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Arts & Culture Cities Food & Drink Money Travel Etiquette

Tipping in Greece: The Greece Tipping Guide

A vacation in Greece promises beautiful scenery, fresh and delicious food, and interactions with friendly locals. As a visitor, you’ll find yourself in plenty of situations in which you might naturally think to tip. But should you?

Tipping in Greece is customary, but is by no means obligatory. This Greece tipping guide will help you navigate when/where you can leave a little extra for great service.

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Tipping in Greece

[st_content_ad]Tipping in Greece may be expected in most places, but it is by no means an obligation. There is no set standard for how much to leave when service exceeds expectations, but there are certain times when it’s expected you’ll tip. For instance, some restaurants may round up the bill to include gratuity, so it is wise to look for this inclusion before tipping. Note that it’s also common for servers not to receive tips included on a credit card, so try to leave cash whenever possible so ensure the person you’re trying to tip actually receives the gratuity.

Want to know when to tip for other services? Read on to make sense of where, when, and how much to tip when you’re traveling in Greece.

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View of a narrow street in the old town of Thessaloniki, Greece

How To Tip In Greece

Cafe Server:

Greece doesn’t have a strong culture of tipping at cafes. But if there is a tip jar by the cash register, it’s a nice gesture to leave a couple of coins. For exceptional table service, round up to the nearest €1.

Restaurant Server:

A tip is typically expected, especially for stellar service, but some restaurants round up the bill to include gratuity. Check the bill first for these inclusions before deciding whether or not to tip. If there is no added tip, leave 5 to 10 percent, and a few coins on the table for the busser. Some restaurants may refuse gratuity for service, so if you’re unsure, you can certainly ask before tipping. There may be a “cover charge” on the bill, which covers the cost of bread and non-bottled water, but doesn’t include gratuity.

Bartender:

At bars, it’s not necessary to tip a bartender, as most do not expect it; but it is considerate to round to the nearest €1 for great service.

Tour Guides:

In Greece, it’s customary to tip tour guides. Tip €2 to €5 per person, per day for a group tour; and €20 per person, per day for a private tour.

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View of Greek Orthodox Church in Monastiraki Square and line of yellow cabs

Taxis:

A good rule of thumb is to round up to the nearest euro. This approach simplifies paying with cash, and it’s not an unusual way to tip without actually tipping. For exceptional service, or if you use a taxi driver for multiple stops, for a longer distance, or as a guide, you might add 5 to 10 percent of the final fare to your total payment.

Airport Shuttle Driver:

It is not necessary to tip your driver, but feel free to give €1 per bag if they help with your luggage.

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Doorman:

If a doorman assists with luggage or hailing transportation, a simple thank you is appreciated. But for exceptional service, it certainly wouldn’t be remiss to offer €1.

Bellhop:

At hotels, feel free to tip the bellhop €1 to €2 per bag delivered to your room, but no more than €5 total. 

Housecleaning:

At hotels, or in vacation rentals that have daily cleaning services, it’s customary to leave €1 per night, especially if the cleaner is doing a great job.

Front Desk at the Astra Suites

Concierge:

If the concierge goes above and beyond with helping you book reservations, giving you directions, and/or providing insider recommendations, it’s considerate to tip €5 to €10. For answers to quick questions, though, you shouldn’t feel obligated.

Stylist:

For haircuts, shampoos, trims, and shaves, it’s considerate, but not expected, to tip 10 percent of the final bill if you’re satisfied with your new look.

Spa Service Provider:

A tip isn’t expected, but you can leave up to 10 percent for anything that goes above and beyond your expectations. Simply ask for an envelope for the tip at the front desk, and then either deliver the envelope to your provider or leave the tip at the front desk.

Beachy Jumpsuit for Greece Adventure

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Airport Booking Strategy Budget Travel In-Flight Experience

11 Ways to Upgrade Your Next Trip for $100 or Less

Maybe you can’t afford to fly in first class or stay in a luxury hotel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a travel upgrade or two on your next trip. Make your trip a little more comfortable by treating yourself to one of these affordable luxuries for $100 or less.

Expedited Screening and Reentry

Person going through tsa precheck line

One travel upgrade that always feels indulgent is strolling right past those tedious lines at the airport. Global Entry membership costs $100 for five years and entitles you to expedited reentry to the U.S. after international trips. Instead of standing in line at customs along with hundreds of other people after a long-haul international flight, simply enter your passport into a kiosk, offer your fingerprints, tap the screen to answer a few questions, and get on with your day. Global Entry members also get TSA PreCheck membership.

A slightly cheaper alternative is to get PreCheck alone ($85 for five years) and use the free Mobile Passport app for expedited reentry. Note, however, that Mobile Passport is available at fewer U.S. airports than Global Entry.

Skip-the-Line Tickets

Speaking of skipping long lines, why not do the same at popular tourist attractions? You could easily waste an hour or more of your vacation waiting to get into places like the London Eye, Vatican Museums, or Empire State Building if you don’t buy your ticket in advance. In many cases you can purchase tickets online at the attraction’s website. Alternatively, check out SmarterTravel’s sister site, Viator, for skip-the-line tickets that often include other extras such as guided tours or early access.

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Airport Lounge Pass

Between the free drinks and snacks and the quiet atmosphere, an airport lounge can be an oasis in the heart of a busy, noisy airport. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a first-class passenger or an elite flyer to get in. Many U.S. airlines sell day passes to their lounges for $50 to $60—or you can purchase passes for hundreds of lounges around the world through Lounge Pass. Prices vary but usually range from $30 to $60.

To learn more, see these seven ways to score airport lounge access.

Credit Cards with Perks

marriot bold and bonvoy, hilton credit cards

Carrying the right credit card can entitle you to a number of travel perks, and you don’t have to pay a hefty annual fee to get them. For example, the United Explorer Card entitles you to priority boarding, two passes into the United Club airport lounge, a free checked bag, and $100 toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck; the $95 annual fee is waived in your first year as a cardholder.

Opt for the Bold (no annual fee) or Boundless ($95 annual fee) card from Marriott Bonvoy and you’ll get automatic Silver Elite status, with perks such as priority late checkout, free Wi-Fi, and keyless room access using your phone.

Prefer Hilton? Try the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card, which offers benefits such as 10 free airport lounge visits via Priority Pass and a free weekend night when you spend at least $15,000 in a calendar year. You’ll also enjoy late checkout, complimentary breakfast at all hotels, and other perks of Hilton Honors Gold status.

To learn more about travel credit cards, see Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site.

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Curbside Check-in

Instead of fumbling with an airline kiosk and waiting in line to drop off your checked bag, use your airline’s curbside check-in service to hand over your suitcase to a friendly skycap as soon as you step out of your car. The cost is usually a gratuity and perhaps a small per-bag fee.

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Airport Chair Massage

chair massage in singapore airport

You may not have the time or money for a full-length massage between flights, but many airports have mini-spas where you can enjoy an affordable 10- to 20-minute treatment to work out the kinks in your neck, shoulders, hands, or feet.

In-Flight Comforts

While nothing can make a coach-class seat truly comfortable, bringing a few key in-flight accessories can help you create your own mini travel upgrade. Skip the thin, dubiously clean airplane blanket and bring a softer option instead, along with a silk eye mask to help you block out harsh overhead lights and flickering screens.

If you can’t afford Bose’s pricey noise-canceling headphones, consider cheaper options from Linner or Cowin.

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In-Room Comforts

Just as you’d upgrade your airplane seat with a few accessories to maximize comfort, you can do the same in your hotel room. For example, a white noise machine can help you sleep more soundly by blocking out noises from neighboring rooms, and a pillow spray can cover up any lingering odors from harsh cleaning supplies. For more ideas, see these nine ways to make your hotel room more comfortable.

A Better Airplane Seat

airplane seats exit row

Don’t just settle for any old economy seat. When you check in for your flight, take a look at your options on the seating chart and see if you can buy your way into a better spot. While a travel upgrade budget of $100 isn’t likely to get you into first or business class, you may be able to land an exit row seat with bonus legroom, or a window or aisle seat right near the front of the economy cabin. On shorter flights, you might even be able to upgrade to premium economy for $100 or less.

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Breakfast in Bed

Sure, it’s a little overpriced, but there’s nothing like room service for getting a vacation day off to a lazy and relaxing start—especially on the first full day of your trip, when you’re still tired and jet lagged from your flight. Order some coffee and your meal of choice, and enjoy them in your pajamas from the comfort of your hotel bed.

A Vacation Rental Instead of a Hotel Room

In many parts of the world, you can get a lot more space for the same price as a hotel room by booking a rental apartment or home instead. Vacation rentals are a particularly good deal for families and groups who want to share a space—including kitchen and laundry facilities—rather than book multiple hotel rooms. Find properties on TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company), Airbnb, HomeAway, and other vacation rental sites.

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Money Travel Technology

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

Travel experts (myself included) will always recommend that you rely primarily on plastic while traveling: specifically, credit cards for big-ticket items and debit ATM cards for cash on arrival. The longstanding issue with that practice has always been foreign transaction fees—but you might be surprised to hear that this pesky type of fee is becoming less and less relevant.

In many cases you can now avoid foreign transaction fees entirely, while in others you’ll pay them, but will ultimately lose less money than any other cash-acquirement option. For foreign travel, especially, you can’t beat plastic: In fact, you may actually need credit cards in more and more places as they opt out of cash all together. Cashless retail outlets are becoming widespread, especially in Sweden and across China, with some places refusing to accept any paper currency at all.

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Beating Foreign Transaction Fees on Credit Cards

Credit cards have improved dramatically in recent years for overseas purchases. About a decade ago, most banks had a three percent surcharge on foreign credit card purchases—even purchases in U.S. dollars. But now, most big issuers—including Chase, Bank of America, Capital One, and American Express—offer multiple credit cards with no foreign transaction fees. For the most part, cards that target travelers typically no longer have foreign surcharges. To see a list of cards without foreign transaction fees, see Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site).

And although you can use a credit card to withdraw cash, that’s not a good idea: With all banks, cash withdrawal on a credit card comes with interest charges, plus fees, as well. The biggest trap for use of credit cards outside the U.S. is now the attempt by some merchants to bill you in dollars rather than local currency. The trap? They convert your bill at a lousy exchange rate. If a transaction ever prompts you to choose between dollars or the local currency, always choose the local currency. Also keep in mind that, even if your card charges a small fee, it’s likely less than the fee any currency exchange counter will take from you.

The best ways to deal with credit card purchases to avoid foreign transaction fees are:

  • Use whatever no-surcharge credit card serves you best.
  • Don’t let anyone try to bill you in dollars rather than the local currency.
  • Don’t use a credit card to acquire cash.
  • If your current card adds a surcharge—and you don’t want to apply for a different card—a loss of three percent is still a lot less than your loss converting currency at any exchange counter.

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Beating Foreign Transaction Fees on Debit Cards

The foreign transaction fees situation is not as good with debit cards, but still improving.

In most of the world, you can use an ATM card issued by a U.S. bank at an ATM in a foreign country to withdraw local currency. The actual exchange is carried out by the international American Express, MasterCard, or Visa networks, and the exchange fee is typically one percent or less. But most U.S. banks add a surcharge of $3 to $5 per withdrawal from any ATM other than its own ATMs, including virtually all ATMs outside the United States. Many add an exchange surcharge on top of that, as well. And the local ATM operator may add a fee.

For a while, the Global ATM Alliance offered no-fee withdrawals on Bank of America debit cards when used at another member bank’s ATM, but Bank of America later imposed a three-percent exchange surcharge. The main exceptions are many small banks—most notably savings banks, online banks, and credit unions—that waive debit card transaction fees and cover other fees on foreign withdrawals.

And a new debit card problem has emerged in recent years: Many big international hub airports have kicked out ATMs operated by local banks and substituted ATMs operated by exchange bureaus, such as Travelex. The signs on these ATMs say “no fees,” which is somewhat true: Your money is exchanged at the same retail rate you get at the exchange counter, and that rate is typically around 10 to 15 percent worse than the official bank rate. And then there’s your own bank’s fees.

Ways to withdraw local currency from a local ATM without piling on the foreign transaction fees are:

  • If your usual ATM card is from a big bank with stiff withdrawal fees, consider opening a no-fee checking account at one of the many small banks that waive or cover foreign ATM charges.
  • If you don’t have any local currency when you arrive in a foreign country, avoid airport ATMs operated by exchange bureaus if you can. If you can’t, get only as much as you need to get to your hotel.

And finally: Traveler’s checks? Not if you’re living in the 21st century. You’ll have a lot of trouble finding a bank that will exchange these checks, if you still have them. A lot has changed in travel banking in the past couple of decades—for the better.

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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 abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Money

8 Vital Things to Know About Travel Insurance

Will you regret not buying travel insurance? Sometimes costly and often confusing, travel insurance coverage might seem like a trip-planning technicality that’s all too easy to ignore. But Murphy’s law is Murphy’s law, and a good policy could afford you priceless peace of mind. Below are a few things to know about travel insurance before you purchase coverage, including which policies might work best for your type of trip, which policies could be completely useless, and how to shop for the best plan.

You Might Need It

[st_content_ad]Is travel insurance worth it? That’s the big question for any traveler considering travel insurance. Here’s my general rule: If you’re taking a long, expensive, or ambitious trip to a far-flung destination, travel insurance could be a smart choice. If a natural disaster or sudden illness were to ruin your travel plans, would you lose a great deal of money? Is this the trip of a lifetime? Have you been saving for this getaway for years? Are you traveling to a place with poor local healthcare facilities? Are your accommodations and plane tickets costly and nonrefundable? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’d do well to seriously consider a plan.

Policies generally cost 5 to 15 percent of the total cost of a trip, depending on the age of the traveler, the level of coverage, and your trip details. If a good policy fits within your budget, it certainly can’t hurt to guard your health and your wallet against calamity.

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Your Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Might Offer Sufficient Coverage

If it’s simply your valuables you’re worried about, travel insurance might not be your best bet. Although many travel insurance policies include coverage of stolen or lost items, your belongings may already be covered by homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

Most homeowner’s and renter’s policies will cover your belongings even if they’re off premises, though you may be limited to 10 percent of the total value of your coverage. If you have a policy like this, travel insurance policies that include coverage for baggage or personal items could be unnecessary. Consumer advocate and SmarterTravel contributor Ed Perkins advises, “Buying a bundled policy is clearly overkill if you just want property coverage.”

Your Credit Card Might Be Enough

Check your credit card’s travel protections, too. According to Ed Perkins, “Several premium credit cards include baggage coverage, provided you pay the entire trip cost with the card. The American Express Green Card, for example, covers replacement cost, not just depreciated cost, and it even covers up to $1,250 for carry-on baggage. This is a no-charge extra. Many Mastercard and Visa credit cards also offer similar benefits, depending on the issuing bank.”

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Trip Cancellation Insurance Only Covers Select Reasons

Trip cancellation insurance is a good coverage option when you’ve paid a substantial amount of money for a getaway and wouldn’t be able to comfortably absorb the financial loss if your trip fell through. If things don’t work out, you’ll at least get your nonrefundable, prepaid travel costs back.

It’s important to note, though, that you’ll only get a payout if your travel plans are canceled for reasons listed in the policy. For example, the OneTrip Cancellation Plus plan from Allianz Travel covers trips canceled for a range of reasons, including illness or injury to you or a travel companion, the loss of your job, and a natural disaster that prevents you from getting to your destination. Not on the list? If your family member has a baby, if you get a new job voluntarily and can no longer take the time off for vacation, or if your pet falls ill.

You can protect yourself against any conceivable reason for cancellation with a cancel-for-any-reason policy.

Read the Fine Print

This one’s a given, but it’s one of the ultra-important things to know about travel insurance: Read the fine print. In the unlikely event that you’ll have to use your travel insurance policy, you want nothing to come as a surprise. For example, depending on the policy, hurricane coverage doesn’t apply if you buy the insurance after the storm in question has been named; that’s a bit of (seemingly arbitrary) fine print that could essentially nullify a policy purchased too late. Take the time to read the details of your plan and become familiar with the documentation you might need when submitting a claim. Take note of coverage limits and exclusions.

Many travel insurance plans come with a review period; this is a grace period during which you can look over your policy and make adjustments.

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You Might Be Covered Under Your Current Health Plan

Check your health insurance policy to see whether you’re covered for medical care in a foreign country. Some plans offer full coverage abroad; others offer spotty coverage; and still others, such as Medicare and Medicaid, don’t provide much medical coverage outside of the U.S. at all.

If you lack adequate medical coverage overseas, consider a travel insurance policy with primary or secondary medical coverage. A primary policy will function as your go-to coverage in the event of accident or illness, whereas a secondary plan can be used as a backup to a health insurance policy that offers limited overseas coverage.

An Evacuation Plan Could Be a Good Idea

Some insurance plans are evacuation plans; that is, in the event you need medical care, your insurance provider will pay for the costs of getting you to a hospital. If you suffer a serious illness or accident while abroad in a remote location, the most expensive component of treatment will likely be evacuation. Depending on where you are, it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly you to a hospital or your home country for emergency treatment; an evacuation plan will cover these costs.

There are two things you should know about this benefit: First, evacuation policies may only cover the costs of transportation to the hospital—not your medical expenses. Second, you may not be able to choose your hospital. While some policies offer a “hospital of choice” option that allows you to pick a preferred hospital, others don’t and will simply take you to the nearest facility deemed appropriate by the insurance company. As always, read the fine print.

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Aggregator Sites Can Help You Shop

An easy way to compare plans when shopping for insurance is to use an online agency that functions as an aggregator. On such sites, you’ll enter details about yourself and your trip and get a results list of suggested policies. Check out sites like InsureMyTrip and Squaremouth, both of which allow users to perform side-by-side comparisons of different travel insurance plans and to read customer reviews.

What to Wear on Your Next Trip

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

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Airport Business Travel Frequent Flyer Money Travel Technology Travel Trends

Priority Pass vs. Lounge Pass: Which Is Better for Affordable Airport Lounge Access?

Airport lounges hold a sort of mystical appeal for the weary budget traveler. What oasis lies behind those discreet doors? What peaceful pleasures are bestowed upon those fortunate enough to cross that threshold? Well, for the most part you’ll find snacks, beverages, comfortable seating, and a generally quieter environment than the terminal gates and food courts. (And sometimes, really magical lounges even have showers.)

Airport lounges can be a much-needed respite, particularly for frequent flyers looking for a moment’s rest amidst a packed schedule and long flight delays or layovers. But access is usually limited to elite frequent flyers or travelers with the means (read: bank account) required to fork over hundreds of dollars a year for membership or elite status.

But if you only want to use a lounge a few to several times a year, there are economical third-party options available, usually in the form of a membership or a pay-as-you-go service. Lounge passes like Priority Pass can also be a great way to save money at the airport if you typically dine or drink on a long layover; pricey airport meals add up quickly. Let’s review two popular examples of these services to weigh the price and advantages of each.

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Priority Pass

One of the most popular lounge pass options out there, Priority Pass, is a membership service that provides lounge access at a meaningful discount over airline-affiliated lounges. The program offers three membership tiers:

  • Standard (for “occasional travelers”): $99 annual fee plus $32 per lounge visit
  • Standard Plus (for “regular travelers”): $249 annual fee; covers 10 visits, additional visits are $32 each
  • Prestige (for “frequent travelers”): $429, unlimited lounge visits

Right off the bat, the only Priority Pass tiers that really make sense are the Plus and Prestige. Let’s do some quick math: If you opt for the Standard tier and make five lounge visits in a year, your total cost (including the annual fee) would be $259. That’s $10 more than the Standard Plus tier for half as many lounge visits. In other words, Standard is not a good deal.

Fine, let’s say you purchase the Standard and make just three lounge visits instead of five: You’d spend $195 total, or roughly $65 per visit, which we’ll see later is still a substantial overpay for lounge access. Even if you’re using Standard minimally, it’s not a good deal.

Conversely, the Standard Plus option actually delivers decent value if you use it six or more times per year, and especially if you use the full 10. At six visits, the per-visit cost for the Standard Plus would be $41, going down to $25 per visit if you use the full 10. Just $41 is reasonable for a lounge visit, and $25 is relatively cheap, not to mention about how much you probably already spend on a sub-par airport meal in the busy terminal.

Long story short, for most travelers it’s Standard Plus or bust. (Note: Guests are $32 per visit, regardless of tier.)

As for what you get, Priority Pass grants access to 1,200 lounges. The options include a mix of independently-owned and airline-affiliated options, but if you aren’t picky there’s a good chance you’ll find something in your airport. That said, check before you sign up to make sure your most frequented airports and terminals have facilities covered by Priority Pass. In Boston, for example, Priority Pass only offered facilities in Terminals B, C, and E, and the Terminal B option isn’t lounge access at all: it’s a $28 discount at one of the post-security restaurants, instead. Priority Pass has relationships with several credit cards that offer this restaurant credit, but American Express notably reduced its agreement earlier this month.

Lounge Pass

On the other end of the spectrum we have Lounge Pass, a fairly a straightforward a la carte service that lets you book individual lounge visits. Lounge Pass says you can book these for as little as $19 per visit, but that will vary. The Lounge Pass network is smaller, with just 500 lounges available at 300 airports worldwide.

As for pricing, a quick search of Boston, again, delivered three options (and no odd restaurant discount situations) available for between $35 and $40 per visit. I found similar prices in Seattle ($40), Chicago O’Hare ($40), Dulles in Washington, D.C. ($50), and Newark ($38). Compare these prices to the per-visit cost of a Standard and it’s clear this is the better option for less-frequent travelers, especially considering many of the lounges are the same in both programs.

The Verdict

Priority Pass and Lounge Pass are both owned and operated by the same company, Collinson, which also provides various loyalty and customer experience services to major airlines, as well as to retailers, banks, and other businesses. In effect, these two options are simply different versions of the same product.

Priority Pass does throw in some window-dressing benefits, including vague “exclusive offers,” 24/7 membership support, and a mobile app with a digital membership card and the ability to pre-order take-out from airport restaurants. (But, aren’t the lounges supposed to have food?) These are certainly nice to have, but don’t add significant value to the program.

Ultimately, which version you prefer probably depends on how much money you’re willing to shell out in one purchase, and how often you use or surmise you’d need an airport lounge. Priority Pass is a good pay-ahead option if you fly more often, while Lounge Pass is more pay-as-you-need for less-frequent or non-business travelers.

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Business Travel Miles & Points Money

How to Get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck for Free

Anyone who travels and values their time must have TSA PreCheck. When you are part of this program, you enter a much shorter line at security, and you can leave your shoes, belt and jacket on. You can also leave your liquids and laptops in your bag, and you only have to pass through a plain old metal detector, not some huge scanning device. And if you are part of the Global Entry program, which includes TSA PreCheck, then you could save up to an hour of standing in line every time you return from a foreign country.

[st_content_ad]The biggest downside to Global Entry and TSA PreCheck is the cost. You have to pay a $100 application fee for Global Entry or an $85 application fee for TSA PreCheck. Both are valid for five years, but then you’ll have to pay again to renew them. Thankfully, you can get reimbursed for the expense if you have the right credit card.

Here are several credit cards that offer you up to $100 credit towards either your Global Entry and TSA PreCheck application fee, every four to five years:

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

A credit of up to $100 towards the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck is just one of the numerous benefits of this card. You can also expect to receive 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles after spending $5,000 within three months of account opening.  Other benefits include an Admirals Club lounge membership for the primary account holder and all authorized users. You also get 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $40,00 on eligible purchases on the card in a single year. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card.

Mastercard® Gold Card™ and Mastercard® Black Card™

These two cards both offer you a credit of up to $100 towards the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, plus many other benefits. The Gold card offers 2% value on airfare and cash back redemptions, while the black card offers 2% for airfare and 1.5% for cash back.  Other benefits include a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and free luxury gifts sent to your home. There’s a $995 annual fee for the Gold Card and a $495 fee for the Black card.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The Platinum card was one of the first to feature a $100 credit towards the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and it now includes an annual air travel fee credit of up to $200 and a $100 a year Saks Fifth Avenue credit (requires enrollment). You also receive a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, a Delta SkyClub membership and access to the American Express Centurion lounges. There’s a $550 annual fee for this card (see rates & fees).

United℠ Explorer Card

This is by far the least expensive card on this list that offers you a credit of up to $100 towards the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. Other benefits include two United Club lounge passes, and a free checked bag for you and a companion when you purchase your ticket with this card. It has a $95 annual fee, which is waived the first year.

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No Credit Card? Renting a Car with a Debit Card Just Got Easier

Most car rental companies have long required that their customers use a credit card when reserving a car. Renting a car with a debit card has always meant incurring restrictions and extra fees. But thanks to the rising number of frugal customers who don’t have or don’t want to use credit cards, that’s finally changing.

Dollar Rent-a-Car just announced its new policy specifically aimed at making it easier than ever to reserve a car using a debit card. In a release, the company said its new policy “will eliminate credit checks, reduce proof of return travel and ID requirements, while also lowering the car rental age restriction from 25 to 20 years old.” Thifty will offer the same policy. Hertz owns both companies.

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Under the new policy, rentals booked more than 24 hours in advance will only require a debit card and driver’s license. Dollar is also reducing the incidental hold amount from $350 to $200, plus the cost of the rental, for both debit card and credit card rentals. Rentals booked less than 24 hours in advance, or rentals for specialty vehicles, will require two forms of identification and proof of return travel plans.

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The Bias Against Renting a Car with a Debit Card

“Rental car companies tend to view debit-card customers as riskier than those who pay with credit cards,” writes Josh Barro of New York Magazine‘s Intelligencer. “They take the lack of a credit card as a warning sign of bad credit, and therefore think a renter who wishes to pay with a debit card may be less trustworthy with an expensive piece of equipment like a car. They also worry a debit card may be linked to an account that doesn’t contain enough cash to satisfy unexpected charges a customer might incur, such as for a late return.”

Credit cards give rental car companies some protection in the event of a worst-case scenario. If a debit card customer drives off into the sunset with a rental, the company’s recourse is limited to whatever case is available in the customer’s account. Do you have enough money in your debit account to cover the retrieval and likely repair or even replacement of a late-model Ford Focus? Probably not. And you aren’t alone. With a credit card, the company is more likely to receive some compensation for its loss or hardship.

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Why It’s Changing

However, the credit card policy has long inconvenienced a large swath of customers, especially younger people. Most car rental companies forbid debit card rentals to customers under 25, and many customers between under 25 are the ones who don’t have credit cards to begin with. Rental companies also hit these customers with an extra fee, even if they do book with a credit card, and credit checks are a hassle that can ding your credit. Never mind that it’s generally good practice to avoid using credit cards when possible.

“For more than 27 years, I’ve been on the radio helping families win with their money, including telling people to cut up their credit cards and only use debit cards,” Dave Ramsey, a financial advisor, said in Dollar’s statement. “I’ve also heard from a lot of callers frustrated while looking for a car rental company that would accept debit cards without all the run around.”

This new policy eliminates those headaches. It’s also no secret that the customer most affected by the policy—customers in their early twenties—are among the most likely to use car-sharing services and other transportation options instead. Eliminating these debit card restrictions might make renting a more appealing and possibly more affordable option for these customers when they travel.  The big question is if other companies will follow suit.

Readers, have you ever rented a car with a debit card? Will this policy make you more likely to rent? Comment below.

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel

How to Get 2 Flights for the Price of One All Year Long

Buy a flight and bring someone along for almost free all year long, plus get 30,000 Rapids Rewards points, with this promotion from Southwest Airlines.

How to Do It

The Catch

  • You can’t apply for this deal if you already have a current Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card.
  • You are ineligible if you have received a new cardmember bonus on the same credit card in the past 24 months.
  • The cards included in this promotion have yearly membership fees ranging from $69 to $149.
  • You can only give the free flight to your designated travel companion, and you can only change who that person is a maximum of three times.

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Money

Redeem Just One Credit Card Point for $30 Off at Amazon

If you have the right credit card, you can turn one cent’s worth of points into a free $30 on Amazon.

This invite-only offer for American Express cardholders (click here to see if you’re eligible) is valid on Amazon orders of $60 or more. Keep in mind that taxes and shipping don’t count towards the $60 minimum purchase. You’ll also be restricted to items shipped and sold by Amazon.com.

The promotion runs through the end of 2019, although Amazon “reserves the right to cancel or modify this offer at any time.”

Not eligible for the deal? Amazon is currently running a number of credit card offers, including a $75 statement credit after your first Amazon purchase with a new Discover card and a $70 Amazon gift card when you sign up for an Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card (which also offers five percent back at Amazon and Whole Foods).

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Money Travel Scams Travel Technology Travel Trends

What Marriott Customers Can Do Following the Chain’s Massive 4-Year Data Breach

By now, you’ve likely heard about the massive data breach of Marriott’s Starwood guest reservation database. If you haven’t: The info of nearly 500 million people may have been compromised in the hack, making it one of the largest breaches of consumer data in history, and one that might have spanned over the past four years.

The hotel chain said it first learned of a possible breach back in September. According to NBC News, a subsequent investigation revealed there had been “unauthorized access since 2014” and that an “unauthorized party had copied and encrypted information.” Marriott later determined on November 19 that the information came from the Starwood reservation database. Starwood operates dozens of prominent hotel brands, including Westin, W Hotels, Ritz-Carlton, and all Marriott properties including Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield by Marriott, and SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

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“For about 327 million of the guests … the information includes some combination of a name, mailing address, phone number, email address, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest account information, date of birth, gender, arrival and departure information, reservation date, and communication preferences.”

Marriott says that “for some individuals, the information copied also included payment card numbers and payment card expiration dates, but the payment card numbers were encrypted using Advanced Encryption Standard encryption (AES-128). There are two components needed to decrypt the payment card numbers, and at this point Marriott has not been able to rule out the possibility that both were taken.”

What Should You Do?

For starters, Marriott set up a site with FAQs and a dedicated call center line. Marriott will begin sending emails to affected customers on a rolling basis. If you are indeed affected by the breach, there are some steps you can consider.

First off, change your Starwood password, and update any other accounts where you use the same password. Second, it’s a good idea to monitor your credit card activity and review any past activity. Even though credit card data was encrypted and therefore less likely to be stolen, Marriott isn’t guaranteeing anything beyond covering free personal-data monitoring from WebWatcher for one year.

Beyond that … it’s a little tricky. The most sensitive piece of data involved in the breach is customers’ passport information. Passport numbers can be used for a wide range of counterfeit activities, not the least of which is (obviously) creating fake passports. But thieves can also use passport numbers to open fake credit card accounts and other financial accounts in your name. There’s really only one extreme solution to the passport problem, unfortunately, which is to renew your passport.

You can also freeze your credit. This restricts access to your credit reports, which will hinder attempts to open accounts in your name. You can temporarily lift the freeze when you need to provide access to your report for your own needs, and you can freeze your credit indefinitely.

Readers, have you stayed in a Starwood property over the past four years?

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Miles & Points Miscellany

There’s a New No-Fee Credit Card for Earning Miles

Add the new AAdvantage MileUp Card from Citibank to the (very) short list of no-fee credit cards that earn airline miles. It offers one American Airlines mile per dollar charged, plus double miles for purchases at grocery stores or with American Airlines.

The MileUp Card, launching July 22, will offer a signup bonus of 10,000 miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 within three months of opening an account. This no-fee card is straightforward in its points-earning power—no checked bags or other American Airlines perks come with it.

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Similar no-fee cards that earn miles are the Delta Blue Skymiles Card from American Express, which earns one Delta mile per dollar charged. There’s also the Amex EveryDay Card, which earns one AmEx point per dollar that can be converted to a mile on a bunch of airlines.

Most other cards that earn airline miles—or credit that can be exchanged for airline miles—entail an annual fee of at least $70 a year. It may be waived the first year, but the fee kicks in after that.

My position on cards that earn airline miles is: Go for airline miles if you use them for upgrades and premium travel awards, and use the airline on which you would earn the most miles by flying. But if you more often fly coach, you’re better off with a card that earns up to two cents per dollar on all purchases—use cash to buy your air tickets, and regard any miles you earn as an extra benefit.

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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 abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Money

Marriott Reveals New Unified Loyalty Program

When Marriott acquired Starwood in 2016, there was much speculation on how the merger would affect two very different loyalty programs. Since then, the Marriott and Starwood programs have operated independently, but as of yesterday, Marriott has announced that the programs, plus the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program, will officially merge into one mega-program beginning in August 2018.

The merger will create the largest hotel loyalty program on the market, giving its members a chance to earn points through any of the company’s 29 hotel brands under one program. With 6,500 hotels to choose from, Marriott members will not have any trouble finding a points-earning hotel anywhere in the world.

But what does that mean for members’ existing points?

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How Points Will Transfer

Starwood Preferred, Marriott Rewards, and Ritz-Carlton Rewards members will combine separate accounts into one, and points will be transferred at varying values. Starwood points, which have been valued higher per point than Marriott and Ritz-Carlton points, will be tripled. Non-elite members in the new program will begin earning 10 points per dollar spent at every brand, excluding Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, and Element, which will only earn five points on the dollar. Additional points can be earned across all brands for incidental purchases during a stay at any of the hotel brands in the new portfolio, which will make it even easier to earn elite status.

In addition to the three-to-one points transfer, Starwood and Marriott members will also be combining their elite programs with a new earning structure of five elite tiers: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Platinum Premier, and Platinum Premier with Ambassador. Overall, the tiers will be much easier to reach for Ritz-Carlton and Marriott Rewards members. You can read the full tier chart and check out all the benefits here.

The new program will also be keeping Starwood’s airline transfer partners plus 10 more, for a total of 45 transfer partners. The one-to-one transfer ratio will remain to same.

What’s New

Marriott will also be introducing two new personal credit cards. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Luxury Card will earn members six points on the dollar spent at participating hotels and three points for every dollar spent on airfare and at U.S. restaurants. The Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card will also earn members six points per dollar at participating hotels, and two points per dollar spent on other eligible purchases.

Marriott is also promising members an improved digital and mobile experience with access to member-only rates at all 6,500 of its participating hotels from Marriott’s mobile apps. Members will also be able to use the apps to check in or out, receive alerts when the room is ready, chat directly with hotels, and use their smartphone as their room key.

Still to Come

Announcing the new program months before the August merge gives members across all three programs plenty of warning, but there are still a few things we don’t know. Over the next few months, Marriott will be releasing more information about when and how members can combine their accounts. And even though the new program will begin in August, Marriott hasn’t yet revealed the name of the new program.

For now, there is a sense of relief among the members across all three programs as they plan for the new points-earning opportunities of a unified program.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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Booking Strategy Frequent Flyer Travel Trends

InterContinental Devalues Popular Credit Card Perk

The IHG Rewards Club MasterCard, issued by Chase, has long been a favorite of the frequent-traveler crowd. For good reasons:

  • A 60,000-point sign-up bonus, after spending $1,000 within three months
  • A modest $49 annual fee, waived the first year
  • Platinum elite status
  • A free night at any IHG hotel on the cardholder’s anniversary

That’s a lot of value in a card with a decidedly modest annual fee. Too much value, apparently, because the free-night perk is being pared back.

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Beginning on May 1, the annual free night benefit will only apply at IHG hotels that would normally be priced at 40,000 points or less on the IHG Rewards award chart. IHG award nights can cost as much as 70,000 points, so clearly this is a significant devaluation.

A surprise? Not really. Free anniversary nights from other hotel co-branded cards are restricted as well. With Marriott’s Premier card, the free night is limited to Category 1 – 5 hotels. And Hyatt cardholders are limited to Category 1 – 4 hotels for their anniversary free nights. The popular Starwood Preferred Guest co-branded card offers no free anniversary night at all. So there was no competitive pressure to offer unrestricted access. Result: regression to an increasingly stingy mean.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Frequent Flyer

Visa Versus MasterCard Versus American Express – Does It Matter?

As someone who writes regularly about credit and charge cards—specifically, travel-rewards cards—I’ve often found myself chasing after a key data point.

[st_content_ad]It’s well known that American Express charges higher merchant fees, and that fewer merchants accept their cards as a result. What’s been harder to pin down was the exact number of Amex merchants, to be compared with the number of merchants in the Visa and MasterCard networks.

That’s a meaningful comparison when it comes to convenience and utility. All things being equal, a card that’s accepted by more merchants is more useful than a card that’s accepted by fewer merchants.

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Visa and MasterCard have always been fairly transparent when it comes to revealing the size of their merchant networks. (Because Visa and MasterCard are seen as mostly interchangeable by consumers, and because they charge the same merchant fees, their networks are roughly the same size.)

Getting that information from Amex, on the other hand, has proven more challenging. The information, I was told, was “competitively sensitive.” No surprise. American Express is a company known for its arrogance, and it stands to reason it wouldn’t want to quantify its competitive weaknesses.

But in an investor presentation (.pdf) earlier this month, American Express laid out its strategy for increasing its merchant base (by reducing merchant fees, predictably), and included some current numbers for the three U.S. networks, including its own:

  • American Express – 9.0 million merchants
  • Visa – 10.3 merchants
  • MasterCard – 10.3 merchants

So there you have it. As things currently stand, around 1.3 million more U.S. merchants accept cards from Visa and MasterCard than from Amex. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but something to consider when deciding whether to apply for an Amex Platinum card or a Chase Sapphire Reserve (Visa) card.

Given Amex’s goal of approaching parity with Visa and MasterCard, that gap is likely to narrow going forward. In 2017 alone, Amex added 1.5 million merchants to its network. But Visa and MasterCard’s are undoubtedly growing as well. Another data point to track down …

Reader Reality Check

When choosing a credit or charge card, do consider the size of the merchant network?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Booking Strategy Travel Scams Travel Technology

800,000 Orbitz Customers’ Credit Card Data Breached

According to USA Today, Orbitz.com suffered a major data breach that may affect up to 800,000 customers who booked during 2016.

Per USA Today, “An attacker may have accessed customers’ personal information for some purchases made on Orbitz.com between January 1, 2016, and June 22, 2016. In addition, customer information from multiple travel sites that used Orbitz as their booking engine was possibly compromised between January 1, 2016 and December 22, 2016.” The breach occurred last fall and was discovered March 1.

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USA Today adds that the breach affected Amextravel.com and “travel booked through Amex Travel Representatives,” but not AmericanExpress.com. Customers can check online to see if they were affected by the breach.

Obviously any breach of one’s personal data is alarming, not to mention a huge headache if you need to replace cards, update payment info, and go through your statements to sniff out suspicious charges. For travelers, it may be worth calling any providers where you made a reservation to ensure your booking won’t be affected if and when you get a new card. This shouldn’t be a problem, but the peace of mind may be worth it.

This is a good opportunity to refresh some basic credit card safety tips traveling:

      • Let your bank or credit card company know when you’re traveling outside your home area, especially abroad. Give them specific dates so they can flag any suspicious transactions that show up after your trip ends.
      • Note the phone numbers for your bank or credit card in your phone or notebook
      • Sign up for transaction notifications or alerts so you can quickly identify purchases you didn’t make.
      • Carry some cash, just in case your card is lost, stolen, or otherwise compromised
      • Familiarize yourself with the process of freezing your credit. This can prevent thieves from using your stolen data to open new accounts in your name

Readers, do you have any additional tips for using credit cards while traveling?

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