Forget strangers and selfies — hire a flytographer on your next trip and never worry about capturing yourself on location again. What’s a flytographer? More like who. Leading the newest travel trend, Flytographer.com connects you with professional photographers who are available to shoot your vacation as you would a wedding (or even a celebrity sighting). Just when you thought drones were the ultimate travel paparazzo…
Local photographers in more than 130 cities make it easy to connect with someone who is familiar with the best backdrops and locations, turning an average trip into something worth a glamorous (albeit candid) photo shoot. Whether it’s a special event, such as a proposal in Prague, or simply a family vacation in Cancun that you want to be sure to capture, it beats a clunky self-timer, an awkward exchange with a passerby or an uncomfortably tight selfie.
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Travel blogger Johnny Jet even tried it out on a recent vacation with his wife in Hawaii.
The idea came from Nicole Smith, a Canadian woman who, after losing hundreds of travel photos due to underexposed old film, realized on a recent girls’ trip that asking a third friend to document the vacation wasn’t only a huge favor, it was a business model. A working mother of two, Smith now runs Flytographer.com full time, tapering off her hours at Microsoft, where she currently still works.
Prices for the experience range from $250, which buys you a 30-minute shoot in one location resulting in 15 photos, to $500 for a 90-minute session in two locations yielding 45 photos. A proposal photo shoot is a flat fee of $450.
What do you think — is a professional vacation photographer worth the splurge? Share in the comments.
– written by Brittany Chrusciel
All travel guides narrow down sprawling cityscapes into an organized list of things to do, but 200 pages later, the information can still be overwhelming to a newcomer. A startup called Indie Guides takes a different tack by not including major tourist attractions and not catering to everyone. Instead, it carefully selects 50 addresses for each of its mobile city guides.
We first learned about these artistically inclined travel guides from an article on CNTraveler.com that describe the write-ups as “worded in an easygoing style, as if you were reading a friend’s emailed list of recommendations.” And in fact, friends’ recommendations they are.
As musicians, the creators of the guides reached out to fellow artists around the world and elicited their very personal choices for things to do and see in Athens, Berlin, Istanbul, Madrid, Rotterdam and Paris, in categories such as culture, drink, eat, shopping and going out. The result is an eclectic mix of boutiques, hidden live music venues, art workshops and galleries that you may easily have walked past had you not known what was on the other side. On their site, the creators of the guide describe their picks as “subjective, yes, but informed, honest and passionate.”
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Being musically minded, founder Anne Le Gal and friends have also crafted a streamable playlist for each location, based on the local music scene.
The app — for both iOS and Android devices — offers an offline map so you can travel with your recommendations regardless of Internet connection. Each guide costs $1.99, with the exception of Paris, which is free for the next six months. A guide to Tokyo is debuting in March, and Rome is set to launch in April.
Would you be interested in an Indie Guide? Which cities would you like to see guides for next?
– written by Brittany Chrusciel
This is the first post in our new Living Like a Local series, in which we interview expats about their experiences living abroad in destinations around the world.
Ben Lyons is a licensed Captain who has served throughout the world on the bridge of cruise ships and expedition vessels. He is currently CEO of EYOS Expeditions, which arranges luxury expeditions to remote and wild regions on superyachts. He is living in Istanbul for 18 months while his wife fulfills an overseas rotation for her job.
Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?
A: How diverse Turkey can be. It is a mix of cultures, ethnicities and religions. There are deeply conservative and religious neighborhoods, and yet only a few miles away you’ll encounter a scene as Western as any street in New York. Yet despite their varying backgrounds, they are all fiercely proud to be Turkish.
To read the rest of this interview, click here.
Learn More About Turkey:
Photos: 10 Best Turkey Experiences
Istanbul City Guide
Getting Around Turkey
Turkey Accommodations: Cave Hotels, Gulets and More
– interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter
The holidays are finally over, and as the long, celebrationless weeks of winter stretch out across our immediate futures, we can reflect upon how stressful — or not — the holidays actually were. Orbitz makes this reflection easy with an eye-catching infographic based upon its 2013 holiday travel trends survey, dubbed a “best-practice guide to holiday travel stressors.” Orbitz found, among other things, that 71 percent of its readers actually found their trips not to be stressful at all.
In the planning stages of holiday travel, 29 percent of respondents said they were more stressed about planning a trip during the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s) than any other time of the year. But a majority — 58 percent — responded that the planning aspect did not stress them at all. (Sounds suspicious to me.) Women were 23 percent more likely to be stressed than men, and travelers aged 18 to 34 were, in general, more stressed than the over-35 crowd (I guess that’s why I’m the stressed one). Unsurprisingly, those with children at home were 19 percent more likely to be stressed than those without kids.
Based on survey responses from travelers who kept their cool, Orbitz suggests developing a trip schedule, booking things in advance and reading customer reviews to ease the planning process.
During travel, suggestions to reduce vacation stress include staying in a hotel for at least part of your trip (rather than with family) and penciling in some personal or down time, while others schedule endless activities to distract them during their time away.
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Despite women experiencing more stress during the planning process, men were more likely to be stressed after a trip than women. Full-time employees were a whopping 82 percent more likely to worry about transitioning back to everyday life than those who are self-employed. Again, those with children seemed to be on edge at every part of a trip — they were 56 percent more likely to be stressed post-vacation than those without kids.
Transitioning “back to reality,” 37 percent of travelers responded that they were stressed and four percent felt “extremely stressed” regarding the transition. The good news? Nearly a third of travelers used the word “enjoyable” to describe their holiday trips.
So what are the keys to handling post-trip anxiety and post-travel blues? More than half keep up with home life while they’re away, 45 percent rarely (if at all) tell their office how to contact them while away and 44 percent never or rarely keep up to date with work while away.
How would you rate your travel stress this past holiday season? I solved it by not going anywhere!
– written by Brittany Chrusciel
Ditch the diet and make a plan to broaden your horizons by way of travel — near or far — in 2015 (it’s way more fun than eating your veggies). This is what some of the staff at The Independent Traveler, Inc. resolve to do in the new year:
“I would like to finally win a free vacation this year, all expenses paid!” – Blake Bullis, Web Application Manager
“No more long lines — I’m finally going to apply for the Global Entry and TSA PreCheck programs! If the fee saves me a single wait in the hideous JFK immigration line, it’ll be worth it.” – Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor
“I plan to travel to Ukraine to visit family and take a weeklong vacation in Greece with my husband and friends.” – Masha Uretsky, Social Media Specialist
“My New Year’s resolution is not to travel more, but to travel better — more immersive experiences, more thoughtful planning, a better focus on quality and value. I want to eliminate the insanity of way too many last-minute decisions — whether in booking trips or being on them — that cost of peace of mind and cold hard cash.” – Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-in-Chief
“I’m not a ‘resolutions’ guy, but I’m focusing my 2015 travel efforts on appreciating my own state (California) more: mountains, deserts and beaches. This also supports my objective of spending less time getting there and more time being there.” – Michael Maher, Digital Media Sales Manager (Western Region)
“World Cup or bust! I’ve wanted to attend a soccer World Cup for many years, and with the next men’s World Cups being held in Russia and Qatar, the chances of getting to one within the next eight years are slim to none. BUT the women’s World Cup for 2015 is being held in Canada! As soon as I realized that, I took the first steps toward achieving my dream, reserving my hotel room and buying my stadium pass to the Women’s World Cup games being held this June throughout Canada. It will likely be the only time I get to see a World Cup in person, plus I’ll be seeing Canada play, so I’m looking forward to the home crowd atmosphere.” – Dori Saltzman, Editor at Large
“I told myself I’m required to go two new places every year — they don’t have to be abroad. So for next year, I already have Nashville booked!” – Stephanie Moccio, Senior SEO Specialist
“My 2015 travel resolution is to do more weekend getaways! After an 11-day vacation this fall, we decided that we prefer only being gone for four to five days at a time. More weekend getaway means we can explore new places, as well as revisit favorites.” – Kimberly Coyne, Director of Sales
“My 2015 travel resolution is to do two things: get certified to scuba dive, so that I can eventually go with my aunt who is now an expert, and also to make a solidified list of places I want to visit during my lifetime. Of course, this list will be added to in future years, but a list that I can begin to tackle in 2015 sounds like a good plan to get me started!” – Hilarey Wojtowicz, Editorial Assistant, Family Vacation Critic
“If I could see at least one new place — whether it be domestic or international, city or small town — that’s always a goal on my list for the upcoming year.” – Brittany Chrusciel, Editorial Assistant
“Gone are the days of planning a week to a new country. This year, my resolution is to survive a short trip to Disney World with my toddler … that’s as adventurous as it’s getting!” – Amanda Hoy, Brand Marketing Manager
“In 2015, we resolve to do a family trip that’s not a cruise. We need to see what other travel options are out there. Maybe there are other family trips we’ll enjoy just as much as cruising?” – Cecilia Freeman, Assistant Community Manager
“My New Year’s travel resolution is to get on a river cruise. I’ve spent an awful lot of time on ocean ships — which I love — but all I hear about at the moment is river, river, river! So here’s hoping I can take a slow boat down the Danube in 2015.” – Adam Coulter, Senior Editor, Cruise Critic U.K.
“My travel resolution is to go on fewer cruises and take more land-based trips. My hope is that I’ll be able to strengthen our destinations coverage by immersing myself in the ports and their surrounding areas; it’s tough to do that if you’re only there for a few hours when a ship calls.” – Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor
“I haven’t decided what my resolution is yet — it might involve Europe, but I most definitely want to explore more local attractions. Too often, we overlook the amazing places in our own backyards.” – Amanda Geronikos, Associate Editor, Family Vacation Critic
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What’s your resolution for the coming year? Post it in the comments below!
– written by Amanda Geronikos
This is part one of a two-part series about my experience with a “free vacation” offer. In this segment, I’ll outline how my friend and I “won” and what we had to endure to claim our “gift.” Check back for part two in 2015, when I’ll discuss if we were actually able to book a trip and, if so, how it went, if it’s worth the time and whether it’s really free.
We’ve all been there. You’re at a sporting event or a fair, and someone approaches you to “register for a chance to win a free vacation.” In my case, it was at a concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and my friend, who’s had a bit of a rough year, was excited by the prospect.
As she filled in her name and contact information, I snatched one of the entry forms and read the fine print on the back. It was standard legal jargon, stating that Sundance Vacations, the company sponsoring the contest, would have the right to get in touch with entrants using any means provided. I figured it was just a ploy to generate email addresses and phone numbers, so I declined.
Fast forward two months. My friend received a phone call from someone at Sundance, telling her they had “good news” and asking her to call for more information. First she dialed me: “Are you sitting down?” she asked. “I never win ANYTHING, but we’re going on vacation!”
A phone call to the company confirmed that we would, in fact, have to sit through a presentation as a condition of acceptance. We assumed a sales pitch would follow, but we were told the whole process would have us in and out within an hour.
Slightly different from companies that offer timeshares, Sundance sells “wholesale vacations,” which it touts as discounted or overstock trips that are less expensive because 1) the company purchases vacations in bulk, and 2) it owns the properties that are available for booking. (I won’t even try to figure out why Sundance needs to “purchase” said vacations if it owns the properties, lest my head explode.)
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During the initial presentation, an attractive and sharply dressed woman attempted to keep the attention of a dozen attendees through witty banter (“I’ll keep this short. I just ran a marathon yesterday, and my legs are killing me”), condescending comments (to a young and slightly disheveled couple with two children: “Surely you’ve never been to Disney World”) and the promise of a “suitcase” of affordable vacations from which we’d be able to draw over a period of several years after signing up and shelling out a modest monthly fee. She went on to explain a bit of math as she clicked through some PowerPoint slides.
I had just checked Facebook for the 17th time and was nearly dozing off in my chair when a team of sales representatives came bursting through the back door of the presentation room like an army of Stormtroopers. Each group of visitors was led through a hallway and into a giant room with tables, chairs and, oddly, beach balls — where thousands (literally, we saw the Polaroids everywhere) of customers before us were convinced to purchase vacation packages.
The woman in charge of giving us our first hard sell was actually nice and didn’t pressure us as much as we expected she might. Then her boss came over, asked if we were treated well and turned up the heat by offering us an even sweeter deal. He backed down after we gave him a firm “no” and told him that we had read nothing but negative reviews about the company online. He gave us a couple of weak excuses but eventually realized we weren’t going to budge.
Ninety minutes after our initial arrival, we were taken to meet with our final obstacle, a friendly older gentleman who further lowered the prices and even tossed in meal vouchers. Ultimately, we said no, and he grudgingly gave us the paperwork we needed to claim our four-day, three-night trip to our choice of Cancun, Montego Bay or San Juan.
Apparently we have 60 days to call a phone number (not toll-free), ask questions, gather information (we’d love to see photos of the resort options, as none were provided) and “register” to receive our “reservation deposit invoice.” After receiving it, we have 30 days to send it back with a deposit of $100 each, which is then applied to the imposed taxes and fees of anywhere from about $100 – $185. (Technically the trip is a gift, not a prize, so Sundance isn’t required to cover taxes and fees.) We’re told the deposit is refundable until actual reservations have been made. Stay tuned for part two, coming sometime in 2015, when I’ll tell you whether the trip actually happens.
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In the meantime, tell us if you’ve ever been a part of a “free vacation” offer. How did it work out?
– written by Ashley Kosciolek
I’ve never quite gotten the whole Seven Wonders of the World thing. Isn’t wonder-ful subjective? What others find awe inspiring, I sometimes find shrugworthy. The Christ the Redeemer statue, for instance, which in 2007 was named one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, stirs absolutely nothing in me. Conversely, places that have amazed me (Australia’s Uluru being one) others have found mildly interesting at best.
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And how do we even define a “wonder”? Is it a great work of humanity? Is it a stunning natural landscape or phenomenon? Is it something that represents a monumental moment in time?
We, all of us, answer this question differently, which raises the question what are the “wonders” we have encountered on our travels?
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IndependentTraveler.com reached out to some of our contributing editors, as well as our readers on Twitter and Facebook for their lists of the wonders they’ve encountered on their travels.
Without further ado, here are our many Wonders of the World. Please share your list in the comments below.
Brittany Chrusciel, Contributing Editor
Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Mangal Mahadev (108-foot-tall Shiva statue), Ganga Talao, Mauritius
Jenny Szymanski Jones (via Facebook)
Victoria Falls, Zambia
Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.A.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
Big Sur, California, U.S.A.
Kingshuk Mazumder (@KingShuk03 via Twitter)
Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India
Erica Silverstein, Contributing Editor
Great Wall of China
Yosemite National Park, California, U.S.A.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
@jayme_p via Twitter
Magens Bay, St. Thomas, U.S. V.I.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Jessica McMillan (@jedijesser via Twitter)
The Ink Pots, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Chris Gray Faust, Contributing Editor
Pantheon, Rome, Italy
Ashley Kosciolek, Contributing Editor
Colosseum and Vatican City, Italy
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland
–written by Dori Saltzman
I’m by no means a hotel snob. Give me a fair rate, a clean room and a comfortable bed, and I’m happy; throw in free breakfast (no matter how basic) and free Wi-Fi, and I’m over the moon. Alternative lodging tends to be more my thing — hostels when I was a carefree backpacker, tents for outdoorsy adventures and vacation rentals for family gatherings.
It’s no surprise then that I loved my first Airbnb stay. The concept is simple: Book space in someone’s home (a room, a bed, a guesthouse) for — hopefully — less than the cost of a standard hotel. We tried it out on a recent trip to see family in Los Angeles, and it was a much better choice than the hotel we were considering. Based on that experience, here are five reasons why Airbnb might be better than a hotel.
Location: We wanted to be close to my brother’s home, but the nearest hotels were a few miles away and quite pricey. When we turned to Airbnb, we found a rental located just three blocks — walking distance! — from his house in the same residential neighborhood. Because Airbnb properties can be anywhere, you’re not limited to business districts and busy boulevards — great if you want something off the beaten path or closer to atypical attractions (like family).
Space: For $200+ a night, my family of four could have shared one room in a hotel, forcing the adults to sit in the dark after 8:30 p.m. bedtimes, and relegating early riser babies (and their grudging grownup companions) to play in the bathroom with the door closed at 6:45 a.m. For a much lower rate, we instead booked a 1,000-square-foot, two-floor guesthouse. After putting the children to sleep upstairs, my husband and I hung out in the downstairs living space, kicking back on the L-shaped couch or snacking at the kitchen table, lights ablaze.
Amenities: So we didn’t get free breakfast with Airbnb. We did get free Wi-Fi, cookies, fruit and bottled water. We also were invited to use our hosts’ patio, pool and hot tub, and the art supplies in the crafts area of their guesthouse. My son and nephew had a rousing dance party listening to our hosts’ CDs on the upstairs stereo. My guess is you won’t get the same niceties renting out a bed in someone’s apartment, but you do benefit from being a guest in someone’s home, rather than a customer in someone’s corporate brand.
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Flexibility: Instead of worrying about strict check-in and check-out times that might interfere with naptime or force us out of our digs too early, we had the pleasure of working out arrangements that suited both our hosts and us. They had an outing planned the day we arrived, so they left a key for us to come at our leisure; when asked about check-out, their response was essentially “whenever.” Our last day was street cleaning day with a two-hour parking window on the other side; our host not only made sure we knew the rules, but let us park in his driveway so we wouldn’t have to keep moving our car.
Human Contact: I don’t often strike up conversations with the hotel check-in staff (other than to complain about my key card not working or the lack of a porta-crib), but we ran into our hosts twice and chatted pleasantly with them. Certainly, your experience will be much more social if you’re actually staying in your host’s home with them, rather than in a detached guesthouse, but either way it’s a fun way to meet people and learn about local culture.
That isn’t to say Airbnb doesn’t have its drawbacks. While our stay was wonderful, there’s a lot more room for properties to be less ideal than advertised, for hosts to cancel your reservation due to their personal needs, and for personality conflicts to detract from a stay with heavy interaction between you and your hosts (or additional guests). My colleague had an awkward first Airbnb stay, and my in-laws were a bit disappointed to learn they weren’t allowed to have a glass of wine on the verandah at their host’s place, due to a “no alcohol” policy not clearly delineated in the Airbnb listing. Not to mention that certain cities are questioning the legality of Airbnb stays in the first place.
But if you’re looking for accommodations that don’t fit the typical hotel bill, give it a try. At best, you’ll find just what you need at the right price; at worst, it’ll be a funny story a few years down the road (and you can soothe your soul by writing a biting review).
–written by Erica Silverstein
Thanksgiving season is a time to take stock of life and focus on all the positives, a time for gratitude and appreciation. With so much of my life centered on travel, I thought I’d take some time this season to reflect on all the people I’ve met on the road — even if just for a moment — for whom I am eternally grateful.
There have been many: men and women, mostly nameless, who have offered a helping hand when I needed one or opened their homes to me when I was far from my own home.
Like the unseen man at the Miami airport who paid for my dinner and gave a $20 bill to my waiter to give to me when all the credit card machines and ATMs in the airport stopped working and I had no cash to pay for food after not eating all day. I never saw his face, only his back as he walked out of the restaurant into the terminal and disappeared in the crowd.
Or the elderly Irish lady in Killarney who ushered me and a friend into her cozy, warm living room when she saw us waiting in the pouring rain under one umbrella on a chilly summer day. She poured us tea, showed us photographs of her children and gave us hug when our bus showed up a half hour later.
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Then there was the kind clerk at a random hotel in Wellington, New Zealand, that I had walked into when I couldn’t bear to stay at a hostel one more night and needed just one night alone. He had no room, but sensing how upset I was, he made some calls for me and then drove me to another hotel on the other side of the city.
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And I will never forget Blanche and Alex, a 20-something couple whom my sister and I met in the Glasgow train station. We had noticed them because we thought they looked cool and had stopped to ask them where the interesting places to hang out were. Instead of giving us directions, Blanche took us on a tour of the city, invited us back to their apartment and threw a party so we could meet a bunch of people.
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Others who showed me kindness where none was due include the man who picked me and my sister (scraggly-looking backpackers at the time) up on the side of the road in Northern Ireland (with his two small kids in the car) and drove us to the ferry terminal; the ferry employee who stalled the boat’s departure to get us on even though we were late; and the faceless woman on the New Zealand Interislander ferry who pushed a cup of water underneath the bathroom door when she heard me throwing up from motion sickness.
To these people — and the ones I’ve probably forgotten — I say: Thank you. I am grateful for the kindness you showed me.
Express your gratitude to the strangers who have helped you in your travels below.
– written by Dori Saltzman
Traveling (and packing) for the holidays this year? We can’t tell you what to expect from the person sitting next to you on your flight — if they are sick, like to snore or have a crying baby sitting on their lap — but we can tell you which baggage fees to expect from your air carrier and how to beat them.
First, make sure your carry-on is complimentary. If not, bring only the most essential items on your person or in a small bag that could be considered your personal effect, and then check the rest. If you are checking a bag, make sure to determine whether prepayment is available online prior to arrival at the airport. Many airlines allow you to pay for checked baggage on their site or app, and sometimes it’s at a reduced price.
The next thing to consider is how much you’re bringing. Always weigh your bags before you arrive at the check-in counter. Guessing a number may be fun on “The Price is Right,” but not so when that number might result in extra fees. If you must pack everything you own, take advantage of all the space you have; that means packing your carry-on and, if you can manage them, two checked bags. We noticed that many of the fees for overweight bags exceed how much it would be to bring two checked bags, so divide your belongings into two suitcases, pay less and potentially have room to pack anything you purchase while you are away.
Our award for the best airline to fly with excess baggage this season goes to Southwest: zero baggage fees unless you fill over capacity, and even then, the overweight fee is less than most. As an added bonus, Southwest also doesn’t charge for things like making changes to a nonrefundable flight. Our vote for the most nickel and diming goes to Spirit. Notorious for added fees, Spirit not only charges more per bag, but might be Scrooge of the airlines with their $2 holiday surcharge. Bah humbug!
Fees for international flights may vary by region, so double-check your carrier’s website to be sure. Also, discounted fees are available for members of most airline loyalty programs.
Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $25. Overweight bags are $75.
Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.
Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.
Fees: Carry-on is $25 to $50; first bag is $25 and second $30. Overweight bags are $75.
Fees: None for carry-on or first bag. Second checked bag is $50. Overweight bags are $100.
(Note: Starting in 2015, JetBlue will offer a new fare that doesn’t include a free checked bag.)
Fees: None for carry-on, first or second checked bag. Overweight bags are $75.
Fees: Carry-on is $35 to $100; first bag is $30 to $100 and second bag is $40 to $100. Overweight bags are $25 to $100. A $2 surcharge will be tacked on to existing baggage fees from December 18 through January 5.
Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.
Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.
Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag is $25 and second bag is $25. Overweight bags are $50 to $100.
– written by Brittany Chrusciel