Travel Column


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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.

FuelEconomy.gov, 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 
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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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Can flying first class be frugal?

Finding cheap first class flights just takes a little legworkWhile checking in to a flight recently, sheer curiosity led me to see how much it would cost to upgrade. I was surprised to find out that moving up to first class would only be fifty bucks. Granted, it was a two-hour flight, but first class for only $50 more than coach? That’s a decent deal, especially when you factor in the free drinks, lots of extra leg room and priority boarding and disembarking that typically come with a first class ticket.

Obviously, it’s cheaper not to upgrade at all. But if you’re looking for a little splurge or just want to try first class out, here are some ways to score cheap first class flights.
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Do You Need Travel Insurance?

AirplaneThe point of any insurance policy is to protect your assets in the event of an unexpected event. This is true of travel insurance as well.

If you are going on a major trip — particularly if you plan to travel overseas — it can make sense to purchase travel insurance as protection. Travel can get expensive, and if something goes wrong, your travel insurance policy can keep you from getting stuck holding a bill that’s bigger than you can afford.


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How to Avoid Travel Scams this Summer

travel scamsOne of the things I love about summer (or any time of the year) is all the travel. I love going new places and seeing new things. However, whenever you travel, whether it’s for a summer vacation, or for some other purpose, you have to be on the alert.

Scammers can be found almost anywhere. They prey on the unsuspecting, hoping to get some of your hard-earned cash. Watch out for the following travel scams — especially when you go abroad:

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