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Let's Talk About Rewards Programs

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
September 29, 2021
Belize - caye caulker - hammocks on the dock
Courtesy amichka/myBudgetTravel

Airline rewards programs get a lot of hype and are often greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism. We'd love to hear your honest input about your rewards program habits. Take our quick poll, and look for the results here in an upcoming story at BudgetTravel.com and in our March/April tablet issue.

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Travel Tips

How to Fly Your Pet for Free

For many Americans, pets are family members, and they would no more travel without them than they would leave one of their children at home. Unfortunately for Budget Travelers, the airlines seem to know this, and have taken to squeezing as many fees as possible out of passengers who wish to fly with their furry friends. Not only will these fees apply when you fly with a caged animal in the hold, but most airlines will charge you $100 or more just to place a small pet carrier underneath the seat in front of you.  But what if there was a way that you could avoid these pet fees altogether and fly Fido for free? It turns out that there are several credit cards that offer hundreds of dollars a year in annual air travel fee credits, which can be applied to these onerous airline pet fees. The American Express Platinum card offers a $200 annual airline fee credit that can be used to pay for pet fees as well as change fees, seat selection fees, and baggage fees. Other benefits include the ability to earn Membership Rewards for spending, which can be redeemed for travel reservations, merchandise or gift cards. In addition, points can be transferred to miles with 16 airline partners. Cardholders also receive access to the Delta SkyClub, Priority Pass Select, and American Express Centurion airport lounges. Note: There is a $450 annual fee for this card. The American Express Premier Rewards Gold card features a similar annual airline fee credit that can be used for pet fees, but it's only $100 per calendar year. Cardholders receive 3X Membership Rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines, 2X points for purchases at U.S. restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets and 1X points on other purchases. This card has a $195 annual fee that is waived the first year. Another card with an annual airline fee credit is the Citi Prestige. It offers cardholders a $250 annual airline fee credit each calendar year, and pet fees are eligible for reimbursement. Other features include 3x points for air travel and hotel purchases, 2x points for dining and entertainment expenses, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points are earned in the ThankYou Rewards program and can be redeemed for travel reservations or transferred to miles with 12 different airlines or points with Hilton hotels. Cardholders also receive access to the American Airlines and Priority Pass Select airport lounges. There is a $450 annual fee for this card. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card offers a $300 annual airline fee credit each calendar year, which you can use to cover the pet fees for several flights. Other benefits include three upgrades to the Ritz-Carlton club level each year and a $100 hotel credit on paid stays of two nights or longer. It also offers an annual Lounge Club membership, which features access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world. This card has a $395 annual fee. Finally, cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards card allows you to earn miles that can be redeemed as statement credits toward any travel related expense, including pet fees. This card offers double miles on all purchases, and each mile is worth one cent. There's a $0 intro for this card for the first year and $59 after that. This article was written by Jason Steele, Credit Card Expert at CompareCards.com.

Travel Tips

Is Europe Safe for Travelers?

In the wake of the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice, France, many are asking themselves: Is Europe safe for travelers? The answer is yes, with the logical caveat that the better informed you are, the more observant you are, and the more prepared you are, the safer your trip anywhere in the world will be. Am I biased in favor of travel? You bet I am: There’s simply no better way to understand the world, to bridge the differences among cultures, and to embrace our personal stake in this little blue planet of ours. The State Department reminds travelers to adopt the following practices when visiting Europe: • Exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation. • Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places. • Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events. • Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency. • Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities. • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions. • Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency. • Register in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.

Travel Tips

Air travel booking secrets for 2017

As we shift into the new year, there’s a lot of looking back on the travel industry to see what worked and what didn’t, what succeeded and what failed, and, of course, where, how, when and why people traveled. We look back so that we can have a clearer vision and understanding of what’s ahead. While technology allows us to do nearly everything aside from decisively predict the future, piles upon piles of data lets us to come pretty close. The more data we can pull from, of course, the clearer the vision. In a recently released study by Expedia, the company partnered with Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), a trade organization, to crunch the numbers between January 1, 2016 and October 24, 2016 and figure out worldwide air travel trends. The report, “New Heights for Air Travel,” looked at data from Expedia—which encompasses the 335 million itineraries it created in its 20 years of operation. Those itineraries cover 1,820 cities within 203 countries. ARC, meantime, offers information on more than 12.5 billion passenger flights. (That's a whole lotta packs of tomato juice and packs of pretzels!) The main takeaways of the study forecasts a huge win for travelers. First, according to the International Air Transport Association and ARC, air capacity is up about 5% globally, which means airlines are flying more planes to more destinations. Global growth typically clocks in around 3%, even in boom times. So in other words, 2016 saw a tremendous amount of growth. More seats in airplanes means more competition for passengers, so this past year also saw a tumble in average ticket prices. Those two factors—more space and lower cost—are a formula for creating more travel opportunities at lower prices in 2017.  How much of a tumble in those ticket prices, you ask? In the nearly 10 months examined, average ticket prices in North America fell about 6% for economy one-ways and about 5% for economy round-trips. That means, for instance, a round-trip ticket that cost $472 in 2015 cost $450 in 2016. With billions of data points at their fingertips, Expedia and its partners were able to examine buying patterns and assess ticket pricing trends and quirks. By and large, the results pretty much validate a lot of urban myths. First and foremost, some times are better than others for purchasing airline tickets. Weekends are the best time to book flights. Fridays are the worst, primarily because that’s when business travelers make their bookings. The study also notes that for domestic travel in the US, you can save as much as 11% by purchasing tickets on a Sunday vs. Friday. You can save even more on tickets to Europe—as much as 16%, in fact—by making your ticket purchase on a Sunday. And now for the good news for the early birds among us. We all know that it pays to plan, but this study tells us just how much. According to ARC, 21 days in advance is the tipping point. When it comes to traveling within the United States, within Europe and even between the US and Europe, booking three weeks ahead of takeoff can score you as much as 30% over waiting until the last minute.   When you’re planning a trip, don’t underestimate the impact of a weekend stay. Expedia’s study determined that you can get the best deals when you include a Saturday night overnight stay on your itinerary. That can mean savings of up to 57%, as the researches found to be the case in Southern Europe. That does it for the “how.” Now, about the “where.” Based on its data, the study looked at 500 top destinations. Not surprisingly, the airport with the most significant leap was Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, which surged in capacity by 53% from 2015 to 2016. Coming in a very close second was the airport in Da Nang, Vietnam. Among other destinations that spiked in popularity were Zhuhai, China (41 percent); Cusco, Peru (39 percent); and Santiago, Chile (38 percent). Cities in Uruguay, Iceland, Panama, and Russia were other mentions. There are plenty more general findings. Perhaps you can chalk it up to the coast-to-coast growth of tequila and the taco truck boom, but overall growth of Mexico City as a destination was a significant 11%. Industry watchdogs are already deeming it a 2017 hotspot. Largely because its economy is pulsing, airlines are ramping up flights to India as we speak. Same goes for Dubai as well as China, which saw nearly 10% growth in airline capacity over the past year. Notably, in addition to more airlines instituting new routes to China, new airports have opened or expanded throughout the country. Experts predict that most of the destinations that have seen growth in 2016 will continue to thrive. It’s up to you to prove them right. Or chart your own path and prove them wrong. 

Travel Tips

How the Electronics Ban Will Affect You

Headline news about travel bans is starting to feel like business as usual. You’re not alone if you find yourself thinking: “Pretty much we’ll only be able to bring Saltines and an actual print newspaper and maybe a wallet when we board a plane.” Fact is, though, there are loads of nuances and contingencies beyond that big bold “travel ban” headline, especially when it comes to the latest electronics ban, which was announced on March 21. The ban, which is applicable to specific airlines leaving specific airports in the Middle East, prohibits travelers from carrying laptops, iPads, and anything larger than a cellphone on flights to specific US airports. The items must be checked. The ban applies to flights from 10 airports in eight countries. Nine airlines are affected - Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Air, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways. When all is said and done, the measure, which will continue indefinitely, affects about 50 flights per day.  Many news reports and commentary note how this will strongly impact business travelers who have company-owned laptops, perhaps containing sensitive information. We, however, would argue that it would be equally exasperating for parents who might depend on laptops to keep young children from throwing temper tantrums at cruising altitude. The questions that arise are why now and why the specificity? According to a New York Times report, "officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack." But the UK followed suit with a similar ban the following day and, according to anonymous security sources cited in news reports, the government based its decision on specific intelligence reports about the Islamic State developing a bomb that can be concealed in portable electronics.   But according to Jason Clampet, editor-in-chief of Skift, a travel news website, questions have been raised about the intent of the ban, what with its specific targets. Some experts speculate the measure is designed to hurt Gulf carriers because they’ve emerged as rivals in transatlantic flight packages. This ban is a hassle for more than just the passengers. Airlines have been complaining about the lack of communication with Homeland Security, one of the government agencies that ordered the measure. Clampet explains that it was rolled out without warning, which stands in contrast with the liquid ban instituted in 2006, Clampet noted, which rolled out in a much more systematized fashion that involved training TSA agents before it went into effect. "The ban came in the middle of the day, there was no way for airlines to communicate about it ahead of time." Clampet explains. "The same thing happened in January with the travel ban. It just happened--no communication. The CEO of American Airlines came out and said government messed up. You never hear airlines talking about the government like that." 

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