Holiday Giving, Travel-Style

We’ve got some great gift ideas for the traveler in your life.

Presumably, some folks on your holiday gift list are travelers. Equally likely, you want to come up with a gift that they would really like.

The folks at Switchfly, the loyalty-program redemption experts, have an answer for you. According to their research, “Most Americans (65 percent) would be excited to receive an air travel gift for the holidays and … the number-one holiday gift American air travelers want is an upgrade to first class.” That’s a plausible finding, but one more easily stated than accomplished. Time was you could buy an “open ticket” to a known favorite destination, and the traveler could pick the dates within a year. Alas, those days are long gone. Instead you pretty much have to get involved with the details of a gift trip.

You can, of course, just buy their tickets in whatever class you wish. But that requires specifying destinations, dates, and times—a process not susceptible to surprise gifting. You can’t buy upgrades as such, but if you want to go for business class, several online agents sell discounted business-class tickets for intercontinental trips.

For many, the best way to give travel is through a frequent-flyer program. You can use your frequent-flyer miles to give trips in economy, first, or business class—provided you have the miles. Typically, a round-trip ticket within the 48 states requires 25,000 miles in economy and 50,000 miles in first class. Trips to Europe require roughly double that, or more than double in business class. Here, too, you either have to book a specific trip or promise an award when the travelers want to go. And finding award seats to popular destinations is fiendishly difficult. If your travelers are prepared to buy their own economy tickets, you can offer to upgrade them, but that’s tricky: Upgrading cheap economy tickets costs almost as many miles as a “free” award trip, and in addition, you have to shell out a stiff copay.

As another approach, if the people you want to gift are frequent travelers, consider giving them a membership in the lounge-club program on the airline they use the most. Or try Priority Pass, that gets them in lots of clubs—but more overseas than at home. You’ll pay $300 to $500. Or subscribe them to First Class Flyer (trial issue is free) or Expert Flyer ($9.99 per month).

Air travel isn’t the only gift option; you can buy your travelers a cruise. But, as with air tickets, you have to specify the ship, cabin class, and itinerary.

For date flexibility, buy them a Groupon or similar coupon for a stay at a destination you know would be desirable. Typically, those coupons provide a generous use window.

I don’t generally follow the herd about listing a bunch of travel gadgets as gifts; in my experience, most travelers already have the gadgets they like to use and don’t want to carry others. I do, however, have one overall suggestion: If your travelers don’t already have ultralight luggage—and they probably don’t—a very lightweight suitcase or two would make travel a lot easier. My current go-to luggage is a Lippault 22-incher that’s almost five pounds lighter than the case it replaced. Last year, SmarterTravel featured It Luggage’s “World’s Lightest” models in 10 Best Carry-On Bags for Every Traveler. Once your travelers have tried really light luggage, they’ll never want to lug a behemoth bag around again.

I also violate my “no gadget” rule with one I found really useful on my current trip: a Kinivo Wi-Fi adapter that connects a laptop or notebook computer to both the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands—really useful if you have an older computer with only the 2.4 GHz band internally. When I tried to get online with the free Wi-Fi at Stansted Airport, my notebook’s internal Wi-Fi couldn’t find the airport signal at all. But once I plugged it in, the adapter detected more than twice as many signals, including the airport’s free Wi-Fi. It also seems to speed up reception even when you can detect a signal. It’s $17.99 on Amazon.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

(Photo: JD Hancock via flickr/CC Attribution)

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By Ed Perkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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