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Airport Security Travel Technology Travel Trends

REAL ID Documents Can Be Submitted Online

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has pushed its REAL ID deadline back once again, this time to October 1, 2021, due to complications created by the coronavirus pandemic. This may seem like a long way off, as most people procrastinate going to the DMV for as long as possible, but the months can fly by quickly. And if put off, you might not be able to fly domestically with your ID.

But if you still don’t have REAL ID-compliant form of identification (more on that in a moment), good news: DHS will now allow you to submit your documentation electronically beforehand. Your state’s DMV website should have more information when you go online to complete the process.

This should save time when you visit the DMV (or AAA office) to complete your application. That’s good news, since Chad Wolf, the acting DHS secretary, has said two-thirds of Americans still don’t have a REAL ID-compliant license.

“Ensuring every state is REAL ID compliant by October is one of the department’s top priorities,” Wolf said. “While progress has been made, the real work is still ahead.” 

If you do submit electronically, you’ll still need to bring hard copies of your documents with you, but submitting them online will save time at the DMV and mitigate the risk of showing up with invalid or incorrect documents and having to start over. I saw this happen to someone when I got my own REAL ID at the RMV, and rest assured, the only thing worse than spending time at the DMV is having to go home and do it over.

What Is REAL ID, Again?

The REAL ID Act of 2005 essentially established nationwide standards for the issuance of identification. Why? Because up until now, Americans have carried a hodgepodge of IDs, mostly issued by states, each their own differing standards. Each state sets its own criteria for acquiring an ID as well as its own rules for what information is included on the ID itself.

Post-9/11, the government decided this was less than ideal, passed a law fixing the situation, and gave states what turned out to be about 15 years to comply. (The original, actual deadline was in 2016, but non-compliant states received extensions.) And so, here we are.

The primary implication of the law concerns travel. Starting October 1, 2021, all domestic travelers must bring a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or other form of identification when they fly. This includes passports, but few people use their passport when traveling domestically, so the government has been working to raise awareness of the change and the deadline.

Readers, are you ready for the REAL ID reality?

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Booking Strategy

Canada Passport Requirements: Do I Need a Passport to Go to Canada?

Not long ago you didn’t need a passport to enter Canada if you were an American citizen, and so some confusion lingers about Canada passport requirements for U.S. travelers. The simple answer is yes, if you are a U.S. citizen then you will want to use a valid passport with at least one blank page for an entry stamp to go to Canada. Because even though you can legally enter with a passport card or NEXUS card, you will need a passport book to reenter the U.S., especially if flying. The easiest thing to do is opt to use a passport book in every situation.

Canada Passport Requirements for U.S. Citizens

U.S. citizens will want to use a valid passport with at least one blank page for an entry stamp to go to Canada. Though you can also use a passport card or NEXUS to enter Canada, you will need a passport book to reenter the U.S. The simplest thing is to just bring your passport, since it’s the only document that works in every scenario.

Visitors over the age of 16 entering Canada must provide proof of citizenship and proof of identity, while minors under 16 must only prove their citizenship. These distinctions are mostly academic since a passport, passport card, or NEXUS card will work in both cases.

One note regarding minors, per the State Department: “If you plan to travel to Canada with a minor who is not your own child or for whom you do not have full legal custody, [Canadian border officials] may require you to present a notarized affidavit of consent from the minor’s parents.”

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Additional Requirements for Traveling to Canada

Visa: No, for stays under 180 days

Vaccinations: No

What to Do if You Lose Your Passport in Canada

Take every precaution to keep your passport secure, such as carrying it in a hidden passport holder, keeping it locked in a safe, and emailing copies to yourself or a loved one before traveling.

If you do lose your passport, report the loss immediately to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Canada.

So, Do I Need a Passport to Go to Canada?

The answer is yes, if you are a U.S. citizen you will want to use a valid passport with at least one blank page for an entry stamp to go to Canada.

More Information When Visiting Canada

The U.S. Department of State provides detailed information, including travel advisories and passport validity requirements, to your destination.

Destination Canada is a great resource for things to do and places to stay, as well as everything you need to know before you go when planning a trip to the country.

If you happen to be traveling with a pet, keep in mind that you will need various paperwork depending on the animal.

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Dress Up Your Passport

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Kate H. Knapp contributed to this story.

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Passenger Rights Security Travel Technology

One Year Later, Grounded Boeing 737-MAX Planes Have New Problems

Nearly a year has passed since the Boeing 737-MAX last flew in early 2019. The fate of the beleaguered aircraft remains very much in doubt, with no true sense of when the airline might return to the skies.

For now, the airline appears grounded through at least late summer. American, United, and Southwest have all pulled the MAX from their schedules until mid-August or early September, an indication that they do not expect the plane to return to service before then. Airlines have made similar moves several times since the MAX was grounded, usually cancelling flights or shifting aircraft onto different routes to account for the lost capacity.

In January, Boeing said it doesn’t expect regulators to approve the MAX until June or July, though that target is far from certain. The company halted production on the plane around the same time.

Just this past week, however, a new problem appeared: Debris in the fuel tanks of as many as 35 completed aircraft, reportedly “tools and rags,” which can (obviously) cause major problems with an aircraft in flight. In a statement, the airline said it is “taking steps to make sure we eliminate FOD (foreign object debris) from any and all aircraft. This is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated on any Boeing aircraft when it’s delivered to the customer.”

Boeing’s CEO told NBC in Seattle: “It’s basic discipline. It’s nothing more, nothing less than production discipline. It’s every employee, every associate looking after their work, their area every moment in time, to make sure the FOD never arises again.”

Boeing said the discovery would not impact that summer timeframe for returning the MAX to service. But this isn’t the first time fresh problems have been found in the long-grounded planes: In February 2020 software issues were yet again reported, and cracks in the aircraft wings were found prior, in addition to other previous issues.

Will Passengers Trust the MAX?

The underlying question for Boeing, following an extended (and very rocky) emergency grounding, is whether or not customers feel comfortable boarding the MAX again. No matter how thoroughly the airplane is tested prior to approval, there’s a real risk that travelers simply won’t trust the aircraft, fairly or not. And there’s little reason to believe that airlines or insurance companies would permit fear of flying on one as a legitimate reason for a refund.

In addition to the crashes that led to the grounding, the perception of Boeing and the MAX specifically is colored by quality control issues (see the above fuel tank debris and prior manufacturing problems) and questions about the Boeing’s commitment to safety, as well as the current FAA’s. If anything, the tragedy of those crashes seems to have pulled back the curtain at Boeing, revealing a culture that, at times, prioritized costs and profits over safety.

These issues strike at the heart of the single most important question about the MAX: When Boeing and the FAA says they’re ready to fly, will travelers take their word for it?

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Airport

Get Ready for Breeze Airways, JetBlue’s Forthcoming Sister Airline

JetBlue founder David Neeleman is preparing to launch his fifth—yes, fifth—airline startup this year. And its name has finally been announced: Breeze Airways. The airline says it expects to begin flights by the end of 2020.

Neeleman is best known for founding ever-popular JetBlue, but has also launched: Morris Air, which flew from 1984 to 1992 before being sold to Southwest; WestJet, currently the second-largest carrier in Canada and ninth-largest in North American in terms of passengers carried; and Brazilian airline Azul, also one of the largest carriers in its home country. Morris Air is credited with developing the industry’s first e-ticketing system. So it’s safe to say that Neeleman’s is not a bad track record.

So, what’s the deal with Breeze? Details are scant at this point. In a release, the airline says its “initial markets will be mid-sized U.S. city pairs that currently have no nonstop service.” The plan is to “connect these cities with low-fare, high-quality nonstop flights, [and] with new consumer technology innovations, improving the flying experience while saving travelers both time and money.”

The aim is to fill a true need by serving alternative and underserved airports. Neeleman adds: “Breeze will fly non-stop service between places currently without meaningful or affordable service,” said Breeze’s CEO and President David Neeleman. “20 years ago, we brought humanity back to the airline industry with JetBlue.  Today, we’re excited to introduce plans for ‘the World’s Nicest Airline’.” Employees will apparently be measured by their “commitment to customer service and kindness.”

We can’t argue with any of that, but the proof will be in the service itself. USA Today reports that Breeze has leased 30 Embraer 195 airplanes from Azul, which are typically used on regional routes between small cities, and will apparently be delivered in May 2020. The airline has ordered 60 new (and larger) Airbus 220-300 planes for delivery starting in spring 2021, indicating an expansion into larger markets around that time.

Readers, are you excited for something new from the JetBlue braintrust?

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Booking Strategy

The Airline Most Likely to Lose Your Bag


There may not be a more disheartening experience than showing up to your destination, heading down to the baggage claim, and waiting, waiting, waiting … until the crowd thins, the barren carousel whirrs softly to a halt, and your bag is nowhere to be seen. Reality hits: The airline lost your bag. And instead of shuttling to your resort and hitting the pool, you’re off to customer service not knowing if you’ll ever see that new bathing suit again.

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The truth is, lost baggage is a relatively rare occurrence. Collectively, airlines “mishandled” 4.68 bags for every 1,000 passengers in November 2019, the most recent month for which data is available. That’s not a lot. But the impact of those lost bags on travelers can be significant. Beyond a missing bathing suit, checked bags can include important medical equipment, materials for a business trip, or other valuable items. (It should be said, we generally advise against packing anything valuable in your checked bag for this exact reason.)

The Worst Airlines for Lost Luggage

All that said, some airlines are better than others at transporting your baggage from point A to point B. UpgradedPoints.com took a look at this BTS data over a year, and ranked airlines based on their lost luggage performance. The full rankings are here (along with rankings for other performance metrics) but there are some interesting highlights:

When you  look at the worst airlines for lost luggage relative to their size (the rate at which they lost luggage), four of the five worst performers were smaller regional carriers: Envoy Air, Mesa Airlines, Republic Airways, and PSA Airlines. The other airline in the bottom five was American, and United came in sixth.

The airline with the most mishandled bags overall is Southwest, with a  lost luggage figure of over 40,000 during this time period. However, Southwest’s rate of mishandled bags was pretty average due to the fact that Southwest also operates more flights than anyone else on the list.

The airline with the fewest mishandled bags was Allegiant, with Frontier, Hawaiian, Alaska, and Delta rounding up the top five best performers.

Readers, has an airline ever lost your bag? Share your story in the comments below.

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Arts & Culture Booking Strategy

The World’s 10 Most Popular Tourist Attractions, According to Tripadvisor


Review and booking website Tripadvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) is out with its annual list of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. It’s dominated by iconic attractions, some of which you’re guaranteed to wait in a two-hour line for unless you can purchase skip-the-line passes. It’s also worth noting that almost every attraction on the list is in Europe.

Wait-times aside, the list is full of the sort of can’t-miss, absolutely-worth-the-line attractions that dominate many a traveler’s bucket list. “Iconic and historic sites from around the world will always be popular destinations for travelers, but they’re popular for a reason,” said Laurel Greatrix, a Tripadvisor spokesperson. She adds that there are lots of ways to experience these oft-visited attractions, including unique behind-the-scenes tours and activities that go beyond the traditional and sometimes assembly-line approach. And, of course, many of these tours are bookable on Tripadvisor itself.

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Here’s the list, in order.

  1. The Colosseum, Rome, Italy
  2. The Louvre, Paris, France
  3. The Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy
  4. The Statue of Liberty, New York, NY
  5. Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
  6. Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
  7. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
  8. Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  9. Skydeck at Willis Tower, Chicago, IL
  10. Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Not only does Europe dominate the list with seven out of 10 entries, but Italy and France alone make up half the list. No real surprise there, as Paris and Rome are among the most-visited cities in the world, but their dominion over the top of the list is still interesting to see. This is the second consecutive year that the Colosseum placed at the top.

Tripadvisor points out that the Skydeck at Willis Tower and New Orleans’ French Quarter are new to the list this year. It also notes that the Golden Gate bridge, which ranked seventh last year, fell off the list for 2020.

Readers, how many of these attractions have you visited? What would be your top ten? Comment below.

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Booking Strategy Sustainable Travel

How to Check Your Flight’s Carbon Footprint with an App


It’s well-known that air travel is a major source of carbon emissions. For travelers who want to do something about their flight’s carbon footprint, the options are limited: Invent a more fuel-efficient jet engine (not easy); travel by other means, or not at all (not always feasible); or offset carbon emissions in some way.

Option three is the most realistic, but the challenge comes when determining how much to offset, and how. A new feature from travel app TripIt aims to demystify this question by showing travelers their flight’s carbon footprint and offering suggestions for offsetting it.

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TripIt uses the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to calculate travelers’ footprint. The GGP says it offers the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standards, which are used by American and European government agencies to track their carbon footprint. TripIt says it “takes into account factors like distance, flight class, and environmental elements” when making these calculations. TripIt tracks individual flights and total annual carbon footprint.

TripIt users can find this information in the flight detail screen under “Carbon Footprint” once they link a trip to the app. The app offers suggestions for offsetting emissions alongside the carbon footprint info. Cumulative emissions can be found under “Travel Stats” in the “More” tab.

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Readers, do you offset your carbon emissions from traveling? If not, would you do so if it were easier to know your carbon footprint? Comment below.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Travel Technology

The 11 Best Hotel Booking Sites

As with the best flight booking sites, there’s no shortage of resources available when you need to book a cheap hotel room. From metasearch engines that send you to company sites, to bookable OTAs (online travel agencies), to corporate hotel sites, the options for the best hotel booking sites can be overwhelming. But when doing your hotel search, deciding which sites to compare should depend on how often they offer the best hotel deals, and how you prefer to view and filter search results.

The Best Hotel Booking Sites for Comparing Prices

For most travel planning, the best overall strategy is to compare prices from multiple sources including the hotel’s own website, as it will sometimes offer deals not shared with third-party sites, or offer the same rates as third-party sites minus pesky booking fees. Hotels sites will also offer package deals—bundled amenity inclusions and the like—that aren’t shared with third-party sites.

Bottom line: Whether you search with a hotel site on this list or a preferred hotel search engine of your own, always check the hotel’s actual website as well, or call its reservations line, to make sure you really are getting the best hotel deal.

If you’re trying to figure out how best to search for cheap hotels: First, scan this quick list of the best hotel search sites, in no particular order. Then, scroll down to read in-depth summaries of each.

No list of the best hotel booking sites is exhaustive, but these 11 represent a combination of great crowd favorites mixed with some newer, similarly performing hotel search options that you might not know about.

All of them fared well in tests: Prices for the same dates and destinations were fairly consistent from site to site, but the volatility of results may vary based on your destination, how far in advance you’re looking for the best hotel deals, and the time of year you visit (i.e., high season vs. low).

With that in mind, here are the best hotel booking sites to compare prices with for your next trip, plus the best feature of each one. If any hotel sites are missing that you think should be included, please mention it in the comments.

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Check out SmarterTravel’s roundup of the best in booking sites for 2020. Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Booking.com

Booking.com Hotel Booking Site Screenshot

Insofar as keeping your options open goes, Booking.com returns the most eclectic search results by far, with a healthy mix of hotels, apartments, and hostels. But whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on your preferences. If you’re not a fan of hostels, for example, hotel search results like this mean that you have to filter them out, creating an extra step that other hotel booking sites don’t require. That said, Booking.com offers something for everyone. And its handy hotel search engine displays the total cost up front (except taxes) which, like HotelsCombined, is helpful when comparing cheap hotel rates; being able to see that total hotel cost up front helps you quickly determine which hotels actually fit into your budget.

Best feature: The variety of property types and blended search results. Booking.com is a good hotel search site for a wide range of budgets.

Kayak

Kayak Hotel Search Engine Screenshot

Like its flight search, Kayak‘s hotel search offers a clean, easy-to-use interface with many available filters. It also shows other hotel booking sites’ rates so you can compare them all in one place. But the first hotel price result is often higher than better rates farther down the list, unless you specifically filter by price. Kayak’s hotel search results are automatically sorted by the vague factor of what’s “Recommended,” which is true of many hotel booking sites. Often, higher rates populate first while scrolling results, and sometimes that lead price is much higher than other comparable hotel options. It’s hard to see how this is useful, especially if the point of hotel search engines is to help you find the best hotel prices. The site’s minimal look is nice, but does have a downside: The option to sort by price is a hard-to-find, gray drop-down menu atop the list. Kayak presents strong options and price comparisons, so long as you’re willing to scrutinize or sort by prices.

Best feature: Clean, easy-to-use interface. It’s also one of the best hotel apps you can download onto your phone.

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Priceline

Priceline hotel booking site screenshot

Priceline has one of the more visually appealing design layouts of the major hotel search engines, and is definitely among the easiest hotel sites to navigate. None of these hotel search sites is dramatically different from the others in terms of rates or price comparison, so usability can go a long way toward improving the experience of searching for the best hotel prices. Unsurprisingly, Priceline’s prices are on par with the other online travel agencies (OTAs), and its results are largely focused on downtowns and tourist-friendly areas. The big draw of Priceline has always been its unique “Name Your Own Price” and “Express Deal” options: The former allows you to submit a final hotel price you’re willing to pay, which a hotel can then accept (with a nonrefundable booking). The latter is a flash deal that hides the name of the hotel until after you book. While somewhat gimmicky, these hotel search options can offer significant savings.

Best feature: Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” and “Express Deal” features are major differentiators from other discount hotel sites. They’re a big plus if you’re looking for the best hotel deals and are open to not knowing exactly which hotel you’re booking.

Hotels.com

hotels.com screenshot for booking hotels

Hotels.com helps you find the best hotel deals via tons of filters that let you narrow down your search. Its initial results tend to show a healthy balance of lower- and upper-end hotels, mostly in or around city centers. That’s what most travelers want in a hotel search engine: a robust, easily refined list of well-located options. Prices were on par with other OTAs. On the downside, the hotel search results also included a lot of grayed-out hotels that are “fully booked,” which serves no purpose for the customer aside from generating urgency that screams: “Look! Some hotels are already sold out! Better hurry!” Like many cheap hotel websites these days, Hotels.com includes lots of non-hotel properties too, including condo hotels, guesthouses, and bed and breakfasts.

Best feature: Hotels.com offers more hotel search filters than most travelers could ever use, but it’s nice to have those options.

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HotelsCombined

Hotelscombined.com screenshot for booking hotels

HotelsCombined, one of the best hotel booking sites, is a metasearch tool that searches a wide range of sources to find the best hotel deals, including OTAs, as well as the hotels’ own sites. Search results include multiple options from the same source, allowing you to compare different room types (for example, “queen bed” vs. “room chosen at check-in”). You can also toggle between hotel prices that either include or exclude taxes. HotelsCombined included a lot of airport hotels in the top results, and defaulted to the total price for your entire trip, instead of the more common nightly rate. Neither of these is a problem in and of itself, but it does complicate the price comparison process when most other hotel sites display only the nightly rate.

Best feature: The sheer volume of results makes this a good place to start your hotel search, but do be sure to scrutinize prices and options when you land on the actual hotel booking site to make sure they match.

Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz

Expedia hotel booking site screenshot

Short of the color scheme and fonts, you’d be hard pressed to find much difference between these three legacy hotel booking sites. Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz are all owned by Expedia Inc., and all three use the same layout, with a few minor tweaks. Interestingly, the hotel search results do vary slightly. The top hotel result for each test search was the same across all three of these hotel booking sites, but the order of the list of hotels below it varied. Prices, of course, were the same, since they’re all powered by Expedia. These perfectly fine hotel search engines are not all that different from Hotels.com: They’ve got plenty of options, prices that are usually good but not always great (as with any hotel booking site), and useful hotel search filters. That might be faint praise for discount hotel sites, but there’s something to be said for consistency, right? Keep an eye on these hotel sites’ deals and limited-time offers, which is when any of these three hotel search engines are more likely to substantially beat their competition.

Best feature: Dependability. Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz are the Honda Accords of hotel booking sites. You’ll reliably find what you need, at the best prices, and with minimal hassle. Just be sure to compare prices to a hotel booking site that’s outside the Expedia family.

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Agoda

Agoda screenshot for booking hotels

Agoda began as a hotel booking site with a focus on Asia, and that focus remains apparent on the home page, where properties in Malaysia, Thailand, and other Eastern destinations get prominent real estate. But now that Agoda has come to the U.S., it delivers a hotel search experience that matches some of the best hotel sites on this list. There are even instances when Agoda had better hotel deals than its competition, including one hotel search result in which the total booking cost was more than $200 less than the same hotel on Priceline (with a coupon code). Don’t expect that sort of result every time, but it shows that Agoda, like all the rest of these hotel booking sites, is well worth checking for the best hotel deals.

Best feature: A good selection of well-located places to stay, with some of the best hotel prices around.

TripAdvisor

tripadvisor screenshot

Like HotelsCombined, TripAdvisor‘s hotel search displays some of the very best hotel deals from a range of sites. The tool is built right into TripAdvisor’s general search function, letting you browse the site’s vast library of reviews, then begin your hotel booking seamlessly. The initial list of hotel search results displays the lowest price and shows the source of that price, so that you know where (off TripAdvisor) your hotel booking is going to happen. TripAdvisor searches most of the major hotel booking sites, as well as some lesser-known ones; when applicable, it also includes the hotel’s own website. You can also book directly with TripAdvisor, though its rates are provided by Booking.com. TripAdvisor doesn’t surface results from Agoda, meaning that it would have missed the deal mentioned above—further proof that there’s no perfect hotel booking site, and that hotel search results depend on your destination and the site’s partners. (Full disclosure: TripAdvisor is SmarterTravel’s parent company.)

Best feature: TripAdvisor gives users the unique ability to simultaneously research hotel reviews and compare prices from hotel booking sites.

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Trivago 

trivago screenshot

Another metasearch hotel booking site, Trivago did surface that low price coupon found on Agoda. However, it did not lead with that price, choosing instead to prominently display a higher price from Booking.com in large, green text. Odd. The lower-priced Agoda deal was listed second in the hotel search results, displayed in small gray text along with several others. In fact, Trivago found multiple hotel deals lower than that Booking.com price, but none received top billing for some reason. This happened in several other cases too, where the lead price ended up higher than best hotel prices that Trivago could find. The good thing about conducting a hotel search on Trivago is that Trivago searches several lesser-known hotel booking sites, including Agoda, in addition to the usual suspects like Expedia, Priceline, and Booking.com. But travelers should take a close look at Trivago’s hotel search results to make sure that Trivago isn’t hiding a better deal farther down the list.

Best feature: Trivago’s mix of hotel sites searched is strong, and includes hotel sites that travelers may not have otherwise known about, which could result in finding some of the best hotel deals out there.

Google

Google screenshot

Google’s hotel search engine works by simply entering “hotels in (insert city here)” right on Google.com. (You can also go straight to the Google Hotels page.) This feature is integrated into Google Maps, which makes it very different from any of the other hotel booking sites listed above. On Google, hotel locations are marked by prices on a map, rather than by name or any other identifying characteristic. From there, Google’s hotel search tool is fairly price-forward, which is what metasearch should be. Clicking on a price displays the hotel’s name, features, and booking options. Overall, it’s no surprise that Google offers a powerful, no-frills hotel search engine for travelers who don’t want all the hard-sell aspects of cheap hotel sites and more commercial hotel search engines. (And yes, Google did surface that low-with-coupon hotel deal from Agoda.)

Best feature: Location is usually pretty important when choosing a hotel, and Google Maps integration—with satellite and street view—allows you to easily factor that into your hotel search.

Hotwire

hotwire hotel booking site screenshot

One of the best hotel booking sites for last minute deals and “Hot Rates,” which hide the hotel name in order to give you a better rate (similar to Priceline’s Express Deals), Hotwire is a great option if you don’t mind a limited-details final booking; and you probably don’t if it’s short notice. Hotwire’s Hot Rates descriptions feature so many details about the property, as well as a pretty narrow location radius, that you can sometimes figure out the hotel you’ll be booked in, although it’s still somewhat of a gamble. Hotwire also is partnered with reliable global hotel brands like Kimpton and Hyatt, so you can be more confident that you won’t end up with a ramshackle property.

The savings vary depending on the destination, but Hot Rates are consistently much more competitive than the standard Hotwire rates, which aren’t always the best price compared to other hotel booking sites. The main qualm that most customers have with Hotwire is their “24/7 support,” which apparently can be pretty unhelpful despite always being available to you.

Best feature: Hot Rates that will put you up in a comfortable, if not four-star hotel, and for a two-star price.

Looking for Our Favorite Footwear for the Season? Check Out Allbirds

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Budget Travel Cities Entertainment Travel Technology Travel Trends

The 5 Best Ticket Websites for Booking Day Tours and Travel Activities

When it comes to booking travel, most of our attention goes to finding the best airfare, hotel rate, cruise price, and maybe car rental; the big ticket, can’t-get-there-without-it, stuff. Those are obviously fundamental components of any trip. But they’re certainly not the only important bookings you’ll make. Once you’ve booked everything you need to get there, consider these activity and excursion ticket websites—the best of which let you search popular things to do and see in your destination. And whether you’re looking for something as exhilarating as skydiving or something as simple as a walking food tour, you can usually search for them on one site.

The excursions, tours, performances, and other activities you experience on your travels can make or break a trip. No one wants to be disappointed when an activity booking doesn’t work out or turns out not to be what you though it was—so you’ll want to be able to search offerings, and preferably to compare ratings of them. Plus, it’s essential to make sure you’re booking with reputable ticket websites offering reasonable prices. 

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The Best Excursion Ticket Websites for Travelers

Here are five ticket websites and providers that won’t let you down.

Viator

Owned by TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company), Viator is a vast activity and excursion ticket website; one of the largest out there. Travelers can book anything from airport shuttle service, to guided tours, to skip-the-line admission at attractions all over the world. And because it’s similar to TripAdvisor, travelers can also browse reviews of the activity they’re eyeing. Most listings include comprehensive details about the tour and a generous cancellation policy (usually 24-hours prior to the activity with no penalty).

Viator does not operate the tours it sells. Rather, it’s a search engine of things to do. As such, its offerings tend to focus on cities and better-known travel destinations, although that includes excursions out of those places into the surrounding areas; like tours from Boston to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, tours of the Dutch countryside from a departure point in Amsterdam, etc. This makes Viator a great option for travelers who want to headquarter themselves in one hotspot but still experience the broader region. 

GetYourGuide

Another day-tour-heavy option, GetYourGuide overlaps somewhat with Viator, but is focused more solely on experiences and tours (Viator includes services such as airport and in-town transportation services). Functionally, the sites aren’t very different; both offer an opportunity to compare tours and prices. And on that last note, it can be worth checking both: I found the exact same Dutch windmill tour on both sites, and the price on GetYourGuide was $67, compared to $73 on Viator. Not a huge difference, but for the exact same experience it’s worth noting.

StubHub

For more event-focused resale ticket website StubHub is a useful last-minute option for verified tickets to everything from sports and concerts to comedy shows and theater seats. For the uninitiated, StubHub is a resale marketplace for ticket holders (and, let’s be honest, scalpers) to unload tickets they can’t use. This means shopping on StubHub is a double-edged sword: You’ll likely pay well above face value for high-demand or sold out events, but you can also find great deals at the last minute if the opposite is true. In the former case, StubHub (or similar initial-sale and resale option Ticketmaster) may be your only viable option. And in the latter case, StubHub can be a savvy way to save or even make some money; keep that in mind if you’ve ever bought some event tickets and then couldn’t attend.

Check out SmarterTravel’s roundup of the best in booking sites for 2020. Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Airbnb Experiences

Airbnb is all about living like a local, and Airbnb Experiences is no different. The emphasis here is on small or even private tours led by locals rather than tour companies, with an eye toward unique experiences rather than traditional sightseeing. Sometimes these experiences can be tailored to your interests: I booked a private bicycle tour of Berlin through Airbnb Experiences a few years back, and the guide all but ditched his preset itinerary and improvised based on my interests. As a result I got to see parts of the city I might never have found on my own. 

One important consideration to remember: These are often regular folks, not full-time professional guides or tour operators, so it’s a good idea to bring a go-with-the-flow attitude on your excursion. Your experience may not be as polished or precise as a traditional tour, even if the host has been doing this for a while. Of course, the point of these experiences is to forgo those cookie cutter tours in favor of something different. AirBnB includes reviews and makes it easy to communicate with the experience host beforehand, so don’t hesitate to ask questions prior to booking.

Atlas Obscura

Speaking of forgoing the cookie cutter experience, Atlas Obscura focuses, as its name implies, on all things obscure: The bizarre, forgotten, and hard-to-reach corners of a given city or destination that you wouldn’t normally find on excursion ticket websites. While nowhere near as robust as the other entries on this list, Atlas Obscura also offers a curated selection of tours and experiences. It’s currently in a half dozen U.S. cities, with more to come. Think: A guided wine-and-bug (yes, insects) pairing experience in Los Angeles, or a trip inside a holographer (maker of holograms) laboratory in New York. The tours are offered through Atlas Obscura, but AirBnB handles the booking, After all, anyone can visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right? So why not be different and check out a … Sci Fi Sewage Sanctuary

Readers: What are your go-to providers for on-the-ground activities? Share your favorites in the comments below.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Miles & Points Money

The 11 Best Flight Search Sites for Booking Cheap Airfare

Wondering which website you should be booking your airfare with to get the best deal? You’re not alone. There are seemingly endless options when it comes to choosing the best flight booking site these days.

In addition to the option of booking directly with your airline, there are dozens of flight booking websites, also known as online travel agencies (OTAs), to choose from. The uncomfortable truth is that no one flight search engine can guarantee the best price 100 percent of the time, but using a mix of the right resources can help ensure you’re not overpaying.

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The Best Flight Booking Sites

Here’s a quick rundown of the best flight search sites for booking cheap airfare.

One important thing to remember about booking sites/OTAs is that Southwest fares are not sold on them. Some other airlines have also pulled their fares from some booking sites, but most airlines do make their fares available.

Here’s why these 11 are the best flight booking sites and metasearch options out there, and the best defining feature of each. Since it’s impossible to know which site will provide the best price for your particular trip, you should always compare fares from a few sources before you book.

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Check out SmarterTravel’s roundup of the best in booking sites for 2020. Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Travelocity

travelocity flights booking screenshot.
Travelocity Flight Booking Website

It should be noted that Expedia owns Travelocity, so this flight booking site basically gives you Expedia price results with a different color scheme and organizational preferences. Travelocity’s homepage is streamlined but doesn’t offer a flexible-dates search. On the results page, bag fees are revealed by clicking a drop-down for each fare, which makes it a little difficult to compare fees (you will likely have to scroll a bit). Travelocity rates each flight itinerary with a score on a scale of 10, which takes into account the duration, type of aircraft, and “quality of amenities” available onboard from “Very Good” to “Satisfactory” to “Fair.” Travelocity charges booking fees for some but not all flights.

Best Feature: The out-of-10 flight rating assigns each itinerary a clear score, so you’re a lot less likely to mistakenly book a long layover or miss out on a better itinerary with Travelocity.

Expedia

expedia flights screenshot.
Expedia Flight Booking Website

As previously mentioned, Expedia is nearly identical to Travelocity, but fares did vary between the two sites on some of my searches. As with Travelocity (and to be fair, a number of other OTAs), Expedia will try to up-sell you on adding a hotel to your itinerary. This can save you money, but be sure to compare prices before you book. On the results page is a “Show flexible dates” option so you can see whether cheaper flights are available if you shift your trip a day or two. Expedia charges variable booking fees (and they are not always the same fees that Travelocity charges). When you select your fare from the list of options, there’s an interstitial step that displays what is and isn’t covered in the fare, including seat selection, cancellations, changes, and baggage rules.

Best Feature: Like its subsidiary Travelocity, Expedia basically double-checks that you understand what sort of fare you’re choosing before you click “select” again. It’s a helpful bit of transparency in today’s cluttered airfare landscape.

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CheapOair

cheapoair screenshot.
CheapOair Flight Booking Website

Much like Travelocity and Expedia, flight search sites CheapOair and OneTravel are versions of the same product, owned by Fareportal Inc. CheapOair charges the same booking fee as OneTravel: from $0 to $35 per ticket. Though the sites are owned by the same company, the fare results are not always identical, so it’s worth checking both. CheapOair shows some “Super Saver Fares” for which you don’t find out the airline you’ll be flying until after you book—which means you also don’t find out what baggage fees apply until after you book. However, the savings might be worth it.

Best Feature: CheapOair prioritizes nonstop prices over itineraries with stops, organized in an easy-to-read chart that’s organized by airline.

TripAdvisor Flights

tripadvisor flights screenshot.
Tripadvisor Flight Booking Website

TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) is known for its hotel reviews, and now travelers can apply their ratings to airlines, plus search for airfare on TripAdvisor Flights. On testing this flight booking site it’s clear that TripAdvisor doesn’t always serve up the cheapest fares, but sometimes it did. It always, however, gives you the option to surface Expedia, Travelocity, and other flight booking sites’ results, so you can compare right away with one click. TripAdvisor Flights also has some helpful search options up front, like a checkbox for prioritizing nonstop flights.

Best Feature: TripAdvisor’s flight search tool is unique from others in that it offers review-based FlyScores of airlines alongside their fares, so you’re less likely to book with an obscure, poorly rated airline without realizing.

Skyscanner

skyscanner screenshot.
Skyscanner Flight Booking Website

Skyscanner is a popular metasearch site that works with hundreds of other travel providers to find the best fares. You can specify nonstop-flights-only right from the homepage, and there’s also a handy “everywhere” option if you don’t have a particular destination in mind and want to see what’s available. Search results show the “best” option (based on a combination of price and speed) as well as the fastest and cheapest, and you can filter by airline, alliance, number of stops, and flight times. When you select a result, you’ll see a variety of places to book that particular flight. Skyscanner casts a wide net, so you’ll often see very cheap fares from booking sites you’ve never heard of; to help you figure out how trustworthy they are, Skyscanner shows user star ratings for each.

Best Feature: For flyers concerned about the environmental impact of their travel, Skyscanner has a unique “Greener flights” filter, which shows only itineraries with lower-than-average CO2 emissions based on your search. The site also highlights certain itineraries in your results as a “greener choice.”

OneTravel

onetravel screenshot.
OneTravel Flight Booking Website

OneTravel borrows its interface from Google Flights’ calendar search feature. When you enter your departure and destination airports, the dates field brings up a calendar with prices pre-populated. This is a helpful feature for immediately honing in on the travel dates with the best prices if and when your dates are flexible.

One major drawback: OneTravel charges a steep service fee of up to $35 per ticket. OneTravel also offers different (and in my opinion, sometimes worse) itineraries than most at the top of its results page. Many highlighted itineraries, upon closer inspection, include an extra stop. It’s important to make sure you’re comparing the same exact flights by looking at the flight number, or at least by keeping track of the different options.

Best Feature: The calendar organization that’s hard to find on other flight booking sites is the most ideal format if you’re flexible on travel dates.

Travelzoo

travelzoo screenshot.
TravelZoo

Travelzoo is quite different from the other sites listed here. Instead of booking specific itineraries, you can search broad timelines (this week, next month, this summer, etc.) for deals in your desired destination by either month or season. This makes Travelzoo a good fit for people with a budget and time frame, but no firm idea of when or even where they want to go. The downside is that if you do have specific plans in mind—for example, you need a flight to Omaha in March—Travelzoo is not likely to be helpful.

Best Feature: Travelzoo’s flexibility requirement can afford some great deals you won’t find elsewhere, like cheap business-class flights and multi-city itineraries that will make a dream trip a lot more affordable than you’d think.

Google Flights

google flights screenshot.
Google Flights Website

Google Flights is a powerful, simple metasearch site that comes free of ads and distractions. After you enter your departure and arrival airports, the calendar pre-populates with prices so you can target dates with lower fares (OneTravel uses this tool). Once you have your results, you can track fares on your selected dates and receive updates by email. You can also view fares over various dates using the “Price Graph,” which shows you a bar graph that makes it easy to see when the lowest fares are available.

Best Feature: Instead of putting in a certain city as a destination, you can put in a larger region such as Europe or South Africa. You’ll then see fares to various cities within that region displayed all at once on a map. This can be helpful if you want to go to Europe in April, for example, but don’t have a particular destination in mind.

Kayak

kayak.com screenshot.
Kayak Flight Booking Website

Often imitated and frequently duplicated, Kayak was a game-changer when it launched back in the mid-2000s. And it’s still one of the most powerful metasearch tools available. You can also set up fares alerts to track prices over time. The interface is noisier than Google Flights thanks to a preponderance of ads, but still easy to use. Like Google, it has a flexible search feature that lets you search for good deals to a region like Europe or even simply put in “anywhere.” Another handy feature available on many itineraries: an “Our Advice” box that lets you know whether you should buy now or wait, depending on whether Kayak thinks fares will go up or down over the next seven days.

Best Feature: Its Hacker Fares claim to piece together separate one-way tickets, potentially saving you money compared to similar itineraries, and its wide range of filters, sorting options, and predictive technologies put a lot of tools at travelers’ disposal.

Momondo

momondo screenshot.
Momondo Flight Booking Website

Like Kayak, Momondo is a metasearch site that takes you to other sites to make your purchase. One plus: Momondo surfaces results from Southwest, including flight times and other details from the carrier … but no prices. Only by clicking through to Southwest could I see the fare. Still, it’s nice to have a reminder that Southwest is an unlisted option. Another plus: Momondo searches for fares from a ton of smaller OTAs, which could lead to a deal that other metasearch tools miss.

Best Feature: The mention of Southwest is unique to Momondo. It gets kudos for flagging a reminder to check a competitor for something it doesn’t offer.

Nomad from Kiwi.com

nomad screenshot from kiwi.com.
Kiwi Flight Booking Website

Kiwi.com is an OTA like many others; you book directly on the site (as you would on Expedia) rather than being linked off to a different site (as you would on Kayak or Momondo). But what sets it apart is its Nomad search engine, which lets you find cheap itineraries for multi-destination trips. You enter the starting and ending place of your journey as well as the cities where you want to stop along the way, including how many nights you want to spend in each place. Hit “find routes,” and the site will put together an itinerary that mixes and matches airlines and routes for the lowest possible price. (For example, I was quoted a route involving four flights—New York City to Rome to Moscow to Tokyo and back to New York—for a measly $1,031 round-trip.) You can filter your results to weed out routes with multiple layovers or flights that don’t include checked baggage.

Best Feature: This is by far the easiest tool I’ve used to research around-the-world and multi-stop itineraries.

The takeaway? In determining which of these sites are the best ones for you to compare prices with, it’s helpful to determine which sites meet your trip-booking needs. Do you want to clearly see bag fees up front? Do you want an easy “flexible dates” function, or are your dates firm? If your travel plans are loose, do you want to see prices for multiple destinations? Different flight booking sites have different capabilities.

Once you determine which site is worth your time depending on the trip, compare prices with a few to make sure you’re getting the best deal. And always check the airline’s own site: OTAs are good at displaying fees associated with an individual flight, but it’s trickier to compare fare options (classes like basic economy vs. economy) on that flight.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that this list can be separated into two main types: booking sites (also called OTAs) that you book directly with as a third party, and aggregators otherwise known as metasearch sites that’ll send you to a booking site to make your transaction. The latter are better if you want to use any frequent flyer programs you might belong to and acquire points.

What’s your idea of the best flight booking site? Which ones did we miss? Comment below.

Looking for Our Favorite Footwear for the Season? Check Out Allbirds

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

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Airport Frequent Flyer Security

10 Things You Need to Know About TSA PreCheck

If you’re a frequent traveler, you may have wondered: What is exactly is TSA PreCheck? How do you get TSA PreCheck? And, is TSA PreCheck worth it? The answer is that it’s one of a handful of expedited programs that travelers can use to streamline and speed up their airport experience. Each of these airport programs, from TSA PreCheck to Global Entry, is designed for different kinds of travelers, whether you’re a frequent international traveler or whether you don’t even have a passport.

Here are some key elements of TSA PreCheck to help you determine if it’s right for you, as well as thorough information about how to get TSA PreCheck.

What Is TSA PreCheck and What Does it Get You?

TSA PreCheck approval grants you expedited passage through Transportation Security Administration lines at hundreds of U.S. airports when you fly domestically with dozens of airlines. Basically, you can pass through airport security lines without taking off your shoes, removing any electronics or liquids from your bag, or taking off your belt or jacket. TSA reports that on average, PreCheck travelers wait less than five minutes to pass through security. From our editors’ experiences, PreCheck lines are almost always shorter than the general security line, but occasionally we’ve seen situations where PreCheck lanes are longer. However, keep in mind that even if the line itself is longer, the line does move quicker as you save time by not having to remove your outer layers, electronics, and liquids.

How Do You Get TSA PreCheck?

Travelers interested in TSA PreCheck must apply online for pre-approval. After being pre-approved, you will be prompted to schedule an appointment for a required 10-minute interview and a background check that includes in-person fingerprinting. To get TSA PreCheck, you’ll also need an “unexpired U.S. government-issued photo identification and proof of citizenship (i.e., passport only, or a driver’s license and birth certificate).”  It costs $85 to enroll in TSA PreCheck for five years. Upon enrollment, you’ll get a “known traveler number,” which you will need to provide upon booking any airline ticket to be able to use your TSA PreCheck privileges.

Can I Bring Family Through TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck rules state that if children in your group are 12 years old or younger, they can go through the expedited TSA PreCheck lane with you, even if they don’t have TSA PreCheck themselves. Travelers in your group who are ages 13 and older and not enrolled in PreCheck must go through the regular security line. And although not guaranteed, oftentimes when you book multiple tickets on one reservation and one of the travelers is a TSA PreCheck member, the status then applies to others on the reservation.

Can Unenrolled Travelers Ever Use the TSA PreCheck Lane?

TSA has occasionally allowed ordinary, unenrolled travelers the opportunity to use the PreCheck lane under a program called “Managed Inclusion,” as long as they’re designated as “low-risk” travelers. But that program has been used less since 2015, and Congress may end it soon as a consumer protection for those who have paid to get TSA PreCheck.

Does TSA PreCheck Guarantee Expedited Passage Through Security? 

No. TSA says that it uses “unpredictable security measures, both seen and unseen, throughout the airport. All travelers will be screened, and no individual is guaranteed expedited screening.” Presumably, however, those enrolled in TSA PreCheck will almost always receive expedited screening where available, as long as you’re at an airport that offers it and flying with a participating airline.

How Often Do I Need to Renew TSA PreCheck?

After five years, you have to renew your TSA PreCheck. Here’s a guide on how to renew your TSA PreCheck status.

Do All Airports and Airlines Participate in TSA PreCheck?

No. TSA PreCheck is currently available at more than 200 U.S. airports, with almost 70 airlines participating in the program. It’s smart to find out which airports and airlines participate in TSA PreCheck before enrolling to make sure that you can get good use out of the program. If your home airport doesn’t offer TSA PreCheck, it could be a waste of $85, and also a chunk of your time.

Does My Loyalty Program or Credit Card Cover the Cost of TSA PreCheck?

It may. Several travel credit cards, usually those with a fee, will reimburse or otherwise cover the $85 PreCheck fee. Helpfully, TSA provides a current list of credit card offers featuring TSA PreCheck for reference. Note that if your credit card covers TSAPreCheck it may also cover the cost of Global Entry.

Does TSA PreCheck Cover International Travel?

Since PreCheck is a TSA (short for “U.S. Transportation Security Administration”) program, it only affects domestic departures where TSA agents have jurisdiction and TSA PreCheck lanes are already set up. This does include departures from the U.S. to other countries on participating airlines, but having TSA PreCheck will not help you when you’re returning to the U.S. from abroad, or when you’re going through the U.S. Here are some international airlines that do accept TSA PreCheck (for your U.S. departure only): Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Norwegian Air, Qantas, and dozens more.

Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) screening. Global Entry, which is operated by CBP, provides expedited reentry to the U.S. through customs in addition to TSA PreCheck privileges, but Global Entry’s enrollment and approval process is different and more expensive.

Should You Get TSA PreCheck? 

If you fly frequently, and mostly within the U.S., then TSA PreCheck is probably a good fit for you. Some important factors to consider include how often you fly internationally, whether your local airport or preferred airlines participate in TSA PreCheck, and how often you travel with your family or a large group that has unenrolled members. That being said, you don’t usually come across someone who regrets getting TSA PreCheck.

Frequent international travelers typically find more value in Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck, since Global Entry includes all the benefits of TSA PreCheck but also adds expedited customs processes. Or you could test out the privileges of Global Entry by using a free app called Mobile Passport.

Travel tip: One of our editors uses TSA PreCheck and Mobile Passport; it’s a cheaper alternative to Global Entry, but not always guaranteed to be quicker.

Traveling? Consider These Carry-On Options

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

The Best Shoes to Wear to the Airport

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Airport Passenger Rights Travel Technology Travel Trends

Ready for Your Close-Up? Airport Face Scans May Soon Include U.S. Citizens, DHS Says


Facial recognition is slowly making its way into U.S. airports, with the technology thus far being limited to non-U.S. citizens who are entering or departing the country. But that might be changing soon: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it wants to expand the practice of airport face scans to include U.S. citizens entering and exiting the country, too.

According to TechCrunch, the use of facial recognition has increased in recent years as part of DHS efforts to identify visitors and travelers who overstay their visas. The DHS has a 2021 deadline to implement facial recognition at the country’s 20 largest airports, but faces technological obstacles. Under current rules, U.S. citizens and green card holders are exempt from the practice, but DHS says it seeks to “amend the regulations to provide that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, may be required to be photographed upon entry and/or departure” in order to “facilitate the implementation of a seamless biometric entry-exit system.” Basically, they’re primarily saying it’s just easier to scan everyone.

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Biometric Airport Face Scans: The Concerns

But as with prior changes to airport security technologies, airport face scans come with a healthy helping of controversy and privacy concerns.

One big question looming over the technology is rather basic: Exactly how is the government is using it? The ACLU is currently suing the FBI, DEA, and Department of Justice to find out, Vox reports, after the government denied the ACLU’s request for information that would answer that basic question. Vox adds that there is currently “a lot of secrecy” around the issue, and privacy advocates have major concerns over just how far law enforcement will push the technology. Basically, if the government is determined to develop robust database of data by which it can surveil and identify citizens, where does it stop? What are they entitled to use your personal data (in this case your face) for?

Firstly, experts say it’s already being used to investigate crimes despite the fact that facial recognition technology is not necessarily reliable. “Right now, the FBI has access to DMV photos in something like 20 to 30 states,” Jennifer Lynch, the surveillance litigation director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Vox. “I would argue that most of the people in those DMV files have not done anything wrong and yet they are being subjected to criminal searches without their knowledge [or] consent. And that could identify them as criminals or as suspects in a crime, because face recognition technology is not 100 percent accurate.” Lynch also worries about how facial recognition will affect communities that already face excessive surveillance.

Further, she likens these databases to a “search,” in the sense that ordinary, law-abiding citizens will be “searched” when law enforcement is trying to uncover a suspect via facial recognition. “For example,” she tells Vox, “if law enforcement is trying to identify somebody from a photograph … they’re going to search a database to identify who that person is. And that is definitely a search. And it’s something that the Supreme Court has determined to be a search in other contexts.” The Constitution, of course protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure.

Put differently, facial recognition means your face could flash before the eyes of a law enforcement official searching for a suspect in a crime. That fact makes many people uncomfortable, and rightly so, especially given the potential risk that the technology misidentifies you.

Quicker Airport Lines

But hey—facial recognition is pretty quick! (What’s new technology if it doesn’t save you some time at the airport?) Kidding aside, the technology does have the potential to speed up the security process. Time saved per person may be minimal, but overall the technology can smooth out some of the hitches associated with traditional check-in.

In the end, the pros and cons of facial recognition hinge mostly on whether or not it is compulsory. Opting out is likely to be an option for people who do not want the government infringe on their privacy. And for better or worse, it seems like many travelers are fine with the idea—when Delta tested biometric screening last summer, less than two percent of travelers opted out.

“At the end of the day, when the people are in control, the government doesn’t have a right to make decisions about us without our input,” Lynch told Vox, echoing broader privacy concerns. “But it’s hard to have input when you don’t know exactly what the government is planning to do.”

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Booking Strategy

The Worst Times to Hit the Road for Thanksgiving Travel 2019


They say misery loves company, right? There will be plenty of company, at least, on the nation’s highways (and airways) this week, as an estimated 55 million travelers embark on Thanksgiving travel.

And according to AAA, that’s a lot more than usual. This will be second only to 2005 for the busiest Thanksgiving holidays since the organization began tracking data in 2000. Roughly 1.6 million more people are expected to travel this year compared to last, a 2.9 percent increase.

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The vast majority of those travelers are expected to drive: 49.3 million, compared to 4.45 million people traveling by air. Some 1.9 million people are expected to travel on either rail, bus, or other modes of transportation.

Go Ahead, Make My Wednesday

If you’re planning to do your Thanksgiving travel on Wednesday this year, think again (or pack a ton of snacks). Wednesday is typically the busiest travel day of the year. And don’t say AAA didn’t warn you: “For the 49.3 million Americans traveling by automobile, INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts major delays throughout the week, peaking Wednesday with trips taking as much four times longer as commuters mix with travelers.”

This likely comes as no surprise, of course. Most people have no choice but to travel on Wednesday either due to work or school (or both). But for travelers who can, AAA and INRIX recommend leaving on Tuesday or even Monday. Monday also tends to be a better deal, according to AAA, which says “[Monday] has the lowest average ticket price ($486) prior to the holiday and is a lighter travel day than later in the week.” Little late for that advice, but maybe worth remembering next year.

The Worst Times for Thanksgiving Travel in Your City

As for that Wednesday slog, here’s a look at just how bad the ride could be in a handful of major metropolitan areas.

Metro Area Worst Time Wednesday, Nov. 27 Delay Multiplier
Atlanta 5:30-7:30 PM 3.5x
Los Angeles 5:00-7:00 PM 3.5x
New York 5:15-7:15 PM 3.5x
Boston 4:30-6:30 PM 3.4x
Houston 5:00-7:00 PM 3.4x
San Francisco 2:00-4:00 PM 3.2x
Washington DC 3:00-5:00 PM 2.8x
Seattle 4:00-6:00 PM 2.7x
Detroit 5:15-7:15 PM 2.6x
Chicago 4:15-6:15 PM 2.4x

Bottom line? If you have to leave on Wednesday, try to be on the road before noon, prior to the mid-to-late afternoon crunch. And if you’re looking for alternative days to travel this holiday season, you can find them here.

Readers: Are you traveling for Thanksgiving this year?

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Booking Strategy

Trust in Airlines Hits All-Time Low Thanks to Disruptions


Turns out travelers aren’t exactly thankful for airlines this holiday season, mostly due to frequent flight disruptions. A new study from AirHelp shows that 55 percent of U.S. air travelers don’t trust airlines to fairly handle their compensation claims following late or canceled flights.

AirHelp surveyed over 10,000 travelers from around the world, and found that in general no one really expects airlines to step up in situations like this. Roughly 25 percent of travelers in the survey say they don’t bother filing compensation claims at all because they assume the airlines won’t listen.

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And 73 percent of U.S. travelers who did make a claim gave up after the airline rejected their initial claim, despite many believing there was no good reason (or no reason at all) to reject the claim.

This paints a rather grim picture of air travel this year: Airlines’ reputation for being unreliable and difficult when it comes to compensation claims is so strong that many travelers don’t even bother pursuing them. A cynical observer could conclude this is exactly the point; turn the restitution process into such a headache that travelers stop bothering. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s clear from this survey that most travelers believe the deck is not stacked in their favor. But they also might now know the extent of their rights.

Lack of Awareness of Passenger Rights Laws

Travelers are also in the dark regarding their actual rights. Only a third know they can receive hundreds of dollars from European airlines in the event of a flight disruption, and 81 percent of U.S. passengers don’t realize they qualify for compensation at all, including on European carriers. After all, the E.U. governs airlines based on the carrier’s citizenship, not the passenger’s.

But U.S. airlines could also owe you something. For example, if an airline bumps you from a flight, it owes you 200 percent of the one-way fare, with a $675 maximum, if it can’t get you to your destination within two hours; or 400 percent with a maximum of $1,350 if the delay is more than four hours. Those time limits double for international flights. Download SmarterTravel’s Air Passenger Rights Guide and Flight Cancellation Rights Guide for quick access when you think an airline might owe you something.

As SmarterTravel often reminds readers, and as Forbes recently reminded travelers: “An E.U. regulation known as EC261 entitles passengers on E.U.-based carriers operating anywhere in the world, and those departing Europe aboard non-E.U. airlines to receive up to $650 if their flight is cancelled or delayed more than three hours, or if they are denied boarding even though the airline sold them a ticket for that flight.”

AirHelp contends that despite this law, European carriers nevertheless make it difficult for travelers to get the compensation they are legally entitled to receive.

[st_related]This New Rule on E.U. Flight Delays Could Save You Money[/st_related]

Sadly, no such law exists in the U.S., but travelers can seek compensation for similar disruptions, both from their airline and the Department of Transportation. But as long as no laws exist, the burden is on the traveler to not only pursue compensation, but determine exactly what sort of compensation should be given. The only time compensation is required in the U.S. is when a passenger is bumped from a flight: Airlines will try to placate travelers with food vouchers and other non-cash offers, which  often come with short expiration dates or other restrictions. Remember that you can always ask for cash, instead, when you’re bumped.

Bottom line? When it comes to flight disruptions, airlines will try to get away with as little compensation as possible. Whether this means shirking actual laws or simply ignoring their moral obligation, the goal is to end up paying as little as possible to travelers affected by delays and cancellations. For travelers, it’s imperative that you know your rights, understand the “value” of your disruption, and pursue appropriate compensation as far as you can handle. Especially going into the busy holiday travel season, and again when the travel high season of summer rolls around.

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Airport Booking Strategy Holiday Travel Travel Technology Travel Trends

Is Travel Tuesday the New Cyber Monday?


In recent years, travel providers have attempted to ride the consumerist tailwinds of Black Friday and Cyber Monday with a shopping day all their own: Travel Tuesday. Observed on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (also the charitable day of Giving Tuesday, for what it’s worth), Travel Tuesday aims to sling travel deals with the same sort of once-a-year urgency as its more established holiday-shopping counterparts. But, is it actually worth participating?

First, one quick note: This day is not to be confused with the year-round hashtag #TravelTuesday, a longtime social media mainstay more focused on sharing photos, stories, and other travel information (and sometimes deals) online. The Travel Tuesday we’re discussing here is strictly about the post-Thanksgiving day for deals.

Travel Tuesday only arrived on the scene around 2017, but since then airlines and major travel providers like Orbitz, Travelocity, and CheapTickets have joined in. Those are established ticket sites, but are there actually good deals compared to the rest of the year, or is it just another marketing pitch?

[st_related]The Best Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals for Travelers[/st_related]

The Psychology of Travel Tuesday and Other Shopping Holidays

Shopping holidays like Travel Tuesday, Cyber Monday, and Prime Day exist for one simple purpose: To persuade people to spend money they would not otherwise spend. That’s not to say there aren’t good deals—there usually are. But the goal is to hook you with a good deal for something you already want in the hopes you’ll buy a few things you didn’t want, too.

“The key to sales is that people think they’re getting something,” Robert Schindler, a professor of marketing at the Rutgers School of Business Camden, told Vox this summer when Prime Day frenzy was in full swing. “And so it’s in the interest of the [seller] to reinforce that idea that this is a gift to customers.”

The added urgency of a finite purchasing window compounds the issue because it limits our ability to comparison shop. If you weren’t thinking of buying something but suddenly you’re staring at it for a pretty good price, it’s hard to know if the deal is truly too good to pass up. FOMO (fear of missing out) takes over, and suddenly you’ve bought something you don’t need and didn’t budget for.

Of course, there’s a difference between buying consumer goods and booking travel. It’s much easier to impulse-buy a rice cooker than a trip to Paris; the latter of which requires multiple purchases (hotel, airfare, etc.) and at least some logistical planning. But in either case, the psychology is the same: You may not really have the budget for a trip to Paris, but you’ve always wanted to go! And look how cheap the airfare is! And … **click.** Bon voyage.

Two Tips for Getting the Most Out of Travel Tuesday

Having said all that, there are deals out there for travelers with the patience to find them. So how can you take advantage? Here are two tips for getting the most out of Travel Tuesday.

First of all, focus. If you are planning a trip, focus on that trip and that trip only, ignoring the rush of the deal. If there are no deals for trips you’ve planned or budgeted, move along. And don’t be surprised if that’s the case, either: According to Skyscanner, Travel Tuesday is not a savings slam dunk. In its guide to Travel Tuesday deals for 2019, Skyscanner says its data shows that “Cyber Monday and Travel Tuesday tend to offer cheaper flight prices than Black Friday, and for domestic flights, booking on Travel Tuesday was 2.4% more expensive than Cyber Monday, but saved 11% compared to Black Friday.” Keep in mind that Tuesdays are generally a cheaper day to book airfare in general, as well.

For international travel, “Travel Tuesday compared to Black Friday and Cyber Monday was actually the most expensive time to book a flight by a factor of 9.3%. Cyber Monday was once again the cheapest, followed by Black Friday.”

This leads us the second tip: Prepare. If you have a trip you want to take, or even a list of destinations and time periods you would consider, start tracking prices ahead of time. This allows you to develop a baseline for a good deal so you’ll know one when you see one. As SmarterTravel readers no doubt know, this is good practice any time you’re traveling, but especially when navigating the hype and noise of Travel Tuesday.

Readers: Have you shopped on Travel Tuesday before? Were you able to grab a good deal? Comment below.

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