They account for much of the $36 billion a year in revenue that airlines get from ancillary services—and an untold number of headaches (and heartaches) for passengers. We’re talking, of course, about airline fees, which include everything from advance seat-selection charges to blanket and pillow fees (we’re looking at you, US Airways and JetBlue) to Spirit’s dreaded carry-on bag fees, which now range from $25 to $100. What makes these charges all the more unpalatable is the difficulty of keeping track of them. Enter the good folks of Airfarewatchdog, the terrific fare-alert and travel-advice website. They’ve just updated their Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide and housed it on the site as a handy PDF file. Go ahead, download it. And don’t make us have to say “We warned you” next time you show up at airport.
If you’re an Android user and staying in the U.S., you’re in luck: free apps such as FoxFi let you share a mobile data connection with your laptop at no extra cost. For everyone else, Tether’s service ($29.95 per year) will connect your laptop to your mobile devices via Bluetooth or USB. If you’re traveling internationally, XCom Global rents foreign-based hot spots with unlimited usage for $14.95 a day. Not-so-frequent travelers should try Boingo Wireless, which lets you access hot spots around the world. Subscriptions start at $7.95 a month and can be activated as needed. Bonus: many of its hot spots are in hotels.
Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.
There are simple things you can do to increase your chances of getting an upgrade on your next flight, hotel stay, or even when you rent a car.
1. Choose Your Frequent Flyer Program Carefully When picking an airline frequent-flyer program, it can pay to choose an airline that isn't headquartered in your city (there will be fewer elite passengers to compete with for an upgrade).
2. Check-in Later Check in to your hotel late in the day; you're more likely to get an upgrade if it looks like a better room will otherwise sit empty.
3. Stay at a New Hotel Stay at a new hotel; staff are more likely to want to woo new guests and spread good word of mouth. You could also think about staying at a large hotel—large hotels with tons of rooms offer a better chance of getting you upgraded.
If you’ve never tried a villa rental, consider making it your travel resolution for 2013: more globetrotters are discovering that renting a house or apartment while abroad allows you to truly live like a local while letting you explore the beautiful, hidden corners of popular destinations such as Italy and France. And it’s more common than ever to find companies that offer the amenities of a resort experience—daily housekeeping, concierge services, fully stocked refrigerators, and more.
Stay tuned for T+L’s Villa Rentals package in the March issue, but in the meantime, we can’t contain our excitement over this month’s debut of ThinkIonianIslands from Londoner Huw Beaugié and his Palermo-born wife, Rossella, the duo behind the highly regarded ThinkSicily and ThinkPuglia. The 15 properties—hidden on secluded beaches or in the lush countryside—are offering visitors better access to the less-discovered islands of Lefkada and Meganissi, located off the coast about a three-hour drive from Thessaloniki.
Everyone’s favorite airline seat-map compendium, Seatguru, has just upped the ante with a newly redesigned site that’s more user-friendly and—drumroll—includes flight search functionality for the first time. Though the service is in beta (it still has some kinks to work out), it’s already proving to be a refreshingly smart addition to the world of airfare search.
How it works: In addition to the usual flight-search filters (price, stops, departure time, duration), Seatguru introduces several new sorting mechanisms for travelers: Best Value (factoring in price, departure time, and duration), Best Times (weeding out early morning and overnight flights), and the site’s signature Guru Factor, which mines the site’s trove of cabin data to look at the “comfort” of flights. Taking account of cabin class, seat pitch, width, and recline, as well as inflight entertainment and amenities, the Guru Factor givers travelers an overall assessment of either “Love it,” “Like it,” or “Live with it” for any given flight. In our tests, it also alerted us when, for example, we could spend an additional $40 to trade up for a plane with an extra four inches of legroom.
Q: We’re attending a wedding in Bali. The ceremony is on a beach, but the reception is indoors. Can you recommend a dress for the occasion? —Hiromi Tsunashima, Coral Gables, Fla.
A: The batik-style print of this silk dress by Tory Burch($350) evokes the traditional look of the region but is still lightweight and travel-friendly. The long sleeves—a must for formal events in Bali—are fairly loose-fitting, cool enough for the beach but also just right for air-conditioning. Add sandals and a clutch and you’re good to go.
Q: I take frequent business trips and want to update my wardrobe. Any advice? —John Kinninger, Las Vegas, Nev.
A: The new reversible ties from Canvas Lands’ End ($50) multiply your style options without adding bulk. It’s also worth investing in Ted Baker’s three-piece suit ($825), made from wool that’s spun specifically to resist creases. You’ll go from plane to boardroom looking like you mean business.
Q: I’m renting a car abroad. Should I get collision insurance through the rental agency or my credit card? —Hannah W., Portland, Ore.
A: Domestically, the answer would be simple: go with the insurance offered by your credit card company (after reading the fine print, of course). Once you head overseas, though, it becomes much more complicated. All four major card networks offer qualifying cardholders some form of insurance for international rentals, but you have to check your policy carefully. American Express (Travel + Leisure’s parent company), MasterCard, and Visa do not cover rentals in Ireland, Israel, and Jamaica. American Express also disqualifies cars in Italy, Australia, and New Zealand. There are other exceptions (American Express doesn’t cover certain SUV’s; MasterCard won’t let you drive on unpaved roads; most policies preclude rentals of exotic and expensive vehicles), so do your homework. Cardhub.com provides an excellent annual comparison of all of these policies.
Q: What’s a Chip & PIN card, and do I need one if I’m going to Europe?
A: For the past decade, Europe has been moving away from the swipe-and-sign credit cards that we use domestically and toward those employing a Chip & PIN system (also called EMV). These cards protect users from fraud by asking them, with each purchase, to confirm a numeric code that’s stored in the card’s data chip. But although Chip & PIN is now the primary payment method in much of Europe, you can still get by with your American plastic—just as long as you can find an attendant to process the transaction. Even so, it’s best to prepare for the rare occasion when nobody is available. If you don’t already use one, call your bank to establish a four-digit PIN, which will make any card compatible with EMV machines. And while some travelers may feel it’s more hassle than help, you may buy a Chip & PIN Cash Passport from Travelex which allows you to preload euros or British pounds on to a universally accepted card (leftover cash can be transferred back into your bank account).