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Why Use a Travel Agent?

Why Use a Travel Agent?

There’s a reason we use the term advisor to describe the members of our annual A-List, the top travel specialists in the business. These experts offer much more than booking services. First and foremost, says Wendy Perrin, TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate and founder of WendyPerrin.com, they can help you decide whereto go by walking you through the pros and cons of destinations based on the varying interests (and ages) of the people in your group. Not only that, they’ll deliver insider insights and access. They can tell you how to avoid the crowds at major sights and where the locals eat. They can even pair you with designers and architects who moonlight as walking-tour guides, get a local artist to open his studio to you, and direct you to hidden corners of a city. And they also, crucially, know how to put together a seamless itinerary. I was reminded of this a few months ago when I (travel editor that I am) foolishly tried arranging my own flights in Africa before a safari. After consulting with an advisor late in the game, I learned I was about to book with an airline that was notorious for last-minute, safari-ruining cancellations. Lesson learned.

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Which Credit Card Points Program is Right for You?

201401-hd-credit-card-rewardsjpg

It’s pretty much indisputable that airlines are making frequent flyer miles harder to use. Across the board, we’ve seen programs increase the amount of miles needed for awards—all while restricting the amount of seats available at the lowest level and adding new fees. However, it isn’t all doomsday. Luckily, credit card bonuses are extremely lucrative and there are now more ways to earn miles than ever before. Whether from online shopping or dining out, you should be getting miles for almost every purchase.

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Best Apps for Organizing Travel Information

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Keeping track of your itinerary details, loyalty programs, and reservations can be a headache without the right tools. T+L takes a look at the best apps.

Worldmate Gold: Wish all of your travel details would show up on your phone’s calendar? WorldMate’s premium app will make it happen—whether you use Google, iCal, or Outlook. It can sync flight schedules, restaurant reservations, apartment rentals, and more—and if you add a hotel booking, the app will automatically try to find you a better price. Also handy: built-in weather forecasts that appear alongside your appointments. ($9.99 per year; Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

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3 Travel Laundry Detergent Solutions

travel laundry detergent

I’m tired of paying for pricey hotel laundry service. Any tips for on-the-road alternatives? -Sarah Taurus, via e-mail

For basic pieces, take matters into your own hands: bring along one of our picks for travel-friendly detergents.

Dissolvable detergent sheets from Sea to Summit won’t spill on the go—just add a few to a sinkful of water. $3.95 for 50 sheets; pictured above.

Lewis N. Clark’s Laundry Kit includes a drain stopper and eight travel-size portions of Woolite. $4.99.

Forever New fabric wash is formulated for washing by hand and comes in a space-saving mini bottle. $3.50.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@timeinc.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.


Why Do Airplanes Dim Lights on Takeoff?

Why do Airplanes Dim Lights on Takeoff

Lowering cabin lights and raising window shades are standard safety measures during takeoff and landing—the most critical moments of every flight. The dim lighting allows passengers’ eyes to adjust more quickly during an emergency evacuation. As Chris Cooke, a pilot with a major domestic carrier, puts it: “Imagine being in an unfamiliar bright room filled with obstacles when someone turns off the lights and asks you to exit quickly.” The raised window shades bring natural light into the cabin, just in case it’s needed.

Photo courtesy of Vicki Beaver / Alamy

Melanie Lieberman is the Editorial Projects Assistant and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team. You can follow her on twitter at @LittleWordBites.

 

5 Great Road-Trip Apps

best apps for road trips

Planning a summer drive? These five tools—vetted by T+L tech correspondent Tom Samiljan—will help you make the most of every mile.

FOR ON-ROAD ENTERTAINMENT TUNE IN RADIO You’re unlikely to get playlist fatigue listening to the app’s 100,000-plus radio stations from all over the world, but if you do, Tune In also offers streaming access to an inexhaustible number of concerts, podcasts, and talk shows on a clean, user-friendly interface. From NPR news updates to local traffic alerts and sports scores, this all-purpose radio app delivers in spades. (Free; Android, Blackberry, iOS, Windows Phone)

FOR GPS (AND MORE) SCOUT This app by mapping giant Telenav may be the most practical tool for road trippers: it finds the cheapest gas stations, dictates turn-by-turn directions at your request, and provides personalized recommendations (restaurants, hotels, even local concerts or events) along any multi-leg route. Bonus: the Arrival Guide feature (iOS only) points out the best parking options near your destination. (Free; Android, iOS)

FOR ITINERARY SUGGESTIONS GREATEST DRIVE Still charting the course of your drive? This app suggests the best road-trip itineraries nearby, annotating each with a summary, star rating, and user reviews. (It’ll also tell you whether a road is twisty, scenic, or likely to be traffic-plagued.) Can’t find what you’re looking for? Integration with Yelp helps you pick places to eat and things to see along the way. (Free; Android, iOS)

FOR HANDS-FREE SHARING GLYMPSE Texting and driving isn’t just dangerous—in most states, it’s illegal. That’s why Glympse, which automatically relays your GPS location to family and friends, is invaluable when you’re sticking to a schedule. Your information is sent only to predetermined contacts in your phone book, for select windows of time—making it easy to keep your eyes on the road. (Free; Android, iOS)

FOR QUIRKY ATTRACTIONS ROADSIDE AMERICA If you’re driving cross-country just for kicks, you might like to see Pittsburgh’s Robot Hall of Fame, or the world’s largest collection of teapots, in Trenton, Tennessee. The app also sheds light on the idiOSyncrasies of beloved attractions (historical monuments; parks; sports arenas)—10,000 venues in all. (From $2.99; iOS)

AUTO CONNECTION Thanks to new connected-car technology, your favorite mobile apps are now being optimized for in-dash touch screens. Carmakers from GM to Audi are introducing built-in apps, while initiatives by Apple (CarPlay) and the Android-focused Open Automotive Alliance are being integrated into select Mercedes-Benz, Honda, and Volvo models, among others. What to expect: voice-activated Web search, OpenTable reservations booked from your car, and maps showing how far you can go at current gas levels.

TECH WATCH Meet the next generation of public Wi-Fi: Hotspot 2.0. These secure networks offer an automatic connection—simply walk within range and voilà, you’re online. Boingo subscribers can find them at 23 major U.S. airports; access is also available for Time Warner Cable customers coast-to-coast.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@timeinc.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.


Photo courtesy of Jake Stangel

 


Is Premium Economy Worth It?

Is Premium Economy Worth It

Thinking of upgrading your ticket to those extra-legroom seats at the front of the main cabin? That’s exactly what your airline wants you to do. In the past few years, domestic and international carriers alike have been rolling out more of these stepped-up economy seats, even as they cram more people farther back in the cabin. Whether you take the bait will depend on how much you’re willing to spend—and how much you just can’t stand the back of the plane.

The domestic scene.

First consider the quality of the seat. All the major domestic carriers offer four to six more inches of legroom, and all but United throw in the perk of early boarding as well. Wider seats are, alas, a rarity, though a few transcontinental Delta flights come with more recline. The premium economy standout, domestically, is Virgin America. The carrier’s Main Cabin Select seats give you 38 inches of pitch (the distance from one row to the next), as well as a free checked bag, priority check-in and boarding, and complimentary food and drinks. They can come with a hefty price tag, however: up to $399 more for a round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles or Las Vegas. JetBlue’s Even More Space seats also rise above the pack, with 38 inches of seat pitch and expedited security privileges.For any flight where you’re thinking of upgrading, it pays to check the cabin layout and the user reviews on the website Seatguru. Even premium economy fliers can wind up next to an unwieldy bulkhead.

Weighing the price tag.

On domestic flights, the fee for premium economy seats varies widely depending on the length of your trip. For shorter hops, say, from Newark to Chicago, it can add as little as $18 to a round-trip American Airlines ticket. For transcontinental flights on major domestic carriers, the seats could put you out anywhere from $130 to $200 round-trip. (On certain Virgin America flights, they may cost more than the base fare itself.) On some carriers, the price also fluctuates depending on how far out you book. Waiting until the last minute sometimes pays off—but not always.

To add to the confusion, you often can’t see how much an upgrade will cost until you actually go through the booking process and get to the seat-selection page. What’s more, since these are not distinct fare classes on domestic carriers, they don’t show up in searches on websites such as Kayak and Expedia. (One exception: Virgin America.) If you want to compare prices, you have to do a lot of legwork.

If you have elite status with a carrier, you can usually get premium economy seats for free or a 50 percent discount. Another way to bring down the cost is through a membership. United Airlines now offers annual Economy Plus packages, which get you unlimited upgrades for a year. The domestic subscription, which starts at $499, can easily pay for itself in just three transcontinental trips. (Global packages start at $699.)

Stretching out abroad.

Offering more than just a few extra inches of seat pitch, premium economy on foreign carriers is an entirely different experience—more akin to a fourth cabin class. For example, British Airways’ World Traveller Plus seats from New York City to London are in a curtained-off section that has a dedicated crew; wider, plusher seats with more legroom; and business-class meals. I found them recently for as little as $468 extra, round-trip. On a similar Virgin Atlantic flight, the roomy, leather Premium Economy seats (which include dedicated check-in and bag-drop services) were $540 more. That’s a significant outlay, but you’d pay more than six times as much to upgrade to business class. It’s also worth noting that for $4,201, the comparable premium-economy ticket on American Airlines would have cost roughly double those of its U.K. competitors.

Other European carriers with excellent premium-economy cabins include Air France (wool blankets; feather pillows) and Turkish Airways (a whopping 48-inch seat pitch). Lufthansa’s new seats—with seven more inches of legroom than in economy—launch in November (available to book now).

The most tempting time to splurge, of course, is on long-haul flights to Asia and beyond, which is why airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Air New Zealand, and Qantas have lavished so much attention (and money) on these seats. It shows. Air New Zealand’s extra-wide, podlike Spaceseats put many business-class cabins to shame. They can cost up to $2,000 more than an economy ticket from Los Angeles to Auckland. But those 13 hours in flight will feel pretty darn good.

7.5% Increase in the number of Virgin Atlantic passengers flying Premium Economy from 2012 to 2013.

$721: Average price difference between economy and premium economy tickets for a round-trip Cathay Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, booked at least three months in advance.

Photo courtesy of Javier Jaén

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@timeinc.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.


What Should I Look for in a Sunscreen?

what should i look for in a sunscreen

Find one that’s between SPF 30 and 50 (anything higher protects only incrementally more) and has UVA and UVB protection, says Dr. Doris Day, a New York City dermatologist and author of Forget the Facelift. Broad-spectrum coverage makes the lotion more stable, so it will last longer in the sun—though Day still advises applying every two hours. For a tropical getaway, go for a water-resistant formula (there’s no such thing as waterproof). As for which form of sunscreen to choose: “It’s a matter of personal preference between a gel, cream, wipe, powder, spray, or lotion,” Day says. “They’re equally effective.” And don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and protective or SPF-treated clothing.

Photo courtesy of iStock

Melanie Lieberman is the Editorial Projects Assistant and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team. You can follow her on twitter at @LittleWordBites.

4 Reasons to Love Google Now

Google Now

Google’s new take on Siri is more than a voice-activated search tool—it’s a full-fledged digital assistant. Here are four things we love about Google Now.

1. It’s easy to use on mobile with the surprisingly accurate voice search (prompted by “OK Google”).

2. It can scan your location, search history, or confirmation e-mails—all to offer personalized updates (when to leave for the airport, for example) on virtual cards.

3. It anticipates your needs, telling you the local weather or how to get to your Airbnb rental before you think to ask.

4. It’s opt-in, customizable, and not just for Android phones. (On iOS? The free Google app contains all Now features.)

Related Links:
Best Apps and Websites for Travelers
15 Tech Innovations That Will Change the Way You Travel
Google’s Self-Driving Car Makes The Road Trip of Tomorrow

Tom Samiljan is Travel + Leisure’s Tech Correspondent.

Have a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to tripdoctor@timeinc.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

What Does the TSA Do With Confiscated Items?

confiscated items

Firearms and hazardous materials are turned over to local law enforcement officials. For safety reasons, liquids that can’t go through security—even in sealed containers—must be thrown out. For other items, the TSA either sends them to a contractor for disposal or donates them to a local nonprofit. Some of these charities will, in turn, resell items and use the proceeds to support their own programs. The TSA makes clear that none of this resale money goes into its own coffers.

Related Links:
Hotels’ Strangest Forgotten Items
Best Airport Security Checkpoints
Most Annoying Airport Security Checkpoints

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@timeinc.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.


Photo by iStockphoto

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