Let's Talk About Rewards Programs

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 25, 2016
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 and in our March/April tablet issue.

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Travel Tips

What Travelers Need to Know About the Zika Virus

With health alerts about the Zika virus popping up in travel destinations all over the world, it's normal to feel skittish about visiting the affected countries. Here's what you need to know about the Zika virus and travel: What countries have seen Zika virus outbreaks? So far, 22 areas are experiencing a Zika virus outbreak—some of them tropical vacation destinations: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, Venezuela, and Africa's Cape Verde. It is expected to spread. How severe is the Zika virus? What happens when you're infected? Traditionally, the Zika virus, transmitted by mosquito bites, has been a relatively mild disease, with symptoms including muscle aches and fever: "kind of like a bad cold, a bad flu," says Ronald St. John, M.D., MPH, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization and current co-founder of Sitata, a free health- and safety-focused trip-planning app and website. The horror stories about Zika-associated instances of microcephaly (small head size) in newborns and Guillain-Barré syndrome are alarming but technically rare. The current outbreak's sample size is likely a factor in the numerous reports, Dr. St. John says. "With the introduction of the virus into a new place—the Western Hemisphere—and a rapidly accumulating number of cases, once you get a large number of cases of infectious disease, some of the rare complications start to appear." If I'm traveling to one of those countries, is it cause to cancel my trip? Unless you're pregnant, no. However, do take precautions to avoid mosquito bites while you're there, says Dr. St. John. (For the sake of comparison in severity, like Zika, mosquito-transmitted dengue fever is still a risk in tropical and sub-tropical regions, as is the chikungunya virus.) If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that you "consider" postponing your trip until after delivery. There is growing scientific evidence that the first trimester is a particularly risky time to become infected with Zika, Dr. St. John says. "Pregnant women, as a minimum, should take heightened measures to avoid mosquito bites in countries where transmission is growing, and if they want to be super-cautious, OK, maybe you shouldn't travel, especially if you're in your first trimester. So that's a precautionary thing—it's not an all-out panic button at this point in time." OB/GYN Jason James, M.D., medical director at FemCare Ob-Gyn in Miami, takes a harder stance: "Pregnant women should, whenever possible, remain away from any of the countries affected," he says, and recommends that pregnant travelers take their "babymoon" in areas that are not affected. "Travel insurance might be advisable for travel to these areas in the next year or so. Compare the various policies and make sure there are no pregnancy exclusions." What precautions should I take if I decide to travel to one of the affected areas? Because the virus is spread mainly through mosquito bites, Dr. St. John recommends using a DEET-based mosquito repellent like OFF! Deep Woods ($7,—safe for pregnant women—with your sunscreen, and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants whenever possible. Wear a hat and keep your ankles covered. To prevent mosquito bites while sleeping, choose a hotel with air-conditioning, so that rooms' windows are shut, or if you're in a non-air-conditioned property, ensure that your room has screens, Dr. St. John says. If your accommodations are basic and have neither A/C nor screens, bring a permethrin-permeated mosquito net with you (from $35,, or stay in a place that has mosquito nets over the bed. How can I stay informed about the Zika virus as it relates to travel? At Budget Travel, we recommend keeping an eye on the travel section of the U.S. State Department's website at and relying on reputable updates on the virus from sources such as the CDC, specifically its Travelers' Health advice, and the National Institutes of Health.  Another tip from Dr. St. John: “Pay attention to the World Health Organization when they issue travel advice. Because there is something called the International Health Regulations, and countries are obligated to report events that might be of public-health importance at an international level. And then WHO makes an assessment. For example, with the huge Ebola outbreak in West Africa, there was never a reason not to travel to those countries, and WHO stated that. If you were going to go there and be a health-care provider—doctor, nurse, whatnot—on an Ebola treatment center, well, yes, that’s a high risk...but if you were just going to Sierra Leone to do business or even tour, that was not a risk.”

Travel Tips

Now You Can Put a Plane Ticket on Layaway—Really!

Layaway: It's not just for retail stores anymore. Tech startup Airfordable says it has one mission: to "encourage travel" for low-income individuals and millennials with limited credit options. All users have to do is take a screenshot of the flight they want to purchase, and Airfordable will buy it for them—and hook them up with a monthly or biweekly payment plan. Put 30 percent down and make all the payments before the flight date, and the e-ticket is yours. In some cases, the company says, it has helped users find even better prices for the flights they want. Convenience, of course, comes with a price: Airfordable charges a flat 20 percent fee for every transaction, spread out over the payment plan. But there's no interest, which, for some travelers, might be a more attractive option than using a credit card. Plus, the maximum flight price that Airfordable is willing to front is $500, so the fee won't amount to more than $100. Not cheap, but a better deal than throwing down a high-interest card if you don't intend to pay it off ASAP, and an excellent option if a credit card or personal loan is out of the question. And if you don't make all the payments before your flight date? No ticket for you. The down payment is also non-refundable, but any payments made after that turn into Airfordable credit. (Space is limited, so click fast if you want in.) The ultra-specific desire to help people travel was born out of experience: When company founder Ama Marfo saw a college buddy miss out on a group trip to Ghana because she lacked the financial resources to go, she was inspired to start the company. "Memories are priceless," she says, "and global enrichment is key in becoming a well-rounded person." We at BT are all about helping people travel more, especially when cash is tight, so cheers to that!

Travel Tips

How to Skip the Longest Lines: Disney, Vegas, and More

This article was written by Stephanie Gaskell and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. For many, the holidays are a time to do something special. But choosing to visit a popular tourist attraction means one thing—long lines. While it might seem like an occupational hazard, there are ways to skip the lines and avoid standing around with the masses. Here are some insider tips for getting VIP access. Let technology lead the way When it comes to skipping lines—there’s an app for that. In fact, there are several apps that will let you hire someone to stand in line for you. TaskRabbit is a service where you can hire people to do all kinds of tasks—including waiting in long lines (even at the DMV!). Another popular service is SameOleLineDudes, which currently only operates in New York City. But beware. Many businesses are pushing back against paid line-waiters. Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas, which is famous for its lines around the block, recently banned professional line-waiters. Related: This Is How Much Time You Waste Standing in Line at Tourist Attractions Look for a pass Let’s say you’re trying to get into a major theme park where the lines are notoriously long. Many of them offer special packages that allow you to plan your trip in advance, so you don’t arrive to find yourself standing in line. Disney World has a Fastpass program that prints out a pass telling you exactly what time to come and enjoy the attraction. This frees you up to walk around or grab a bite in the meantime. Likewise, Sea World offers a service called Quick Queue Unlimited for just $19 that allows you to skip to the front of the line. Use your connections If you’re heading to the ritzy Las Vegas night club scene, there are a couple of ways to bypass the velvet ropes and get right in. One trick is to ask your concierge to book a reservation for you. As a local, they often have connections that can help you breeze right in, especially if a nice tip is involved. Another option for skipping lines is to purchase special passes through sites like or Best of Vegas. Related: Forget the Wait! 9 Ways to Spend Less Time in Line at Disney World Be a VIP If you decide to forego the Elvis impersonators and head to the real thing, Graceland, the home-turned-museum of Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn., allows visitors to purchase VIP tickets to skip the crowds. The King would approve. Let’s say you’re heading somewhere more subdued like The Vatican, a place where millions of visitors flock each year. You can avoid long lines here by buying a “fast-track” ticket through a travel agency, like Viator, which offers packages that let you bypass the lines at the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms, and St. David’s. The lines at the Empire State Building are almost as vast as the views. Cut to the front by purchasing a VIP Main Deck Experience package that will take you right to the 86th floor observation deck with no waiting. Now that you know the secrets, get out there and enjoy the sites without waiting. And once you’re at the front of the line, look for us…we want cutsies!

Travel Tips

3 Easy Ways to Turn Your Holiday Spending into Rewards for a Spring Break Trip

This year, many holiday shoppers will begin and end their trips to the store during the cold, dark nights of winter, and spend days trudging through the snow. Wouldn't it be nice if you could use your holiday spending to earn a much-needed trip to somewhere much warmer or well-deserved spring break vacation? Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to capitalize on your holiday shopping to do just that. Earn rewards through spending The simplest way to earn rewards in the form of points and miles during the holidays is to use the right credit card. Since spring break is a peak travel period, shoppers may wish to avoid earning traditional frequent flier miles that come with severe limits on their use. Instead, it's worth considering credit cards that earn rewards that can be redeemed for statement credits towards any available flight, hotel, car rental, or cruise. For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards card offers double miles on all purchases, and miles are worth one cent each as statement credits toward travel purchases. Similarly, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus also offers double miles that can also be used as statement credits toward travel reservations. Finally, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers double points for each dollar spent on dining or travel, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be redeemed for 1.25 cents each toward travel reservations made through Chase's Ultimate Rewards travel center, or transferred to points and miles with travel providers. Take advantage of credit card sign-up bonuses You would have to do a lot of shopping to earn enough points and miles for a free trip during spring break, but you can boost your rewards balance quickly by applying for a new card with a generous sign-up bonus. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card currently offers 50,000 points, worth $625 towards travel reservations, to new applicants who spend $4,000 on new purchases within three months of opening an account. The Capital One Venture Rewards card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card both offer 40,000 bonus miles, worth $400, to new applicants who spend $3,000 on new purchases within three months of account opening. Utilize online shopping portals Most airline frequent flier programs and hotel loyalty programs offer an online shopping portal as a way for members to earn additional rewards. It's not uncommon to earn an extra 3–10 miles per dollar spent at popular retailers over the holidays. To use these portals, you first have to create an account. Then, you browse the retailers on the portal, and enter the site through its link. Finally, you make purchases the way you normally would, and earn additional points and miles beyond what you earn from your credit card rewards. Many airlines and hotels also offer a dining rewards program that allows you to earn more points and miles when you eat at participating restaurants. This article was written by Jason Steele, Credit Card Expert at