How to Judge a Great Travel Bargain

Being a savvy shopper is important to get the best value for your money. But with every “great” deal it is important that you understand what exactly you are buying. There are tons of retailers like Groupon and LivingSocial apps which offer super discounted travel packages for unbelievable prices, but avoid these common pitfalls to avoid being scammed or disappointed.

If you have been offered a great bargain on a cruise or a resort vacation, but you cannot seem to get all the details unless you pay the company first, you may be dealing with a travel scam. Typically, a scam operator won’t give you full and complete information in writing until after you’ve given them a credit card number, certified check or money order. Once you do get further information, there will be restrictions and conditions which make it more expensive, or even impossible, to take your trip.

While getting a refund is sometimes possible, it’s better to avoid paying anything in the first place. While there is the remote chance that you might miss a legitimate deal, chances are you will save yourself some time and money in the long run.

To help you avoid becoming a victim of a travel scam, here are some suggestions when evaluating travel offers:

  • Stay away from travel offers that sound “too good to be true”, particularly if you have been solicited by phone or have received a postcard or certificate in the mail.
  • Never give your credit card number or any information about your bank accounts over the phone to a solicitor unless you initiate the transaction or call. You should feel confident about the company with which you are doing business with.
  • Get the complete details in writing about any trip prior to payment. These details should include the total cost (including taxes, port charges, service fees, and surcharges), terms and conditions, restrictions, cancellation penalties, if any, and specific information about all components of the package.
  • Walk away from high-pressure sales presentations which don’t allow you time to evaluate the offer or which require that you disclose your income.
  • Be cautious with companies which require that you wait at least 60 days to take you trip or require that you select several dates of departure for your trip.


Most Common Travel Scams

Scammers will find ways to contact you through direct mail, social media or enticing emails luring you for an “unbelievable” promotion. In reality, these types of vacations often end up with poorly disclosed fees or fake. Here are the most common travel scams that we hear about.

You just won a “free vacation”, but must pay a fee first

If you can’t remember how you were able to win a prize, most likely this is a scam. Make sure you understand all charges and fees associated with the prize. Often these awards are attached to a variety of fees, participation in a tour/ vacation club or seminars with pressure filled presentations. Find out all the details before you commit.

When the caller wants your credit card number

Scammers will always try to lead the conversation and pressure you to hand over your credit card. Make sure to receive paperwork before you do. TIP: Most scams require you to make rash decisions quickly. Grab their phone number and say you feel comfortable if you can call them back. Most scam artists prefer not to give any information about themselves.

They entice you with general descriptive words — but can’t — give you specifics

They promise a stay at a “five-star” resort or a cruise on a “luxury” ship, however they cannot tell you exactly which property or cruise line. Make sure that you know all the details before anything else happens. Make sure to always get it in writing to protect yourself. TIP: Find out the hotel’s address and check out their website for reviews and photos.

You’re pressured to sign up for a travel club that requires you to sell their memberships

As soon as you hear that you must sign up with monthly dues – run out the door. Travel clubs often have high membership fees and limited choice of destinations or travel dates.

You get an automated call

Automated calls from companies trying to sell you something is a big red flag. Sign up for the national Do Not Call Registry (https://www.donotcall.gov/) to avoid future solicitation.

Eight Ways to Save for Travel in 2018

As you count the number of days until 2017 is over and done, some of you might feel as this year blew by so fast. Time is one thing we can never get back and it is important not to let next year pass you by. Here are a few tips to help you make that dream trip possible.

  • Start a Travel Fund
    Save money without thinking about it. Spending less money throughout your normal routine can help, but “out of sight, out of mind” is always better. Set up a separate bank account or talk to a travel agent who can set up automatic payments to help build your travel fund. I have many clients who prefer to pay in small increments to avoid a huge amount at final payment.

 

  • Go Where the Conversions are Best
    Next year will be one of the best time to ever head over across the Atlantic and see all your bucket list countries. Exploiting a situation can make you feel guilty, however with the UK set to depart from the European Union, the currency conversion is in our favor. Both currencies continue to plunge making Europe a hot destination for 2018.

 

  • Price Bonanza
    With the huge expansion by both Norwegian Airlines (Norway) and WOW Air (Iceland), it’s been a frenzy for low cost tickets to Europe. As of today, Norwegian is offering roundtrip airfare from Newark to Barcelona for only $419. WOW Air offers roundtrip airfare from Baltimore to Paris as low as $409 per person. With both airlines rapidly growing look out for more low-cost carriers to follow their paths and open competitive pricing to Asia and beyond.

 

  • Choose your Airline Wisely
    This may not save the most money each time but in the long run you will keep more of your cash and have some added benefits. Knowing your airline hubs is important when understanding the probability of which airline to use. For example, Washington Dulles (IAD) is a major hub for United Airlines which translates to many non-stop flights from the nation’s capital. Travelers who depart or normally connects through here should probably join United’s Mileage Plus program. Free checked bags, priority boarding and even free upgrades can be easily attained if your smart.

 

  • Focus on Point Instead of Miles
    For all those that have collected their miles with airlines such as Delta or Northwest, you may be in for a surprise, but your miles are no longer as valuable. Frequent flyer programs have gone through significant changes that have left members dissatisfied. Stickling to an airline to earn points is no longer the way to go, however credit card programs are far more valuable. Credit cards have enticed travelers with massive incentives such as sign-up bonuses up to 50,000 and more, transferable points and multiple ways to earn points.

 

  • Exercise Regularly
    Some might not understand this one, but keeping yourself busy while losing some pounds will save you a lot of money in the long run. Staying fit is a lifestyle and it helps promote better eating habits, more productivity and decrease health risks. Instead of splurging on dessert, take an afternoon run and sweat your stress away.
  • Be Flexible If you don’t have a specific date in mind, then you might be able to move your dates for the best value. Consider leaving on the first or the last flight out and you can save hundreds of dollars. Traveling during the weekdays can also help save quite a bit of cash.

 

  • Travel During Off-Season
    If we all had large stacks of money laying around, travel would be so easy – however we all have budgets to stick to and planning properly is key. Learn the off-season months to travel to a destination and take advantage of “before tourist season” prices at hotels and tours. TRAVEL TIP: The two very best months to go to Italy is May and September. Mother’s Day signals the beginning of the travel season, while Labor Day is the end. Expect to save 30%-40% when traveling during these months.

Travel Tip: Never Wait in Line for Re-entry into the U.S. Again

After your long international flight back to the U.S., the very next thing you see is another long line as you wait to be processed. Sometimes you can get lucky and if you run fast enough, you can beat the rush and you are out within minutes. The introduction of the Automated Passport Control (APC) has also sped up the process by reducing the wait times by half. And now, we have Global Entry which is another expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States for a small price.

But one of the newest travel hacks is the new app: Mobile Passport, which gets your through immigration within minutes!

Mobile Passport Control enables travelers to submit their passport and customs declaration information via their smartphone instead of the traditional paper form. The “Mobile Passport” app is free to download and free to use. The app is sponsored by the Airports Council International-North America and Boeing and authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Wi-Fi or a cellular network are required to submit information and receive a receipt. U.S. citizens with a valid U.S. passport and Canadian citizens with both a valid Canadian passport and B1 or B2 visa status may use the Mobile Passport App.

Once the traveler downloads the app from the app store, it only takes 4 simple steps and you’re done.

STEP 1: Set up Your Profile
Enter your profile information as it appears on your valid, official passport. You can set up profiles for your entire family. Your information will be encrypted and shared only with CBP.

STEP 2: Answer a Few Questions
Answer CBP’s five brief questions about your trip. Then carefully review ALL of your information for the trip.

STEP 3: Submit to CBP
Once you are at your port of entry (airport or sea port), connect to wireless or wi-fi and submit your data to CBP. Remember: when you submit, you are confirming under penalty of law that your information is correct. Within a few seconds, you will receive a CBP receipt with an encrypted barcode. Your receipt will be valid for 4 hours.

STEP 4: Breeze Through Custom and Save Time!
Follow the Mobile Passport Control signs to the designated Mobile Passport Control line. Show your passport to the CBP officer and scan the barcode on the CBP receipt. And that’s it!

Mobile Passport is available in 24 international airports and on cruise port across the U.S including – Washington, D.C. -Dulles, Baltimore, Boston, New York, Newark, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

For more information, visit their website https://mobilepassport.us

How to Travel with a Toddler?

You’re ready and all prepared for that highly anticipated family vacation and you know you have everything on your checklist. You have managed to bring all of the necessary items like pre-packed snacks, extra sets of clothes, wipes and diapers and you have just passed security without any issues. Now, you’ve boarded your plane and stashed your carry-ons away. Your child(ren) start fidgeting with the seat belts and arm rests and you slowly realize that this is where your patience will truly be tested. As you

Fly during nap time

This may not be the most affordable, but if you are on a longer haul flight, it is recommended that you try to schedule a flight during your child’s nap time. If you can coordinate an agreeable time, at least you only have to deal with half of the flight.

Give them expectations

No one likes to be put in a situation where they do not know what going on, and that includes your little people. I bought several books about airplanes and flying to read to them at night a couple days before the trip. This helped him understand what an airport is and how cool it is to fly in an airplane. We brought the book on the day of our flight, and he was so excited to follow the book as we went through the daily routine.

Burn excess energy before the flight

Have you ever seen your child sit still because if you have, please tell me your secret. As for the thousands of parents who haven’t, well don’t hold your breath. Kids are full of energy and they can’t help but let it out. Plan to arrive to the airport early so you kids can adjust. Have them help push the carts, go up escalators and if available, in the play areas. The more energy they burn, the more sanity you will have when you arrive at your final destination.

Be first or last

This next tip is debatable and I have spoken to a few parents who listed the pros of cons of each. If you board first, you’ll be able to board the plane without waiting and can put your carry-ons without fighting for space. If you decide to board last, your child will have less time be cooped up on a plane. Decide what works for you and your family.

Eat snacks at take-off and landings

I see a lot of parents miss this one, but it can save you some tears. Eating snacks during landing and take-offs help with the changing of air pressure.

Grab some coloring books or toys

Head down to Target or the Dollar Store and grab some quick toys or coloring books to brign with your on the flight. Having activities for them will help break up the time. I normally try to bring flash cards, stickers and games to preoccupy their time.

Flight attendants can be your friend

Get friendly with our flight attendant as soon as your board and they can save you a ton of stress. Talk to them early and you can have them bring snacks drinks early to avoid a meltdown. If the flight isn’t too full, sometimes they even take them up and down the airplane and show them all of the cool gadgets.

Bring a scarf

Planes are usually cold, so it’s smart to bring something to cover your child in case they get chilly.  It also helps to wipe up messes quickly. Sorry Mom – it’s had to be prepared and chic at the same time.

Go, go, gadgets

As much as we hate giving up our gadgets, if you need a few minutes (sometime more, who’s counting) it’s okay to hand them a brief stint on the phone. Try to download interactive apps that can help them read, count or even o simple math problems.

Keep calm and just go with it

Let’s be honest, no matter how much you prepare, there is always a chance of a meltdown. You tried to be as considerate as possible, but some things are just meant to be. Just take a deep breath and rest assured that this flight is only getting shorter. Relax and enjoy the ride.

How to Pick the Right Cruise Line?

It’s often enough that most first timers are unsure the differences between all the cruise lines especially when they persuade cruisers that can offer an all-things-to-all-people experience. When planning your next cruise, it is important to understand that each cruise line designs their experiences to distinctive lifestyles and markets.

Choosing the right cruise line is still tricky, just like choosing the right food to eat – sometimes you want to try something different, but don’t fully know what you want. At first glance, all cruise lines look similar, but each has their own personalities and quirks. Here are a few tips when planning your next cruise vacation:

Royal Caribbean
Best for Families

It’s no surprise that cruising has made vacationing easier and more affordable for families. Constantly innovating and adding newer and more daring activities onboard such as the iFly by Ripcord on the Quantum of the Seas or the new go cart course aboard the Norwegian Bliss, the cruise lines understand their highest growing segment is.

With families with younger children, it is without a doubt, Disney is the best to introduce younger children to cruising. The only cruise line to accept children as young as three months old, Disney creates an amusement park at sea that children and parents love. Themed play areas, Disney characters interacting with passengers and amazingly design staterooms with child features such as child-proof balcony locks and split bath tubs show how committed Disney is to children.

As your children grow, their taste changes and so should their experiences on a cruise. Royal Caribbean targets families with older children with numerous activities and never been done features such as zip-lining and sky-diving at sea. Come aboard their newest ships like the Symphony of the Seas and enjoy onboard activities like rock climbing, DJ classes, teen parties and water slides 10 decks high.

 

 

The Sanctuary

Best for Relaxation

With a high attention to passengers who aim to unwind and rejuvenate themselves while traveling, Princess should be there first choice. Princess delivers an extraordinary experience that is coupled with eye pleasing design and therapeutic aromas throughout their ships. Visit the Sanctuary which is an adult only space above the Lotus Spa. Passengers can enjoy “attentive service” with fruit infused water and spa treatments or have access to private cabanas for your exclusive space. You’ll leave relaxed rejuvenated like you have been in the spa all day.

 

Best for Entertainment

If you want the Las Vegas type shows and high energy – Royal Caribbean is good choice. Royal Caribbean has set the bar in entertainment with innovating venues such as the first Aquatheater at sea (Oasis class) and the new 270, at two deck venue at the back of the ship with 270-degree views. Its main attraction is at night when the venue transforms into Vistarama, ultra-HD screen more than 100 feet wide and 20 feet tall. Vistsrama’s 12K resolution is nearly twice the resolution of that of an IMAX screen.

In addition to entertainment, Royal Caribbean also includes complimentary activities as well such as rock climbing, zip-lining, daily dance classes and culinary demonstrations. The best part of it all, is that its complimentary.

 

Dining, Culinary, Food, Restaurant, Specialty Dining, Qsine

Best for Foodies

One of my most favorite things to do on a cruise is to eat and this is by my favorite category. If you are like me and food is an art – then you must try a cruise on Celebrity Cruises.

Celebrity is well-known for their attention to detail in cuisine. They have allotted the most area at sea to specialty restaurants such as Tuscan Grille, a modern steak house, the Lawn Club Grille, an interactive open-air grilling venue or my favorite, Qsine, uniquely unordinary culinary experience. Qsine is a gastronomic adventure with flair and flamboyance with dishes such as lobster escargot, sushi lollipops and popcorn fish and chips.

 

 

White and Glow Party

Best for Late Night

If you’re a night owl, then you need to try a Norwegian cruise which has a variety of themed bars and venues. You’ll be able to enjoy sipping mojitos at Sugarcane’s Mojito Bar and then head down to Fat Cats Jazz Club and groove to the best jazz and blues at sea. Norwegian’s signature White and Glow parties however are where all the action is. Cruisers dress up all in white for a high energy party filled with neon lights, massive light displays and interactive games.

 

AzAmazing Evenings Digital Signage (Europe)
Best for Onshore Experience

If you want an amazing experience onshore with an authentic experience set sail on Azamara Cruise Line. Azamara’s fleet consists of two ships, the Journey and Quest, which seeks selective itineraries to less traveled destinations. In addition to their itineraries, Azamara also includes the most overnight stays ay port unlike most cruise lines. You would be able to spend a night in Bangkok and experience the street food or enjoy ample time to explore Havana with two nights at port. Plus, every cruise includes an “Azamazing Evening”, a complimentary shoreside event that presents the local culture in an intimate or exclusive setting. When possible, Azamara also tries to schedule its cruises around major destination events, such as Carnival in Rio or the Grand Prix in Monaco.

 

When’s the Best time to Plan a Cruise?

Whether you are an avid cruiser or its your first time, everyone wants to know how they can get the best value for their money. The answer is not so simple because finding the best prices depends not only on when you book, but also when you travel.

The cruise industry revolves around the seasonality of its destinations. Travelers who can plan around these key times can save hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars by becoming a smart travel shopper. Here are a few tips to help you plan for your next cruise adventure.

When to Buy?

The most popular season to begin plannNational-Plan-a-Cruise-Month-Logoing and booking your cruise is usually October (National Plan a Cruise Month) and January through March, known as “wave season”. During these times cruisers can take advantage of incentive driven promotions and exclusive savings such as two-for-one deals, early-bird fares and additional amenities like onboard credit, free gratuities and free shore excursions.

In the last few years, cruise lines have released better and more enhanced promotions to entice early bookers. The latest trends have been lower cruise fares combineable with multiple value added perks like complimentary spa treatments, private lounge services or free Internet.

Why you Should Book Early?

Unlike airfare, booking a cruise is less stringent and restrictive allowing you to make deposits and allowing you flexibility to cancel without penalties before final payment. Booking early means a wider selection of staterooms to choose from as well. It allows you to select the perfect cabin instead of getting stuck close to a lounge or being too close to the public areas. It is important to plan ahead, especially if traveling with family, because the first staterooms to sell out are usually the triple and quadruple occupancy staterooms.

The pricing structure of the cruise line is simple: prices are low when the ship is empty. The general rule of thumb is the farther your cruise destinations are from where you live, the earlier you need to book.

Another key benefit is if the price drops before final payment, you can always ask for an upgrade or request a price adjustment. Travel agents monitor rates and can keep you informed when prices fluctuate to ensure you get the best value.

 When you Should Book Late?

If you are flexible in destination and time, booking late can be very advantageous and can get rock-bottom prices. Within 60 days from departure, cruise ships will offer discounted rates to fill up any remaining inventory and avoid unoccupied rooms. Please take note that most rooms however are in least desirable locations such as lower decks, obstructed views or close to public areas.

Why You Should Book Onboard?

next-cruise-oasis-2
Courtesy of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

One of the newest trends is booking your next cruise onboard. The cruise industry relies heavily on repeat customers, so being loyal to one does have its benefits. Booking onboard allows you to avail of the current promotions while combining them with additional incentives like onboard credit, reduced deposits, and/or lower cruise fares.

Cruise lines now allow you to make onboard bookings on behalf of friends and family members who you plan to travel with in the future, allowing you to share the savings.

When it comes to planning your next cruise the best way to save is to plan early. Start doing your research and talking to a travel agent to lay down your options especially if you have any specific preferences in destination or time. Being flexible is key, and planning to travel during the off-season will save you a lot of money and frustration.