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

SmarterTravel

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
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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.

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.

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.

Airport Chair Massage

chair massage in singapore airport
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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.

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
Yuttapol Phetkong/Shutterstock

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.

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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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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