Money-Saving Travel Tips From Today’s #PassionPassport Twitter Chat
I just participated in a really fun Twitter Chat hosted by Passion Passport. The topic was near and dear to our hearts: budget travel. And I think you'll find both the questions and my answers helpful in planning your next escape, whether it's a close-to-home road trip or a trek around the globe. (And if you enjoy this kind of chat, be sure to follow @BudgetTravel on Twitter.)
Q1: Do you lay out a budget before setting off, or are you thrifty while traveling? (Or both?)
A1: Budget for the biggies like airfare and hotel, but give yourself discretionary $ for great meals and splurgey shopping
Q2: How do you start planning a budget for an upcoming trip?
A2: Find the sweet spot between the region’s hotel rates and your available funds so you know how many days to plan for
Q3: Is there a tool you find particularly helpful with budgeting your travels? Share it with us!
A3: Diversify search @Fareness @Hipmunk @HotelTonight @Hopper. But always call a hotel directly to book and ask for a better rate
Q4: What’s your biggest challenge in travel budgeting?
A4: Saving in advance! Get direct deposit into a savings account at a bank that’s not near your home (for real)
Q5: What strategies do you use to save money while traveling?
A5: Visit museums on free days; picnic with local breads, cheeses, olives for lunches; savor local parks
Q6: Share a photo from what you consider your best-budgeted trip. What did you do there that was different?
A6: Point Pleasant NJ in September: The boardwalk is still open, the weather is warm, but hotel rates are way down
Q7: What destination do you think is especially cost-effective?
A7: Right this minute: Greece is the word
Q8: How do you best save money in a typically expensive destination?
A8: Shoulder Season: beach towns and Europe in fall; the Caribbean between Thanksgiving and Christmas; Hawaii in spring
Q9: What is your favorite travel activity that’s free? Share a photo!
A9: Your most precious travel memories may be FREE: strolling through a big city park and picnicking on a bench
Q10: What kind of travel do you think is easiest to save money on? Road trips, backpacking, etc.?
A10: We are champions of the great American road trip for its affordability, fun, and of course food
A10: And we have upward of 100 beautiful American road trip itineraries on BudgetTravel.com
Q11: What’s your number one tip for saving while traveling?
A11: Rock-bottom airfares and hotel rates are bundled into package tours, great for overseas and far-flung destinations
Q12: What is your next budget travel destination?
Q12: I’m making an Escape From NYC to Montreal, always a bargain, friendly, and delicious
4 Reasons To Love Hotel Rewards Programs
Are you sick of frequent flier miles? The airlines have done a great job of squeezing the value out of these valuable programs, which were once an easy path to free flights. Yet when most people think about credit cards that offer travel rewards, they tend to still picture ones that offer airline miles. By looking beyond airline frequent flier programs, you can earn more versatile, and valuable travel rewards than you may have thought possible. Here are some of the major advantages hotel points have over airline miles. Superior award availability While airlines have been raising the number of miles required for an award flight and cutting the number of seats they offer at the lowest mileage levels, most hotel chains have maintained blissfully simple programs that offer awards that are easy to redeem. For example, the programs offered by Hyatt, Starwood, Hilton, and Wyndham guarantee that you can redeem your points for any unsold standard room, with no blackout dates or capacity controls. This means that you can use your points for rooms at Times Square on New Year's Eve, or in the host city during the Super Bowl, as long as they are still selling standard rooms. In contrast, many airline programs will offer few, if any, award seats at the lowest mileage levels, especially during peak travel periods. Easy ways to earn points Major airlines such as Delta and United no longer offer miles based on the distance flown, which was the whole point of calling them frequent flier miles in the first place. Instead, they changed their programs to offer miles based on the dollars paid, using a formula that results in fewer miles being awarded to most travelers. Meanwhile, hotel programs offer huge numbers of points to guests, with tremendous bonuses for holding elite status and using their co-branded credit cards. For example, the IHG Rewards Club (the loyalty program for Intercontinental, Holiday Inn, and other properties) can offer as many as 20 points per dollar spent to members who have their highest elite status and use the IHG Rewards Club Select credit card from Chase. Better credit card offers Credit cards that offer points with hotel programs can do much more for you than most airline credit cards. For example, the IHG Rewards Club Select credit card from Chase offers all cardholders Platinum Elite status, while Hilton offers four different versions of its HHonors credit card from Citi and American Express, each with Silver or Gold elite status. Having elite status with a hotel program can offer tangible perks such as room upgrades, late checkouts, and even free breakfasts. Great non-hotel awards When you want to use your airline miles for something other than flying, you might have a few choices, but they tend to be unattractive. But when you accumulate a bunch of hotel points you can have many great options—the IHG Rewards Club offers a Rewards Concierge that can help members redeem points for tours and other travel reservations. And with the Starwood Preferred Guest program, you can transfer points to miles with over thirty different carriers, so you can choose the program that offers the best reward options for your needs. This article was written by Jason Steele, Credit Card Expert at CompareCards.com.
Strikes, Glitches: What Airlines Owe You if Everything Goes Wrong
This article was written by Brittany Jones-Cooper and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. Even novice travelers know that it’s smart to plan for delays and crowded planes when you’re flying. What you never think to plan for is your cabin crew going on strike. But that’s exactly what happened on Friday, when Lufthansa crew members walked out of work at airports in the German cities of Frankfurt, Duesseldorf, and Munich. As a result, the Associated Press reports that 929 flights were canceled, leaving nearly 113,000 Lufthansa passengers stranded at the airport. Surely the workers had their reasons for walking out, but it seems almost cruel to leave those travelers high and dry. Which got us thinking: What rights do passengers really have when everything that can go wrong does? For answers, we referred to the Department of Transportation (DOT), whose main job is to make U.S. travel safe and efficient. We also chatted with aviation consumer expert Christopher Elliott, who strongly believes that it’s important for passengers to have their guard up while traveling. “It’s always a good idea to know your rights before you fly,” he says. “That way you don’t end up paying for something that the airline should have taken care of.” Here are your rights in the following scenarios. The airline goes on strike If an airline goes on strike, prepare to face some obstacles. Once your flight is canceled, the airline is only obligated to get you to your final destination. According to the DOT, airlines are not required to put you up in a hotel, cover meals, arrange substitute transportation on other airlines, or refund the cost of other travel services. With all of the stuff they won’t do, there is one thing they can’t say no to. “If the airline isn’t operating flights, you are entitled to an immediate refund. Period,” says Elliott. If you’d rather be rebooked than refunded, most airlines will step up during these stressful times and attempt to help. If they can’t get you on a flight with their airline partners, they may endorse your ticket with another carrier. However, this is not required. “Remember that in a strike situation, you might be dealing with an agent who is fearful for their job, or has a co-worker who walked out,” reminds Elliott. “Be kind to them, and they might be more likely to help you out.” Tip: Book flights with airlines that are part of an alliance. If they have partner airlines, it will increase the likelihood of you getting rebooked faster. The airline goes out of business This might sound like an unlikely scenario, but since 1998, 30 airlines have stopped operating or gone bankrupt. The good news here is that passengers are legally entitled to a refund for any flight that wasn’t taken. Additionally, partner airlines might step up to honor tickets from a bankrupt airline. For instance, Aloha Airlines ceased operation in 2008, but Hawaiian Airlines honored their passengers’ tickets on a standby basis at no additional charge. Even so, airlines are not obligated to do this, so don’t hold your breath. Tip: Purchase your plane tickets on a credit card. This way, if your airline goes kaput, the airfare will be refunded much quicker than if you purchased it with cash. The plane is diverted because another passenger has a meltdown Every week there seems to be a story about a passenger who freaks out in the air, causing the plane to be diverted before reaching its final destination. In many cases, the plane is delayed, which means anyone who has a connecting flight faces the risk of missing it. If your flight is diverted, how the airline reacts hinges on responsibility and comes down to the rules in its contract of carriage. Every airline has a contract of carriage that outlines its rules and regulations. Airfare Watchdog has compiled a list of contracts for most of the major domestic and international carriers. If it is a mechanical issue, most airlines will likely put you up in a hotel and give you a meal voucher until you can be rebooked on another flight. But if a flight is diverted because of weather or an unruly passenger, the airline deems that as beyond its control and is not required to provide alternative travel plans. Even so, Elliott says that many airlines will take care of passengers even if they aren’t obligated to. “As a practical manner, airlines will help passengers because it’s the right thing to do. But it’s not in the contract of carriage.” Related: 15 Passengers Kicked Off Planes in One Week—What’s Going On? You get stuck on the tarmac for hours This is every passenger’s nightmare. You board the plane with the assumption that takeoff is imminent. Instead, you spend the next couple of hours sitting on the tarmac while the airline deals with a mechanical problem, incomplete paperwork, or traffic on the runway. Luckily, it’s illegal for passengers to be kept waiting for too long. According to the DOT, an airline cannot keep you on a plane on a tarmac for more than three hours on a domestic flight (four hours on an international flight) without allowing you to get off if you wish. Additionally, after two hours, the airline has to give you food and water, provide updates every 30 minutes, and insure that the lavatories are in working order. As far as compensation is concerned, passengers don’t get anything if an airline violates tarmac rules. Instead, the DOT will fine the airline, and the payout can be hefty. “In January, the DOT fined Southwest Airlines $1.6 million for failing to let off passengers on 16 delayed flights,” says Elliott. “Since then, airlines have been following the rules very closely.” Tip: Fly-Rights is the DOT’s consumer guide for airline travel, and it is easily accessible if you need a quick reminder of your rights. You’re bumped because of space The truth is, most airlines overbook their flights—it’s not illegal. But in the instance that a flight is overbooked and a passenger doesn’t volunteer to take a later flight, the airline has no choice but to involuntarily bump someone off. While being told you can’t board would certainly ruin your day, the DOT requires every airline to provide denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. But there are rules. If the airline can get you to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival, it doesn’t owe you anything. However, if the alternative travel plans get you to your destination between one and two hours after your original scheduled arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200 percent of your one-way fare, with a $675 maximum. If the substitute transportation gets you to your destination more than two hours later than the original flight (four hours on international flights), or if the airline does not make any substitute arrangements, it must pay you an amount equal to 400 percent of your one-way fare, with a $1,350 maximum. While getting involuntarily bumped isn’t common, it does happen. According to the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report, 13,363 passengers were involuntarily bumped from their flights between April and June. The biggest offender was Southwest Airlines, which involuntarily denied boarding to 4,436 passengers during that period of time. Related: Is Your Luggage Lost? Here’s How to Get It Back—Fast! Your luggage is delayed No matter what the airline tells you, you have rights from the moment your luggage is misplaced. “I’ve seen an airline actually hand people cash for incidentals when their luggage was misplaced,” said Elliott. “They can’t leave you high and dry.” Each airline has different rules regarding baggage outlined in its contract of carriage, and it usually asserts a limit to the airline’s liability for delayed, lost, or damaged check baggage. Across the board, on domestic trips the airline can invoke a liability ceiling that is regulated by the DOT and adjusted for inflation every two years. That limit is currently $3,500 per passenger for lost baggage. On international round trips that originate in the United States, the liability limit is set by a treaty called the Montreal Convention. The international limit is worth about $1,675.
14 Ways to Find Cheap Flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2015
This article was written by Johnny Jet and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel. It’s that time of year again when my phone starts ringing off the hook and the messages start flooding in on email and Facebook. “How can I find a cheap flight for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas?” The truth is that there are always new websites and apps emerging to help you get the best deal, but the strategies don’t change that much from year to year. As usual at this time of year, the airlines are expecting to have full planes over the holidays. Luckily, fuel prices are down so there are still some deals to be had… but you’re running out of time. Here are my 14 ways to find cheap flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2015. Be flexible The key to finding cheap Thanksgiving flights is to be flexible with your days. If you aren’t flexible, then you aren’t going to get a deal. It’s not that difficult to figure out that the most expensive time to fly is when everyone else is, too. For example, I bet you want to leave the Wednesday (November 25) before Thanksgiving and return on the Sunday (November 29) or early morning on the Monday (November 30) after. Am I right? You aren’t going to get a deal on those days since the airlines have no incentive to offer them, so you should just stop trying. And if you aren’t flexible on your dates, then stop reading this right now. Deals are going to be available either the week before or the Sunday or Monday before (depending on the destination), Thanksgiving Day (November 26), and returning on Friday (November 27) or the following Tuesday (December 1). Better yet, look at the Wednesday (December 2) after turkey day. To prove my point, I ran a flexible search on Google Flights for round-trip nonstop flights from New York to Miami for a four-night stay. Keep in mind the airlines are expecting the busiest days to be Sunday, November 30, and Monday, December 1. The best day to fly will be Thanksgiving Day (November 27). Stay away from the low-cost carriers When you do a flight search, don’t just grab the cheapest fare you see, especially from a low-cost carriers (LCC) because it could end up costing you much more than you think. Allegiant, Spirit, Frontier, Norwegian, and WOW are just a few that are notorious for offering ridiculously low fares and then hitting you up for everything from assigned seats to checked baggage, and even carry-on luggage. The worst part is that now the legacy airlines like Delta and American (the latter just announced they will start in 2016) don’t want to lose out so they’re going to offer the same kind of fares. My point is to make sure you read the fine print on your fare before buying—even from the mainline carriers. Related: Are Dirt-Cheap Flights the Way of the Future? Consider the time of day Everyone wants to leave after work and school, so when doing your flight search, don’t enter in a specific time. Generally, the most expensive times to fly are peak business travel hours (8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). Cheaper seats tend to depart early in the morning (5 a.m. to 7 a.m.) or late in the evening (after 8 p.m.). Note: By leaving early in the morning, you have the best chance of not getting delayed. Alternate airports Not only do you want to be flexible with dates and times but also with airports, too. For example, rather than flying into (or out of) Miami when going to South Florida, check out Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL), which is 25 miles north and usually much cheaper. You can also check out West Palm Beach (PBI), which is another 49 miles away. To help you with all the major U.S. alternative airports (by actual driving miles), I created a website called AlternateAirports.com. Related: Worst Airports in the World Ranked—Who Won? Consider making a stop Sometimes booking a flight that has a connection as opposed to flying nonstop can save you money. See screenshot below for a flight from Los Angeles to Toronto. By making a stop, you can save hundreds of dollars. However, not all connections have that much savings so you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. If it’s hundreds of dollars then yes, but if it’s just a $20 savings, do you really want to increase your chances of getting delayed or stuck? And be sure to avoid making connections in airports that have a terrible on-time track record like San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare, or all of New York’s airports. Here’s a link to an airport and airline scorecard to help you make a good decision. Search tools Everyone knows there’s not one website out there that has the absolute cheapest price for airfares, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and package deals so the trick is to do your research and check them all to see who has the best deal at that moment in time. That’s one of the reasons why I created JohnnyJet.com to begin with. We now have a new search engine, where all you have to do is input your city pairs and dates and click “Check Rates.” Six windows will open up as they simultaneously search a variety of travel websites like Expedia, Priceline, and TripAdvisor. It not only saves you time but money, as well. Related: Expedia Gets it Right: Site to Show Hidden Airfare Fees Sign up for flight alerts If you don’t want to constantly have to check airfares manually (as I like to do for some insane reason) then sign up for fare alerts. Many sites offer this service for free including Airfarewatchdog.com, Kayak, Yapta.com, and FareCompare.com. Here’s a chart that compares the leading airfare alert sites. Hold your airfares for free for 24 hours Many consumers in the U.S. don’t realize that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has stated that all U.S. and foreign carriers have to allow consumers the ability “to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be cancelled within 24 hours without penalty.” See link to the DOT’s full rule (PDF). However, if you’re booking a ticket with fewer than seven days before you fly, this rule doesn’t apply. Note: American Airlines is the only airline that I’m aware of that allows consumers to hold a reservation without a credit card for 24 hours, making it much easier to cancel. This is yet another reason they are my preferred airline. Choose Southwest Airlines if you’re checking bags Southwest was the original low-cost carrier so it’s ironic that they’re the only one that doesn’t charge for checked bags. They offer the first and second checked bag for free; most airlines would charge an extra $120 for that on a round-trip ticket. If you’re planning on checking bags and don’t have elite status or an airline branded credit card where one of the perks is free baggage, then check to see if Southwest Airlines is flying your desired route. Remember: Their fares don’t show up in any search engine except their own so you need to log on to Southwest.com. Use frequent flier miles or credit card points It’s almost impossible to use your airline frequent flier miles during the holidays unless you are flexible with dates or are willing to use double or triple the usual amount. I don’t recommend the latter, but this year I’m using 12,500 American miles for my wife to fly from Los Angeles to Toronto the Friday after Thanksgiving. If I left on Sunday or Monday it was double. Speak to a human You never know if an airline representative can find a better deal but in my experience, it’s usually only worth it (most charge a $25 fee) when booking a mileage award ticket since they can check partner airlines and alternate cities much quicker. To get in touch with your airline, I created AirlineNumbers.com that lists all of the airline’s phone numbers and websites. To bypass the airlines’ annoying and time-consuming automated prompts, log on to GetHuman.com. Related: Airplane Noises That Should (and Shouldn’t) Freak You Out Consult a travel agent As you can see, bargain hunting can be a time-consuming process, but it can pay off big time especially if you are traveling with multiple people. If you don’t want to spend the time and energy doing all the legwork, then call a travel agent and pay their fee, which can be $25 or more. I check with my travel agent but usually only on international flights since sometimes he has different inventory than the travel sites. To give you an example, once I was flying from London to Bangkok and everything I was finding online was over $1,000. I called my travel agent and he found a flight on Etihad through Abu Dhabi for $550. It was well worth the $25 fee. Hidden cities This hidden city trick is against airline policy so you didn’t learn it from me. But… once I needed to get to Cleveland from LA, and a nonstop one-way ticket was $600. I took my own advice and searched alternate airports, and when I found a ticket to Buffalo for only $230 I noticed the flight first stopped in Cleveland on that exact same $600 flight. I know it makes no sense since Buffalo is farther from Cleveland and you have to take two flights instead of one but that’s the airlines for you. If I wanted to break airline policy I could’ve just gotten off in Cleveland and let my connecting ticket to BUF go to waste. If I had done that, I would have bought a one-way ticket, made sure not to check bags or put in my mileage account number. Remember I’m not recommending this and if you do it a lot you will get caught. Consult Skiplagged, which shows you the hidden cities. Also keep in mind that Skiplagged was sued by United and Orbitz in 2014 for sharing this kind of information; the suit was dismissed on a technicality in 2015, but the incident goes to show that airlines are aware of hidden-city travel, and they don’t like it. Possible penalties include canceling the ticket without refund or voiding your frequent flier miles. You’ve been warned. Take data from online travel agents Many of the online travel agencies and airfare websites offer up their data, allowing consumers to find the best days to travel. I don’t think it’s 100 percent accurate but it definitely gives you some good ideas about which days to look for. Below is advice from three sites: • Kayak: Says that you should book at least two weeks in advance when traveling in North America for Thanksgiving. • Orbitz: They say the best time to buy for Thanksgiving was on October 6, Christmas October 9 and New Year’s October 10th but don’t sweat it—there are still good days to buy in October and November. See their calendar. • Hopper: The most expensive days to travel over the 2015 holiday period are the weekends after Christmas (December 26 and 27) and New Years (January 2 and 3). Unlike Thanksgiving prices, which tend to start high and remain high as the holiday draws near, Christmas flight prices tend to rise more steadily as Christmas approaches and then spike in the last ten days. Right now, demand is still pretty low for Christmas flights, but our team found that prices are actually rising faster than in 2014. This means you should consider booking quickly. So there you have it… I feel like you have just turned me upside down and shook all the tricks out of me. I hope this guide helps you find cheap Thanksgiving and Christmas flights and more importantly, motivates you to spend the holidays with the ones you love. To a happy and safe Thanksgiving and holiday season for all!
Resources for American Travelers in France
We stand in solidarity with the brave citizens of France and with those affected not only by acts of terror in Paris but also the unthinkable attacks in Beirut and with all those who continue to suffer in the ongoing conflict in Syria. In the firm belief that the world continues to move forward toward a more peaceful and just future for all, we offer safety tips from the U.S. State Department for U.S. travelers: The State Department urges U.S. citizens traveling abroad to maintain “a high level of vigilance,” which includes being aware of local events, monitoring media and local news sources, and when appropriate, limiting activities to the essentials. Airports and train stations in France are open, but travelers can expect delays because of heightened security measures. Contact transportation companies (airlines, railroads) to stay up to date. Some border points may also be subject to heightened security and restricted movement. If you’re planning on using public transportation such as buses, the metro, or trams, visit ratp.fr for the latest information. The State Department offers the following links for more information: * See the State Department's travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and France Country Specific Information. * Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. * Contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris, located at 2 Avenue Gabriel 75008 Paris, at +(33)(1) 43-12-22-22 or by email at Citizeninfo@state.gov. After-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is +(33)(1) 43-12-22-22. * Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). * Follow the State Department on Twitter and Facebook.