Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

airplane in sky

Think you need a vacation now? Just wait until you’re scouring dozens of booking sites, aggregators and airline websites to find cheap tickets for your next trip — then you’ll really be ready for a week off!

Unfortunately for weary travelers, there’s no real shortcut to finding cheap airfare. As with any purchase, you need to shop around to get the best deal — by trying different booking sites, altering your dates and waiting until just the right time to purchase. But if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, you could save big on your next flight.

1. Buy Early

Especially during peak travel periods, making reservations late in the game can cost you a lot of money. Airline ticket prices typically go up in the last two weeks before flying, so if you’re planning ahead, try to make the call before this deadline. And if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want to book even earlier — from three to six months in advance — for the best deals.

2. Buy Late

Sometimes you can buy tickets at the very last minute for a great price if the airlines have failed to fill their planes. You can find such fares at specialized sites or sometimes on airline websites and online booking sites such as Expedia. If you can stand the suspense, and if you are flexible with your itinerary and dates, you can find fantastic money-savers to very attractive travel destinations. 

3. Shop Around

No matter how good it sounds, you should never book the first fare you see. Start your search by checking a few of the major online travel providers.

4. Know When to Buy

The hardest part of booking a flight is knowing when to stop tracking fares and make that final purchase. Kayak.com can help you reach that decision, offering fare predictions for most major cities. Just plug in your itinerary and the site will advise you either to book now or to wait, depending on whether the fare is expected to rise or drop. It also shows a fare history graph, allowing you to see whether your fare is headed in an upward or downward direction.

5. Be Flexible

If you live close to more than one airport, check out the fares from all of the airports near you. Many online fare searching engines will ask you if you are willing to depart from or arrive in more than one city. Yes! Also, experiment with different travel dates; shifting your itinerary by a month, a week or even a few days can make a significant difference in fares. You’ll usually find the lowest fares for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

6. Don’t Forget the Discounters

As their nickname suggests, discount airlines can save you a bundle, but they’re not always easy to find. Luckily for consumers, discounters are cropping up more frequently on aggregators and booking sites (Kayak now offers fares for JetBlue and Spirit, for example) — but there are still a few holdouts, such as Southwest and Allegiant Air, whose fares can’t be found anywhere but their own websites. If you’re traveling outside the U.S., don’t forget to check the international discount airlines as well.

 

 

 

 

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Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid

vacation money

When budgeting for a trip, we often list the big-ticket items — airfare, hotel, lodging, car rental, attraction tickets — add them altogether and call it the final price. But the trickle of funds to other costs starts almost as soon as we start moving: gas to and from the airport, tolls, airport parking, overpriced bottles of water in the airport and more.

That trickle doesn’t stop when you arrive at your destination; think cell phone charges, bank fees, hotel Wi-Fi and housekeeping tips, to name a few. To avoid spending more than you have to, check out these 10 money mistakes to avoid while traveling.

1. Don’t forget to let your bank know you will be traveling.

Forgetting to call your bank before traveling abroad is a common error that even frequent international travelers make; it slips your mind until the plane touches down, and by then it’s often too late. These days banks have almost zero lag time in noticing a debit or credit card being used abroad, so you will get shut down on pretty much your first swipe in a foreign country.

As banks have gotten more sophisticated about tracking card use locations, this can be important even important for domestic travel, and most banks recommend that you let them know about those closer-to-home trips as well. Fraud detectors can be tripped if you’re suddenly using your card across the country, making more or different purchases than you usually do or charging unexpectedly large amounts (such as a weeklong hotel stay).

Note that this applies to debit cards as well as credit cards, and you sometimes need to talk to more than one department even inside the same bank to get them all approved for travel.

2. Don’t overlook bank and ATM fees.

While traveling internationally, each time you go get cash you will likely incur a fee of some kind. These can vary a lot depending on whether the ATM is run by a large bank or not, if the bank is on your card’s network and more. Keep in mind that fees can change from year to year, so it’s worth checking before every trip.

3. Don’t fail to make a plan for getting to your hotel from the airport.

That first taxi ride from the airport may be your most financially vulnerable moment of any trip — the time when you have no idea how far it is, what a fair price is for the ride, whether you have lower-cost alternatives such as a train or bus, or even whether your hotel has a free shuttle. It is best to figure all of this out before your trip; when you arrive you are tired, often without much cash and carrying a ton of luggage. You don’t want to be fumbling around trying to figure all this out on the airport curb.

4. Don’t underestimate your cell phone bill.

How much could a few texts, a bit of mapping, a few email checks and a batch of social media updates cost per day? Plenty, it turns out. Even if you purchase an international roaming plan, these often have pretty aggressive data caps, and your data allowances can disappear quickly.

5. Don’t forget to research the local exchange rate.

Especially in the first several hours at your destination, having done a little research on the local exchange rate against your home currency can make a huge difference. Often it takes a couple of days really to have a handle on how much things cost, but this can take even longer if you are traveling in an area where prices may not be so fixed as they are at home. Knowing the exchange rate cold so you can do the math quickly in your head will help considerably.

6. Don’t bring traveler’s checks.

Barely anyone accepts them anymore, they’re not cheap, you have to invest a fair amount of time in obtaining and purchasing them, and credit cards give you a far better rate of exchange in most parts of the world. Skip ’em.

 

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Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid

travel_hotel_103

When budgeting for a trip, we often list the big-ticket items — airfare, hotel, lodging, car rental, attraction tickets — add them altogether and call it the final price. But the trickle of funds to other costs starts almost as soon as we start moving: gas to and from the airport, tolls, airport parking, overpriced bottles of water in the airport and more.

That trickle doesn’t stop when you arrive at your destination; think cell phone charges, bank fees, hotel Wi-Fi and housekeeping tips, to name a few. To avoid spending more than you have to, check out these 10 money mistakes to avoid while traveling.

1. Don’t forget to let your bank know you will be traveling.

Forgetting to call your bank before traveling abroad is a common error that even frequent international travelers make; it slips your mind until the plane touches down, and by then it’s often too late. These days banks have almost zero lag time in noticing a debit or credit card being used abroad, so you will get shut down on pretty much your first swipe in a foreign country.

As banks have gotten more sophisticated about tracking card use locations, this can be important even important for domestic travel, and most banks recommend that you let them know about those closer-to-home trips as well. Fraud detectors can be tripped if you’re suddenly using your card across the country, making more or different purchases than you usually do or charging unexpectedly large amounts (such as a weeklong hotel stay).

Note that this applies to debit cards as well as credit cards, and you sometimes need to talk to more than one department even inside the same bank to get them all approved for travel.

2. Don’t overlook bank and ATM fees.

While traveling internationally, each time you go get cash you will likely incur a fee of some kind. These can vary a lot depending on whether the ATM is run by a large bank or not, if the bank is on your card’s network and more. Keep in mind that fees can change from year to year, so it’s worth checking before every trip.

3. Don’t fail to make a plan for getting to your hotel from the airport.

That first taxi ride from the airport may be your most financially vulnerable moment of any trip — the time when you have no idea how far it is, what a fair price is for the ride, whether you have lower-cost alternatives such as a train or bus, or even whether your hotel has a free shuttle. It is best to figure all of this out before your trip; when you arrive you are tired, often without much cash and carrying a ton of luggage. You don’t want to be fumbling around trying to figure all this out on the airport curb.

4. Don’t underestimate your cell phone bill.

How much could a few texts, a bit of mapping, a few email checks and a batch of social media updates cost per day? Plenty, it turns out. Even if you purchase an international roaming plan, these often have pretty aggressive data caps, and your data allowances can disappear quickly.

5. Don’t forget to research the local exchange rate.

Especially in the first several hours at your destination, having done a little research on the local exchange rate against your home currency can make a huge difference. Often it takes a couple of days really to have a handle on how much things cost, but this can take even longer if you are traveling in an area where prices may not be so fixed as they are at home. Knowing the exchange rate cold so you can do the math quickly in your head will help considerably.

6. Don’t bring traveler’s checks.

Barely anyone accepts them anymore, they’re not cheap, you have to invest a fair amount of time in obtaining and purchasing them, and credit cards give you a far better rate of exchange in most parts of the world. Skip ’em.

 

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Tipping Etiquette: A Guide for Travelers

travel_hotel_39

Even the most experienced traveler can sometimes be tripped up by tipping etiquette. Sure, you know you’re supposed to tip your tour guide something — but how much? When you’re calculating the tip for your dinner, do you need to include taxes and that pricey bottle of wine? And is it ever acceptable to withhold a tip for poor service?

Q: What’s the most common tipping mistake?
A: To not tip. That’s probably the worst tipping mistake. Usually if you know to tip, you’re tipping around 15 – 20 percent so you know you’ve tipped something, and that’s great. But not tipping at all is probably the worst mistake.

Q: If you’re unhappy with the service you’ve received, is it ever okay not to tip, or is there a better way to handle it?
A: No. You should never let your money talk for you. If you get good service, in addition to leaving a good tip, you would want to thank your server, bellboy, etc. When it goes the other way, you still should leave the customary 15 percent. If you had horrendous service and it was the service provider’s fault, some people might go as low as 10 percent. But we suggest that you leave 15 percent and then immediately speak to a manager to express your dissatisfaction. Say that you’re unhappy with how you were treated and that you’re reluctant to return after such an experience. That will speak volumes to a manager.

Q: Whom should we never tip?
A: Never tip your doctor! We tip waiters and waitresses because they don’t make a livable wage. Our tips are helping to subsidize substandard wages. Try to avoid tipping those who aren’t in the service industry — doctors, dentists, therapists. You also don’t tip your dry cleaner. You’ve purchased their service and it’s one that traditionally doesn’t have a tip associated with it.

Q: What’s a good rule of thumb for tipping tour guides (and drivers)?
A: On a short bus tour (several hours or less), tip your guide 10 – 20 percent of the cost of the tour. Give it to him or her when you say goodbye. Charter and sightseeing bus drivers are also tipped in certain cases: when drivers double as guides, $1 per person per day. When the driver has been particularly amiable, the person in charge of a private charter sometimes asks each passenger to contribute $1 or more to a tip pool. On a longer tour with no built-in gratuity, each passenger should give $5 – $10 to the guide and another $5 – $10 to the driver.

 

Q: Should you always tip the driver of the airport car rental shuttle? How much?
A: Yes. Especially if the driver helps me with my bags, I’ll leave a dollar or two (typically a dollar per bag). It’s also nice to tip if the driver has held the shuttle for you. Similar rules apply to drivers of airport parking lot shuttles.

 

Q: If you give a bellman your bags for storage at the front desk, do you tip when he takes the bags away, when he returns them to you later or both times? And how much?
A: Tip when the bellman brings the bags back — again, because we’re not bribing for service. I’d recommend $1 or $2 per bag. 

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Packing Tip: Leave Your Valuables at Home

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Rule of thumb — if you can’t imagine living without your grandmother’s wedding ring or your expensive Movado watch, it’s best not to cart it on your trip, where tourists are common targets for thieves and luggage often gets lost in transit. You may think you look like an icon of style, but to criminals and con-artists you appear as an icon of opportunity. It’s also wise not to look like a million bucks if you’re trying to bargain with the locals, and sparkly jewelry may set you apart from other folks on the street when you’re trying to fit in. If you must bring your jewelry, keep it in the hotel safe except for special occasions such as dinner in a nice restaurant, and be sure it’s covered by appropriate insurance. Most homeowners’ policies will not cover jewelry if it’s lost or stolen while traveling, so you may need to purchase a separate policy.

Pack any valuables you buy while on your trip (and any of your own that you decide to bring) in your carry-on. As we all know, checked bags sometimes disappear into the mysterious black hole of lost luggage.

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Packing Tip: Your Beauty Routine

IMG_4610

If you use eight different products to tame your wild curls or have an elaborate face-washing regimen down to a science, let loose a bit when you travel instead of carrying an army of beauty products with you across the globe. Trust us — you won’t look like a cave woman in your vacation pictures if you use a shampoo/conditioner combo for a few nights. If you’re adventurous enough to leave home and explore an exotic destination, we bet you can also handle leaving behind a few hair products.
If you are staying at a major chain hotel that will offer complimentary toiletries — use them! Don’t bring your own 24-ounce shampoo and conditioner bottles to the hotel and then stuff the hotel ones in your suitcase to take home. If you don’t use them on the road, you’ll probably never use them at home. There are lots of products that have multiple uses. Opt for a shampoo/conditioner combo. Bring a tinted moisturizer with SPF. Let your moisturizing body wash double as a shaving cream. Share your shampoo, soap or toothpaste with your traveling partner. Buy a makeup compact that contains more than one color, such as an eyeshadow quad. Lose the bulky containers. Instead, try zip-top bags. We stuff and pour everything we can into them, including hair products, lotions, cotton balls and even sunscreen. To prevent spills, put all of your liquid-filled baggies in a larger plastic grocery bag — and be sure not to pack it next to any fishing rods or freshly sharpened pencils.

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Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

Computer crime concept.

Tips for avoiding scams and theft while traveling are a staple of the travel writing genre; pretty much every guidebook or travel website dedicates some space to the subject. 

But in the 21st century, you are as much at risk of having your identity stolen — or more accurately your financial and digital identity — as you are of getting “mugged,” which almost sounds quaint these days (though I do not intend in any way to underplay the misery and danger of actually getting mugged).

Identity theft is a growing problem worldwide — especially for travelers, who are very vulnerable, forced as they are to use unsecured Internet connections, carry extensive personal documentation with them at all times, and share their credit cards with merchants about whom they know nothing and whom they’ll never see again.

Modern technology hasn’t made it any easier for honest folks to avoid identity theft, either; witness the practice of websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, which often keep you logged in to the site, even after you close your browser or turn off your computer. Someone getting unfettered access to your closest friends on Facebook could definitely shake out some very “helpful” information before you knew it.

As time and technology advance, this problem is only going to affect more travelers.

Here are tips to avoid identity theft while traveling:

“Unpack” Critical Documents Before Travel

If you carry some essential documents with you when you are not traveling — the average wallet or purse might include a Social Security card, bank statements, medical documents, checkbook and the like — remove them before you leave home. Essentially, when it comes to documentation, you want to “unpack” before traveling.

Be Very Careful About Shared and Insecure Internet Connections

This is one thing that I have found very difficult to do – when traveling, it is hard to find connections other than public ones at hotels, cafes, airports, you name it. To see the warning “this connection is unsecured and others may see your information” is almost a staple of the travel experience. The risk applies to anything you type into your keyboard while connected, such as email passwords and website logins.

Use Only Bank ATM’s

A recent trend among identity thieves has been to install card readers in an ATM by which they can access your card number and PIN. This happens most often at non-bank, “generic” ATM’s (in hotels, convenience stores, etc.), which have less oversight and are therefore more vulnerable than bank-run and hosted ATM’s. Stick with the ones at banks; these can still be compromised, but tend to be targeted by thieves much less often.

Change Passwords and PIN’s

You may want to change your passwords after a trip; identity thieves are thought to be very patient criminals, and often wait until you are less likely to pay attention after a few weeks at home.

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