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!

Get Ready for the Start of Your 2014 March Madness Pool

marchmadness_coverMarch, it’s said, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.  Most people think that’s a comment on the weather, but anyone who fills out NCAA men’s college basketball tournament brackets knows that it actually refers to their dwindling chances of winning a March Madness pool.  More than 50 million people participate in the annual ritual, trying to claim part of the $3 billion that Americans bet on the tourney.  Instead of just joining a 2014 March Madness pool, why not attend a game and experience the thrill and excitement of unpaid athletes playing for glory, entertainment, and the financial benefit (usually) of their schools?

marchmadness_hoopBelow are the sites, dates, and arenas for every round of the 2014 Division I men’s college basketball tournament.  To purchase tickets, you’ll need to visit the NCAA Tickets & Hospitality page; tickets aren’t available through the individual arenas.

First Four (play-in games)

Dayton, Ohio, March 18 and 19; UD Arena

Preliminary Rounds (second- and third-round games)

Buffalo, New York, March 20 and 22; First Niagara Center

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 20 and 22; BMO Harris Bradley Center

Orlando, Florida, March 20 and 22; Amway Center

Spokane, Washington, March 20 and 22; Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena

Raleigh, North Carolina, March 21 and 23; PNC Arena

San Antonio, Texas, March 21 and 23; AT&T Center

San Diego, California, March 21 and 23; Viejas Arena

St. Louis, Missouri, March 21 and 23; Scottrade Center

Regionals (Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games)

West Regional:  Anaheim California, March 27 and 29; Honda Center

South Regional:  Memphis, Tennessee, March 27 and 29; FedExForum

Midwest Regional:  Indianapolis, Indiana, March 28 and 30; Lucas Oil Stadium

East Regional:  New York, New York, March 28 and 30; Madison Square Garden

Final Four and Championship Game

Arlington, Texas, April 5 and 7; AT&T Stadium

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

To spice things up for the Final Four in Dallas, the NCAA and various sponsors are staging the 2014 NCAA March Madness Music Festival, a series of free concerts from April 4-6 at Reunion Park.  Featured performers include Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Killers, Tim McGraw, and Jason Aldean.

At this point, those folks are the only guaranteed performers at the Final Four.  No heavy favorites emerged from the regular season.  Kentucky and Michigan State were ranked #1 and #2 in the AP’s preseason poll; by the end of the season, they were barely in the top 25.  Wichita State went undefeated in regular-season play but competes in the Missouri Valley Conference, a mid-major league.  Syracuse, Arizona, and Duke all have weaknesses. Senior-laden Florida might be the best bet, but a lot of March Madness brackets will be banking on surprise Final Four sleepers this year.

Want a sure bet?  Try Travel Plus, which offers 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations and rebates on travel perks that can ease the pain of seeing your March Madness brackets crumble.  Which team are you picking to win it all?

How to (Diplomatically) Ask Travel Guests to Leave

travelguests_coverWe tend to connect travel costs with our own trips out of town.  Sometimes, though, such costs show up unexpectedly on our doorsteps, in the form of people who violate Ben Franklin’s maxim about houseguests, overstay their welcomes in our homes, and lower their own expenses by transferring them to their hosts’ budgets.  As a public service, we therefore offer a few tips on how to (diplomatically) ask unwanted travel guests to leave.  (Please note:  These suggestions aren’t guaranteed to work.  In fact, you really should review your specific state’s laws on houseguests before letting them into your home.)

Stop treating them like guests.  travelguests_dishesThe longer someone stays in your home, the more that person becomes a part of the family (or an unofficial tenant).  Just as you expect your children to do household chores to earn their allowance, ask unwelcome visitors to work (and/or pay) for their accommodations.  One potential drawback (beyond the possibility of creating an implicit pay-to-stay agreement):  Once your guests start chipping in for privileges, they may expect better service.  You might avoid this by assigning them particularly unenviable, unenjoyable chores.

Stop acting like a host(ess).  Most of us behave differently when guests are around.  Our ingrained living habits — casual clothes around the house, dinner in front of the TV, milk gulped straight out of the container — often vanish, at least temporarily.  Go back to your preferred lifestyle:  Play your favorite music whenever you want, catch up on TV shows according to your own desires and schedule, fix single-serving (or strictly family-size) meals, and tell your guests they’re on their own.

travelguests_walkingMake yourself unavailable.  Even the rudest guests might find it difficult to justify staying in your home if you suddenly got sick or had to go away.  (Don’t accept their offer to look after you or your house.  If necessary, tell them you have a long-time nursing/house-sitting arrangement with someone who owns a Doberman pinscher that doesn’t like strangers.)  If your guests don’t take the hint, start packing your bags or exhibiting uncomfortable signs of illness, and shoo them out as you go along.

Show them the (hotel) door.  If you can afford it, pay for a night at a local hotel, tell your guests it’s non-refundable, and present the offer in a way that makes it hard to decline (e.g., “I really can’t recommend this hotel highly enough” or “you’d be doing me a huge favor”).

Be honest.  If worse comes to worst, the truth can set you free.  Tell your guests you need to get back to your previous life — the one you enjoyed before they arrived.

Houseguests who refuse to leave can take an unexpected bite out of your household finances.  To stretch your travel budget as far as possible, try Travel Plus, where you’ll earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations, as well as rebates on a wide range of travel perks.  Happy trails (and please remember to go home at a reasonable time)!

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!

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!