10 Money-Saving Tips for the Holidays

Posted October 30, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com


(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

It's the most wonderful time of the year—unless you're traveling, that is. If you're not careful, the holidays can easily become a budget-busting, migraine-inducing exercise in anger management. Don't let it happen to you! This year, give yourself the gift of a smooth travel experience that's easy on the wallet. Here's how.

Book NowHurry!

Don't count on a Christmas miracle when booking holiday travel. Due to an economic rebound and capacity cuts, last-minute deals are a scarcity—especially during the holidays. The earlier you search and book flights, rental cars, and accommodations, the more likely you are to find a reasonable price.

The Cheapest Days to Fly: Convenience vs. Affordability

In general, holiday travel is considerably more expensive than everyday fares, and the most convenient and preferred travel days are also the priciest. While there are no "cheap" days to fly during the holidays, there certainly are specific days that ease the ouch on the wallet.

With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day all taking place on Thursdays this season, the busiest travel days are sure to be the Wednesdays leading up to each holiday, followed by the Sundays after them. For more reasonable fares, depart from your vacation spot on the Friday or Saturday after the holiday. Of course, the further from the holiday you travel, the cheaper fares will be.

Fly on the Actual Holiday

Alternatively, you could travel on the holiday itself. Historically, day-of flights are the cheapest compared to the dates surrounding major holidays, so flexibility pays—or saves in this case.

Celebrate Gatherings During Non-Holiday Dates

Start a new tradition and celebrate a couple of weeks before or after the actual holiday. While this may not be feasible for wee ones that still believe in Santa or for holidays like New Year's Eve, this strategy has the potential to save you a ton on travel (think of all the discounted gift wrap—booyah!).

Compare Rates from Multiple Sources

Regardless of your preferred mode of travel, it's crucial to compare rates for airfare, car rentals, and accommodations.

Baggage Fees: Calculate Your Flight's Grand Total

Factor airline fees into the price for your flight. Aside from the base cost of the flight itself, expect to also be hit with bag fees ranging from $15 to $100—and that's just for the first bag. Excess bag fees (for multiple, over-sized and overweight bags) are considerably more and go as high as $200 each.

Pro tip: Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit Airlines charge as much as $60, $5, and $79 for the first bag, respectively, when you check your bags at the airport instead of online. The fees vary for second and excess bags.

Also, Spirit Airlines is doing the unseasonal thing of upping its bag fees by $2 during the holiday season from December 18 through January 5.

Consider an Alternate Airport

Secondary or alternate airports are usually located on the outskirts of the city they serve but can be a great option for considerably cheaper air routes. For example, the second-largest airport in Chicago, Midway, is a short 10 miles from the city center and serves major carriers AirTran, Delta, Frontier, Porter, and Southwest. Other alternate airports include Oakland for San Francisco, White Plains for JFK or LaGuardia, Ft. Lauderdale for Miami, Long Beach or Santa Ana for Los Angeles’ LAX, and so on.

Book Accommodations Via a Price-Drop Site

It's never too early to book your hotel—when doing so through specific sites, that is. It seems like everyone has a price-drop guarantee these days. Most, however, require you find the cheaper rate yourself and only guarantee money back if you find the lower price within 24 hours of booking.

The only site that automatically guarantees rate drops on hotels is our sister site Tingo, which instantly reimburses your credit card whenever your preferred hotel's rates drop.

Car-Rental Tips

Because of the high demand, the old standard of car rentals being cheaper during the weekend doesn't necessarily apply during the holidays, and that's why different strategies should be practiced.

As with holiday flights, book your car rental as early as possible—now, if you can. Most car bookings are cancellable, so you should periodically check rates even after you've booked. And remember, car rentals also net frequent-flyer miles, so link up your preferred program with the car-rental company when booking or picking up the car.

Get on the Phone Immediately

Arrive at the airport earlier than normal because holidays draw large crowds, leading to congested parking lots and lengthy security lines. Reduce the number of lines you'll be subjected to by not checking bags and by printing out your boarding passes at home (or downloading them onto your mobile device).

For a more expedited security-line experience, leave the jewelry at home, wear slip-on shoes, and take off bulky sweaters and jackets as you approach metal detectors. (Sigh, if only everyone else before you did, too.) Packages should not be wrapped as they go through the screening process. For a list of what's allowed through security, use the TSA's handy 3-1-1 app.

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This article was provided by SmarterTravel. Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 Tips for Tight Airport Connections

Posted October 30, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Silhouette of Woman Waiting at Airport via Shutterstock)

Short airport connections can be a blessing, but only if you actually make your flight. Follow these tips to avoid being stranded at the gate. Because when it comes to tight connections, every second counts.

Choose an Aisle Seat Near the Front

If you know you're facing a tight connection and you've booked your flight in advance, reserve an aisle seat toward the front of the plane. Even if it costs a little extra, it's cheaper than missing your flight.

If you can't get the seat you want online, skip the automated ticket kiosk and instead check in at the counter, where you can explain your situation and ask to be seated near the front. The earlier you arrive at the airport (and the nicer you are when asking for help), the more likely this strategy will have a positive outcome.

Plead Your Case With the Flight Attendant

If checking in at the ticket counter doesn't get you a seat toward the front, plead your case on the plane. Flight attendants tend to be more sympathetic about missed connections and will often make a concerted effort to help you avoid one. Timing is everything, so ask once all passengers are seated and when your flight attendant isn't too busy. If seats toward the front of the plane are available, your flight attendant should be able to accommodate your request (even if this means moving you for only a few minutes at the end of the flight) so that you are one of the first to deplane.

Learn the Lay of the Land

Download or print a map of your connecting airport that shows all of the terminals so you know the lay of the land before you arrive. Airport maps can also often be found in the plane's seatback magazines.

Look for the airport's baggage carousels if you've checked a bag. And if this connecting airport is your first entry point on an international trip, map out customs and immigration areas as well. Review the map as your flight descends, and then confirm your next flight's gate on the flight monitor.

Don't Check a Bag

Make your life easier by keeping to the essentials for your travel wardrobe. By only packing a carry-on, you'll skip the never-ending conveyor-belt loop (and the time it takes to get your bag if your luggage hasn't been checked all the way through to your final destination). Plus, you'll avoid potentially losing your checked bag altogether.

Sleep at the Airport

On short overnight connections, don't risk missing your next flight by heading to an airport hotel. Instead, look into by-the-hour sleep pods at select airports or buy a day pass to an airport lounge. Options for safely sleeping at the airport are only as limited as your imagination.

Make Every Second Count

Pack a protein bar or another easily portable snack so you don't have to waste time in the terminal searching for food. Similarly, squeeze into the airplane bathroom just before the plane begins its descent so that you can sprint to your next gate with an empty bladder. (Every second counts!)

Go to the Front of the Line

Apply to a preclearance security service such as CLEAR so you can head to the front of the security line. You have to pass the screening process, which includes supplying biometrics samples and registering in person, but you stand to save time at all security lines where the program is accepted. Security-clearance programs are available at select U.S. and international airports.

Give Yourself a Fighting Chance

As a rule of thumb, on domestic routes, you need a minimum of 45 minutes between flights. That's because you don't have to go through security, customs, and immigration. But the 45-minute rule only applies under ideal circumstances; if your connection takes you to a notoriously troublesome airport during the winter months (we're looking at you, Chicago O'Hare), try for a flight with at least a 75-minute layover. Not even these tips can save you if you don't give yourself at least some time between flights.

International flights are a whole different animal. You'll probably have to check in at customs and immigration after your initial disembarkation, even if you're not yet in your final destination. Before booking, verify that you'll have a layover of at least two hours in order to go through the obligatory airport transactions. Give yourself even more time if you've checked a bag that needs to be rechecked post-customs.

Don't Lollygag

Missing a connecting flight is easier than you think. Gate doors typically close 10 to 30 minutes prior to a flight's scheduled departure. Once closed, the airplane door won't open to board a late passenger. So, head to your gate at boarding time and not departure time. As obvious as that sounds, we've known people to miss flights because they didn't properly differentiate between the two.

Get on the Phone Immediately

If the flight has already taken off without you or you know you won't make it to the gate on time, get on the phone with the airline immediately. They should reschedule you on the next flight at no cost if the connection time was unreasonably brief. Ask for compensation, such as a flight voucher, if you feel you've missed your connecting flight through no fault of your own.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Tips for Tight Airport Connections. Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 Hotels Where You Can Truly Get Away

Posted October 30, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Explora Lodge)

When you say you want to get away from it all, you mean it. These hotels are so remote that no one's likely to wind up at them by accident. If you take your solitude with a healthy dose of natural beauty, these incredibly isolated hotels are worth the trek.


(Photo: Explora Lodge)

Explora Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

This 49-room lodge, one of three Explora properties in Chile, is located at the center of Patagonia's Torres del Paine National Park, on the shores of Lake Pehoe. For hundreds of years, Patagonia was considered the literal end of the world, where the sea, mountains, and ice fields served as natural barriers to exploration. At Explora Patagonia, this remoteness isn't just in evidence: It's part of the appeal.

The lodge provides a front-row seat to breathtaking views of the Paine Massif and the Salto Chico waterfall, and simply getting there is a memorable experience. From the international airport in Santiago, you'll connect to Punta Arenas (about a four-hour journey) and then be driven another 4.5 hours to the lodge by hotel staff. Once there, you may want to visit the massage room and/or fully stocked bar to restore your sense of adventure!


(Photo: Palacio de Sal)

Palacio de Sal, Colchani, Bolivia

Bolivia's world-famous salt flats are notoriously remote. So once you've made it out to Salar de Uyuni, why not stay in a hotel that really embraces the environment? The Palacio de Sal is built entirely of salt. That includes its chairs, tables, beds, and sculptures. (Don't worry—not everything is made of salt. There's running water and electricity to keep you comfortable.)


(Photo: Tikchik Narrows Lodge)

Tikchik Narros Lodge, Wood-Tikchik State Park, Alaska

Accessible only by seaplane, Tikchik Narrows Lodge is more than 300 miles from the nearest connecting road system. It's a dream for fishing enthusiasts and wildlife watchers. There's no early check-in here—you'll have to arrive on the same flight from Dillingham (the nearest airport) as all the other guests coming in that day.


(Photo: Motu Teta)

Motu Teta, Rangiroa, Tahiti

Most all-inclusive resorts have one thing in common: They're crowded. Not so at Motu Teta, an all-inclusive that's actually a private island. (A really remote private island.) This nine-acre oasis can be rented out to families or just two people for the ultimate romantic getaway. To reach Motu Teta, you'll fly to Tahiti's international airport, connect to Rangiroa via a domestic flight, then transfer by boat (the ride takes approximately 1.5 hours) to the island. Boat transfers are included in the price of your hotel stay.


(Photo: Luna Sin Estrellas via flickr/CC Attribution)

Hotel Arctic, Ilulissat, Greenland

You literally can't sleep in comfort any farther north than at Hotel Arctic, the world's most northerly four-star hotel. From Copenhagen, it will take you about seven hours to reach this hotel. You'll have to take a flight to Greenland, and then another flight to Ilulissat, before driving to the property. Make the experience even more remote by staying in one of the hotel's five igloo cabins, located right on the edge of an ice fjord.


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons via CC Attribution/Share Alike)

Rifugio Torre di Pisa

Better pack light if you're going to stay at the Rifugio Torre di Pisa, as the only way to get here is via a two- to three-hour hike through the Italian Dolomites. The refuge is only open from June through October (it's inaccessible by foot in the winter). You'll need to do more than make a reservation to prepare to stay here—the hotel's website notes that, for the ascent to the hotel, "most of the walking is on good, well-marked footpaths and mule tracks. However, mountain equipment and some pre-trip training are recommended."


(Photo: Casa Andina)

Casa Andina Private Collection, Isla Suasi, Peru

The Casa Andina Private Collection Isla Suasi is located on the only private island in Lake Titicaca, so you know it's exclusive. You'll have to take a boat from Puno (which takes about 4.5 hours) or drive to Cambria and take a small zodiac boat. Once at the hotel, you'll have uninterrupted views of Lake Titicaca. Each of the 23 rooms has large picture windows and skylights.


(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Bloofield Lodge, Far North Queensland, Australia

Deep in the heart of Far North Queensland's Daintree Rainforest, Bloomfield Lodge doesn't have much in the way of neighbors. Well, unless you count the natural scenery—which is kind of the point. The lodge is about three hours from Cairns. You can get there by flying your own plane to the lodge's private airstrip, taking a scenic flight (in someone else's plane or a helicopter), or driving.


(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Jules, Underseas Lodge, Key Largo, Florida

You won't get any surprise guests at Jules' Undersea Lodge, except for maybe a fish or two, because this hotel is located 21 feet below the sea. It's so remote that you have to be a certified scuba diver to stay here. (The lodge also offers PADI Discover Scuba Diving courses.)


(Photo: TripAdvisor, LLC)

Kokopelli's Cave, Farmington, New Mexico

You won't have to deal with noisy neighbors at Kokopelli's Cave, where your sleeping quarters are located a deep 70 feet underground. No need to worry about waking up with the sun here!

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Hotels Where You Can Truly Get Away from It All.Follow Caroline Morse on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

On the Horizon: Reclining Seats at Takeoff?

Posted October 30, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Qantas)

Every so often, we hear about a trend in air travel that makes us delirious with rage: windowless airplanes, backless seats, fees to print boarding passes. But today brings a trend we can totally get behind (or on top of): reclining at takeoff and landing. 

Australian airline Qantas is in the final stages of introducing a new business-class seat that reclines from takeoff to touchdown. Passengers would be able to board the plane, immediately recline their seats, and start napping—no more waiting for an OK from the flight deck, and no more rude awakening when the flight attendant says, "Please return your seat to the upright position."

The new seats will have an over-the-shoulder belt that must be in place for takeoff and landing. The new seatbelts would click into the already-existing lap belt system. Seats can't be reclined fully flat until the plane reaches level flight, but 5- to 7-inch recline is available during taxiing, takeoff, and landing, with the lie-flat capability during the rest of the flight. 

Currently, Qantas is seeking approval for the new seats for their Airbus A330 aircraft. The last few stages include some regulatory approval, but it looks like this service is set for an early 2015 debut. This comes as Qantas refreshes all A330s, including adding new Panasonic seatback entertainment systems throughout business and economy cabins as well as a refurb for all economy seats (so us peasants don't feel left out). 

Assuming all goes well, we imagine that other airlines, especially those with long-haul flights, may want to jump into the gate-to-gate recline market. It's a fairly inexpensive way to add some comfort to cramped aircraft cabins, and airlines are forever wooing premium-class flyers with small add-ons. Count among those add-ons a decent night's sleep.

Readers, would you like to fall asleep the minute you reach your seat?

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title On the Horizon: Reclining Seats at Takeoff?

Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

Avoiding Airport-Parking Gouges

Posted October 29, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

On a recent three-week trip from my home airport, I chose to stay the night before departure at an airport-area motel. Why? Even though the airport is only 25 minutes from my home, the motel's stay-park-fly package was the best deal. The room rate was $80 for one night, with shuttles to/from the airport and up to 30 days of parking included. The airport's long-term parking lot charge would have been $180 and the round-trip taxi fare from my home would have been close to $100.

My situation wasn't unique. Airport parking at even long-term or "economy" lots can be pretty expensive. At Seattle-Tacoma, for example, the least expensive parking is $28 per day or $130 per week, and costs are in the $20 range at many large fields. Independent off-airport lots typically charge just enough less than the airport to generate business. And even when you live relatively close to your airport, taxi and shuttle rates can often cost more than one night in a motel.

If you have to drive more than 50 miles to catch a flight, a parking package can look even better. Also, by staying at an airport-area motel, you can pretty much assure yourself that you won't encounter any unexpected delays in catching your flight.

Hundreds of airport-area hotels offer packages that combine one night's accommodation with up to 30 days of "free" parking, although most stop at seven, 10, or 14 days—in the hotel's parking area, with shuttle service to/from the airport. If you plan to arrive back home on a very late flight, most hotels also let you take the overnight stay at the end of your trip instead of the start. Most also provide for parking beyond the nominal limit for an extra daily charge.

I know of three online agencies that specialize in parking packages at airport hotels:

* Park Sleep Fly, the pioneer in the field, currently lists participating hotels near about 150 large and medium-size airports in the United States and 33 in Canada.

* Stay 123/Hotel N Parking, apparently the same outfit, provides similar coverage.

* BuyReservations posts accommodation/parking packages near 70 U.S. airports plus Montreal.

Park Sleep Fly and Stay 123/Hotel N Parking list mainly the same hotels, but the overlap isn't total. You might as well check all three agencies just in case any one agency doesn't cover all your options.

Also, many airport-area hotels and motels independently offer similar packages. If you don't find what you need on one of the nationwide sites, you can Google something like "airport hotel parking packages (city)" to find other choices. Also, your travel agent may have access to deals.

Although the online blurbs often boast "free" parking, the one-night package room rate is almost always higher than the hotel's lowest available rate. But the difference in rates is much less than the cost of parking for a week in an airport-area parking lot. I've usually found the premium for a week or more of parking works out to only a few dollars per day, and much less than you'd pay at most big airports for just the parking.

At an airport with high long-term rates, a parking package is a no-brainer. But at an airport such as Charlotte, where long-term parking is just $5 per night, the airport is likely to be a better deal.

The online airport parking specialist agencies listed also say they offer similar deals at major cruise ports. But when you take a closer look, you find that most of the "cruise port" listings are actually for airport-area hotels with shuttles to/from the actual port area. And, in many cases, the "free" shuttle is one-way only: You pay for the return trip. Only a few hotels are actually near the port.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Avoiding Airport-Parking Gouges. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 Surprisingly Free Airline Perks

Posted October 29, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: EVA Airways)

Surprise! We lost your luggage. Surprise! Your tray table is broken. While it seems like most airline surprises end in disappointment, a few bold airlines are delighting passengers every day with pleasing perks to make flying just a little better. Some—like traditional sweets on Turkish Airlines and lounge access on Porter Airlines—are available regardless of where you sit in the plane. Others—aromatherapy on ANA, for instance, or Birchbox goodie bags on JetBlue—are reserved for passengers in premium seats.

Turkish Airlines: Candlelit Meals and Turkish Delights

Intercontinental flights bring sweet treats to all passengers on Turkish Airlines. Traditional Turkish coffee and sweet, sticky Turkish delight candies are part of the in-flight experience for all passengers—including everyone in economy class. For business-class passengers, the small indulgences continue with candlelit meals. Electric candles glow within tiny luminarias that cast a soft, romantic light on meals provided by the airline's "flying chefs."

EVA Airways: Hello Kitty Everything

EVA has taken the go-big-or-go-home advice to heart with its Hello Kitty Jets. These six jets offer an all-in Hello Kitty experience that starts at check-in with Hello Kitty boarding passes and continues throughout the flight with themed music, headrest covers, paper cups, utensils, soap, meals, and ice cream. Flight attendants even wear Hello Kitty aprons. And while these flights are popular with families, the appeal goes beyond kids. According to Mr. K.W. Nieh at EVA, people of all ages book the Hello Kitty Jet flights. Want to see more pictures? So did we, so we compiled more of our favorite images into this photo tour.

Emirates: Toys for Kids

Kids will find plenty of entertaining company aboard Emirates flights. The airline's "Fly with Me Monsters" collection includes blanket buddies wrapped in soft fleece blankets, seat-belt critters (worn on the seat belt to make buckling up more fun), and magnetic sketching toys. Kids can choose one of four monster characters—Jimbob, Tezz, Camus, and Wagga—each with its own interests (including one who loves to take selfies).

Singapore Airlines: 3-D Games and Learning Apps

On select flights, Singapore Airlines offers entertainment that you can almost reach out and touch. Its range of video games includes 3-D and multiplayer games such as ThinkTanks. Passengers can also brush up on language skills with a Berlitz Word Traveler language-learning tool, learn about local customs with the b-Wise CultureQuest app, or listen to business-book digests using Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

ANA: Aromatherapy Cards

Deep breathing is one of the keys to a comfortable flight. And on ANA, each inhalation comes with a little something extra for business- and first-class passengers. The airline offers two aromatherapy cards that passengers can sniff or simply tuck into a pocket for a more subtle scent. The "Relax" card's lavender blend is used for sleep support, while the "Refresh" card helps to shake off end-of-flight grogginess and get you ready for your destination.

Porter Airlines: Lounges for Everyone

Lounge access for every passenger: That's what sets Canada's Porter Airlines apart. With free newspapers, Wi-Fi, and complimentary Starbucks coffee, Tazo teas, juices, sodas, and snacks, the airline makes waiting for a flight very nearly pleasant. Lounges in Toronto, Ottawa, and Newark feature comfortable seating, work spaces, charging areas, and did we mention free snacks?

Virgin Atlantic: In-Flight Bars

Fighting DVT has never looked so good. Upper-class passengers on Virgin Atlantic flights can stretch their legs at the onboard bar while sipping cocktails at 35,000 feet. The bar, which is separate from the cabin, can accommodate up to eight passengers at a time. Rotating signature drinks share the menu with Lanson Black Label Champagne, Aberfeldy 12-year-old single-malt whisky, and a range of other options.

JetBlue: Birchbox for Mint

Mint, JetBlue's new premium class, offers more than just lie-flat seats and full-bottle wine service. It has partnered with Birchbox for its amenities kits. Men's and women's kits are filled with travel-friendly items that change regularly. The current lineup includes Benefit Cosmetics mascara, Ernest Supplies Cooling Shave Cream, and The Laundress Wash & Stain Bar. Each kit also comes with a sweet treat as a parting gift.

Qantas: Preordered Meals

Ordering ahead: It's the perfect way to make sure the flight attendant doesn't run out of your preferred meal just before reaching you. On many international flights, Qantas offers premium-economy and business-class passengers the option to browse a menu and order items seven days to 12 hours in advance of flights, using its Q-Eat system.

Hawaiian Airlines: Island Specialties

Vacation starts just after takeoff on Hawaiian Airlines flights. The airline's focus on Hawaiian foods extends to its complementary offerings. On North America-to-Hawaii flights departing before 10 a.m., passengers are offered free mai tais. There's also POG (passion fruit-orange-guava juice), Koloa Breeze rum punch, AlohaMacs chocolate, and guava cookies. More Hawaiian specialties (toffee-coated macadamia nuts, local popcorn, and coconut cookies) are available for purchase.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Surprisingly Free Airline Perks.Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

8 Worst Airports for Holiday Flights

Posted October 29, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Defeated Traveler via Shutterstock)

With offerings that range from the most abysmal record for on-time flights to the worst amenities and longest security lines, these awful airports are the ones to avoid at all costs, especially during the holidays.

Worst Airport For On-Time Performance

This will come as no surprise to those who've had the misfortune of flying through Chicago Midway: According to the Department of Transportation's on-time performance statistics, only 64 percent of Midway flights departed on time in December of 2012—placing it at the bottom of the list of major U.S. airports. Other airports with notoriously tardy flights included Denver, San Francisco, Baltimore-Washington, Newark, and Chicago O'Hare (whose December 2012 track record was just 7 percent better than Midway's).

Before heading to the airport, check out FlightStats' airport delay map to find the probability that your departure will be disrupted by delays.

Worst Airport For Sleeping

With the higher probability of cancellations during the winter holidays comes the higher probability that you may be stranded at the airport. What to do? After arranging for the next possible flight, some shut-eye will be in order. Just don't do it at Los Angeles International Airport.

According to SleepingInAirports.net's 2013 "Worst Airports in North America" survey, LAX is the worst domestic airport for comfort, convenience, cleanliness, and customer service. And LAX is the sole U.S. facility that has repeatedly made the cut on

SleepingInAirports.net's annual "Worst Airports" list of both domestic and international airports. SleepingInAirports.net's sleep-deprived readers find that LAX "resembles a bus shelter" with its lack of amenities, and they add that it fails to provide around-the-clock food options. With no showers or sleep chairs at the airport's pay-in lounge, there's simply no rest for the weary at the City of Angels' main airport.

Brush up on our 10 Tips for Sleeping Safely at the Airport before heading out. And browse SleepingInAirports.net, where travelers provide advice on locating the best sleeping nooks at domestic and international airports.

Worst Airport For Inconvenient Gates

Better wear your running shoes if you're facing a tight connection at Los Angeles International Airport. LAX is so immense that it could take you up to 70 minutes to get from one gate to another. Set aside at least two hours to navigate between gates, and even more time for customs, immigration, and security if you're flying internationally.

Worst Airport For Long Lines At Customs

Flying across the pond? If at all possible, make your first point of entry back into the U.S. at any airport other than New York City's JFK. According to an analysis done by the Global Gateway Alliance, you stand to be subjected to an average wait time of 90-plus minutes during peak hours at JFK's customs lines.

Immigration and customs lines during the 2012 holiday period reached the nightmarish length of up to three hours at JFK. Though not the busiest airport (that prize goes to Atlanta), a staggering 47.7 million passengers flew into JFK last year—the most of all three NYC-area airports.

Worst Airport For Crowds

Ushering through its doors almost 100 million passengers per year, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport takes the crown as the busiest—not just in the nation, but the world over. More than three-quarters of ATL travelers carry a ticket issued by the largest airline in the world, Delta. Add AirTran into the mix and the two monopolize more than 90 percent of passengers passing through Atlanta. Both carriers make their hubs at ATL, so be ready for the crowds.

Worst Airport For Consistently Bad Weather

It's ironic that the airport with the most consistently bad weather is in sunny California. Causing delays for 71.4 percent of departing flights in 2011, San Francisco's dense fog and low clouds made SFO the airport with the highest number of weather-related delays in the country that year.

Think about it: Though notoriously moody skies over Denver and Chicago often cause delays, these delays typically only occur during winter storms. Meanwhile, at SFO, fog creeps in from the Pacific and shrouds the City by the Bay just about any time of the year. Add to that the airport's parallel runways, with only 750 feet between them, and visibility is drastically hindered.

Worst Airport For Long Security Lines

According to a 2012 study by The Daily Beast, Las Vegas and Denver airports are tied as the number-one airport with the longest waits at security. Both clocked in with maximum wait times of 33 minutes in the queues to pass through TSA screeners.

Note that the above wait times were during peak travel periods (including but not limited to holidays). And factor in Vegas' largest convention, the Consumer Electronics Show, at which 155,000 attendees will converge from January 7 through 10.

Worst Airport For Amenities

Coming in at 45th place in J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 airport-amenities rankings is Newark Liberty International Airport—an airport that charges for what most others are now giving away gratis. Really, $4.95 per hour for Wi-Fi? In addition, Terminals A and B, which serve all airlines except United, offer a very limited number of food options. So unless you're flying through Terminal C, you'll have to settle for coffee or other quick concessions.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 8 Worst Airports for Holiday Flights. Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

10 Places You Shouldn't Go If You're Phobic

Posted October 23, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

Afraid of clowns? We suggest you steer clear of Baraboo, Wisconsin. Can't stand bats? Maybe Austin isn't the city for you. In this, our most macabre month, we're taking a look at 10 places known for the kind of spectacles that many people would travel the world to see … and a few would go to any lengths to avoid. So if you're terrified of darkness, lightning, underground spaces, and other phobic "delights," we suggest you avoid these 10 otherwise lovely destinations around the world.

Fear of Lightning: Catatumbo Delta, Venezuela

The flickering sky triggers an intense physical reaction in people with astraphobia, the fear of lightning and thunder. Hands down, the worst destination for anyone afflicted with this malady is Venezuela's Catatumbo Delta, where a massive storm rages nearly every night over the Catatumbo River. The Catatumbo Lightning can last for up to 10 hours per night, producing an estimated million lightning strikes each year. A number of tour companies run lightning-watching trips to the area, some as part of longer itineraries.

Fear of Clowns: Baraboo, Wisconsin

Clowns: To some, they're a source of constant delight, to others, endless horror. The small town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, should be approached with extreme caution by anyone with coulrophobia, the fear of clowns. In the 19th century, Baraboo earned the name "Circus City" as it was the headquarters of several circuses, including the Ringling Brothers Circus. Today, the town remains home to Circus World, a museum complex featuring the largest library of circus information in the United States.

And while there are plenty of other things to do in Baraboo (including a railway museum and a big-cat rescue center), beware: Circus artifacts are sometimes part of town festivals and parades.

Fear of Heights: Grand Canyon National Park

When you've got a severe fear of heights, the best view is always the one from ground level. And because heights are everywhere when you travel—from the flight itself to fun-for-most activities like coastal cliff walks and skyscraper city views—for acrophobes, panic-inducing moments lurk in the shadows of even the sunniest vacations.

While it's absolutely possible to enjoy the best of the national park system even with a fear of heights, acrophobes should consider skipping the Grand Canyon in general and, specifically, not even think about taking a stroll on the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass walkway suspended 4,000 feet about the canyon floor.

Fear of the Dark: Tromso, Norway

Nyctophobia, more commonly known as fear of the dark, is so common in childhood that even the most unflappable adult likely remembers a time when nighttime felt scary. Each winter, a nyctophobic nightmare plays out as polar night blankets the far north in constant darkness that stretches for days or weeks. Tromsø in Norway, known as one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights, makes the most of its polar-night season—which stretches from November 21 to January 21—with festivals and cultural events. This period of darkness and twilight may frighten some, but night owls and party people rejoice with an extra-lively nightlife scene in winter.

Fear of Water: Venice, Italy

Aquaphobia, the fear of water, is not an easy affliction to live—or travel—with. Especially not in Venice, Italy, where water is everywhere. You must cross over water to enter the city, and once there, it's nearly impossible to get around without crossing over canals large and small. In this city without cars, water buses and taxis are the primary ways to get around.

Even sitting still, water feels close, lapping up against the stones of the canals and overflowing onto sidewalks and streets during the acqua alta.

Fear of Bats: Austin, Texas

Austin's Congress Avenue Bridge is the ultimate test for recovering chiroptophobes. Few other cities on Earth offer such a dramatic—and to anyone with a fear of bats, utterly alarming—nightly spectacle. Each evening between March and October, crowds gather at dusk to watch as 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats leave their daytime home under the bridge and emerge like a swirling black ribbon up into the sky.

Ready for some serious exposure therapy? Try a kayak tour that puts you under the bridge to watch the show.

Fear of Small Spaces: Budapest, Hungary

Don't know if you're claustrophobic? Here's a test: Imagine wiggling through tight spaces no larger than a sturdy pair of hips in order to get to more small spaces. The visceral aversion to small spaces is among the most common phobias, and for sufferers, even hearing the word "claustrophobia" can make it hard to breathe. Caving, naturally, tends not to be a favorite pastime of the claustrophobe, which is why sufferers should make sure to stay aboveground while in Budapest, Hungary. Under its city streets sits the large Palvolgyi-Matyashegyi cave system.

Urban thrill seekers can don headlamps and helmets and spelunk their way through the subterranean labyrinth. Claustrophobes can stay aboveground and sip coffee. Everyone wins.

Fear of Crabs: Christmas Island, Australia

No one wants to get pinched by a crab while wading in the ocean, but for people with a strong fear of crustaceans, the possibility is enough to ruin a trip to the beach. Even the thought of seeing a crab may be too much to bear, which is why anyone suffering from this fear should never go to Australia's Christmas Island in October or November. It's around this time that the island's massive red crab population makes its annual migration from the rainforest to the coast to breed. Millions of crabs—each up to five inches across—gather together in broad streams, flooding roads and scaling cliffs to reach the ocean.

Fear of Crowds: Megacities of the World

Agoraphobia, enochlophobia, ochlophobia … there are actually a number of different types of phobias focused on the fear of crowds. No matter what you call it, if the mere thought of crowds pressing in all around you sends you into a panicky tailspin, then you'll do well to avoid the world's densest cities.

As of 2013, 28 cities around the world fit the "megacity" criteria of having more than 10 million people. And while some of these massively populated urban areas are spread out, others, like Mumbai, India, have incredibly high population densities, causing them to feel crowded in a way most North Americans have never experienced.

Fear of Sharks: Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Whether Jaws is to blame or there's a more primal survival instinct that triggers the extreme fear of sharks, there's no doubt that galeophobia can seriously compromise beach vacations, ocean sunsets, and three-hour cruises. And unless it's an act of extreme exposure therapy, the shark-averse should not visit Mexico's Guadalupe Island. Its waters are famed for great white sharks and attract cage divers, photographers, and shark nuts from around the world.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Places You Shouldn't Go If You're Phobic.Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

7 Ways Social Media Can Make Your Trip Amazing

Posted October 23, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

(Photo: PhotoAlto/Sigrid Olsson/Getty Images)

Tagging. Trending. Latergram. #Selfie.

If these terms make you break out in hives, you're not alone. Social media often gets side-eyed as a way for bored teenagers to communicate or a receptacle for Aunt Beth's cat photos. But social media can actually help you have a better trip, if you know how to use the tools that are at your fingertips. 

Whether you're crowdsourcing recommendations, chatting with your airline through Twitter, or connecting with locals via Instagram, there are countless ways you can wield social media to have a more personal, memorable vacation experience.

Make Your Voice Heard

Companies use Twitter to engage with users and promote their brands as engaging, accessible, and current. And this is exactly why you should always follow your airline.

Not only do airlines tweet updates about weather conditions, closures, and airfare deals, but most do great jobs of interacting with followers (and some, like JetBlue, are even pretty funny). Twitter is the perfect platform for airing a complaint, voicing a concern, or even applauding an airline's good work to a large audience. I've had success in the past tweeting at my airline to ask for an update on a delayed flight or to check if an upgrade is available; often, the response is instantaneous. Why? Because airlines know it makes them look good and it makes travelers feel positive about them—it's a win-win for traveler and travel provider.

Just don't take your tweeting too far, like this Southwest passenger did—he ended up getting booted from the plane. Always be polite and constructive in your communication; a real live human is behind that account, after all.

Create Memories, Get Followers

In an ever-rising sea of social media, Instagram remains my favorite platform: It's low-investment, easy to use, and inspiring. When taking photos on the road, I generally hashtag and geo-tag my location. That way, I can compare my photos to those from other users, scout for other cool spots and photo ops in the area, and connect with amazing travel photographers around the world. Other users, tourism departments, and publications may regram your photos, meaning thousands of people could see your artwork. And you'll be making memories as you go.

Not yet an Instagrammer or not sure where to start? Follow us to get an easy introduction. We love hashtags.

Let LinkedIn Do the Job for You

Twitter isn't the only channel for reaching a customer-service agent. You probably have a LinkedIn account in order to stay current in the job market, but the professional network and social media channel can also help you get in touch with your airline. In July, KLM announced that it was launching 24/7 customer service through the platform. Ticketholders can use their LinkedIn accounts to chat with customer-service agents, reserve seats, rebook flights, and even make arrangements for additional baggage. No more hold music? We'll take it.


Whether you're still in the planning stages or already on the ground, it's a good idea to pick the brains of your fellow travelers. The easiest way to do this is via Twitter: Send out a tweet to your followers and the world at large asking for dining, attractions, and hotel advice. Tweet at and follow the tourism department of your destination as well; they may blast out recommendations and deals you won't see elsewhere. And participate in recurring travel-related chats; you can follow us to see when discussions take place and provide your own recommendations, tips, and photos.

You may also want to check Reddit or download a Reddit app and subscribe to your destination's subreddit. The /r/Travel subreddit is also a great resource for researching flights, restaurants, pricing, and seasonality.

Stay Current

In recent years, Twitter and other social media platforms have been instrumental in shaping world events, allowing users to share important and often lifesaving information. For any destination—but especially for the ones where unrest may break out or weather may turn dangerous—use Twitter to stay in the know. Follow your destination's news and media outlets and weather stations. If you're concerned about international safety, follow the U.S. Department of State and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs. The latter account blasts out travel warnings and safety information; the responder can also help with passport-related questions and emergencies. You can activate Twitter alerts via highlighted tweets, text messages, or push notifications as well.

Score Free Perks

We recently rounded up a number of ways that the average traveler can leverage their social media accounts, no matter how small, to score free stuff. Airlines, hotels, and other travel providers often offer special deals to followers. For example, Starwood offers points to loyalty-program members who link their Facebook and Foursquare accounts with their Starwood accounts; these points can be redeemed for hotel nights and flights. Other hotels or restaurants may offer free goodies if you check in on Foursquare or Yelp, or they may blast out special Twitter- or Facebook-only deals for followers. And still other vendors hold periodic contests in which users can enter to win prizes for retweeting, regramming, or checking in. Deals and contests come and go, of course, so it's best to follow and monitor your provider in the hopes of getting lucky.

Stay Safe

Users' safety and privacy is often a concern when it comes to social media. Disclosing too much personal information on the Web can be dangerous, whether you're at home or on the road. (We recommend making accounts private, limiting direct messages, and never displaying your phone number or address.) But there's a bright side to maintaining an online identity: It can actually help keep you safe. Airbnb, for instance, offers Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn verification for renters and users alike. I always connect with vacation-rental owners through social media before a stay; it reassures me that both owner and apartment are legit.

In general, both Facebook and Twitter offer the benefit of allowing travelers to stay in touch with loved ones (helpful in foreign countries where you may not have cell service). In times of unrest, natural disasters, or bad weather, you can reach out to followers, friends, and family and get up-to-the-second information on developments.

Readers, do you know any other ways to use social media to make your vacations better? Share with us in the comments below or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Seven Ways Social Media Can Make Your Trip Amazing.

Follow Dara Continenza on Google+ or email her at editor@smartertravel.com.

Review: Air Canada's Automated Bag Handling

Posted October 23, 2014 by SmarterTravel.com

What Is It: At Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport, which serves as Air Canada's hub, a simplified baggage handling process sends checked bags directly on to connecting flights so that travelers no longer have to retrieve and recheck bags for U.S. Customs inspection.

Price and Where to Buy: This is a free service offered on all flights that connect in Toronto and continue on to Air Canada's U.S. destinations.

Pros: Ease of use! I came away fully impressed with the service. No waiting in long lines, no fretting about missing a connection, no stress of any kind. I connected in Toronto en route from Beijing to New York, and I was responsible for my carry-on bag alone; my checked luggage made it from Asia to the U.S. with no difficulty. As I had a relatively tight connection for an international route, this was a real game changer for me.

When I talk about this Air Canada experience with friends and family, I always contrast it with the experience I had with United in Newark about a month later. In that case, I was traveling home from Frankfurt to Boston via Newark. My flight arrived in Newark with about 2.5 hours between connections. Thankfully in this case I'd traveled carry-on only, because the line to claim and recheck bags through U.S. customs was about a mile long and showed no indication that it was actually moving at any point during my observations.

Would I have made my connection with United? Possibly. I actually doubt it, but I don't discount the potential for a miracle, so for the sake of argument let's suppose I did. Would I have boarded my plane stressed and angry? Absolutely. The contrast between Toronto's fully automated baggage handling process and Newark's medieval claim-and-recheck gauntlet was a real eye-opener.

Cons: As far as I know, the fully automated baggage handling is still only available at Toronto and not any of Air Canada's other U.S. gateway airports.

How it Rates:

  • Comfort: 10/10. No dragging my luggage through the airport.
  • Convenience: 10/10. I experienced no hitches with the process.
  • Value: 10/10. It's free!
  • Cool Factor: 10/10. Nothing's cooler than returning stateside without the usual airport hassles.

Final Verdict: I will connect through Air Canada's Toronto hub at every opportunity. This is a great service. Other airlines could learn a thing or two from it!

Editor's Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and "cool factor." Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews, or would like to suggest a product for review, please email editor@smartertravel.com.

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