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Travel insurance is sexy when it helps you beat the airlines

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

You’ve heard the phrase, “Go Big or Go Home”? Well, Jonathan Breeze, CEO of Aardvark Compare, has his own motto, “Go Non-Refundable and Travel Insure!”. Don’t start yawning because you think this post is about insurance.  Once you wrap your head around Jonathan’s awesome travel hack, you’re going to perk right up.

Did you know that a large majority of companies insist that their employees book Refundable Airline tickets? In doing so, they believe they are enjoying increased flexibility in the event of cancellation or rebooking. Sure, that’s all well and good, but they are paying through the teeth for that allowance — typically three times more than they should be.

According to Breeze, there is a little-known travel hack that will beat the airlines at their own game. “The airlines are robbing us blind with their 3x pricing on refundable tickets. That is the basic math. The seat price for a Refundable flight, particularly when booked far in advance, is typically 3 or 4 times as much as a Non-Refundable flight. You will hear of these Non-Refundable tickets being called ‘Throwaway Tickets’ because if you don’t fly, you may as well throw them away.

The best way to think about Non-Refundable tickets is ‘Inexpensive, yet Insurable’. Not as sexy, I grant you, but certainly, much, much cheaper, most of the time, ” says Breeze.

Simplistically, a Refundable Seat can cost 300% of the price of a Non-Refundable Seat bundled with inexpensive insurance.

So, if one buys a Refundable Economy Ticket, say from LAX to LHR in August for a week (6 months from now), American wants $2,100 for a Main Cabin Fully Flexible Seat. It’s in the Main Cabin, but it’s more expensive than a First Class seat.

aarvark compare

So, you bypass this option to seek a more traditional Main Cabin (Economy) seat. And now, this looks like a bargain, after you managed to avoid the $2,100 fully flex seat.

Breeze points out that American wants $1,150 for a Main Cabin Flexible Seat. So, it is flexible, just not ‘fully’ flexible. Travelers may change their flights, not lose all of their money, but they will need to pay for the effort to make the flight change — a $200 change fee.

aarvark compare

According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Top 25 US Airlines rake in $3Bn a year in Reservation Change Fees. And $4Bn a year in Baggage Fees.

“If businesses didn’t hate the airlines before, they probably hate them now,” says Breeze.

“But, let’s go beat them at their own game…

Just before I hit the ‘Buy’ button, I, unlike almost every traveler, decide to get creative. Why not buy a Non-Refundable seat, and wrap it up with some ‘Cancel For Any Reason’ Travel Insurance from a Marketplace, similar to what we do at AardvarkCompare.com.

aarvark4

American wants $400 for the Non-Refundable Main Cabin Seat. Add the Insurance, it will cost around $50 — And you’re bulletproof! You have secured coverage for Cancellation (Sickness, Death, Incapacitation etc) – 100% Refund; Cancellation for Work Reason – 100% Refund; and Cancellation for any other Reason – 75% Refund.”

So, for $450 a customer booking that DFW – LAX return has nearly the same level of coverage as the person paying $1,150 for the exact same seat — A $700 savings.

Breeze emphasizes that the person in the $1,150 seat still has to pay $200 every time they make a change. Whereas the person in the $450 seat just needs to throw the ticket away and use their insurance if a flight needs to be canceled.

“However, I haven’t explored why these price discrepancies exist. Normally there is no such thing as a free lunch.

It’s pretty simple – Travel Insurance is based on risk, and the probability of claim.

Whereas flight prices are based on pricing models that try to wring as much money out of a passenger as possible.

And if a company likes to fly some of the Execs in First Class, the numbers become even more staggering. Recently we ran a study that showed a $16,600 saving on a First Class ticket, using this exact same methodology.”

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

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.

 

What Airlines Won’t Tell You

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

ExpertFlyer co-founder and president, Christ Lopinto, was recently interviewed by FOX News anchor, Ernie Anastos, on little-known facts and tips that the airlines won’t tell you.  Watch the segment and read the Q & A.

 

Ernie Anastos: Listen, we just heard a lot about what the airlines are doing and so forth. You’ve got to be kind of like your own travel agent these days, don’t you? Really, all the details.

Chris Lopinto: Unfortunately, yes. Our motto is information is empowering, and that’s why we like to give as much as possible. Really, with a little bit of research, you can do quite well these days.

EA: Okay, let’s talk about how you get the best seats, because that’s what a lot of people are concerned about. How do you do that?

CL: Absolutely. Unfortunately nowadays, airlines reserve the best seats for their elite customers or those who are willing to pay for them. However, what they don’t tell you is that within about four or five days before departure, the airlines upgrade their best customers into business or first class. That means that a lot of good seats open up in economy class just waiting for someone to grab them.

EA: What do we do?

CL: What we do is we log into the airline website or whatever website you used to buy the ticket from and check the seat map again to see if you can get a better seat assignment within a few days of departure. By that time more economy seats will be available.

EA: A lot of people are concerned about frequent flyer programs. Is there a real payoff with that?

CL: There can be, but you have to be careful. Think of frequent flyer points as money in a bank account. However, unlike a real bank account, you don’t earn interest and the bank can basically devalue that money at any time.

EA: What do we do?

CL: There’s a term in the industry called, “Burn as you earn,” which means don’t save up a lot of frequent flyer miles thinking you’re going to have some big vacation somewhere down the line. If you have enough to use and you can use them, use them now because frequent flyer miles will never be as valuable tomorrow as they are today.

EA: Any other quick suggestions if you’re traveling alone or with other people? Your family and so forth?

CL: Well, one suggestion is that if you’re trying to buy a trip with multiple people, say a family of four. What the airlines do is, they’ll price the ticket for the amount that is the same for everyone. Let’s say there’s one cheap fair available. What they won’t do is they won’t give you one cheap fair then three of the more expensive fairs. In order to figure that out, you price it twice. One at the quantity you want, say four, and one with just one ticket, and if the price per ticket is different, you know that there’s some cheaper fairs available, but just not four. What you do is, you buy a few of the cheaper and then a few of the more expensive and you get an overall lower cost for your trip.

 

Expert Tips for Taking Great Vacation Photos

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

August is a popular month for family vacations.  Some will travel to Europe and other parts of the world, some will explore our National Parks, and others will visit local attractions or create a Staycation in their hometown.  Regardless of where you travel this summer, there will be plenty of picture-taking opportunities.  While most pictures taken this summer will never go beyond social media posts or the devices that created them, there are opportunities to create truly unique photos for display in the home or office and online photo labs offer several interesting finishes to match any décor.

Pro Photographer, Gary Arndt

Pro Photographer, Gary Arndt

We invited renowned travel photographer and blogger Gary Arndt to share a few tips for capturing memorable photos and telling your story (with pictures).  Gary has been traveling around the world virtually non-stop since 2007. During this time he has visited 120 countries/ territories and all 7 continents.  He has also visited more than 311 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which were created by the Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1978 as part of a global effort to preserve the world’s cultural and natural heritage. Continue reading →