JThe airline’s on-time arrival rate hasn’t been this bad since 2014. Because airports are chaotic, you can choose to drive, but gas prices have skyrocketed. Additionally, hotel prices have hit all-time highs, even as many properties have cut services like daily housekeeping.
Despite all of these disincentives, travel can be non-negotiable. You might have five weddings to attend this year. Then there’s the off-site work to finally meet the colleagues you’ve never met in person. And now that your youngest children are eligible for the vaccine, you owe them that (expensive) Disney trip they’ve been craving.
Ah, suddenly the wanderlust you felt while imagining your dream “revenge trip” in 2020 has been zapped, replaced by anxiety and lots of unwanted spending.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Combine solid planning with a healthy mindset, and you could avoid common travel problems. Who knows? This summer vacation could turn out to be the best trip ever.
1. Recognize that your trip won’t be perfect
Start your journey with realistic expectations. Delays are almost inevitable and things can be more expensive than expected. If you go there knowing the caveats, you’ve already prepared yourself better to avoid disappointment.
With that, focus on those next tactics that you can control.
2. Book flights with less risk of delays
As if traveling wasn’t stressful enough right now, there’s no guarantee your flight won’t be delayed, as even a private jet could still be subject to air traffic or weather delays. But some booking strategies can at least increase the chances of arriving on time:
- Fly earlier in the day before an earlier flight delays your plans.
- Avoid layovers if your budget and itinerary allow.
- Book with airlines with a strong track record of on-time arrivals (Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines rank highest, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics).
3. Apply for TSA PreCheck
One of the easiest airport lines to avoid: the traditional security line. With TSA PreCheck membership, you can access dedicated, often shorter lines that get you through faster. Plus, you won’t need to take off your shoes or laptops.
Applying for membership takes time, and possibly money too. But it’s probably better to set aside time to apply now than to cut into your precious vacation time by standing in a boring security line. The application fee is $85, but many travel credit card benefits include TSA PreCheck reimbursement.
4. Not Checking Baggage
Another line to skip? Checking the bags. While you can sometimes skip this line by holding elite airline status, the easiest way to skip it and avoid unnecessary travel hurdles is to not check baggage, period.
There are many other reasons to travel light. There’s no risk of lost checked baggage if you’re traveling with carry-on baggage only, and you won’t have to stand at the baggage carousel at the other end of your flight. And if you have to change flights at the last minute, you won’t be held back because your belongings are stuck on another plane.
5. Pack a “delayed emergency” kit
While it’s essential to travel light, make room for some essentials to account for one of the most common travel issues: delays or other unavoidable travel issues. Items to include:
- Squeezable snacks, like nuts, jerkies, and protein bars: “Hungry” trips can make a bad trip worse. Plus, you’ll skip the long queues at airport cafes.
- Portable chargers: If flights are delayed and the airport doesn’t have power outlets, you’ll stay plugged in.
- Copies of your passport, proof of COVID-19 vaccine and other important documents: You may not necessarily need physical copies, but digital copies don’t take up space and can be useful.
- Entertainment: Bring a book or laptop to keep you entertained if you’re late.
6. Treat yourself to lounge access
Speaking of what to do during a delay, the airport lounge could be your oasis. Airport lounges, which are usually accessible through programs like Priority Pass (membership is sometimes included with some credit cards), can sometimes make a delay not just tolerable, but actually enjoyable.
Lounges vary in quality, but the best have luxuries like nap suites, Peloton bikes, showers, and buffets. Think of travel hassles like delays simply as opportunities to treat yourself to another free cappuccino.
7. Let your phone help you
Smartphone apps can make travel easier. Most airlines and hotels now offer online or in-app check-in, after which you’ll receive a mobile boarding pass or virtual room key to bypass the physical counter.
This year alone, Starbucks has rolled out the ability to order ahead at many airports, eliminating another irritating line you might otherwise find yourself in.
The apps can also notify you of a flight delay, help you navigate new routes due to traffic, and find cheap gas stations.
8. Book the “pay later” rate, even if it’s more expensive
Many car rental companies and hotels allow you to book now, but do not require payment until you arrive. Sometimes they offer a discount for the initial payment, which can be worth it if you are certain to make the trip.
But given the uncertainty of travel issues these days, it might be worth paying what’s probably only a small percentage more. The trade-off – no headache trying to get your money back – may be worth it.
Plus, if prices drop between booking and check-in, you can rebook the same reservation at a lower rate. In fact, such occurrences are surprisingly common. Hotel room rates were cheaper 73% of the time when booked for 15 days instead of four months – with an average saving of 13% over the past three years, according to a 2021 NerdWallet study.
9. Consider an all-inclusive or group tour
Group tours and all-inclusive packages can sometimes be more expensive up front, but may result in fewer headaches given there are fewer reservations to book (and fear you’ll go wrong). When you book a guided group vacation, the journey is in the hands of your guide once you arrive.
Travel problems – whether it’s a vehicle breakdown, unexpected closure or something else – are almost unavoidable these days. But if the trip depends on the guide you have hired, the problem solving also largely depends on him.
10. Have travel insurance
Travel insurance can help you recover money for canceled or interrupted trips. It can also fund expenses such as extra clothes if your luggage gets lost or an extra hotel room if you have to stay overnight due to a flight delay.
Some credit cards offer travel insurance for trips purchased with that card.
Read the policy, though, because many plans only come to your rescue if you have a covered reason, like injury or jury duty. You generally can’t expect a refund if you cancel “just because” unless you purchase the more expensive “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage. Even still, this more flexible coverage typically only reimburses about 50% to 75% of the total cost, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
11. Tipping if applicable
Travel is already expensive, and tipping can sometimes feel like something you do begrudgingly, especially when you’ve already been hit by rapid inflation, resort fees, and maybe even a COVID-19 surcharge.
Tipping can help a likely overworked employee (as of May 2022, employment in recreation and hospitality still remains about 8% below pre-pandemic levels, according to the US Travel Association). Likewise, your generosity could literally pay off for you too. Tipping the cleaning staff at the hotel’s breakfast buffet could net you a free premium drink from the cafe-bar. A little money for the hotel housekeeper could mean chocolates and towel animals on your bed.
12. Be nice to workers and other travelers
You don’t necessarily need to tip to get top-notch service – kindness is free. Reprimanding the gate agent for delaying your flight won’t get you there any faster (not to mention it’s probably not their fault if the flight is late). But, being nice means they’re more likely to pull some strings to get you on another flight.
And try to be patient and considerate with other travelers. For many rusty travellers, this is their first trip in years. And for some other travelers, they’re flying out for their fifth wedding of the month. They also deserve your sympathy.
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