Air Vents, Status Challenges, and Other Flying Tips

December 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Whether you are a platinum member of one of the major airlines or someone who only travels occasionally, air travel has become the gauntlet travelers feel they must run before they can enjoy their trip. If you want your time in the air to be as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, here are a few flying tips to increase your likelihood, even if you can’t fly first class.

One of our favorite flying tips: Point air vents like these in your general vicinity but not directly on you. It keeps germs away from your face.1. Leave the air vents open and aimed in your general vicinity. While you’ve probably heard horror stories about the germs that are present in the recycled air, it turns out that the circulation of that air could actually help ward off germs. According to Dr. Mark Gendreau, the medical director and vice chair of emergency medicine at Lahey Medical Center-Peabody in Massachusetts, ventilation is key to keeping airborne germs at bay. “For airborne viruses, it is incredibly important to ventilate, since ventilation becomes your main means of control besides isolating the affected person,” Gendreau told Travel + Leisure.

2. Be loyal to an airline. When you commit to flying with a single airline and you enroll in the carrier’s loyalty program, you begin to qualify for upgrades and free baggage as your miles rack up. Airlines reward repeat business, so you should take advantage of the offer. The flights may cost a little more than shopping around, but the rewards can sometimes make the extra costs worth it.

3. If you’re a frequent flyer trying to earn a certain status with an airline, ask about the status challenge the next time you have a busy month of travel. Never heard of the status challenge? It’s not widely advertised, but it does exist. If you fly with American, for example, in order to qualify for platinum status, you have to fly 50,000 and spend $6,000 with them. If you ask customer service to take the status challenge, you have 90 days to fly 12,500 miles and spend $2,000. If you complete the challenge, you’re granted platinum status for the remainder of the year and the following calendar year. Be sure to check the fine print, though, because airlines don’t want to make this easy and may tack on some fees.

4. Pay for as much as possible with an airline’s credit card. It seems every credit card has perks these days, but airline credit card perks pay off in meaningful ways when you travel — free checked bags, earned miles, upgrades, and airport lounge access (which can really come in handy when there’s a weather-related delay). If you pay for your airplane ticket with your airline credit card, you usually get extra miles for that, and you want to make the most of every purchase, don’t you?

5. After you’ve downloaded your airline’s app to your phone, sign up for text notifications about your flight. You’ll automatically be notified about gate changes, delays, and what time your flight boards, making you more nimble that your less-informed fellow travelers in the event of a change in the itinerary.

What are some of your favorite flying tips? What advice would you share with your fellow travelers? Share them with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Xianxing (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

Four Tips for Finding Cheaper Flights

December 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re trying to keep your travel budget under, well, budget, there are always ways of finding cheaper flights than the ones you might normally take.

1. Book early. While this may seem like a no-brainer, many people are hesitant to lock in a fare too far ahead of their planned departure. The best prices are typically found when you book 21 days before you want to leave. If you can plan three months out or if you don’t feel like you can commit until 30 days beforehand, choose whichever timeline works for you and stick to it.

If you’re skeptical about this, trust the math. Google Flights and Kayak are two online platforms that have built-in algorithms that use historical data to predict a flight’s price. While not foolproof, it’s more accurate than trusting your brain to remember all the numbers you’re comparing.

JetBlue Airways is one of your options for cheaper flights.2. Be flexible. Since we’re talking about looking ahead and planning your trip, could you leave on a Monday instead of a Sunday? You might be surprised to learn that doing so could save you money. Also, flying in and out of a different airport than the one closest to you may seem like more of an inconvenience than a perk, but again, do the math. If a group of five needs to get somewhere and you could save $30/ticket by flying out of an alternative airport, that savings could be applied to a hotel night or car rental or meals. When you search for your cheaper flights, leave it up to the computer to find the lowest prices and let it dictate your schedule.

3. If you have more time than money, you could also save by booking a connecting flight instead of choosing to fly nonstop. Flying at times that aren’t peak, such as early morning or later in the evening may also result in savings. These especially work to your advantage if you’re flying to an earlier time zone, say Atlanta to Los Angeles. Atlanta is three hours ahead of LA, so if it’s 8 p.m. in Atlanta, it’s only 5 p.m. in California. You’ll arrive around 10 p.m., adjust to the time difference while you sleep, and wake ready to work the next day.

4. While you’re comparing destinations, compare carriers as well. While Spirit’s no-frills travel experience is well documented, other discount airlines such as JetBlue, Southwest, and other regional airlines could offer a better deal than one of the major carriers. While you’re comparing, don’t just take the price from the airline’s website; use at least one third-party platform, such as Priceline, Google Flights, or Travelocity. Beware, though! Read the fine print to make sure there aren’t hidden fees that would cost you all the savings you’ve worked so hard to find.

Traveling can be expensive, but with some savvy planning and saving, it can be less costly and more enjoyable than you think.

How do you find your cheaper flights? Do you have any special strategies or tricks? Share them with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Eric Salard (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Do You Live in a State that Will Require Alternate ID to Fly in 2020?

December 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you live in one of 24 states, your state-issued driver’s license may not get you on a flight, even for domestic travel, starting on October 10, 2020, and you may need an alternate ID like a passport.

In 2005, Congress passed The REAL ID Act, which was the standardization of the nation’s issuing of state identification to limit terrorism. Although it has been 12 years since its enactment, and the latest extension deadline expired October 10, 2017, nearly half of the United States are still grappling with how to comply with the mandated standards for issuing state IDs.

The only way around this law is if you have a valid passport or other valid alternate ID; then you’re able to fly, regardless of your state’s compliance with REAL ID.

A REAL ID sign at a U.S. airport. If you don't have a REAL ID, you'll need an alternate ID instead, like a passport.This could impact millions of Americans’ access to air travel is because the legislation makes it illegal for those who operate federal facilities to accept non-compliant, state-issued identification to access federal agencies, enter nuclear power plants, or board federally regulated aircraft. This means that the TSA cannot allow those with non-compliant IDs to board federally regulated airplanes because their states have not met the Act’s “minimum standards.”

Those minimum standards require states to incorporate technology into its cards that makes them nearly impossible to counterfeit. States must also prove that they conduct background checks on all personnel who issue driver’s licenses on its behalf. These standards have raised issues in many states about personal privacy. But with the final stage of implementation affecting residents’ ability to travel by air, most states have scrambled to submit applications for extensions.

The final stage of implementation begins January 22, 2018. States that are already in compliance will not be impacted by this date, and those states with an active or “under review” extension won’t be penalized.

If you want to know if you live in one of the 24 states that are not compliant, check out this article in the Washington Post. If you don’t want to hold a federally approved ID, there are 15 other forms of alternate ID that TSA will accept when you travel.

Are you in a state that is already compliant, or are you in one of the 24 affected states? How will you cope if your state doesn’t comply before the deadline? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

This is a compliance map of all states as of November 7, 2017. Some states still require an alternate ID.

This is a compliance map of all states as of November 7, 2017. Light green states have asked for an extension, dark green are in compliance.

Photo credit (REAL ID airport sign): Cory Doctorow (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)
Photo credit (REAL ID compliance map): Kurykh (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Travel Etiquette: 5 Controversial Rules You Might Be Violating

November 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Societal rules are changing all the time, so we thought you might appreciate this brief “update” so you’re not unknowingly violating travel etiquette. If you decide to be a rogue traveler and commit these faux pas after you read this article, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

  1. Did you know that there are designated armrests for each passenger’s seat? According to travel etiquette expert (who knew there were such people?) Christin Fraga, Director of Operations, Elaine Swann Enterprises: “When it comes to armrests, it is one armrest per passenger. Typically the armrest that has your media and electrical outlets will be the one you use.” Fraga suggests politely engaging your seat mate to reach a compromise if there are any issues. We’ve also heard that the person in the middle seat is entitled to both armrests since they’re the ones sandwiched in the middle, and the aisle and window seats already have one.
  2. Air travel has a lot of travel etiquette rules.

  3. To recline or not recline? The seats were made to do so, so why is it so controversial? Many infrequent travelers do not understand what reclining the seat does to the person behind them, particularly during food and beverage service. While some wait until after that portion of the trip to push their seat’s button, others are utilizing its function before takeoff. Etiquette expert Courtney Fadler says: “Unless you are on a very long cross-country or international flight, the best etiquette rule of thumb is not to recline your seat . . . If you are on a very long flight and will be reclining your seat for sleep or otherwise, make sure the person behind you is not in the middle of eating their dinner on the tray table before you recline. You can even take that extra step of consideration, and ask them if it’s okay if you recline your seat for a while.”
  4. We learned it in elementary school to never, ever cut the line. That still holds true, even if you have to do it to make your flight. We’ve all had times when circumstances happened that were beyond our control, and in those situations you stand a better chance of avoiding the ire of fellow travelers if you explain your situation and ask politely if you could go ahead of them. Most will take pity on you and allow you to pass. If you want to “cut to the chase,” you should talk to a TSA agent and — again, politely — explain your situation to see if they can assist you. And remember to express your thanks to those who help you.
  5. Have you ever been approached by someone who wants you to consider switching seats with them so that they can sit by their traveling companion? This is not something anyone should assume a fellow passenger will be willing to accommodate. If the seat is one they paid extra for — Economy Plus, for example — you need to be aware that the odds are very good that they chose (and paid for) that seat deliberately, and they aren’t interested in switching with you to make you more comfortable about the fact that their child or elderly parent is sitting without them. You can ask politely, but don’t expect them to change, especially if the seat you’re offering them isn’t the same as the one they chose, for example, an aisle seat for an aisle seat. Think about how you would feel before making an issue of this with the flight attendant.
  6. Some people love talking with strangers. Others have enough trouble dealing with the infringement of their personal space due to an airplane’s close quarters. Before you strike up a conversation with a seat mate, take a few moments to assess their nonverbal communication. If they have a book or other reading material already on their lap, or an eye mask or headphones in the seat pocket, ready to go, take the cue: they don’t want to be engaged. If you’re sitting next to someone who has not read the cues, take a tip from the Emily Post Institute: Smile and say, “Well, it’s been nice speaking with you. I’m going to read for a bit now.”

What are some of your travel etiquette rules you always try to follow? Were any of these new to you, or are they tried and true rules of the road? Share your stories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Consider Joining an Independent Airport Lounge, Even for a Day

November 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

You may be one of those travelers who lingers by the door to an airline’s lounge, hoping to catch a glimpse of the quiet, serene atmosphere you’ve heard others boast about. If you’re not a frequent-enough traveler to gain entry based on your status, did you know there are independently operated airport lounges that you can join through an annual membership program, or even just for the day?

While airline lounges have been around for 70 years, the independent environments have only recently begun to populate larger US airports. They fulfill the idea that some airlines are too small to operate lounges of their own, and there are always travelers willing to pay for some privacy, food, and beverages.

The cost can be as low as $25 for a day pass or as much as $50, so how do you determine whether the experience is worth the price? Here’s a list of things to consider:

The Gardermoen Airport Lounge in Oslo, Norway

The Gardermoen Airport Lounge in Oslo, Norway

  1. How long am I going to stay in this airport? If the answer is more than an hour and you’d like to eat, drink (free alcohol is served), work, or even nap, the lounge might be a better deal than finding a restaurant for food and making room for your laptop on the table.
  2. Do I need a quiet place to make an important call? If a deal is on the line and you have crucial business to discuss, do you really want to do that in the waiting room while the gate attendant is making announcements? Besides free wifi, these independent lounges offer laptops, sometimes printers, and dedicated workspaces. If you are on your way to visit a client, the use of a private restroom that may have a shower might be just what you need to make the best impression when you arrive.
  3. I mentioned food above, and let me provide you with some casual cost analysis here. The cost of an average cocktail at an airport bar is easily $10, and these lounges offer more than just peanuts and pretzels. The complementary (sometimes hot) food could constitute a light meal, tiding you over until you get home or to your final destination. If there’s a weather delay, you won’t be standing in line with everybody else, juggling your carry-on and other items while trying to get a bite to eat. You’ll be able to actually eat at a table or at a bar, instead of balancing your meal on your knees in that crowded waiting area.

The leading US provider of these independent lounges is The Club, with locations in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Seattle-Tacoma airports. Day passes are $40, and, as with all airport lounges, you must show a boarding pass for same-day departure to enter.

Most travelers gain access to both carrier-operated and independent lounges through Priority Pass. Its arrangements with over 1,000 establishments make it the leader in the lounge membership business. Priority Pass offers three levels of membership: standard: $99/year with unlimited visits at $27 each; standard plus: $249/year with 10 free visits plus additional visits at $27 each; and prestige: $399/year for unlimited visits. Priority Pass has locations available at 21 US airports.

They say membership has its privileges, and that’s certainly true if you hold specific credit cards. With an American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Ritz-Carlton, and MasterCard Black, your Priority Pass membership is included.

To lounge or not to lounge? That may still be your question. But with this information,  hopefully you may have your answer.

Are you a lounge member? Do you partake, or are you thinking about it? Share your stories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: TravelingOtter (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Delta, JetBlue Begin Testing Biometric Boarding Passes

November 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The future is now, or nearly so, now that the scanning of fingerprints is reaching mass adoption in the travel world. Delta is partnering with independent airport security company CLEAR to capitalize on its proven biometric data technology for expediting the boarding process.

“We’re rapidly moving toward a day when your fingerprint, iris, or face will become the only ID you’ll need for any number of transactions throughout a given day,” Gil West, Delta COO, said on the company’s website. “We’re excited Delta’s partnership with CLEAR gives us an engine to pioneer this customer experience at the airport.” While only in phase one of development, the potential is real for the printed or even electronic boarding pass to quickly become a relic of the past.

Delta Airlines' machine for biometric boarding passesThe current biometric boarding passes pilot program offers eligible Delta SkyMiles members who have also purchased CLEAR to navigate Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport using only their fingerprint as identification. They can clear security and enter the Delta Sky Club. Phase two would allow them to also check luggage and board their flight using their biometric boarding passes data.

JetBlue also began testing the use of facial recognition in June on just one route: Boston to Aruba. In its pilot partnership with air carrier technology company SITA and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), passengers have their picture taken at the gate. SITA’s technology compares that photo with the one on file with CBP to see if it matches the passenger’s passport photo. Because the flight is international, all passengers should already have a passport on file. If JetBlue decides to extend this technology to domestic flights, some other form of identification would have to be used, since not all travelers have valid passports.

Jim Peters, SITA’s chief technology officer, said in a JetBlue press release: “This biometric self-boarding program for JetBlue and the CBP is designed to be easy to use. What we want to deliver is a secure and seamless passenger experience . . . This is the first integration of biometric authorization by the CBP with an airline and may prove to be a solution that will be quick and easy to roll out across US airports.”

Have you ever used biometric boarding passes to get onto your flight? Would you use it, or do you prefer the traditional methods? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Delta Airlines

Stash Your Bags With this London-based Startup, CityStasher

November 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

They say necessity is the mother of invention. But little did Matt Majewski know that his need to store his suitcases at a friend’s house while taking a long weekend to attend a friend’s bachelor party would become the seed for an up-and-coming niche business, CityStasher.

Majewski’s friend (and fellow founder) Anthony Collias told him he’d happily store his bags for the weekend, but he’d have to charge him. That tongue-in-cheek quip was a moment of realization: perhaps other travelers were in need of short-term storage for their bags as well, and CityStasher was born.

If it’s your last day in England and you want to tour the sites of London before you catch your flight but after you’ve checked out of your hotel or Airbnb, you certainly don’t want to lug your luggage from the Tube to the Tower of London to the London Eye all day. CityStasher allows travelers to leave their luggage in a locked room at one of its 60 StashPoints around the city.

CityStasher home page screenshot

CityStasher’s StashPoints, located in independent businesses and other establishments that boast long hours of operation, are vetted to meet the following criteria: they have close-captioned TV surveillance, a locked room for the bags, and have long hours of operation for easy drop-off and pick-up. Each bag is insured for 750 pounds, close to $1,000 USD. The cost to stash your bag? 4 pounds for the first 3 hours, 6 pounds for 3 to 24 hours, and an additional 5 pounds for every 24 hours after that.

Proprietors have been incentivized to become storage sites by the prospect of redeploy an existing asset into a profit sharing investment. The StashPoint operators do have the right to search the luggage in the presence of its owner before attaching the security tag to the bag and agreeing to store it.

According to Jacob Wedderburn-Day, the company’s third founder, CityStasher hasn’t had any incidents with the contents of any of the nearly 25,000 bags it has stored since it began operating in 2015.

CityStasher operates in 18 cities across the United Kingdom, and in Amsterdam, after being sought out by a business there. The company is seeking investors to bring CityStasher to popular weekend destination cities across Europe.

Would you pay to store your baggage for a few hours before a flight? Or would you just lug it around to save money? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

5 Ways to Reduce Costs Inside an Airport

October 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Flying can be an expensive endeavor. You spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to get to your destination. But then you’re nickel-and-dimed on everything else once you get to the airport. Of course, everything is more expensive, so it’s more like you’re five-and-tenned.

But there are some ways you can avoid these high-priced incidentals once you get to the airport. We’ve brainstormed five ways to reduce your costs.

Washington Dulles Airport at dusk, photo by Joe Ravi

Washington Dulles Airport at dusk

Take an Uber or Lyft to the airport, or have a friend take you to save on parking costs, especially if you’re going to be gone for more than a week. Onsite parking at O’Hare International Airport’s long-term economy lot can run you $17/day—$40/day if you park in the main garage. While an Uber or Lyft ride might cost you somewhere in that range, that one-time cost will not grow exponentially while you’re on your trip. Better yet, ask (or bribe) a friend or family member to take you and pick you up. This option will be far cheaper than any other option, and your car will still be safe at home.
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Five Ways to Watch TV & Movies while Traveling

October 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Binge watching is sometimesone of the only things that makes a long-haul flight, road trip, or long-distance traveling tolerable. If you want to catch up on your favorite TV series or stream a movie you didn’t see in the theater, you don’t have to be tech-savvy to access media content on the road. You just need to plan ahead.

1. Download content from Hulu or Netflix

You can watch Hulu Plus or Netflix on different electronic devices while traveling.While Hulu and Netflix are great for streaming your favorite shows and movies, they’ve both recently begun allowing people to download content to be watched later. Before you start traveling, while you’re still on wifi, download as many episodes or films as your device will hold (don’t forget to save room for photos on your phone!)

2. Buy it on iTunes

If you don’t have Netflix or Hulu, or the content you want isn’t available for download, see if you can find it on iTunes and buy or rent it there. If you buy it, you have the added bonus of always owning that content, so you can watch it over and over to your heart’s desire. But you can only watch the Netflix/Hulu content for a limited time. If it’s ever removed from the streaming services, your copy will be lost as well.
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Which Airlines Accept TSA PreCheck?

October 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

TSA PreCheck has been available since October 2011 and saved countless travelers countless hours of standing in security lines at the airport. If you’re a frequent flier who has gone through the screening process and paid the $85 fee (good for five years) to obtain your known traveler number, you might be surprised to learn that there are still airlines that do not accept it.

With 37 domestic and international airlines and 200 US airports currently participating in the program, the odds of not being able to use PreCheck only increase if you are flying domestically from a smaller airport or you’re flying internationally on one of the following airlines.

TSA PreCheck sign showing the way to an empty pathway, next to a line packed with people.If you’e a PreCheck member, you won’t be able to use the following airlines: Aer Lingus, Air France, British Airways, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, EasyJet, EgyptAir, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Nippon Airways, Norwegian Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Ryanair.
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