Tips for Vacationing with Elderly Parents

ElderlyParentsTravel_mainOne of the rewards of a long, productive life is being able to do what you love during your golden years.  Many retirees like to spend their free time traveling — creating new memories, visiting places they’ve never seen, even making new friends.  Of course, the one thing that retired parents prefer to do above all else is spend time with their children and grandchildren — and if they can combine that with a bit of travel, so much the better.  However, vacationing with elderly parents, whether over the holidays or year-round, can be challenging, so if you’re planning to do so, consider the following tips.

Travel_TravelListHelp Them Prepare

While people of all ages tend to forget things while packing, it’s more common among the elderly.  At their age, though, many of them can’t do without medications and other daily necessities.  Well before your departure date, work with them to create a comprehensive list of must-have, preferred, and desired travel items.  Consult with their doctor(s) to flesh out the list, stock up on required prescriptions — and create action plans for any medical issues or emergencies that might arise.  (If your parents don’t appreciate all the fuss, simply remind them of what they always told you:  “Better safe than sorry.”)

Before leaving, give your parents additional peace of mind by helping them lock down their home and secure their possessions.  If they have pets, speak with the petsitters to ensure that they’ll be properly tended to, and get their contact information in case your parents want to check in from time to time.

Help Them Relax

Travel_EarlyAirportAs you make your plans, keep your parents’ abilities and health conditions top of mind.  If you’re traveling by air, make sure to request any special services or meals in advance, and get to the airport early to ensure that they won’t have to rush to make the flight.  If they’re likely to get up frequently while on board, give them the aisle seats; if they’re more likely to doze, give them the window seats.  Ensure that the hotels you’re considering all have working elevators, or book rooms on the first or second floor.

If you’re planning day trips in your destination city, look into senior packages, arrange a bus tour, or rent a car to minimize physical strain.  Identify available restrooms, restaurants that serve senior-friendly foods, and other stops along the way to allow your parents to recharge their batteries as needed.  Don’t overdo the activities, particularly early on; give them time to recuperate from the travel and to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings.

Join Travel Plus

With Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on your airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations.  You’ll also enjoy cash-back rebates on a variety of flight, hotel, and rental-car perks that can help make your parents’ trips more comfortable, and you can save 10% on gift cards to popular restaurants (and other travel-related merchants).  When you join Travel Plus, you really can save on all your travel needs.

Save Money When You Travel with Your Pets

TravelPets_topMaking travel plans for your family (or any group) can be difficult and time-consuming, but when your travel party includes one or more pets, the degree of planning difficulty can seem Herculean.  While you consider your pets valued family members, worthy of top-notch treatment, many travel providers, hotels, and even rental-car agencies regard them as nuisances at best and as the animal equivalent of personae non gratae at worst.  As a result, the cost of traveling with your pets might seem so high that you begin to question the very idea of traveling with your pet.  Fear not, though:  Below are a few tips to help you save money when you travel with your pets.

DogCarHit the Road

We mean that (somewhat) literally.  Traveling by car is one of the surest ways to save on long-distance travel with pets.  You and your pet are presumably already familiar with road trip guidelines, and it’s easy to find a place to park and deal with urgent needs, which you can’t do in airports, planes, or trains.

CatPetTravelBeyond that, airlines aren’t required to let pets fly, and those that do sometimes charge such exorbitant fees that you may be tempted to buy Fido his own ticket.  There are also a variety of federal regulations, on top of the individual carrier’s policies, that you must follow when flying with a pet.

Perhaps incredibly, trains are less pet-friendly than airlines.  Unless your pet is a service animal, it can’t enjoy passage on Amtrak, even if it’s a search-and-rescue dog.  Some city-specific train systems (e.g., Metro-North, which offers service to the north of New York City) allow small, controlled pets onboard, but that policy is of little use if pets can’t accompany their owners to those destinations.

Take Your Own Wheels

Most rental-car agencies allow their customers to take pets along as passengers, but some locations can be more restrictive.  However, if your pet has an accident (or simply sheds an excessive amount of fur), you’ll be liable for a cleaning charge.

hoteldogcheckinFind the Right Nest

Thankfully, hotels in recent years have become much more obliging to pet owners (and pets) than transportation providers, and identifying pet-friendly hotels can be done via simple online searches.  Certain hotels charge a pet fee (including a non-refundable deposit), though; to find the most affordable accommodations, be sure to inquire about the full cost of your pet’s stay before booking a room.  Once you arrive, just keep in mind the proper etiquette for visiting pets.

Join Travel Plus

Wherever you and your pet(s) go across the United States, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations when you make them through Travel Plus.  You can also claim rebates on all sorts of travel extras, from in-flight meals and entertainment to hotel perks, rental-car extras, and Wi-Fi service anywhere.  When you vacation with your pets, make sure you know and follow the rules of the road — and travel safely!

Money-Saving Travel Tips: How to Save on Thanksgiving Travel

thanksgiving_travelNow that nights have turned chilly again, fall foliage has started moving south, and footballs are filling the air every weekend, it’s high time (if not past time) to make Thanksgiving travel plans.  Contrary to popular belief, Thanksgiving weekend may not be the busiest time of year to travel, but it can still feel that way when you’re crawling through a traffic jam or a backed-up airport security line.  Of course, if you don’t plan ahead, you won’t have to worry about busy airports, because you won’t have a flight to catch (unless you’re “lucky” enough to find a high-priced, last-minute seat).  To help relieve at least some of the financial burdens of your holiday trip, here are a few tips on how to save on Thanksgiving travel:

  • Make your reservations ASAP.  The (fairly) early booker gets the best holiday rates — and the best seats.  Unless you’re willing to risk being wedged into a middle seat between, say, a chronic snorer and someone who thinks good hygiene is highly overrated, the benefits of choosing your own seat can be huge — especially if you need to make a connecting flight.thanksgiving_travel_off-fly-days
  • Fly on “off” days.  Evidence and popular opinion suggest that the day before Thanksgiving is the single busiest travel day of the year.  It’s certainly a high-demand day, and high demand means high prices.  You’ll find lower airfares the weekend before Thanksgiving Day and the Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday following it.  (In fact, some of the cheapest fares might be available on Thanksgiving Day itself.)  If you have some flexibility, extend your stay — or cut it short.
  • Compare prices at different airports.  If you’re flying into or out of a big city, you may have multiple airport, airline, and airfare options.  Skip the closest airport if you can save good money by driving an extra half-hour.
  • Drive instead of flying.  Gas prices often peak in the summer, when more families hit the road for vacations, and prices at the pump have been dropping recently.  There’s no guarantee that they won’t increase again around Thanksgiving, but depending on your destination, the cost of driving may still end up below airfare costs.  (Just be careful out there; Thanksgiving is one of the three most dangerous driving holidays.)thanksgiving-transportation
  • Consider alternative transportation.  Take the train, commuter van, or bus to the plane to save on parking fees, or take the train or bus all the way to your destination.  Rail and bus fares for shorter trips tend to be more reasonable than airfare (or rental cars, for that matter), and children usually travel for less.

Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the holiday season (quite literally this year:  Hanukkah begins at sunset on the day before Thanksgiving), so it’s critical to find ways to save on your Thanksgiving travel plans.  To earn 5% cash back on reservations and additional rebates on travel conveniences, be sure to check out Travel Plus.  And wherever you’re going for Turkey Day, travel safely (and dine well)!

Travel Tips: How Much Should You Tip While Traveling?

tip_coffeeTipping is one of the trickier issues in the travel industry.  Most people believe in rewarding hospitality workers who provide quality services in hotels, restaurants, and certain types of transportation, but the circumstances and amount often vary wildly from traveler to traveler.  There are no hard-and-fast tipping laws, but the following guidelines on how much you should tip while traveling represent a consensus of opinions from several respected sources, including USA Today, Emily Post, AARP, and Consumer Reports:

Hotels

Position/Service Tip Amount
Car Valet $0-3 for parking your car; $2-5 when picking it up
Doorman A simple “thanks” for opening the door; $1-2 for hailing a cab (an extra $1 if it’s raining); $1-4 for carrying luggage; $1-4 for special services
Concierge Nothing for simple services; up to $25 for extra tasks (e.g., finding hard-to-get concert tickets)
Bellhop $2 for your first bag, $1 for additional bags
Maid $2-3 per guest per night, left each morning in an envelope marked “Housekeeping — Thank You”
Room Service (food) 10% for a regular order; 15-20% for a difficult order; $1-2 if your bill already includes a “service charge”
Room Service (room needs) $1-3 per item; $5-10 for particularly quick service
Room Service (laundry) $1-3 per item; $5-10 for quick turnarounds

hotel_staff

Restaurants

FYI:  “Automatic gratuity” charges are standard at many restaurants, but that may change in January 2014.  If you don’t see such a charge on your bill, please tip your waitstaff appropriately.

Position/Service Tip Amount
Bartender $1-2 per drink; $5 for a round of drinks; 10-20% if paying a tab at the end of the night
Coat/Hat Check $1 per item
Home/Hotel Delivery 10-15% of the bill; $2-5 for pizza delivery
Host or Maitre d’ Nothing for simple services; $10-20 for special treatment (e.g., finding you a table quickly on a busy night)
Take-out No charge for pick-up; 10% for extra service or special orders
Valet $2-5 when you pick up the car
Waitstaff 15-20% pre-tax for sitdown service; 10-20% pre-tax for buffet

tip_on_table

Transportation

Position Tip Amount
Baggage Handler/Skycap $1-2 per bag, depending on size
Cab/Limo Driver 10-20% of the fare
Flight Attendant Nothing, although there’s no law against it
Shuttle Driver $1-2 per person
Valet Parking $1-2
Wheelchair Attendant $5-10 for a ride to the gate; $10-20 if extra services are provided

limo_driver

While tipping isn’t always mandatory, tips often account for the majority of compensation for many hospitality-industry workers, who shouldn’t have to go above and beyond their duties to merit some appreciation.  If you’re not sure whether to tip, try imagining a family member in the service provider’s position.  If your loved one performed the exact same service for someone else, should he or she fairly expect to receive a tip?  If your answer is “yes,” consider tipping for that service yourself.

To help ensure that you can afford to tip hospitality workers appropriately, check out Travel Plus, which offers members 5% cash back on travel reservations and rebates on travel-service charges.  And let us know in “Comments” what your tipping policy is.

Time-Saving Travel Tips: How to Get Through Airport Security Quickly

TSA1

photo by Carolina K. Smith MD

When people say, “9/11 changed everything,” one thing that comes to mind is airport securityPre-9/11, you didn’t need identification that exactly matched your ticket, you weren’t at risk of up-close-and-personal pat-downs, and you could bring your own beverages through security, among other liberties.  Post-9/11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) instituted heightened safety precautions that created longer check-in lines.  Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get through airport security (relatively) quickly without posing a threat to anyone:

TSA2

photo by Carolina K. Smith MD

Unfortunately, extended security lines are an established part of air travel these days.  Fortunately, Travel Plus can help take the sting out of long waits by offering members savings on airport services, pre- and post-check-in.  Happy trails!

Money-Saving Travel Tips: How to Save on Airfare

Everyone loves deals, and travelers really love saving money on airfare.  Flight reservations can eat up a lot of your travel budget, so any savings you manage to pocket on airline reservations can feel like money well-earned.  The next time you’re booking domestic flights for yourself and/or your family, keep in mind a few tips on how to save on airfare:

  • getting_ticketsShop around.  Search online for meta-comparison websites, visit individual airline sites, and track prices over the course of a week or two to look for trends.  Be sure to compare round-trip versus one-way fares; sometimes two one-way tickets can cost less than a round-trip ticket.
  • Reserve your seats at least three weeks before departure.  The research is mixed on the best time to make non-holiday flight reservations:  Some say it’s exactly 49 days in advance; others say six weeks in advance; still others claim the “magic window” is 18 to 28 days before your travel date. Start looking three to four months ahead of time, use online tools to gauge trends, and pounce when you see an attractive price.
  • Book flights on Tuesdays or over the weekend.  Common wisdom is that Tuesday is the best day to make reservations, because airlines like to announce sales on Monday nights, and other airlines will try to mirror these price drops by the next morning.  However, a recent study from Texas A&M found that, on average, weekend bookings to non-vacation destinations resulted in 5% savings on flights compared to weekday reservations.
  • Fly mid-week.  The cheapest flights generally depart on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in good part because people prefer to fly on or close to the weekend; lower demand leads to lower prices.
  • Take an early-bird flight.  Departing at 6 a.m. can save you hundreds of dollars compared to a 10 a.m. flight.  It also decreases your odds of facing a flight delay, and depending on your destination, you won’t spend the entire day traveling.
  • Follow airlines online.  Good deals can pop up at a moment’s notice; by following airlines on Twitter and signing up for alerts, you’ll stay up-to-date on the latest savings offers.
  • Stay flexible.  The ability to switch flight dates or use alternative airports can often result in considerable savings on your flight.
  • Check fares after you book.  Should the price of your flight drops within 24 hours of your booking, airline regulations let you cancel your reservation without penalty.  If the fare drops after the 24-hour window, call the airline or your travel agent anyway to see if you can pay the lower price; sometimes they’ll agree, and it never hurts to ask.

Travel-Plus-logo-5percent

When you want to save on airfare, check out Travel Plus, where you can earn 5% cash back on plane reservations you make through the program (and enjoy cash-back rebates on a wide range of airport and in-flight services).  If you have additional tips on how to save on airfare, please share them in the Comments section.  Happy contrails!

How to Save Time in Airports

delayed-flight

“A journey is like marriage,” John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley:  In Search of America.  “The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”  Steinbeck’s book focused on a road trip with his dog, but he could easily have been referring to air travel, which is packed with factors outside your control, from the weather to other travelers and more, that too often turn short jaunts into lengthy waits.  Nevertheless, there are a few tricks of the air-travel trade that can help you save time in airports: Continue reading