4 Travel Upgrades That Are Worth It—and 5 to Avoid
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With airports expected to be epically crowded this season, experts agree that getting TSA Global Entry is absolutely worth the $100 application fee. Certain credit cards will actually reimburse the fee; Citi Prestige, American Express Platinum and Citi/AA Advantage Executive Card are three that currently offer this perk.
Skip: The Airline Club Room
Again, it pays to know your plastic. Some credit cards, such as an American Express Platinum Card, will get you gratis entry to certain airline lounges. But if you're paying cash, take the $25 to $50 per person cost and use it to buy a cocktail in an upscale airport restaurant. Since so many airports are investing in their dining options beyond loud sports bars and sad coffee stands, it's easy to find something suitable in the departure terminal, says Cheryl Rosner, travel expert and co-founder of Stayful. And you can stay connected: According to a 2016 survey by wireless software company Devicescape, 90 percent of the 150 biggest airports in the U.S. offer free WiFi.
Get: An Upgrade to First or Business Class
This summer airlines are expected to fly an unprecedented 231 million passengers, according to a forecast from Airlines for America, so upgrades will be extra hard to come by. But that doesn't mean they're impossible, says Rosner. The best way to score one: First, make sure to rack up loyalty by using one credit card and airline for travel. Second, be flexible: It's easier to score two separate seats in first or business class than two seats together.
Skip: Extra legroom
If you can't spring for first class, you may as well squish, say experts who point out that the premium price placed on extra legroom in economy is rarely worth it for short-haul flights, especially if you're paying cash (instead of points) for the privilege. On some carriers the "extra" legroom is a measly 4 additional inches larger than standard economy. Best to choose an airline that has spacious economy seats or use SeatGuru or SeatExpert to choose the roomiest seat within your cabin.
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These all-inclusive packages tend to include add-ons you wouldn't have chosen in the first place, says Rosner—and the costs are multiplied when you're staying more than one night. For example, at one major hotel, a romantic retreat package that includes champagne, flowers, cookies and chocolates costs $60 more than a basic room rate per night. If you're staying three nights, better to take that $180 and buy fancy drinks and snacks from local stores. The only exception: If one of the major reasons for your trip involves an activity like scuba diving or snorkeling, purchasing a package from the hotel that includes gear and lessons will save you time, says Rosner.
Get: The Loyalty Program
Even if you don't travel frequently, it's well worth it to sign up for the free hotel loyalty program, says Rosner. Programs often offer perks like minibar credits, upgrades and insider deals. For example, Marriott offers a fifth night free to loyalty members; Kimpton gives new members a $10 minibar credit and a $30 spa service discount. To make sure to keep spam to a minimum, Rosner suggests setting up an email address to be exclusively used for travel. Awardwallet.com is also a good resource to track your programs, points and expiration dates in one place, says Emily Jablon, co-founder of the travel blog Million Mile Secrets.
Skip: In-Room WiFi
Spending up to $12 a day for WiFi access is a waste of money, agree travel experts, especially since most hotels will offer gratis access in the lobby. You can get online for less by joining the loyalty program or using your phone as a hotspot for your devices. If you're staying for multiple nights, consider upgrading your data plan by $15 or $30 before the trip to avoid overage charges.
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Sounds pricey, but Rosner says that private guides can be reasonable depending on where you're traveling, and the access they can give you to must-see attractions is unparalleled. "When we were in Rome, we got a private guide for the Vatican, which allowed us to skip the line," she says, adding that one benefit alone allowed her and her husband a free afternoon to explore more of the city. ToursByLocals.com is a good place to search for expert tour guides who have knowledge and "ins" at local attractions.
Skip: Rental Car Upgrade
Unless driving a convertible down the Pacific Coast Highway is a specific must-do for your trip, it's best to pass on the pricey upgrades to a luxurious car. It's also not hard to get one free, using Jablon's trick: Reserve a compact car, which tends to be in highest demand and thus, may not be available when you get to the reservation desk. "When this happens, they often offer an upgrade," says Jablon.