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Travel Technology

5 New Ideas That’ll Make Traveling Easier

These new apps and websites make your travels a little easier, less risky, and less expensive.

Every day I receive at least one email touting some “new” or “improved” website, app, or travel service. For the most part they’re either obvious or frivolous—often both. But a few sneak through that might actually make your travels a little easier, less risky, or less expensive:

Internet Security When Traveling

Just about everybody warns you about high security risks when you use Wi-Fi in a hotel or cafe to access personal data or transact business. Here are two very divergent ways to lower your risks:

  • Cellhire is pushing “European Mi-Fi,” a data SIM card that sets up your phone, tablet, or a cheap throwaway as a local Wi-Fi hotspot capable of serving up to five devices. The system works through wireless phone networks, which are more secure than public Wi-Fi, and permits downloads at 3G speeds. The card costs $25 with 200 MB, $49 with 500 MB, or $69 with 1 GB; additional data cost 7 cents per MB; you can reload the card online.
  • David Rowell at The Travel Insider, one of the top go-to guys for travel communications, suggests an alternative: Log on through a public network, but use it through a VPN (virtual private network) that encrypts messages. You can set up your own network to operate through your home computer at no cost at all, but individual travelers might prefer to use an external service. PC Magazine recommends PrivateInternetAccess.com, at $6.95 per month or $39.99 per year, with unlimited bandwidth.

Related: Do Airlines Raise Prices Based on Your Location?

More Options to Speed Through Airport Security

Clear operates private members-only airport security systems. As with the government’s Trusted Traveler system, you must first enroll, pass a thorough screening, and provide fingerprint ID. Then, at the airport, you enter your information and handprint at a kiosk and proceed to Clear’s security lines. Clear membership costs $179 per year for one individual, plus an additional $55 per year for each additional family member over 18. Clear lanes are currently operating at Baltimore, Dallas-Ft. Worth (Terminal E only), Denver, Houston/Hobby, Houston/Bush, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Antonio, San Jose, San Francisco, and White Plains, with Miami due to come onstream soon. Clear operates outside the TSA Trusted Traveler system, and the folks at Clear say their system is faster than Trusted Traveler and that members rarely encounter any lines. At a much higher cost than Trusted Traveler’s $80 for five years, it’s clearly aimed at very frequent travelers, and my guess is that membership makes sense only for travelers who regularly use those few airports.

Flights to Cuba

CheapAir claims to be the first OTA to offer flights to Cuba online. Sun Country operates the flights as charters, and they cost $471 round-trip, an outrageous price for two one-hour flights. In addition, you need a visa, $85, and you must pay a $25 departure fee from Havana. Of course, even though rules have been relaxed, you must still qualify under one of the government’s 12 authorized travel categories.

Related: 10 Websites That Will Change How You Travel

Europe Biz-Class on the Cheap

La Compagnie continues its incredibly low-cost business-class promotion for couples: Two travelers can travel round-trip Newark to Paris for $2,991 ($1,495.50 per person) and to London for $3,313.20 in mid-July. Other airlines are matching by selectively cutting business-class fares to levels that are lower than premium economy.

Bag-Hire Services

Dufl provides a baggage shipping service aimed mainly at business travelers, but frequent leisure travelers might find it useful. The basic idea is intriguing: You set up a “virtual closet” suitcase with the clothes and accessories you prefer to wear when traveling and send it to Dufl’s warehouse. Then, when you plan a trip, you notify Dufl which clothes you want out of your virtual closet, and Dufl packs them in one if its containers and sends them to your hotel or other destination. When you return, you send your stuff back—Dufl has it picked up at your hotel—and Dufl cleans the clothes and returns them to your closet ready for your next trip. This system solves two problems: schlepping or checking baggage, and cleaning travel clothes. The program costs $9.95 a month for storage plus $99 per round-trip shipment by three-day delivery; overnight delivery is $49 extra.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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