How Not to Get Nickel-and-Dimed When Flying Low-Cost Airlines

December 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The sad truth about the budget airlines is that they tend to charge extra for everything. You can get a cheap ticket, sure. But you’ll also have to pay extra for just about everything else. In some cases, you don’t get charged for luggage that fits under the seat in front of you, but you have to pay for luggage that goes into the overhead bins.

Of course, luggage charges are now part of just about every airline’s revenue stream. But a recent article in The New York Post indicates that the three lowest-cost airlines (Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant) have turned luggage upcharging into an art.

The terminal ceiling is suspended in a catenar...

Airport luggage check-in area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When traveling on one of these low-cost airlines, make absolutely sure you don’t have to check a bag at the gate. Doing so can cost you big. For example, Spirit airlines charges under $30 for luggage that’s checked or carried on, but luggage that is checked at the gate comes with a whopping $100 price tag.

Allegiant has a lower starting point for overweight fees since their overages start at 41 pounds, whereas most other airlines start at 51 pounds. Pack light and weigh your luggage before you leave the house, if avoiding these fees is important to you. Carry a luggage scale with you to avoid return trip overages.

Allegiant also may be the only airline that charges a $10 fee to book online. You can avoid the fee by buying a “walk in” ticket at the airport, which seems risky if you’re planning a vacation. You may not get the flight you want, and the TSA will give you a closer look for those “spur of the moment” ticket purchases.

You also need to watch out for fees that are now becoming common in the airline industry at large. Printing out your boarding pass at the airport can be upcharged as can choosing which seat you want to sit in rather than just taking what the airline offers.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you need to be careful and do some research before buying a ticket. If it’s important to you to choose your seat and bring three large bags with you, you may end up paying the same price or more than you would for booking with a more traditional airline. Do your research beforehand, and compare prices before you book your ticket.

How do you avoid airline fees? Any useful tricks you’ve learned over the years? Share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Some of the Best Luggage Hacks Ever

December 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Everyone loves a list of life hacks, so we were unable to resist a recent article on Australia’s News.com called The 15 Best Luggage Hacks Ever.

There are some great ideas on this list, and we’ve even talked about some of them in the past, but we found a few old favorites as well as a couple new ones.

Everyone should follow rule number one on this list, which is to put some sort of distinctive marker on your luggage so that you can easily pick it out from the crowd when retrieving it from the luggage carousel after your flight. Most suitcases, including ours, are black. We make several others with distinctive colors, but still, the majority of bags you see on a carousel are black. So tie a bright piece of cloth around the handle or put a sticker somewhere easy to see, as a way to distinguish your black bag from everyone else’s black bag.

Maxlite3 Expansion Spinner

Maxlite3 Expansion Spinner

We especially liked tip number 14, Buy a lightweight suitcase. Most airlines charge extra if a packed bag exceeds their weight limit, so you want to start with luggage that doesn’t weigh very much to begin with.

That’s where our line of Maxlite 3 suitcases comes in handy. We designed them to be lightweight and sturdy, so they hold up well to the rigors of travel without adding a lot of weight. We also recommend that you choose your size wisely. If you only need a medium sized bag, don’t lug a large one to the airport; that only adds to your load and the overall price tag.

We did wonder a bit at some of the suggestions in tip number 15 Have a little bag full of these random but useful essentials. The list includes small sheet of bubble wrap, universal bath plug, pencil sharpener, and a calculator. Those don’t strike us as essential items. And since many of the other items listed are very sharp (mini scissors, safety pins, tweezers) make sure you don’t stow this little kit into your carry on as the TSA could possibly confiscate it (or at least the sharp pieces).

Other good tips on the list include suggestions to keep your luggage fresh by sticking a scented dryer sheet in there during down times, using compression bags to save space, and turning light colored clothes inside out so they don’t get marked up if they happen to come in contact with the bottom of your shoes.

What are some valuable luggage hacks you’ve learned over the years? Share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Hotels Join the Hidden Fee Movement: Previously Free Perks Now Cost $$

December 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Sad to say, some hotels are climbing on board the fee gravy train. Things that used to be included can now sometimes incur charges for unsuspecting travelers.

Of course, everyone is familiar with, and usually wary of, the dreaded minibar fees. People know to avoid the minibar if they’re frugal, and they know they’ll get charged an arm and a leg for a beer or can of coke, if they do decide to indulge.

Fees for wifi have become fairly common, especially at high end hotels. But hotel fees are becoming more varied and sneaky.

English: Hotel / Casino New York-New York in L...

Hotel / Casino New York-New York in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For instance, one of my colleagues recently stayed at a hotel that noted discreetly at the bottom of a page on its website, “We have taken typical hotel fees, discounted them, and rolled them into a resort amenities fee.”

The additional fee was only $7 per day, but items listed as worthy of the charge included pool chairs and an in-room coffee maker, things most hotel customers don’t expect to pay for.

Other surprising new fees are popping up: they’re charging for luggage storage, charging for receiving packages, and even in room safes. You name it, and there’s a fee for it.

One hotel has even taken the minibar charging to a new level. According to a Yahoo Travel article about hotel fees, a resort casino in Las Vegas has sensors in their fridges that can tell when something is moved. If an item is taken out, it will be charged to the room after 60 seconds. They charge $25 just to use the fridge to chill water you brought yourself.

As with anything else related to travel, do your due diligence. Figure out what fees you’ll need to cover before you make a reservation, and decide whether you’re willing to pay for them. In some cases, the fees are rolled into the cost of the initial booking, so you may need to do a little research if the thought of a hidden charge for having amenities you don’t use doesn’t thrill you.

What’s the most aggravating hidden fee you’ve encountered? Leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

Bring This, Not That: Packing for Young Children

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Many new parents are often tempted to pack almost the entire bedroom when planning to travel with their kids. They want to make sure they’re prepared for every contingency, every situation.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Your kids just don’t need as much stuff as you think they do to survive a flight — you only need the key essentials. There’s often a tendency by new parents to overdo it, because they want to have everything and anything they need.

English: A typical baby's diaper bag, over-sho...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dragging an enormous diaper bag around the airport, in addition to everything else you have, is just going to exhaust you, and you’ll end up not using most of it anyway. Pack what they need: enough diapers, formula or snacks, one change of clothes, and a small blanket. Everything else you need can be checked in your regular baggage.

The other big concern when traveling with small children is keeping them entertained. The very little ones don’t need much at all, maybe a toy and a rattle. Your best hope is that they fall asleep on the flight, so try to arrange your schedule to make that happen.

Toddlers generally need more to keep them occupied, so a tablet can come in handy. If you don’t currently have an iPad, Galaxy, or Kindle Fire, we recommend getting one for traveling with children. You’ll get to enjoy it as well, so it’s a win-win situation.

Load your tablet with your children’s favorite movies, and some new ones, some games and puzzles, and a few of their favorite tunes. With this setup, you could keep your toddler occupied for the entire trip.

If your child has a favorite toy or blanket they’re emotionally attached to, you absolutely must bring it along. Otherwise, the pain of separation will be loud and heart wrenching to you, your child, and everyone seated nearby.

Demanding a Return on Investment From Business Travel

December 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Business trips are a necessary part of doing business around the country or around the world. Trade shows, conferences, and client meetings are all a part of the game. Meeting someone face-to-face can change the dynamics of a key business relationship. The personal touch is still an important part of business, even in a world of e-mails, social media and text messages. But are you actually accomplishing goals with your travels, or are you just “traveling to travel?”

Business class coach.

Business class coach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amanda Stillwagon explains in her article on Small Business Trends the importance of demanding an ROI from business trips. She suggests making a list of must meet people, and then following up with them afterward.

If all you’re doing is traveling because it’s what you’ve always done , it might be wise to rethink your travel strategy into a business strategy. According to Stillwagon, the U.S. Travel Association states every dollar spent on business travel returns $10, if done properly.

You need to have some method of determining the trip’s value, by calculating potential sales or marketing opportunities, and then measuring the actual results. Set up goals before your trip, and measure the results afterward to see if you hit them. For example, if a trade show isn’t generating a positive ROI within a year, drop it and find a better one.

Take these trips as an opportunity to learn more about an industry to expand your network, showcase your products and/or to close a big deal.

Is a trip halfway across the world worth your investment? If there are top industry leaders you could meet, then probably, yes. But if it does not generate a positive ROI to the business, then it is just glorified sightseeing, and definitely not worth the money.

Last-Minute Travel Upgrades: Are They Worth It?

December 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We have discussed the little luxuries of traveling and how the experience can be enhanced by little niceties such as a mint on your pillow or a bottle of water when you check in. Getting an upgrade can be one of them.

Or not.

I have been offered upgrades due to my loyalty status in a frequent traveler program. They have been offered as a courtesy and to keep my continued business. In that sense, it’s worth it, because I’m going to keep using that airline, hotel, or rental car company. But for others, it may not give you the benefits you need.

English: EK J-Class

EK J-Class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When checking into the airport or hotel, or renting a car, companies have begun asking at the counter if you want to pay for an upgrade, trying to make it sound like a good deal. For some, the upgrade is totally worth it, while others end up feeling like they suffered from a marketing scheme.

In the past, car rental companies ask if you want an upgrade for $10 a day more, but this is a relatively new concept for hotels and airlines. Airlines have increased their profit margins by this method of marketing alone, selling seat upgrades from Economy to Economy Plus, for example.

Some people have had good experiences with this new airline trend while others have not. According to Christopher Elliott’s article in the Seattle Times, Linda Petzler had a wonderful experience with her upgrade and found it well worth it. As she journeyed from London to Dallas, she made an upgrade to business class for $500 more. On the other hand, Judith Patrizzi made an upgrade on her trip from Rome to Boston, which she later regretted. She received terrible food and bulkhead seats with no more room than the ones she would have received without the “upgrade.”

This is a situation where you have to weigh the pros and cons. Is the room worth it? Or is saving money more important? We suggest always asking if you want an upgrade. Sometimes it may be given to you without a fee. For example, if your hotel has multiple stories, ask if they have any rooms on a higher level available with a great view. These are usually nicer and bigger anyway, and won’t necessarily cost anymore.

Would you pay for an upgrade to a nicer seat, room, or car? Is it worth it, or an unnecessary expense? Leave a comment on our blog post or on our Facebook page.

Why Airline Ticket Prices Vary So Widely

November 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The ticket you bought for your next flight could cost twice as much, or half as much, as the person sitting next to you. It’s a rule of flying that buying a ticket at the last minute means you’ll pay more than someone who bought when prices were at their lowest. If you have to book a ticket because of a family emergency or a last minute trip, you reluctantly pay a premium.

But did you know that ticket prices on an hour long economy flight can vary by as much as $1,400? This rather startling price difference was revealed by Hopper, a travel research website. A recent report they put out states that ticket prices for economy seats between LAX and Vegas — a 60 minute flight — ranged from $200 to $1,600.

DragonAir Economy SeatsThat’s quite a price difference and $1,600 is a lot to pay for such a short flight. The person who paid $1,600 must have been desperate, or quite the high roller.

So how do you avoid being the person who paid the most for their seat?

Part of it is a matter of luck: prices for the same flight vary day to day and even hour to hour. Your best bet on scoring at the lower end of the scale is to buy ahead of time, of course.

You can also check out Hopper’s website, which gives you a good idea of the range of prices for a particular destination and what the best deal is likely to be. If you see something within your acceptable range, be sure to snap it up right away. That price may be gone in 60 minutes.

If you enter the airports you’re flying between, you’ll also get a detailed breakdown of varying flight costs, the best time to buy tickets, and the most popular days to travel to a particular destination. They also provide info on what carriers make the trip, with a percentile breakdown. Plus there’s a list of alternate airports you can travel through to get close to the same spot.

If you want to avoid getting stung by high ticket prices, plan ahead, and use the tools to do some comparison shopping. Whether it’s Hopper or any of the other travel sites online, it’s a matter of good planning and plain luck.

Photo credit: Luke Lai (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Planes Filled to Peak Capacity to Keep Up With Demand

November 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Remember when it was common to be seated in a airplane row with multiple empty seats you could stretch out on? It seems those days are gone. It’s now more likely you’ll hear flight attendants say, “Today’s flight is completely full, so please store small items under the seat in front of you.”

That’s more than a feeling. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics says 2013 was a record year for flying, with 83.1 percent of all seats filled — the highest rate ever. Although it may seem annoying to the weary traveler to face seats filled completely around you, the fact of the matter is that the more seats an airline fills, the more efficiently it’s operating.

English: inflight service by a stewardess

Inflight service by a flight attendant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think of an airline like a rental truck you rented to move your furniture to a new house. Is it better to fill your truck up and make one trip or fill it halfway and make multiple trips? Which costs more? Which saves you more time and money?

The answer is pretty obvious.

Airlines want to fill up every flight so they’re fully utilizing their capacity and generating the greatest profit for the lowest cost per passenger. Every single flight carries fixed costs like gas, the pilots, and the flight attendants, among many other costs. That’s true whether you’re carrying one passenger or 400. But if you can carry 400, your cost per passenger drops significantly.

In 2013, although there were more travelers than ever, there were also fewer flights. More people are flying for business and for pleasure than ever before, but airlines are reducing the number of flights to ensure they’re as full as possible.

What seems inconvenient is actually greater efficiency on the part of airlines compared to how they used to operate in the past. And while we may not care so much about the airline’s bottom line, it’s nice to know the airline is more likely to stay in business, so we can get to where we need to go the next time we need a flight.

While it may be a pain and make us uncomfortable, this is going to be business as usual for the airline industry for the foreseeable future. So it’s important that we adapt and find new ways to be comfortable and enjoy the flight.

Air Travel and Kids Don’t Always Mix

November 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Families flying with kids are having a tougher time of it than ever before. Incidents and news stories where families with children are treated poorly by an airline as a whole or by a particular airline employee are common. For example, kids or parents may be scolded, or even removed from a flight if a child behaves badly. These days, families may have a hard time getting seats together, and tickets for unaccompanied minors may be canceled without warning.

It may seem like families are being singled out as unwelcome travelers, but the fact is that flying in today’s world is simply not as comfortable as it used to be. Flights are fuller, services once taken for granted cost extra, and everyone seems to be a little crankier.

Child on AirplaneAirlines are placed in a difficult situation. Kids can sometimes involve more work for staff, and they’re unlikely to buy expensive meals or seat upgrades. A traveling child is usually looking to sit in the middle seat next to adults in his or her family and eat snacks provided by the parents.

A child traveling alone can require extra attention from staff as well as there is a very real fear that the child could get lost during a layover or even after the flight. Many airlines no longer accept unaccompanied minors (usually kids between ages 5 to 11), even if the parent is willing to pay extra for the service.

So how can airlines and parents work together to make traveling pleasant for everyone?

One idea we discussed (and later discovered) was a “flight nanny.” This person would be a designated travel concierge and guardian for a minor child, or children. The flight nanny will, for a fee, take on care, entertainment, and feeding of on-flight children, accompanying them from one airport to their final destination.

There is one service like this already, called Nanny In The Clouds, which matches traveling parents with nannies already traveling on a flight. They’re able to negotiate a rate (usually $10 – $20 per hour), and the nanny will help take charge of the children, keeping them in check for the flight.

We also suggest the idea as an option for people who want to send their children as unaccompanied minors on a flight. It would mean checking the person’s credentials, interviewing them, and making sure he or she arrives safely and puts your children directly into the caregiver’s hands.

If parents can find a way to help their children behave properly on a flight, or even be able to travel at all to visit family, it makes life easier for the parents, and helps the passengers around them feel more comfortable.

 
Photo credit: Tzusuhn Hsu

A New Website For Boomers And Other Older Travelers

November 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

AARP, the powerhouse organization that unites people over 50 by giving them a distinct voice and many life discounts, has recently launched a travel website.

AARP Travel features a search engine powered by Expedia, and offers the usual features, such as the ability to search for a good deal on tickets, hotel, and rental car in any given destination. You can also use it to search for the best deals on cruises. One thing that sets the AARP search engine apart from other sites, including Expedia itself, is the ability to access AARP member discounts.

AARP Travel Center logoAARP Travel also aims to help travelers research and plan for a trip before they deciding on a destination. For instance, articles feature information on best cities to visit, fall foliage trips, and wineries not in California. The articles are specifically geared at the traveler over 50. The site also hosts travel tips from “AARP Travel Ambassador” Samantha Brown who periodically posts articles with words of wisdom on travel-related concerns.

Another feature at AARP Travel is the Trip Finder, which takes you through a five step questionnaire about the types of things you like to do on vacation, types of scenery you’re looking for, how long you want to stay, when you want to go, and who you want to go with. The result is a specific recommendation such as “We think you’d love Taos, NM.” It includes a summary of what’s great about the selected spot, links to more info, and other places you also might enjoy.

The site also offers interactive maps of particular destinations, so you can easily see restaurants, attractions, and other great information about your locale of choice.

These are all nice features, but the site is not breaking a lot of new ground. The benefit is that it’s all pulled together into one place and presented by a trusted, hopefully unbiased, source that is geared toward helping out folks of “a certain age.”

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