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Why Booking Future Travel Might Be a Bet Worth Making



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Passenger Rights Travel Tips & Advice

Should I Cancel My June Trip? Take a Flight Credit?

Should I cancel my June trip? We answer this question and ones on Disneyland refunds, social distancing on flights, and more in this month’s edition of our travel advice column, Check Your Baggage.

Q. “Should I cancel my trip? It’s to Europe in late June.” – CS

A. I wish I had a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, and I wish that this answer were a definitive “No, don’t cancel.” What we know about COVID-19 changes by the hour, and it’s impossible to predict what the travel situation will look like by the end of June.

The state you live in could affect your answer—some states may be allowing travel by the end of June while others could still have shelter-in-place orders or mandatory quarantines for travelers. Consider whether you would be able to completely quarantine yourself for two weeks upon return from your trip, if necessary.

The European country you’re traveling to would also change the answer. Italy, one of the hardest hit countries, seems highly unlikely to be ready for tourists in June, but a less-impacted country might be. Think about whether you would still want to take your trip if a country is technically open to travelers, but attractions and restaurants were still closed.

Before you make your decision, take a close look at the terms and conditions of your trip. If you’re able to get a refund on your tickets/accommodations right up until your departure date, than there’s certainly no harm in waiting until closer to June to reevaluate. However, some companies may require you to cancel your trip before a certain date in order to receive a refund or credit, in which case you shouldn’t wait if you’re having doubts.

Remember, the decision may wind up being out of your hands anyway if the airline cancels your flight or if borders are still closed by June. If you can’t stand spending the next few months stressing over the uncertainty of your trip, go ahead and postpone or cancel. 

If you can postpone rather than cancel, I urge you to do so. The travel industry desperately needs your help, and, for many hotels, having bookings postponed rather than canceled can mean the difference between reopening and shuttering for good.

[st_related]The Dos and Don’ts of Cancelling a
Trip Due to COVID-19
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Q. “Should I fight with the airline for a refund on my canceled trip, or just take the flight credit?”– AR

A. If the airline canceled your flight, you are legally entitled to a cash refund rather than a credit. Having the cash in hand is always the better option, as you won’t be restricted to using the same airline if you rebook the trip, and you won’t have the time-crunch of an expiring credit.

However, hundreds of thousands of other flyers are fighting for refunds right now, and airline customer service teams are swamped. You’ll need to weigh whether you want to spend hours of your time waiting on hold/for a callback or repeatedly emailing the airline against the simplicity of accepting an automatic credit.

If you don’t need the money right now, and you’re certain you’ll use the flight credit before it expires, there’s certainly no harm in just taking the credit. If you do opt for the credit, set a reminder in your phone/on your calendar to use it before it expires.

[st_related]Travel in the Time of COVID-19—What
You Need to Know
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Q. “If I need to fly in the near future, are airlines practicing appropriate social distancing on flights?” – ST

A. Most airlines are encouraging social distancing on flights by taking steps such as blocking off middle or aisle seats, reducing the number of passengers on flights, and changing the boarding process.

Delta, for example, is changing its boarding process to load passengers from the back to the front, thereby minimizing the risk of flyers having to walk in a narrow aisle past those who are already seated. Boarding will happen in groups of ten.

Almost all airlines are now allowing flyers to switch seats in order to create more distance between passengers, if there is space available.

However, note that even if middle seats are blocked off, in economy class, it’s unlikely that there would be six feet of space between yourself and the person ahead of or behind you (especially if the person in front of you reclines), unless entire rows are empty. But, with most flights operating at minimal capacity for now, there should be enough space to stretch out. Airlines like Alaska Airlines are allowing customers to rebook or cancel their flight if they feel they aren’t able to practice proper social distancing.

Q. “Some travelers (me among them) have travel vouchers from airlines that we’re unable to use due to travel restrictions. Are any airlines extending the expiration dates on these?” – MG

A. Some airlines are automatically extending voucher expiration dates, some will if only you ask, and others are evaluating requests on a case-by-case basis. The Points Guy has a comprehensive list of voucher extension policies here. When in doubt, reach out to your airline directly for an extension.

Q. “I wonder if you have any thoughts or knowledge on reimbursements from Disneyland. We bought tickets but the park will be closed on our travel dates. I was not able to find anything about refunds.” – AW

A. Unfortunately, the Mouse has no sympathy for you on this one, and Disneyland is not offering refunds on tickets. Single day and multi-day tickets will remain valid until the expiration date indicated on the ticket.

Annual passholders may choose to receive a partial refund on their tickets, or have their passport expiration date extended.

If you booked a vacation package directly through Disney, Disney is waiving any charges and cancellation fees up to the date of check-in for arrivals through June 30, 2020.

Click here to read Disneyland’s complete policy on the park closure.

Q. “Where’s the first place that you’re going to travel with the lockdown is lifted?” – KC

A. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about this question. When restrictions start to ease, I’m going to book an impromptu trip as soon as possible—something easy and within driving distance. I’m picturing: booking a quaint cabin rental in the mountains, hopping in the car with my road-trip playlist blasting, and heading north to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. When I get there, I’m going to do a hike where I’ll see minimal people and spend the entire day outdoors, being active, and not looking at a single screen. In my dreams, the weather is a perfect 70 degrees, the sun is shining, and everyone is healthy.

Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail at editor@smartertravel.com with the subject line: Check Your Baggage.

Editor’s Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

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

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Money Packing Travel Tips & Advice

14 Ways to Improve Your Future Trips While You’re Stuck at Home

As we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic at home, we’re keeping our spirits up by dreaming about future travels. And the more we’ve thought about it, the more we’ve realized that there’s plenty to do now at home to make the trips we have yet to take better, and to focus our energy on something hopeful and positive. Here’s how we’re planning ahead to better days and better trips. 

Read Inspiring Books About a Destination

When you can’t take a real trip, a journey through a good book can be the second-best thing. Let The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel whisk you away to India, discover everyday life in Botswana with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, or read In a Sunburned Country to ramble your way through Australia.

For more ideas, see 14 Amazing Travel Memoirs to Read When You’re Stuck at Home and 11 Books We’re Reading to Inspire Ourselves and Our Future Travels.

Pre-Pack Regularly Used Items

There’s nothing like getting ready to pack for a trip and being able to mentally high-five your past self for having the foresight to have already cleaned and restocked your toiletries bag. That way all that’s left for you to do is check it over, add in any additional items, and throw it in your bag. Experience the same joy by reserving a drawer or a box in a closet in which you keep pre-sorted baggies of travel essentials like adapters, travel pillows, passport holders, and travel-size toothpaste

Make Virtual Visits to a Destination

Saint Peter's Square and Basilica tourists taking photos

No, it’s not the same as visiting in person, but hundreds of museums, aquariums, zoos, and other tourist attractions are offering virtual tours, live streams, and other ways for travelers to “visit” online. See 21 Sites Offering Virtual Tours and Live Streams for Travelers Stuck at Home for a comprehensive list, and let them inspire an IRL visit someday in the future.

It’s not just museums getting into the virtual game: You can also take virtual hikes and see natural wonders from home.

Fill in the Holes of Your Travel Wardrobe

In travel as in home repair, having the right tool for the job is everything. Does this sound familiar? It’s time to pack, and you realize you’re missing a cover-up and comfortable sandals for a beach vacation, or snow gear for a winter adventure. Instead of waiting until the last minute to panic-purchase items that will come in handy again and again, go through the types of trips you’re drawn to, assess your supplies, and fill in holes as you find them. Then congratulate yourself on making the most of your non-travel time. 

Clean Your Travel Bags

suitcase storage in closet

Right now, most of us are thinking a lot more than usual about hygiene. And when you’re in that frame of mind, it’s easy to see why it’s weird that we don’t all automatically give our suitcases a deep clean every time we come home from a trip. But suitcases actually are pretty easy to clean, and now can be a great time to get them out and spruce them up. Call it the beginning of a great new travel habit. Check out How to Clean and Disinfect a Suitcase to learn how.

Check That All Your Documents Are Up to Date

Don’t yet have your REAL ID? You can now submit your required documentation online (though you’ll eventually need an in-person appointment to finish the process).

Now is also a good time to check the expiration date on your passport. Though the U.S. State Department is currently only processing emergency passports for new applicants and is facing significant delays for renewals by mail, knowing when you need to take action on your renewal will help you be prepared when the time comes to travel again.

Update Your Inspiration List

woman snorkeling in keys coral reef florida

Bucket list, must-do list, five-year travel plan—whatever you call it, this is a good time to dust off the old inspiration list and find some new destinations to dream about. Here are some of our favorite dreamy round-ups, divided by destination and interest.

North America:

Caribbean:

Remote Escapes:

Fun Ways to Choose Destinations:

Build Your Perfect Travel Health Kit

You’re more likely to get sick after a flight than you are under normal circumstances, and after the COVID-19 pandemic we’ll all be a little more cautious about protecting ourselves from germs in flight and on the road. Consider putting together a grab-and-go health kit that you can keep ready to go before every trip, filled with items such as disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and airplane seat covers, as well as a few common over-the-counter medications in case you fall ill.

To learn more, see How to Properly Disinfect Your Airplane Seat and How to Disinfect Your Hotel Room.

Get Inspired by Our YouTube Channel and Podcasts

One way to combat stir-craziness? Distraction and inspiration, of course. Follow SmarterTravel’s YouTube channel for a bit of both. While you’re there, be sure to like, comment, and subscribe.

And don’t miss SmarterTravel’s new Virtual Vacations series of relaxing audio tours around the world.

Save Money Toward a Future Trip

While you can’t go out, take the money you’d be spending on Ubers and fancy cocktails and put it into a savings fund for a future trip. Also, take some time to set a budget for yourself—sites like Mint.com can help you track your spending and find areas to save. Don’t forget to incorporate these sneaky travel costs into your trip budget.

Learn a New Language for Your Next Trip

You know what takes a lot of time? Learning a language. If you find yourself with free time to spare, put it to good use by downloading a language app and jumping in. Most language apps are based on games and repetition, which makes it fun whether you’re learning the basics or going for more advanced mastery. 

Cook Your Favorite Dishes from Around the World

Craving cheese fondue from your Switzerland trip? What about tapas from Spain? Cooking is not only therapeutic, but it’s also a great way to remember your favorite dish from a recent trip. We’re working on curating a Pinterest board with our favorite recipes from around the world; make sure to follow us for future travel inspiration. And don’t miss these international recipes and cocktails.

Support Small Businesses

In this time of uncertainty, do what you can to support your local community as well as your favorite businesses at your vacation destinations. A few ways to do this include shopping the store’s online site or buying gift cards from your favorite restaurants for future use. Some musicians are running fundraisers with online “concerts” that are streamed on social media with the idea that viewers can donate to “tip” local bartenders. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that people’s creativity will shine through, so be creative!

Download Our Packing Lists

ultimate packing list

Take time to create an inventory of your current travel essentials and prepare your own packing list from our templates. Each one is downloadable and editable, and most are even mobile-friendly, so you don’t have to print. Check them out below:

Get in Shape for Future Adventure Trips

Is climbing Everest or taking a cycling vacation on your bucket list? You’ll need to get in shape. There are plenty of free streaming workouts you can do at home, and our list of hotel room exercises you can do without any workout gear works equally well in your living room. In most locations you can still get outside for a walk, jog, or bike ride (as long as you stay at least six feet apart from other people), giving you a good workout as well as some much-needed fresh air.

Stay Healthy and Mindful

Beyond fitness, this is also a time to keep yourself healthy in other ways. Of course, you’ll want to practice behaviors to protect yourself from COVID-19, including social distancing, frequent hand washing, and not touching your face, but you’ll also want to protect your mental health during this stressful time. Walking, meditating, taking a leisurely bath, reading a good book, watching a funny TV show, video chatting with family and friends, completing a puzzle, and researching future trips are all good ways to reduce stress and keep yourself sane.

Give Your Home a Travel Vibe

You may not be able to stay in a hotel right now, but you can use essential oils to make your home smell like a hotel spa and trick out your bedroom to make it just as welcoming as a hotel room—including an ultra-comfy mattress. Add a touch of travel-themed decor, and your past trips—and future ones—won’t feel quite so far away. For more ideas, see 6 Ways to Feel Like You’re on Vacation at Home.

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14 Booking Sites’ COVID-19 Cancellation Responses

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

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

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

COVID-19 Cancellation Policies by OTA

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

Agoda (Booking)

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

Booking.com

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

Cheapflights (Booking)

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

Expedia

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

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

HomeAway and VRBO (Expedia)

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

Hotwire (Expedia)

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

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

Hotels.com (Expedia)

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

KAYAK (Booking)

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

Momondo (Booking)

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

Orbitz (Expedia)

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

Priceline (Booking)

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

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

Priceline provides further information here.

Travelocity (Expedia)

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

Trivago (Expedia)

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

General Information on OTAs and COVID-19 Cancellation Policies

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

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

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

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

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Air Travel Credit Cards Money Passenger Rights Popular Travel Tips & Advice

7 Questions You Should Ask Before Accepting an Airline Voucher

Unless you’re really lucky, sometime during your travels you will find yourself in a situation where an airline owes you something. Maybe it’s because of a delay, lost baggage, a rescheduled flight, whatever. When that day comes, the airline will almost surely try to settle by issuing you airline vouchers for future travel rather than cutting you a check. At worst, the airline loses the cost of the seat rather than the posted fare; at best, you’ll somehow not get around to using the airline voucher, and the carrier will face no cost at all.

What to Know Before Giving up Your Seat for an Airline Voucher

To decrease their risk, airlines incorporate gotchas into vouchers to increase the chances that you won’t be able to use them. So before you accept any airline vouchers, you need to ask seven questions.

How Long Are Airline Vouchers Valid?

A tight validity limit is one of the oldest voucher gotchas in the book. An airline offers a generous voucher, but you have to use it within six months. Clearly, many travelers are uninterested in or unable to schedule another flight within that short a time. This ploy is more prevalent with cruise lines than with airlines, but you still have to be careful.

Who Can Use an Airline Voucher?

Is the value of the travel voucher limited to you, or can you use it to buy a ticket for someone else? Many airline vouchers may be used only by the person who initially received it for his or her own travel. Depending on your flexibility, that might or might not be a deal-breaker.


Related: What Are My Rights if My Flight is Cancelled?


Will an Airline Voucher Cover the Whole Cost of a Ticket?

Airline vouchers seldom include the full cost of a future trip; often, you must pay the government taxes and fees separately. But I’ve heard reports of a much worse limitation: an airline voucher covering only the “base” fare and not the very stiff “carrier-imposed fee,” essentially a renamed fuel surcharge, which on some airlines can be more than the base fare.

Can You Use an Airline Voucher for Multiple Flights?

Some vouchers are valid for only a single transaction, even when the value of that transaction is less than the face value of the voucher. For example, if you use a $500 airline voucher to buy a $400 ticket, you might not be able to use the remaining $100 for second ticket. Instead, you lose that value outright.

Are There Any Fare Limitations for Airline Vouchers?

I haven’t seen much of this one, but an airline could place some fare buckets off-limits to voucher-based tickets—not applicable to “flash sale” prices, for example, or for business class.


Related: Why is using airline vouchers so hard?


How Much Are Airline Vouchers Worth to You?

Given the limitations on how you can use it, a voucher is effectively worth a lot less to you than its face cash value. Many experts estimate that a voucher is worth somewhere between a third and a half of its face value. If you ask for cash but an airline offers a voucher, take the voucher only if the face value is at least double the cash offer. When cash isn’t an option, if the voucher value seems to be inadequate, bargain for more or consider your alternatives.

Can You Get Cash Instead on an Airline Voucher?

When a flight is oversold, an airline almost always resorts to offering travel vouchers to passengers who agree to get off and take a later flight. Usually, that works, and someone takes the offer. But if nobody bites, and the airline has to select someone to get off, government regulations specify cash payments, not vouchers, for “involuntary” bumping. You can get up to $1,350 in the U.S., depending on the circumstance, but only in the case of overbooking. European rules call for higher payments as well as payments for delays. Take the voucher only if it’s worth to you is a lot more than the cash.

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What ‘Force Majeure’ Means, and Why You Need to Know

When you purchase travel from an airline or another operator, you enter into a contract for a service or goods. And if some unforeseen calamity prevents the seller from delivering the promised goods or services, the seller can claim “force majeure” as a basis for terminating the contract without incurring any liability for breach of contract.

The term is a dubious one taken from the 1804 Code Napoleon, and refers to occurrences beyond the reasonable control of a party to a contract that prevents fulfillment. It’s similar to “acts of God” and “frustration of purpose.” As such, the concept extends back centuries in common law.

It usually refers to natural disasters, and most would consider the COVID-19 pandemic a force majeure. So if the pandemic prevents an airline, hotel, or some other travel supplier from fulfilling a contract with you, you can’t really file a legal claim for breach of contract: That’s a fair and traditional use of force majeure.

But, some dishonest suppliers claim that force majeure means they don’t have to refund the money you’ve paid them when they can’t fulfill their end of the contract. So far there has been nothing upholding that position; if there’s force majeure, you’re still entitled to your money back. Don’t fall for it if some supplier tries to get out of refunding your money by claiming force majeure, but also don’t assume you have any right to the service or to file a claim against an airline.

As we recently reported in our guide to canceling a trip during the pandemic: The airline companies are not directly liable for disruptions caused by COVID-19; therefore, passenger-rights groups like AirHelp have said they will not be pursuing additional compensation for affected flights.

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

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Health & Wellness Travel Tips & Advice

Should You: Wear Gloves When You Go Out?; Rebook Now, Or Cancel?

Will wearing gloves protect you from COVID-19? We answer this question and ones on cleaning your house of the novel coronavirus, refueling, and more in this month’s edition of our travel advice column, Check Your Baggage.

Q. “I see lots of people wearing latex gloves when out at the grocery store and on walks now. Should I be wearing one? Will it help protect me against COVID-19?” –TJ

A. The first thing that you should know is that there is a shortage of medical gloves in some area (see the FDA’s FAQ on the shortage of medical gloves here) so please do not hoard mass quantities of gloves or buy them if you truly don’t need them.

The second thing you should know is that wearing gloves is not a magical barrier against COVID-19, or any other germs. If you’re wearing gloves and you touch a surface that has COVID-19 on it, and then touch your face with your gloved hands, you’ll transfer the virus just as easily if you had bare hands. According to the CDC, you can also easily contaminate your hands when taking off the gloves, so it’s important to thoroughly wash your hands after wearing them.

Gloves can give a false sense of security, making people more lax about handwashing—the best strategy for most people is to practice social distancing and wash hands correctly and often.

Note that the CDC does advise that people taking care of someone who has COVID-19 should wear gloves “when you touch or have contact with the patient’s blood, stool, or body fluids.”

Watch this quick video for recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) regarding disposable gloves. Want more expert tips? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Q. “Do you have any recommendations for comfortable but presentable work-from-home clothes?”– TT

A. My work-from-home/isolation uniform is pretty much the same as what I wear for long-haul flights—in both instances I want to be as comfortable as possible, but still look somewhat pulled-together, which makes me feel better mentally.

Fleece lined leggings in black with side pockets are warm but still look (kind of) pants-like, and a quarter-zip sweater on top looks professional on video chat. I deviate from the flying outfit while at home with a pair of cozy slippers, since I don’t have to navigate to any airplane bathrooms.

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Q. “I want to travel as soon as it’s safe again. Should I book my next trip now, with insurance, or wait? If I book something for June, and travel restrictions are still in place, will I get my money back?” – KT

A. The travel industry needs your bookings now more than ever—but don’t rely on insurance as a safety net when buying a vacation right now. Since COVID-19 is now a known event, anything that you book now likely wouldn’t be covered if you had to cancel due to the pandemic in the future.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t book with confidence. Plenty of booking sites and airlines are relaxing their cancellation and change policies to encourage booking. Just be sure to carefully read the policies before booking anything.

[st_related]The Dos and Don’ts of Cancelling a Trip Due to COVID-19[/st_related]

Q. “Now that I have lots of time on my hands, I’m cleaning my house more often. Is there anything special I should be doing to clean my house of potential coronavirus?” – GH

A. The CDC has a very helpful coronavirus-themed guide to cleaning your house here. Focus your efforts on cleaning and disinfecting “high-touch surfaces” in common areas (such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks, and hard-backed chairs).

In order to properly disinfect surfaces, make sure that you’re using alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, or a diluted household bleach solution. Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work as well—the CDC recommends this list of products that has been compiled by the American Chemistry Council.

If everywhere is sold out of Clorox wipes, you can make your own bleach solution by mixing 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.

[st_related]
How to Disinfect Your Suitcase[/st_related]

Q. “Are hotels required to have carbon monoxide detectors?”– XE

A. Shockingly, it depends on where you’re staying. Only 14 states legally require hotels and motels to have carbon monoxide detectors installed. Laws vary internationally as well, so it’s definitely not guaranteed that your hotel will be equipped with one. If you’re concerned, you can buy a travel-sized carbon monoxide detector to bring along with you wherever you go.

Q. “I tried to look up a hotel on the Bedbug Registry but it looks like the site hasn’t been updated in many years. Is it still a good place to check to see if a hotel has been flagged for bedbugs?” – SC

A. The Bedbug Registry has gone out of date, but BedbugsReports.com (a similar site) is still active. I generally just search TripAdvisor (our parent company) reviews for a property I’m considering booking for the term “bedbugs” or “bugs” as a quick precaution.

[st_related]
Does the Bedbug Registry Still Work? How to Find Out Whether Your Hotel is Infested[/st_related]

Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail at editor@smartertravel.com with the subject line: Check Your Baggage.

Editor’s Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

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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
Packing Travel Technology Travel Tips & Advice

4 Surprising, Low-Tech Travel Gadgets You Need

People are often surprised when I reveal what I consider to be the most essential item in my carry-on bag. It’s not some fancy device or expensive gadget (though, to be fair, I wouldn’t leave home without my Kindle Paperwhite either). In fact, four of my must-pack items are decidedly low-tech.

Lacrosse Ball

orange lacrosse balls.

The one thing I never fly without, my secret weapon against the aches and pains of the coach-class crunch, is the humble lacrosse ball.

I can sense your skepticism even as I type this, so I’ll get right down to it. Today’s torturous coach-class seat configurations might as well have been designed by the CIA for “enhanced interrogations.” (Seriously, who thinks a 29-inch seat pitch is OK?) A lacrosse ball gives you a fighting chance against the neck ache, stiff back, and piercing headache that are natural byproducts of cramped seating.

When the aches kick in, pinpoint your tender muscles and massage them away with a sturdy lacrosse ball. It’s just the right size to dig into most problem spots, and it’s tough enough to give you the needed pressure to ease the pain away. Honestly, this is the cheapest, tiniest, lowest-tech travel tool you’ll ever need, and it might just end up being your favorite, too.

Bonus: It fits in any reasonably sized pocket.

Swiss Army Knife

victorinox swiss army jetsetter pocket knife.

Also pocket-sized and useful: the Swiss Army knife. Right about now you’re thinking, “But knives are banned on flights.” And you’re right. But you can get a Swiss Army knife without the knife, courtesy of the Victorinox Jetsetter, which gives you immediate access to a screwdriver, a bottle opener, a key ring, tweezers, scissors, and a toothpick—all in one handy space-saving device that the TSA isn’t allowed to confiscate.

Kid Kit

Ticonderoga pencils.

Sometimes I travel with my kids, and when I do, I also keep a supply of low-tech travel gadgets for them to play with during the trip. Not just on flights, either: on road trips, in vacation rentals, at the airport or train station … I owe it to them and to my fellow travelers to make sure they’re entertained and not disruptive. My “kid kit” includes a small puzzle or two, pencils and paper, and a few travel-sized games.

Grid-It Organizer

large grid-it organizer.

I’ve talked before about the Grid-It system, an inexpensive organization system that makes use of rubber bands to hold everything in place. People often associate it with tech gadgets only, but it’s very helpful for keeping all this other gear in place, too. You can either buy a large Grid-It to store all your electronics and cords alongside your non-tech gadgets (earplugs, travel games, etc.), or you can employ a second, smaller Grid-It to keep your gadgets separate.

Either way, as far as organizers go, there’s nothing better.

More from SmarterTravel:

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

Categories
Credit Cards Popular Travel Tips & Advice

Your Credit Card May Provide Travel Insurance You Didn’t Know You Had

Editor’s note: Many travel insurance policies won’t cover COVID-19-related cancellations booked after late-January, 2020, but they can help with other expenses. For travel insurance information specific to the current COVID-19 epidemic, see our stories on Travel In the Time of COVID: What You Need to KnowTravel Insurance Coverage: 18 Things Your Policy Won’t Coverand Cancel for Any Reason Travel Insurance, Explained.

These days, it’s pretty hard to buy an airplane ticket without the carrier trying to sell you additional insurance with your ticket. In fact, some carriers, like United, literally won’t let you complete your purchase until you’ve accepted or declined the optional travel insurance policies that they offer through a third party.

But what most travelers don’t know is that their credit card may already include numerous travel insurance protections, making it unnecessary to purchase the optional insurance. Here’s some of the credit cards that offer you the best travel insurance, so that you can decline to pay extra for the same coverage.

Credit Cards with Trip Insurance and Other Travel Protections

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

In addition to offering outstanding rewards, this card also comes with very strong travel benefits. Most importantly, it offers trip cancellation/interruption insurance, that provides a benefit if your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather and other covered situations. It can reimburse you up to $10,000 per person and $20,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels. Other benefits include baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement and auto rental collision damage waiver coverage. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, which currently offers 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within three months of account opening.


Related: 8 Credit Cards That Will Get You ‘Free’ Checked Bags


Mastercard® Titanium Card™

This card offers a surprising array of travel benefits including trip cancellation and interruption coverage that works if your covered trip is canceled or interrupted due to a covered reason. This benefit can reimburse you up to $5,000 per trip and $10,000 per 12-month period. You also receive baggage delay insurance and auto rental collision damage waiver insurance. There’s a $195 annual fee for this card. You also get the same coverage from the $495 Mastercard® Black Card™ and the $995 Mastercard® Gold Card™.

United℠ Explorer Card

You can feel comfortable declining the optional insurance offered by airlines with this card, because it includes trip cancellation/interruption insurance. This will offer you a benefit if your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather and other covered situations. It can reimburse you up to $1,500 per person and $6,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels. Other benefits include baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement and auto rental collision damage waiver coverage. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card (waived the first year), which currently offers 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening. (See rates and fees)

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