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!

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!

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.

Money-Saving Travel Tips: Home Rentals vs. Hotel Stays

beach-houseOne of the joys of vacationing is taking a break from your day-to-day routine.  Cooking, cleaning, even laundry chores are put on hold while you relax and enjoy the finer things in life.  However, those finer things often come at a premium price; daily maid service, for instance, is a built-in expense that drives up your overall hotel bill.  If you’re traveling on a budget and you’d rather spend your money on activities instead of accommodations, consider the benefits of renting a home vs. staying in a hotel:

While there can be advantages to hotel stays — prime locations, convenience, easy access to personal services — renting a home when you travel can help you stretch your travel budget.  (To stretch it even further, be sure to book your airline reservations through Travel Plus — you’ll earn 5% cash back!)  If you’ve ever rented a vacation home, please share your experiences with us in the Comments section.