Posted in Europe, Hotel, Travel

Staying in boutique hotels versus chain hotels in Europe

First let me disclose that I am European so I am biased but I will try my very best to stay neutral in this topic as much as I can.

I hear it from American travelers all the time that boutique hotels in Europe don’t have elevators and air conditioning and now I just added a new concern to this list, according to American travel agents boutique hotels cannot accommodate large groups.

First, I would need to know what a large group is but there is more than one boutique hotel in every town; it takes no time to google their locations and drop off groups of tourists in multiple places, a short walking distance away.  I know it takes more work to coordinate it but no big deal (for me at least).

I always say there are two kinds of travelers: the one who travels in style and the one who travels on a budget.  If chain hotels are your only options due to comfort you will never get out of a city and discover a national park, tour a jungle, get close to a volcano, take a safari, track gorillas or polar bears, climb a mountain, stay in a castle and the list goes on.

On air conditioning: you only need air conditioning in the summer months but we are not talking about developing, third world countries here.  In Europe you don’t need AC everywhere, like in Scandinavian countries or high elevation of a mountain.  Also, please note that European houses are made of bricks or stones and since most homes have a concrete foundation their insulation is so much better than the American homes.  That being said European houses can stay cooler in the summer months and warmer in the winter.

Finding air conditioned hotel rooms in Europe is not hard at all, you just need to read the list of amenities the same way you check if there is breakfast or wifi at the property.  Keep in mind that our boutique hotels are not centrally air conditioned; we love the European Ductless System (EDS) where a small unit is placed on the wall in each room, operated by a remote control.  This is very energy efficient, easy and cheap to maintain and the best of all, it is healthier than the American system since you don’t breathe in dust and bacteria, safe for people with different allergies and sensitivities.  I moved to the USA 20+ years ago but I still catch a cold in the summer months just by walking in and out of heavily air conditioned places (house, car, work, offices, stores, etc) so I ended up installing an EDS at my lodge in the Virginian mountains.

I was in Algarve, Portugal where temperatures were around 85F but it did not feel that high due to the sea breeze; we just opened our windows and used ceiling fans. I kind of like it better, still remember how the sheer drapes were dancing in the breeze in our living room; way better than sitting in freezing temperatures looking at the beach.

Another example: I went to the southern region of Turkey and stayed in a cave hotel in Cappadokia. Cave hotels are carved into a mountain or are underground. I guarantee you won’t need AC here either!!  For the record you are not going to find a chain hotel in this region, furthermore, if you don’t book your cave hotel early, it will get sold out in no time since these hotels don’t have many rooms.

About elevators: Yes, most boutique hotels don’t have elevators so please read the property amenities.  Our buildings are small and old but these hotels are not skyscrapers. Europeans don’t mind taking stairs but most hotels have porters who are glad to take your luggage up to the 4th floor for a couple of Euros (you tip porters in chain hotels too, at least I hope you do); anyway, boutique hotels do not get taller than that.

If you are staying in a medieval town you may not be allowed to drive into historic downtown  (these are designated pedestrian zones) so you will need to park your car elsewhere and walk to your hotel while dragging your luggage with you on cobblestone streets.  That is not the end of the world, your luggage suffers a bigger damage just by being thrown around by airline baggage handles.  Walking in Europe is fun and is “part of the package” in case I am telling you something new today.  Walking anywhere is a must; you can’t avoid it.  Here is a true story for you: It took McDonalds over 6 years to be able to purchase a historic building in downtown Eger, Hungary because their large trucks would not fit these tight streets, never mind turning. There was also a risk that the cobblestone streets would get damaged from letting heavy trucks in but eventually they settled a deal preserving the town.

Venice, Italy would be another location where you would have hard time finding chain hotels since the city is built on canals but what is wrong with boutique hotels here?

Chain hotels: While they are widely known standard hotels, they all look alike. It happens a lot even in high end chain hotels that the sheets are not clean, the cups are not washed, the mattress is bed bug infested, the storage room and dumpster has roaches and mice.  There are luxury chain hotels as well but not many can afford that.  Boutique hotels will have problems too but the innkeepers are just taking a better care of their own property and do it with pride and certainly quicker to fix anything; it may happen that the innkeeper is also a handyman or somebody in his immediate family.

When you stay in a small hotel and dine in their establishment you get personalized service and make friends with the innkeeper and other guests.  You support local businesses that way versus staying in a chain hotel feeding the pockets of large corporates who don’t even live in the country you are visiting.

It is important where you stay at night, it adds fun to your trip. Try to make it outstanding by staying in a historic or unique boutique hotel in Europe, or an eco lodge in Bali, an ice hotel in Canada, a glass dome in Scandinavian countries, a cave hotel in Turkey, a tree lodge in Africa or a ski lodge in the Alps.  You can spend a night on a historic train in Russia, a bullet train in Finland, a glass top train in Alaska or the Shinkanzen train in Japan!  Make memories that last!

Clarification: once a chain hotel gets sold the franchise rules with its expected standards no longer apply!

In summary: you need to be comfortable when you travel but you also need to adjust a little bit to the country you are visiting or the activities you signed up for.  The world does not spin around you but you can make it comfortable and enjoyable in many ways.  Do your research before paying for a hotel so there are no surprises or ask a travel agent to help you.

Travel agents make money by earning a commission on sales.  Boutique hotels may not cost as much as chain hotels and definitely don’t pay as much commission as chain hotels do (some are not even affiliated with travel agents at all so those don’t get offered) but if your travel agent talks you out of staying in a boutique hotel contact me, I’m not one of those travel agents who offers you hotels based on commission rates.

 

Posted in Budget, Flying on Miles, Hotel, Travel

Survey on American travel credit cards

Travel credit cards are rewards cards that help users earn free travel, achieve elite member status with hotels and airlines and enjoy many other travel-related perks. Although travel credit cards can often be used for cash back too, consumers receive better value when using them to collect and redeem points for travel.

Travel credit cards fall into one of three types: airline cards, hotel cards and general travel cards. A co-branded airline or hotel credit card enters you into a specific brand’s loyalty membership club and rewards all types of spending, however the points you earn can only be redeemed toward that single brand and its partners. General travel cards also reward all types of spending, at a lower, flat rate, but the points you earn can be redeemed with a variety of airline and hotel loyalty programs, based on the partnerships secured by the card issuer.

2017 Survey: More Than Half of Travel Rewards Cardholders Carry a Monthly Balance

U.S. News surveyed 1,278 travel credit card users to understand the benefits and drawbacks of owning one. While the vast majority of respondents have redeemed lucrative rewards in the last year, many cardholders are not aware of their annual fee or how to take advantage of their card benefits. Additionally, more than half of travel credit card users have carried a balance on their card in the last year, potentially negating the rewards they have earned.  Thirty-three percent of respondents earned more than $500 in rewards in the last year.  The most popular redemption options included free domestic flights, followed by cash back, followed by free nights at a hotel. Free international flights were the least commonly redeemed. More than half of travel credit cardholders surveyed carried a monthly balance in the last year.

Since travel rewards credit cards tend to have higher-than-average interest rates on purchases, carrying a balance has the potential to cost you more than any rewards you earn. Travel credit card expert Daraius Dubash of millionmilesecrets.com recommends that people carrying credit card debt should probably opt instead for a zero percent APR card and focus on eliminating their credit debt before trying to earn travel rewards.

Sign-up bonuses are one way that cardholders end up carrying a balance, says Joe Cortez, senior writer for frugaltravelguy.com. “In a way [a sign-up bonus] is almost a trap to try to get you to put a balance on the card up-front.” Forty-three percent of consumers surveyed said they qualified for their card’s sign-up bonus.

 

It’s also critical that consumers be aware of annual fees. Most respondents knew what their card’s annual fee was, while 17 percent of respondents didn’t know.

Nearly half of travel rewards cardholders don’t take advantage of cardholder benefits.  Ninety-six percent of respondents redeemed at least some rewards in the last year, but 48 percent of respondents did not take advantage of common cardholders benefits such as airport lounge access, trip cancellation/delay insurance, free checked bags when flying, auto rental insurance and priority boarding when flying.

How Travel Credit Cards Work

Travel rewards cards help users save money on travel expenses, like on airfare, hotel and transportation spending. Travel credit cards benefit repeat customers, because the more you spend, the more savings (or benefits) you receive.

Travel rewards cards offer higher earning rates for travel spending in particular, and may can be cashed in for highly discounted or free flights and hotel stays, free or reduced baggage fees, priority boarding and other perks. Some cards may not even require any points at all to take advantage of those perks, but they may carry an annual fee to offset those costs to the issuer.

Travel credit cards often come with lucrative sign-up bonuses with the best cards offering as many as 100,000 points to new members who hit a minimum spending amount within the first few months.

Like other premium rewards cards, travel cards are generally known to carry more restrictions and fees than the average credit card. For this reason, travel cards are not as beneficial for the occasional traveler.

There are three basic types of travel credit cards: airline, hotel and general travel.

 

Airline credit cards

Airlines partner with credit card companies to offer co-branded travel rewards credit cards that earn the most miles when used for flights on that particular airline and spending with affiliate partners, typically double or triple the miles. Cardholders still earn miles for day-to-day purchases (with a few exceptions like cash advances and purchases of prepaid cards), only at a lower rate, typically one point per dollar. You can redeem earned miles with that airline or its affiliates.

Benefits: Perks and spending rewards

Airline cards can deliver a cheaper, more comfortable flying experience. Benefits often include free or reduced baggage fees, priority boarding, complimentary or discounted access to the airport lounge and discounts on in-flight purchases.

But airline cards can also save you money by offering sizable sign-up bonuses, waived foreign transaction fees and double or triple miles earned on airline and affiliate purchases.

 

Hotel credit cards

Hotel credit cards are most valuable when used to book accommodations with that particular hotel chain. Unlike airline cards, it’s not uncommon to earn five points per dollar spent with that brand, with other travel purchases earning fewer points and all other purchases earning the least. Points have to be redeemed through that brand or its partners.

Benefits: Free nights and special status

Hotel credit cards work best for loyal guests of one particular hotel chain or group. Free nights are the most valuable benefit, and most hotel cards provide users with an easier path toward elite status, which delivers perks like guaranteed room availability, membership discounts, priority check-in, and complimentary upgrades. As with airline credit cards, one-time sign-up bonuses are common if you spend a minimum amount within the first few months.

Some hotel cards charge an annual fee that’s waived during the first year, but those that do typically don’t charge foreign transaction fees. Many hotel cards provide various forms of travel insurance, like lost baggage protection, trip delay reimbursement, emergency assistance and car rental insurance coverage. Some hotel rewards programs let you transfer your points to their airline partners.

 

General travel credit cards

General travel credit cards are not tied to any particular travel brand and offer the flexibility to redeem through their own travel portals or transfer points to partners to redeem for cruises, hotel packages, rental cars and cruises, among other options. Purchases typically carry a flat reward rate, but points can be redeemed from a broad selection of travel brands and sometimes for nontravel rewards.

Benefits: Flexibility and value

General travel cards are inherently more flexible than airline or hotel credit cards, which is a big plus for travelers who aren’t loyal to any particular brand or who travel to destinations with fewer options for hotels or airports. Cardholders can worry less about blackout dates or travel restrictions because they’re not tied to a sole provider.

Points can sometimes be transferred to other loyalty programs. However, points don’t transfer equally with all partners and the exchange rates do vary; in some cases you get get the best redemption value by transferring points to partners. It’s important to review your card’s reward charts to better calculate the value of transferring your points with partners.

The ability to also redeem general travel card points toward statement credits or cash back makes this type of card particularly attractive to users who prioritize flexibility.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Travel Rewards Credit Cards

For the right consumer, travel credit cards can make a lot of financial sense, but it’s important to understand the pros and cons.

Benefits

Better point valuations and redemptions: Travel-related spending with travel credit cards accrues points and miles faster than general rewards credit cards, and when those miles are redeemed for travel, they have potential to deliver better ratios than other rewards like cash back or statement credits. Points can be used to book free nights at hotels or for free flights.

Travel perks: Many travel credit cards also offer perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, concierge services and travel protection and assistance.

No foreign transaction fees: A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge on every purchase made on a credit card outside the U.S. If your itinerary takes you overseas, a travel credit card that carries no foreign transaction fees helps you avoid that added cost, which is typically 3 percent of the purchase price.

Drawbacks

High costs: Travel cards’ purchase interest rates (APRs) fall on the higher end of the scale for all credit cards, and the credit score needed to secure them starts in the upper 600s. Qualifying credit scores on the lower end of the spectrum will, in turn, result in higher APRs.

Top travel cards charge annual fees that require high amounts of travel or other spending to offset them via rewards. Similarly, sign-up bonuses may encourage you to spend more just to qualify for them.

“I think that many consumers are very excited about the points without considering how much they’re going to spend in actual interest at the end of the day,” Cortez says. To avoid running a high balance on the card, Cortez explains that a savvy consumer will look at his or her budget in light of the required minimum spending amount to qualify for a sign-up bonus and determine a plan to earn the points in a way that complements their lifestyle.

Restrictions: Travel credit cards can also cost you time. Some cards require lots of planning or working with customer service to navigate blackout dates, limited seat availability or confusing terms and conditions. Depending on the card, there can also be restrictions on earning miles, including caps and expiration dates. And, of course, bonus points from airline and hotel cards are restricted to redemption only with that brand or qualifying partners.

Emily Jablon, co-founder at Million Mile Secrets, points out that for an expensive or long-distance trip, it may be worth the added cost to enlist the help of an award-booking service. For a fee ranging from $75 to $250 per traveler, services like Cranky Concierge and AwardAdvocate can help you find and book the lowest fares for award travel and answer any questions you may have about your trip.

Choosing the Best Travel Credit Card

Is a travel credit card right for you?

Make sure you meet these requirements before signing up for a travel rewards credit card.

  • You travel frequently. If you don’t consistently spend on airfare, hotels or other travel expenses, consider a cash back credit card instead. They have fewer limitations on redemption and might save you the cost of an annual fee.
  • You have a good credit score. You have the best chances of being approved for a travel credit card if you have a FICO score of at least 700.
  • You pay off your balance each month. Because travel credit cards have higher-than-average APRs, you should only get a travel card if you can pay off your balance each month.

To find a travel card that meets your needs, evaluate each card using the following criteria:

  1. Pick the right rewards program for you.
  2. Calculate earning potential.
  3. Factor in sign-up bonuses.
  4. Calculate redemption value.
  5. Subtract annual fees.
  6. Understand travel benefits.
  7. Avoid foreign transaction fees.

1. Pick the right rewards program for you.

Your travel credit card will work either in conjunction with the loyalty program of an airline or hotel chain or with the rewards program of the bank or credit card company that backs it. Each program has its benefits as well as unique terms and conditions for earning, redeeming and transferring points.

Loyalty airline programs

For some travelers, their loyalty to any particular airline lasts only as long as that airline offers the cheapest flights. But frequent flyers are often willing to forgo initial cost savings in exchange for benefits down the road. Which airline’s program works best for you will depend on several factors regarding the loyalty program and the airline itself.

Popular airline programs:

Loyalty hotel programs

When you look for a hotel, do you prioritize value or luxury? The answer will help you determine which hotel rewards program is right for you. As with airline loyalty programs, your earned points may only be eligible for redemption with one hotel chain and its affiliate partners. Some hotel rewards programs have partnerships with other brands, such as Marriott Rewards, which allows members to redeem and earn points with The Ritz-Carlton Rewards program.

Popular hotel rewards programs:

General points program

Using a general travel credit card enters you into the rewards program for the bank or credit card company that backs it. While you will have access to the broader redemption platform for that provider’s network of credit cards, you’ll still receive the best value by redeeming for travel through the platform or using the platform to receive statement credits for travel purchases made on the card.

Maximizing your rewards means matching your goals and habits with the appropriate type of travel rewards program. If you want deluxe benefits that come with elite membership status, an airline or hotel card is the way to go.

However, if you don’t travel as often and want maximum flexibility when you do, as well as a broader range of earnings categories, a general travel card is usually the smartest choice for your first travel card. Frequent flyers often find that adding a second, co-branded loyalty card to their wallet makes sense once they’ve established a favorite airline or hotel chain.

 

2. Calculate earning potential.

Travel cards earn rewards at different rates for spending in different categories, so you have to analyze your spending habits to determine which card will help you maximize your points. A good travel card will have a range of purchases that qualify as travel spending. These purchases can include:

  • flights
  • stays at hotels, motels, timeshares and campgrounds
  • car rentals
  • cruises
  • trains
  • buses, taxis, limousines and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft
  • parking lots and garages
  • bridge and highway tolls
  • meals and other non-lodging expenses at hotels

Depending on the type of card, these purchases can earn between 1.5 and seven points. The highest points tend to come with hotel cards, while airline cards typically award double to triple miles for flight purchases. All other purchases, often referred to as everyday spending, typically earn between one and two points per dollar spent.

 

3. Factor in sign-up bonuses.

The most lucrative travel cards offer bonus points to those who meet a certain level of spending by a specified date, usually within three to six months. These bonuses can be worth hundreds of dollars. For example, the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards card offers 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card offers 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

 

4. Calculate redemption value.

Every travel card carries a rate at which points or miles are awarded. However, what those points are worth to you depends on the value you derive from redeeming them, as well as your preferences and priorities.

For general travel cards, point valuation is simple math: your number of points multiplied by the redemption rate, often a rate of 1 cent to 1 point. On the surface, award travel with airlines or hotels is also straightforward: The typical cost of a flight or room is divided by the number of miles you need to book an award flight or stay.

But airlines and hotels frequently adjust the price of award travel based on award level, award availability, time, destination/location, fare/hotel class, demand and other factors. All of these changes will affect the value of your miles, making valuation for airlines in particular “extremely complicated,” according to Dubash. “You’ll see estimates all over the place.” He and Cortez both cite 2 cents per mile as a general standard for miles with the major airlines, while the value of miles with smaller airlines like Southwest and JetBlue may fluctuate higher or lower than 2 cents.

Other factors that affect the value of your rewards program include:

  • whether there are fees for checked bags, foreign transactions, etc.
  • whether your points can be transferred to another loyalty program and at what ratio
  • how easy it is accrue and redeem points and whether you face blackout dates, seat restrictions or other limitations
  • the quality of perks available to you once you reach top-tier elite status

5. Subtract annual fees.

Credit card companies entice new users by waiving the annual fee for the first year, which typically ranges from $40 to $95, although it can go as high as $450 per year. Once the fee kicks in, be sure you’re earning enough rewards or enjoying the other card benefits to compensate for it. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard’s $89 annual fee activates in the second year, but you might easily save that amount through the card’s discounts on car rentals, vacation packages, charter flights or flights with one of its airline partners.

There are also excellent cards on the market that don’t carry an annual fee. For example, the Discover it Miles card is a no-fee card that doubles users’ rewards at the end of the first year of use, has no foreign transaction fees and offers a flat 1.5 percent rewards rate on all purchases, including nontravel expenses.

 

6. Understand travel benefits.

Travel benefits can be practical tools, discounted pricing or luxe perks. Common benefits include no foreign transaction fees, access to 24/7 concierge or customer service lines, free baggage and travel insurance. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card comes with trip cancellation/interruption insurance, lost luggage reimbursement, car rental theft and collision coverage, baggage delay insurance, trip delay reimbursement, 24/7 customer service and more.

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier credit card and Business credit card provide A-list status users with priority check-in and boarding, free same-day standby and dedicated customer service. Members of the top two tiers can get free in-flight Wi-Fi and free flights for a friend every time they fly.

The Marriott Rewards Premier credit card comes with zero foreign transaction fees and a free night stay every year after your account anniversary. Members at the introductory level get free in-room internet, while the upper tiers promise lounge access and breakfast, free room upgrades, guaranteed room availability, late checkout, elite customer service lines and arrival gifts.

 

7. Avoid foreign transaction fees.

The best travel cards don’t charge a foreign transaction fee, which is typically 2 to 3 percent on every purchase. Since these fees can be greater than any rewards you earn, frequent overseas travelers will want to make this card feature a top priority.

 

Strategies to Maximize Travel Rewards

Pick the right first travel card.

When you’re first starting out with travel cards, select one with a general miles program that gives you the flexibility to earn rewards for all spending and redeem with the largest variety of brands. Unless you spend large amounts on travel expenses with a particular brand, airline and hotel cards offer less flexibility and savings.

Combine a general travel card with a cobranded or loyalty card.

Used in tandem with a general travel card, an airline or hotel card makes sense for frequent travelers who are comfortable committing to one particular travel brand. This combination allows you to use the cobranded card to earn bonus points on the cobranded airline/hotel spending and use the general travel card to still earn bonus points in non-travel spending categories. You want to make sure your general travel card is allowed to transfer points to the cobranded card, for maximum value.

For example, Chase Sapphire Preferred works well with the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program. You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards by spending with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and transfer them to Southwest to either book with miles, or earn double miles by booking with your Southwest Rapid Rewards card. Cortez says he’s a fan of this card combination particularly for casual travelers, as Southwest offers 100 percent award seating availability and doesn’t charge a fixed amount of miles for flights, allowing travelers to find some good bargains on their tickets.

For a general travel/hotel combo, the Hyatt Credit Card also works well with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. You can earn points with either card and also transfer your Ultimate Rewards into the World of Hyatt rewards program.

Maximizing Your Card Benefits Abroad

Knowing how your travel credit card works and what benefits and protections it offers (or doesn’t offer) can help you solve some of the problems that may arise when you’re abroad.

Avoid foreign transaction fees.

If you’re not sure if your card has foreign transaction fees, check with your bank when you notify them of your upcoming trip. You can also verify with them that your card has EMV smart chip technology, which is the most compatible with foreign merchants and provides the best security.

Avoid dynamic currency conversion.

Many foreign merchants let you choose to be charged in local currency or to pay with dollars through dynamic currency conversion. You should always opt for local currency, as the exchange rate will likely be poor and/or have a fee tacked on top. It’s always good to have cash on-hand regardless in case a store or restaurant won’t accept your card.

Know who to contact in an emergency.

Signature Visa cardholders have free access to a 24/7 benefits administrator who can provide medical referrals, contact loved ones and arrange for payments. Likewise, Citibank cardmembers can receive round-the-clock referrals and other help with medical and legal emergencies.

Some programs, like Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard, provide 24/7 global services for card-related needs and expedited card replacement, and Visa gives an emergency cash advance or Western Union wire transfer within two hours of approval by your bank.

For common travel medical emergencies, an officer from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate can help connect you with treatment services, inform loved ones and facilitate the transfer of funds, if necessary. All medical expenses will be your responsibility, however.

Take advantage of travel insurance.

MasterCard and Visa both include travel protections through their cards, as well as travel insurance for an additional cost. World Elite MasterCard offers members international travel accident and medical expenses coverage up to $1 million each, plus trip inconvenience protection and luggage protection.

Visa Signature’s plan offers cardholders and their immediate family members Common Carrier Travel Accident Insurance (for accidents involving your airline, train or cruise ship) up to $500,000 and 24-Hour Travel Accident Insurance for injury, dismemberment or loss of life up to $100,000.

Only 15 percent of credit cards offer travel cancellation insurance, and due to the lack of medical coverage and routine exceptions to Common Carrier protection, the benefits are limited. You may want to opt for third-party travel insurance for fuller coverage.

Protect your rental car.

Your personal car insurance policy probably will not cover foreign travel, so you’ll need to purchase auto insurance in your destination country, preferably at an equivalent level of coverage to what you carry at home.

Travel cards with Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard benefits offer auto rental collision damage waivers that provide reimbursement over and above any primary insurance you have for towing, loss of use, theft and/or damage to the car up to the full cash value of most rental vehicles booked using that card.

There are restrictions, however, including the country of travel, type of vehicle, age of the vehicle and length of the rental period. And you’ll be required to refuse the collision damage waiver at the car rental counter. Third-party liability, personal accident and personal property coverage will not be included with your card’s coverage, which is why TripAdvisor Travel Advocate Wendy Perrin advises carefully considering which of your credit cards will give you the best coverage (and not result in an increase in your insurance premium).

Be sure to file your claim as soon as possible because time limits are strictly enforced, and have as much documentation as you can. This includes copies of the accident report, rental agreement and receipt, repair estimate, police report and plenty of photos.

Additionally, in some countries, you will need an International Driving Permit. An IDP can be purchased from AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a $20 fee with a valid driver’s license, two passport pictures and a completed application.

 

Get help with your lost luggage.

Many travel rewards credit cards offer benefits to help you deal with lost luggage. The Lost Luggage Locator Service of Visa Signature can assist with the airline’s claim process or arrange for replacement items to be shipped to you. Both Visa Signature and World Elite MasterCard guarantee users reimbursement for lost or delayed baggage of $100 a day for three days.

 

Airline liability can be complicated for international travel. Your rights are laid out in either the Warsaw Convention or the Montreal Convention, depending on which country you’re traveling to. Frommer’s has a good breakdown of what to do in the event of lost luggage under either scenario, plus best practices for avoiding lost bags in the first place.

 

Contact: Anna Gonzales – Outreach Associate working with U.S. News & World Report

 

 

Posted in Hotel, Travel

How to beat the system – Beating Hotwire rates

Before booking any hotel, please do a price comparison on all travel sites using both your laptop/PC and your cell phone.  Travel websites love to advertise lower rates on mobil phones using their applications but don’t let anybody mislead you, it is not always lower and you probably can do better than that.  A friend of mine, Ivan Aramayo said that if you clear your cache and cookies, the travel websites will also reset with a slightly different price in your favor. If you really look around you can beat Hotwire or even Priceline!  When buying Hotwire Hot Rates or when you name your price on Priceline, you don’t even know what you are getting until after purchase.

I am already preparing for my 10 day road trip at the end of this year in Hungary – Czech Republic – Austria and need either an apartment for 4 adults or 2 double rooms in a hotel in Innsbruck, Austria. We would be checking in on January 3, 2017, checking out on January 4, 2017. I love to go for the impossible, which is getting a 4 star apartment or hotel room on 2 star cost, so let’s go for it.

I normally start with Hotwire.com, I chose a star category and an area and off you go.

The lowest 4 star hotel,  the Austria Classic Hotel Binders Innsbruck on Hotwire Hot Rate on my IPhone is $76.

hotwire

Now go and check the same hotel on the same travel site, www.hotwire.com but this time on your laptop computer.  I have a MacBook Pro and I am seeing the same hotel on the same site being only $69.  That is $7 lower so for 2 rooms the difference is already $14 plus taxes, about 20 bucks.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 7.00.53 PM

 

If you have a stand alone computer I would suggest to go check that as well, I can pretty much guarantee you that you would get another rate.

I think I can beat this Hot Rate 🙂

Go on Tingo.com and check the same hotel: Hello $52 a night!

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 7.15.14 PM

I can still do better than this: Hotels.com lists the same hotel for $50 a night, this is just getting better!

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 7.14.17 PM

Lastly, my favorite website: Expedia, and no surprise, being a Gold+ member, they are giving me the best rates available: $48!!!!!

From $76 I went down to $48 per night saving a total of $56 on 2 rooms for 1 night.

Not too shabby! 🙂

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Image: resultsincoaching

http://www.instagram.com/travelbigspendsmall

Posted in Hotel, Travel

How to check your hotel room for bed bugs

Nothing worse than traveling and taking your new “pets” home in your luggage and clothing.

I came across this video on Facebook that shows you how to examine your room in a couple of minutes and tells you what to do when you do find bed bugs.

This is how bed bug bites look like:

arm

Please check out Jim Dill’s video from the University of Maine and prepare for your trip 😉

 

Image: homeinspectioncost, bed-bugbites

Posted in Hotel, Travel

How to remedy hotel issues

The best way to prepare for your trip is by booking on American travel sites because they stand behind their promise.  If you live outside of the USA use your local travel agencies that are registered in your country, offer warranty and have a good customer satisfaction.

So you booked a room and arrived.  The shower head is missing and there is no hot water. There is mold growing in the bathroom, water running in the toilet.  You have an ocean view room but can’t see the water because of the dirty windows and spiderwebs. Plaster or tiles are coming off, the smoke detector start beeping at 3 AM because the battery is dying.  You are in the mountains in the middle of the winter and heat is so weak your mucus could freeze to your face.  This passed August on the Mediterranean in one my hotels there was no AC which was hard to bear; we opened the windows but the passing trains were pretty disturbing until about midnight.  You book a nice resort overseas with a tropical pool and a swim-up bar but the pool is closed for either maintenance or for the season and green algae is growing int it.

What if you get awaken at 2 AM because the front desk called your room by mistake?  There are people heavily partying in the room next to you, making noise even on the hallway, slamming doors.  Does any of it sound familiar? For me it is all of the above, I have seen it all in my 25 years of traveling but instead of putting up with it, I opened my mouth.

Simply go the front desk and complain, hopefully they will either call for maintenance or transfer you to another room (in those cases they normally upgrade you) or give you a discount from your room rate when you check out, unless you prepaid it. One resort threw in free breakfasts, internet and valet parking for the remaining days of my vacation.  If the problem persists then you gotta complain to your travel agency when you return; just document the case by taking pictures, perhaps the names you speak with at the hotel.

As mentioned above, travel agencies protect customers so if you could not resolve the problem directly with the hotel, they will help you, you can expect either a partial refund or a future travel coupon anywhere between $25 and $200, depending on how serious the violation was.

SPEAK UP, you have rights as a customer, even overseas!

Image: extra.shu.ac

Posted in Hotel, Travel

You booked a room but the hotel no longer exists. Now what?

The best way to prepare for your trip overseas is by booking on American travel sites because they stand behind their promise.  If you live outside of the USA use your local travel agencies that are registered in your country, offer warranty and have a good customer satisfaction.

Learn from my experience: I booked a trip to Costa Rica seven months in advance. I am my own travel planner and “travel agent”so I put this customized 10-day self-drive tour together.  First I planned the road trip (mapped the country) then booked rooms in the cities we were going to visit. I used different travel sites to take advantage of all possible deals and promotions but I used American agencies for each reservation.  It was important to fish for deals since we were traveling during the winter holidays, spending both Christmas and New Year’s Eve over there.  Winter in Costa Rica is “peak season” and  even with high rates, hotels do get sold out during holidays.

Two weeks prior to my trip I reviewed the plans and started to look into facultative programs for each city.  I googled my hotels but one of them was nowhere to be found.  First I thought that was impossible, an American travel agency would never let me down.

I contacted the travel agency about my discovery which they initially did not believe; however the next day they emailed me telling me that the phone line was ringing out without anybody answering and there was no voicemail set up.  I started to worry, the hotel should be crowded this time of the year; morning and evening hours are the busiest hours of the day with guests checking in and out, so somebody should be there.  And why wouldn’t they have a voicemail? Do they have enough staff?  Sure enough, two days later I got the notification that the hotel was sold and they terminated the contract with the old management.

They offered me a full refund but I refused to accept it, simply told them to fix this because now I won’t be able to find another room ON THE SAME RATE 0f $44 including taxes, in the same class with the same amenities and volcano view, including a breakfast buffet and free passes to a thermal spa, during Christmas. Upgrade is acceptable, downgrade is not 😉

I went through the regular customer service before requesting a supervisor, who escalated the case.  I was “screaming and yelling” at everybody because I was nervous;  what if prices went up since then, or what if nothing was available anymore, and I certainly did not want to change the cities of my road trip.  The manager looked up my hotel area and googled about 12 resorts online, which she called one by one.  As expected, everything was sold out and days were passing fast as we were trying solve this problem.  Since the supervisor was unsuccessful in securing another room she made me a nice offer: refunded my money and gave me a total of $500 towards the trip, including car rental.

My biggest challenge was to find another hotel and the possibility of re-writing the road trip last minute.  Being resourceful as I am, I was able to locate another hotel but 40 minutes away from the volcano with an average cost of $100 per night with taxes; however, I slightly altered the original plans.  I still had $200 leftover, which covered the entire cost of the car rental for 10 days (I only had to pay $22 out of pocket after taxes). So at the end things went in my favor but they surely gave me a lot of headache!

If you point out that the travel agency made a big mistake by not disclosing the termination of your hotel and letting you travel overseas (holidays or not) without timely communication. Imagine when you arrive and your hotel is not there, just a vacant lot!!  What’s worse is that you already paid for it!! Being holidays everything is sold out in the area, you would not have a room to sleep and shower!  You may not have internet or signal on high altitude to google another hotel or call anybody, other than just driving around and stopping by hotels costing anywhere $200-600 a night. What a waste of time and frustration it would have been!  If the agency lets you know ahead of time, you might have had better luck with pricing and keeping the original plans.

MY ADVISE: Google your hotels before your trip to make sure they are still there!