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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.

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

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

More from SmarterTravel:

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
Arts & Culture Frequent Flyer Historical Travel In-Flight Experience Packing Road Trip

10 Engrossing Audiobooks for Travelers

Stuck at home, in a car, or on a long flight? There’s no better way to pass the time than by enjoying a book hands-free. Here are some of the best audiobooks for travelers.

[st_related]9 Podcasts to Listen to on Your Next Trip[/st_related]

True West, Sam Shepard

Heading west on a road trip? Kick off the adventure with True West, a dark comedy and American classic about a sibling rivalry that plays out in the California desert. A screenplay about a film script, True West might be a better listen than it is a read, and it doesn’t hurt that actors Kit Harrington and Johnny Flynn are the narrators.

Length: 87 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Kit Harington (Games of Thrones) and Johnny Flynn (Beast) smolder and burn as sparring brothers in Sam Shepard’s darkly comic 1980 drama. The Cain and Abel conflict is a showdown of sibling rivalry, to be sure, but also bears witness to a legacy of booze-fueled family brawls.”–Amazon

Heads Will Roll, Kate McKinnon

SNL fans and comedy connoisseurs alike will love and laugh at Heads Will Roll by Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne—which is not to be listened to within earshot of kids. The SNL star and her sister steer this 10-episode theatrical audiobook comedy with the help of big stars ranging from narrator Tim Gunn to Meryl Streep.

Length: 4 hours

What People Are Saying: “The series stars McKinnon as a malevolent monarch and her sister, Emily Lynne, as a scatterbrained minion. It appears to poke fun at tired tropes of the evil queen and the hero’s journey while also relishing in their theatrical value. In terms of plot, the story focuses on McKinnon’s character, Queen Mortuana of the Night Realm, who catches wind of a potential peasant uprising and realizes that in order to put down the rebellion, she and her assistant JoJo (played by Lynne) must go on a quest.”—PopDust

The Buried, Peter Hessler

The telling of the most recent Egyptian revolution through the lens of ancient archaeology, The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution is authored by New Yorker writer Peter Hessler, who moved to Cairo with his family just before the Egyptian Arab Spring began in 2011. History, politics, and cultural norms converge through the lives of the locals Hessler meets, and link today’s Egypt with ancient times in a satisfying explainer of Egypt’s rich past and complex present.

Length: 16 hours, 44 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Seen from afar, tectonic political shifts often look as if they consume a society. But have you ever been someplace in the middle of momentous political events and found everyone around you getting on with daily life? Few reporters seem better placed to fathom the complexities of this dynamic—ripples of disquiet permeating routine existence—than Peter Hessler.”—The Wall Street Journal

The Pioneers, David McCullough

History buffs can revel in the years during which the first band of settlers set out from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin to conquer the American Northwest, with David McCullough’s The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. The real-life accounts are drawn from rare diary entries by the subjects of the novel.

Length: 10 hours, 23 minutes

What People Are Saying: “McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, and no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.”—Amazon 

Life Will Be the Death of Me, Chelsea Handler

The latest memoir by talk-show comedian Chelsea Handler surprises audiences with its rawness that transcends comedy by addressing the state of American politics. Life Will Be the Death of Me … and You Too is Handler’s sixth book.

Length: 5 hours, 25 minutes

What People Are Saying: “You thought you knew Chelsea Handler—and she thought she knew herself—but in her new book, she discovers that true progress lies in the direction we haven’t been.”—Gloria Steinem

Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

HBO’s hit show might be over, but you can go back to the beginning with Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1. Or choose from the entire series, which are some of the best audiobooks for road trips even if you’re new to the saga—although you will need a lot of time to get through them all.

Length: 33 hours, 46 minutes (Book 1)

What People Are Saying: “There have been many fantasy sagas published in the last half century, but few can boast the scope, depth, and attention to detail of A Song of Fire and Ice.”—Common Sense Media

From Scratch, Tembi Locke

Travelers of all backgrounds will appreciate this romance about cross-cultural boundaries, love at first sight, family, food, and death. From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home also ends with a collection of recipes (included in text form).

Length: 10 hours, 17 minutes

What People Are Saying: “The writing in From Scratch is sublime. Locke allows her readers to revel in the sensory experiences of Sicily. She offers a peek into her deeply satisfying relationship with her daughter, her husband, and their family.”—The Associated Press

The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo

A book-club favorite of late, The Night Tiger: A Novel follows a hardworking dressmaker whose small Malaysian village encounters a series of puzzling deaths and rumors of men who turn into tigers. It’s a dense but fantastical tale that makes it one of the best audiobooks for road trips spanning many hours.

Length: 14 hours, 8 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Choo narrates this richly complex novel herself, her gorgeous writing delivered in a voice that is deep and precise and lovely, both British and not quite. Her tone and words transport us.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch, Ruth Cowen

Queen Elizabeth’s early private life and public reign still read like a blockbuster movie, whether or not you’re headed for the U.K. anytime soon. Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch is written by British journalist Ruth Cowen and narrated by respected British royal correspondent Jennie Bond.

Length: 3 hours, 47 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Wife, mother and head of state, who is the real Elizabeth? What do the headlines hide? How close to reality are the television interpretations? … Admired by many, she has reigned through a period of unprecedented change, steering the monarchy through the end of an empire, public scandals and private losses.”—Goodreads

Before She Knew Him, Peter Swanson

A tale of paranoia and unsolved murder in a suburb of Boston,  Before She Knew Him: A Novel is a complex crime novel that will keep you guessing as to what’s reality and what’s not.

Length: 10 hours, 15 minutes

What People Are Saying: Before She Knew Him is a wicked thriller that does not disappoint. Peter Swanson has written another gem that pulls the reader in and never lets go, even as the story comes to a close. This is a book that will keep you up at night and haunt your thoughts. A fun, chilling read.”—Manhattan Book Review

More from SmarterTravel:

SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon.

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

Categories
Frequent Flyer Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

Sleeping on Planes: 13 Tips for Travelers

Not enough legroom. People climbing over you. Noise from movies and video games and screaming children. Sunlight pouring in your neighbor’s window at 35,000 feet. With all the distractions and hassles of air travel, sleeping on planes can sometimes feel impossible.

If you struggle to get some shuteye each time you take to the air, you’re not alone—but choosing the right seat, bringing the right gear, and making a few small changes in your flying habits could help you sleep better on your next flight. Read on for our travel-tested tips for sleeping on planes.

Choose Your Seat Wisely

Asian girl sleeping in her seat on the plane near the window in a mask and with a pillow to sleep

Your seat location could be one of the most important factors in how well—or how poorly—you sleep on a plane. Try to get a window seat if possible; it will give you something to lean against and get you out of the way of other folks in your row, who won’t have to scramble over you each time they need to use the bathroom. You’ll also have some control over the window shade.

Think twice about bulkhead or exit row seats. Sure, the extra legroom is great, but some exit row seats do not recline (so that they won’t be an obstruction in case of emergency), and some bulkhead seats have armrests that can’t be raised. Sleeping in one of these is like sleeping in a straitjacket, especially if the seat next to you is unoccupied, or worse, the entire row is empty (as happened to me on a flight from Australia—14 hours in the air, an empty row, and the worst flight I’ve ever had). What could have been a nice sleep nook is now more like, well, an airplane seat.

Travel writer Andrea Rotondo also cautions against bulkhead seats because they “are often reserved for families traveling with babies or young kids, [and] can be noisy.”

Another area to avoid is the last row of the plane. Again, the seats may not recline, and they’re often located right near the lavatories—where both noise and odor could be an issue. See The Worst Seats on a Plane (and How to Avoid Them) for more info.

Aside from the very last row, there are pros and cons to sitting near the front of the plane vs. sitting near the back. Seats near the rear of the plane may be noisier due to the planes’ engines and clink-clanking from the galley, but it’s also more likely that you’ll have a couple of seats (or even a whole row) to yourself back there—and the extra space could make up for the extra noise.

To help you choose your seat, check out SmarterTravel’s sister site, SeatGuru.com, which offers color-coded seating charts for nearly every plane on every airline.

Cut Down on Your Carry-Ons

If you have two full-size carry-ons, one might end up under your feet, limiting your legroom and making it harder to sleep. Instead, pack lighter so you can fit everything into a single bag. Keep a few small necessities near the top of the bag—a book or magazine, a snack, a bottle of water. Before you stow your bag in the overhead compartment, pull out the important items that you’ll need during the flight and put them in the back of the seat in front of you.

Editor’s note: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cautions against the stowage of personal items in the seatback pocket for safety reasons, but states, “If small, lightweight items, such as eyeglasses or a cell phone, can be placed in the seat pocket without exceeding the total designed weight limitation of the seat pocket or so that the seat pocket does not block anyone from evacuating the row of seats, it may be safe to do so.” Keep the items you stow in the seatback pocket to a minimum, and be aware that flight attendants may ask you to put the items back into your carry-on bag.

Skip the Caffeine

Especially on a daytime flight, where even the view out the window can be a distraction, you’ll find it much harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins. Avoid the temptation to have a cup of coffee or a soda before boarding, and stick to water or juice when the drink cart comes around.

Try a Sleep Aid

I am not a doctor and will not attempt to advise you on which drugs you should take as sleep aids. Consider asking your own physician about the following medications.

Over-the-counter options include Dramamine (bonus: it will also help if you have motion sickness), melatonin (a hormone that can help with sleep and prevent jet lag), any antihistamine containing diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), and medicines designed for insomnia, like Unisom or ZzzQuil. One editor at SmarterTravel’s sister site, What to Pack, swears by valerian tea.

Be sure to test-drive any pills you’ve never taken at least a few nights prior to your flight—medicines can have the opposite effect for some people.

If you’re truly desperate, ask your doctor for a prescription sleep aid. Be warned, though, that medicines such as Ambien have side effects that include memory loss, hallucinations, “sleep-driving,” “sleep-eating,” and other adverse reactions—something to think about before you pop one at 30,000 feet.

For more information, see Natural Sleep Aids to Try When You Want to Avoid Medications and The Best Over-the-Counter Sleeping Pills for Long-Haul Flights.

Stake Your Claim on Blankets and Pillows—or Bring Your Own

blanket pillow flight plane seat

There never seem to be enough blankets and pillows to go around. Board early and stake your claim. If there isn’t a set in your seat, immediately ask the flight attendant for one.

Better yet, bring your own. Even if you are offered a blanket, it may not be a clean one, as many airlines reuse them without washing them between flights. I recommend packing a travel blanket. You’ll feel toasty warm and be able to rest comfortably. If your plane is overheated, rolled-up blankets can double as lumbar support, pillows, or even a footrest.

Bring a Neck Pillow

Many travelers swear by their supportive neck pillows. Personally, I’ve found few neck pillows that really work the way they’re designed. They are too big in the back, which tilts my head forward, and then offer no support under my chin to hold up my noggin that has just been pushed forward. I turn them around; this works like a charm.

Are you a stomach, side, or back sleeper? Pick a travel pillow that allows you to most closely recreate your sleeping style in a limited space. For example, if you’re a stomach sleeper who has no shame, you might want to consider the Skyrest Travel pillow, which should let you sleep peacefully, perhaps unaware of the mocking laughter from other passengers. Side sleeper? Try the unique Travelrest pillow. And back sleepers can try the Travelon First Class Sleeper.

Free Your Feet

This is a controversial subject. Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Take care of your dogs and wear clean socks. Opt for shoes you can slip on and off easily—this way you’re not pulling at shoelaces and flinging elbows mid-flight. On long overseas flights, consider wearing compression socks to encourage circulation.

Use Headphones with Discretion

Save yourself the five bucks and catch some more winks by passing on the airline’s headphones. TV and movies can keep you up the entire flight. On one transatlantic flight a few years back, I sat awake until three in the morning watching Man on the Moon; I laughed out loud and definitely enjoyed myself, but the next day in Europe, I yearned deeply for the two hours of sleep I lost to Jim Carrey’s depictions of Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton.

On the other hand, listening to soothing music can help tune out distractions and lull you into a peaceful sleep. For best results, try Bose’s popular noise-canceling headphones; they’re pricey, but they’re the best product on the market for frequent flyers looking to escape engine noise and other in-flight distractions. (Ear plugs are a less effective but much cheaper alternative.)

Make Sure You Won’t Be Disturbed

Jayne Bailey Holland, a former airline staffer, recommends notifying your flight attendant that you want to sleep—that way he or she will know not to disturb you when the drink or snack cart comes around. If you’re under a blanket, be sure your seat belt is buckled over top of it so the belt is visible at all times.

Dress Comfortably

Will your flight be hot or cold? It’s impossible to predict, so wear layers. Don’t wear anything tight, as that can restrict your circulation (which is already at risk in a tight airplane seat). If you’re on a long-haul flight, consider bringing pajamas to change into—you might find it easier to fall asleep in your usual jammies than a business suit.

Recline Your Seat—But Be Courteous

woman reclining seat flight plane window

On a night flight, expecting someone not to sleep is like asking them to put down their window shade during a flight over the Grand Canyon or Haleakala. Ideally, everyone has the same idea and seats will tip backward soon into your flight.

However, you should always look behind you to make sure the coast is clear before pushing the button to put your seat back. It gives the person behind you a heads up if they have coffee in front of them or have their head down on the tray table.

Simple common courtesy applies here.

Stay Away from the Light

The animated flash of movie screens, reading lights, cabin lights, sunlight bursting in on an eastbound flight—all can disturb your slumber. Get yourself an eye mask. Some airlines provide them, but it’s best to keep one in your traveling kit just to be safe.

When It’s Time to Wake Up …

The worst part of sleeping is waking up, I always say. It’s even worse on a plane, when you’re waking up to fluorescent lights, luggage carousels, and sunshine so bright you can practically hear it.

If it’s a long flight, consider setting a watch or cell phone alarm for 45 minutes before you have to land. That gives you time to go to the restroom, gather your gear, tie your shoes, watch the approach to your destination, drink a cup of coffee, and walk off the plane fully awake.

Reaching your destination fully rested, whether you indulge in a short and sweet nap or a full rack en route, always beats lurching around an airport tired and crabby. Grab your 40 winks (and then some) in flight, and you’ll be a happier traveler.

Must-Buy Items for Catching Some Z’s

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

Whether you’re headed across the country or around the world, don’t forget to pack these essentials for a restful in-flight snooze.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Caroline Morse Teel contributed to this story. A previous version of this story had the incorrect title of a 1999 film about Andy Kaufman. It has been corrected.

Categories
Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience Packing

12 Cozy Travel Blankets to Bring on the Plane

It’s tough to get comfortable—much less sleep—on a long-haul flight, especially if you’re stuck in coach. And a thin, possibly dirty airplane blanket isn’t much help. Give yourself a fighting chance by bringing your own soft, cozy travel blanket from home instead.

Below are the best travel blankets at a variety of price points. Many that can also double as a scarf, poncho, or pillow. Stuff one into your carry-on for a more comfortable flight.

Parachute Merino Travel Kit

Parachute Merino Travel Kit.

This kit from Parachute includes not only a luxe travel blanket made of fine merino wool, but also a matching eye mask and a carrying kit. The elegant design and antimicrobial (and therefore anti-odor) properties of the merino wool make this one of the better luxury travel blanket options. 

E Marie Travel Packable Travel Blanket

E Marie Travel Packable Travel Blanket.

This generously sized travel blanket from E Marie Travel, measuring 82 by 36 inches, was chosen by Oprah for her 2019 Favorite Things list. You can use it as either a blanket or a scarf, then pack it into its own carrying case. It’s machine washable for easy care between trips. 

Cocoon CoolMax Blanket

Cocoon CoolMax Blanket.

The CoolMax Blanket is made of a lightweight material that breathes well and wicks away moisture. It comes in a wide variety of colors, folds up into a compact drawstring carrying pouch, and is machine washable.

White and Warren Travel Wrap

White and Warren Travel Wrap.

For a luxury travel blanket that also serves as an ultra-soft scarf, try the White and Warren Travel Wrap. It’s pricey, but that’s because it’s made of 100 percent cashmere that feels indulgent and looks elegant in any travel situation. One of White and Warren’s bestsellers for more than two decades, it comes in 19 different shades. 

Comfort Plus 3-in-1 Premium Travel Blanket

Comfort Plus 3-in-1 Premium Travel Blanket.

Made of soft microfleece, this affordable three-in-one item can be used as a travel blanket, a pillow, or a neck roll. It folds away into a carrying pouch that can be strapped to the handle of your suitcase or personal item for easy carrying. 

Zestt Organics Cotton Travel Set

Zestt Organics Cotton Travel Set

This travel set from Zestt Organics features a matching organic cotton travel blanket and eye mask, complete with a carry bag that attaches to your luggage handle. The set comes in your choice of four classic colors: navy, charcoal, light gray, or birch. 

Travelrest 4-in-1 Premier Class Travel Blanket

Travelrest 4-in-1 Premier Class Travel Blanket.

Versatile and reasonably priced, the Travelrest 4-in-1 blanket is designed in a pullover poncho style, so it won’t slide down while you’re drifting off on the plane. It’s made of plush fleece that always feels soft, and it has a zipper pocket where you can stow small items during a nap. Fold it up into its stuff pouch to use it as a pillow for your neck, head, or lower back. 

World’s Best Cozy-Soft Microfleece Travel Blanket

World’s Best Cozy-Soft Microfleece Travel Blanket.

If you’re looking for a comfy fleece travel blanket at a bargain price, consider this option from World’s Best. Made of machine-washable polyester, this blanket measures 60 by 50 inches and is warm without being bulky.

Sofia Cashmere Romagnia Suede Travel Set

Sofia Cashmere Romagnia Suede Travel Set.

Looking to splurge? Treat yourself to the cashmere travel blanket, eye mask, and zippered carrying case that make up the Romagnia Suede Travel Set. This indulgent kit will make you feel like you’re in first class even if you’re stuck in a middle seat in coach. 

BeWell Packable Travel Blanket

BeWell Packable Travel Blanket.

For an affordable, eco-friendly option, try the BeWell Packable Travel Blanket. It’s made of 100 percent bamboo fiber, one of the more sustainable fabrics available, and is both soft and lightweight. It zips into its own carrying pocket. 

Etsy Personalized Travel Blanket

Etsy Personalized Travel Blanket.

Add your name or initials to personalize this plush travel blanket from seller MissMarisasMonograms on Etsy. The blanket can be used as a pillow when it’s folded into its carrying case, and is made of lightweight polyester. This makes a great gift for yourself or a frequent-traveler friend.

Pavilia Fleece Travel Blanket Pillow

Pavilia Fleece Travel Blanket Pillow.

Unfold this fleece travel blanket to keep you warm on a plane, or fasten the zippers on each side to turn it into a pillow or hand warmer. Choose from various solid-colored options or pick up the blanket in a cozy-looking red plaid.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Tyler Schoeber contributed to this story.

Categories
Airport Entertainment Frequent Flyer

10 Free Things You Can Get at Airports


Airports have some pretty amazing amenities like golf courses and full-service spas. But for cash-strapped travelers, some of the very best airport perks are the ones you can get for the price of showing up. The secret to bagging many of these airport freebies is being in the know.

10 Free Things You Can Get at Airports

Here’s a rundown of not-so-obvious airport freebies.

Water Bottle Refill

drinking water bottle airport

[st_content_ad]Ever since I discovered that water fountains are one of the germiest places in airports, I’ve been inclined to avoid them. In the past, the alternative to a water-fountain refill is usually an absurdly expensive bottle of Fiji. But an increasingly large number of airports is now offering hydration stations where you can fill up reusable water bottles via automatic hands-free sensors. San Francisco International, Chicago O’Hare, London Heathrow, and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson are among the many major airports that offer this perk.

A Tour

Tourist takes photo at The HSBC Rain Vortex

Why sit at the gate when you could see something new instead? Several airports offer complimentary tours for travelers passing through. There are free tours of Singapore that operate out of Changi Airport, and travelers stopping in Seoul’s Incheon International Airport can hop aboard one of a variety of tours to temples, markets, or even a cave. Additionally, Turkish Airlines offers free Istanbul tours for flyers stopping in Istanbul Ataturk Airport, but you must be traveling on that airline to be eligible.

A Book

amsterdam schiphol airport library.

You don’t necessarily have to shell out full price at the airport bookstore in order to find something good to read during your layover or on your flight. Several airports have installed libraries where you can borrow a book or drop off one you’ve just finished. Helsinki Airport offers a book swap point in its Kainuu Lounge, while Tallinn Airport has a library that “operates purely on trust,” with passengers expected to return borrowed books on their return flight or “some other time.” Amsterdam Schiphol also has a library, complete with books, iPads, and cozy seating areas.

 

Religious Services

multi-faith prayer room

Whether seeking ceremony or just a quiet space to sit, flyers will find free facilities for doing just that at numerous airports. Various religious and spiritual services, from interfaith chapels at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson to a quiet meditation room at Albuquerque International Sunport, are available in terminals around the world. These services are almost always free, but donations are usually welcome.

A Pet Potty Break

Pet relief area at the Airport of Palma de Mallorca

More and more airports are offering animal-relief facilities for those traveling with four-footed friends; this is often a fenced-in patch of outdoor space reserved especially for pets. Some are nicer than others. At Miami International Airport, look for the handful of dog parks surrounded by white picket fences and featuring both grass and dirt surfaces as well as waste-disposal stations. (Note that you’ll have to go through security after visiting Miami’s outdoor pet-relief areas; indoor restroom spaces are available post-security.) Other airports just have a patch of grass surrounded by chain-link fencing; still, that’s better than nothing. For a more complete list of airport pet-relief areas, see this helpful roundup on Dog Jaunt.

Luggage Tags

Free

Luggage tags might not be the most exciting freebee on this list, but, as many experienced travelers know, they’re available for free at almost all airport ticket counters. And they’re very useful—especially if you’ve forgotten to affix your own luggage tags. You should fill out and attach a bag tag to each checked piece of luggage—and carry-ons, too—so that airline staff can identify your bags in case they get lost. Either you’ll find the free luggage tags sitting on the check-in counter, or you’ll need to ask for them.

A Little Help When You Need It

Free

Disabled travelers will find special assistance at airports around the world. But they’re not the only ones who need a little help sometimes. Many airports have programs that offer assistance to virtually anyone who needs it, such as young travelers, flyers who don’t speak the local language, or even lost or confused passengers—for free. For example, at New York’s JFK and Newark Airports, a nonprofit program called Traveler’s Aid exists to provide support to kids traveling alone, people who have lost their tickets, or those who have gotten separated from travel companions. Similar setups are available at many airports, from Travelers Aid Chicago at O’Hare Airport to Customer Care Counters, which can provide information in up to 170 languages, at Vancouver International Airport.

Fragile Stickers

Free

Safeguard breakables with a free “fragile” sticker affixed to your bag. Some travelers buy these in advance, but they’re offered at most airline check-in counters free of cost. Just ask your airline customer-service agent to slap a few on your suitcases. Although we can’t promise that the baggage handler tossing luggage onto the plane is going to read and also heed that sticker, it’s worth a try.

Wi-Fi

Free

Keep yourself entertained during long layovers without burning through your phone’s, thanks to an increasing number of airports offering free Wi-Fi—including Atlanta, Denver, Toronto Pearson, London Heathrow, Sydney, Charlotte, Boston, Los Angeles, and many more.

Some Exercise

Free

It all started in Northern California. The Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport was, according to many reports, the world’s first airport yoga room. Since that amenity opened, it’s become much more common to see travelers folding into downward dog or working up a sweat via jogging trails in airports. There are free yoga rooms at the Miami, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Burlington airports. Meanwhile, Baltimore/Washington has a two-kilometer Cardio Trail that flyers can access free of charge.

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

Categories
Airport Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience

Flight Attendants Reveal Their Secrets for a Better Flight


No one who knows how to be a great airplane passenger better than—you guessed it—flight attendants. Which is why we decided to pick their brains for their hard-earned wisdom about how to be a better, smarter traveler. Our panel of experts graciously spilled their flight attendant secrets, revealing insider advice that can help you get upgraded, combat jet lag, and fly smoothly with kids.

They also clued us in as to what it’s really like to be a flight attendant, what to wear on a flight, how to avoid germs on a plane, how to deal with fear of flying, and which food and drinks you should order—and which to avoid. Perhaps most importantly, they spoke about how to fly with a degree of civility that’s sorely lacking in society these days.

Flight Attendants’ Best Tips for Better Flights

Simply put, manners matter. “People who actually speak to me when I ask them what they’d like to drink is beginning to become a thing of the past,” says Heather Poole, who has worked for a major U.S. carrier for 20 years and who wrote a bestseller called Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. “So when a passenger says please and thank you to me, I want to give them more water and extra snacks. If I see a passenger helping another passenger with luggage, I instantly think, ‘What a catch!’ and want to set them up with single friends because nice people are hard to find. Honestly, it’s the little things that make a difference.”

Jennifer “Jaki” Johnson has been a flight attendant for six years and is the founder of Jetsetter Chic, a travel-lifestyle subscription box company. Her preboarding advice to set the tone for a better flight? Check in early, watch to make sure your gate doesn’t change, eat a healthy snack or meal at the gate, use the restroom at the airport rather than waiting until you’re on the plane, and smile at your flight attendants when boarding.

[st_related]18 Easy Ways to Have a Better Flight[/st_related]

How Passengers Can Boost Their Chances of an Upgrade

Many airlines prohibit arbitrarily upgrading passengers who are already on the plane. “This is a firm rule,” says Coral Lee, who has been a flight attendant and cabin manager for more than a decade and runs a blog for flight attendants called These Gold Wings, “although you can always try. Ask politely if there are any available seats in business class or premium. You’ve got better chances if you’re dressed nicely, if the flight isn’t full, if you’re traveling solo, and if you board last.”

“Upgrades are a big deal, and people who fly a lot earn frequent flyer miles,” explains Poole. “Those people know exactly where their name is on the upgrade list. If someone cuts in front of them, they’ll flip out. On one of my flights, we were delayed 20 minutes because one frequent flyer was upgraded to business class before another frequent flyer whose name should have been called first. Delays are a big deal in the airline world, so it’s crazy when we take a delay for something like an upgrade. But it happens because nobody cuts the line. You can dress nicely to increase your odds of getting upgraded if there’s nobody on the list. But that list is usually long.”

Keep in mind that this should be a conversation with a gate agent, not a flight attendant. “Once you step onto the aircraft, it’s our responsibility to get you where you’re going safely and comfortably,” says Nichole Dunst, a flight attendant and travel blogger who created Conscious City Guides, “but we’re not responsible for awarding upgrades. The gate agents have their own system for working upgrades, and gone are the days of getting an upgrade just because you’re cute and you brought us Starbucks. If you haven’t been awarded an upgrade before scanning onboard, I’m sorry to say it, but you probably didn’t make the cut.”

Of course, the most straightforward way to get an upgrade on your flight is to buy one. “Traveling is expensive, so you pay for service and quality,” Johnson points out. “You get what you pay for, so pay for what you want.”

[st_related]How to Get Upgraded to First Class for Free[/st_related]

Tipping Flight Attendants: Yes or No?

Flight attendants don’t expect cash tips, in part because they earn above-average wages and because their role of assuring safety is considered more important than their role of providing service.

In fact, most American and European airlines don’t even allow flight attendants to accept tips—except for Frontier, which has recently changed its tipping policy to allow flight attendants to keep gratuities; Frontier passengers are now prompted to add 15, 20, or 25 percent to their credit card charge after ordering a drink or snack. “But far from helping,” Lee says, “this has created a big controversy between the flight attendants who are happy with this new policy and the ones who think that this is a strategy to keep wages low and be treated like servants and not like someone who might save you in an emergency.”

“However,” Dunst advises, “we do love getting tipped in snacks, and that happens pretty frequently. If you’re headed to duty-free before your flight, picking up a bag of candy for your flight crew is a great way to make friends with us.” Another way to thank a flight attendant for a job well done? Write a letter to the airline that mentions the flight attendant’s name and outstanding service.

[st_related]10 Ways to Make Your Flight Attendant Your Friend[/st_related]

How Do Flight Attendants Deal with Jet Lag?

Flight attendants know better than almost anyone how to deal with jet lag: They drink plenty of water before and during the flight. They nap before and after long, time-zone-crossing flights. They avoid alcohol; many rely on melatonin instead if they need help falling asleep. And they try to adapt to their new time zone as quickly as possible. “Don’t even think about what time it is back home,” advises Dunst.

[st_related]The Best Ways to Prevent and Treat Jet Lag[/st_related]

The Craziest Things Flight Attendants See on the Job

Flight attendants see some truly wacky—and disturbing—behaviors. “The list is never-ending,” says Poole. “Just when I think I’ve seen it all, something else bizarre will happen.

“People who don’t work for an airline seem to be most amused by naked passenger stories,” she goes on. “For me, the weirdest stories involve passengers stealing a coworker’s uniform blazer or chicken strips off a flight attendant’s salad. My coworker found his blazer standing in line at security, and the chicken strips were found clutched in the fist of a passenger sitting in the exit row.”

“My tolerance for crazy has certainly elevated over the years,” Dunst agrees, “and I have to remind myself that we see people in their most stressed-out state.” Dunst once had a passenger get so enraged with the flight crew for refusing to serve her alcohol during the airplane’s initial ascent—when the seat belt sign was still on—that she spent the next five hours harassing the flight attendants, taking pictures of and tweeting about them. “I don’t think this particular woman was in her right mind,” Dunst recalls, “and that can be a little scary when you’re at 30,000 feet.”

As for Lee, she cites medical emergencies—people fainting or having seizures—as well as people clipping their toenails in their seats or getting furious when they get caught smoking in the lavatory instead of being sorry. Also: an adult woman urinating on the floor after being told she couldn’t use the restroom.

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How to Keep from Getting Sick on a Plane

Getting sick on airplanes can be par for the course when you’re a frequent flyer. This is partly because of all that circulated air, and also because being on a flight means being in close proximity to dozens of people—and their germs—for an extended period.

But getting sick on your next flight doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion. To protect yourself from getting sick on a plane, follow flight attendants’ advice: Bring sanitizing wipes and use them to wipe down your seat, tray table (Poole sees parents change babies’ diapers on them), entertainment screen, and remote control. Also: Drink water. Take immune-boosting vitamins. Don’t touch your face, and don’t request drinks while the crew is picking up trash—their hands are now germy. Shower as soon as you get where you’re going, or at least change your clothes.

“Something I wish was more mainstream in the U.S.,” Dunst says, “are mouth masks like you typically see in Asian cultures. If you’re sick, it’s just a basic courtesy to prevent everyone around you from getting sick as well.”

As for airplane lavatories, they’re practically petri dishes and, like the tray tables, they don’t always get thoroughly cleaned. So don’t touch much in there—use a paper towel to open and shut the lid, to flush, and to use the door handle. Never sit directly on the toilet seat, never go in there barefoot or with just socks on, and always wash your hands well with soap.

[st_related]How to Disinfect Your Airplane Seat[/st_related]

What Passengers Should Bring Onboard

The flight attendants we interviewed recommend a light blanket, a neck pillow, an eye mask (if you’re hoping to sleep), earplugs, socks—and a good book, since it’s not uncommon for the in-flight screens or Wi-Fi to be out of order.

[st_related]The 15 Best Airplane Books for Long Flights[/st_related]

What Flight Attendants Want Passengers to Know

It irks flight attendants when passengers assume that they don’t have college degrees and that their previous careers were as bartenders. “My background is in radio and I hold a master’s degree from an Ivy League institution,” Johnson says. “Other flight attendants have been lawyers, medical students, real estate agents, and so much more. We want passengers to know that we are more than our uniform.”

Flight attendants also want passengers to know that the flight crew doesn’t get paid on the ground. “So that flight attendant greeting you at the boarding door? Not being paid,” says Poole. “Delays? Not being paid. We aren’t paid until the boarding door is closed and the brakes are released.”

This means that delays and cancellations can affect flight attendants dearly—not only are they not paid when flights are canceled or when they’re waiting for a delay to lift, but, as Poole puts it, “When flight schedules get screwed up, we have to make arrangements for children or family and we miss things we were excited to do. I’ve had passengers yell at me, ‘I haven’t seen my baby in three days!’ A lot of flight crew have babies too.”

Travelers should keep in mind that flight attendants aren’t getting paid during the boarding process, which is a flight’s most hectic time. During boarding, Poole says, “We have a lot to do with very little help, so we might seem a little snippy or rude but really, we’re stressing out to get things done so that a delay can’t get pinned on us. The problem is that boarding sets the tone, so then when we have time to relax and smile and be nice, the perfect flight attendant, passengers don’t notice because they’re mad that we took their bag to check it or that we didn’t answer their question or we didn’t allow them to use the bathroom or that they weren’t catered to. Nobody wonders why. They just think we’re rude and then they go and tweet about it.”

Dunst raises another point that airplane passengers don’t always seem to realize: “There’s a reason we ask you to keep your seat belts fastened whenever you’re in your seats. Turbulence can come out of nowhere, and you can never be too safe. That being said, the same goes for us. If the captain has asked us to take our jump seats for our safety, then no, we cannot get up to pour you a ginger ale. Unfortunately, getting injured on the job is almost inevitable. All it takes is one air pocket to jolt us around. We of course want to take care of you as best we can, but safety truly does come first—not your third gin and tonic.”

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Flight Attendant Tips and Tricks for Fearful Flyers

Aviophobia is the most common phobia in the U.S., affecting 6.5 percent of the population, while many more Americans—almost one in three—have an anxiety or fear of flying that isn’t quite severe enough to be formally diagnosed as a phobia.

Given these statistics, flight attendants are accustomed to attending to nervous flyers. Their biggest recommendation? Loop them in. “Tell the flight crew that you’re a nervous flyer so that they can keep you informed of what to expect regarding turbulence, or be there for you if it does get bumpy and you’re scared,” Poole says. “I always tell fearful flyers when it’s going to be bumpy and for how long, so that they have a sense of control. I also ask them if they’re OK or let them know that it’s going to be fine when we hit a little turbulence.”

To help cope with fear of flying, flight attendants recommend doing mindfulness and breathing exercises, downloading an app like MyRadar to track weather and turbulence, playing games on your device to keep yourself distracted, and to take any appropriate medications. “If you need to take something to calm your nerves, we’re not going to judge you,” says Dunst. “But please don’t mix pills with alcohol. I promise it will just create more problems.”

[st_related]How to Get Over Your Fear of Flying[/st_related]

The Best Food and Drink to Have in Flight

Flight attendants are unanimous about the best drink to order on an airplane: water. That’s because dehydration is a real risk onboard.

They advise against carbonated drinks “because your intestinal gas will expand and you’ll feel bloated, heavy, or become distended,” says Lee. They also warn against too much alcohol because it reduces your body’s ability to absorb oxygen, which can cause lightheadedness at high altitudes. Alcohol will also dehydrate you and make you feel more tired than you should.

“In my book, I wrote that Diet Coke was the worst drink for flight attendants to pour because it takes so long for the fizz to go down,” Poole says. “Nobody wishes you’d stop ordering it, but when passengers do order it, I’ll probably hand them a can because it’s faster and also because Diet Coke drinkers are addicted to Diet Coke and it’s impossible to keep up with them. One time I had a somewhat famous politician onboard who drank six Diet Cokes on a two-hour flight. Six. Diet. Cokes. Not only does it take forever to pour, you’re constantly pouring.”

And food? “As long as it’s not going to stink up the whole cabin, bring whatever you want,” says Dunst, who adds that flight attendants prefer that passengers bring their own food because the flight crew sometimes runs out of food or may not have your first-choice meal available by the time they get to your row: “It’s good to always have something nutritious and calorie-dense, like mixed nuts or protein bars, on hand in case of hangry emergencies.”

“The worst food to bring on a plane is food that gives off strong smells,” Lee agrees. “Remember that you’ll be sitting for many hours in a small, closed space with a lot of people. If you don’t want your neighbors to hate you, don’t bring strong cheeses or any kind of fish, eggs, or strongly spiced foods.”

[st_related]5 Foods to Avoid Before Flying[/st_related]

Tips for Bringing Children on a Plane

“I used to travel during my son’s nap time so that he’d be more likely to fall asleep,” Poole recalls, “and I’d spend the morning letting him run around so he wouldn’t be as restless.”

Indeed, flight attendants are a font of knowledge about how to take your kids on a plane. Those we interviewed supplied us with a helpful set of tips: Pack plenty of food, snacks, wipes, and diapers. Always have a change of clothes. (“My cousin once had her four-year-old daughter get sick in flight and throw up all over herself, and didn’t have an extra outfit to change her into,” Dunst relates.)

Don’t forget your children’s official documents either, including passports, birth certificates, and visas. Stash stuff to keep your kids occupied: toys, workbooks, stickers, tablets. Bring a compact stroller that fits in the overhead compartment.

Dress your kids in layers, since temperatures can change drastically on a plane. Feed and change them before boarding, if possible. Fly direct when you can, since delays, diversions, and cancellations happen. “Reward them with little prizes during the flight for every hour they’re well behaved,” suggests Poole.

If you’re breastfeeding, know that you’re allowed to bring breast milk onboard, so pack extra bottles. And remember that families with young children get priority boarding, so you won’t need to stand in the same line as everyone else. When checking in, make sure that you’ll be seated next to your children; if not, a gate agent should be able to fix that.

Educate your children about how to act on a plane: “They should listen to what the flight attendants say and treat other passengers with respect,” says Lee. “From the youngest ages, they should be taught to behave politely and respectfully.”

Finally—and this should be needless to say—it’s your responsibility as a parent to stay alert and responsible for your child. “I’ve seen parents fall asleep and ignore kids, or book seats in first and leave kids in coach,” Poole says. “One time I was traveling as a passenger and found an infant crawling between my ankles. The mother was sleeping behind me.”

[st_related]13 Tips That Take (Some of) the Stress Out of Flying with Kids[/st_related]

What to Wear During a Flight

“Airplanes are cold, so come prepared to be freezing,” Poole says. “Exit rows are the coldest rows. Invest in a cashmere sweater so you’ll look nice and be warm. If you don’t need to wear it, roll it up and use it as lumbar support. Wear shoes. Real shoes. So if you have to evacuate, you can run faster from the burning plane.”

In general, flight attendants recommend comfortable, well-put-together outfits that you can layer: “Nothing constricting, especially for a long-haul flight,” says Lee. “And to get through airport security faster, don’t wear too many metal accessories.”

[st_related]18 Things You Should Always Wear on a Plane[/st_related]

How to Treat Flight Attendants

When you’re traveling a long way, basic etiquette can go a long way, too.

“Saying please and thank you while making eye contact at the same time is almost unheard of today,” says Poole. “Does it surprise you to learn that most passengers don’t even acknowledge my greeting when they’re boarding? After a while, I get tired of talking to myself. I always remember the nice passengers.”

“Truly, a little bit of kindness goes a long way,” Dunst agrees. “A simple smile and ‘How is your day going?’ can make all the difference.”

Traveling? Consider These Carry-On Options

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Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience Money

6 Simple Tricks to Make a Spirit Flight More Comfortable

Getting a deal on a plane ticket can be both a blessing and a curse, especially if it’s for a Spirit flight. The budget carrier has smaller, no-recline seats, and a la carte fees for carry-on bags, seat selection, and even printing your boarding pass at the airport. But if you’re familiar with all the concessions you’ll have to make to pay the low-fare price of a Spirit flight, there’s a way to hack the experience to be more comfortable.

Whether you’ve only signed up for an hour onboard a Spirit flight or you’ve booked one of the carrier’s logic-defying, long-haul routes to South America, here’s how to prepare for Spirit’s unique dimensions and requirements to make your flight more comfortable.

Add a Pillow, Pad, or Lumbar Support

Pillow, Pad, or Lumbar Support

While Spirit made some improvements to its long-lacking seats recently (including more padding, slightly more legroom, and a slightly reclined permanent seat-back position), there are still improvements you should make for yourself. Spirit’s seats are still generally less padded than other airline seats, which can be brutal for any flights longer than an hour or two.

An inflatable seat pad like Klymit’s durable V Seat could be effective if you think your legs would fall asleep or your lower back would be in pain without some extra cushioning. Or, a similar lumbar support pillow like Therm-a-Rest’s Lumbar Travel Pillow (or even just a rolled-up jacket or blanket) will help alleviate the pressure your spine takes in those C-shaped airline seats.

Because Spirit’s bare-bones seats also don’t utilize adjustable head rests, it’s smart to pack a reliable neck pillow if you want to sleep. Bring one that packs small enough to fit in your limited bag space, like the Trtl Pillow Plus or an inflatable option like the Cabeau Air Evolution Inflatable Travel Neck Pillow.

Relocate Your Tray Table

Legroom on Spirit flights is a mere 28 inches of seat pitch

Legroom on Spirit flights is 28 inches of seat pitch (about two inches less than most airlines’ seat pitch), which means you won’t want your tray table (even the teeny-tiny ones Spirit employs) taking up any of that precious knee space. Instead, pick a window seat (which will cost you at least $5, of course) and add a Spairtray to your armrest so you can cross your legs and otherwise move more freely in your already-tiny personal space. As an added bonus, you’ll avoid ever having to touch your germy tray table. A SpairTray is especially helpful for anyone who’s tall but not wide, since it will take up some of your window area but save you knee space.

Bring Your Own Water

Nafeeko water bottle product shot

An often-forgotten casualty of the Spirit flight is in-flight drinks—one of the few things airlines give away for free anymore. Avoid paying for water in the dry cabin by bringing a reusable water bottle and remembering to fill it up in the terminal before you get on the plane.

Pick Your Bag Based on Legroom

Cary-on bag measurements in airport for Spirit Airlines

Unless you pay the hefty fee for carry-on space in the overhead bin, you’ll want an underseat bag that’s compact enough for your legroom needs. Personal items that meet the Spirit bag limit of 18 x 14 x 8 inches are already pretty small, but you might want your bag to be even smaller if you’re a taller person who struggles with have a bag under the seat in front of you. If so, it might be worth paying the $26 to $50 fee (depending on when you buy) for that overhead bin space. If you’re going for an under-seat bag, check out these small workhorse options.

Select a Middle Seat

Extra wide center seat middle seat on Spirit Airlines

If you struggle to fit into tiny airline seats or simply want some extra leg room, Spirit might be one of the few airlines on which you actually want to choose a middle seat. Spirit’s middle seats are now 18 inches wide—the industry standard—compared to the 17 inches that window and aisle seats get. You’re still stuck without a place to rest your head in the middle seat, though, which makes the aforementioned Trtl Pillow Plus  an even better idea for the flight.

Buy a “Big Front Seat”

Big Front Seats on Spirit Airlines

The most notable of Spirit’s recent seat changes is the new addition of “Big Front Seats” on some routes, so you can upgrade to economy-plus for less. Although they still don’t recline, these seats are available from an extra $22 each, and the seat configuration and width are comparable to most domestic first-class standards: There are only two per half row (rather than three), meaning there’s no middle seat.

Outfits to Wear on Your Flight

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Categories
Airport Frequent Flyer Security

How to Do a Global Entry Interview on Arrival


You’ve applied for Global Entry and been conditionally approved (or renewed your Global Entry membership and been selected for an interview). But when you go to book your interview at an airport near you, there are no time slots available for the next year. What can you do? You can take advantage of Enrollment on Arrival (EoA).

What Is Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival?

Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows you to complete your interview (for either a new membership or a renewal) when you’re returning to the country. If you’re arriving on an international flight into an airport that offers EoA, you can request to have your interview conducted at the same time that you’re being processed at arrivals.

How Do I Get a Global Entry Interview on Arrival?

You do not need to sign up for an interview in advance—you can do a Global Entry interview walk-in. Simply ask the CBP officer who is processing your arrival into the country if they can do your interview now.

You must be arriving on an international flight in order to qualify, as you won’t go through customs on a domestic flight.

Note that you may have to wait until an officer is free to conduct your interview, so Enrollment on Arrival is not a good option if you have a tight connection.

I recently waited while my husband completed an interview on arrival (for a Global Entry renewal) in Atlanta, and it took less than half an hour, including wait time for the officer.

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Which Airports Are Eligible for Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival?

Click here to see the full list of airports offering Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival, as well as the hours that the service is available. You don’t even have to be in the United States to complete an interview, as certain international airports (including ones in Canada and Ireland) also offer the perk.

What Do I Need To Bring with Me for My Global Entry Interview?

You’ll need to bring:

  • A valid passport
  • Proof of residency (a driver’s license with your current address, a mortgage statement, a utility bill, etc.)
  • A permanent resident card (if applicable)

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer

First Class for Free: How to Get an Airline Upgrade

Not such a long time ago—and a very good time it was, some say—a “surprise” flight upgrade wasn’t the rare thing it is today. In fact, if you traveled enough, it was just a matter of time before a check-in or gate agent slipped you a boarding pass with a very low row number—a golden ticket of sorts for many travelers.

But these days, when everything flight-related has a price tag, you’ll pay $99 for an “upgrade” to the front section of coach, just for the right to get off the plane more quickly (although in some cases it does also buy you an inch or two of extra legroom). Many factors have created the present “zero upgrade” environment—like the airlines’ love of fees and surcharges, computerized seat assignments (which make it much easier to know where everyone is well before flight time), very full flights, and increased competition for upgrades due to the degraded state of flying coach.

But just because your chances of getting an upgrade have gone down, you don’t necessarily have to give up. To learn how to get upgraded to first class for free, check out the tactics below. But first, let’s realize that, for many domestic flights…

First Class Ain’t What It Used to Be

Don’t get me wrong—when I am filing past the first few rows of seats on my way to the back of the plane, those big leather seats with folks already drinking wine in them have a strong allure. But those seats come with a cost, whether in cash or in miles, and on shorter domestic flights you don’t get all that much more than the folks in coach—wider seats, a little more legroom, free drinks, and the chance to board a little earlier.

That said, some airlines have upped the ante in their first-class cabins on longer domestic routes. American Airlines offers lie-flat seats in first class on some transcontinental routes, while Hawaiian Airlines has lie-flat options on its first-class service to Hawaii. On these types of domestic flights, an upgrade is definitely worth trying for.

The same goes for longer international flights. Much more critically than better food and drinks, first- and business-class seats in most international aircraft convert into beds that are pretty darn comfortable. On a flight back from Tokyo in first class a few years ago, I was actually disappointed when we began our final descent; when is the last time that happened in coach?

Why It’s So Hard to Get a Free Upgrade

David Rowell, who writes The Travel Insider, notes that “it is enormously harder to get upgrades these days than it used to be. Well, correction, it is harder to get undeserved upgrades these days. The procedure for getting upgrades that one is entitled to has become almost 100 percent automatic and hands-off, and with all flights being full in both cabins, there isn’t much ‘wiggle room’ for people to exploit.”

And it is not just a combination of luck and automation that will shut you out of upgrades—at some airlines, it may be a matter of policy. “Most airlines state, in no uncertain terms, that their policies prohibit arbitrary upgrading, both at check-in and onboard,” says Randy Petersen of InsideFlyer. “It’s a firm rule, with no room for negotiation or interpretation.” Petersen agrees about the root cause: “This becomes understandable when you consider that upgrading is now often done electronically, rather than by queuing up at the check-in counter.”

These electronically issued upgrades are doled out by a number of metrics, whether to the highest-ranking elite flyer, or the person who purchased an upgrade-eligible coach fare, or the person who cashed in her miles.

We commonly think of just two to five main classes on airplanes, including first, business, and economy, plus the recent emergence of premium and basic economy. But the fact is that economy class can have numerous sub-classes, as outlined in this Points Guy article—and each of these class levels carries eligibility (or lack thereof) for various amenities, including upgrades. The very lowest levels of economy class will rarely be prompted to upgrade, or even eligible to upgrade.

That said, since stories and rumors of free upgrades persist, here are some tactics to get you into that privileged group that seems to snag upgrades—or at least says they do.

How to Get Upgraded to First Class: 14 Tactics to Try

These tricks and ground rules are worth keeping in mind as you try to land that elusive free upgrade.

Be a seriously loyal customer.

If you fly a lot on the same airline, your options for getting upgrades soar. High-mile/point travelers are the first eligible and first chosen for most upgrades, so despite the fact that airline experts have been bemoaning the devaluing of airline miles for years, if you are a high-mileage and high-dollar flyer, you will see greatly increased upgrade offers, often at no cost.

Get an airline credit card.

Using an airline credit card allows you to rack up miles, including sign-up bonuses, that you can apply toward upgrades. To see some of the best options, check out this list of airline credit cards.

Dress neatly.

Dressing well is not the ticket to ride some hope it is, but even so, you are not getting an escort to the front of the plane if you are wearing cargo shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops. Most people don’t even want to sit next to you in this case, let alone upgrade you.

Check in online at the earliest possible time.

Online check-in is available beginning 24 hours before your flight, and the early bird has the best chance of nabbing an upgrade—though you’ll usually have to pay for it. As the minutes pass and more travelers check in, some of those folks will be looking and paying for upgrades, and once those seats are gone, they’re gone.

Be on time, and have good timing.

Showing up late to request an upgrade when an agent is just trying to get everyone in the air isn’t going to work. Do agents the courtesy of making your request with plenty of time to spare before the flight, and when no one else is competing for their attention.

Ask politely and directly.

Randy Petersen recommends something as simple as “If you are upgrading passengers on this flight, I would like to be considered.” Inserting the word “please” won’t hurt you either.

Be reasonable.

Being overly demanding or demeaning just inspires agents to pick someone else to upgrade if the opportunity arises. And don’t waste everyone’s time and good will if you know that you are a poor candidate. If you are traveling with your whole family, have a pet lobster in a cage as your carry-on, or purchased a ticket for an extremely low fare, you probably don’t want to spend your energy demanding upgrades.

If the flight is relatively empty, your chances are slim.

Even though seats in business class may also be empty, the airlines don’t usually upgrade people for no reason. If the flight is full, your chances are better. Airlines carefully plan how much they oversell flights, and their inventory departments are not upset if people need to be upgraded to accommodate everybody on the flight. Therefore, on a full flight the airlines sometimes are forced to upgrade people. In this scenario, if you have a good story, you may be lucky. Remember, of course, that business or first class may already be full from prebooked elite-level upgrades.

Tracy Stewart, content editor at Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, notes, “The odds are best for those traveling solo who are sometimes reseated up front in business to accommodate families sitting together in economy.”

Volunteer to give up your seat if the flight is oversold.

Whenever airlines overbook flights and need folks to give up a seat, that is when you have the most leverage for getting concessions and upgrades from the airline. Most of us have been in airports listening to increasingly urgent announcements looking for volunteers to give up their seats; in that situation, you can go up to the gate, set your conditions and then let the airline decide if it can meet those conditions.

You might say, “I can volunteer to give up my seat for X hundred dollars in flight credit or an upgrade on my replacement flight, as long as I still get there by Y o’clock.” This may not work on the first round of volunteer requests, but when the gate agents come up on departure time and still need empty seats, they can often deliver quite a bit.

To learn more, see Overbooked Flight? How (Not) to Get Bumped.

If you have been inconvenienced by the airline, don’t hesitate to ask for an upgrade.

Again, airlines don’t generally upgrade people for no reason, but if they have caused you a problem, that may be reason enough.

If your itinerary is botched or implodes for some reason, particularly if it affects only you and no one else (such that the airline is not trying to accommodate lots of folks in the same situation), your case for an upgrade on a subsequent flight becomes more compelling. The airline is not obligated to upgrade you, but if this happens, pleasantly but firmly let the gate agents know that if an upgraded seat is available on your rebooked flight, you would greatly appreciate getting that seat.

If you have been extremely inconvenienced—maybe you were sent back to your hotel a couple of times, or you slept on the airport floor all night—let the gate folks know, as they may have some sympathy for you.

Ask your travel agent.

My travel agent has a relationship with certain airlines that lets her book her customers into preferred seats that are not released to everyone (usually toward the front of the plane, in exit rows and the like). She can also see upgrade availability fairly quickly, and many agents can add comments to your reservation that increase your chances of being chosen for an upgrade. Ask about these the next time you talk to your travel agent.

Watch for business-class sales.

Most leisure travelers ignore advertised business-class fare sales entirely. I have occasionally seen transatlantic business-class sale fares for around $1,100 at a time when it costs that much to fly coach. This will take some persistence and sleuthing, but you can sometimes fly in the front of the plane for less than the folks crammed into the back of the plane.

Look for two-for-one sales.

If you are traveling with family or a companion, a two-for-one sale on first- or business-class fares could cut the cost of upgrading, well, in two. At current coach prices, these could result in a wash with respect to price, if certainly not with respect to pleasure.

Buy an extra seat.

One interesting tactic to find yourself some breathing room offered by Petersen might appeal to folks traveling on very cheap sale fares: buy two coach tickets. Say you find one of these $100 roundtrip fares to Florida or the like; the airlines that offer these usually make up the difference in fees for checked bags, movies, food, and other extras. However, if you don’t need headphones or to check a second bag, you can skip all those charges, and get yourself a heap of legroom for $50—less than the cost of most premium seats.

If you use this tactic, it will be important for you to check in your second seat, as well as present the boarding pass at the gate—otherwise, your seat could be given to a standby passenger.

In all honesty, your chance of falling into one of these free upgrades is slimmer all the time—even Rowell has stopped trying entirely. That doesn’t mean you have to; if you have had a recent experience with surprise or unpaid upgrades, let us know in the comments below.

What to Pack

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

Categories
Airport Business Travel Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience Packing Travel Technology

Luggage Locks: Should I Lock My Suitcase When I Fly?


Each time you abandon your suitcase to the not-so-tender mercies of airline baggage handlers and TSA agents, you might wonder, “Should I have locked my luggage?” A study by Stratos, which charters jets, found that airline passengers filed almost 8,000 yearly claims against the TSA for losing items such as clothing, jewelry, and electronics: “In fact, JFK International Airport was once described as a ‘flea market for airport employees,’ with reports claiming that more than 200 items are stolen from passengers’ checked luggage every day.”

So, it’s clear you can’t count on the TSA to reimburse you for such losses; the agency denied more than half of the claims. Are luggage locks the answer?

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The Benefits of Luggage Locks

[st_content_ad]Locking your suitcase doesn’t just make it more difficult for opportunistic baggage handlers or security officers to root through your stuff at the airport. A lock can also help hold your bag’s zippers together so they don’t work their way open while in transit, leaking socks and underwear all over the baggage carousel.

You might also want to lock your bag if you’re staying in a hostel with strangers, or while traveling on a crowded bus or train. Some travelers even lock their suitcases during the day at hotels to deter theft by housekeepers.

[st_related]Hotel Safety Tips: What Travelers Need to Know[/st_related]

The Limitations of Luggage Locks

Putting a lock on your suitcase isn’t a guarantee that your stuff will be safe. Do a quick search on YouTube, and you’ll find a trove of videos explaining how to open a combination lock without the code or how to break into a locked suitcase with nothing but a ballpoint pen. Nor is it difficult to slice through a soft-sided bag. Locks discourage casual thieves, who will move on to easier targets, but they’re flimsy protection against those who are truly determined to get into your bag.

That’s why you should always keep any valuables in your carry-on, not your checked luggage. As noted above, the TSA is unlikely to pay you back if something is stolen from your checked bag, and airlines typically don’t accept liability for the loss of expensive items such as jewelry, electronic equipment, or fragile souvenirs.

TSA-Approved Locks

If you do decide to secure your suitcase, choose one of the many TSA-approved locks available, such as these combination locks from Master Lock or TravelMore. You can also buy keyed luggage locks such as these from Lewis N. Clark, though it’s worth considering how likely you might be to lose track of a tiny key while traveling. You can even purchase suitcases with built-in TSA-approved locks.

The TSA has master keys that allow agents to open all TSA-approved locks, if they determine that your bag needs extra screening. If you use a non-TSA lock, they’ll simply cut it off your bag. Note that not all security officers outside the U.S. have the same master keys, so even a TSA-approved lock could be cut off if you’re traveling internationally.

[st_related]10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security[/st_related]

Alternatives to Luggage Locks

Another way to lock your suitcase is to use zip ties, which are cheap enough that you won’t mind if the TSA has to slice them off. Just remember to pack a small pair of scissors in an outside pocket of your suitcase.

Some travelers prefer to wrap their suitcases in plastic, which makes bags harder to break into, protects their exteriors from dings, and keeps them from bursting open if a zipper fails. This bagging service is offered at select airports by companies such as Seal & Go and Secure Wrap. Though security agents will cut off the plastic if they need to inspect your luggage more closely, some wrapping services offer a complimentary rewrap post-security. One disadvantage to this method: By generating so much plastic, it’s the least environmentally friendly way to protect your bag.

Looking for Luggage With a Lock?

“Sold separately” isn’t statement when it comes to the carry-on from Away. While including a TSA-approved lock in its design, this bag also comes with 360° spinning wheels, a super hard exterior shell, and a battery with the power to charge your phone up to four times, this bag is built to be your last.

More from SmarterTravel:

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

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

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience Passenger Rights

What Happens If I Miss My Connecting Flight Through No Fault of My Own?

If you’ve ever found yourself dashing across the airport, your carry-on bumping along behind you as you try to reach the gate for your next flight, you might be wondering: “What happens if I miss my connecting flight?” While many travelers in this situation do make it on time to avoid a missed connecting flight, others aren’t so lucky. So what comes next for the unfortunate few?

As with most issues involving air travel, what happens if you miss a connecting flight depends on your specific situation.

Missed Connecting Flight Due to Airline

If the missed connection is the airline’s fault (a delayed initial flight due to mechanical problems, for example), the airline should rebook you on the next available flight. If the next outbound flight is the following morning, the airline should either book you on another airline or provide accommodations and meals. But these arrangements are voluntary on the airline’s part; they’re not mandated by any law or regulation.

Missed Connecting Flight Due to Weather

If inclement weather leads to a missed connecting flight, the airline will help you rebook but likely won’t offer any compensation for meals or accommodations. (That said, it never hurts to ask.) Travel insurance can be very useful in this type of situation, as it will often pay for expenses that an airline won’t cover.

Missing Your Flight Because of Something Within Your Control

If something within your control causes you to miss your connecting flight, you’re essentially on your own. This could include mishaps like missing your first flight because you were sitting in traffic, booking too tight of a connection, or getting too distracted at the airport bookstore to hear your boarding announcement. The airline will almost certainly help you rebook, but it’s under no obligation to do so, and you may have to pay a change fee plus any applicable fare difference.

Keep in mind that airlines generally won’t assume responsibility for missed connections on two separate tickets. For example, if you book one leg of your trip on JetBlue and the second ticket on United, United will not take responsibility if JetBlue’s flight doesn’t get you to the connecting airport on time.

While bad weather and mechanical problems are obviously beyond your control, you can take steps to give yourself a better chance of making your connection. Be sure you have plenty of time between flights, particularly if you’re flying into a large or notoriously busy airport or if you’ll need to go through customs and immigration. If it’s cheaper to book two separate flights on different airlines, it’s particularly important to leave extra time for the connection.

For help figuring out how long your connection should be, see what you need to know about making a connecting flight.

The way I see it, spending a little more time waiting at the gate beats being stranded at the airport or running desperately from one terminal to another trying to make your flight.

Have you ever missed a connecting flight? Share your experience in the comments.

Traveling? Consider Some Favorite Carry-On Options

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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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

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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.

Categories
Airport Business Travel Frequent Flyer

7 Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access

While you’re waiting out a long layover, nothing seems more enticing than an airport lounge. With amenities like free Wi-Fi, drinks, snacks, and glossy magazines, airport lounges feel like the answer to most of your travel annoyances. At the very least, they can give you sanctuary from the concourse noise and hubbub.

Lounges were first launched in 1939 by the then-giant airlines as facilities for VIPs and recognized frequent flyers. The no-fee airport lounge membership system was by invitation only. Following a legal challenge in 1966, though, the lines switched to annual paid memberships.

Entrance to most airport lounges usually comes free for those carrying a first- or business-class ticket (and often, for economy-class flyers carrying an active military ID). But for the rest of us stuck in the back of the plane, there are ways to gain access to these comfy inner sanctums without shelling out thousands of dollars for an upgrade. When you’re the one sinking into a cushy armchair instead of clamoring for a seat at the gate, you’ll be glad to have airport lounge access as a respite from the usual airport irritations.

How to Get Into Airport Lounges

Following are seven ways that savvy travelers can get into airport lounges, even if their tickets read “coach.”

Buy a One-Day Airport Lounge Pass

Several airlines sell day passes to their airport lounges, allowing you to relax in comfort without a long-term commitment. Alaska Airlines sells day passes for the airline’s lounges for $50, as does American, while United charges $59 per day. (As of recently, Delta no longer sells single-day airport lounge passes to the general public.) Keep in mind, however, that most of these airline passes are limited to U.S. domestic airport lounges.

If you’re traveling internationally, check out Lounge Pass, which sells day passes to hundreds of airport lounges worldwide, including several at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Admission to these airport lounges typically ranges between $30 to $60 (with a few outliers to the north and south), and most of them restrict the amount of time you can spend there. Some only offer access to passengers flying within that country, so check before you buy.

Best for: Casual travelers.

Invest in an Airport Lounge Membership

It used to be that all business travelers worth their salt carried a lounge membership card with their preferred airline, often purchased on their company’s dime. Those perks are mostly gone now, with road warriors finding more flexible ways to gain access to airport lounges (see the “Elite Status” and “Credit Card” sections below).

If you fly one airline exclusively, however, an airline membership is still something to consider. Airline club memberships also give you access into alliance lounges, including the Star Alliance and Oneworld airlines, which will help a lot if you’re traveling internationally. Of the airlines based in North America, Air Canada, Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United currently operate lounge programs, with one or more locations at each major airport they serve. WestJet arranges lounge access at its major terminals. Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, and Southwest do not operate their own lounge programs, though JetBlue partners with programs in Montego Bay and Kingston, Jamaica.

If you go the membership route, expect to pay $350 to $650, plus an “initiation fee” between $50 and $100, for an annual membership. Before shelling out, check to make sure that the destinations you visit the most actually have airport lounges; as a rule, you’ll only find these types of clubs in the world’s busier airports.

Best for: Frequent travelers who rely on one airline or alliance.

Try a Third-Party Vendor for Airport Lounge Access

If you have a hard time sticking to just one airline, an airport lounge membership purchased through a third party might make more sense. A company called Priority Pass offers access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide for an annual fee. Participating lounges include a mix of airline, airport, and independent locations, mostly in international departure areas.

What’s nice about Priority Pass is that you can choose from several membership levels. For $429 per year, you get free, unlimited access to all of the airport lounges in the network. If you don’t travel that often, you can pay $299 for 10 free airport lounge visits, with additional visits beyond that costing $32 each. Or you can buy a $99 membership, then pay $32 every time you access an in-network airport lounge. In addition to entry to traditional lounges, members receive a one-time per-visit credit of $28 – $30 toward food and beverage bills at participating airport restaurants and bars. Top airline credit cards, AmEx Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve credit cards, and several other premium cards include Priority Pass membership.

Another nice thing about the Priority Pass is that it includes many of the airlines’ own lounges, such as Air France’s airport lounges at JFK, O’Hare, and San Francisco. The pass doesn’t guarantee that you’ll gain access to all of the airlines’ lounges, however, so you’ll have to check in advance to make sure. For that purpose, Priority Pass offers a smartphone app (iOS | Android) that makes it easier to find your airport lounge and learn whether you can access it, whenever you’re on the go.

Best for: Frequent air travelers who take different airlines.

Pay for a Public Airport Lounge

Who needs to worry about those airline-owned clubs? In some airports, public lounges—which let you pay a fee for comfortable chairs, snacks, Wi-Fi access, small meals, and non-alcoholic beverages—are giving the legacy airport lounges a run for their money. Their business model depends on two revenue sources: pay-to-play visits by individual travelers and per-visit charges paid by individual airlines with insufficient traffic to justify their own lounges for premium-ticket flyers. Day rates can start at around $20; some rates are hourly.

At Cleveland’s airport, for example, you can enter the Airspace Lounge after security in the main terminal and pay from $20 per day. (Airspace also has a lounge at San Diego International Airport.)

At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you can buy a day pass to The Club, which proffers shower facilities, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks and beverages for $40. The Club also has lounges at 12 other U.S. airports (including in Boston, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Seattle) as well as at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

In addition, a few smaller chains and one-off lounges operate at a range of other North American airports. For the most part, these programs operate on either a day-fee or airline-referral basis rather than on annual memberships.

International travelers can consider Plaza Premium, which offers buffet meals and drinks; some lounges even offer massage and spa services for an extra fee. Current locations include various airports in Canada, China, Australia, Malaysia, India, and more. Rates vary by location.

Best for: Travelers who want more flexibility than airline lounges provide.

Attain Elite Status

Loyalty does have its privileges. Most airlines offer airport lounge access to their customers who make elite status, with benefits that extend throughout the network.

Make Altitude Elite 50k status on Air Canada or Premier Gold on United, for example, and you’ll get access to most of the Star Alliance airport lounges around the world (there are limitations, however, as some lounges restrict Gold access to passengers flying internationally). The SkyTeam Airline Alliance, made up of Delta, Air France, KLM, and other airlines, offers airport lounge access for certain elite members, as does the Oneworld alliance, which is spearheaded by American Airlines.

Best for: Frequent travelers who fly exclusively, or almost exclusively, on one airline or alliance.

Use Your Credit Card to Access Airport Lounges

Getting a credit card that offers airport lounge privileges is perhaps one of the easiest ways to ensure that you’ll never be stuck on the concourse again, although some of these cards carry hefty annual fees.

Take the American Express Platinum Card. For a $550 annual fee, the card gives you VIP access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world, through Priority Pass, Airspace, and Escape Lounges, as well as access to American Express Global Lounges. The card also provides free entry into Delta Sky Clubs, waives foreign transaction charges, and gives you $200 in credits toward airline fees, such as those imposed for checked bags.

Airline credit cards can come with airport lounge perks, too. The United Explorer Card, for example, gives you two one-time-use passes to get into United Clubs, plus other travel extras; there’s no fee for the first year, and then you’ll pay $95 per year thereafter. Select credit cards from Air Canada and Delta also include free or discounted day passes.

Caveat: Before you apply for any credit card, read the fine print to make sure that your spending and traveling habits make getting a card worthwhile.

Best for: Big spenders who don’t mind paying annual fees for perks, as well as occasional flyers who are willing to pay a smaller annual fee for a limited number of airport lounge day passes.

Be a Guest at (or Buy Your Way into) Airport Lounges

And finally, there’s always the kindness of strangers. Some people on travel forums such as FlyerTalk say that they gained lounge access by simply standing outside the door and asking people going inside if they would be willing to bring them in as a guest. You can also check for airport lounge guest passes for sale on eBay.

Best for: People who don’t mind asking strangers for favors.

How to Use Airport Lounges: Rules and Resources

Regardless of how you get in, most lounges follow a few base rules. Most are located airside of security, although a few big airports also have landside arrivals lounges. Typically, you need to show a boarding pass for a flight on the day you enter.

The main problem you might encounter is at a large airport with separate terminals: If you can’t find an airside lounge in the terminal you’re using, you may have to go outside security to a different terminal, go through security there to gain access to the lounge, then repeat the process to get back to the terminal you’re using.

Presumably, you don’t need to be convinced that airport lounge features are desirable, but you might have to be convinced to pay up to $450 a year to take advantage of those features. Annual deals look pretty good if you travel often: Check out programs on the airlines you fly the most and on premium credit cards. And if you aren’t sure, try a day pass somewhere to see if you find it worthwhile.

Several websites focus on airport lounges, including locators, prices, and even advance booking of day-use entry. Check LoungeBuddy or LoungeReview, where you’ll find everything you ever wanted to know about lounge access.

Luggage Essentials for Your Next Trip

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Chris Gray Faust, Ed Perkins, and Margaret Leahy contributed to this story.

Categories
Frequent Flyer In-Flight Experience

Southwest Airlines Perks You Probably Don’t Know About

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Ah, good old Southwest Airlines—travelers either love it or hate it. I’m a big fan of the airline for shorter-haul flights and think the airline has a treasure trove of undervalued benefits. While there’s no first-class, Southwest Airlines offers attractive pricing and perks for travelers looking to save on air travel.

Southwest Perks: Booking

While it might seem annoying that Southwest doesn’t let third-party booking sites (sorry, Google Flights) list its fares, this actually benefits the traveler in that you know you are getting the lowest price by booking directly with the carrier. Southwest also has a Low Fare Calendar feature that will show you the cheapest time of the month to book your flights.

On top of offering low fares, Southwest also charges no change fees and allows up to two free checked bags per customer. In addition to the no change fees, you can get credited or refunded for a lower fare, meaning that not only will you not have to pay a change fee, you’ll also be credited or refunded if you book a cheaper fare. Plus you can easily search for price changes and see the increase or decrease in dollars or points in comparison to the fare you originally booked. Note that as of “January 1, 2021, ‘free same-day standby’ will change to ‘same-day standby free of airline charges’, and any A-List or A-List Preferred Member who changes their itinerary using same-day standby will be responsible for paying any additional government taxes and fees that may result,” according to the airline.

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Another underrated perk of Southwest is the number of nonstop routes it flies. Southwest flies nonstop from some U.S. hubs to the following bucket-list destinations that many of its competitors don’t: Maui, Kauai, the Big Island, West Palm Beach, Puerto Vallarta, Aruba, Belize City, Grand Cayman, Havana, Turks and Caicos, and Liberia (Costa Rica).

Southwest Perks: Rapid Rewards Program

When booking as a member of Southwest’s reward program, Rapid Rewards, you earn points that don’t expire. Even better, there are no blackout dates for booking. Southwest will also do a status match with your current elite status on another airline. And as a rewards member, if you’re really a frequent flyer (i.e. 100 qualifying one-way flights in a year or 125,000 Companion Pass qualifying points), you can earn a companion pass that allows you to choose one person to fly with you for free for an entire year.

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Be sure to check out the separate dining and shopping programs for other ways to earn points as a general Rapid Rewards member.

Southwest A-List Perks

As a Southwest A-List (25 one-way flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points) member, you get the following perks:

  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and security lane access
  • Dedicated member phone line
  • 25 percent earning bonus
  • Free same-day standby

And if you are an A-List Preferred (50 one-way flights or 70,000 tier qualifying points) member, you get all of the above, plus a 100 percent earning bonus and free inflight Wi-Fi. 

Southwest Perks: Inflight Experience

You never have to worry about overbooking with Southwest, as the airline’s CEO, Gary Kelly, has stated that the airline does not overbook flights. Also confirmed is that the airline has no plans to offer basic economy, so you won’t lose any of your benefits as a coach passenger.

One of Southwest’s most controversial policies is that there are no assigned seats. Instead, you are assigned a boarding group at the time of check-in, meaning the earlier you check-in, the better boarding position you get. And while I see both sides of an open-seat policy, I tend to prefer choosing my own seat. If you don’t like the policy, there’s a way around it: You can purchase EarlyBird check-in (price ranges from $15 to $25 one-way per passenger), which gives you a position in the first boarding group.

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While in the air, Southwest perks continue with amenities such as gate-to-gate Wi-Fi connectivity and free drinks on holidays (and Southwest’s birthday). Here are the annual free drink days: 

  • New Year’s Day
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Patrick’s Day
  • June 18th (Southwest’s birthday)
  • Independence Day
  • Halloween and more

Additionally, as a Rapid Rewards member, you earn four drink coupons for every 10 one-way paid flights that you take.

Inflight Wi-Fi is offered for a fee, but you can access the inflight entertainment portal for free on your device, which offers movies, live and on-demand TV, and games and messaging.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards Perks

If you are a frequent Southwest flyer, it’s probably worth investing in the rewards program credit card. (Get details about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority visa on our sister site Airfarewatchdog, which reviews and maintains an extensive list of traveler-friendly credit cards.) There are three levels, plus, premier, and priority. At this highest level (priority), here’s what you get:

  • 7,500-anniversary points each year
  • Up to four upgraded boardings
  • $75 annual travel credit
  • 20 percent back on inflight purchases
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn two points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airlines purchases; earn two points for every $1 spent on Rapid Rewards hotels and car rental partners (includes SPG, Marriot, and Hyatt); earn one point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points towards A-List and A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 spent
  • Annual fee of $149

All cardholders gain access to special events like exclusive concerts and experiences from wine tastings to an international golf getaway. For cardmembers, points are redeemable for gift cards, merchandise, international flights, hotel stays, rental cars, and experiences.

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Business cardholders also can receive more perks, like Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit. 

Southwest Perks: Community

Southwest gets a lot of fanfare from its loyal travelers. I recommend checking out the airline’s official community board and also the Reddit channel (not associated with the company) r/SouthwestAirlines. Both are full of Southwest-lovers who offer up advice, tips, and answer airline-specific questions.

Southwest Perks: Customer Service

Southwest has one of the wittiest social media accounts in the travel industry. You can follow Southwest on Twitter for customer service questions and also for sale alerts.

For Rapid Rewards members, there is also a Live Chat FAQ option on the mobile app (it’s even accessible via inflight Wi-Fi).

Southwest was also the first airline to have its own app, and the app is useful for airport information, booking a rideshare (Lyft is integrated into the app), and changing your flight on the go.

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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.

Categories
Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Money

How to Get a Refund on a Nonrefundable Flight


When you fly, chances are you almost always buy the cheapest ticket that serves your needs. And the cheapest tickets are almost always nonrefundable. Nevertheless, it’s sometime possible to refund plane tickets, even if they’re “nonrefundable”—with some caveats. You can often get at least part of the dollar value refunded as value toward a future ticket, and you can sometimes get the full value in cash.

How to Refund Plane Tickets: The 24-Hour Golden Rule

At the most basic level of refunding any plane ticket, there’s one simple Department of Transportation rule that all airlines that operate in the U.S. must follow. The golden rule: Anyone who booked at least one week in advance of departure has 24 hours from the time of purchasing the ticket to cancel it in exchange for a total refund—no matter what kind of airline ticket you bought.

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The idea of this consumer protection is to allow you to lock in what looks like a good deal when you spot it, while still providing a window of time for you to search for a better deal. Beyond that kind of cancellation, however, figuring out how to refund plane tickets is a lot more complicated, for a variety of reasons.

General Airline Rules for Refunding Plane Tickets

Canceling for an unforeseen reason of your own before starting the journey is called a “voluntary” refund, and the big domestic airlines in the U.S. and Canada do not have lockstep policies in how they all handle them. Airlines based in other parts of the world have similar but not identical policies: If you’re considering buying a ticket on one of them, check the fine print.

Airline Change Fees

The near-universal rule of ordinary “standard” nonrefundable tickets is that you won’t get cash back, but you can apply the dollar value of a cancelled ticket, minus a stiff change fee, toward the purchase of another ticket for future travel, usually within a year. Fee policies vary among the big airlines. The following fees apply to the lowest “general” or “Standard” coach/economy/ main cabin fares. Most lines offer a set of more expensive fares with fewer limitations. The best fee policy in North America is the Southwest refund policy:

  • The generous Southwest refund policy allows you to apply the full dollar value of a canceled nonrefundable ticket toward a future ticket. Southwest is unique among U.S. airlines in offering this feature, and it—along with two free checked bags—is no doubt a big contributor to Southwest’s high ranking by travelers.
  • American, Delta, and United, the ‘Big Three,’ handle cancellation refunds and fees similarly: The fee for most nonrefundable fares is $200 for domestic trips, and up anywhere from $200 to as much as $750 for international tickets.
  • Air Canada charges $50 for changes more than 60 days in advance of departure; $100 for changes within 60 days, and $150 for a same-day airport change.
  • Alaska charges a $125 change fee.
  • Allegiant charges $75 per segment (double that for round-trip) for cancellations up to seven days in advance, with no retained value within seven days.
  • Frontier has no change fees 60 days or more in advance, and then charges $79 up to 14 days in advance, and $119 for anything later.
  • Hawaiian charges $200 for travel outside Hawaii but within North America, and $50 to $300 for international flights. Changes fees for within the Hawaiian islands is $30.
  • JetBlue charges $75 for a ticket costing less than $100, $100 for a ticket costing $100 to 149, $150 for a ticket costing $150 to $199, and $200 for a ticket costing $200 or more.
  • Spirit Airlines charges a $90 (online) or $100 (phone) change fee to retain value until seven days before your trip, with no retained value within seven days of departure.
  • WestJet charges about $25 for North American tickets more than 60 days in advance of departure, and about $85 for changes within 60 days of departure. Fees are higher for European flight routes.
  • All airlines treat the new, very lowest “basic economy” fares as truly nonrefundable; so use it or lose it.

In all cases, a traveler wishing to apply a refund credit toward a future trip must rebook at whatever fares are available at the time of rebooking, not at the original fares.

Occasional Work-Around: “Involuntary” Refunds for Schedule Changes

If your airline cancels a flight or changes its schedule after you bought a ticket, in almost all cases it owes you a full cash refund. That is, an involuntary refund.

And travelers looking to cancel or change a nonrefundable trip can sometimes use a schedule change to get a full cash refund. Frequent flyers sometimes use a minor schedule change as an excuse to refund a ticket for a trip they may very well decide not to take at all: Airlines often change schedules, and even a small schedule can sometimes be enough to justify a refund.

But individual airlines apply different rules on how “small” a schedule change triggers the option to refund plane tickets:

  • Spirit says two hours
  • Delta and Hawaiian say 90 minutes
  • American says 61 minutes
  • Air Canada and Alaska say 60 minutes
  • United says 30 minutes
  • Allegiant, Frontier, Southwest, and WestJet say “significant” delays without defining a specific time

American, Delta, and United also offer full refunds in the event of a traveler’s death, or death of travel companion or a close family member. They also cover call to jury duty and “certain illness situations.” Extensive documentation is required to support these claims—and you probably won’t be reimbursed until all of it is submitted.

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Bundled Travel Insurance

These days, just about every airline offers to sell you travel insurance at the time you buy your ticket. The initial offer generally includes cancellation coverage in the amount of the ticket price; the insurance usually costs between six and seven percent of the ticket value. Compared with conventional travel insurance, these policies tend to be more restrictive in the enumerated “covered reasons” for cancellation, concentrating mainly on sickness and accident.

A representative of Allianz, the insurance a majority of airlines use, said that the refund covers the entire ticket price, not just the cancellation or change penalty. But traveler have been known to report that when the time for reimbursement on a cancellation due to a medical problem or some other event comes, the insurance provider tried to get him to accept only reimbursement for the $200 change fee. So be sure to read into what your insurance includes, and then stand your ground when you make a claim.

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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.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.