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I'm tired of draping my coat over my expandable 25-inch suitcase in an attempt to hide it from airline employees. Yes, I am that person. My bag exists on the fringe of airline carry-on size limits. But I have a plan to change. I'm going to ditch my large luggage and travel the world with a tiny 18-inch spinner with which I can zip past even the most fastidious gate agent.

How? With space bags, also known as compression bags. I've used them before. But over the past few years, I had forgotten about the handy little wonders and switched back to the sit-on-the-suitcase method for successful packing. ... read more»

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First of all, let's just start out by saying that not every hotel room is secretly swarming with skin cells of past guests, E. coli, and/or unidentified bodily fluids. Every hotel has different protocol, schedules, and cleaning staff that determine just how clean your temporary home is going to be. But just because your room looks spic-n-span doesn't necessarily make it so.

We aren't dumb (and neither are you); we know that not all maids are spending hours scrubbing, buffing, and spraying down every surface and crevice of our hotel rooms. But after digging, we uncovered some pretty dirty secrets of hotel "cleaning" practices, hiding in the sheets, on your pillows, across the bathroom counter, in the glasses you drink from—pretty much everywhere.

Think you're better off not knowing about how dirty the bedsheets are or what infectious bacteria is colonizing on that remote control? Trust us, it's better to know—and know how to deal with it. And we're here to help. ... read more»

Woman shopping online with credit card (Photo: Index Open)

The latest entry in the travel-rewards credit card universe is the new Miles card from Discover, which features an effective 3 percent rebate on travel purchases. ... read more»

What is it: Overland Equipment Whitney Bag

Price and Where to Buy: $63 to $66 on Amazon.com

Pros: The Whitney Bag is roomy without feeling oversized. It has great details like a padded electronics sleeve, two external side pockets (one fleece-lined) for water bottles or other quick-access items, a detachable toiletries pouch, a reusable shopping tote, a detachable key clip, and a multitude of pockets. Best of all, it converts convincingly from a backpack to a purse. The backpack straps are comfortable and can be tucked discreetly into a flap, transforming the bag into an attractive shoulder tote. ... read more»

The Capitol at night, Washington, D.C.

Airlines are consistently among the country's least trusted and most reviled companies. And they're not getting any better—the DOT's 2014 Air Travel Consumer Report showed a year-over-year increase of 17.8 percent in complaints lodged with the Department.

Sources of friction between the airlines and their customers run the gamut, from misleading advertising to shoddy service to nuisance fees to delayed flights. But one of the richest sources of travelers' ire has been the airlines' loyalty programs. The complaints question the programs operators' honesty, transparency, and fairness. ... read more»

What Is It: A slim protective smartphone case.

Why It's Smart:

• Slim profile—the iPhone 6 Plus model is 6.77" x 3.60" x 1.35" and weighs 4.3 ounces

• Designed by Pelican Products, a company that makes protective equipment for the military and emergency services

• Scratch resistant coated screen protector

• Tested to Military Specifications to survive multiple drops.

• Comes with a holster that has a swiveling belt clip and a kickstand for media viewing

• Lifetime guarantee

Where to Buy: Available on Amazon.

(Photo: Pelican)

... read more»
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What is it: Eagle Creek No Matter What Flatbed Duffel 28

Price and Where to Buy: $200 on Amazon.com

Pros: This 28-inch duffel performs like a suitcase, with wheels, a telescoping handle, rigid back, and mesh organizational pockets. It's also abrasion resistant, which makes it strong enough to stand up to the rigors of airport baggage handling systems. The duffel is water repellant, a useful feature for both adventure travel and anytime you're traveling in rain or snow. And with external compression straps (that include daisy chains in case you want to attach gear to the outside of your bag), it manages overpacking well. ... read more»

Several consumer initiatives from late last year and early 2015 are wending their way through the system. So far, I've seen no results; these issues always take longer than they should. But the bigger problem is that all of the pending issues deal with airlines, one way or another; cruisers and hotel guests are still hanging out to dry.

Airlines

Five main initiatives asking for improved consumer protections for air travelers are in the works: ... read more»

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If you're planning a summer trip, you'll need to take care of some arrangements and purchases well in advance of your departure day. Here are some suggestions.

Buying Your Airline Tickets: By now, you've probably seen those reports that say buy an international ticket 10 or 11 weeks in advance; a domestic trip seven or so weeks in advance. And you've also seen those reports that say, "There is no best time to buy tickets." My favorite bit of advice is to keep looking for promotions and sales. When you see a good deal, scoop it up and don't obsess that someone else may pay a little less.

One other suggestion, counter to some tips I've seen: Look for connecting flights. Domestically, on most competitive routes, a nonstop flight costs more than a two-flight itinerary through some line's intervening hub. This is a clear case of charging on the basis of what the airline thinks you'll pay, not what it costs the airline. To Europe, for example, Kayak says the least expensive Chicago to Paris round trip in mid-July is $1,007, via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines; Air France wants $1,824 for its nonstop. Also to Europe, check out promotional deals on premium economy and business class: You can sometimes score a comfortable seat for little more than you pay for a tiny seat in the cattle car. ... read more»

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"The passenger experience was a hot topic in 2014 as airlines and airports worked to make the travel process better": So said the lead of a recent report in the trade press. And it is typical of others that covered the same topic. The industry threw a big conference on the passenger experience, giving lots of talks and presenting lots of papers. But if you really think that your experience will actually get better this year, I've got a couple of bridges I'd like to sell you. Two themes pervade the output of all this flurry of activity.

It's the Airports' Problem

Some industry leaders tagged airports as primary culprits. "The primary focus is to get to the gate in the least amount of time, but there's been no change on how to facilitate the process and make it easier for passengers," said one. "There's a disconnect between airlines and airports, because airlines don't give enough information to airports to help passengers to the gate." Really? The problem is that airlines don't give airports enough information? ... read more»

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