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Booking Strategy

OP-ED: Travelers Should Be Entitled to Airbnb Refunds During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dealing with canceled travel plans amid COVID-19 is frustrating for everyone: travelers, tour providers, airlines, hotels, and of course, vacation rental owners and hosts.

However, my recent experience with canceling an Airbnb for a 12-person group trip in early May (booked prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) was particularly off-putting, and it turns out I am not alone. Just look at the tweets and replies section of the Airbnb Help Twitter account and #Airbnbrefundnow.

Airbnb’s Refund Policy Due to COVID-19

When my travel partner and I made the appropriate decision to cancel (not postpone) our trip in early May (we have an international traveler in our group, an essential healthcare worker, and a group over 10 people traveling from five different states) we thought there would be no issue given the company’s statement that our trip dates fell within its current cancellation refund policy. And as much as we would have preferred to postpone and taken a credit, it wasn’t an option for us.

Here’s the policy language updated on April 9, 2020 (the policy prior to this was even vaguer): “Reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date between March 14, 2020 and May 31, 2020, are covered by the policy and may be canceled before check-in. Guests who cancel will have a variety of cancellation and refund options, and hosts can cancel without charge or impact to their Superhost status. Airbnb will either refund, or issue travel credit that includes, all service fees for covered cancellations. In order to cancel under the policy, you will be required to attest to the facts of and/or provide supporting documentation for your extenuating circumstance.

“The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual to reservations made after March 14, 2020. 

“Cancellations will be handled according to the extenuating circumstances coverage in effect at the time of submission, and reservations that were already canceled will not be reconsidered.”

This was the Airbnb refund policy when we first initiated our cancellation request (prior to April 9)

At first glance, the refund policy seems reasonable enough. And the actual process for requesting a cancellation because of COVID-19 was easy and well-explained; travelers simply can choose the COVID-19 reason for canceling under their Trips page and request a full refund.

The Reality of Airbnb’s Refund Policy: Hosts Decide

However, this is where the policy becomes blurred as it turns out it’s actually up to the host to make the final decision in accepting or denying the cancellation and refund request, not Airbnb (the company) as the policy makes it seem.

I spoke with two other travelers, one with a late-April booking and another with a mid-June booking (this is even outside of the current policy’s date window), and both hosts accepted their refund request right away, no additional documentation needed. I also spoke with another traveler who even had her late-May booking get canceled by the host. However, we were left with our host declining to accept our cancellation and refund request.

I get it, this could be the host’s main form of income, and at the time of writing, Airbnb was only offering hosts 25 percent of what they would normally receive through their cancellation policy. What didn’t seem right, though, is that the company makes it seem like Airbnb would be issuing the refunds and travel credit, not the hosts.

For a company that was about to go public pre-pandemic, the fact that it’s letting its hundreds and thousands of hosts determine whether a traveler gets a refund for a trip is absurd. There should be a cut-and-dry policy in place like there are with airlines and hotels. At the very least, the company should be automatically refunding the profits it makes from service fees. And while these policies aren’t all perfect, it’s certainly better than leaving things up to the over 650,000 current Airbnb hosts, all who will have varying needs and opinions.

What to Do If Your Host Doesn’t Give You a Refund

According to the policy, “If the host doesn’t agree, you can still cancel and your refund will be determined by the host’s standard cancellation policy,” or “If your reservation doesn’t qualify for either the extenuating circumstances policy or your host doesn’t agree to cancel, you can always message your host to find out if they’re willing to give you a larger refund through the Resolution Center.”

So, based on this information, our options were to accept a 50 percent refund (if canceled before April 30, according to our specific host’s policy) or message our host and explain our situation again and potentially go through the Resolution Center. But these steps seem to only be necessary if your reservation doesn’t qualify for the extenuating circumstances policy. What we couldn’t easily figure out though, was how did our reservation apparently “not qualify”?

When you try to uncover what does qualify as an extenuating circumstance in relation to COVID-19, you’re rerouted around the Airbnb Help center, where there is no clear determination on what circumstances exactly qualify. No wonder our host didn’t want to cancel or give us a refund … there’s no clear outline on what should qualify as a refund, even though our travel dates and time of booking were within the policy’s time frame for valid cancellation. There is a separate, non-COVID related emergency and unavoidable circumstances page that lists travel restrictions and epidemic disease or illness as items that “require special review.”

Instead of accepting the host’s cancellation policy, we chose to message him and explain that we had a person in our group flying from overseas and that the traveler who made the original booking was an essential healthcare worker in New York City, but he still refused to grant us a refund. Since we couldn’t come to an agreement, the host was adamant that he didn’t want to cancel any of his May bookings (even though Airbnb clearly outlined that these bookings should be canceled or postponed) until the situation with COVID-19 was clearer, we had to go through the Resolution Center.

The Resolution Center is an automated chatbot and calling is discouraged unless you have a booking within 72 hours. Through the chatbot, we received information that we needed to prove our extenuating circumstances with proof of a canceled flight, a doctor’s note, government-mandated travel restrictions, or a signed letter proving that one of us is an essential worker. Finally, we had some sort of answer.

When we started the process, the travel restrictions that applied to us expired before our travel dates, so we weren’t able to use those as proof and we didn’t have proof of canceled flights yet. And while we expected both the stay-at-home orders to be extended and to encounter flight cancellations in our group, we were nervous that if we didn’t start the refund process request before April 30, we might fall under the guest’s normal cancellation policy and only receive 50 percent of our money back. 

Eventually, my travel partner had to get a signed letter from the hospital where she works to process the refund. We were beyond frustrated both that she had to take the time and energy to fight this process and that the hospital she works at, in the epicenter of the U.S.’s COVID-19 cases, had to spend time producing the letter for us. 

I do want to applaud Airbnb and thousands of hosts for their part in helping host heath care workers for free around the world. I also acknowledge that we’re all doing the best we can right now. But personally, this experience has made me decide to only use Airbnb as a last resort in the future.

Other Vacation Rental Booking Sites’ Refund Polices

For reference, HomeAway and VRBO’s current policy includes automatic refunds from the portion of the booking that they make, called the Traveler Service Fee, for bookings thru April 30. Both companies are also refunding the fee on bookings through May 31 (if booked before March 13). However, you do have to call to request the refund for May bookings. In addition, both brands are encouraging property owners and managers to issue refunds when credits are not an option, and are rewarding property owners and hosts who do so.

You Tell Us: Send us an email or share this on social media (tag @SmarterTravel) with your thoughts on how to handle vacation rental cancellations during COVID-19.

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Editor’s note: This story contains opinions of the writer and does not reflect those of SmarterTravel or Tripadvisor (our parent company).

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At Home Booking Strategy Credit Cards Passenger Rights

2 Simple Tips for Getting a Refund When the Airline Only Offers a Credit

This post originally appeared on JohnnyJet.com. Sign up for the Johnny Jet Daily Travel Tip newsletter here for more.

Most of the questions I’ve been getting from readers lately concern how to get refunded for a canceled flight. As you may know by now, some of the U.S. airlines had been until recently playing games with passengers (ahem, United and JetBlue). The Department of Transportation (DOT) received so many complaints that it had to come out with an enforcement notice. If your canceled flight was operated by a U.S. carrier, the DOT notice applies to you.

In fact, if your flight was supposed to fly to, from, or within the U.S., it doesn’t matter where the operating airline is based: If it canceled your flight, it needs to give you a full refund, according to the DOT.

But what about flights within Europe? Reader Simon L. asked this question on our “A Trick to Get Your Money Back From Airlines That Canceled Your Flight” post:

“What is the situation with dealing with European airlines? We had one-way tickets from Dubrovnik to London Gatwick with EasyJet for early April. The flight has been canceled. I have requested a full refund from EasyJet citing European regulation 261 but on their website, they are saying they are giving credits only. The tickets were purchased more than 60 days ago so disputing the charge with my CC probably won’t work and, at this point, a voucher is not going to do much good if we don’t get back to Europe this year. Any suggestions?”

Can you get refunded for a canceled European flight? I have to say that I wasn’t 100-percent sure of the answer, so I went searching. I found that the latest on this question—how to get refunded for a canceled European flight—is encouraging.

As written in a recent Reuters story: “Airlines must reimburse customers for flights cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union transport chief said on Wednesday, rejecting calls by carriers to relax EU rules and allow an EU-wide waiver of refund obligations.”

It seems that the airlines are concerned that issuing so many refunds will drain them of money. For now, that isn’t enough to get them out of their obligation to refund (not issue credits to) passengers on flights that have been canceled due to the COVID-19 situation.

Have you tried to get refunded for a canceled European flight? Did the airline give you a hard time? Here’s JohnnyJet.com’s previous advice on pressing for a refund:

  1. If an airline cancels your flight, tries to give you a credit, and refuses to give you a refund, ask to speak to a supervisor. Read them this line on your rights from the DOT: “If your flight is canceled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation–even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.”
  2. If the representative still won’t budge, you can hang up and call your credit card company as long as you purchased your flight in the last 60 days. As Joe Brancatelli, a veteran business-travel expert, recently tweeted: “Credit cards WILL process refunds. Airline rules and DOT boilerplate are irrelevant now.”

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Non-Emergency Passport Applications Have Halted

Were you planning to apply for, or renew, a passport this spring? With the rolling governmental measures in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do so. The State Department is limiting in-person service at passport offices to emergencies in which travelers need a passport for an international trip within 72 hours because of a “qualified life-or-death emergency.” And mail-in renewals are being discouraged due to “significant delays.”

The State Department defines that emergency in-person service as only for “serious illnesses, injuries, or deaths in your immediate family (e.g., parent, child, spouse, sibling, aunt, uncle, etc.).” A more complete list is available on the State Department’s website.

However, if you have travel plans on the far horizon (or hope to) you can still apply for renewal by mail, with some caveats. Expedited service is not available, and the State Department notes that you can “expect significant delays.” It’s unclear how long that delay will be, and it’s worth noting that for a renewal you’ll need to mail in your current passport with the renewal application. The department urges travelers to “please consider waiting to apply until we resume normal operations.”

Even if you qualify for emergency in-person service, options are currently very limited: The State Department says that passport offices in Atlanta, Connecticut, New Orleans, New York, and San Juan (Puerto Rico) are among those completely closed until further notice. And many of the other acceptance facilities, such as court clerks and post offices, are either closed or no longer accepting in-person passport applications.

At any in-person facility you will need an appointment, which you can make through the National Passport Information Center here, or by calling your local court or post office. For that appointment, you’ll need a completed application, supporting documents, proof of the life-or-death emergency, and proof of international travel specific to the emergency.

If you have an application in process, the State Department will continue to process it, but you can expect those undefined delays. Check the State Department’s website for details and application tracking.

The State Department says these current limitations will remain in effect until “normal operations” resume, which is clearly a very uncertain deadline at this time. If you will need a new or renewed passport in the near future, bookmark the above links for up-to-date information.

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Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel Credit Cards Passenger Rights Travel Technology Travel Tips & Advice

14 Booking Sites’ COVID-19 Cancellation Responses

If you booked a trip between the mid-March start of the epidemic (now pandemic) and sometime later this spring, current travel bans and shutdowns mean you face the requirement to reschedule or cancel your trips. And future trips later in the year still might meet the same fate of a COVID-19 cancellation.

SmarterTravel has already shared the major airline and hotel players waiving fees for travelers who booked directly—but what if you booked through a third-party online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia? The general recommendation is typically that you contact the OTA for rescheduling. But the situation is a bit more nuanced than that.

Two major parent companies, Booking Holdings (also known as Booking.com) and Expedia, control around 86 percent of the worldwide OTA business through their many subsidiaries. Here’s which company ultimately owns each of the following third-party booking sites:

COVID-19 Cancellation Policies by OTA

Here’s a rundown of policy statements from OTAs that focus mainly on air travel and accommodations regarding a COVID-19 cancellation. Most start out with instructions to go to the OTA’s app or website and select the trip(s) you are canceling for more information about the conditions. Whether or not you’re eligible for a refund or credit will typically depend on both the third-party site in question and the company that the stay or service is with.

Agoda (Booking)

According to Agoda: “If your booking is eligible for free cancellation, you will see the message: ‘This booking may be affected by a current emergency or developing situation. Due to these exceptional circumstances, Agoda will waive all fees on cancellation for your affected booking.’ You may then proceed to cancel through this self-service option without contacting customer service.”

Booking.com

Booking.com states: “We understand you may need to change your travel plans. To get the latest info, contact the property you booked to check if they can accommodate you. You can also visit our Help Center for support with making changes to your booking.” The posted statement applies to accommodations bookings only; selecting “airfare” redirects users to Priceline (see more below).

Cheapflights (Booking)

Cheapflights says only that: “Airlines and travel providers are continually updating their policies and will be a go-to resource for up-to-date information regarding changing upcoming travel plans. Please contact them directly for the latest information. Many are waiving cancellations fees.” You can find a detailed airline-by-airline summary of COVID-19 cancellation policies here via Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site.

Expedia

For air tickets, Expedia suggests that you first try to cancel online from within your trip record. If a fee applies, the website provides two airline dropdown menus: (1) links to the airlines you’re most likely to use and on which you can cancel through Expedia, and (2) a longer list of airlines less used that you have to contact directly.

Expedia contacted SmarterTravel with the following updated hotel cancellation policy on April 2: “For customers that booked and paid for a non-refundable rate prior to March 19, 2020 using Expedia for a stay between March 20 and April 30th 2020, an email will be sent their way providing them with an option to keep or cancel their existing booking. If the customer decides to cancel, they will be eligible for a full refund, or in some cases, a voucher allowing them to rebook the original property at later dates. There is no need to call Expedia, however you must cancel your booking a least 24-hours before check-in to be eligible for this offer. For customers who booked a property with a refundable rate, they can visit our customer service portal to change or cancel a reservation.”

HomeAway and VRBO (Expedia)

The Expedia-owned rental sites state: “To cancel or change an upcoming reservation due to travel restrictions, you can do so right from your traveler account. If you are making changes outside the cancellation policy window, please contact the property owner or manager to discuss their cancellation and refund policies. If you don’t see a button to cancel your reservation, please contact the property owner or manager directly for assistance.”

Hotwire (Expedia)

Hotwire states: “The fastest path to canceling your booking is through one of our self-serve tools” which can be found here. “Hotwire follows the policies of our partners, which means any credit, refund or change is at the discretion of the airline, hotel, cruise line or other travel provider. The quickest way to find out if travel plans can be changed without a penalty will generally be to check the airline, car, or hotel website directly.”

The site goes on: “Many of our partners are updating their policies to align with changing travel restrictions, so make sure to check back regularly. Note: Some suppliers, like American Airlines, are also providing self-serve capabilities on their website. If your booking qualifies and you are able to submit a self-serve claim through a supplier directly, you will not need to also cancel your booking through Hotwire.”

Hotels.com (Expedia)

The Hotels.com COVID-19 “travel advice” page states “we are waiving change fees for many hotels based on where you are traveling to or from. For international bookings in the following countries (and domestic bookings, where noted), you are eligible for a full refund. Please click the blue Contact Us button above to speak to an agent … Except for travel to/from the destinations listed below, we follow the policies of our travel partners.” The listed destination countries are many, and available here.

KAYAK (Booking)

KAYAK’s COVID-19 page generally points travelers to the individual airline or hotel where they have bookings. It also posts links to policies by individual airlines, hotels, and car rental companies.

Momondo (Booking)

The Momondo website simply states, “The COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak may impact your trip. Look for alerts on our site indicating certain destination-specific travel warnings.” The Momondo help page is here.

Orbitz (Expedia)

The Orbitz website duplicates the information posted by Expedia (see above).

Priceline (Booking)

For flights, Priceline urges you to complete your COVID-19 cancellation online if you can. “Your ability to change or cancel your ticket depends on the type of ticket you purchased and varies by airline. If a cancellation is permitted, you will see a link within your itinerary. Express Deals-Priceline deals, in which the full itinerary is revealed only after you book, are non-changeable and non-refundable.”

“Other reservations may be more flexible. You can view your flight’s fare rules on the contract before you book, and on your itinerary after you book. You can find your itinerary by going to check status on the Priceline homepage. If your flight’s fare rules allow changes and you’re ready to make a change, please refer to Exchange Guidance for additional information.”

Priceline provides further information here.

Travelocity (Expedia)

The Travelocity website duplicates the information posted by Expedia (see above).

Trivago (Expedia)

As a metasearch provider that only provides price comparisons and not bookings, Trivago advises users to check with the OTA that actually handled your booking. The same general wisdom goes for other price-comparison OTAs that don’t handle bookings, including Tripadvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company).

General Information on OTAs and COVID-19 Cancellation Policies

Clearly, the general advice to get a refund through the OTA is not always correct. Although the final money transfer might come through the OTA, they urge travelers to use whatever online COVID-19 cancellation systems they have to deal directly with hotels and airlines.

If you’re booking a future trip rather than adjusting existing bookings, most major OTAs direct you to airlines and hotels with flexible refund policies. Keep in mind, however, that if you book a nonrefundable service (even with a company that has a liberal refund policy) the supplier has your money and the full-value refund or credit may limit your future choices.

All the OTAs suggest that anyone traveling within 72 hours can use the agency’s phone; other travelers should refrain from calling for now, and stick to the Internet or an app to get information and make changes. All OTAs also seem to recognize that the travel restrictions are a moving target, and travelers should therefore check often to make sure they have the latest information.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Money

8 Secret Perks Your Credit Card Might Already Have

Most credit card users are in it for the travel points—which is smart. If you frequently spend money on travel (which includes ride shares like Uber) and dine out, getting double or triple points without even traveling mean free money toward flights, hotels, and more. But point-happy travelers who don’t read the fine print of their card agreement (who does?) might not realize just how many free credit card travel benefits their card comes with—and they’re missing out.

Nowadays, issuers provide an array of travel perks that you might not even know you have. From food-delivery credits to luxe lounges, here’s what to look for in your credit card travel benefits.

Free Meals via Take-Out/Delivery

One of the newest perks appearing on credit cards with an annual fee is food-delivery credits. When Chase’s Sapphire Reserve upped its annual fee recently, cardholders gained dining perks including a $60 annual DoorDash credit along with a complimentary DashPass, which is usually $10 per month and nixes fees on all orders. All users have to do to get the free $60 credit is link their card to a DoorDash account and use it to order; DoorDash charges will be reimbursed by Chase within a few days once you’ve confirmed you’re enrolled.

Note: Like many premium cards, Chase Sapphire Reserve has a high ($550) annual fee, but much of that charge ($300) is redeemed automatically on travel expenses as you spend—making it a low-fee card for frequent travelers.

Lounge Access and Meal Credits

One of the best credit card travel benefits available today is one that typically must be opted into: free airport lounge access. One of the most popular credit cards for this perk is Chase’s Sapphire Reserve, which comes with Priority Pass membership only once you log into the card’s benefits portal and activate the membership. Why? Probably because it’s a super in-demand freebie, as evidenced by recent lounge overcrowding that’s caused some credit cards to offer airport meal credits in lieu of lounge access at busier hubs. Still, if you know it’s there, it’s smart to opt in for the free membership and airport restaurant credits. I’ve personally used both perks while traveling and saved lots of money on airport meals as a result.

[st_related]Priority Pass vs. Lounge Pass: Which Is Better for Affordable Airport Lounge Access?[/st_related]

Travel Health Insurance

Considering buying travel accident or health insurance in case you need to see a doctor on a trip abroad? Stop price comparing and check what you might already have for free as a credit card perk. One of the most underrated credit card travel benefits is health insurance coverage that can save you a lot of money if you unexpectedly need medical assistance in another country. Many credit cards also provide up to $500,000 in “accidental death and dismemberment” (ADD) insurance for travel on any common carrier. Cards with travel emergency assistance perks include Chase’s Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve, Citi’s Prestige Card, and an array of American Express cards.

Free Global Entry or TSA PreCheck

Don’t let annual fees, which most premium cards have, scare you away from travel cards. They often make up for the fee in credit card travel benefits. If you’re enrolling in or renewing Global Entry, for example, you can often be reimbursed the $100 enrollment fee as part of annual fee credits. Not interested in Global Entry? TSA PreCheck enrollment or renewal fees also qualify for the reimbursement.

[st_related]How to Get Global Entry or TSA Precheck for Free[/st_related]

Rental Car Coverage/Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance and/or rental car insurance is included with many credit cards these days—not just travel cards. According to SmarterTravel insurance expert Ed Perkins: “Rental car coverage is by far the most important travel benefit your credit card provides: If you rent with a card offering this benefit and the car is damaged during the time you rent, the card picks up whatever costs you can’t first recover from your regular insurance.”

All that’s required to take advantage of a card’s free rental car coverage is to use the card for the rental agreement and decline the rental company’s (usually outrageously expensive) collision damage waiver (CDW), which can be as high as $30 per day—sometimes much more than the base rental rate.

As for roadside assistance: Visa premium cards, most American Express cards, and many others offer some type of roadside assistance, similar to what you can get from AAA if a car you’re driving runs out of gas, suffers a flat, or experiences a dead battery. But if you’re in a rental car, call the rental company first.

Lost Bag Protection

If you buy an airline, bus, rail, or other ticket with your card and your baggage on that trip is stolen, damaged, or permanently lost, Visa premium cards, most AmEx cards, and quite a few others cover you. Bag protection can also cover costs incurred if your bags are lost and therefore delayed—i.e., if you need to buy some necessities in the interim.

This type of card coverage is typically secondary, meaning that you must first claim dues from the carrier. The card may cap collection at a typical figure of $3,000 or only provide coverage of claim expenses that exceed the carrier’s maximum limit. And payments on most such claims cover only the depreciated value of the items lost or damaged, not the replacement value: Most people would have a tough time coming up with $3,000 worth of value for what’s in their baggage.

[st_related]This Is the Worst Airline for Lost Luggage[/st_related]

Delay and/or TCI Insurance

If your trip is delayed, a few premium cards offer a modest amount of coverage toward the cost of meals, accommodations, and various “essential items.” Coverage kicks in only after a specified time, sometimes as long as 18 hours of delay, and reimbursement may not be available until you can prove you’ve asked for it from your carrier. But if the airline won’t pay out, it’s a good back-up option—and can make a big difference in a nightmarish flight delay.

Some credit cards also provide trip-cancellation/interruption (TCI) benefits, but the pay-out limit tends to be low. Only a few premium cards provide this benefit, including Capital One World MasterCard and several Citi cards.

Entertainment Concierge

A few premium cards provide arrangements with local agencies that fill the function of a ritzy hotel concierge in major cities: They can arrange tickets for sightseeing, local entertainment, tables at famous restaurants, and more—some of which could be sold out or unavailable to other average customers. Note that while the service is “free,” you of course will have to pay for whatever the concierge arranges for you.

Not convinced your card has enough benefits? See The Best Travel Credit Cards.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel and just upgraded her own credit card for better credit card travel benefits. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the annual fee for the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. It is now $550, not $450.

Categories
Booking Strategy Budget Travel Money Travel Technology

The 12 Best Budgeting Apps for Travelers

While you’re stuck daydreaming about your next bucket-list vacation, why don’t you get a hold of your finances and make it a reality by first budgeting out your travel expenses? Whether it’s a road trip or international vacation that you’re planning, easily forgettable items like parking fees can add up. That’s why you should use a travel-specific budgeting app to help streamline your costs on your next trip. Here are 12 budget apps to help you plan your expenses.

PocketGuard

PocketGuard App

Link all of your financial accounts and cards to this app, and it will automatically update and categorize your spending in real time. It then tells you what spending money you have with the “in my pocket” feature. It also automatically builds you a spending budget based on income, bills, and the goals you set. It even finds ways to lower some of your monthly bills for you … sign us up.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Tripcoin

Tripcoin

Tripcoin lets you enter in your expenses per day and even works offline. It then processes your spending to give you a spending summary of your trip, which you can export for other uses. This lets you see how much you’re spending on each category of your trip, broken down by day, so you can monitor your vacation expenses in real time.

Download: iOS

Trip Expense Manager

Trip Expense Manager

The Trip Expense Manager app is ideal for large traveling groups that need help planning and monitoring travel expenses. For each trip you take, you can add Google users, a list of places to go, and expenses, and even mark who paid which bill.

Download: Google Play

TravelSpend

TravelSpend

I love TravelSpend for its easy-to-use features and simple design. How it works: You add expenses as they happen (the app works offline and even converts foreign currencies) and the app tracks your spending by total and by day. You can even follow your spending on a map throughout your vacation.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Wally

wally app screenshot

Wally connects to your current financial accounts and tracks your spending so you can get a handle on your cash flow and spending by category. Wally is useful because unlike some of the other budgeting apps, it lets you use private groups for managing trip spending or other budgets. You can even add reminders, notes, lists, documents, and comments.

Download: iOS | Google Play

TripMate

TripMate

Users love TripMate for its simplicity and easy-to-use features, plus it’s all free. This travel expense tracker app lets you create a trip and then add and remove users as needed. You can add expenses, receive a personalized summary, and even get hotel, and other booking-related information.

Download: Google Play

Trail Wallet

trail wallet travel budget app

If you’re looking for a travel-specific budget tool and expense tracker, this is your best bet. Input your expenses into Trail Wallet and the app will split them up based on category so you can get a closer look at your spending. Note that only the first 25 items you enter are free.

Download: iOS

Tricount

Tricount

This travel expense app makes splitting costs a breeze. Simply invite your travel partners to the trip you’ve created on the app, and each person can enter in his or her expenses. Once the trip is over (and all expenses have been entered) you can see who owes whom what amount.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Splitwise

Splitwise

Splitwise is another useful cost-tracking platform that easily lets you split group expenses while traveling. You can split by percentage or shares, and it’s even available in offline mode. It’s great for international trips, too, as the app is available in seven languages and over 100 currencies. Plus, it’s integrated with Venmo and PayPal for easy payback.

Download: iOS | Google Play

Mint

Mint is so much more than just a travel expense app—it connects with all of your bank accounts to give you an overall summary of your cash flow. You can then easily create a budget for different categories, like saving for a vacation.

Download: iOS | Google Play

The BACH

The Bach

For those who have been involved in the planning of a bachelor or bachelorette party, you know the trials and tribulations that come with splitting large group expenses. This app was created specifically for those organizing large group trips and includes building an itinerary, polls, and chat features as well as ways to track payments and bar tabs within your group.

Download: iOS | Google Play

YNAB

YNAB (You Need a Budget)

YNAB (You Need a Budget) is a popular software used for budgeting. While it’s slightly pricey ($84 annually), the positive reviews are endless. On the app version, you can set savings goals and itemize your vaca expenses. There is a free 34-day trial to get you started.

Download: iOS | Google Play

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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Booking Strategy Health & Wellness

Global Entry Enrollment and Renewal Halts Indefinitely

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has closed all Trusted Traveler Program enrollment centers nationwide until at least May 1. Closure applies to enrollment centers for all four trusted-traveler programs: Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, and FAST. Mobile enrollment events are also suspended. Obviously, this is yet another casualty of the ongoing coronavirus onslaught against travel. 

If you’re considering enrollment, you’ll have to wait until the suspension is lifted. If you’re at the “conditionally approved” status pending an interview, you can’t schedule an interview at an enrollment center until the centers re-open. But you can complete the enrollment through an “Enrollment on Arrival” facility on arrival into the U.S. at any of the 60 participating airports. That is, of course, if you’re traveling right now—which most people are not.

CBP says it will keep applicants informed of re-opening schedules. You can see more information here.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Booking Strategy Miles & Points Passenger Rights

Is It Smart to Use Miles During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The below is a question from a reader that many might be wondering during these turbulent times.

“Is it better to use miles or money when booking a flight during uncertain times? Is it good to use up some miles right now? Thanks for the input.”—JN

Right now, during uncertain times when you might need to cancel, money is less risky. Airlines are waiving future change fees, but they often still charge fees to redeposit miles.

Long-term, however, airlines will continue to devalue miles. So using them sooner, if you find a good rate, is better than sitting on them overall.

Here are some resources on canceling during COVID-19, for airfare and more:

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Booking Strategy Luxury Travel

The World’s 6 Most Incredible Luxury Train Trips

There’s something timeless about traveling aboard a luxury train: the white-glove service, the exotic scenery rushing by, the rhythm of the rails rocking you to sleep in your own comfortable private berth. While luxury train trips operate all over the world, only a few rise to the top as being truly unforgettable.

Luxury Train Trips

Below I’ve picked the six best luxury train trips, taking you to places as far-flung as Bangkok, Cape Town, and Moscow. These trains provide all accommodations in private compartments for two or more, plus inclusive dining and other onboard services.

Legendary: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express

Easily the top of the top, this modern incarnation of the world’s most famous train, the Orient Express, evokes images of the colorful Middle East, mysterious Eastern Europe, and, of course, classic mystery with Agatha Christie character Hercule Poirot. Recently reopened rail connections allow the train to complete its original itinerary between Paris and Istanbul, which it does  once a year; overnight stops include Budapest and Bucharest. The base price for Paris-Istanbul is about $20,300 (per person, double occupancy). Unlike other luxury trains, the Orient Express does not have onboard showers, so the five-night schedule involves three nights on the train and two in hotels along the way.

The train is owned and operated by Belmond; it consists of historic cars restored to modern requirements. Twin cabins, with upper and lower berths, include washbasins; lavatories are at either end of the car.

If you don’t want to go as far as Istanbul, Belmond offers dozens of routes around Europe and the U.K., on itineraries lasting from overnight to six days. Pricing generally starts around $3,500 per person for a two-day, one-night trip, although Belmond offers occasional promotional deals.

Distance Champ: The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express

Eight times per year, May through September, this luxury train trip takes you between Moscow and Vladivostok over 12 nights by way of Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, and Ulaanbaatar. The train stops for local sightseeing at several places along the way. The base price in 2020 starts at $16,995 per person, double occupancy.

The Golden Eagle train consists of modern equipment with three cabin classes, all including private toilets and showers. Silver cabins offer either small double beds or bunks; higher categories are larger with full beds.

The Golden Eagle folks run four different trains over a range of other itineraries, including several through the “Silk Road” areas of central Asia. They also run a separate Danube Express on a wide variety of European itineraries. As with Belmond, pricing generally starts at around $1,000 per person, per day. Some trips include use of steam locomotives over part of the journey.

Most Varied Attractions Along the Way: Pride of Africa

On the Pride of Africa train, Rovos Rail provides five luxury train trips a year on a 15-day itinerary from Cape Town to Dar Es Salaam or the reverse, passing through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania, and including stops at a game reserve and Victoria Falls. Prices for the trip start at $12,820 per person (double occupancy).

The Pride of Africa uses mainly older equipment updated to current standards. All compartments include double or twin beds, toilet, and shower. Some trips are pulled by steam locomotives.

Rovos Rail operates the Pride of Africa on a wide range of other itineraries in South Africa and adjacent countries, some including safari stops.

High Altitude: The Andean Explorer

Belmond Andea Explorer luxury train interior.

The Andean Explorer, another Belmond operation, runs weekly two-night trips linking Cusco with Arequipa via Lake Titicaca, with a lake excursion included. Prices start at around $2,100 per person for the two-night, three-day trip. This is literally the highest of the deluxe trains, reaching altitudes up to 14,000 feet along the way, however, so you might want to skip this one (or bring medications) if you have problems with altitude.

The Andean Explorer train includes three levels of cabin, all with private shower, plus an observation lounge, and spa cars. Belmond also operates the deluxe day train Hiram Bingham between Cusco and Machu Picchu.

[st_related]Machu Picchu Is Overrated, Go to Choquequirao Instead[/st_related]

Exotic Asia: Eastern & Oriental Express

Oriental Express Belmond luxury train.

Belmond’s East Asian luxury train travels between Bangkok and Singapore twice monthly. The two- and three-night itineraries run through some of Thailand’s top scenic areas and take a detour to the famous River Kwai bridge. Prices start at $3,630 per person for the trip. You can also start or end the trip in Kuala Lumpur rather than Singapore.

The Eastern & Oriental Express train consists of modern cars built to luxury standards. It offers three levels of cabin, all of which include private shower and lavatory, plus dining and observation cars. Belmond also runs other regional excursions with the train.

Most Frugal: Palace on Wheels

The Palace on Wheels and its four siblings cruise through northern and southern India. The Palace on Wheels, Maharaja’s Express and Royal Rajasthan on Wheels cover mainly seve-day loop itineraries to and from Delhi, with a few Delhi-Mumbai trips; most include a stop at Agra for the Taj Mahal. The Deccan Odyssey and Golden Chariot operate similar patterns centered on Bangalore and Mumbai.

Pricing is seasonal, starting at $500 per person, per night, on the Palace on Wheels. The several trains also run occasional promotions, such as seven nights for the price of five and 50 percent companion discounts.

Deluxe Indian trains use modern equipment, generally with decor inspired by Bollywood’s best extravaganzas. All cabins include a private toilet and shower.

What to Wear on Your Luxury Train Trip:

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Booking Strategy

Airline Consolidators: What You Need to Know

In the eternal quest to get a better airfare, many travelers overlook an important source of cheap flights: Airline consolidators.

Consolidators sell tickets to individual travelers at low fares that aren’t available to the public; they buy those cheap tickets from airlines with which they have contracts. The best prices are on international long-haul business and first class tickets, but consolidators can also sometimes beat published economy fares. Consolidators are able to offer little on domestic tickets. The best deals are usually on flights within a week or two before departure, when published fares are generally very high.

As with airline sale fares, these lower prices often carry more restrictions. When you purchase through a consolidator, you may not be eligible for frequent flyer miles or advance seat selection, and you won’t have much flexibility to make changes to your itinerary without paying significant change fees. Airfare consolidators also tend to have limited staff, so customer service may be minimal. But these restrictions may be worth it in exchange for a rock-bottom fare.

Tips for Using an Airline Consolidator

1. Before shopping for a consolidator ticket, make sure to check all available published-fare options, including both legacy and low-fare lines. Airlines’ lowest published fares—especially flash sale and low-fare line fares—are often less than any consolidator fares.

2. Before booking with any consolidator, do your homework to make sure it’s a reputable company. Check for memberships in trade organizations such as the United States Air Consolidators Association (USACA), American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), International Air Transport Association (IATA), or United States Tour Operators Asociation (USTOA). We also recommend checking the company’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau or on review sites such as Trustpilot.com.

3. Fares vary among consolidators, so shop around with more than just one. And make sure any consolidator price you are quoted includes all applicable taxes and fees.

4. The tickets you purchase from consolidators may not be eligible for frequent flyer mileage.
If this is important to you, verify eligibility with the airline and consolidator before purchasing the ticket. Some consolidators allow you to enter frequent flyer mile information when making your reservation.

5. To protect yourself, always use a major credit card to purchase your airfare. If there is any problem obtaining a valid ticket, you will then have some recourse for denying payment through your credit card company.

6. A day or two after you buy a ticket from a consolidator, verify your reservation with the airline and make sure you have a confirmed seat and are not waitlisted. Consolidators typically do not “own” an inventory of tickets; they buy your ticket from an airline only after you’ve paid, and sometimes they don’t or can’t follow through with the airline. If the airline doesn’t confirm your reservation, check with the consolidator immediately and be prepared to abort the entire transaction if it can’t guarantee your seat.

7. Ask plenty of questions. What happens if you miss your plane or your flight is canceled? What if you need to alter your itinerary? Make sure you obtain clear and accurate information from your consolidator regarding all policies and fees for ticket cancellations, changes, refunds, reticketing, and expiration dates — and then verify these with the airline.

Finding an Airline Consolidator

Here is a short list of airfare consolidators that offer fares to the public. (Many consolidators only sell to travel agents). The consolidator industry is competitive and turnover is high, so research the consolidator website carefully to ensure it’s reliable before you book.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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Booking Strategy

Passport Book vs. Passport Card: Which Do I Need?

The U.S. State Department issues two versions of a passport: a traditional passport book and a passport card. Not only do they look different, they serve slightly different purposes. The passport book has plenty of pages for visas and arrival/departure stamps, while the passport card is a one-piece credit-card-sized ID card. Which you should get, passport book vs. passport card, depends on how you plan to travel and how much you want to pay for your travel documents.

Passport Book vs. Passport Card

The standard passport book covers all the bases: It’s all the U.S. government requires for you to enter a foreign country and re-enter the United States on your return trip. First-time application fees total $145. Many foreign countries require nothing more for entry than a U.S. passport book, although some also require visas.

[st_related]Cruise Passport Requirements: Do I Need a Passport to Go on a Cruise?[/st_related]

The passport card, meanwhile, is both less expensive and less flexible. The passport card can be used only to re-enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at a land border crossing or sea port-of-entry, although these areas generally accept it as valid ID for entry as well. You cannot use the passport card for international air travel, even when you re-enter the U.S. by land. The first-time fee for a passport card is $65.

You can get both a passport book and a passport card for $175.

Passport books or passport cards are both valid for 10 years after issue for adults, and five years for travelers under age 16. The State Department’s website offers complete details and an online application form.

Obviously, it’s far more useful to have a passport book vs. passport card in most cases where you plan to travel internationally. But if your international travel consists entirely of surface trips in the limited areas covered by the passport card, the card is both cheaper and a tad more convenient to carry and use versus the passport book.

The Travel Wallet

Most travel wallets are made to merely hold your passport and don’t consider the currency factor—especially if you’re crossing borders on your trip. Fortunately, this inexpensive, hyper-organized wallet keeps everything safe and secure in a compact place.

 

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

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Health & Wellness Money

Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons: Avoid Cancellation Fees with a Doctor’s Note

I consider myself a nonrefundable ticket sort of person. There are very few circumstances in which I’m willing to shell out significantly more to book a more flexible ticket, and until recently I had never been unable to fly due to medical reasons. The cost is simply too high. I’d rather cross my fingers and hope no complicating factors arise. And usually, that works.

But sometimes, it doesn’t. Like the time I got very ill a few days before a trip, and as the illness progressed, it became clear that I would be unable to fly due to illness. I could barely stand, let alone traipse halfway across the globe. I needed to cancel, but I wanted to avoid a stiff penalty if at all possible.

Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons? Get a Letter from a Doctor

Enter the doctor’s note. The cost to cancel my ticket would be $200, but the airline was among those that would waive the fee if I could provide a doctor’s note.

I had the fortune/misfortune of a trip to the emergency room and multiple consultations with two different doctors, so I had a paper trail to back up my claim that I was unable to fly due to illness. The airline asked for a doctor’s note, on the doctor’s letterhead, which included some kind of statement regarding my inability to fly for medical reasons plus my name and confirmation number.

Because of some tight timing (and the fact that I wasn’t up to making all those phone calls in one day), I first had to cancel the flight and incur the $200 fee, then ask the doctor to fax a note to the airline confirming I was unable to fly due to medical reasons, at which point the $200 was credited back to my account. In my case, the money now sits as credits to be used on a future flight, but since I plan on traveling with the airline in the next year, that’s just fine with me.

How to Ask for a Cancellation Fee Waiver with a Doctor’s Note

If you need to cancel a flight due to a medical reason and are hoping to avoid cancellation fees:

  • Read the fine print or contact your airline to assess whether or not a documented medical emergency is enough reason to waive a cancellation fee.
  • Be in touch with your doctor so that he or she can vouch for you.
  • Cancel more than 24 hours in advance.
  • Ask your doctor (or a nurse or someone at the front desk) politely, and make it as easy for them as possible to provide a doctor’s note.
  • Provide the airline with as much information as possible about your medical condition, ask nicely, and follow up to check on the process of your cancellation fee waiver claim.

It’s also worth mentioning that Southwest is the only U.S. airline that doesn’t charge cancellation fees.

How to Know If You’re Too Sick to Fly

If you’re wondering if you’re too ill to fly, you’re probably too ill to fly. Need more concrete advice? The CDC has answers: Its Before You Travel Tips page is packed with specific advice about symptoms and special considerations. For instance, if you have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a sinus infection, or any disease (including flu) that can spread easily, you should cancel your travel plans. At that point, you can reach out to the airline and reach out to your doctor to see what you can do about trying to get that cancellation fee waived.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Family Travel Outdoors Road Trip Sustainable Travel

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time will take your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset, as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. But planning a trip to the Grand Canyon requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera.

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? For answers to these questions and more, read the following tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Editor’s note: Many Grand Canyon facilities and tour operators have temporarily closed or made other modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check each provider’s website for full details before making plans.

South Rim vs. North Rim vs. Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and your time is limited, where should you go?

The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon for a reason. It has more viewpoints than the North Rim, with more expansive views of the canyon’s depth, as well as a wider range of lodging options and other visitor services. It also has plenty of hiking trails and activities like river rafting and mule rides. If you’re looking for classic Grand Canyon views, this is the place to go.

Popular with hikers and photographers, the North Rim is the South Rim’s quieter, more heavily forested cousin. While the views may be less spectacular, many travelers prefer the North Rim for its undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.

The key draw at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon for dizzying views on all sides—including right under your feet. (Important note: The Skywalk does not permit cameras or phones. Professional photos are available for sale.) This isn’t the best bet for avid hikers, as there are only two (relatively easy) trails here, but other activities include zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, and touring a Native American village. Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient, though long, day trip.

Note that because Grand Canyon West is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which are administered by the National Park Service.

When to Visit the Grand Canyon

planning a trip to the grand canyon

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider visiting the South Rim any time other than summer—especially if you’re hoping to hike all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Summer is also the busiest time of year; lodging in the park is expensive and sells out quickly, and viewpoints along the rim can be jammed with crowds.

The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Even a winter visit can be rewarding; bundle up and enjoy the sight of the canyon dusted with snow.

Thanks to its higher altitude, the North Rim has a cooler climate and is closed between mid-October and mid-May. Fortunately, this part of the park sees fewer visitors and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. Consider visiting in the fall, when the Kaibab National Forest erupts in vibrant colors.

Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is less crowded outside the summer months.

Getting to the Grand Canyon

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City. No matter where you land you’ll need to rent a car, as public transit is extremely limited in this part of the U.S.

Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, you might need to park your car and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. A shuttle service makes the 4.5-hour trip between the North and South Rims; it’s particularly handy for rim-to-rim hikers. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.

One fun alternative way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona, into the heart of the park, allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.

Grand Canyon Lodging

The most convenient Grand Canyon lodging options are within the national park or Grand Canyon West rather than in nearby towns, but these options tend to book up quickly—sometimes months in advance. When planning a trip to the Canyon, reserve your accommodations first.

The South Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park is home to half a dozen lodges, including the venerable El Tovar, which dates back to 1905 and has hosted former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Another option is the Bright Angel Lodge, situated at the top of the park’s most popular trail. There’s also an RV park near the main visitor center, as well as two campgrounds.

If you can’t find lodging within the South Rim section of the park, there’s a handful of options in nearby Tusayan, as well as dozens of hotels (mostly chain motels) in Williams and Flagstaff, each a little more than an hour from the park entrance gates.

The North Rim has just two places to stay inside the park: the Grand Canyon Lodge, which offers motel rooms and cabins, and the North Rim Campground. If these are booked, consider the Jacob Lake Inn, 45 miles away, or head farther afield to Kanab, Utah, or Page, Arizona.

The most unique place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park is Phantom Ranch, located on the canyon floor. The only ways to get there are to hike or ride a mule down.

If you want to stay overnight within Grand Canyon West, you can book a cabin at Hualapai Ranch; each one features a front porch where you can relax and enjoy the desert views.

Grand Canyon Hikes

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, leave time for a hike or two.

The simplest walk at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim Trail, which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible, and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint.

If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top.

The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade, but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom, you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.

The North Rim offers a variety of day hikes ranging from less than a mile to about 10 miles round-trip. It’s possible to hike into the canyon from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and back out of the canyon via one of the trails on the South Rim (or vice versa); this is recommended only for fit, experienced hikers.

For information on all the trails listed above, see the day hiking information page on NPS.gov.

The National Park Service strongly recommends against hiking down to the river and back in a single day, even if you’re a veteran hiker. Instead, plan to overnight at Phantom Ranch or one of several backcountry campgrounds within the canyon.

Keep in mind that it usually takes twice as long to come back up the trail as it does to go down, and that temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20 degrees higher than those at the top. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the canyon due to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury.

Grand Canyon West offers just two hiking trails, one easy and one moderate, and neither one goes into the canyon.

One intriguing Grand Canyon hike to consider is the 10-mile (each way) track to Havasu Falls, the famous turquoise cascade you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. It’s located on Native American land between the South Rim and Grand Canyon West. Reservations are required (and limited). To learn more, see the NPS website.

Mule Rides, Rafting Trips, and Helicopter Tours

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t forget about other activities besides hiking, like riding a mule into the canyon. (Why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses.)

From the South Rim you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch, or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. (See GrandCanyonLodges.com.) From the North Rim you can take one- or three-hour rides along the rim or part of the way into the canyon. (See CanyonRides.com.) Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.

Dreaming of rafting the Colorado River? You can take a guided trip in the national park with options from a half-day to more than two weeks, or plan your own trip with a permit from the National Park Service. To plan a one- or two-day rafting trip at Grand Canyon West, visit GrandCanyonWest.com.

Finally, one of the most incredible ways to view the Grand Canyon is from the air. Numerous companies operate helicopter tours over the canyon, including Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon.

General Grand Canyon Travel Tips

As soon as you arrive, stop by the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunrise and/or sunset.

The desert heat can be deadly, so hikers should pack plenty of water as well as salty snacks. Bring a reusable bottle that you can fill up at water stations located throughout the national park. Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. If you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, stop to rest and rehydrate.

The South Rim is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, and the North Rim is at nearly 8,300 feet. Some travelers may experience fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.

Stick to the trail. Not only does this protect the landscape, but it also protects you. Numerous tourists have died after falling from the rim of the canyon.

The most crowded viewpoints at the South Rim are those nearest the parking lots and bus stops. To avoid getting a hundred other people in every photo, walk along the Rim Trail in either direction. Often you can snap great shots along the trail or find your way to a less congested viewpoint.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Airport Booking Strategy Passenger Rights

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

Are you ready to cross the Pond? England passport requirements state that you must have a U.S. passport that is valid with at least one blank page for the duration of your stay in England in order to enter the country. Be sure to check your passport’s expiration date and make sure it extends beyond your return ticket home.

If you plan on visiting other countries in Europe from England, you might need your passport to be valid for six months beyond your departure date, according to the Schengen Agreement. See the requirements for the other places you may travel to, here.

England Passport Requirements

England passport requirements state that a valid passport with at least one blank page for an entry stamp is required for the duration of your stay in the country. Check your expiration date to ensure it extends beyond your return date home. Do this as soon as you have your ticket in hand to allow for plenty of time to renew, if needed.

If traveling to other countries in continental Europe, your passport may need a six-month validity beyond your departure date for certain destinations in the Schengen area.

[st_related]U.S. Passport Changes Are Coming: Here’s What You Need to Know[/st_related]

How to Get a Passport Book for Travel to England

Apply for a passport as soon as international travel is confirmed. The cost will be greater if applying for a passport within two weeks of travel time, because you will need an expedited application. You can learn more about the requirements and documents needed to obtain a U.S. passport here.

What to Do if You Lose Your Passport in England

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 London.

Other England Travel Requirements

Visa: No for U.S. citizens, up to 90 days

Vaccinations: No

So, Do I Need a Passport to Visit England?

In summary: Yes. England passport requirements state that a passport is required to go to England, and must be valid during the entire length of stay. Other passport requirements may be necessary if you plan on visiting other countries in continental Europe as well.

More Information When Visiting England

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

For information on how to apply or renew a passport, visit here.

Visit Britain 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 England.

Protect Your Passport

We recommend investing in a passport cover or wallet to protect your pages from bends, tears and spills. It’s important to keep your passport in good condition for easy inspection. 

On travel days, only take your passport out during inspection. Otherwise, keep it stowed away in a dedicated section of your bag (if you keep it in the same place every time, you won’t ever scramble to locate it). Once you arrive at your destination, find a way to stow it securely. In-room safes or safe deposit boxes at the hotel front desk are generally good options, but if neither is available, you’ll need to decide how to keep your passport secure. You might consider keeping it in an under-clothing money belt that you wear, or leaving it in the hotel or vacation rental but locking it in your suitcase with a TSA-approved lock.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Dress Up Your Passport

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Healthcare Abroad: How to Find an English-Speaking Doctor or Clinic

Sweaty, squinting, and red-eyed, I exited the cool waiting room’s automatic sliding glass doors. I got in the DiDi rideshare car outside the international clinic, preemptively thanked the driver, and opened my heavy paper bag of new medications: antibiotic eye drops to use every five hours, saline solution to use every six, antibiotic tablets and painkillers to take every 12, and cough medicine for whenever I felt like I couldn’t breathe. A receipt listed the out-of-pocket prices of my bloodwork appointment plus the medicines: $3,000—which I luckily didn’t have to pay thanks to the travel insurance that covered my unexpected need for healthcare abroad.

Pulling away from the small storefront of the Nanjing international clinic, we idled in traffic about a block away. I stared up at a behemoth building, a black glass skyscraper marked by red neon Chinese symbols that flashed and changed on its glass every several seconds. The parking lot was jam-packed with both cars and people.

“What’s this building?” I asked my local guide, who was accompanying me in the back seat. “A movie theater?”

She looked at me and smiled slightly: “That’s the hospital.” I felt my swollen eyes widen, and redirected them to my bag of medicinal loot.

I don’t recommend getting sick in China (as I did in mid-2019). But if you’re going to come down with bronchitis and a bacterial infection on vacation, somewhere with ample tea and warm hospitality is not a bad place for you to be. I unequivocally do recommend, however, having travel medical insurance—preferably from a company with a user-friendly app you can pre-download on your phone. It’ll afford you the luxury of entering and exiting a clinic to see an English-speaking doctor abroad in a fraction of the time that a 3,000-bed hospital would ever be able to see you.

How to Find the Right Healthcare Abroad

Because I have a medication allergy, I felt it was crucial I saw an English-speaking doctor so I could be confident in the prescription I received. While navigating the many international clinics in the college city of Nanjing, I learned a lot about how to responsibly find covered healthcare abroad. Here’s how to purchase and navigate medical travel insurance, find a good doctor or clinic, and ensure you won’t be stuck with the bill.

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Plan Ahead

Researching your insurance options and purchasing medical travel insurance coverage for your specific needs is the first step to being able to find healthcare abroad, and there are a number of things to consider. If you’re going to be participating in adventure activities like kayaking, scuba diving, or hiking, make sure you purchase a policy that doesn’t exclude “dangerous activities.” Travel insurance policies with good medical coverage will also include worst-case scenario expenses up to and including emergency medical flights home and repatriation of a body, which would otherwise cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

You’ll also want to know the general state of medical services in your destination so you can make an informed decision in an emergency. For example, I knew public hospitals in China often have hours-long wait times, so instead I pounced on an available appointment at a private international clinic that my insurance covered.

If you aren’t familiar with the country you’re visiting, the U.S. State Department’s Consular Information Sheets are a good place to start to see what type of medical services will be available to you once you’re there. Select your country and look for the “Health” section. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has destination-specific health information, and the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) provides free destination-specific health information as well.

Know Your Medications

Knowing the generic/medical names of common medications can be helpful when you’re talking to a doctor about your prescriptions or hunting for over-the-counter remedies in a foreign country. Many doctors abroad speak English, but they might not know what the brand-name medication you take contains since it’s not available to their patients. Keep in mind the following generic medication names in case you need to purchase them from a pharmacy:

  • Advil/Motrin= ibuprofen
  • Aleve= naproxen
  • Tylenol/Excedrin= acetaminophen
  • Bayer, others= aspirin
  • Benadryl= diphenhydramine
  • Dramamine= dimenhydrinate
  • Bonine= meclizine
  • Pepto-Bismol= bismuth subsalicylate
  • Robitussin= dextromethorphan
  • Antacids= calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide, or magnesium hydroxide
  • Imodium= loperamide

Choose a High-Tech (and 24-Hour) Medical Insurance Provider

Keep your standards high when it comes to purchasing travel medical insurance—you are paying for it, after all. Straightforward insurance that gets you healthcare abroad doesn’t need to be pricey to come with a high-tech app and 24/7 support: It’s easy to weigh options and seek out one that has both thanks to search-and-compare options like SquareMouth and InsureMyTrip.com. (Also note that, like most private insurance companies in the U.S., Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover healthcare abroad.)

The specific insurance provider you choose will probably depend on your preferences and possibly your home location, but there should be options available that have high-tech features like an app no matter where you are. My coverage for healthcare abroad was with GeoBlue, which offers an app with covered doctor listings by country and fast 24/7 phone support. If you have a credit card that offers travel insurance, read the fine print to make sure it offers the medical support you could need; if it doesn’t, buy your own separately.

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Locating the Right Doctor Abroad

The CDC lists some resources that can help you locate a doctor abroad, and states that the nearest embassy or consulate in your destination should also have doctor recommendations. But the only way to see a list of providers in your destination that are covered by your insurance is typically via the medical insurance company’s app or customer service line—which should offer 24/7 contact, in case you’re visiting somewhere with a tricky time difference. International travel clinics are usually named as such, and when in doubt you can call the office to confirm; those with bilingual doctors typically have an automated recording that will prompt you to select a language.

Payment Approval and Proof of Insurance

Approval of funds from your insurance company can be referred to as “direct payment approval” or “direct deposit approval,” and you might need this authorization sent before you even set foot in a doctor’s office. It guarantees that the insurance company will pay the provider directly so you don’t have to. Whether or not you’ll need one varies depending on the destination and type of doctor/clinic you’re visiting, but it was necessary for me in China—so I was happy to have an insurance provider that was readily available to confirm coverage to the clinic I was visiting, especially because it was 2:00 a.m. at home at the time of my appointment.

You’ll probably also need proof of insurance. Keep your insurance card, or at least a digital copy of it, handy in case you need to provide a policy number or contact info to the office you’re visiting. Many clinics require both proof of insurance and an accompanying payment approval before letting you see a doctor. And if direct payment isn’t required or doesn’t occur via your insurance provider for the healthcare you received abroad, you’ll likely need to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as you can—don’t wait too long to file one and risk finding out you’ll be billed.

Know It’s Worth It

Travel insurance can feel like a waste of money if you don’t end up using it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the future. The slight chance that you might need emergency or even routine healthcare abroad makes travel medical insurance a necessity for every international trip. No one can anticipate if and when they’ll have a medical emergency, and not having coverage when you need it can be the difference between going on vacation and letting a doctor’s visit put you into debt.

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Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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