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A to Z Guide to Travel Secrets You Need to Know

ACT AT THE RIGHT TIME. To increase your chance of getting a good price on your next flight, keep in mind that carriers must release new airfares to a central clearinghouse (called the Airline Tariff Publishing Company) at certain hours; on weekdays, the best times to look for new fares are just after 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and midnight. T+L Tip: Tickets that were reserved but never paid for usually appear after midnight, so the selection is especially rich then. On weekends, fares are updated just once a day, around 5 p.m.

BANK OVERSEAS WITH FEWER FEES. Bank of America has partnerships with financial institutions throughout the world, which means that customers can withdraw money at one of the partner banks without paying extra fees. The company’s Global ATM Alliance includes Barclays (the U.K.), BNP Paribas (France), China Construction Bank (China), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Santander Serfin (Mexico), Scotiabank (Canada), and Westpac (Australia and New Zealand). Some banks, such as HSBC and Citibank, have enough overseas locations that you’ll find their branches abroad. Before you travel, call your bank to see what locations—or partnerships—it has in the area you plan to visit.

CRUISE SOLO. Cruise lines generally charge single travelers a supplement. This fee can cost the solo cruiser from 10 to 100 percent more than the per-person rate for a double-occupancy cabin. Avoid, or at least minimize, the extra expense by booking one of the few single cabins that are available on some older ships, such as the QE2. But book early—as many as 8 to 10 months in advance—to secure one of the singles. Or, check with your travel agent to find out which lines have the lowest single supplement; among the least expensive are Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn, and Silversea, all of which charge less than 150 percent for those traveling alone.

DRIVE FEE-FREE. Most rental-car companies charge a daily fee of $3 to $18 to allow a second driver behind the wheel (that means a week’s rental could cost as much as an extra $126). But one little-known fact is that spouses and domestic partners are often exempt. Avis, Budget, and Enterprise waive the fee for a spouse or significant other (the companies confirm status by comparing addresses on your ID’s). Another solution: join Alamo’s Quicksilver program, National’s Emerald Club, or Hertz’s #1 Club to have this charge similarly waived for a spouse or partner who shares your address.

EARN HIGHER STATUS FROM SCRATCH. On a round-trip 10,600-mile American Airlines flight from New York to Buenos Aires, T+L features editor Niloufar Motamed recently catapulted from Gold to Platinum. How?Before boarding, she signed up for AA’s Platinum Challenge. The Gold and Platinum Challenges, which aren’t publicized anywhere on AA.com, allow travelers three months to rack up enough points to qualify them for elite status (with a full-fare economy ticket, one mile equals one point; for discounted economy fares, one mile equals a half-point). Gold status requires 5,000 points; Platinum, 10,000 through this program. As Motamed discovered, one very long round-trip flight may just do the trick. If you have a lot of travel scheduled in a short amount of time, call AA’s service center (800/882-8880) for details. Prepaying for flights on United may also bump you up in status—and with a single swipe. Buy a $5,000 card for instant Premier status, a $10,000 card for Premier Executive status, and a $20,000 card for 1K status. Fliers have one year to use the cards before they expire.

FOCUS YOUR SEARCH FOR KID-FRIENDLY SAFARIS. "Eastern Africa is a better option for families with young children because more closed Jeeps are used in this area than in South Africa," A-List agent Bob Berghaier of Premier Tours suggests. The variation exists because open-air game drives started and became popular in South Africa, Berghaier explains. Be sure to ask about the mode of transport before booking a safari for your family.

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