Robert & Mary Carey Spotlight Seattle, Washington

September 11, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

We are pleased to publish this blog article from Robert & Mary Carey of the RMWorldTravel radio program. Robert and Mary will provide us monthly blog articles covering their different favorite travel destinations.

On our weekly national radio show, we regularly spotlight some of our favorite destinations around the U.S. —- that are less traveled but offer outstanding travel experiences. A recent focus was Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a popular year-round destination for many reasons.

The Seattle city skylineFirst, it’s a city with spectacular views that offers ample outdoor activities for travelers of all ages. On clear days from various points in the city, you can see the Puget Sound, the rugged peaks of the Cascade Mountains and of course, Mount Rainer, the highest mountain in the state of Washington. For more expansive views, the iconic Space Needle reopened in July, after a major renovation and is worth checking out. There is now an observation deck that includes floor to ceiling glass views on the interior and exterior. There’s no shortage of gorgeous views from the top of the Space Needle!
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Here Are the Top Reasons Travel Insurance Claims Are Delayed or Denied

September 4, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Dealing with insurance companies can be frustrating and worrisome. Whether it’s an auto claim, a homeowner claim, or medical claim, the insured is often told a claim is denied or delayed without explanation. Travel insurance is no different. A simple misstep can cause a claim to be delayed or even denied despite the best of intentions.

InsureMyTrip, a travel insurance aggregator, recently published a list of the top reasons claims are delayed or denied.

One reason for a delay or denial is pretty basic, and that’s whether your policy covered this type of claim. Before you sign up for your travel insurance, read the fine print. Many of those crucial details about what you’re getting coverage for are outlined in the fine print. Check your terms and conditions because every policy is worded differently.

You should get travel insurance for trips like cruises and business trips.Not all flight delays qualify for a claim. For example, a delay needs to be three hours or more in order to qualify. So, if your flight is delayed two hours and 59 minutes, your claim will, in all likelihood, be denied.

Has your trip been canceled due to weather? Many vacationers discover they are not covered because the storm’s impact is not sufficient enough to warrant cancellation. Another common reason is that people waited too long to purchase their policy and bought it right before the trip began.
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Which U.S. Airlines Have the Most Economy Class Legroom?

August 21, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Have you noticed your personal space is shrinking on flights? You’re not imagining things. The space between your seat and the seat in front of you is getting smaller (or maybe a little bigger), depending on your airline. Over time the average seat pitch — the distance between the back of the seat in front of you and the front of your seat back (i.e. your personal space) — has shortened. Only two decades ago the pitch could be anywhere from 34 to 35 inches. Today the legroom is closer to 30 or 31 inches, depending on the airline.

Do you know how much legroom is available in your airplane?There are, however some airlines that may “fit” your need better than others. If you want to stretch your legs and not your budget, here are several airlines and planes worth checking out.

If you don’t want to pay extra for “economy plus” or “premium economy” upgrades in the major airlines, here are the carriers’ current pitch sizes.
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The Dirtiest Place in the Airport is Not What You Think

August 14, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Often thought of as the filthiest of places, an airport public restroom may not necessarily be the dirtiest place in the airport. What could be worse? Security bins? Ticket counters? The place where you and thousands of other travelers have to take your shoes off?

Curious as to what spot actually is the dirtiest, InsuranceQuotes, a Texas-based insurance company, went to three major U.S. airports and airline flights and performed 18 tests across six different surfaces. Samples were sent off to a laboratory to find the average number of colony forming units (CFU) or bacterial or fungal cells per square inch.

Basically, the more CFUs there are, the more contaminated a surface is.

Self-check-in kiosks is often the dirtiest place in the airport.The results were surprising: self-check kiosks contained the highest level of CFUs with 253,857. Armrests at the gate were second with 21,630 followed by water fountain buttons with 19,181.

It makes sense: all day, countless people tap the same screen to get their tickets, unaware the dirtiest place in the airport is right at their fingertips. The self-check-in kiosk is the one place nearly everyone is forced to touch. Not surprising then is that the world’s business airport, Hartsfield-Jackson, was the germiest of all three subject airports. Just one kiosk alone came back with 1 million CFU.

Remember that “filthy” restroom? An airport toilet contains 172 CFU on average.

The close proximity of other passengers and stale air in the airplane is blamed for illnesses, but maybe it’s the pre-flight contact instead. We may never know.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

The best way is, of course, complete avoidance whenever possible. Check into your flight from your smartphone or at home on your computer (just your germs there).

That being said, if you do find yourself at the airport, here are a few tips for cleaner traveling:

  1. Barefoot is bad! Walking barefoot through security makes you more susceptible to germs and infections like athlete’s foot, so always wear socks through the airport security line.
  2. Hand sanitizer. Carry TSA-approved size mini bottles of hand sanitizer for quick clean ups after touching dirty screens.
  3. Resting your elbows on armrests at your gate is comfortable, but if you wipe them down with disinfectant wipes first, they’ll be comfortable and clean.
  4. No brainer: always, always, always wash your hands after using the restroom. Public or private. Airports and everywhere. Always. Use soap and warm water for seconds; that’s “Happy Birthday” twice or the Alphabet song once.

“Safe travels” has a whole new meaning when you say ‘bon voyage’ to germs.

How do you avoid germs on your trips? What did you think the dirtiest place in the airport was? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Marek Ślusarczyk (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)

Which Travel Vaccinations Do You Need for International Trips?

August 9, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Our bodies are homebodies. While you may like the idea of visiting exotic foreign destinations and experiencing all the culture has to offer, our bodies don’t embrace it. But if you get travel vaccinations before you embark on this dream trip, your body won’t have to worry about “what’s in the water,” and you won’t come home with a souvenir you never wanted.

Some courses of these vaccines were administered when you were a child and you’re covered for life. Others require a booster or must be administered over a period of weeks or months prior to departure, so have a conversation with your travel agent and doctor as soon as you determine your itinerary.

Zona Sur area of La Paz, Bolivia. You need travel vaccinations if you visit Central or South America.

Zona Sur area of La Paz, Bolivia

Here’s a list of some of the vaccinations readily available either through your doctor’s office or county health department (borrowed from Matt Karsten over at Expert Vagabond). You may be required to show proof of vaccination in order to enter the destination of your choice, so do your homework as part of your preparations. If you’re afraid of needles, don’t despair. Some vaccinations can be administered in pill form. Otherwise, close your eyes and dream of your destination.

TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis): Yes, you were vaccinated for this when you were a baby, but if you’re going out of the country it’s a good idea to get a booster of this combo in order to avoid tetanospasmin, a deadly bacterial toxin found in the soil and animal excrement. Any open wound you may have exposes you to this possibility, and if left untreated, tetanus can be fatal. Diptheria and pertussis are also bacterial diseases which are prevented with the vaccine.
Recommended: All countries, regardless of where you’re going.

Typhoid Fever: This is another deadly disease spread that’s caused by animal excrement contaminating the water supply. It’s 100 percent fatal.
Recommended: Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and Pacific Islands

Malaria: Think of how many times over the course of the summer you’ve swatted at a mosquito without wondering if the insect was a female carrying one of four strains of this parasite infection. While some may dispute whether travelers really need to get this vaccine, talk with anyone who has ever had malaria, and they’ll advise you to follow the protocol.
Recommended: Africa, South America, parts of the Middle East and Asia

Japanese Encephalitis: Never heard of it? Neither had we, but it too is spread through mosquitoes in rural farming areas. If you are traveling during monsoon season to the Far East and Southeast Asia, this is one vaccination you should seriously consider.
Recommended: Asia and Southeast Asia

Cholera: This is one of the cheapest vaccines available and may save you from wasting valuable adventure time in the bathroom. It’s spread by consuming food or water contaminated with feces of an infected person.
Recommended: Africa, Southeast Asia, and Haiti

Are you headed on any international trips? Or have you been on any lately? What kinds of vaccinations did you get? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

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

Passport Expiration Dates Can Impact You More Than You Think

July 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

A little-known fact about international travel could snarl your plans or bring them to an abrupt halt if you don’t pay attention to it. Just like you read labels for expiration dates, you need to know your passport expiration date.

Turns out, many countries around the world, with the exception of the European nations, require passports to be valid for six months or more before your entry date. The restriction may apply to your date of entry or your planned date of departure. That is, if you’re flying home from Spain on December 31, your passport can’t expire after June 30.

Twenty-six European countries follow a lesser known law called the Schengen Agreement which allows you to enter their sovereignties, provided three months’ validity remains on your passport beyond your planned date of departure. In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, no minimum validity is enforced.

Photo of a U.S. passport. Do you know your passport expiration date?The best way to know which countries have which rules is to check the U.S. Department of State’s website. It has a menu of country-by-country details.

Another thing to keep in mind when traveling with children is that their passports are only good for five years instead of 10. For one family, their son’s passport expiration date completely derailed a long-planned trip to Spain.

They were just two hours from departure when an American Airlines representative told them their son couldn’t board the plane because his passport was due to expire. Turns out a valid passport isn’t always a valid passport.

How can you keep this from happening to you? Follow these guidelines as you plan your next international excursion:

  • Check your destination country’s passport validation rules before you plan your itinerary. Do what you need to do if your passport will expire close to the country’s expiration date. Don’t try to slip through unnoticed, because they’re looking out for it.
  • Check every person’s passport expiration date before you book your flights. Remember that children’s passports expire every five years, so our best advice is to go ahead and apply for updated documents for any that will expire within the year you plan to go abroad.
  • Book your flights with points so you’ll have options. The family in the story above had purchased their flights with miles, so they were able to get their flights refunded. But if they had waited to get them refunded until after the flight had taken off, they would’ve forfeited them and the points. Ouch.

The family in question was able to rebook their flights and used points to put together a last-minute trip stateside. They learned their lesson, so let their experience be a cautionary tale.

Have you ever had passport issues when you travel? Any big problems or narrow-misses? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons/Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

5 Ways to Save Money on a Business Trip

July 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You may not have a healthy travel budget for your business trip, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat fast food and stay at a cheap budget hotel in a dangerous neighborhood. We’ve compiled a list of tips for saving money that will still provide you with a pleasant, productive, and safe experience that will make you the hero with your finance department.

First, think outside the hotel box. We’re not suggesting you hit up friends for their spare bed or sleep at a hostel, but Airbnb might be a better option than the expensive conference hotel downtown because it can provide you some cost-saving amenities. Sometimes you can rent an entire house or apartment with Airbnb for the price of a luxury hotel in the heart of the business district. If you’re traveling with several colleagues, a multi-bedroom apartment or house might cut the accommodations line item down to a fraction of the cost of everyone having their own hotel room.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California. This would be a nice place for a business trip.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

These properties often not only have spaces for lounging or working, most come equipped with a kitchen, which leads us to tip number 2. A kitchen will allow you to stock up on some grocery basics and eat in for breakfast and maybe even dinner a few nights. Conducting a business meeting at the property might also provide the right private atmosphere for a day of negotiations, and you could have food delivered and eat without wasting time going out.

If an Airbnb property isn’t an option, consider booking a suite at a hotel. The price of a suite might be $50 more per night, but by using the in-room mini fridge or small kitchenette with a two-burner stovetop, you’ll be ahead in the long run when you add up the savings to your food per diem because you dine in for breakfast and/or dinner. A home-cooked meal might not be as glamorous as a nice restaurant, but knowing you’ve saved time and money will allow you to relax and unwind after a long day. (And you can always spend your per diem dollars on other things, like a bottle of wine and a whole pint of ice cream.)

When you’re searching for airfares, be flexible with your departure and arrival dates. Compare the cost of flying in on a Saturday or flying home on a Sunday to regular Monday through Friday travel. Traveling outside the normal work week will often net you significant savings. Flying the red eye going home might be worth it if you can negotiate some comp time to sleep in. (But don’t sacrifice your health and well-being for the sake of saving a few dollars.)

Finally, see if there’s a way to avoid renting a car during your trip. Not only is car rental $50 a day or more, you’ll pay upwards of $30 or more every time you park, especially in big cities such as Chicago, Miami, and New York. Uber and Lyft might seem expensive, but they could end up being cost effective when you do the math — you could get to your conference and back for $40, as compared to car rental, day parking, and hotel overnight parking.

You might even find you can walk to a meeting or dinner with clients, which is a good way to get some exercise while you’re traveling.

How do you save money on a business trip? Where can you cut costs without sacrificing comfort? Leave us a comment or share your ideas on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Scott Cutler, an Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

What to Do if you Lose your ID Before a Flight

June 12, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You’ve checked every pocket, looked in every drawer, retraced your steps over the last seven days, and the worst has happened: you lost your ID, and you’re flying back home in a few hours.

Before you have a meltdown in your hotel room or Uber and wail like Dorothy, “There’s no place like home!” there’s good news: You can still fly home, even if you’ve lost your identification. It won’t be as easy as clicking your heels together, but it can be done.

Check-in desk at Athens International Airport. Start here if you ever lose your ID.Let’s start with the basics. Get to the airport as early as possible, because this is going to take some time. Your first stop should be at your airline’s check-in counter to report the situation to a representative.

They have the power to grant you permission to proceed to your next step — security — provided you have other forms of identification — a credit card in your name, or even a digital copy of your birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport. This is why you should take photos of those documents and keep them in a secure place, like Evernote or Google Drive.

Even some other document that states your name and address, such as an electric bill or official correspondence, will work. Keep in mind that the airlines will not issue you a refund if you miss your flight because you have this problem, so you have to get there early.

Once the airline representative is satisfied you are who you say you are, you may think you’re over the rainbow. Sadly, you’re not. You still have to pass through security. Many people come and go so quickly here, but that will not be your experience. TSA will ask you the same questions again, so don’t treat them poorly — your clearance depends on their goodwill, so if you create a scene, you might not be getting on that plane. Go willingly with them to the separate room they’ll likely take you to, and be as polite and patient as possible.

After their additional screening is complete, you’ll be free to head to your gate and board your flight. If, however, this happens while you’re traveling abroad, your best first course of action is to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy to get the process underway to get replacement passports.

But if you want to expedite the process and save yourself some headaches later, here are two suggestions: 1) Have scans of your birth certificate, driver’s license, and passport stored in the cloud so you can access them with your phone in case this ever happens. 2) Storing hard copies of those documents in a secret spot in your suitcase is best if you’re traveling abroad.

With some luck, plenty of patience, not to mention politeness, you’ll be at your final destination in no time, with a great story to tell, and hopefully a short delay on getting a replacement ID.

Have you ever lost your ID before a flight? How did you manage? Any suggestions on how to navigate the process? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Things to Do When Your Flight Gets Canceled

June 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Weather these days is getting more and more unpredictable. Winter brings heavy blizzards and ice in the Midwest and Northeast, spring brings thunderstorms and tornadoes, and it’s hurricane season in the Southeast from June through November. So chances are, you’re going to see flights get canceled or postponed because of the weather.

If that happens, there are several ways to make the most of the situation. If your rescheduled flight is for later in the day, you can stay in the terminal and tackle your inbox or other necessary reading. You could purchase a day pass to an airport lounge and have a quiet environment complete with food and drinks in which to wait it out.

Check the departure board when your flight gets canceledBut if you’re looking at an 10 – 12 hour wait, or even an overnight delay, you can go home or to your hotel and try again the next day. This too allows you to get some rest, investigate other options, or do what work you can while in the “holding pattern.”

If you’re stranded away from home and you’ve already checked out of your hotel, be sure to use your rewards app for your favorite hotel chain to check availability. Your status may help you beat out others trying to secure a reservation for the night. (Another option: search Google Maps for a nearby hotel and call them directly. Avoid calling the hotel’s 800 number; they’re not as plugged into the individual hotel’s reservations as the local people.)

Work with a travel agent. A recent Nor’easter almost wrecked one family’s Disney vacation, but having booked their travel with an experienced agent, having followed her tiny piece of advice — purchasing seats instead of relying on the airline to assign them — assured them seats on an oversold flight many were unwilling to risk rescheduling due to the impending snowstorm. Because of their agent’s knowledge of the system and counsel, they made one of the last flights out and were able to maintain their desired itinerary.

The family’s story shows a good reason for buying travel insurance. Sometimes you can’t settle for being rescheduled by the airline because other portions of your itinerary hinge on your making a flight. If you have travel insurance and your flight is canceled or your destination is closed for weather, you won’t be out that money — it will be repaid through your insurance, and you can reschedule at a later time for another flight or trip.

Finally, investigate alternate transportation. If you absolutely must get somewhere and the airport is shut down, consider renting a car (if roads are passable) or taking a bus to your destination. Again, using a car rental app when searching for a rental car may get you keys when others waiting at the counter may be out of luck.

What do you do when your flight is canceled? Have you ever had to face that? How did you manage? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Bryan Alexander (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Mysterious Hotel Fees Explained

May 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When checking out of a hotel, do you ever really examine the bill that’s slipped under your door before you actually leave the premises? If not, you could be paying more than you expected for your room, thanks to some hidden fees that were tacked on to your bill but didn’t show up on the website when you booked it.

The use of fees isn’t uncommon in the hotel industry. It allows them a certain “sleight of hand” in advertising, claiming a certain room price and not disclosing what will be tacked on when you check out. This isn’t illegal so much as one of those unspoken things that just sort of happen but no one talks about.

So let’s talk about it! Here are some explanations for commonly added fees.

Let’s start with the resort fee. Basically, this allows a hotel to charge travelers for specific amenities that are part of the hotel’s property. It might include access to the business center, the fitness center, or newspaper delivery. It can vary from property to property, with some charging a flat fee while others tack on a percentage based on your room rate. Another little-known fee can be added for lawn maintenance called a groundskeeping fee. You value that there aren’t any weeds in the grass and that the lawn is edged, don’t you? Well, someone’s got to pay for that.

Some Fees are Negotiable

According to the LA Times, these fees aren’t mandated by law, nor have they been “levied by a legitimate taxing organization.” That’s good news for you because it means you can contest them before you ever check in and negotiate your way to a rate you can live with.

However, this is easier said than done.

Hotel lobby. This is the place to negotiate your hotel fees *before* you check inOne strategy for getting out of a resort fee is to know what your benefits are as a member of that hotel’s loyalty program. For example, a hotel can’t charge you for wifi if it’s included as an amenity in your loyalty membership. According to The Points Guy, Nick Ewen, fees of this nature can be waived at certain properties in the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood chains.

If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have a loyalty program, you can try to negotiate the resort fee by telling them you don’t want to pay for amenities, such as the pool or the gym, you don’t plan to use. If you don’t do this at check-in, though, you’re going to have a hard time getting waived when you check out.

And don’t try to be tricky: Don’t negotiate and then surreptitiously use them anyway. (That doesn’t work with the pet fee, and it won’t work in this case. Hotels have eyes everywhere.)

Another strange, annoying fee is the occupancy tax. This one is harder to dispute because local municipalities and some state governments have legislated these for the benefit of their city and state. Don’t confuse these with state and local taxes; they’re different. And, on top of both of these, some states and cities charge a bed tax, also known as a hotel unit fee.

For example, in New York City, the New York State Department of Taxation requires hotels in the Big Apple to charge $1.50 per day as a hotel unit fee. Houston charges 17 percent, Palm Springs charges 13.5 percent, and in San Francisco, the charge is 14 percent plus and additional 1 to 1.5 percent in certain tourism improvement districts.

Don’t let late-night snacking at the mini bar end up as an additional charge on your bill. On top of the overpriced item you bought on a whim, you may be charged a restocking fee Ask ahead of time if you plan to “take advantage” of this particular amenity, or stock up on snacks at a local convenience store and save yourself the remorse. (And don’t try to replace it on your own. Many of these minibars have sensors to tell if an item has been moved, and that’s how they know to charge you.)

Be aware that some hotels may charge what they call a “service charge” that ensures the staff are appropriately tipped for making your bed, vacuuming, and leaving you clean towels. If you plan to tip the staff yourself, discuss this with management, not the front desk staff, upon your arrival, but don’t be surprised if the explanation of this fee is frustratingly vague. After all, the housekeeping staff don’t make a lot of money to begin with, so shorting them on tips is kind of selfish and uncool.

Keep in mind that some hotels have taken their cue from the airlines and have begun charging for those little “extras” you may consider complimentary, such as:

  • Extra towels
  • Local phone calls
  • Late checkout
  • Choosing your own room

One last piece of advice about these fees: don’t get caught being charged a cancellation fee if you have to cancel your reservation. You may not be aware that some hotels charge you for the night if you cancel less than 72 or 48 hours in advance.

What kinds of hotel fees have you encountered on your travels? Have you been able to negotiate them off your bill or been surprised to find them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Radesigns (Pixabay.com, Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

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