Travel Column

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Non-stop price hikes make Disney vacays a stretch

Taking a family vacation to a Disney theme park was once an affordable escape. Sadly, that’s not the case anymore.

The price of admittance into the Magic Kingdom has jumped up to $105 per person ($99 for kids ages 3 to 9) — a far cry from the $3.50 it cost to get in when Walt Disney World opened in Orlando in 1971.

And it could get more costly, effectively locking out middle-class vacationers.

In a story that certainly got me thinking about my experiences at Disney theme parks, the Washington Post reported:

“For America’s middle-income vacationers, the Mickey Mouse club, long promoted as ‘made for you and me,’ seems increasingly made for someone else. But far from easing back, the theme-park giant’s prices are expected to climb even more through a surge-pricing system that could value a summer’s day of rides and lines at $125.”

Now let’s be clear. Disney says it’s just studying surge pricing and has not decided to adopt the plan to charge more on its busiest days.

But it certainly hasn’t been shy about boosting ticket prices, having done so 41 times of over the last 40 or so years.
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Summer music festivals on the cheap…Or what passes for cheap in these days of inflated prices

When it comes to attending a music festival, cheap simply isn’t on the table anymore. These days it’s a matter of limiting cost.

This April, for example, a three-day general admission pass to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival pass cost $375.

Anyone who wanted a few perks had to pay $899 for a VIP pass and remember, that only covered one of the festival’s two weekends. You’d have to spend twice that if you wanted to take in the entire spectacle in Indigo, California.

Beyond the tickets, here’s a breakdown of some other common expenses at Coachella, according to CNN Money:

  • $400 for round trip airline tickets.
  • $80 to get from the airport to the festival.
  • $60 to ride the festival shuttle around for the weekend.
  • $85 to camp out over the weekend and $500 per night to stay in a hotel.
  • $50 to $225 per meal.

If you go with the hotel option, you could easily spend around $2,500 at Coachella for one three-night weekend, not including meals.

Go with the camping option and you’ll spend somewhere around $1,000 without meals, $2,000 if you go both weekends.

That’s a lot of cash to spend, especially for concert goers such as myself. And we are, after all, the ones who spend our summers traveling around to these raucous celebrations.
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When you want to travel determines when you’ll find the cheapest airline tickets

If you’re shopping for a great deal on a plane ticket, the best time to book depends on when you’ll be traveling.

During off-peak season, on average, you’ll get the best prices on domestic fares 47 days before takeoff, according to a recent report from

For summer travel – June to August – 76 days out is the average target for the cheapest airline tickets.

And if you’re traveling during holiday seasons, the earlier the better. Booked 320 days in advance, air fares for peak-season travel were just $8 more than their lowest price point.

In order to get those averages, the online airfare shopping engine tracked nearly 1.5 billion trips in 15,000 markets and recorded the lowest fare for each trip every day from 320 days in advance up until one day before departure.

Of course, those averages are just a guide. For individual trips, it really depends on your destination, the time of year, and the days you’re traveling, notes CheapAir.
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Start saving and planning now for summer vacays

AirplaneThe coldest winter months are the time to start saving for your summer vacation.

By planning now for a week exploring the sites of London and Paris, or trekking around Orlando’s theme parks, you can avoid racking up credit card debt on airline tickets and hotel rooms when warmer weather rolls around.

While some travel agencies allow you to layaway vacation packages, that can be risky business. You’ll typically wind up paying a penalty if you need to cancel or change your travel plans.

If a trip to a Disney resort or a Disney cruise is on the top of your wish list, the mighty mouse is making it easier for you to save, rolling out a Disney Vacation Account in conjunction with JP Morgan Chase.

It helps put you on the right track by allowing you to save up for your vacation. You can make one-time or recurring contributions to your account, including via your debit card. And if you suddenly decide you’d rather go skiing in Aspen, you can get your account balance refunded.

But there are definite downsides.

If you opt to make deposits using your credit card, you run the risk of racking up big interest charges if you carry a balance on your card.

You also won’t earn any interest on your account, though you will receive a $20 gift card for every $1,000 you spend on your vacation. That’s equivalent to just 0.02% APY.

Far better savings choices are available, regardless of where you want to spend your summer.
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Asking me to tip the maids at high-end hotels is a lousy plan to fight poverty among women

When you stay at a Marriott hotel this fall you’ll be asked to pay for more than just your room.

The giant hotel chain wants you to start tipping its maids.

Tip envelopes have been placed in 160,000 of its 700,000 guest rooms at Marriott, JW Marriott, Courtyard, Renaissance, Fairfield, TownePlace Suites and Springhill Suites hotels.

It wasn’t actually the company’s idea. Marriott was asked to do this by Maria Shriver of all people as a way to fight poverty among women.

Wow. What a breathtakingly dumb idea.
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With ticket prices taking off, here’s how to save on your holiday and winter air travel

Feel like you’re paying ungodly amounts of dough for each plane ride you take lately?

You’re not imagining (or exaggerating) the state of air travel.

The price of the average round-trip airfare, with taxes, rose to $509 in the first six months of 2014, according to recent data from the Airlines Reporting Corporation.

The cost of flying is outpacing overall inflation, a 2.7% increase in airfare compared to a 2.1% gain in the Consumer Price Index.

It’s not just that airlines have shrunk the number of flights, and reduced the number of available seats on virtually every route. They’ve done so just as the economy has improved enough to get Americans traveling again.

While higher ticket prices aren’t a reason to call off holiday visits with family and friends, or winter escapes to tropical beaches, they’re definitely our cue to shop harder, and smarter, for the best deals.

Here are the best ways to make your hard-earned dollars fly farther.
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Stop guessing about how much you’ll spend on gas

If you’re planning a summer road trip here’s a quick and easy way to see how much the gas will cost., the official government source for fuel economy information, recently released My Trip Calculator.

It’s a nifty tool that provides the best route and estimates your fuel costs based on whatever you’ll be driving, all in one spot.

The precision of this calculator is a real revelation for me because my typical trip planning goes something like this:

“Let’s see, I’m driving about about 300 miles, I’ll get about 30 miles per gallon and gas costs about $3 a gallon, so this trip will cost (pause for the mental math) about $30.”

Then I’m shocked when I spend twice that much.
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 Billshit, Travel 

Traveling abroad requires planning at home to avoid unexpected fees on credit card and cell phone bills

My big trip this year is a 10-day Italian vacation. I’m excited, but I’m also doing a lot of planning beyond where to get the best pizza and what shoes to bring.

I’m making sure that I spend as little as possible on foreign transaction fees, current exchanges, and smartphone use so I’m not hit with any surprise charges once I’m back in the U.S.

Here’s what I’m doing before I go to make sure there are no nasty surprises when I get home.

Credit Cards

You want to bring a card that has no foreign transaction fees. Otherwise, you’ll be paying an extra 3% on everything you charge.

Fortunately, there’s lot of these cards are available.

If you already have a Capitol One card, you’re set — they’re foreign transaction fee free across the board. Most hotel and airline rewards cards are the same way.

If you’re signing up for a card just because it doesn’t charge those fees, make sure it also doesn’t also have an annual membership fee, or that you cancel it before the fee kicks in (most waive the fee for the first year), or that the fee is worth it.

I’m bringing my Chase Sapphire Preferred card with me as my main credit card (with a Bank of America card as a backup).
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