  • Fewer parking spaces.  MetLife Stadium can accommodate 28,500 cars, but various Super Bowl considerations have reduced that number to fewer than 13,000 (and parking passes cost $150).
  • No foot traffic.  Instead of walking to the stadium, you’ll need to take a car, bus, train, or limousine.
  • No drop-offs.  This rules out taxis, unless you want to keep the meter running for the entire game.  To get into the parking lot, limos will need the $150 parking pass; chartered buses, a $350 parking pass.

On the plus side:

  • A “Fan Express” nonstop coach bus service will offer round-trip game-day transportation from nine New York and New Jersey locations for $51.
  • A $50 “Super Pass” will provide visitors unlimited access on all New Jersey Transit trains, buses, and light rail from January 27 through February 3.
  • Unlike area residents, Super Bowl XLVIII visitors will only face short-term traffic problems.

superbowl_coldclothesPack for blizzard conditions.  It’s impossible to predict the exact weather this far in advance, although the Farmers’ Almanac forecasts a cold, stormy Super Bowl Sunday (which could alter the game date).  Still, it’s more cost-effective to be prepared for the worst than to have to buy clothes at the last minute.

With Travel Plus, you can claim additional savings on a Super Bowl trip, including 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations, plus rebates on travel perks that help make journeys more relaxing.  Wherever you watch Super Bowl XLVIII, we hope you enjoy the game!

Time-Saving Travel Tips: What to Pack for a Ski Weekend

skiweekend_downhillGreat news for winter sports fans:  The 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia, less than two months from now, on February 7, 2014.  The spotlight on the various alpine and freestyle skiing events will likely motivate both skiing enthusiasts and skiing novices, spurring weekend getaways to local ski resorts.  To help less-knowledgeable skiers save time and relieve stress, we offer a few tips on what to pack (and what not to pack) for a ski weekend.

Prepare for sub-freezing temperatures.  Cold weather is a common (and necessary) part of the ski experience, but there’s a significant difference — in degrees and in kind —  between a stiff January breeze blowing around a street corner and a bone-chilling winter wind at the top of a mountain.  Pack for a worst-case scenario; include:
skiweekend_kid

  • Long underwear
  • Waterproof thermal socks
  • Insulated blue jeans
  • Turtlenecks and/or flannel shirts
  • Heavy sweaters
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof ski pants
  • Insulated gloves and/or mittens
  • A warm hat and/or balaclava and a scarf
  • Ski goggles
  • Lip balm and sunscreen

You can take off some of the apparel as conditions allow, but it’s a lot easier to shed existing layers of clothes than it is to add layers you don’t have.

skiweekend_rentalRent your equipment.  Unless you already own skis, boots, and poles, you might be better off getting your gear at the resort’s rental shop, instead of splurging on everything for a sport you’re just learning.  Rentals can be more cost-effective, and the staff can match you up with the proper equipment for that day’s snow conditions.  Plus, the less you pack, the less you have to lug around.

Bring (or rent) a ski helmet.  For safety reasons, many resorts now mandate that their employees wear helmets when skiing or snowboarding, and the employees are probably much more adept in snow than you are.  Head injuries while skiing or snowboarding are serious matters; a helmet can save your life.

Pack your daily necessities.  That means toiletries, makeup, pajamas, medications, vitamins — all the items that are part of your day-to-day routine.  While virtually all resorts have convenience stores, they’re not as well-stocked as your local supermarket, and you’re unlikely to find a pharmacy in a remote location, let alone a doctor who will write you a prescription without a full workup.

Bring the entertainment.  For some, the fun begins with the après-ski activities.  Make sure you take along your camera, video (or perhaps board) games, your favorite bottle(s) of wine or beer, that book and/or DVD you’ve been hoping to catch up on, and definitely your smile and sense of adventure.  A weekend getaway is a vacation, so take the opportunity to relax in whatever way you see fit.

skiweekend_fireplacePack away some savings, too.  With Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations while enjoying rebates on a variety of travel perks.  Wherever you go, ski safely — and best of luck avoiding a yard sale!

Money-Saving Travel Tips: How to Save on Hotel Rooms

hotel_roomThe holiday season is one of the busiest travel periods of the year.  If you’re hitting the road this December, you’ll generally have two choices:  Stay with friends or family members, or book a hotel room nearby.  The first option will lower your travel expenses; the second option offers more day-to-day freedom but increases your trip costs.  Still, flexibility is a valuable travel asset, so if you choose (or need to use) the second option, here are a few tips on how to save on hotel rooms.

Book in advance.  If you haven’t already reserved a room, it may be too late (depending on the popularity of your destination), so get cracking now.  As availability dwindles, prices tend to rise, so the earlier you try to lock in a room, the more options you’ll have on accommodations and rates.

lastminKeep an eye out for last-minute deals.  This may seem to fly in the face of the first tip, but when hotels get late cancellations, those empty rooms aren’t generating income, and even a relatively low price beats nothing.  If you have refundable reservations at one hotel, it never hurts to check last-minute prices at local hotels.  You might luck into a more affordable rate at another inn.

Contact your destination hotel directly.  The big chains have central customer service departments that handle reservations made via their 800 numbers.  Calling the hotel in your desired locale allows you to speak with a manager who will know more about site-specific deals, recent cancellations, or even events in the local area that could drive up demand (and rates) during your desired travel dates.  Be sure to check in periodically prior to your arrival date; you may be able to obtain better terms if rates drop after you’ve booked your room.

hotelcontact

Compare hotel prices and travel dates.  You should always research local rates, of course, but you should also consider using one hotel’s price as an opening bid to negotiate a better deal at a nearby hotel.  In addition, if you’re able to move your travel dates a day or two (or, better yet, a month or two) in either direction, you might be able to enjoy significant savings on your stay.

Connect through social media.  Many hotels are using social platforms to communicate with travelers.  Using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or other channels to follow your chosen hotel(s) through social media can help you score special discounts and upgrades.

Get with the programs.  Most hotels offer discounts to regular customers through loyalty programs, which are typically free to join.  Sign up with as many complimentary programs as you can — and look into special deals that might be available for free via your credit card issuer, your airline, or even your employer.

One sure way to save on hotel rooms is to book them through Travel Plus — you can earn 5% cash back and claim rebates on a variety of hotel services.  Happy travels!