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7 Things You Shouldn’t Buy Before You Travel

SmarterTravel

The plane ticket, hotel reservations, and car rental are easy. What’s not so simple is the decision to buy the array of additional perks, products, and add-ons available to travelers prior to departure. Should you insure your trip? Do you really need those extra inches of legroom? Is an expedited-passport service worth the cost? We have the answers. In the interest of saving you money, we’ve rounded up seven things that you can probably do without on your next trip.

Things You Shouldn’t Buy Before You Travel

Think twice before handing over your hard-earned money for the following products and services.

Travel Insurance

(Photo: Insurance via Shutterstock)

Travel insurance can be a wise investment. Or it can be a needless expense. Many avid travelers move across the planet without ever even considering purchasing trip insurance. (I’ve never paid for a policy.) They find travel insurance unnecessary because, often, they’re planning budget trips or they don’t consider themselves at high risk for cancellation. To find out whether it’s wise to insure your trip, ask yourself some important questions. For example, are you planning an unusually long and expensive journey (such as a honeymoon or a three-week jaunt to Asia)? If you were forced to cancel your trip due to an unforeseen reason, would you be OK with the financial loss?

Furthermore, if you’re in a higher-risk situation—if, say, your medical insurance doesn’t cover you abroad or you’re heading to the Caribbean during hurricane season—travel insurance might be a smart purchase. Otherwise, maybe you’re better off pocketing the extra hundred dollars or so and taking your chances on the road. To learn more, read 5 Common Travel Insurance Questions, Answered.

Private Passport-Expediting Service

(Photo: Passport via Shutterstock)

Paying for a private passport expediter—a very expensive service—usually isn’t your best option for getting that little blue book in a hurry. Did you know that you can get an expedited passport directly from the State Department? This will run you additional costs, but will be far cheaper than the cost of a rush passport from a private company, which will always include additional charges on top of requisite State Department fees. The only reason any traveler should pay for a private expediting service is if he or she doesn’t live near a passport agency or cannot make it to one. (See a list of passport agencies here.) The State Department also offers a fast-track processing service that gets a passport to your mailbox in less than three weeks.

Seat Assignment

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Certain airlines charge passengers for the “privilege” of selecting an assigned seat upon booking. When booking your flight with one of these guys, you might find yourself wondering whether it’s worth the extra fee to secure a designated seat before your trip. In many cases, it’s not. A seat assignment guarantees that you’ll be plopped in a space next to your partner, or near the window, or wherever it is that you’ve chosen—but that’s the extent of its advantages. There’s no guarantee that you won’t get bumped, that you’ll find enough room in the overhead bin for your carry-on bag, or that you’ll really make it onto the plane before the herds of line cutters at the gate. A far better and free option? Check in for your flight as early as possible. Get to your computer exactly 24 hours before boarding and you’ll likely be among the first to select your seat.

Prepaid Credit Cards

(Photo: Credit Card via Shutterstock)

We all want to keep our money secure while traveling. Prepaid credit cards, which are often billed as a safer and more convenient alternative to carrying cash abroad, might seem like a smart option. You purchase a card and load it with funds in your preferred currency ahead of your trip. And if your card gets lost or stolen, you can cancel it immediately. Simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Most prepaid credit cards come with some surprising hidden fees, such as inactivity fees, reloading charges, monthly fees, activation fees, and so on.

Premium-Economy Seat Upgrade

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Premium seats are not all alike. Generally, when flying internationally, a premium-seat upgrade is a big deal, but on most domestic flights, premium-economy seating is paltry. You get a couple extra inches of seat pitch, end of story. As a short person with no need for extra legroom, I’ve found premium-economy seats on domestic flights to be disappointing. Investigate whether the cost is worth the reward by looking up the details of your prospective premium-economy product on your airline’s website or on our sister site SeatGuru.

TV-Show Downloads

(Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

I have a habit of paying to download a season of some kind of mystery TV show on my iPad before a long flight. But increasingly, I find myself watching something on the in-flight entertainment system rather than powering up my iPad and wasting its battery. Airlines have been beefing up their entertainment offerings in big ways in the past year or so, with many major carriers implementing live TV and Wi-Fi services. JetBlue has live DirecTV, while others wow with other onboard amenities.

Expedited Security

(Photo: Michael Nagle/Stringer/Getty)

Expedited security can be a really awesome perk when you’re faced with a lengthy line that snakes off into the distance. On the other hand, when there are three other people in line and the sound of crickets in the air, it can feel like a rip-off. So when should you buy an expedited-security add-on? First, consider your travel dates: Are you heading to the airport during peak travel days (holidays or weekends)? If so, expect lines.

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

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