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.
Check Insurance Needs: Planning a vacation that includes some big upfront deposits and prepayments that are nonrefundable or entail huge cancellation penalties? Consider trip cancellation/interruption insurance. For foreign travel, check how your health plan handles foreign expenses, and buy travel insurance to cover any big risks.
Get Your Paperwork in Order: If you’re driving in the United States, have the necessary insurance card in your car and, if needed, renew your AAA or other auto club membership. Locate any cards that might give discounts, most notably AARP.
Going Out of the Country: Your passport should have six months of remaining validity by your departure date, and you need at least two open rear pages. As soon as possible, arrange for whatever visas you need; they can sometimes take a long time. If you plan to drive, check that your International Driving Permit is up to date: They’re good for only one year. And figure out how to minimize the costs of using your smartphone: Cut back on automatic background data downloads. Even better, get a phone that accommodates T-Mobile, which charges a lot less for overseas calls than even the best deals from the other carriers. And install Skype or some other program that makes no-charge calls over the Internet.
Do Your Financial Planning: Arrange to have at least one credit card with enough available credit to see you through your trip expenses. If you don’t already have one, consider opening an account and getting a debit card from a bank that doesn’t add big fees for use at other banks’ ATMs. If you’re heading out of the country, try to get your credit card issuer to give you a new card with a chip. For foreign travel, consider a credit card that doesn’t add a big surcharge for foreign transactions. Use your card network’s locator function to find an ATM at your arrival airport that is operated by a legitimate local bank. Lots of foreign airports have tossed out legitimate bank ATMs in favor of ATMs operated by exchange outfits that boast “no fees” but give you a really bad exchange rate.
Hotel Arrangements: Unless you want to “get away from it all,” reserve at hotels that provide free in-room Wi-Fi. Lots of them do; especially moderate-price and budget chains; it’s the four-star places that scam you with steep Wi-Fi charges. On a driving trip, reserve at hotels that offer free on-site parking: You’d be surprised at how many suburban low-rise hotels try to stick you with a stiff parking fee. If you have a bad back, reserve at hotels with elevators or “lifts.” Any good online booking agency highlights hotels have free Wi-Fi, parking, elevators and whatever else you might want.
Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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