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.

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.

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.

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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!