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.

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Travel Tips: How to Pack Light

packinglight_mainAs much as we all like to daydream about the freedom of the open road, real travel isn’t exactly free.  Indeed, transportation costs seem to rise every year.  Air travel in particular has gotten more expensive over the past four years, and so have baggage fees and other related costs.  In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines collected almost $900 million in checked-bag fees in the second quarter of 2014 alone.  Travelers don’t have any control over airfare rates, but to help you avoid paying anything at all in baggage fees, we offer the following tips on how to pack light when you travel.

Think Small

The first step to packing light is deciding to use — and stick with — a small bag.  The most common allowable carry-on size is approximately 9″ x 22″ x 14″, but the exact dimensions differ from airline to airline, so be sure to check with your carrier before selecting and packing your bag.

Think Tightpackinglight_packing

Savvy travelers swear by the rolled-clothes packing technique, because it decreases the space needed for wearables.  It can also add wrinkles, though; if certain pieces of clothing need to be pristine, fold and place them at the bottom, then layer the rolled clothes on top of them.

Think Differently

People often pack for worse-case scenarios, adding all sorts of “just in case” items that aren’t ultimately needed.  Turn that attitude around, and expect the best.  Eliminate any and all superfluous pieces — that third pair of shoes, those two extra books, the heavy sweater you’ve always carried as protection against an unexpected cold snap in summertime Florida.  Weather forecasting has improved significantly over the last century; check the forecast for your destination, and pack accordingly.

Think Ahead

The world isn’t as fragmented as it used to be.  Chances are, you’ll find your favorite soap, shampoo, or even pair of socks wherever you go — especially if you’re staying in the United States.  To save room in your bag for more valuable and/or necessary pieces, leave out the brand-name toiletries and various other items that you can buy (in travel size) once you land.

packinglight_airportThink Footloose

If you want to save on travel, plan to walk instead of paying for ground transportation.  Beware, though:  Airports keep growing bigger and bigger, so you’ll be carrying your luggage greater distances than ever before.  Take your cargo for a stroll right after packing it to make sure you can tote it for extended periods.  If it fails the comfort test, shed more weight (and/or pick a better bag).

Think Travel Plus

If you really want to save on travel, be sure to make your reservations through Travel Plus.  On top of earning 5% cash back on airfare, hotel stays, and car rentals, you’ll also enjoy rebates on dozens of travel costs, including in-flight perks, hotel extras, and rental-car gear — plus rebates on Wi-Fi fees practically anywhere you go.  When you join Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

Valuable Tips to Save Time and Money on Business Travel

businesstravel_mainThe Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts that U.S. business travel expenditures this year will increase 6.6 percent over 2013 figures, with companies paying out $289.8 billion on over 460 million trips.  That’s a lot of money disbursed on a lot of flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel needs, to say nothing of all that time workers will be spending away from home.  If you’re one of the millions of road warriors who live out of a suitcase for a fair portion of your year, we have some tips to help ease the hassles of business travel.

Keep Your Essentials Ready to Gobusinesstravel_bag

Depending on whom you ask, your essentials might include everything from eyeglass cases (to hold assorted accessories) and sanitary wipes (to fend off germs and medical expenses) to earplugs (for obvious reasons) and smartphone GPS apps (to reduce rental-car fees), among many others.  You can determine which items you absolutely need when you travel on business.  To save time on packing, though, try leaving your essentials in your luggage when you return from a trip.  (Restock as required, of course.)

Pack Once, and Use a Checklist

Forgetting to pack something is easy to do (and fairly commonly done).  To avoid leaving anything behind, make a checklist (which may differ from trip to trip), and devote whatever time is required to check it off all at once.  Packing in stages can cause you to overlook certain items (or include them twice and thereby take up valuable space and weight).

Power (and App) Up

To avoid power-outage worries and frustration, make sure you fully charge all of your electronic devices the night before you leave.  To eliminate all those pesky scraps of paper that can clutter your wallet or disappear without a trace — from travel receipts to business documents and more — load your devices with travel apps designed to keep your business trip on track.


businesstravel_planeCarry On

Checked bags can cost time and money, especially if they’re over the weight limit or (worse) you need to change flights at the last minute.  If your trip will last more than a day or two, compare the cost of hotel laundry services against checked-bag charges to figure out whether you need that extra bag or can make do by flying in business-ready attire.

Play Your Cards

Frequent flyer cards offer upgrades and other perks (even for economy-class flyers), and the more clubs you join, the more you’re covered.   Don’t limit your choices to airline offerings; hotels and rental-car agencies also dole out the rewards.

Join Travel Plus

Whether you’re hitting the road to close a deal, hold a client’s hand, or expand your network at a conference or convention, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You can also get rebates on a wide range of airline services, hotel extras, rental-car fees, Wi-Fi, and more.  When you join Travel Plus, you 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 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.