19 Travel Hacks to Make Your Next Trip the Best Yet

Here's how to get the most out of your next getaway.

Going on vacation is amazing, but sometimes the process of getting to your destination can be less than enjoyable. Traffic jams, airport security, flight delays and other annoyances can not only put you in a foul mood, but can wreck your entire trip. Sadly, you can’t control some of these things, but there are plenty of ways to ensure you arrive at your destination relaxed, prepared and ready to enjoy your getaway.

Here are 19 things to consider when planning your next big trip.

1. Get Global Entry & TSA PreCheck

Your five-year, $100 Global Entry membership means expedited processing while going through U.S. Customs. It also gives you TSA PreCheck status that can speed you through security when traveling domestically without removing your shoes, laptops, liquids, belt and light jacket. Don’t think you fly enough to warrant the fee? You could consider an opportunity to …

2. Get a Travel Rewards Credit Card

Many travel rewards credit cards cover your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee for as long as you carry the card. On top of that, you can earn miles to help you earn free upgrades and free travel. Many of these cards also offer perks like travel insurance, rental car insurance and assistance for health care and other emergencies while traveling. You can check out some of our favorite travel rewards credit cards here.

3. Consider Travel Insurance

Of course, travel rewards cards often require excellent credit, so you may not qualify if your credit isn’t in good standing. (Find out where you stand with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.) You can easily buy one of the perks these cards offer, though — travel insurance. If an illness, weather situation or other issue keeps you from your plans, travel insurance will make sure you don’t forfeit the cost of your plane tickets and possibly your accommodations.

4. Buy Your Ticket From the Airline

It’s tempting to buy your airline ticket from a discount website, but you can wind up at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to overbooked flights, rebooking without hefty fees and other issues. So if you think you’ll need to change your flight, or absolutely, positively must be at your destination at a specific time, buying from the airline may be worth it, even if it includes an added expense. Also consider signing up for your favorite airline’s miles program.

5. Buy Good Luggage

We’re not saying you need to spend a lot of money, but buying sturdy bags can ensure you don’t end up at your destination with your wheels having literally fallen off. Do your research and look for sales on well-reviewed bags. You may even want to splurge for a bag with a lifetime warranty on repairs. Use your travel rewards card for the purchase and you’ll earn miles toward your next trip.

6. Research Accommodations

There’s nothing worse than ending up at your hotel, hostel or home and it looks nothing at all like the photos you viewed online. Be sure to read the reviews and do lots of comparing to ensure you get a space that is in a good location for your personal tastes, is safe and is priced competitively.

7. Check Your Passport

If you’re traveling abroad, most countries require your passport to not be within 90 days of expiration while you’re in the country. Avoid being turned away at the airport and having to spend hundreds of dollars to expedite your passport renewal just so you don’t have to completely forfeit your trip. Also check the visa requirements for your destination (same goes for inoculations if needed). If you forget, the airline can typically handle it at the airport, but it’s better to square it away ahead of time to avoid potential delays.

8. Pack Snacks

Food at the airport is stupidly expensive and typically not good. Plan ahead and put together a solid meal for every 12 hours you’ll be traveling, especially if you’re not flying business or first class. Having a few of your favorite munchies can be the difference between arriving hangry or happy.

9. Carry a Water Bottle

The same goes for having adequate liquids. If you’ve ever been stuck in your seat for long periods without beverage service, you know the importance of having your own water or other hydrating beverage with you. Pack an empty water bottle at home and fill it when you’ve made it through security. It’s great to have with you on your trip as well, especially in hot climates.

10. Be Comfortable

We’re not giving you an excuse to look like a mess, but being comfortable, especially on long international flights, can make even the most cramped leg room more comfortable. Wear soft fabrics that don’t bind and try to layer so temperature fluctuations don’t leave you freezing or sweating. If your flight is super long, consider packing a comfy sleeping outfit you can change into on the plane.

11. Wear Slip-On Shoes

Slip-on-shoes are one step further on your road to comfort. Not only do they help you pass through security (if you didn’t get your TSA PreCheck), but you can easily kick off your shoes and get comfy on the plane.

12. Take Soothing Socks

Once you slip off those shoes, you’ll want something to make you feel cozy and cuddly. Some fluffy, cushy socks can do the trick. Try to find some with rubberized feet so you don’t have to change when you head to the restroom.

13. Pack a Refresh Kit

This has gotten me through many an international flight. If you’re not flying business or first class where they provide a comfort kit, packing a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb or hairbrush, change of underwear, a washcloth, moisturizer, lotion, lip balm and even a refreshing herbal mist can make all the difference in how you feel once you reach your destination.

14. Pack a Cozy Wrap or Sweater

Planes frequently get cold, so a sweater, light jacket, shawl or scarf can help, especially if the airline doesn’t offer blankets or runs out.

15. Know the Language

If you’re headed to a country where they speak a different language, try to know a few simple phrases so you aren’t constantly using the translation app on your phone.

16. Get an International Calling Plan …

Speaking of your phone, see if your carrier offers an international plan on a temporary basis. It can help you keep in touch without racking up a huge bill.

17. … Or a Temporary Phone

If not, there are plenty of places that offer simple and inexpensive phones with prepaid calling plans that will let you at least text and talk, if not check your email and play with your favorite apps.

18. Have Walking-Around Money

You may be planning to use your credit card exclusively while traveling, but it’s good to have money in your pocket, especially in foreign countries. Exchange your money at the airport or make a withdrawal at a local ATM. You may want to research if any local banks are affiliated with your bank back home, as they can often charge lower ATM transaction fees.

19. Make Note of Your Accommodation Details

Putting your local address into your phone can save you serious headaches, especially if you’ve been out having a bit too much fun and can’t remember. If you’re in a hotel, include the phone number so you can call for assistance if necessary.

Image: anyaberkut

The post 19 Travel Hacks to Make Your Next Trip the Best Yet appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Ways to Save on Flights & Hotels This Summer

When it comes to the most expensive costs associated with traveling, it’s always the big three — hotels, rental cars and flights.

You’ve scrimped and saved to treat your family to a nice vacation this summer, but now that you’ve started to research how much it would actually cost to book airfare and hotels, you’re having second thoughts.

When it comes to the most expensive costs associated with traveling, it’s always the big three, says Travis Katz, co-founder and CEO of Trip.com — hotels, rental cars and flights. The good news is that with a little planning, most of these costs can be pared down. The following are Katz’s five biggest tips to help families save a little cash when booking flights and airfare this summer.

1. Think Outside the Box

Up-and-coming places are less crowded, and activities, hotels and restaurants tend to be cheaper (with better service!) because they’re eager to welcome you back, says Katz. He says his site has seen an uptick in travelers flocking to places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Santa Fe, New Mexico, to name a few.

2. Take the Right Flights

If you can hack it, taking the red-eye roundtrip could save you a night (or two!) on accommodation. As an added bonus, your kids might sleep through the trip. If you don’t want to over-night it, consider at least traveling on off-peak days, like Tuesday to Thursday, when airfare is generally cheaper.

3. Haggle for Your Hotel

Pricing for hotels and other types of lodging is not set in stone. Katz suggests asking nicely at the front desk at check-in for an upgrade. “If one’s not available, hotel staff might be inspired to give a freebie or two — comped breakfast, for instance,” he says.

Bonus Tip: Home rentals on sites like Airbnb offer full kitchens, so “you can shop locally and eat simple breakfasts and lunches,” Katz adds.

4. Make the Most of Your Memberships

Your vacation discounts could already be in your wallet. Memberships to some organizations like AAA or AARP come with travel discounts, and you should always check your credit card to see if they offer discounts — or bonus rewards — when booking hotels or flights through their affiliate programs. Even your Costco membership could score you some deals. Check out the Costco Travel site for information.

5. Consider Opening a Travel Rewards Card 

Rewards credit cards, when used wisely, are a helpful way to pay for a family vacation. Just remember not to go overboard so you don’t lose your rewards to high interest, or wind up accruing unneeded debt. The last thing you want is to come home to an upsetting credit card bill.

Before you apply for one of these cards, be sure to read the terms and conditions so you know what you’re getting. Also evaluate whether you’ll actually use the rewards. A Southwest rewards credit card, for instance, won’t do you any good if you don’t fly the carrier. Research what airlines have hubs in your area —you can find a helpful list of the best credit cards to use in every major U.S. airport here. If you don’t think you’ll frequently fly with a specific carrier, consider a general purpose low-annual-fee travel rewards credit card.

Just be sure you know where your credit stands so you’re certain you’re able to qualify. Travel credit cards generally require good credit. You can view two of your credit scores, free of charge, on Credit.com.

Bonus tip: Travel rewards credit cards generally partner with rental car companies so your plastic may qualify you for a discount — or at least earn bonus points — on that expense, too.

6. Be Loyal to a Particular Airline or Hotel Brand

Besides using your credit card rewards to fund your trip, consider becoming loyal to a particular hotel or airline to cash in on some of their loyalty programs. Become a member of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Program, for example, and you’ll earn points for every dollar you spend that you can put toward a free flight sometime in the future.

Bonus tip: See if you can pool your credit card rewards with the points or miles you earn through a travel provider’s loyalty program to qualify for a free night or award flight faster.

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

Image: baona

The post 6 Ways to Save on Flights & Hotels This Summer appeared first on Credit.com.

5 New Marriott Hotels You Can Visit in 2017 for Free

Let these new hotels help you check off some of your bucket list destinations.

There are a lot of new hotels opening up all around the world this year, including those by the ever-popular Marriott chain. So, before you plan your next vacation, make sure you check out some of the new properties Marriott has planned. One of these might help you cross a location off your bucket list and save you some money at the same time if you’re a Marriott Rewards member. (Note: Marriott purchased Starwood hotels late last year. If this is your preferred hotel, you may want to check out these five new Starwood hotels you can visit for free.)

AC Hotel Portland

Portland has become one of the “it” cities to visit in the United States over the last several years, so it’s no wonder that Marriott’s AC brand of hotels — which can be found all across Europe — is opening a new location in Portland. During your stay make sure you visit the hotel restaurant, AC Kitchen. This tapas style restaurant will bring some of the hotel’s Spanish influence to the city.

This category seven property will cost 30,000-35,000 points for a free night.

JW Marriott Singapore South Beach

Any trip to Singapore should include luxury and style. That’s exactly what you’ll find when you stay at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach. Located right in the heart of all the major tourist attractions, this hotel features 634 rooms, including 47 suites. There are five different restaurants to choose from, including one from executive chef Akira Back of Iron Chef America. Because Singapore is very much a vertical city, sky gardens are very popular, and the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach has two on property.

This hotel is a category eight property, requiring 35,000-40,000 points for a free night.

Edition Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain, is a city filled with art, rich culture, and amazing food. It’s there that Marriott will be opening their latest Edition hotel. This 100-room property will be located in the Ciutat Vella district. If you are looking for the next big party, this might be the perfect place to stay. You will be able to enjoy three restaurants, a rooftop and lobby lounge, plus a nightclub.

This hotel will open later in 2017 and there is no official announcement on the Marriott Rewards category or the price.

AC Hotel Denver Downtown

The mile-high city is one of the hottest places to be right now. Listed as the number two place to live in the U.S., people are coming here to visit from all over the world. If you are thinking about an upcoming trip to Denver, then you might want to look into the AC Hotel Denver Downtown. Located in the heart of the Denver theater district, this hotel is surrounded by bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the Denver nightlife. The hotel even offers Denver’s highest open-air, rooftop bar.

The AC Hotel Denver Downtown will open in August 2017. At this time it’s unknown what Marriott Rewards category this hotel will be.

Moxy NYC Times Square South

Located in New York City’s Time Square, this hip hotel will be geared toward Millennials who are looking to relax and have a good time. This will be the flagship property for the Moxy brand, and will include numerous pop-up shops, restaurants and a sprawling rooftop fitness center.

Moxy Times Square South will open in summer 2017. Its Marriott Rewards category is still unknown.

Earning Marriott Rewards

If you want to score some free nights at any of these properties, one of the easiest ways to earn Marriott points is with the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card. When you sign up you will receive 80,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. If you want to add an authorized user to your account, you will earn an additional 7,500 points once they make a purchase in the first three months.

When you use this card at Marriott properties, you will receive five times the points. In addition, you will earn two times the points at restaurants, car rental companies, and on airfare that you purchase through the airlines. All other purchase will earn one point per dollar. There is an annual fee of $85, but you will receive a free night at any category one through five property on your anniversary. The card comes with a variable 16.49% to 23.49% APR based on creditworthiness.

All cardholders will automatically receive silver elite status as well as 15 credits toward gold status. Plus, for every $3,000 in purchases you make with the card, you will receive an additional elite status credit.

Earn Even More Rewards as a Business Owner

Marriott also offers small business owners an additional way to boost their Marriott Reward balance. When you sign up for the Marriott Rewards Premier Business credit card, you will receive an additional 80,000 Marriott Reward points. You’ll also be able to earn the same amount of points on purchases with this business credit card as you can with the personal version. The only difference is that you can also earn 2x points at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone services.

The Marriott Rewards Business credit card has an annual fee of $99, but you will also receive a free night at any category one through five property on your anniversary. You will also receive the same elite status benefits as you would with the personal card. However, if you spend $50,000 on your business card in a calendar year you will automatically receive gold status.

Remember, before applying for any credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit reports and credit scores. Errors on your credit report can bring down your scores, which could result in your application being declined. You can get your two, absolutely free credit scores, updated every 14 days, right here on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Image: baona

The post 5 New Marriott Hotels You Can Visit in 2017 for Free appeared first on Credit.com.

The Best Travel Websites to Bookmark This Weekend

best-travel-sites-2016

Whether you’ve used up your vacation days or not, surely you’ve got holiday adventures on the brain. After all, fares to Europe are some of the cheapest we’ve seen. If that isn’t enough incentive to get you packing, consider the websites gathered here, with help from Matthew Ma, co-founder of The Flight Deal, a travel deals site. Some will help you plan smarter while others turn up cheap flights; all are guaranteed to make your trip smoother.

Google Flights

On Google Flights “you can search quicker than Kayak,” Ma said, and the platform’s ideal “for most general users.” Just enter destinations, fare type and dates, and a number of options will pop up. You can also explore nearby destinations and sign up for fare alerts.

ITA Software’s Matrix 

For the true travel hacker, ITA Software’s Matrix, which powers Google Flights, is quite useful, Ma said. The search engine is great for turning up rare K-Up or Y-Up fares, which let fliers upgrade to business class from coach, and it can calculate the price per mile of each fare, useful for those counting their miles. You can also input airport codes to dig up dream fares. One downside: You can’t book fares on the site, so keep a pen and paper handy.

Hotels Combined

“Most people want to check how much it costs [to stay] in their destination,” Ma said, and Hotels Combined does just that. This meta search engine is “fast and has hundreds of thousands of listings, so you can quickly see what the prices look like.”

Wiki Travel

Flight Deal’s search team constantly uses this site, which Ma said offers “user-submitted tips for every city in the world.” With the click of a mouse, you can get a “rundown of public transportation, neighborhoods, whether it’s safe, not safe, all those things,” he said. “It gives you a very quick idea of whether it makes sense to visit. It’s basically like Cliff’s Notes for any destination.”

Travel.State.Gov

For all things visa- and vaccine-related, this site is a wonderful resource, Ma said. Renew your passport, get safety updates and bone up on whatever else you need as an American traveling abroad.

More Tips for Smart Travel

To save on your next trip, consider using a travel rewards credit card, which entitles you to free baggage checks, seat upgrades and more. And, if you don’t have one yet, it’s a good idea to make sure your credit is solid before you apply — lenders are often wary of applicants who can’t manage their payments or debt responsibly. You can view a free snapshot of your credit report by signing up for an account on Credit.com.

Image: NicoElNino

The post The Best Travel Websites to Bookmark This Weekend appeared first on Credit.com.

The Best Places You Can Fly for Cheap Right Now

best-places-to-fly-in-october

Eager to hit the road but not sure where to go? With fall in full swing, we felt it was only right that we research the best places to visit this season. It turns out budget travelers have plenty of options, and if they play their cards right they can hitch a ride on a jet plane for as little as $200 roundtrip. We tapped Billy Sanez, vice president of marketing for FareCompare, an airfare travel deals site, to pull up data on places with the best deals right now.

Austin, Texas 

The Texas capital has everything a budget-conscious family could want: historic attractions, world-class hotels, stunning scenery and killer barbecue (also: live music). The 2016 Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix happens there later this month too. “The weather won’t be as hot, probably in the 80s,” said Sanez, “and you’ll still be able to find great hotels … The only challenge there is you won’t have Uber” — the city banned the ride-hailing service in May.

New Orleans

If jazz and beignets dusted with sugar get your pulse racing, then the soulful city of New Orleans is the place to be. “It’s a little bit [of the] lower season for them,” Sanez said, “and actually you can probably get down there for less than $150 roundtrip from anywhere in the U.S.” Known for its vibrant nightlife and legendary music, New Orleans is a dream in the fall, perfect for picnics.

Seattle 

For those flying from the East Coast, especially cities like Boston, New York and Savannah, Georgia, a fare to Seattle can be had for less than $200 roundtrip, Sanez said. “Usually you’ll also see great deals for hotels.” That’s a good thing because you’ll be need cash for pinot in wine country and those aromatic molten chocolate cakes on Ballard Avenue.

Western Europe

We’ve reported on the phenomenon of cheap European flights, and this season the story’s no different. “You can get to just about any popular country for less than $600 roundtrip,” said Sanez, especially scenic London and Paris. “Germany, France and the U.K. will be a bit chilly, but it’s going to be like New York weather,” said Sanez. “In parts of Spain, Portugal and Italy, it’s going to be in the 70s.”

More Ways to Save on Airfare

With the holidays coming up, it’s important to look for ways to ease the strain on your wallet. A good place to start: travel rewards credit cards, which can soup up your trip with free checked baggage, hotel upgrades and miles. Just remember, you’ll need solid credit in order to qualify — lenders don’t like to see applicants who can’t manage their payments responsibly. So if you’re considering a new piece of plastic, be sure to check your credit before you apply. You can view two of your credit scores, updated every two weeks, for free on Credit.com.

Image: mixmotive

The post The Best Places You Can Fly for Cheap Right Now appeared first on Credit.com.

Here’s Why Flights to Europe Are Looking Cheaper These Days

cheap-europe-flights-from-usa

It’s not every day you spot a $439 fare from Newark to Amsterdam on United Airlines. Then again, it’s not every day that flights to Helsinki, Finland, from Seattle are priced at $523 on American Airlines, either. Are these hidden gems or are European airfares looking cheaper these days?

Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare, an online search engine for flights and hotels, says it’s not our imagination. In fact, a number of factors are driving down airfare, and the trend will likely continue. Here’s why.

Oil Prices Are Dropping 

With the price of barrels of oil taking a nosedive, Seaney said, gasoline prices have dropped and so, too, have airfares. For a long time, he said, carriers baked fuel surcharges into the price of airfare, along with taxes, before they started charging for the fare itself. But now that oil producers have lowered their prices due to a range of factors including instability in oil-producing countries like Venezuela and the U.S. nearly doubling its domestic production, the base airfare price has gotten much cheaper.

The Dollar Is Strong 

The U.S. dollar is quite strong, Matthew Ma, co-founder of the airfare deals site The Flight Deal, said, and as a result, that’s made it costlier for Europeans to come to the U.S. Carriers need to fill those seats somehow, so we’re seeing more affordable prices as a result, he said. “Fares to Europe are even cheaper than to the U.S.”

Travelers Have Terrorism Jitters 

Unfortunately, this year’s deadly terror attacks in Europe put Americans on high alert, making many of them wary of visiting cities like Belgium, Paris and Tunisia. This has led to a remarkable shift in travel patterns, with Paris losing as many as half a million to a million visitors this year, Ma said. Speaking of Paris, Seaney said airfares from the U.S. to the City of Lights have noticeably dropped over the past three months.

New Carriers Are Serving the U.S. 

With foreign carriers like Norwegian Air and WOW Air increasing their U.S. presence, travelers have even more options for flying to Europe cheaply, both sources said. Last month, Norwegian Air announced new routes to Barcelona and Copenhagen while the Iceland-based airline WOW said it will begin operating flights from Miami International Airport to several destinations in April next year. “That has a tremendous affect on pricing,” said Seaney. “If you looked at before Norwegian came to the U.S., fares to Scandinavia were pretty expensive. Now it’s not that hard to find nonstop deals.”

It’s Off-Season 

Simply put, fall and winter aren’t traditionally popular times to take trips to Europe, due to the weather, Ma said. “June, July and a little bit [of] early August” are typically the times when families decide to make the trek across the pond. So it’s no surprise we’re seeing cheaper airfares right now.

More Ways to Save on Flights 

Scoring a cheap flight is a great way to save money, especially when you’re on a budget. But there are others ways to cut down the cost of airfare, especially with travel rewards credit cards. These helpful pieces of plastic can grant you free baggage and upgrades and more, not to mention airline miles that can then be redeemed for airfare. Just remember, your credit needs to be solid before you apply, as lenders like to see applicants who can manage their credit responsibly. If you’re not sure where you stand and want to find out, you can do so by viewing a free summary of your credit report on Credit.com.

Image: adisa

The post Here’s Why Flights to Europe Are Looking Cheaper These Days appeared first on Credit.com.

The Airlines Americans Hate the Least

So you finally made it through airport security and stuffed yourself into that tiny seat (at the back of the plane). You’re filled with an overwhelming dread of missing your connecting flight from all the time you’ve been sitting on the tarmac waiting until it’s your turn to take off. And when you finally arrive at your final destination, you discover your bags ended up in a better place than you.

After all that, if you managed to remain well-disposed to your favorite airline, you’re not alone. Many Americans stay loyal to their favorite airlines despite everything they may have gone through. (Reminder: When the World Airline Awards were announced this summer, not a single American carrier cracked the top 10.) Now, thanks to Airfarewatchdog, an online flight cost comparison site, we know which airlines Americans dislike the least. The site conducted its fifth annual domestic airline comparison survey and deemed Alaska Airlines travelers’ favorite for the second year in a row.

These rankings are based on domestic airline performance in five key areas: canceled flights, customer satisfaction, denied boardings, mishandled baggage and on-time arrivals. According to an email from an Airfarewatchdog spokesperson, each of the categories were weighted differently (for example: denied boardings don’t happen as often as canceled flights, so denied boardings were weighted less).

Most of the information reviewed came from early 2016 Department of Transportation reports, except the customer service information, which came from the 2016 American Customer Satisfaction Index.

In an email, Airfarewatchdog president George Hobica said that, “overall, airlines are doing a better job in pleasing and serving consumers, which suggests that airline consolidation hasn’t been the disaster that many feared.”

The top airlines for overall performance were:

1. Alaska

2. Delta

3. JetBlue

4. Southwest

5. Virgin America

6. Frontier (tie)

6. United (tie)

8. American

9. Spirit

“We’re always working to improve our operation,” American Airlines spokesman Joshua Freed said in an email. “I would also note that we had the highest score among the network airlines in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.”

Spirit Airlines did not immediately respond to Credit.com’s request for comment.

Saving on Your Next Flight

No matter which airline you prefer to fly with, there’s no denying that flights get expensive. But there are ways you can save, like getting an airline credit card that offers rewards points (you can see the best airline credit cards on the market here). But, while these credit cards offer some perks you may enjoy, getting into debt to save on checking your bag simply isn’t worth it. And don’t forget — reward credit cards are usually ideal for people who don’t carry a balance. Otherwise, you’ll lose all those great rewards to interest payments. To see how paying your credit cards balances in full each month helps your credit score, you can take a look at your free credit report summary on Credit.com.

Image: Nadezhda1906

The post The Airlines Americans Hate the Least appeared first on Credit.com.

13 Travel Essentials That Could Save Your Vacation

travel-essentials-list

Getting ready for a big vacation this summer? Before you go, read through this cheat sheet to create a list of travel essentials you absolutely don’t want to leave home without.

1. A Travel Credit Card

Even if you’re not habitually a credit card spender, it can be a good idea to take one with you on your travels. They’re a great backup in an emergency situation — although it’s probably more ideal to have an emergency fund to tap into instead so that you avoid going into debt. As long as you have some form of money with you, you don’t have to worry about losing everything else in your bags. Plus, using a travel rewards card to book your flight can net you better rewards for next year’s vacation and often some form of travel insurance or protection. (You can check out a roundup of the best credit cards for travel here.)

2. Essential Personal Documents (& Copies!)

Before you leave, be sure you have your passport (if you’re traveling internationally), driver’s license, itinerary, printed hotel reservations, airline reservations, contact numbers, and copies of any prescriptions for medications you might need. It’s best to carry original documents on your person. (If you’re worried about someone getting ahold of those papers, you can read these tips for preventing identity theft here.)

3. A Small Outlet Strip

Trying to charge your cell phone or iPad at an airport can be a challenge, especially if you need to charge more than one. Pack a small travel power strip, and you’ll be able to use a single airport outlet to charge multiple devices.

4. Basic Toiletries

Travel “essentials” in this area vary from person to person. But try to pack a travel-sized version of everything you use on a regular basis, from shampoo to lotion to makeup, in a well-organized bag in your checked baggage. It’s also a good idea to pack tiny versions of absolute essentials like contact solution, toothpaste and deodorant in your carry-on, just in case your checked bag is delayed for any reason.

5. Medications

If you’re on any medications daily or intermittently, be sure to take them with you. Just be sure they’re packed in their original prescription bottles in your carry-on. And be sure you’ve got more than you’ll need, especially for medications you absolutely need on a daily basis. If you’ll be within a day or two of running out of your supply by the end of your trip, contact your doctor or pharmacist to see if you can obtain an early or partial refill so that you have more than you need in case of delays.

6. Entertainment for the Flight

Don’t bust your budget by spending $25 on a paperback novel at the airport’s news stand. Instead, pack your own in-flight entertainment. Flights are a great time to catch up on books and magazines you’ve been meaning to read. Or you can pre-download your favorite movie onto your tablet.

7. Headphones

Even if you don’t think you’ll watch a movie on your flight, pack a pair of headphones anyway. They come in handy if you have a snoring seatmate, or if you just need some white noise to take a nap yourself on an international flight.

8. Extra Glasses or Contact Lenses

If you must have glasses or contacts to see properly, don’t just bring a single pair. That’s a recipe for disaster.! You risk missing the sights on vacation if your glasses break or you lose a contact.

9. Batteries & Chargers

These days, you’ll mostly travel with chargers for your electronics. But don’t forget extra batteries if you have a camera that takes regular AA or AAA batteries. If you’re traveling internationally, invest in a charger that will work in your destination country, or purchase one when you get to that country.

10. A First-Aid Kit

Hotels are great for providing a lot of things, but they don’t always offer bandages and other first-aid items. Pack a small first-aid kit in your bag, and you’ll be prepared for the occasional bump or bruise. In your checked bag, you can even carry some non-prescription medications like painkillers or Benadryl. It’s cheaper to bring your own than to buy them in a tiny two-pack from the hotel gift shop.

11. An Address Book

You should either bring a physical address book or set one up on your phone’s cloud storage before you leave. Sending old-fashioned postcards home is fun while you’re on vacation. But you won’t be able to do it if you don’t have your friends’ and family members’ addresses.

12. An Old-Fashioned Map

At home, you likely rely on your phone’s GPS to get you around to new areas of town. But you never know what reception will be like in an unfamiliar area. Play it safe, and pick up a local map of the area where you’re traveling. If you’re planning to use public transportation, be sure those options are covered, too.

13. Carry-On Clothes

Finally, even if you’re leaving on a multi-week European vacation with two huge checked bags, always pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on. You just never know when you’ll be delayed at the airport, or if your luggage won’t arrive until the day after you get to your destination. It’s much better to be safe than sorry by having an extra set of clean clothes with you all the time.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: seb_ra

The post 13 Travel Essentials That Could Save Your Vacation appeared first on Credit.com.

Should the Government Do Something About Shrinking Airline Seats?

As some airlines try to convince leisure travelers that experience counts more than price, they may want to take another look at seat size.

A recent poll by travel deals site Airfarewatchdog found 55% of 2,100 travelers think the government should regulate seat size. And 38% said airlines should be required to disclose seat size more prominently, while 4% felt nothing should be done and 6% haven’t noticed seats getting smaller. The poll was conducted on Airfarewatchdog’s website and newsletter in late March.

Lately it seems economy-class passengers have gotten used to putting up with discomforts to snag a cheap fare. But finding a happy medium may be getting harder, as some airlines dole out other fees like those for extra-legroom or even sitting together with families.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid extra fees, either by budgeting for money-wasters, as we’ve discussed, or opening a travel rewards card, which can offer perks such as free checked bags and the occasional seat upgrade. (You can learn more about the best airline credit cards in America here.)

You can also potentially secure cheaper airfare and/or better seat by flying on weekdays (experts recommend Tuesday and Wednesday for best fares) or booking about 57 days prior to vacation, although this varies for international flights.

Remember, if you’re considering a travel rewards card, you’ll want to know where your credit stands so you have a sense of what type of card you may qualify for. (You can view your credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.) If your credit’s in bad shape, you may be able to improve your score by disputing errors on your credit reports, paying down high credit card balances and limiting new inquiries.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Linda Bair

The post Should the Government Do Something About Shrinking Airline Seats? appeared first on Credit.com.

Want to Sit Together on a Flight? That’ll Cost Extra

pay-to-fly-with-family

Airlines are making families pay extra to sit together, angering some consumers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Airlines have expanded extra-legroom seating on planes and labeled more plain coach seats as preferred, leaving fewer seats to reserve in advance without fees,” Scott McCartney reported. Some carriers took away the right to reserve a seat in advance from their cheapest fares, he reported, while others are “openly marketing the so-called family fee.”

Elite Status Is Key 

A big part of the issue is the disparity between consumers with elite status and passengers without top-tier privileges. For those with elite-level frequent-flier status, a greater inventory of unassigned seats is shown when they go to book reservations. In contrast, those who don’t have top-tier status only see open seats in extra-legroom rows or seats that require extra fees, the paper said.

“Why did I just pay for a better seat when I could have just moved around anyway?” Louis Silfin, a banking consultant in New York, lamented to The Journal. Silfin paid $9 extra to sit near the front of the plane on a roundtrip flight between New York and Boston. Each time he boarded the supposedly full flights, only five people filled the combined 12 seats from his row and the one behind.

For extended families taking a trip together, costs for advance seat assignments can run well into the hundreds or even the thousands, the paper reported.

Nabbing a Cheap(er) Seat

For their part, some airlines do try to make seat maps available to customers before they purchase a fare and try to seat families together at the airport. Recently, this reporter was checking in for a flight to New York when an Emirates agent noticed my husband and I weren’t seated together, despite booking our fares well in advance. We complained, and the agent resolved the issue, no questions asked.

Though spending extra on airfare isn’t ideal for families on a budget, there may be ways to get around it. For starters, you can budget for money-wasters, as I’ve written about before, and look into some of the best travel reward cards, which offer perks such as a free checked bag and the occasional seat upgrade.

Credit cards that offer airline miles are another option, as they can maximize your chance of nabbing a free flight or earning extra rewards toward one. Just be sure to check your credit before applying for any new credit cards since you’ll need a good score to qualify and want to avoid generating a hard inquiry on your credit report. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: baona

The post Want to Sit Together on a Flight? That’ll Cost Extra appeared first on Credit.com.