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TSA Summer Travel Tips: 5 Things Every Traveler Must Know

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Budget Travel Editor-in-Chief
June 13, 2019
Passengers passing through airport security
David Tran/Dreamstime
Easy, start-today steps that will help you breeze through airport security and start your vacation on a high note.

Are you planning to fly this summer? Join the club—millions of us will be taking to the sky.

The only potential downside to all that flying is the dreaded TSA security line. You know the drill: You get to the airport two hours before your scheduled takeoff and spend much of the time standing in line waiting to be wanded and asked about the contents of your bags.

The good news is, the TSA has assembled a checklist to help your summer travels go as smoothly as possible. Here, 5 TSA tips every traveler must know.

1. Stay Hydrated

The problem: Summer heat makes you thirsty, but you’re not allowed to carry water through security, and the bottled water sold at the airport is overpriced. The solution: TSA allows you to bring your favorite water bottles (empty, made of metal or plastic) through security and fill them up when you get to your gate. Just make sure your water bottle is completely empty before it goes through the X-ray screening.

2. Don’t Get “Hangry”

Don’t let overpriced airport food make you fly hungry, which can make it difficult to manage any flight anxiety or the inevitable minor (or major) irritations that come with the flying experience. TSA says you’re allowed to bring plenty of food on the plane with you, including “burgers, chicken, pizza, pies, cakes, bread, donuts, fruit, vegetables, etc.” When passing through security, TSA officers may ask that you separate foods from other items so that your items can be screened properly.

3. Know the Rules for Flying with Beverages, Sunscreen, and Deodorant

TSA shares some simple rules to cut through some confusion about flying with liquids. Liquids in your carry-on must be 3.4 oz or less (this includes toothpaste, by the way, something I learned the hard way on a recent flight; it also includes gel or spray deodorants and all sunscreens). But stick deodorants are not limited to the 3.4 oz rule, and neither are beverages or toiletries packed in your checked bags. A note about beverages packed in your carry-on: You are allowed to carry on alcoholic beverages in containers that adhere to the 3.4 oz rule, but you are not allowed to open them or consume them on the plane. (Only alcoholic beverages served by the carrier are allowed to be consumed on the plane.) And we always recommend packing carry-on toiletries and other liquids in a separate zip-lock bag for ease of inspection.

4. Get Through the Line Faster With TSA PreCheck

TSA PreCheck allows eligible travelers to get through security screening faster, in some cases really fast. PreCheck travelers get through security in an average of under five minutes, and do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets. Yes, you should apply for TSA PreCheck now.

5. Know What’s in Your Bag

For experienced travelers, “know what’s in your bag” may seem a little obvious. But typically travelers are much more stringent about packing for the start of their vacation than they are for their return flight, where souvenirs and other items can complicate the screening process. It’s best to check out the TSA’s “What can I bring?” feature. We also recommend downloading the MyTSA app to help with all of the above concerns. TSA has a team of employees who are ready to answer your questions via Twitter at @AskTSA or via Facebook Messenger 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET daily. Or just pick up the good old telephone and call the TSA contact center at 866-289-9673.

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Travel Tips

Travel Bargains: These "Magic Words" Will Save You Big

Have you ever had a conversation where moments—or even days—later you realize, "I wish I'd said that"? Travel booking and airline and hotel check-ins can often feel like that, with so many questions, options, and price points to juggle. The travel experts at Budget Travel have been there and back. We've assembled a 12-point cheat sheet with a dozen phrases to help make your next travel booking easier, nab you some upgrades, and save you money. "CAN I GET AN UPGRADE?" Well, that question seems a little on-the-nose, doesn't it? But most airline passengers never ask, and it can pay off. Ask politely, and if you're met with silence, be willing to wait for an answer instead of backing down. Last-minute first and business class seat availability can mean you pay an "up-sell" fee (typically $50 and up) to get out of coach. The same question can work at a hotel, especially if it's a hotel that caters to business travelers and you're checking in over the weekend. "BUMP ME!" Airline crews deal with a lot of tired, anxious, and sometimes just plain cranky passengers all day every day. Letting them know that you're willing to get bumped to another flight solves some major problems for them—and can result in your being moved up to first class just because you were willing to be accommodating. Note: It might also get you bumped, so use this phrase only if you mean it. "I SERVE IN THE MILITARY" We can't guarantee it, but first-class passengers have been known to trade seats with military personnel as a way of saying "thank you" for their service. On a more predictable note, cruise lines will often offer a discount if you tell them about your military service. "WOULD YOU LIKE SOME CHOCOLATE?" This may sound a little precious, but handing out one-pound chocolate bars to the gate agents and flight crew gets John E. DiScala, founder of travel advice site johnnyjet.com, a better coach seat or upgrade about half the time. "WE'RE ON OUR HONEYMOON!" Our evidence here is anecdotal, but Budget Travel readers have reported that telling airline personnel at check-in that you're newlyweds can get you moved to first or business class. Hotels, of course, will almost always respond with an indulgence or two. But don't say it if it's not true—apart from the fact that lying is wrong, you may have a difficult time answering questions about your alleged recent nuptials! "I HAVE KIDS" Hotels may be willing to upgrade you to a suite at no charge, and if you ask for a later check-out to accommodate the little ones you'll almost always get a thumbs-up. "I'M FLYING ALONE" When airlines try to accommodate families who want to sit together, it helps if they know they can move your seat, and there's a chance they'll move you to first or business class, where single empty seats are more common. "GIVE ME THE CHEAPEST CAR YOU HAVE" We know, we know. When renting a car, you don't really want to cram yourself into the cheapest model in the company's garage. But if you're willing to take the chance, booking the lowest-priced car available and showing up super-early in the morning (before most people have returned their rental cars) can garner you a free upgrade to a bigger car. "HAS THE PRICE GONE DOWN?" Yeah, airline seats and hotel room prices fluctuate, and there's a chance that the price has dropped since you made your reservation. Call the airline or hotel regularly as your trip approaches and, if the price goes down, ask for a refund or re-book. (But make sure there's no significant re-booking fee!) "IS THAT 'FREE' NEWSPAPER GOING TO COST ME $25?" Resorts are notorious for tacking on fees up to $25 per night for goodies you might assume were free—including pool towels, Wi-Fi, newspaper delivery, gym access, and even access to the resort's casino. Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Las Vegas are especially known for these non-negotiable surprises. Your best bet it to ask about extra fees up front when making a reservation. "I'M A RETURN CUSTOMER" When booking a cruise, mentioning that you've sailed with the line before can nab you a 5 to 15 percent discount on your fare. "I'M 55+" Yup, just remembering the 1960s should get you a 5 percent discount from most cruise lines.

Travel Tips

6 Essential Apps for Budget Travelers

Whether it’s spending hours pouring over airfare, sleeping in noisy hostels or battling through the red-eye squished in coach, traveling on a budget can feel like a hustle. Thankfully there are a handful of travel apps that can help save a few bucks on your dream trip – and help you plan for your next one. These are six of our favorite apps for budget travel. 1. Tripcoin The best way to save on travel is to know where your money is going. Tripcoin is an expense-tracking app that works offline, which is great for international travelers who aren’t buying a local SIM card. A geo-location feature breaks expenses down by country, and a currency converter automatically converts new expenses into your home currency. Helpful graphs also outline daily expenditures, and you can create unlimited trips to track how much each jaunt costs. 2. Skiplagged Skiplagged capitalizes on a loophole airlines hate: hidden-city ticketing. It works like this: sometimes booking a flight beyond your intended destination is cheaper than simply booking a nonstop flight. For example, say you want to fly from San Francisco to Washington, DC. A regular round-trip ticket would cost $340, but a route from San Francisco to New York, with a layover in DC, is $140. You simply walk off the plane in DC. Airlines have gone to great lengths to put a stop to it (United sued Skiplagged in 2018, and lost). Skiplagged advises not tying any purchases to frequent flier accounts, as airlines have been known to invalidate air miles you’ve accrued with them. 3. Splitwise If you’re traveling with friends, Splitwise can help keep track of who owes what to whom. The app keeps a running total of IOUs, so everyone gets paid back at once, rather in than a bunch of smaller transactions. Automatic email reminders keep the misers in check, and integration with PayPal and Venmo (US only) makes settling up friendly debts a breeze. 4. Hopper There are several apps that analyze historical airfare data to determine whether it’s the right time to buy your airfare, but few of them are as cleanly presented and feature-packed as Hopper. Features like notifications when the airfare for a specific route drops, price prediction advice that gives you an idea when it's the right time to buy, and an option for flexible dates give Hopper a leg up on airfare deals. Put in your home city and destination and Hopper displays a calendar for the year ahead, with color-coded dates indicating when prices should be at their lowest. 5. HotelTonight HotelTonight allows travelers to arrange last-minute accommodations, often at prices lower than if they’d booked in advance. These last-minute reservations often have deep discounts so hotels can increase occupancy on rooms they weren't able to book in advance. A ‘Daily Deal’ feature also unlocks a reduced-priced hotel that must be booked within 15 minutes. If you don’t mind waiting until the day before or day of to book your hotel, this app can save bundles on accommodation. 6. AirHelp Lost luggage and delayed or canceled flights can be a costly experience, but many travelers are eligible for compensation when something goes wrong. Often, however, there are dozens of hoops to jump through – forms to fill out, phone numbers to call and lines to wait in. AirHelptakes care of most of the process: you add your trip details, AirHelp determines if the airline owes you money, and then they send you the money. The catch: AirHelp takes a cut of the compensation as the price for convenience.

Travel Tips

11 Worst Travel Nightmares (And How to Make Them Go Away)

When we talk about "dream trips," we mean the good kind of dream. But every so often a trip goes awry, sometimes due to poor planning, sometimes just because of bad luck, and turns into a nightmare. Here, we've rounded up some of the common disasters and mishaps that can be relatively easily averted or dealt with. Bon voyage! 1. CANCELLED RESERVATION For me, one of the great "ahhhh" moments in travel is when you step through the front door and into the lobby of your hotel and step up to the desk to check in. Being told, "So sorry, I have no record of your reservation" can be one of the most brutal travel nightmares. Two words: Be nice. Remember that desk clerk is your gateway to a comfy bed. Now would be a good time to take out that printout of your reservation (you did bring a printout of your reservation, didn't you?) or call Expedia, Travelzoo, or whichever online booking site you may have used. It's probably a simple misunderstanding or a data entry mistake. If not, and if the hotel is fully booked, ask what accommodations are available in nearby affiliated hotels. (This is easier when dealing with a big chain, but even smaller hotels may be in close contact with competitors in the neighborhood.) If you're like me, this situation will never happen because you will have called the hotel a few days before arriving to confirm your reservation, and if you're going to arrive late in the evening you'll let them know so there's no chance they'll give your room away. 2. LOST WALLET For all of us lifelong consumers, the lost wallet can seem like the most sickening travel nightmare, but it's actually one of the easiest to deal with if you've done your homework. Before you leave for vacation, obtain a backup ATM card, print out a list of all your bank and credit card accounts, make a photocopy of your passport, and never carry all of these things in the same bag. I think you can see where I'm going with this: When your wallet goes missing, you'll have access to cash, a list of accounts to cancel, and an ID to prove you're you in the event that you must ask a relative back in the States to wire you funds via Western Union. 3. CAR ACCIDENT This may cross your mind every time you get behind the wheel of a rented car: What happens if I get an accident? Yes, it can be a sticky situation, especially if you're overseas where other drivers, police, and emergency workers are speaking another language. But a little prep work helps: Ask the rental agency in advance what you should do in the event of a fender bender or worse; check with your home auto insurance company and credit card to see if your coverage includes a rental car; learn the local customs and rules of the road. Should you get in a crash, call the agency, file a police report, and get the insurance information of anyone else involved in the accident. 4. LOST PASSPORT Stop whatever you're doing and make a photocopy of your passport. Now write on the photocopy: travel.state.gov. Keep the photocopy and your driver's license or state ID separate from your passport when you travel and you will be positioned to find the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and order a replacement passport immediately if necessary. (You can even get an emergency passport fast-tracked if you are scheduled to fly within 14 days.) 5. SERIOUS INJURY Quick! Does your medical insurance cover you if you break your leg on a mountain in Nepal? If you don't know the answer, you're not yet prepared to get your passport stamped! Make sure you understand your coverage—or explore emergency travel insurance to make sure you don't spend the rest of your life paying for that surprise medevac. (Hint: All medevacs are surprises.) If you are injured, your hotel and/or local consulate or embassy can be your best source of doctor recommendations. For less catastrophic injuries, a modest first-aid kit is your best travel BFF. 6. LOST LUGGAGE More than 2 million bags are lost, damaged, or stolen each year. Whether your bag is mistagged, loaded on the wrong plane, or just left sitting unloved in some godforsaken corner of the arrivals level, it can put a serious crimp in the early days of your vacation. But there are a few steps you can take to make sure your bag remains where it belongs: Write your name and address not only on an outside tag but also inside the bag; leave a copy of your itinerary in the bag (in the event the bag goes to the wrong city, this will help get it routed to the right one fast); arrive early and check your bag at the desk, not at the curb (curbside check-ins and those made less than 30 minutes before takeoff are more likely to be misrouted). 7. LOST CHILD Unlike the lost wallet, which only seems like the ultimate bummer, losing your kid at a theme park, boardwalk, or anywhere really, is a legitimate, terrifying disaster. But for the safety of your child and your own sanity, remaining calm and enlisting the help of qualified authorities immediately is your best course of action. Police officers or theme park security will have dealt with the missing-kid scenario before and will be understanding and helpful. And if you're like us, you'll have snapped a photo of your kid that morning so anyone you ask will know not only your kid's complexion and hair color but also the exact clothing he's wearing. And you'll have provided your child with an ID card that includes your mobile phone number—and you'll have pointed out the police and security personnel who can help your kid find you. 8. ARRESTED OVERSEES Yikes! Was that a jail door that just slammed behind you? In a foreign country? Whether you've been arrested for drugs (the most common reason Americans get in hot water overseas), illegal possession of an antiquity (some countries don't allow anyone to leave the country with a centuries-old item, even if you bought it legally), or chewing gum (one of the reasons I may never visit Singapore, btw), you must contact the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. Though they can't simply spring you from jail—you're subject to the laws of a foreign country—they can make sure your rights are observed and that you get legal representation. But before you depart the States, make sure you understand the sometimes-baffling laws of the nation you're going to visit. Possession of prescription opioids, taking photographs of certain buildings, and other seemingly benign acts can land you in the slammer. 9. NATURAL DISASTER Okay, we all know that visiting Los Angeles means you run the risk of being in an earthquake, and that cruising the Caribbean during hurricane season means, y'know? But what happens if you're blindsided by a monsoon, quake, tsunami, or flood? It's pretty simple: Obey the local authorities (for instance, if they suggest you evacuate your oceanfront resort, don't be one of the Ugly Americans who dig in to "ride out the storm") and stay informed via the State Department website or those of local consulates or embassies, or via social media and email with family and friends back in the U.S., who may have a much better informed vantage point than you. 10. MISSED CONNECTION Nobody wants their vacation delayed before it even starts, but weather-related travel delays can cause you to miss connecting flights—and the airlines are under no legal obligation to put you up for the night or supply you with a complementary meal if the delay was due to what they refer to as "acts of God." Some ways to prepare for this unpleasant scenario include: In the days before you fly, keep up with weather forecasts for your departing city, destination, and any connecting cities; keep a list of hotels near those airports; check on your flight before you leave for the airport. Oh, and bring chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Why? When you get that awful news that your flight is delayed or you've missed your connection, we want you to be the guy in line at the desk who's not being a jerk. You're going to smile, make eye contact, and offer the gate agent a bar of chocolate. We can't guarantee it'll get you on the next plane or into a free hotel room, but you'll be miles ahead of the dude who's wigging out. 11. LOST ITEMS Left something important on the plane? It happens all the time, and the major airlines have super-efficient procedures for reuniting you with your stuff asap. Contact the baggage service office in your arriving city to see if the item has turned up immediately. If not, go online to file a report. You'll typically get your item overnighted to you within days. At the risk of being a little obvious: Always double-check the seat back pocket in front of you before getting off the plane.

Road TripsTravel Tips

5 Mistakes That Will Bust Your Road Trip Budget

Planning a road trip this summer? Expect some company on the expressway. Even amid rising gas prices, Americans are packing up their cars for a vacation. According to a recent AAA survey, 64 percent of Americans traveling this summer are planning a road trip, and it's the most popular option for family vacations. But to stretch your travel dollars while you’re on the road, you’ll want to avoid these five common mistakes. 1. Paying Top Dollar for Gas Start by downloading GasBuddy on your smartphone. Using real-time fuel price information reported other users, the mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) can direct you to the cheapest gas stations along your route. Another way to conserve fuel is by packing your car lighter, so unload excess weight before you hit the road. Also, studies show using cruise control on highways can maximize fuel efficiency. Driving a car that gets poor gas mileage? It might make financial sense to rent a fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Also, paying with a gas-rewards credit card will put money back in your pocket each time you fill up. The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is a favorite from credit card comparison website NerdWallet; the card lets you earn 3 percent cash back on U.S. gas station purchases year round. 2. Overspending on Lodging Many hotels and Airbnb rentals raise their rates during the summer, but you can save big on lodging by doing a little careful planning. Want to stay at a hotel? Call the concierge to find out what the rate is—sometimes the over-the-phone price is cheaper than the online price. Another option: use a bidding site like Priceline where hotels compete for your business. And make sure you avoid paying hidden hotel fees. (These days some places are even charging a fee to use the in-room coffee maker!) If you’re comfortable waiting until the day of to book a room, use HotelTonight, a mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that offers same-day bookings of up to 70 percent off at luxury hotels. Shopping for an Airbnb? Try haggling with the owner for a lower rate. You’ll have more leverage if you’re requesting a multi-night stay. Looking to pitch a tent? Find a free campsite near your destination using the iOverlander mobile app (available on Android and iPhone). One caveat: some outdoor parks require a camping permit, but these generally cost only $5 to $20 per night. 3. Missing Out on Free Entertainment Summer is peak season for free outdoor concerts, festivals, art shows, sporting events, and other community gatherings. You can find things to do along your route by visiting Festivals.com, MacaroniKid.com, and your destination city’s tourism website. Nearify, a free mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that compiles happenings in hundreds of cities, is another tool for discovering cool events near your location. Also, local newspapers, magazines, and alternative weeklies typically have events calendars. A number of cities offer free walking tours. You find these on Google and FreeToursByFoot.com. 4. Eating Out Every Meal Reality check: Dining out costs money. A lot of money. But you don’t have to eat out every meal when you’re on the road. Plan ahead by stashing some food in a cooler, like deli sandwiches for lunches. Non-perishable snacks are also good to have on hand. Pro tip: Pack nuts, potato chips, crackers, and other foods that won’t melt in a hot car. Of course, some meals are worth the splurge, like that four-star restaurant overlooking the ocean. But when you do eat out, always check for deals and coupons on Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp Deals. Traveling with kids? Find a restaurant where children eat for free. 5. Road Tripping to Big Cities Put simply, some road-trip destinations are less expensive than others. Big cities tend to have pricier lodging and restaurants; plus, they’re crowded. To trim expenses, travel to towns where your dollar will go further. A road trip can also be an opportunity for you to check out locations in your corner of the country. Staying within your state, as opposed to taking a long road trip, can also help reduce gas costs—and keep the kids from going stir-crazy in the car.

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