Whether Uncle Sam reciprocated with a hefty refund this year, or you’re still scrambling to postmark the paperwork, tax season produces stress and savings funds alike. While most sites will advise what to spend your hard-earned refund on, we have a few travel-related fees you shouldn’t use your bonus bit of cash toward. A room with a balcony instead of just a window? Yes. Your airline’s $25 checked bag fee? Not so much. Budgeting for a dream vacation can be worth all of the withholdings, just don’t bother wasting your precious refund on the following travel fees.
If you plan on shopping abroad, don’t let laziness rob you of repayment. Many countries — mainly in the European Union — offer their own refunds of the Value Added Tax (VAT) that is levied on clothing, art and other souvenirs. This tax can range from 10 to 25 percent, so if you’re making purchases beyond a few postcards, it’s likely worth the additional effort to provide your passport, obtain the appropriate receipt while at the store and file it once at the airport. A few things to know before you go: Try not to use the items before claiming them — this may nullify the refund — and also be aware of the spending minimums in each country to qualify for compensation. Ireland requires no minimum purchase, so load up on as much — or as little — memorabilia from the Emerald Isle as you like and submit it for recompense.
This may seem like an obvious and overwrought fee to avoid, but don’t let the airlines break you down. Unless you’re headed on a safari and need pounds worth of gear, baggage fees can still be avoided because, well, they suck. Consider packing a lighter carry-on for the way over and bringing two bags home; for a domestic flight, ship your suitcase or additional items in advance (this may sound pricey, but consider your airline’s fees for overweight or additional baggage); or best of all, find an airline that still allows a free checked bag or two. Baggage fees are ever-changing and often vary by destination, so even if you fly with the same carrier routinely, it’s always smart to check current size restrictions and costs before you go.
Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
Prepaying might seem like the mark of an organized, well-adjusted traveler — prepaid gratuities, prepaid hotel fare at a discount — but know when you’re saving time and when you’re losing money. Prepaying for gas when picking up a rental car is an expense that is only worth the cost if you’re short on time the morning of drop-off, or you’re confident that you’ll pull up to the rental agency in perfect unison with the gaslight. In this case, paying as you go and refueling on your own ensure that you’re only paying for what you’ve used — and no more.
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Traveling independently is a fearless form of travel, so shouldn’t you be rewarded, not penalized, for doing so? Some tour operators and cruise lines don’t see it that way. Based on double occupancy prices, single travelers are often required to pay a premium for occupying a space set aside for two. This doesn’t have to be the case. Increasingly, cruise lines and travel companies are waiving these solo supplements and even going so far as to customize vacations and purpose-build cruise cabins for the solo traveler. Another cost-effective way to travel on your own and even get to know a travel companion is to share a room with another independent traveler — but this option depends on comfort level and availability.
Single Travel Tips for Going Solo
Internet is reaching the dawn of a new Information Age — one where access is more of a right and less of a privilege. Because of its widespread availability in most of the developed world, Internet access is easier than ever to find for free. Find a hotel, a local cafe, a college campus or even a library where you can plug in or channel some free Wi-Fi. Along with obvious benefits such as checking museum opening hours or finding a great local restaurant, you can also use VoIP apps such as FaceTime to keep in touch with loved ones at home (depending on bandwidth, of course). Internet is still hard to come by in many parts of the world and vital enough to pay for if necessary, so know before you go.
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– written by Brittany Chrusciel
Ever had a bellhop sweep in to grab your bags even though you’d hoped to carry them yourself (and not have to pay a tip)? You’re not alone. In a recent survey of 2,719 Americans, Travel Leaders Group asked travelers how they cope with this and other common travel dilemmas. Turns out many of us are actually passive in uncomfortable travel situations, and the majority of us tip — even in cases where we’re not quite sure if we’re supposed to.
When it comes to an unoccupied but reserved beach chair, the majority — about 30 percent — would wait more than four hours before claiming it as their own; another 29 percent gave it an hour before calling dibs.
Almost half — 49 percent of respondents — would tip a bellhop if he or she assisted with luggage, even if they didn’t ask for help. Another 32 percent said they would tip, but less than if they had made the request, and 19 percent would not tip.
I was surprised to read that while 35 percent of respondents tip their maid service every day regardless of length of stay, 26 percent never tip.
Tips for Tipping Abroad
When asked what they would do if someone else brought kids to an adults-only pool, 28 percent would alert hotel staff only if the children were being disruptive, and 27 percent would alert hotel staff either way. Only 16 percent would say something directly to the parents. The remaining 29 percent would say nothing.
Disruptive noises while staying at a hotel or resort should be dealt with directly by hotel staff, according to 88 percent of respondents. Nine percent would do nothing, while the remaining three percent would do anything from banging on the wall and calling the room directly to being loud themselves to send the message.
When flying, you may notice the trend is to load your luggage overhead as soon as you board the aircraft so that you can leave quickly and grab your luggage on the way out. However, only 4 percent of survey respondents admitted to doing this. Three quarters of respondents said they try to get as close to their row as possible before stowing their bags overhead. The remaining 21 percent walk to their row and then ask a flight attendant for assistance.
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Some of these situations I grapple with all the time — how much to tip and when, should I speak up when others are stowing bags at the front of the plane and they’re sitting in the back — but some I’ve honestly never even thought of. I was surprised there were no questions about cutting in line — something I’ve encountered at almost every airport or attraction line I’ve stepped foot in.
What are your travel pet peeves? How have you or would you react in these situations? Share your comments below.
– written by Brittany Chrusciel
You have the list — maybe in your head, maybe written down — of all the places you’ve traveled to. Maybe you even have a map marked off somewhere, with little pushpins or computerized dots peppering the globe. You fly frequently and far, your passport has more stamps than the post office, and your international snow globe collection is reaching insurable proportions. But what some globetrotters and island-hoppers don’t realize is that there are miles between the distances you traverse and the experiences that shape you as a global citizen. The following are five signs you may be traveling more like a pedometer than a cultural sponge.
You visit a new place just to check it off a list.
I am guilty of this, though to be fair, the itinerary was not my own. My trip of a lifetime onboard a world cruise with Semester at Sea was fantastically jam-packed with datelines and diversity, but overwhelming in the sheer number of countries and cultures I had to digest over a limited period of time. While I don’t regret the experience, I still feel like I would need to go back to many of the places we docked to say I truly know what it’s like to visit there. Traveling to new places is an opportunity to immerse. This isn’t the Travel Channel; don’t get to know a place for an hour and then reach for the remote. Once you step foot on the soil of a new frontier, many would say it’s fair game to cross it off the omnipresent list. What would be better is to have a story to tell about that time you stopped in a local Tuscan market to buy groceries for a picnic lunch, but didn’t speak a lick of Italian, so you asked for Saltines, got sardines, but struck up a conversation with someone else in line and now they visit you every summer. Okay, sort of a romanticized version of experiential travel, but better than just getting back on the tour bus.
You never stray from familiar destinations.
You vacation two, three times a year, but it’s always to that resort you like in Mexico, where, like a Telemundo version of “Cheers,” everyone knows your name in a Spanish accent. While favorite locales are a good standby for getaways in a pinch, you can’t rack up too much travel cred if your only world view extends just south of the border … or along the same chain of islands. Travel should stretch the coordinates of comfort, and leave you exposed and vulnerable — but in that “It’s Christmas morning and I don’t know what is under the tree yet” sort of way. Venturing into the relative unknown is a spectacular way to accumulate those once-in-a-lifetime moments that can only be seized when you’re not seeking them. I would never have seen the sunrise on the beaches of India or ridden on the back of a moped in Vietnam if I didn’t throw a little caution to the wind and let curiosity outweigh fear.
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You expect the comforts of home … abroad.
While the “Americanization” of many cultures has led to expectations of Coca-Cola, Big Macs and a side of English in any corner of the world (and many times you will find them, believe me), creature comforts and familiarity should come as a surprise in a foreign land, not as an assumption. I can always forgive first-time travelers for some misgivings about varying international standards in sanitation, service and local cuisine. But if you’re asking for an exotic adventure to the Far East, don’t act blindsided when — gasp — people actually do eat all the things you’ve heard rumors about and, well, it’s not weird to them. Apart from culinary delicacies, many cultures don’t even partake in meals until what most Americans could consider bedtime. Harsh though it may seem, my best advice for anyone looking for all the conveniences or hair gels of home while traveling abroad is: Stay home.
You view your adventure from a bubble.
Most of your panoramas include a snoozing elderly man — not because he’s asleep on a stoop in a charming old Mediterranean village, but because most of your sightseeing has been through a tour bus window and he is sitting two rows in front. Don’t get me wrong — organized tours can be a great way to gain access to sites and information that would be difficult to arrange on your own. However, if the only people you speak to during your trip are your guide and your buddies on the bus, you’re missing out on a key aspect of the travel experience: the locals. More and more tour companies are infusing local interactions into their activities, including village visits and even meals in local homes. Or you can go off wandering on your own — befriend a shop owner or a student who speaks English if you’re a bit lost in translation. My best experiences abroad continue to be those made possible by the people indigenous to that area.
You refuse to change.
If you drink to have a good time, try a traditional caipirinha in Brazil, but don’t get so drunk that you forget what beach the bartender recommended. If you like to stay connected, create an Instagram or Vine of the Angkor Wat temple, but don’t stay so locked to a screen that you forget to look around and miss that awesome Cambodian monkey stealing a camera. Researchers say that the best time to quit smoking is while you’re on vacation because your habits and routine change so drastically that you’re essentially distracted. Embrace a change of pace during travel. Some are forced upon you — jet lag and time zone changes are unavoidable — but the “When in Rome” mentality is not for naught when traveling. New places are the ultimate atmosphere for trying new things and for imagining yourself apart from the items that typically comprise our every day. If you can’t let loose on the other side of the world, then what are you traveling for?
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– written by Brittany Chrusciel
As is the case with most things, air travel has come a long way. Gone are the days of breezing into an airport 30 minutes before your flight leaves and visiting the captain in the cockpit before taking your seat. What hasn’t changed, though, is the fact that people love to complain — so we’ve come up with the following list of travel gripes to take you back to the policies of yore. Read on, reminisce and be sure to leave your own additions in the comments section below.
Then: “My bags are so heavy I won’t be able to carry them all.”
Now: “My bags are so expensive I won’t be able to pay for them all.”
Forget nickel-and-diming. Fees for checked bags are becoming downright ridiculous.
7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
Then: “I’ll walk you to your gate.”
Now: “I’ll walk you to the ticket counter.”
Regulations have become so strict that you can’t accompany a traveling friend or loved one to the gate anymore. In fact, you can’t even make it much past the ticket counter without proof that you’re actually flying.
Then: “Will this flight really take five hours?”
Now: “Will this security line really take five hours?”
Little known tidbit: Experts* say the amount of time it takes to clear the security checkpoints at the airport is equivalent to the amount of time it takes to plan for, pack for and work enough hours to pay for a trip.
*By “experts,” we mean nobody at all.
Then: “What do you mean I can’t bring a rocket launcher onboard?”
Now: “What do you mean I can’t bring a snow globe onboard?”
As if packing weren’t already difficult enough, now we’re reduced to toting the world’s tiniest bottles of shampoo and conditioner. And does lip balm go in the quart-sized bag or not?
Airport Security: Your Questions Answered
Then: “The person next to me is smoking.”
Now: “The person next to me is taking up half of my seat.”
Sure, the ways in which fellow fliers infringe on your personal space has changed, but the basic fact that they infringe hasn’t changed at all.
Then: “I’m 6’2″, and I have hardly any room to stretch my legs.”
Now: “I’m 6’2″, and I have even less room to stretch my legs.”
As airlines try to cram more passengers on each flight, seats have become smaller and smaller while passengers seem to get larger.
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Then: “This food isn’t good.”
Now: “This food isn’t free.”
It used to be that passengers would complain about the quality of the food. Now they complain about having to pay for the right to complain about the quality of the food.
What would you add to this list?
– written by Ashley Kosciolek
I have just as many gripes about airlines as the next person, and given that I’m a travel journalist, I tend to smile and nod vehemently when they’re crucified for decreasing seat sizes and charging for things like carry-on bags. But I can’t keep my mouth shut on this one.
After analyzing federal data, a group of private researchers says airline complaints from passengers increased by about 20 percent in 2012, despite more on-time flights and fewer lost bags, the Associated Press reports.
While I agree that customer complaints are bad — in an ideal world, there would be none at all — the article goes on to say this: “United Airlines had the highest consumer complaint rate of the 14 airlines included in the report, with 4.24 complaints per 100,000 passengers.” Forgive me if I sound insensitive, but is there really a reason to be terribly concerned if the worst offender generates only four complaints for every 100,000 of its passengers?
And let’s not forget this added tidbit: “That was nearly double the airline’s complaint rate the previous year.” Oh, the horror! Now four of every 100,000 United passengers are angry instead of two? I think I just heard the audience gasp.
To be fair, these numbers only include the passengers who were annoyed enough to report their grievances to the U.S. Department of Transportation; there are probably many more who took their complaints solely to the airline. And of course, seeing the number of complaints double is never a good sign. But let’s keep things in perspective.
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The AP also notes that larger planes and smaller seat sizes, which allow airlines to cram more passengers onto each plane, still aren’t enough to offset the decreased number of available flights — meaning last year saw a rise in the number of passengers bumped due to overbooking. “The rate at which passengers with tickets were denied seats because planes were full rose to 0.97 denials per 10,000 passengers last year, compared with 0.78 in 2011.”
In plain English, it means that of every 10,000 passengers, less than one person gets bumped because his or her flight is full. Can I get a big, fat “so what?”
Let’s focus on what the airlines are doing right. Want your bag to get to your destination at the same time you do? You’re in luck. According to the AP, the mishandled bag rate was 3.07 in 2012, down from 3.35 bags the previous year (and a high of 7.01 bags back in 2007). That means about three of every 1,000 bags were mishandled in the last two years. Yes, I’ve had lost luggage, and I know that for those three passengers, it’s terrible. But the stats are getting better.
The same is true for on-time arrivals, about 82 percent of which arrived on time in 2012 — an improvement over the 80 percent that landed on time in 2011.
I happen to think this is a positive outlook for the industry. Now, if only someone could figure out ways to speed up the security process and keep that middle seat unoccupied.
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What do you think? Is the report full of hot air, or does it have merit? Weigh in below.
–written by Ashley Kosciolek
This post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.
If it weren’t September I’d think the recent news about Ryanair’s CEO calling passengers “idiots” was an April Fool’s joke. I mean, the CEO of a company who relies on its customers for business wouldn’t really call them idiots, would he?
But now that my initial shock has passed, I’m actually more surprised that I was surprised this happened. Despite the fact that business would dry up if passengers decided to revolt, Ryanair and its low-cost compatriot in the U.S., Spirit Airlines, are the two most customer-unfriendly airlines.
In his most recent “up yours” moment, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called passengers who do not print out their boarding passes ahead of time “stupid” and “idiots,” the Huffington Post reported.
According to the article, O’Leary’s comments were prompted by a customer who complained about having to pay 300 euros to print out five boarding passes before flying from Alicante, Spain to Bristol, England. The whopping 60 euro charge for getting a boarding pass printed at the airport was upped from 40 euros in 2011 after a Spanish court found the fee to be illegal. The company vowed to fight the ruling and increased it rather than get rid of it.
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When the angry customer took to Facebook to share her frustration, O’Leary responded in his usual customer-friendly (NOT!) manner:
“We think Mrs McLeod should pay 60 euros for being so stupid. She wasn’t able to print her boarding card because, as you know, there are no internet cafes in Alicante, no hotels where they could print them out for you, and you couldn’t get to a fax machine so some friend at home can print them and fax them to you.”
Per The Independent, as quoted by the Huffington Post, O’Leary said that virtually all passengers print their boarding passes in advance, so to the few who don’t, he says “bugger off.”
O’Leary is not alone in his anti-customer spirit. Spirit Airlines’ CEO Ben Baldanza is also known for brushing aside customer complaints.
In an interview with FoxNews.com, Baldanza made it clear he does not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy, saying that customer complaint rates are “an irrelevant statistic.”
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, out of 100,000 passengers last January, Spirit received 8.27 complaints, by far the worst record in the industry.
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But he told FoxNews.com you have to look at the statistics the other way around. “If you ran a restaurant, and out of every 100,000 customers, 8 of them said they didn’t like your menu, would you change your restaurant?” he asked. “Why don’t we interpret that 99.92 of all customers have no complaints? Because that is what it says.”
He most famously revealed his feelings about his customers in 2007 when he hit “reply all” instead of “reply” on a customer complaint that had been forwarded to him. In doing so he sent his reply not only to his employees but to the original customer as well. He wrote, “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”
Call me naïve, but I still believe the airlines are here to serve my needs and treat me accordingly. If that means I have to pay an extra penny or an extra $100 to go with an airline that still treats me like a valued customer, so be it.
Maybe folks that go with the low-cost carriers and expect to be treated well are idiots. What do you think?
– written by Dori Saltzman
I usually love meeting fellow travelers. They’ve pointed me in the right direction when I was lost, translated for me in places where I couldn’t speak the language and livened up long plane rides with fascinating conversation.
But not all my fellow travelers are such exemplary citizens. Woe be unto you if you’re trapped on a train or tour with one of the four types of travel boors below. Which ones do you recognize?
The Name Dropper
This is the tourist who can’t appreciate the place she’s in now because she’s too busy showing off where else she’s been. “This temple is almost as impressive as the one we saw in Cambodia last year!”
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The Royal Pain
“Does the Mediterranean salad come with iceberg lettuce or mesclun? … Mesclun? Okay, I’ll have that. But with shrimp instead of chicken. No tomatoes or olives, but lots of extra cheese. Goat cheese though, not feta. Oh, and can you put the dressing on the side?” Oh, and can you say high-maintenance?
If you’ve ever heard someone asking a tour guide questions just so he can expound upon the guy’s answers, or been subject to an unsolicited lecture on the flora and fauna of the Costa Rican rain forest, you’ve encountered this all-too-common travel bore — er, boor.
The Traveler Who Never Leaves Home
Oh, sure, he may have flown a couple thousand miles, but he still expects all his usual creature comforts: climate control, familiar foods (“Where’s the nearest McDonald’s?”) and people around him who speak English, no matter where in the world he goes. Friendly hint: If you want all the comforts of home, just stay home.
10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers
Which travelers would you add to this list?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
No, that’s not a typo in the title. As America’s collective waistline expands, some airline passengers may be looking at even smaller seats on their flights. According to a report by TerminalU.com, airplane manufacturer Airbus may decrease the width of middle and window seats on its A320 aircraft models, which each offer two sections of three-abreast seating, separated by an aisle.
The move, which is still under consideration, would decrease each of the aforementioned seats by one inch (from 18 inches to 17) in favor of increasing each aisle seat by two inches (from 18 inches to 20). The larger seats would be designed to accommodate larger passengers — or merely those looking for more roomy flights. And, of course, airlines would have the option to charge extra for the “privilege.”
For years, we’ve been hearing horror stories of overweight passengers being booted from flights or forced to pay for two seats as per airline obesity policies. I’m glad the industry is taking a constructive look at the issue and presenting possible solutions, but I’m not convinced Airbus has arrived at the right one just yet.
Surviving the Middle Seat
Although an extra fee would likely be more affordable for larger folks than an entire second seat, there’s no word yet on how much airlines would charge for that extra fee. And, while this idea gives other fliers the option to choose more seat room, it also means that more passengers may find themselves needing — rather than wanting — to purchase for-fee seats as the size of a standard seat shrinks. I also wonder whether those sitting in regular seats would pay smaller fares since their seats are smaller — somehow, I doubt it.
And what about those who simply prefer sitting in the aisle? Some airlines already charge an extra fee for select aisle seats, and this would expand that unfortunate trend even further. Meanwhile, folks who prefer the window seat would have to sacrifice space to sit in their favorite spot.
I think someone needs to go back to the drawing board on this one. Perhaps this could be implemented for some rows but not all, or maybe some rows could include just two seats instead of three, essentially making each an entire half-seat larger.
What’s your take on Airbus’s idea — awesome or ill-advised? Sound off below.
– written by Ashley Kosciolek
There are seemingly endless tips on how not to offend the locals while traveling. We know that tank tops and shorts won’t fly past the flying buttresses of Notre Dame. We know not to leave a tip on the table while dining out in Tokyo if we don’t want to be pursued out of the restaurant to have our money returned by an insulted server.
We try to familiarize ourselves with local customs. Pack scarves and slip-on shoes. Make an effort to blend in. (See our brand-new 12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place for advice on this front.) We make this concerted effort not to offend out of respect for cultures different from our own. However, there are times when we, as the outsider, may feel awkward, insulted or even threatened by local customs or behavior.
Imagine walking through a mall in central Bangkok where a popular store sports a nearly life-sized doll that resembles the hate-child of Ronald McDonald and Hitler. Young people imitate the faux Fuhrer’s salute, posing for photographs with it. (Check out CNNGO.com for more photos.) They wear T-shirts bearing cartoonish images of the Nazi dictator as a pink Teletubby, in a panda outfit or with the fast-food chain mascot’s red bouffant hairdo and yellow jumpsuit. To Western eyes, it’s offensive. It’s disrespectful. It’s also ignorant.
Similarly boorish is hefting a beer with a Buddha-tattooed arm right outside that very same shopping mall in Bangkok. In fact, Thailand is considering a ban on tourists getting religious tattoos because we fail to understand how offensive it is to drink alcohol, party and misbehave with such sacred ink showing.
Fair enough. We can respect that. But some things make us bristle — like being rebuffed if, as a woman, we try to sit down alone at a cafe in Morocco, or dancing the night away in a Jamaica club before we realize the lyrics to the music encourage homophobic violence.
Culture Shock: Outside the Comfort Zone
How do you respond when you find yourself at odds with local ways or laws?
– written by Jodi Thompson
This post is the first in a new series called “Airlines Behaving Badly,” which will chronicle the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.
“This is an emergency announcement. We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water.”
Not what you want to hear at 3 in the morning, cruising about 35,000 feet above the North Sea. But that is exactly what happened to some 275 passengers aboard a British Airways flight from Miami to London Heathrow on Friday night, according to Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
As expected, the passengers — many of whom were awakened by the calm female voice on the automated announcement — panicked. Fortunately, they didn’t have much time to work up a frenzy as the cabin crew quickly canceled the alert.
Oops. A flight attendant reportedly announced on the public address system about 30 seconds later that the message was played by mistake.
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In August 2010, that same terrifying message was accidently played aboard a British Airways flight from London to Hong Kong. If it’s that easy to release the beast, perhaps it’s time to jettison it.
Should the need arise for such a message, just let the flight attendant scream into the mike: “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!”
The response would likely be the same. Well, not exactly the same, but passenger reaction might well be just as terrified.
The plane landed without incident on Saturday, and British Airways issued an immediate apology to the passengers, although some complained that the airline had trivialized their fear.
The Daily Telegraph reported that a passenger said he couldn’t think of anything worse than being told your plane’s about to crash. Hmm, can you?
– written by Jodi Thompson