Archive for December, 2016

Top Travel Hacks for 2017

According to Expedia and ARC’s annual Global Air Travel Outlook for 2017, travel hackers may not have to work quite as hard to get air travel deals in 2017.  It seems average ticket prices for economy class are dropping all over the world.  In fact, they haven’t been this low since 2013. Good news!  But wait, there’s more!  We’ve gathered tips and anecdotes from veteran travel hackers and experts to give you a definitive 2017 travel hacking cheat sheet.

WATCH our interview with Randi Wolfson of Skyscanner

  1. Use a VPN and clear your cookies!

David Bakke from MoneyCrashers.com says before you start shopping for travel deals you need to outsmart the search engines. “Make sure private browsing is enabled on your computer before shopping for travel deals – or at the very least clear your cookies. Due to airlines’ use of dynamic pricing, websites may show higher prices if you’ve clicked on them before.”

“It’s not widely known that the price of a particular flight may differ when booked from varying locations. One of the ways around this is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that will allow you to check and compare the fares of the same flight by connecting to multiple countries and then book from the location with the cheapest price. This can save you a lot of money,” says Haris Mumtaz of PureVPN.

  1. Airline gold and credit card perks

According to FoxNews Travel writer and GotoTravelGal.com blogger, Lyn Mettler, one of the best travel hacks for 2017 will continue to be the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows one person to fly free with the pass holder for up to two years. “It’s fairly simple to earn the pass, which is achieved after you earn 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards Points. To easily earn the pass, you need to sign up for two Southwest credit cards, meet the minimum spend of $2000 through everyday spending that you can pay off within a month and then earn an additional 6000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. Once you have 110,000 points, then book a lot of flights without spending a dime on airfare aside from the government required $5.80 per way security fee. My family of four has flown to six destinations within a year for less than $100 per flight using my methods.”

Robert Schrader, a popular travel blogger at LeaveYourDailyHell.com, says credit cards are the key to flying free in 2017, even more so than in 2016. “Now that all major U.S. airlines have finished their race to the bottom—they all use revenue-based mileage earning and have even introduced “basic economy” fares that earn no miles at all—earning free travel via flying is impossible for all but a few travelers.”

“Moreover, with poor airline lounge quality and scant upgrade availability, elite status has little value. Contrast this with generous credit card bonuses, from a recent targeted AMEX Business Platinum offer of 100,000 to 50,000 becoming standard on American Airlines co-branded cards from Citi.”

  1. Best practices for air travel savings

Valerie Bowden, author of Backpacking Africa for Beginners, offers three tried and true best practices for saving money if traveling by air.

  • Reconsider one-way flights. I’ve saved an enormous amount of money by skipping out on round-way tickets. First, airlines make a lot of money with canceled or rescheduled tickets. If you didn’t buy travel insurance, you’re looking at a $200-300 fee. Second, one-way tickets allow you to get better deals. For examples, one time I got a flight from Africa to the US for only $355 (including taxes!). Most tickets within the US cost that amount or more. This is all because I found a quick sale happening that I was able to take advantage of.
  • Take New or Rarely Used Airlines. Another reason why I found such a great sale was because I took Saudi Airlines. It sounds risky. But often Middle Eastern or Developing Countries have great new airlines, and they try hard to promote them. Through sales and special deals, you get tickets much cheaper than you would be taking Delta or Lufthansa.
  • Be flexible. Flights can vary by hundreds of dollars even within a 24-hour span. I like websites that let you search one month at a time because then you can see the best deals. For that, Skyscanner is by far my favorite. 
  1. Housesitting & Hotel Hacks

The ultimate travel hack to cut out ALL accommodation (and often food) costs is housesitting. According to Tanbay Theune, a professional house/ pet sitter and blogger at www.travellingweasels.com, The perks are hard to dismiss. “Most homeowners treat you like a guest. They pick you up from the airport/train station/ bus stop. They cook you a meal or two and leave you some food in the cupboards. All gladly received when traveling on a budget – and even when you’re not! They also show you the area and the secret spots only the locals know.”

James, another devout house-sitter, and blogger at portugalist.com, acknowledges that getting that first house sit can be difficult as you won’t have any references or experience. “The first two I did were actually in the town I lived at the time (Edinburgh). I did them just for the reference. Then, I applied for ones that I was interested in and managed to get several back-to-backs in France. One was five month’s long so, in the end, I was able to spend nine month’s there.”

James has written a list of sites where you can find those opportunities. Of these, Trusted Housesitters is the biggest and it has the most opportunities.

For folks who want to go traditional with their accommodations, Abigail, a travel blogger at Where Abigail Went,  says one of the best travel hacks she knows is this: Check if any of your family or friends are full-time employees of hotel chains. Associates’ friends and family are able to enjoy preferred rates.

“Now that Marriott and Starwood have merged, for instance, you can take advantage of the extended Explore Friends program, which entitles you to book an unlimited number of nights per year for leisure travel at any of their hotels across the world, based on availability. You can save up to 50% off rooms this way, which is a fantastic deal.”

  1. Avoid duty and tax fees at the airport

“I recently bought a blender for my mom for her birthday and had to carry it with me all the way from Australia to South Africa. It’s small enough to fit into my luggage, but when I was going through the boarding gates, they charged me tax on the item. I then saw a guy in front of me going through the boarding gates with a couple of gifts. He paid no tax on the items, simply because they were gift-wrapped. So, to avoid paying tax or duty fees on any items, make sure to wrap them in gift wrapping paper and declare them as gifts!” — Gerrard Hattfield, Flight Factory

“Did you know…What do ‘Lucille’, Game of Thrones and Sea Horses have in common?

lucille bat TSA“Lucille” has been sighted at airports — and TSA agents are pulling her off the security line along with some other insidious luggage items.  CNN.com recently reported on a stunning array of lethal and or just plain creepy carry-ons that never made it past the TSA’s X-ray machines this year.

The list includes “Lucille,” a replica of the infamous barbed wire wrapped bat wielded by Walking Dead star, Jeffrey Dean Morgan; a grenade and bladed dragon claws. Read the full story here.

American Airlines Cabin Class Changes

For flights from Jan 11 onward, American Airlines has made changes to how they code their US Domestic First Class cabin on 2-cabin flights. 3-cabin flights (such as JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO) are not affected by the change.

While still marketed as a “First Class” product, internally the cabin is being treated as a Business class cabin. As such the fare, upgrade, and award classes for 2-cabin US domestic flights have changed for flights departing Jan 11 onward:

Changes for American Airlines First Cabin Class Codes

Click on image to expand chart

In summary:

Paid Class Changes
F -> J
A -> I
P -> D
Upgrade Class Changes
X -> R (as before, not viewable on ExpertFlyer)
A -> C
Award Class Changes
Z -> U

What this means for ExpertFlyer Subscribers

First, you will be searching for a different First Award or Upgrade class for 2-cabin US Domestic flights departing Jan 11. These changes are also noted in the class code descriptions of the Award & Upgrade search.

In addition, if you have a Flight Alert for the First cabin on 2-cabin US Domestic flight departing Jan 11 onward, then your Flight Alert needs to be updated as per the table above. To do so:

  • Login to your ExpertFlyer account
  • Go to the View Saved Alerts page
  • In the Flight Alerts section, delete the existing Flight Alert
  • Create a new Flight Alert from either the Flight Availability or Award & Upgrade results pages or the Create New Flight Alert page.

If you have any questions about these changes or your alerts, please email us at customercare@expertflyer.com

Why 2017 needs to be the year you try solo travel

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Young and intrepid or all grown up seeking an adventure that’s all yours?  We interviewed Brenda Mejia, solo travel enthusiast and author of the blog, Traveleira.com, to understand the fears that hold us back from solo travel and the joys of getting past the fear and exploring the world.

WATCH our interview with Brenda Mejia, blogger at Traveleira.com

“I started traveling solo when I was 23. I didn’t have any friends that were into traveling or the destinations I was interested in visiting. So, I just said, you know what, I need to do this. I bought my ticket to Scandinavia and I haven’t stopped traveling solo ever since.” — Brenda Mejia

Now a 27-year-old grad student living in Spain, Brenda says that fear is normal, but you can’t let it be the cause of missing out on all that life and people of other countries and cultures have to offer.  “The biggest fear of first-time solo travelers is, of course, the solo part, and doing everything by oneself.  But, if the biggest fear is being alone, then the biggest surprise that solo travel offers is the number of new and interesting friends you make from all over the world!  When you travel with a group of friends, think about it…you are focused on them: talking to them, eating with them, touring with them.  You don’t make yourself available to other people.  When you travel alone — you are much more approachable and more likely to strike up a conversation with someone new.  That’s an amazing gift!”

As a backup, Brenda uses the coachsurfing.com mobile app to find like-minded travelers at her destination who want to grab a beer or go visit a tourist site or restaurant. “If I want to hit a club or something like that, I use couchsurfing.  They recently launched a new feature called CouchSurfing “Hangouts” where you can find people in your area who want to hangout. It’s great, because the people using the app have the same mindset, which leads to good conversations and a lot of fun. It’s a great tool for people who are traveling solo.”

To learn more about Brenda and her solo travels, visit her site at Traveleira.com.

 

“Did you know…DOT proposes paving the way for in-flight phone calls?”

cellphone on planes

“Small seats, little legroom and, now, cell phone chatter – air travel could become even less comfortable if consumers are surrounded by passengers talking on mobile phones”

— Senators Edward J. Markey and Richard Blumenthal, members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee

According to TravelPulse.com, the DOT announced on Thursday its “proposal to require airlines and ticket agents to disclose in advance to consumers if the carrier operating their flight allows passengers to make voice calls using mobile wireless devices.”

Until the DOT makes a formal ruling, which could take another year or more, the agency is leaving the decision in the hands of the respective airlines.

Is cell phone usage on planes a good thing?  Read the full story here.