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Shadow of an airliner over a blue water and a white-sand beach.

Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier

As airlines continue to expand post-Covid, travelers can access an increasing variety of appealing destinations all across the globe via nonstop flights—a smart choice that minimizes the chance of your trip getting disrupted by delays or cancellations.

Below are our favorite routes (some new, some revitalized since Covid) that savvy travelers should know about.

We’re updating this article frequently as airlines announce new nonstop flights, so bookmark this page and come back for the latest intel.


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Europe
Canada
Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands
Middle East and Africa
Latin America
Asia

 


Europe

Atlanta to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on Delta and KLM
Atlanta to Athens, Greece, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Barcelona, Spain, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS (begins June 17, 2024)
Atlanta to Paris, France, on Delta and Air France
Atlanta to Dublin, Ireland, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Edinburgh, Scotland, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Frankfurt, Germany, on Delta
Atlanta to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Atlanta to London (Heathrow), England, on Delta and British Airways
Atlanta to Madrid, Spain, on Delta
Atlanta to Manchester, England, on Virgin Atlantic (seasonal)
Atlanta to Milan, Italy, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Munich, Germany, on Delta
Atlanta to Paris, France, on Air France and Delta
Atlanta to Nice, France, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Rome, Italy, on Delta
Atlanta to Shannon, Ireland, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Stuttgart, Germany, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Venice, Italy, on Delta (seasonal)
Atlanta to Zurich, Switzerland, on Delta (begins May 31, 2024)

Austin to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on KLM
Austin to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa
Austin to London (Heathrow), England, on Virgin Atlantic and British Airways

Baltimore to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways
Baltimore to Reykjavik, Iceland on Icelandair and PLAY (seasonal)

Boston to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on JetBlue (through October)
Boston to Athens, Greece, on Delta (seasonal)
Boston to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS
Boston to Barcelona, Spain, on LEVEL (seasonal)
Boston to Dublin, Ireland, on JetBlue (seasonal, through September 30, 2024)
Boston to Frankfurt, Germany. on Condor
Boston to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Boston to London (Gatwick), England, on Norse Atlantic and JetBlue
Boston to London (Heathrow), England, on United (through summer)
Boston to Munich, Germany on Lufthansa
Boston to Paris (CDG), France, on JetBlue
Boston to Porto, Portugal, on Azores (begins on June 4, 2024)
Boston to Reykjavik, Iceland, on PLAY (seasonal) and Icelandair
Boston to Shannon, Ireland, on Delta (seasonal)
Boston to Vienna, Austria, on Austrian (begins on July 1, 2024)

Charlotte to Dublin, Ireland, on American and Aer Lingus (both seasonal)
Charlotte to Frankfurt, Germany, on American
Charlotte to London (Heathrow), England, on American
Charlotte to Madrid, Spain, on American
Charlotte to Munich, Germany, on American
Charlotte to Paris, France, on American (seasonal)
Charlotte to Rome, Italy, on American (seasonal)

Chicago/O’Hare to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Athens, Greece, on American (seasonal, begins May 6, 2024) and United (seasonal, operates May 28-August 18, 2024)
Chicago/O’Hare to Barcelona, Spain, on United (seasonal)
Chicago/O’Hare to Brussels, Belgium, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS
Chicago/O’Hare to Edinburgh, Scotland, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Frankfurt, Germany, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Chicago/O’Hare to London (Heathrow), England, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Milan (Malpensa), Italy, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Munich, Germany, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Reykjavik, Iceland, on United (seasonal)
Chicago/O’Hare to Rome, Italy, on United (seasonal)
Chicago/O’Hare to Shannon, Ireland, on United (seasonal)
Chicago/O’Hare to Venice, Italy, on American (seasonal, begins June 5, 2024)
Chicago/O’Hare to Warsaw, Poland, on LOT
Chicago/O’Hare to Zurich, Switzerland, on United

Cincinnati to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways (seasonal)

Cleveland to Dublin, Ireland, on Aer Lingus (seasonal)

Dallas/Fort Worth to Barcelona, Spain, on American
Dallas/Fort Worth to Dublin, Ireland, on American
Dallas/Fort Worth to Frankfurt, Germany, on American, Lufthansa
Dallas/Fort Worth to Helsinki, Finland, on Finnair
Dallas/Fort Worth to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish
Dallas/Fort Worth to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways and American
Dallas/Fort Worth to Madrid, Spain, on Iberia
Dallas/Fort Worth to Paris (CDG), France, on American and Air France
Dallas/Fort Worth to Rome, Italy, on American

Denver to Frankfurt, Germany, on United and Lufthansa
Denver to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines (begins June 11, 2024)
Denver to London (Heathrow), England, on United and British Airways
Denver to Munich, Germany, on Lufthansa
Denver to Paris (CDG), France, on Air France
Denver to Munich, Germany, on United
Denver to Reykjavik, Iceland, on Icelandair
Denver to Zurich, Switzerland, on Swiss

Detroit to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on Delta
Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa and Delta
Detroit to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Detroit to London (Heathrow), England, on Delta
Detroit to Munich, Germany, on Delta
Detroit to Paris (CDG), France,  on Air France and Delta
Detroit to Reykjavik, Iceland, on Delta and Icelandair
Detroit to Rome, Italy, on Delta

Fort Myers to Frankfurt, Germany, on Eurowings Discover

Houston to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on United
Houston to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa and United
Houston to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Houston to London (Heathrow), England, on United
Houston to Munich, Germany, on United
Houston to Paris (CDG), France, on Air France

Las Vegas to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on Delta
Las Vegas to Frankfurt, Germany, on Eurowings Discover and Condor
Las Vegas to London (Gatwick), England, on Norse Atlantic
Las Vegas to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic
Las Vegas to Munich, Germany, on Eurowings Discover
Las Vegas to Zurich, Switzerland, on Swiss

Los Angeles to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on KLM
Los Angeles to Barcelona, Spain, on Iberia
Los Angeles to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS
Los Angeles to Dublin, Ireland, on Aer Lingus
Los Angeles to Frankfurt, Germany, on Condor (seasonal)
Los Angeles to London (Gatwick), England, on Norse Atlantic
Los Angeles to London (Heathrow), England, on Delta, Virgin Atlantic and United
Los Angeles to Paris (CDG), France, on Air France, Air Tahiti Nui, Delta, and Norse Atlantic (seasonal)
Los Angeles to Paris (Orly), France, on French Bee
Los Angeles to Warsaw, Poland, on LOT

Miami to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on KLM (halts service summer 2024)
Miami to Berlin, Germany, on Norse Atlantic
Miami to Frankfurt, Germany, on Condor
Miami to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Miami to London (Gatwick), England, on Norse Atlantic, British Airways, American
Miami to Oslo, Norway, on Norse Atlantic
Miami to Paris (CDG), France, on Air France, American, Norse Atlantic
Miami to Paris (Orly), France, on French Bee
Miami to Warsaw, Poland, on LOT

Minneapolis/St. Paul to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on Delta
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Dublin, Ireland, on Aer Lingus and Delta (begins on May 9, 2024)
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa (begins June 2024) and Condor
Minneapolis/St. Paul to London (Heathrow), England, on Delta
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Paris (CDG), France, on Air France, Delta and Condor
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Reykjavik, Iceland, on Icelandair (seasonal)
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Shannon, Ireland, on Delta (seasonal)

Nashville to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways

Newark to Athens, Greece on Emirates and United (seasonal, March through October)
Newark to Barcelona, Spain, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS
Newark to Dubrovnik, Croatia, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Edinburgh, Scotland, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Faro, Portugal’s Algarve, on United (begins 2025)
Newark to Frankfurt, Germany, on United
Newark to Gothenberg, Sweden, on SAS (through mid-October)
Newark to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Newark to Lisbon, Portugal on United
Newark to London (Heathrow), England, on United
Newark to Malaga, Spain, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Naples, Italy, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Nice, France, on United
Newark to Oslo, Norway, on SAS
Newark to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Paris (CDG), France, on Air France
Newark to Ponta Delgada, the Azores (Portugal), on United (seasonal)
Newark to Porto, Portugal, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Rome, Italy, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Shannon, Ireland, on United (seasonal)
Newark to Stockholm, Sweden, on SAS and United (seasonal)
Newark to Tenerife, the Canary Islands (Spain), on United (seasonal)
Newark to Warsaw, Poland, on LOT
Newark to Vienna, Austria, on Austrian

New York/JFK to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on JetBlue
New York/JFK to Athens, Greece on Delta, Norse Atlantic (seasonal), United, and American (seasonal, began March 2024)
New York/JFK to Barcelona, Spain, on Delta
New York/JFK to Berlin, Germany, on Delta and Norse Atlantic
New York/JFK to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS
New York/JFK to Dublin, Ireland, on JetBlue (seasonal, through September 30, 2024)
New York/JFK to Edinburgh, Scotland, on JetBlue (seasonal, May 22 to September 30, 2024)
New York/JFK to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
New York/JFK to London (Gatwick), England, on Delta, Norse Atlantic and British Airways
New York/JFK to London (Heathrow), England, on Delta, Norse Atlantic, British Airways and American
New York/JFK to Milan, Italy, on American, Delta, and Emirates
New York/JFK to Munich, Germany, on Delta (begins on April 9, 2024)
New York/JFK to Naples, Italy, on Delta (seasonal, begins on May 23, 2024)
New York/JFK to Palermo, Sicily (Italy), on Neos Air (seasonal, June through October)
New York/JFK to Paris (CDG), France, on Norse Atlantic, Delta, Air France, JetBlue and American
New York/JFK to Porto, Portugal, on Azores (begins on June 6, 2024)
New York/JFK to Ponta Delgada, the Azores (Portugal), on Azores
New York/JFK to Rome, Italy, on Norse Atlantic (seasonal)
New York/JFK to Shannon, Ireland, on Delta (seasonal, begins May 23, 2024)
New York/JFK to Stockholm, Sweden, on Delta

New York/JFK to Warsaw, Poland, on LOT

New York State/Stewart Airport to Faroe Islands (Denmark), on Atlantic (seasonal)

Orlando to Frankfurt, Germany, on Eurowings (winter)
Orlando to London (Gatwick), England, on Norse Atlantic and British Airways
Orlando to London (Heathrow), England, on Virgin Atlantic

Philadelphia to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on American
Philadelphia to Athens, Greece, on American (seasonal)
Philadelphia to Barcelona, Spain, on American
Philadelphia to Copenhagen, Denmark, on American (begins on June 6, 2024)
Philadelphia to Dublin, Ireland, on American (seasonal) and Aer Lingus
Philadelphia to Frankfurt, Germany, on Eurowings Discover
Philadelphia to Lisbon, Portugal, on American
Philadelphia to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways and American
Philadelphia to Madrid, Spain, on American
Philadelphia to Naples, Italy, on American (seasonal, begins on June 5, 2024)
Philadelphia to Nice, France, on American (seasonal, begins on May 6, 2024)
Philadelphia to Paris (CDG), France, on American
Philadelphia to Venice, Italy, on American (seasonal, began April 2024)
Philadelphia to Zurich, Switzerland, on American

Phoenix to Frankfurt, Germany, on American
Phoenix to London (Heathrow), England, on American and British Airways
Phoenix to Paris, France, on Air France (begins on May 23, 2024)

Pittsburgh to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways

Portland (OR) to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways

Raleigh Durham to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa (begins June 2024)
Raleigh Durham to London (Heathrow), England, on American
Raleigh Durham to Paris (CDG), France,  on Delta and Air France
Raleigh Durham to Reykjavik, Iceland, on Icelandair

St. Louis to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa

Salt Lake City to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on Delta and KLM
Salt Lake City to Frankfurt, Germany, on Eurowings Discover
Salt Lake City to London (Heathrow), England, on Delta
Salt Lake City to Paris, France, on Delta

San Antonio to Frankfurt, Germany, on Condor (begins May 17, 2024)

San Francisco to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on KLM
San Francisco to Barcelona, Spain, on United (seasonal)
San Francisco to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS
San Francisco to Frankfurt, Germany, on Condor
San Francisco to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
San Francisco to London (Heathrow), England, on United
San Francisco to Paris (CDG), France, on United
San Francisco to Rome, Italy, on United (seasonal)
San Francisco to Zurich, Switzerland, on United

Seattle to Helsinki, Finland, on Finnair (seasonal)
Seattle to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish
Seattle to London (Heathrow), England, on British Airways
Seattle to Munich, Germany, on Lufthansa (begins June 2024)

St Louis to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa

Tampa to Frankfurt, Germany, on Eurowings Discover
Tampa to London (Gatwick), England,  on British Airways

Washington/Dulles to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on United (seasonal, began March)
Washington/Dulles to Athens, Greece, on United (seasonal, operates April 14-December 3)
Washington/Dulles to Barcelona, Spain, on United (seasonal, began February 2024)
Washington/Dulles to Berlin, Germany, on United (seasonal)
Washington/Dulles to Brussels, Belgium, on Lufthansa
Washington/Dulles to Copenhagen, Denmark, on SAS
Washington/Dulles to Dublin, Ireland, on Aer Lingus and United
Washington/Dulles to Frankfurt, Germany, on United and Lufthansa
Washington/Dulles to Geneva, Switzerland, on United
Washington/Dulles to Istanbul, Turkey, on Turkish Airlines
Washington/Dulles to Lisbon, Portugal, on United (seasonal, began February 2024)
Washington/Dulles to London (Heathrow), England, on United
Washington/Dulles to London (Gatwick), England, on Norse Atlantic
Washington/Dulles to Munich, Germany, on United and Lufthansa
Washington/Dulles to Paris, France, on Air France, United
Washington/Dulles to Reykjavik, Iceland, on Icelandair and PLAY
Washington/Dulles to Rome, Italy, on United (seasonal, began February 2024)
Washington/Dulles to Vienna, Austria, on Lufthansa
Washington/Dulles to Zurich, Switzerland on Swiss (began March 2024) and United

Canada

Atlanta to Calgary on WestJet
Atlanta to Montreal on Air Canada
Atlanta to Toronto on Delta, Air Canada
Atlanta to Vancouver on WestJet

Austin to Montreal on Air Canada (beginning May 2, 2024)
Austin to Toronto on Air Canada
Austin to Vancouver on Air Canada (seasonal)

Boston to Ottawa on Porter
Boston to Vancouver on Air Canada

Charleston to Toronto on Air Canada (began March 2024)

Charlotte to Montreal on American Eagle
Charlotte to Toronto on American and Air Canada – Jazz Express

Chicago to Calgary on United
Chicago to Montreal on United
Chicago to Ottawa on United
Chicago to Quebec on United (seasonal, begins May 2024)
Chicago to Toronto on United
Chicago Midway to Toronto on Porter
Chicago to Vancouver on United

Denver to Calgary on United and Air Canada
Denver to Montreal on Air Canada and United
Denver to Toronto on Air Canada and United

Detroit to Montreal on Air Canada
Detroit to Calgary on WestJet

Fort Lauderdale to Ottawa on Porter
Fort Lauderdale to Toronto on Porter

Houston to Calgary on United and WestJet
Houston to Montreal on Air Canada
Houston to Toronto on Air Canada and United
Houston to Vancouver on Air Canada and United

Las Vegas to Montreal on Air Canada
Las Vegas to Toronto on Air Canada
Las Vegas to Vancouver on Air Canada

Los Angeles to Montreal on Porter (seasonal)

Minneapolis/St. Paul to Calgary on Delta

Maui to Vancouver on Air Canada

Minneapolis/St. Paul to Montreal on Air Canada
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Toronto on Air Canada and Delta
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Vancouver on Delta

Nashville to Calgary on WestJet
Nashville to Toronto on Air Canada and WestJet
Nashville to Vancouver on WestJet

New York/JFK to Montreal on Delta, American and Air Canada
New York/JFK to Toronto on Air Canada, American and Delta
New York/JFK to Vancouver on JetBlue

Newark to Halifax on United (seasonal, begins May 23, 2024)
Newark to Montreal on United
Newark to Toronto on United

Orlando to Ottawa on Porter
Orlando to Toronto on Porter

Phoenix to Calgary on Delta
Phoenix to Toronto on Air Canada
Phoenix to Vancouver on Air Canada

Raleigh Durham to Montreal on Air Canada
Raleigh Durham to Toronto on Air Canada

           St Louis to Montreal on Air Canada (seasonal, begins May 1, 2024)

Salt Lake City to Calgary on Delta
Salt Lake City to Toronto on Air Canada
Salt Lake City to Vancouver on Delta

San Diego to Montreal on Air Canada

San Francisco to Calgary on United
San Francisco to Montreal on Porter (seasonal)
San Francisco to Toronto on United
San Francisco to Vancouver on United

Seattle to Montreal on Air Canada
Seattle to Toronto on Alaska (begins May 16, 2024)

Washington/Dulles to Vancouver on United (seasonal, begins May 23, 2024)

Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands

Dallas/Fort Worth to Brisbane, Australia, on American (begins October 27, 2024)

Honolulu to Auckland, New Zealand, on Air New Zealand
Honolulu to Rarotonga, Cook Islands, on Hawaiian

Houston to Auckland, New Zealand, on Air New Zealand

Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, on Air New Zealand, Delta and United
Los Angeles to Brisbane, Australia, on United and Delta (Dec. 4, 2024 through March 28, 2025)
Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia, on United
Los Angeles to Papeete (Tahiti), French Polynesia, on Delta, Air Tahiti Nui, and Air France
Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, on American and Delta

New York/JFK to Auckland, New Zealand, on Air New Zealand and Qantas

San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand, on Air New Zealand and United
San Francisco to Brisbane, Australia, on United
San Francisco to Christchurch, New Zealand, on United
San Francisco to Melbourne, Australia, on United
San Francisco to Papeete (Tahiti), French Polynesia, on United and French Bee
San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, on United

Seattle to Papeete (Tahiti), French Polynesia, on Air Tahiti Nui

Middle East and Africa

UPDATE on April 16, 2024: United—the only U.S. airline to resume its service to Israel since October—has paused those flights. El Al continues to operate between the U.S. and Israel.

Atlanta to Cape Town, South Africa, on Delta
Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa, on Delta
Atlanta to Tel Aviv, Israel, on Delta (suspended) and El Al

Boston to Tel Aviv, Israel, on Delta (suspended) and El Al

Chicago to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Etihad
Chicago to Amman, Jordan, on Royal Jordanian
Chicago to Doha, Qatar, on Qatar Airways
Chicago to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Emirates
Chicago to Tel Aviv, Israel, on United (resumes October 2024) and El Al

Dallas/Fort Worth to Doha, Qata, on Qatar
Dallas/Fort Worth to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Emirates
Dallas/Fort Worth to Tel Aviv, Israel on American (resumes October 2024)

Detroit to Amman, Jordan, on Royal Jordanian

Ft. Lauderdale to Tel Aviv, Israel, on El Al

Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, Israel, on El Al

Miami to Doha, Qatar, on Qatar
Miami to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Emirates

Newark to Cape Town, South Africa, on United
Newark to Cairo, Egypt, on Egyptair
Newark to Dubai, United Arab Emirates,  on United
Newark to Johannesburg, South Africa, on United
Newark to Marrakech, Morocco, on United (begins October 24, 2024)
Newark to Tel Aviv, Israel, on El Al and United (resumed March 2024)

New York/JFK to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Etihad
New York/JFK to Amman, Jordan, on Royal Jordanian
New York/JFK to Casablanca, Marrakech, on Royal Air Maroc
New York/JFK to Doha, Qatar, on American
New York/JFK to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Emirates
New York/JFK to Nairobi, Kenya, on Kenya Airways
New York/JFK to Tel Aviv, Israel, on American (resumes October 27, 2024), Delta (resumes June 7, 2024), and El Al

Miami to Tel Aviv, Israel, on El Al

Philadelphia to Doha, Qatar, on American

San Francisco to Tel Aviv, Israel, on United (resumes October 2024)

Seattle to Doha, Qatar, on Qatar Airways

Washington/Dulles to Amman, Jordan, on United
Washington/Dulles to Casablanca, Morocco, on Royal Air Maroc
Washington/Dulles to Doha, Qatar, on Qatar Airways
Washington/Dulles to Tel Aviv, Israel, on United (resumes October 2024)

Latin America and the Caribbean

Atlanta to Cancun, Mexico, on JetBlue and Southwest
Atlanta to Cozumel, Mexico, on Delta
Atlanta to Curacao, the Caribbean on Delta
Atlanta to Lima, Peru on Latam and Delta
Atlanta to Merida, Mexico, on Aeromexico
Atlanta to Mexico City on Delta and Aeromexico
Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Delta
Atlanta to Tulum, Mexico, on Delta

Austin to Cancun, Mexico, on American
Austin to Cozumel, Mexico, on American and Southwest
Austin to Liberia, Costa Rica, on American
Austin to Mexico City on Aeromexico
Austin to Panama City on Copa
Austin to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on American and Southwest
Austin to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on American and Southwest

Baltimore to Cancun, Mexico, on Frontier
Baltimore to Panama City on Copa (seasonal)

Boston to Mexico City on Aeromexico

Charlotte to Belize City on American
Charlotte to Cancun, Mexico, on American
Charlotte to Cozumel, Mexico, on American
Charlotte to Curacao, the Caribbean, on American
Charlotte to San Jose, Costa Rica, on American
Charlotte to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on American
Charlotte to Tulum, Mexico, on American

Chicago O’Hare to Cancun, Mexico, on United
Chicago O’Hare to Guatemala City on Avianca
Chicago O’Hare to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on United
Chicago O’Hare to Mexico City on Aeromexico
Chicago O’Hare to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on United
Chicago O’Hare to Tulum, Mexico, on United

Cincinnati to Cancun, Mexico, on American

Dallas/Ft. Worth to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on American
Dallas/Ft. Worth to Cancun, Mexico, on American
Dallas/Ft. Worth to Cozumel, Mexico, (seasonal)
Dallas/Ft. Worth to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on American
Dallas/Ft. Worth to Mexico City (NLU) on Aeromexico
Dallas/Ft. Worth to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on American
Dallas/Ft. Worth to Santiago, Chile, on American
Dallas/Ft. Worth to Tulum, Mexico, on American
Dallas/Ft. Worth to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, on American

Denver to Belize City on United
Denver to Cancun, Mexico, on United and Southwest
Denver to Cozumel, Mexico, on United and Southwest
Denver to Liberia, Costa Rica, on United
Denver to Panama City on United and Southwest
Denver to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on United and Southwest
Denver to Roatan, Honduras, on United
Denver to San Jose, Costa Rica, on United
Denver to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on United and Southwest

Detroit to Mexico City on Aeromexico

Fort Lauderdale to Belém, Brazil’s Amazon, on Azul
Fort Lauderdale to Bucaramanga, Colombia, on Spirit
Fort Lauderdale to Manaus, Brazil’s Amazon, on Azul

Houston to Cancun, Mexico, on United
Houston to Medellin, Colombia, on United (begins October 27, 2024)
Houston to Mexico City on Aeromexico
Houston to Oaxaca, Mexico, on United
Houston to Panama City on United
Houston to Puebla, Mexico, on United
Houston to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on United
Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica, on United
Houston to Tulum, Mexico, on United

Kansas City to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on Southwest (seasonal)

Las Vegas to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on Alaska
Las Vegas to Mexico City on Aeromexico
Las Vegas to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Alaska

Los Angeles to Belize City on Alaska
Los Angeles to Grand Cayman, the Caribbean, on Cayman Airways
Los Angeles to Guatemala City on Alaska, United
Los Angeles to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on United
Los Angeles to Mexico City on Aeromexico
Los Angeles to Nassau, Bahamas, on Alaska and JetBlue
Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on United
Los Angeles to San Jose, Costa Rica, on United
Los Angeles to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on United
Los Angeles to Sao Paolo, Brazil, on Latam
Los Angeles to Tulum, Mexico, on United

Miami to Barranquilla, Colombia, on American
Miami to Bogota, Colombia, on Avianca, American, Latam, Emirates (starts June 3)
Miami to Buenos Aires (EZE), Argentina, on Aerolineas Argentinas and American
Miami to Cali, Colombia, on American
Miami to Cancun, Mexico, on American
Miami to Cartagena, Colombia, on Avianca
Miami to Fortaleza, Brazil, on Latam
Miami to Guatemala City on Avianca
Miami to Havana, Cuba, on Delta
Miami to Liberia, Costa Rica, on American
Miami to Lima, Peru, on American and Latam
Miami to Medellin, Colombia, on Avianca
Miami to Mexico City on American and Aeromexico
Miami to Panama City on American
Miami to Quito, Ecuador, on Avianca
Miami to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on American
Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica, on American
Miami to Santiago, Chile, on American
Miami to Tulum, Mexico, on American

Minneapolis/St Paul to Cancun, Mexico, on Delta
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Cozumel, Mexico, on Delta
Minneapolis/St. Paul to Mexico City on Delta

Nashville to Cancun, Mexico, on American and Southwest

New York/JFK to Belize City on JetBlue
New York/JFK to Buenos Aires (EZE), Argentina, on Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas
New York/JFK to Cali, Colombia, on American
New York/JFK to Cartagena, Colombia, on Avianca
New York/JFK to Mexico City on Aeromexico, Delta, and American
New York/JFK to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on JetBlue
New York/JFK to Quito, Ecuador, on Avianca
New York/JFK to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Delta
New York/JFK to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Avianca
New York/JFK to Tulum, Mexico, on JetBlue (beginning June 13, 2024)

Newark to Cartagena, Colombia, on JetBlue
Newark to Guatemala City on United
Newark to Panama City on United, Copa
Newark to San Jose, Costa Rica, on United
Newark to Tulum, Mexico, on United

Orlando to Belize City on Frontier
Orlando to Cali, Colombia, on Avianca
Orlando to Liberia, Costa Rica, on Frontier
Orlando to Medellín, Colombia, on Avianca
Orlando to Quito, Ecuador, on Avianca
Orlando to Recife, Brazil, on Azul
Orlando to Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Latam

Phoenix to Cancun, Mexico, on American and Southwest
Phoenix to Mexico City on American
Phoenix to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on American and Southwest
Phoenix to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on American and Southwest

Pittsburgh to Cancun, Mexico, on American

Raleigh Durham to Cancun, Mexico, on Jet Blue
Raleigh Durham to Mexico City on Aeromexico
Raleigh Durham to Panama City on Copa (begins June 21, 2024)

Salt Lake City to Mexico City on Aeromexico

San Antonio to Mexico City on Aeromexico

San Francisco to Cancun, Mexico, on Alaska
San Francisco to Liberia, Costa Rica, on United
San Francisco to Mexico City on Aeromexico

Seattle to Belize City on Alaska
Seattle to Cancun, Mexico, on Alaska
Seattle to Nassau, Bahamas, on Alaska

Washington/Dulles to Mexico City on Aeromexico and United

Asia

Atlanta to Seoul, South Korea, on Delta
Atlanta to Tokyo (HND), Japan,  on Delta

Boston to Seoul, South Korea, on Korean Air
Boston to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on American, Japan Airlines

Chicago to Delhi, India, on United and Air India
Chicago O’Hare to Tokyo (HND), Japan on Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, United Airlines
Chicago O’Hare to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on All Nippon Airways

Dallas/Ft. Worth to Seoul, South Korea, on American
Dallas/Fort Worth to Shanghai, China on American
Dallas/Fort Worth to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on American

Detroit to Seoul, South Korea, on Delta
Detroit to Shanghai, China, on China Eastern and Delta
Detroit to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on Delta

Denver to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on United

Honolulu to Fukuoka, Japan’s Kyushu Island, on Hawaiian
Honolulu to Manila, the Philippines, on Philippine Airlines
Honolulu to Osaka, Japan, on Hawaiian and Japan Airlines
Honolulu to Nagoya, Japan, on Japan Airlines
Honolulu to Taipei, Taiwan, on Air China (begins June 2024)
Honolulu to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on Delta and Hawaiian
Honolulu to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on Hawaiian

Las Vegas to Seoul, South Korea, on Korean Airlines

Los Angeles to Beijing, China, on Air China
Los Angeles to Hong Kong on American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and United
Los Angeles to Manila, the Philippines, on Philippine Airlines
Los Angeles to Osaka, Japan, on Japan Airlines
Los Angeles to Seoul, South Korea, on Asiana and Korean Air
Los Angeles to Shanghai, China, on Delta (began March 2024) and United (begins August 29, 2024)
Los Angeles to Singapore on Singapore Air
Los Angeles to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on United
Los Angeles to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on American Airlines, United, and ZIPAIR

Minneapolis to Seoul, South Korea, on Delta
Minneapolis to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on Delta

Newark to Delhi, India, on Air India
Newark to Mumbai, India, on United and Air India
Newark to Singapore on Singapore Airlines
Newark to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on United
Newark to Tokyo (NRT), Japan on United

New York (JFK) to Beijing, China, on Air China
New York/JFK to Delhi, India, on American Airlines and Air India
New York/JFK to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific
New York/JFK to Mumbai, India, on Air India
New York/JFK to New Delhi, India, on Air India, American
New York/JFK to Manila, the Philippines, on Philippine Airlines
New York/JFK to Seoul, South Korea, on Asiana, Korean
New York/JFK to Singapore on Singapore Air
New York/JFK to Taipei, Taiwan, on Eva Air, Air China
New York/JFK to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Uzbekistan Airways
New York/JFK to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on Japan Airlines, ANA, and American (begins June 28, 2024)

San Diego to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on Japan Airlines

San Jose to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on ZIPAIR

San Francisco to Beijing, China, on Air China
San Francisco to Delhi, India, on United and Air India
San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Vietnam Airlines
San Francisco to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific and United
San Francisco to Manila, the Philippines, on Philippine Airlines and United
San Francisco to Mumbai, India, on Air India
San Francisco to Osaka, Japan, on United
San Francisco to Seoul, South Korea, on Asiana, Korean Airlines, and United
San Francisco to Shanghai, China, on United
San Francisco to Singapore on United and Singapore Airlines
San Francisco to Taipei, Taiwan, on China Airlines, EVA Air and United
San Francisco to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on ANA, Japan Airlines, and United
San Francisco to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on ANA, Japan Airlines, United and ZIPAIR

Seattle to Beijing (PKX), China, on Delta (seasonal) and Hainan Airlines
Seattle to Manila, the Philippines, on Philippine Airlines (begins October 2, 2024)
Seattle to Seoul, South Korea, on Delta
Seattle to Tokyo (NRT), Japan, on ANA, Japan Airlines, Delta, United and American
Seattle to Shanghai, China, on Delta
Seattle to Singapore on Singapore Arlines
Seattle to Taipei, Taiwan, on Delta (begins June 6, 2024) and China Airlines (begins July 2024)

Washington/Dulles to Delhi, India, on Air India
Washington/Dulles to Incheon, South Korea, on Korean Air
Washington/Dulles to Tokyo (HND), Japan, on United and ANA

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Using apps at the airport

Apps To Help You Survive Holiday Travel

Airport delays, flight cancellations, and long waits in the security line are some of the not-so-welcome gifts we get during the holiday season. Though we can’t avoid all holiday travel snafus, we can be prepared because our smartphones are a great resource. Check out this list of apps and other services that can help.

Your airline’s app 
Flight status, gate changes, alerts, nearby lounge info, and your mobile boarding pass—you’ll get all of these through your airline’s app.

Tracking flight delays and cancellations
Apps like FlightStats and FlightAware track flight status and can alert you to delays or weather cancellations, sometimes more efficiently than the airline will. If your flight does get cancelled due to a storm and you want to do what I do—which is to find alternate flights that connect in cities that are having no weather issues—they can tell you which large hubs are unaffected by the current weather situation.

An app for monitoring the wait at airport security lines
The line at security used to be one of the most unpredictable pain points in your journey. Luckily, that has changed, because a few apps can now show you what to expect. The TSA’s official MyTSA app shows you estimated wait times, provides tips on what you can and cannot bring through security, and has a handy “Ask TSA” live-chat feature. MiFlight has real-time info crowd-sourced from fellow travelers using the app (available on iPhone only). App in the Air crowdsources wait times too. You can also check the website of the airport; some (like JFK, EWR, and ATL) offer real-time waits at security and customs.  

Real-time updates and answers from your airline
X (formerly Twitter) may have its flaws, but following your airline’s feed is typically one of the quickest ways to find out about delays or cancellations. It can also be an effective way to get in touch with an airline rep fast: Direct your question or complaint to the airline’s social media, and they’re incentivized to give you a speedy answer.

Emergency airline assistance
Cranky Concierge isn’t an app—it’s a website and (gasp!) a phone service—but when your flight is canceled or delayed, and you really need to get where you’re going, this is the help you need. Sure, you could choose to spend frustrating hours on the phone with unhelpful airline customer-service centers, trying to reroute your own trip—or you could let the Cranky team handle it. They have knowledge of and access to info you won’t be able to get on your own, and they can research and rebook you with the best possible option while you get a drink at the airport bar. Cranky Concierge’s urgent assistance service starts at $175 and is accessible through the website and via phone (U.S.: 888-747-1011 x9; global: +1-74-200-4200 x9).

Finding an airport lounge 
You no longer need to hold special status or specific credit cards to access certain airport lounges—just pay a fee and you’re entitled to all the comfy couches, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks the elite travelers get. LoungeBuddy (available for iPhone only) will help you find these pay-for-the-day enclaves, show you photos and reviews posted by other travelers, and let you book a spot in advance when possible. And if you do have special access via a credit card or frequent-flier program, LoungeBuddy can store your info and let you know when those free-access lounges are nearby too.

Priority Pass is a lounge subscription service. For an annual membership fee between $99 and $469, Priority Pass grants its members access to over 1,300 airport lounges and experiences worldwide. Some credit cards, such as American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, and certain Capital One cards, offer Priority Pass membership as a free perk, so check out your card’s benefits package before signing up.

Navigating the airport
FLIO covers nearly 6,000 airports globally, connecting you with information on the airport you’re in—everything from where to find power outlets to hotels that offer day-use rooms for long layovers. Services featured vary, depending on the airport. A check of services offered at Newark International Airport (EWR) includes details on where to find nursing suites and how to transfer to other New York-area airports. In Chile’s Santiago airport (SCL), you can find lounges and luggage storage. And at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, the app tips you off to baby lounges, an in-airport park, and locations of massage chairs. It’s helpful to know your airport’s IATA code, since airports are listed alphabetically by their three-letter code, and these aren’t always obvious.

A quicker Global Entry experience in some airports
If you already have a Global Entry membership and are re-entering the U.S. via Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Washington Dulles, Pittsburgh, or Houston, you can use an app that Customs and Border Protection is testing: Instead of stopping at a kiosk, you take a selfie with the app and then go straight to the CBP officers to complete your arrival processing.

When you don’t speak the language
When you’re struggling to communicate with a taxi driver, a good translation app can be a godsend. Google Translate lets you speak right into the phone, and then it can translate, out loud, into the selected language. The app’s Google Lens function also decodes written text via your phone’s camera—super-handy for reading menus or museum display panels—and it’s all available offline with dozens of downloadable language dictionaries. Another good option is Apple’s Translate; it features type, voice, or picture translation, like Google, but only offers 17 languages at the moment.

Last-minute hotel stays if your flight is delayed
Sometimes things don’t go as planned, or maybe you didn’t plan at all, and you need a hotel room right now. HotelTonight is made for those times, offering last-minute discounts on hotels of various star levels. The app doesn’t cover every destination in the world, but it does include a lot of big cities and popular travel spots in the U.S. and overseas. One helpful feature is that it sorts urban areas both by neighborhoods and by airports.

Getting to or from the airport, or anywhere else
When you need a ride and you don’t want to drive (or shouldn’t), Uber and Lyft are still the go-to rideshare apps every traveler should have in their phone. Uber is particularly useful in many other countries around the world.

Another alternative to airport taxis
Landing in an airport in an unfamiliar city can be an unsettling experience if ridesharing is banned and you have no idea how reliable or reputable the taxis are. Welcome Pickups contracts with drivers and limo companies in 160 cities worldwide, and you can schedule a transfer from their app or site in seconds. For roughly the price of a local taxi, your driver will meet you at baggage claim or in a specified area and deliver you to your destination. Communication is done within the app, and you can pay by credit card.

Calling and texting for free
Forego costly international calling charges and use WhatsApp to communicate when you’re abroad—both with friends and family back home, and with your private guide or other locals in your destination. With WhatsApp, texts and calls are free anytime your phone is connected to Wi-Fi.

Restaurant reservations 
The last thing a weary traveler wants after a long flight is to have to wander the streets looking for a meal. Google and Apple Maps will show you highly rated restaurants in your area, but I love the ease of the reservation app OpenTable to book a table. Particularly helpful, especially when visiting a new city, is the “near me” function. OpenTable, already well entrenched in the U.S., is expanding its international footprint and now serving countries such as the U.K., India, Singapore, Mexico, Australia, Italy, and beyond. One tip: You will want to establish your free account before you leave home.

Maps and navigation
What makes Maps.me so useful is that it offers complete city and country downloads, perfect for touching down in a foreign country where you don’t want to incur roaming data fees.

Getting around town and beyond
Rome2Rio incorporates public transportation schedules with drive, walk, and even scooter/bike times to give you step-by-step travel options in each format within a clean, clear interface. It’ll even tell you which train car to ride in and what subway exit to take. It’s not just city-focused; you can plan trips between cities, and Rome2Rio will offer recommendations of flights, trains, and buses, along with how much they cost.

Calculating currency conversions
An app like Currency lets you skip the mental math of currency conversions—and it saves the latest conversion rate so that it works offline too.

 

What other apps have saved you during holiday travel? Tell us about them in the comments below.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Chicago O'Hare International Airport decorated for Christmas

10 Ways to Minimize Holiday Travel Hassles

It’s that most wonderful time of the year when U.S. airports are jammed, overhead bins crammed, flights delayed, and travel headaches numerous. And this year will be no different. Nerves understandably frazzle when delays hit on a tight travel schedule, so prepare yourself with the following tips, don’t forget your documents, and remember what’s ultimately waiting at your destination: family, friends, and holiday cheer.

1. Download must-have apps.

There are apps that tell you which security line at your airport has the shortest wait time, help you get the assistance you need when your flight plans derail, and more. Here are a few of my favorites.

2. Don’t wrap gifts before you travel with them.

The TSA can ask you to unwrap gifts in your carry-on for examination, slowing down you and everyone else in the security line (and ruining your crisp corner folds). They can unwrap gifts in checked luggage as well. Wrap your gifts when you arrive or send them by mail.

3. Pack so it’s a breeze to get your holiday gifts home.

You may have figured out how to get to Grandma’s with only carry-ons (maybe you ordered all your gifts for your aunts and uncles and cousins online and had them shipped), but what about getting home again with the gifts they give you? Here’s my strategy for bringing home a lot more stuff than you started with.

4. Check in for your flight online 24 hours ahead.

Checking in the day before reduces your chance of getting bumped from an oversold flight and increases your chance of snagging a better seat—one made available 24 hours in advance. That’s when elite-status frequent fliers get upgraded from coach, leaving behind prime empty seats in the forward cabin or exit rows.

5. Leave for the airport earlier than usual.

You know all those drivers you battle with for a parking spot at the mall? You’ll now be battling them on the road to the airport. And in the parking garage. Allow time for being stuck in traffic. Use the predictor function in your favorite navigation app (Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, etc.) to estimate your travel time and alert you when to leave, based on the current traffic pattern and your desired arrival.  And if possible, pre-book a parking spot; we’ve had good experiences with The Parking Spot. If you can’t prebook, some airports offer frequently updated availability reports for their own parking lots.

And: If you’re scheduling a car service or you’re ride-sharing to the airport, add an extra 15 to 20 minutes to your start time to account for any traffic delays.

6. Flight delayed? Relax in an airport lounge.

More and more pay-as-you-go independent lounges have been popping up all over the U.S. For $25 to $50 you can escape the circus in the terminal and kick back in comfy armchairs—with Wi-Fi, televisions, and snacks—or even shower or nap. As for club lounges run by airlines, many now sell day passes for $60—and give you access to airline agents who can be more helpful in fixing travel snafus than agents you talk to at the gate or on the phone. Use an app like LoungeBuddy to find and book lounges in your airport. Priority Pass is among the membership organizations that offer access to lounges; pre-paid packages start at $99 per year (Priority Pass is also offered as a perk with credit cards such as American Express Platinum and Chase’s Sapphire Reserve).

7. Be the first to know if your flight is canceled.

If a storm cancels your flight, you’ll be in a mad race with everyone else to grab what few seats are available on alternate flights. If bad weather is brewing in the days before your trip, sign up for flight status alerts, and also check your airline’s website frequently so that, as soon as the airline announces it’s waiving ticket-change fees, you can take action. Also monitor the airline’s social-media feed; it sometimes provides the quickest updates. Be prepared for anything by downloading essential apps and tools for winter travel.

8. Flight canceled? Look for a storm-free hub to connect in.

FlightStats.com tells you at a glance which airports and airlines are suffering weather-related delays and, just as important, which are not. Note which hubs are having no weather issues (Las Vegas, for instance) and rebook to connect through one of them. (Vegas may not be in the linear path to your final destination, but you could end up at your destination much quicker than if you remain in a snowbound airport. And, if you need to overnight in Vegas, there are inexpensive hotels and frequent flights out.)

9. Don’t waste time waiting on hold.

Rather than phoning the airline’s jammed U.S. customer service line and getting stuck on hold for hours while the few available seats to your destination vaporize, call one of the airline’s English-speaking overseas reservations numbers—say, in England, Germany, Australia, or Singapore. (You’ll find these numbers on the airline’s website.)

Or check your airline’s app. You can often rebook yourself without paying change fees. Initiating a text chat session from the app (if available) will also result in quicker responses. Plus, your frequent-flier status can push you up the queue

10. Score a free future airline ticket.

‘Tis the season for oversold flights, so there’s a chance you could score a free or discounted ticket by volunteering to take a later plane. Delta and American are among airlines that actually ask flyers to name their own voucher amount when checking bags at their kiosk, so passengers compete with themselves and avoid escalating gate auctions. Another strategy: If you’re willing to volunteer to be delayed for a few hours in exchange for a discounted or free future ticket, consider approaching the gate agent before they have made an announcement, so you’re first on the list of volunteers. But don’t accept a voucher without making yourself aware of all the restrictions (blackout dates, expiration date, etc.) and ensuring you have a confirmed seat on a later flight.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Best International Stopovers: Two Trips for the Price of One

Most everyone prefers nonstop flights, but when they’re not available or not affordable, consider turning your flight connection into a fascinating multi-night stopover. A handful of airlines have stopover programs that allow travelers to experience two countries for the price of flying to one—and you might even get a free hotel stay out of it. We reached out to miles-and-points expert Gary Leff, the genius behind award-travel sites View From the Wing and Book Your Award, to get his picks for the best international airline stopovers.

Istanbul via Turkish Airlines (en route to Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and India)

“If you’re flying on a Turkish Airlines ticket with a stopover in Istanbul of more than 20 hours, they will give you a free hotel stay,” says Gary. Business-class passengers can stay in a five-star hotel for two nights, while economy-class passengers can stay in a four-star hotel for one night.

Turkish Airlines has another service called Touristanbul, which offers free sightseeing tours for layovers between 6 and 24 hours (you cannot combine this offer with the hotel offer). Fliers can sign up for one of five daily tours to visit Istanbul landmarks like Galata Tower and Dolmabahçe Palace.

 

Lisbon or Porto via TAP Air Portugal (en route to Europe, Turkey, Morocco, and Southern Africa)

“I’m a fan of TAP Air Portugal because it frequently runs very deep discounted business-class fares—sub-$1,000 round trips to much of Europe from the airline’s various U.S. gateways,” says Gary. The airline’s stopover program allows travelers to stay up to 10 days in either Lisbon or Porto—a great way to break up a trip to the rest of Europe, or even certain countries in southern Africa.

It’s important to note that the free stopover applies to airfare only, but passengers can also take advantage of exclusive offers and discounts at partners ranging from hotels to transportation to admission fees. (See all benefits here.)

 

Dubai via Emirates (en route to Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and India)

Dubai Connect offers one free hotel stay, one free meal, and ground transportation to and from the airport; it’s available to any Emirates passenger (regardless of cabin) who has a layover between 10 and 24 hours. The one caveat is that you must be booking the shortest connection possible for the package to be applicable; so you can’t choose the longest layover if a shorter one is available. (“This is to encourage you to use Emirates even when their flight schedules may not be ideal,” says Gary.)

While Emirates doesn’t include free city tours, it does offer hundreds of discounted activities through Dubai Experience—a collection of custom itineraries sorted into different categories such as “Adventure” and “Spa & Relaxation.” You can buy the Dubai Experience either at the time you buy your flight or afterward.

 

The I.M. Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art

The I.M. Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art in Doha

Doha via Qatar Airways (en route to Australia, Africa, India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia)

To break up ultra-long flights to places like Australia and Southeast Asia, consider booking a flight with Qatar Airways with an extended stopover in Doha. For layovers longer than 12 hours, Qatar offers discounted hotel stays (very discounted—starting at $14 per night in a four-star hotel), as well as airport transportation and city tours.

In addition, you can also book stopovers for up to four nights, where the price for four nights of four-star accommodations starts at $73.

“Visiting the Museum of Islamic Art is worth the stopover alone,” says Gary. “The museum was I.M. Pei’s last building design, and is a piece of artwork in itself.”

 

These airline stopover programs can help break up a long journey—but remember that if you want the ultimate on-the-ground experience during a three- or four-night stopover, the folks on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts are your best resource. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes.

START A WOW TRIP

 

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vintage phone

How Never to Wait on Hold with Airline Customer Service Again

While there are many apps and online tools that you can use to get help when your flight is canceled, delayed, or changed, sometimes you just really need to talk to a live person at your airline. Of course, being put on hold forever doesn’t help anyone (you or the customer-service rep you’re about to unleash your frustration on), so here are a couple of tricks to help you avoid endless waits on hold.

Call the airline’s customer-service office in a different country.

Major airlines have overseas locations where staffers speak English—in the U.K., Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, for example—and they are typically just as able to help you as their U.S.-based counterparts, as long as their office is open (not all call centers are open 24 hours) and not dealing with a local weather event.  So if you need to speak with someone at, say, American Airlines, try calling one of their worldwide phone numbers.  To keep the cost of the call down, use WhatsApp, Skype, or Google Voice.

Let someone else wait on hold.

Gary Leff, the airline expert who writes View From The Wing and founded point.me, taught me about GetHuman.com a few years ago when Snowmageddon hit. This site offers many sanity-saving aids, including: phone numbers (with shortcuts) to many companies, step-by-step guides on how to solve certain problems, and representatives who can solve the problem for you if you simply don’t want to deal with any of it.

Turn to social media

During an Antarctica cruise last year, WendyPerrin.com contributing editor Carolyn Spencer Brown learned that weather would delay her ship’s return to port. On Twitter (now X), she sent a direct message to American Airlines, which was able to quickly rebook her flight home. Reader Kathy Wood tells us she’s also had good experiences using social media to make last-minute flight changes. “I have had great luck with Delta through their Facebook page and Facebook messenger,” she tells us. “I think it does help to be polite in your post and email… not belligerent. I am really impressed with how quick and efficient this has been and how helpful the reps have been.”

Let someone else handle it all.

CrankyConcierge.com offers urgent air-travel assistance, such as rerouting when your flight is cancelled or delayed. Run by longtime airline-industry expert Brett Snyder, the company can also plan your flights from the get-go. Emergency help starts at $175.

Something to keep in mind

When you give your credit card to a customer-service agent based in another country, your card may assess a foreign-transaction fee. So use a card that does not charge foreign-transaction fees.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

view of zurich airport runway from plane window

Smartest Airports for Making Connections

It seems like every day this summer, there’s been news of massive flight cancellations. And if it’s not cancellations, it’s lost luggage, long security lines, or extreme delays. It’s enough to make any traveler wish they had a private jet at their disposal (which is actually more affordable than you’d think). However, that said, most of us are going to fly commercial and we just want the easiest, most stress-free flying experience possible. Our top recommendation is to fly nonstop whenever possible (and there are great nonstop routes coming back online all the time), but we know that’s not always an option. So when you do have to make a connection, here are the airports that will make it as hassle-free as possible. (And, if you’re flying in business class, they have great lounges.)

Thanks to our go-to air-travel gurus for their input and first-hand experience recommending the best airports for connections: Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge, and Gary Leff of View From the Wing. (Hear more from both of them in our Q&A travel talk on the best flights, fares, miles and seats.)

European airports

  • Zurich, Switzerland: Wendy chose this airport for her layover en route to Romania, and it was a breeze.
  • Munich, Germany: Wendy chose this hub for her flight back, and while the distances can be long, getting through is easy and efficient. Gary suggests this hub instead of Frankfurt airport, which can be confusing to navigate. However, he adds that while Frankfurt isn’t the most user-friendly airport, the upside is that it (and other similarly large but unpleasant hubs like Paris’s Charles de Gaulle) probably offer more flight options if something goes wrong. “While I often find smaller airports friendlier for transit,” he explains, “what I like more than a small airport with an easy layout is a place that has a lot of flights to your destination [like Amsterdam]. You can fly LOT Polish through Warsaw to a number of places, but if your flight is delayed, there may not be as many ‘backup flights’ to get on as traveling through the larger hubs.”
  •  Amsterdam, the Netherlands: The headlines this summer might make you think Schiphol is not a great option, but don’t be misled, says Brett:  “That’s really been for local passengers who go through security checkpoints, not connectors.”
  • Vienna, Austria

Asian airports

Pool at Doha Airport

Qatar’s Doha International Airport has a pool, a spa, and other amenities. Photo: Billie Cohen

It’s important to make sure you meet the entry requirements of any country you transit through in Asia. Some countries in Asia still have strict pandemic restrictions, so make sure you can actually get into whatever country you’re connecting through, in case you miss your connection and there’s not another flight that day. “Before the pandemic,” says Gary, “I’d have said that Hong Kong is a great airport. Now, there are fewer flights and I wouldn’t want to get stuck there.” With that in mind, he and Brett recommend:

  • Changi, Singapore: “There’s a reason Singapore is considered the best airport in the world by many.  It’s a marvel for everything it offers,” says Gary.
  • Incheon, South Korea
  • Dubai, U.A.E.
  • Doha, Qatar

South American airports

Brett feels that there aren’t any great airports for connections in South America.  Instead, his recommendation is that if you can connect in the US, that’s your best bet.

US airports

Even if your destination is international, it can be smart to make a connection within the US rather than overseas. As an example, Gary explains: “I live in Austin…so choosing between Detroit and Frankfurt is relevant if I’m going to, say, Paris.” Brett offers these recommendations:

  • Charlotte: “It’s a big airport, so you don’t necessarily want the really short connecting times.  But it avoids much of the airspace crunch that hits the northeast, so delays are less of an issue. Even better, if you are delayed, they have rocking chairs available for you to pass the time.”
  • Detroit: “The big Delta hub makes it easy to get to and from smaller airports in the northeast. It’s a big operation, but it’s not hard to get around. Besides, it has a train running back and forth in the terminal, and that’s just fun. It can be a useful jumping-off point for Europe and Asia alike, so it’s a good way to avoid the coasts.”
  • Seattle: “Seattle is a big and growing airport, just opening its new customs and immigration facility. If you’re heading to Asia, it’s easily the best pick of the three West Coast gateways. The constant threat of fog delays in San Francisco, along with the maze of terminal hopping that may be required at LAX, makes Seattle an easier experience. As an added bonus, it is closer to the great circle path to Asia from most US cities, so it can mean a shorter connection time.”
  • Salt Lake City and Phoenix: “People don’t think of Salt Lake and Phoenix as global hubs, and they’d be right. But Delta and its partners fly from Salt Lake to Europe, as do American and its partners from Phoenix, so for those in the western US, this is an easy way to get to Europe. The airports are easy to navigate and rarely have weather delay issues.”

Airports close to your final destination

If your connection is at an airport really close to your final destination, you give yourself more options if that flight is delayed. As Gary found out recently when helping out a cousin with a trip from Porto to Brussels. “I booked an award flight on Air France that included a train segment [from Paris] to Brussels.  And if he missed the last train of the night, well, it’s just not that hard to get from Paris to Brussels where he absolutely needed to be.”

 

 

Travel. Trip. Vacation - Top view airplane with touristic map

New Nonstop Flights To Make Your Travels Easier in 2022

My, how things can change in just a short couple of years. In 2019, there was so much promise for a host of new and exciting airline routes, but, well, we all know what happened. Very few, if any of those new flights, actually started while the pandemic raged.

Now there is hope on the horizon again. Many airlines are planning to launch those long-awaited routes next year and relaunch a few older nonstops that had been temporarily shelved, What’s more, some airlines have already announced exciting new trips that weren’t even on their minds before the pandemic.

To help you find your own excitement and inspiration, let’s take a look at the new airline routes that have either just started or are slated to start in 2022.

Europe

Austin to Amsterdam, on KLM
Austin to London/Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic

Baltimore to Reykjavik on PLAY

Boston to Athens, on Delta
Boston to Barcelona, on LEVEL
Boston to London/Heathrow, on United
Boston to Reykjavik on PLAY

Chicago/O’Hare to London/Heathrow, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Milan/Malpensa, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Reykjavik, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Rome, on United
Chicago/O’Hare to Zurich, on United

Dallas/Fort Worth to Helsinki on Finnair
Dallas/Fort Worth to Istanbul, on Turkish
Dallas/Fort Worth to Madrid, on Iberia

Denver to Paris/CDG, on Air France
Denver to Munich, on United

Detroit to Istanbul, on Turkish, will begin but no details are available

Fort Myers to Frankfurt, on Eurowings

Las Vegas to Munich, on Eurowings Discover

Los Angeles to Dublin, on Aer Lingus
Los Angeles to Frankfurt, on Condor
Los Angeles to London/Heathrow, on United
Los Angeles to Paris/Orly on Frenchbee

Newark to Athens, on United
Newark to Barcelona, on United
Newark to Bergen (Norway), on United
Newark to Dubrovnik, on United
Newark to Frankfurt, on United
Newark to London/Heathrow, on United
Newark to Nice, on United
Newark to Palma de Mallorca, on United
Newark to Paris, on Air France starting Dec 12, 2023
Newark to Ponta Delgada (Azores), on United
Newark to Rome, on United
Newark to Tenerife (Canary Islands), on United

New York/JFK to Paris, on Air France
New York/JFK to Stockholm on Delta 

Orlando to Edinburgh, on Virgin Atlantic

Portland (OR) to London/Heathrow on British Airways

Raleigh/Durham to Reykjavik on Icelandair

Salt Lake City to Frankfurt, on Eurowings

San Francisco to Frankfurt, on Condor
San Francisco to London/Heathrow, on United

Seattle to Helsinki on Finnair
Seattle to Istanbul, on Turkish

St Louis to Frankfurt on Lufthansa

Washington/Dulles to Amsterdam, on United
Washington/Dulles to Athens, on United
Washington/Dulles to Berlin, on United
Washington/Dulles to London/Heathrow, on United
Washington/Dulles to Madrid, on Iberia
Washington/Dulles to Reykjavik, on United

 

One last thing worth noting over the Atlantic: European leisure operator TUI will move its Florida gateway to… Melbourne, a small and easy airport located a little over an hour southeast of Orlando.

Melbourne, FL, to Birmingham, Doncaster/Sheffield, London/Gatwick, and Manchester

Melbourne, FL, to Bristol, Glasgow, and Newcastle in May with Edinburgh

Canada

Atlanta to Montreal, on Air Canada

Austin to Vancouver, on Air Canada

Boston to Calgary, on WestJet

Chicago/O’Hare to Toronto on Flair

Detroit to Montreal, on Air Canada

Las Vegas to Ottawa, on Flair
Las Vegas to Victoria (BC), on Swoop

Los Angeles to Montreal, on Air Transat

Nashville to Edmonton, on Flair

New York/JFK to Toronto on Flair

Salt Lake City to Toronto on Air Canada

San Diego to Montreal, on Air Canada

San Francisco to Montreal, on Air Transat

Seattle to Montreal, on Air Canada

Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands

Honolulu to Auckland, on Air New Zealand

Houston to Auckland, on Air New Zealand

Los Angeles to Auckland, on Air New Zealand
Los Angeles to Papeete (French Polynesia) on Delta, Air Tahiti Nui and Air France

New York/JFK to Auckland, on Air New Zealand, starts Sept 17, 2022

San Francisco to Auckland, on Air New Zealand
San Francisco to Papeete (French Polynesia) on United and French Bee

Middle East and Africa

Atlanta to Cape Town, on Delta, starting Dec 17, 2022
Atlanta to Tel Aviv, on Delta, starting May 10, 2023

Boston to Tel Aviv, on Delta
Boston to Tel Aviv, on El Al

Chicago to Tel Aviv, United and El Al

Dallas/Fort Worth to Tel Aviv, on American

Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, on El Al

Miami to Dubai, on Emirates

Newark to Cape Town, on United (year-round)
Newark to Johannesburg, on United
Newark to Tel Aviv, on El Al and United

New York/JFK to Doha on American
New York/JFK to Tel Aviv, on El Al, American and Delta

Miami to Tel Aviv, on El Al and American

San Francisco to Tel Aviv, on United

Washington/Dulles to Amman, on United
Washington/Dulles to Lagos, on United
Washington/Dulles to Tel Aviv, on United

Central and South America

Austin to Cozumel on American
Austin to Liberia (Costa Rica), on American

Denver to Roatan (Honduras), on United
Denver to San Jose (Costa Rica), on United

Fort Lauderdale to Barranquilla (Colombia), on Spirit
Fort Lauderdale to Bucaramanga (Colombia), on Spirit

Los Angeles to San Pedro Sula (Honduras), on United

Minneapolis/St Paul to Roatan (Honduras), on Sun Country

New York/JFK to Belo Horizonte (Brazil), on Eastern
New York/JFK to Cali (Colombia), on American
New York/JFK to Cartagena on Avianca
New York/JFK to Puerto Vallarta, on JetBlue

Newark to Cartagena, on JetBlue

New Orleans to San Pedro Sula (Honduras), on Spirit

Ontario to San Salvador, on Avianca

Orlando to Belize, on Frontier
Orlando to Cali (Colombia), on Avianca
Orlando to Liberia (Costa Rica), on Frontier
Orlando to Medellín on Avianca

San Francisco to Liberia (Costa Rica), on United

Seattle to Belize, on Alaska

Asia

New nonstop flights to Asia are slowly being added. In addition to several nonstops that have resumed.

 

Chicago to Delhi on United and Air India

Los Angeles  to Singapore, on Singapore Air
Los Angeles to Tokyo/Haneda, on United, expected by October 29, 2022
Los Angeles to Tokyo/Narita on Zip Air

Newark to Delhi on Air India
Newark to Mumbai on United and Air India
Newark to Tokyo/Haneda, on United, expected by October 29, 2022

New York/JFK to Delhi on American Airlines and Air India
New York/JFK to Mumbai on Air India
New York/JFK to Singapore on Singapore Air

Portland (OR) to Tokyo/Haneda, on Delta
Portland (OR) to Seoul/Incheon, on Delta

San Francisco to Bangalore, on United, starts October 28, 2022
San Francisco to Delhi on United and Air India
San Francisco to Singapore, on United

San Francisco to Singapore, on Singapore Air

Washington/Dulles to Tokyo/Haneda, on United, October 29, 2022

Washington DC to Delhi on Air India

Vancouver to Bangkok, on Air Canada, December 1, 2022

 

Brett Snyder is President at Cranky Concierge, a service that Wendy recommends to WOW List travelers seeking the savviest help with international airline travel. Brett’s service ferrets out the smartest routes and fares, monitors your flights, and provides emergency rerouting assistance if your flight is delayed or cancelled.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

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Live Answers to Your Travel Questions: Join Us on Zoom for WOW Week 2022 May 2–6 at 6pm EDT

 

UPDATE: WOW Week is now over. Thank you all for joining us! We have posted the Zoom recordings below, in case you missed any talks or want to share them with your friends. Stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter


 

More than two years of pent-up travel demand has suddenly been unleashed, and the result is that May and June are nearly sold out in some parts of the world. Prices are soaring, the global travel landscape is still changing weekly because of Covid, war, and other current events—and travelers who want a safe trip of the highest caliber need new strategies and tools to navigate the when, where, and how.

That’s why we’re gathering plugged-in experts for WOW Week 2022, our annual virtual get-together, which, this year, will focus on intel to help you ace 2022 and winter 2023 specifically.

At 6:00 p.m. EDT each evening, May 2–6, we’ll host a live Zoom happy hour with insiders from different parts of the travel world—including airline, insurance, and on-the-ground destination experts—who will share what you need to know, and answer your burning questions, on the timely topics below. These chats are open to all—and they are free, thanks to a generous sponsorship from Medjet, the global medical transport, travel security, and crisis response company—so tell your friends!

Registration is open now by clicking the link for each Q&A that interests you.

We can’t wait to see you there!

—Wendy and the team

 


 

Unique Travel Opportunities For 2022 And Beyond

Monday May 2 at 6pm EDT

The shift in the pandemic and other current global circumstances have led to a unique travel landscape this year, from which unusual opportunities are emerging. Join us to learn about how and where to get a better travel experience in 2022.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

How to Protect Yourself and Have Peace of Mind

Tuesday May 3 at 6pm EDT

It may feel like the pandemic is over, but if you are planning a trip, there are specific things you need to do in order to protect yourself. In this talk, experts from the fields of health, travel insurance, and emergency assistance tell you how to prepare.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Solutions for Summer

Wednesday May 4 at 6pm EDT

It seems like everyone in the world is flooding back to Italy, France, and Greece this summer. Given the sold-out hotels and soaring prices in many dream locations, where can you still get a Covid-safe and iconic experience this summer? We’ll discuss your smartest options.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

Winter Travel: The holidays and beyond

Thursday May 5 at 6pm EDT

Did you get shut out of France and Italy this summer? Consider those countries’ festive holiday spots for Thanksgiving or Christmas instead. We’ll talk about smart and unexpected winter options—from tropical beaches to European Christmas markets to Antarctica cruises to seeing the northern lights—for this year’s winter holidays all the way through to 2023’s spring break.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Smart Airline Travel in 2022: Best flights, seats, and fares

Friday May 6 at 6pm EDT

Is there any affordable airfare anywhere in the world this year? And, if so, where? Air travel watchdogs Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Concierge, and Gary Leff, founder of View From the Wing and Book Your Award, reveal what you can expect from airlines and airfares in 2022: when to buy your tickets, how to choose the safest flights, where to find business-class bargains, how to get the most value for your miles, and much more.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

A big thank-you to our WOW Week sponsor, Medjet.

Medjet is a global air medical transport and travel security membership program that can give travelers greater peace of mind. Their sponsorship enables me, Billie, Brook, Kristine, and the rest of our growing team to spend time answering your travel questions and finding the smartest trip-planning specialists for you.

travel planning with a credit card passport map and phone on table

The Best Credit Cards for Travelers

Whether you’re actually traveling or working your way toward a trip, the right credit card can be a big help in getting you there.

There are three things that rewards credit cards can do for you, and it’s important to know why you’ve taken a particular card, and to use it accordingly.

Some are best for the initial bonus miles. They’ll give you a ton of points for taking the card, but there’s not really a reason to keep the card after you’ve earned the bonus.

Some are best for ongoing spending. They reward you with valuable points, and lots of them—bonuses for spending on travel, dining, groceries, and the like.

Some are best for the valuable perks. If you fly an airline a lot but not quite enough to earn elite status, the airline’s co-branded credit card will give you many of the same perks, such as priority boarding and free checked bags. Still others get you lounge access or special discounts on airfare. You want to carry these cards, but you don’t necessarily want to put spending on them.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Card became the ‘it’ card on the market when it launched three years ago with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus, though that’s been dialed back to a still-generous 50,000 points. Ongoing spending is rewarded generously with triple points on travel and dining. The points can either be used to purchase airfare directly at 1.5 cents in value per point or transferred to a variety of airline and hotel frequent-flier programs. And though the annual fee was just increased to $550, the card’s perks are still generous: a $300 travel credit, credit of the application fee for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS, and a Priority Pass Select card with unlimited visits and privileges for two complimentary guests each time, providing lounge access in over 30 U.S. airports and to about 1,300 airport lounges around the world. In terms of travel protections, you’ll get primary collision-damage coverage when you rent cars, along with coverage for lost bags and long flight delays (something Citibank cards lack), and there are no foreign-transaction fees. However, along with the increased fee there have been some nips and tucks to the benefits: The trip cancellation coverage no longer includes when a travel provider goes bankrupt; you’re limited to two guests in airport lounges, they no longer give points on the spending that’s rebated to you as part of the $300 travel credit, and they no longer give you the travel credit twice in your first year. On the other hand, the card now offers Lyft benefits (ten points per dollar) and a complimentary DoorDash DashPass for discounted food delivery.

Here are some of the best cards in each category:

Cards With the Best Bonuses for Signing Up

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: You’ll earn 80,000 points after spending $4,000 on the card within three months. This isn’t the biggest number bonus you’ll ever see, but the points are among the most valuable out there, transferring to airlines including United, British Airways, Air France KLM, Emirates and Singapore, and to hotel programs including Hyatt and Marriott. The card has a $95 annual fee.

If you have a small business, then the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card will be very tempting. You’ll earn 100,000 points after spending $15,000 on purchases within three months of opening your account. This card earns the same transferable points as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve, so they transfer to various airlines and hotels.

Cards that are Best for Ongoing Spending

All of these cards earn flexible points that can be transferred to a variety of different airline or hotel programs. That way you aren’t locked into a single program—you can choose where to put your points once you know where you’d like to travel and who has the best award availability at that time. The flexibility of points alone makes them more attractive than airline-specific credit cards, and they often earn points at a faster rate, too.

Chase Sapphire Reserve: The card earns a valuable currency that transfers to several airline and hotel programs, and it also earns triple points on all travel and all dining. It’s a Visa card, so it is accepted almost everywhere, and there are no foreign-transaction fees either.

American Express Gold Card: American Express renamed the “Premier Rewards Gold” card and really improved it. It earns 4 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and supermarkets (the latter on up to $25,000 in spend annually), and 3 points per dollar with airlines. It has a $250 annual fee, which is somewhat offset by a $120 annual dining credit with certain food delivery services and restaurants and $120 annual Uber credit.

Capital One Venture X: The cards above all earn well in spending bonus categories. Consider the one that best matches your own spending patterns. But use it only for spending in those categories! You don’t want to earn just 1 point per dollar on the rest of your spend. If the opportunity cost of $1 in spending on a rewards card is $1 in spending on a 2% cash back card, then you’re effectively buying points at 2 cents apiece when using the rewards card for un-bonused spending. That’s too expensive! Earning with a card like Capital One Venture X for all of the rest of your spending makes sense, since it earns 2 points per dollar on all charges—and the points can either be redeemed directly against paid travel or transferred to airline and hotel loyalty programs. This card has a $395 annual fee, but comes with a $300 annual travel credit for bookings made at Capital One Travel (whether hotels, airline tickets, etc.) plus 10,000 bonus miles every account anniversary and comes with a Priority Pass membership for airport lounge access as well as access to Capital One’s own airport lounges. They have a partnership that provides Hertz Presidents Club status, and authorized users of the card come at no annual fee—and these cards are entitled to Priority Pass and Hertz status as well.

Cards With the Best Perks and Benefits

Generally, airline co-branded credit cards are worthwhile for the benefits if you fly one airline most of the time but don’t fly enough to earn elite status. You’ll get waived checked-baggage fees and priority boarding (so you can avoid having to gate-check your carry-on when the plane runs out of overhead-bin space). With United’s card you’ll also get two annual airline lounge passes. These cards aren’t as rewarding as the others on this list, though, for your ongoing spend. So consider getting them for the benefits, but put your spending on other cards.

American Express Platinum: This card is great for lounge access. It gets you into Delta lounges when flying Delta, as well as into American Express’s own network of Centurion lounges and it comes with a Priority Pass Select card, which provides access to lounges around the world (but not credit at Priority Pass airport restaurants). You also get National Car Rental’s Executive status (that means you can pick from better cars when you rent), Hilton’s Gold status (good for upgrades and breakfast), and Marriott’s Gold status (which enables you to avoid unfortunate rooms and get 2pm late checkout). You also get an annual credit of $200 for airline fees, an annual Uber credit of $200 and an annual credit of $100 at Saks; $240 Digital Entertainment Credit; $179 CLEAR credit; $300 Equinox credit and more. That all, to me, makes this card’s $695 annual fee worth paying.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature: This Bank of America card comes with the unique benefit of a $99+tax companion ticket that isn’t like most companion tickets in travel—it really is good for any seat on any of their flights. If you pay for an economy ticket on Alaska, you can book a companion for only slightly more than $100. I consider the companion ticket to be worth the card’s $75 annual fee, since it’s good throughout Alaska’s route network—even for trips between the U.S. East Coast and Hawaii.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Nafplio or Nafplion, Greece, Peloponnese old town houses aerial panorama and snow mountains

When and Where to Use Your Airline Miles This Year

Frequent travelers want to know the best time to start tapping into that stockpile of credit card points and miles they’ve been racking up during the pandemic, plus the destinations and airlines where those awards will stretch the furthest. For some timely tips, we reached out to miles-and-points expert Gary Leff, who reports on this topic on a daily basis at View From the Wing and who founded Book Your Award, the go-to flight-planning service for getting the best value for your miles and points.

In his own words, here are ten things Gary wants travelers to know about airline miles right now:

1. Points are worth less now than pre-pandemic and will continue to devalue over time. So use them now!

“Airlines tried to hold onto cash during the pandemic. As a result, awards they typically have to pay cash for (like award seats on their partners) became more expensive. Delta’s SkyMiles and United’s MileagePlus now charge more for award travel on partner airlines (like ​​Vietnam Airlines and Air Canada, among many others) than they used to. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points can be used on any seat on the airline—that’s expensive, so Southwest has also reduced the value of their points.

In short: Points are worth less today than they were before the pandemic, and they will most likely continue to devalue with time. The lesson, though, is the same as it was pre-pandemic: Points will never be worth more in the future than they are today. You should use your points now and then start earning them again, rather than saving them all for a future date.”

2. Award flexibility, however, is more lenient than ever—so go ahead and book tickets now, then cancel and rebook if a better deal comes along.

“Cancellation and mileage-redeposit policies of each airline will vary, but in general, award flexibility is greater than before. There were pandemic travel waivers, but also fundamental changes in airlines’ awards programs. American AAdvantage eliminated cancellation and redeposit fees entirely. United has eliminated cancellation and redeposit fees entirely for domestic itineraries, and allows free cancellation for international itineraries a month in advance. Delta has eliminated these fees entirely for travel that originates in the U.S.

Traditionally, the best times to book award travel have been when schedules load: around 12 months out, 6 months out, and in the few days prior to departure. But since tickets bought with points provide such flexibility right now, there’s no downside to locking in a trip ASAP and then canceling/rebooking if a better deal comes along later.

Given the uncertainty in the world, airlines have been holding back more seats until closer to departure. The pandemic has meant that booking late can lead to better results more often than in the recent past. So while there is a good chance that better options (a nonstop versus a connecting flight, or a better airline partner) will arise closer to your travel dates, current ticket flexibility means you can make those improvements at little or no cost.”

3. You’ll find the most valuable seats on long-haul, international flights. The least valuable seats are on domestic flights to leisure destinations.

“During the pandemic there’s been greater demand for domestic travel to leisure destinations (like Florida and Colorado) and close-in international leisure destinations (especially Mexico). That makes awards for those routes tougher to get and pricier when you get them—and thus worse value. The best value comes from the most expensive tickets for seats that are going unsold; right now, that applies to long-haul international premium cabin travel on flights that aren’t full. For example, you could spend as few as 60,000 miles to fly roundtrip business class between the East Coast and Spain on Iberia.

Those differences in value were there before the pandemic, but it’s become doubly true over the past couple of years.”

4. You’ll also generally find better seats on non-U.S. airlines.

“Uncertain times may mean that airlines are a bit more conservative making award seats available—they don’t want to risk giving up a seat for points that they might sell for cash. And many airlines haven’t fully rebuilt their international networks and schedules yet, so there’s fewer international seats available than pre-pandemic. That can make it tougher to get these seats. I’m finding the best availability, though, on non-U.S. airlines that fly to the U.S. On the whole they bring back their flights earlier than demand, there are more empty seats, and so more mileage awards are available.”

5. Unfortunately, business class seats are tougher to buy with awards right now.

“One thing that’s made business class awards harder to get is that many airlines have retired  their larger planes or kept them grounded. There are relatively more smaller Boeing 787s flying than larger 777s, and several airlines have dropped A380s entirely. That means fewer seats and fewer premium seats on each flight, making business awards harder to get.

If you are specifically looking for business class seats, however, some award programs are better than others. Right now (e.g. over the past week) there’s been great availability on Emirates (for their U.S.–Europe flights), Turkish (from most U.S. gateways. and they serve more countries than any other airline in the world), Singapore Airlines, and SWISS (especially their New York JFK–Geneva and Montreal–Zurich flights, great for connecting most places in Europe).  That covers Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. South America is often tougher.

Note that award availability changes frequently with many airlines, so this can all come and go in a matter of days.”

6. Now is the time to start (or continue) using travel credit cards.

“Card programs have become more robust during the pandemic. American Express and Chase were already strong, but Capital One has gotten much better improving its transfer ratios with nearly all partners to 1:1, and Bilt [a loyalty program for rent payments] has entered the scene in the past few months as a strong transferable points currency. Any of these can deliver great international business class awards because their points transfer to a variety of airlines across Star Alliance, oneworld Alliance, SkyTeam, and non-alliance carriers.”

limestone rock jutting out of water in the islands of Thailand

Award travel availability to Southeast Asian destinations, like Thailand, are good right now. Photo: eltonmaxim / Pixabay

7. Flights to Southeast Asia are currently a great value for your points.

“Right now is the moment in time to grab award tickets to Asia, as countries are just re-opening and many travelers have already booked their 2022 plans. For instance, Singapore Airlines has had great award availability and represents a great way to get to Southeast Asia. It’s becoming possible to travel to Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, for instance, but much of this year is a loss for those destinations.”

My general advice is to travel where it’s desirable to go but where other travelers aren’t going, because that means excess unsold airline seats for awards and other elements of the trip may be better value, too (and the destination less crowded). While tourism in Europe has started to regain its footing, that isn’t yet true for many destinations outside of the continent.”

8. If you do want awards tickets to Europe, Emirates has been a strong option.

“Emirates has just recently had great availability in business class to Europe; and while Emirates Skywards has raised the cost of many awards, they’ve left Europe untouched.

Over the past couple of months I’ve had great luck with redemptions on Emirates, and they don’t just fly from the U.S. to Dubai but also from JFK to Milan and Newark to Athens. Every major transferable bank currency’s points can be moved to Emirates Skywards. (But never do this until you find the availability you want!)”

9. For travel to Africa, try British Airways points through Qatar Airways

Just last week, Qatar Airways awards became substantially cheapers using British Airways Avios. You can use Avios to fly Qatar Airways to Doha and beyond, including Africa. (BA just reduced the number of points and surcharges required for this, and they are a transfer of Chase, American Express, and Capital One.)

10. Consider flights to countries that aren’t fully re-opened yet.

“Airlines are usually making their ‘low level’ mileage awards available out of seat inventory they don’t expect to sell—this availability varies by airline, but most international airlines that are reopening routes before there’s demand have more inventory. One great strategy is to book awards far in the future for destinations that aren’t fully re-opened, assuming that they will be at some point. There’s usually little demand for flights to these countries and reasonably good award inventory. If it turns out the destination still isn’t open enough to be viable to visit, you can probably cancel the ticket for free now.” (See tip #2.)

One more tip

If you have lingering questions about premium international air travel to specific destinations or routes, reach out to Gary’s team at Book Your Award (here’s how it works). He also recommends point.me—a new subscription tool for searching awards across a variety of airlines. “You enter where you want to go, then it shows you the options available for your dates and walks you through booking the flight with helpful step-by-step guides, and even videos showing how to transfer points where needed and how to make the reservation,” he says. “This product just launched with substantial venture capital backing.” Otherwise, each airline lets members search for award tickets for free.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

 

Shadow of an airliner over a blue water and a white-sand beach.

When Is the Best Time to Buy Airfare This Year?

Given the rise in fuel prices that’s happening now, given the surge in people who want to travel this summer, and given the no-fly zone over Russia, when should travelers buy their airline tickets for flights this year? We spoke to two air travel experts to get their insights.

If you’re traveling this summer

“For summer, buy now,” says Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Concierge, a service that not only helps people find and book the best flight options, but also monitors those flights for schedule changes. “Things are starting to get tight, and it might already be too late for the best availability.”

Savanthi Syth, Global Airlines Analyst for Raymond James Financial, agrees. “If there is no change fee, I think travelers should book tickets now. Fares are likely to remain high for the summer due to strong demand, constrained supply (as airlines make sure they have enough crew to avoid operational issues experienced last year), and fuel likely to remain elevated at least in the near term and possibly longer.”

Snyder is seeing that too. “You are starting to see higher fares, especially in premium cabins,” he says. “The lowest fares are long gone—especially to Europe.”

If you’re traveling this fall or winter

“For the fall and beyond, I would hold off, especially for airlines that have change fees,” Syth says. “If you plan on traveling around Thanksgiving or Christmas, I would recommend booking if you see a good fare, but can probably be patient otherwise. That said, I would not recommend waiting on booking those flights too close in, as demand around peak leisure travel periods has been resilient throughout the pandemic, once travel restrictions were lifted.”

And as Snyder explains, airfare pricing is tied to demand. “Loosely, 100 days before travel is when airlines start to play close attention to demand and set pricing to match.” That means that if you buy a ticket, say, a year in advance, that fare is just a rack rate—and most likely high. “There may be exceptions like on Christmas or Thanksgiving. But for normal travel periods, they just put in high fares.”

So when is the right time? “The answer is always ‘whenever you’re ready’,” says Snyder. “If travelers want the comfort of having it locked in, great for them. Others want to wait to see if it comes down. We just always tell people, if you see a ticket at a price you think is fair, get it. You’re going to spend so much time and energy trying to game the system and get the best deal that it’s often not going to be worth it.”

Not everything is changing, though. “You will continue to see fare sales at certain points, as you have seen in the past (like the end of summer), and I would take advantage of those if you can,” Syth says. “Some airlines are trying to encourage the use of points, so I would recommend checking what it would cost based on dollars or points before booking.”

The benchmarks or flags that travelers should look for

Contrary to what you might think, the red flag is not the increase in fuel prices. It’s the decrease in airlines’ capacity. “Fares don’t move just because gas gets pricey,” Snyder explains. “What changes is the number of seats the airlines put out there. They’ll look at their plan and say, ‘This made sense back when fuel was cheap, but now we need higher fares. We can’t just raise fares, so we’re going to cut back on flights and reduce the number of seats we’re putting out on the market because more people are fighting for fewer seats.’ So if you see them cutting capacity, you can expect higher fares.”

Where will you see it? Right in the news. Alaska and JetBlue both made mainstream headlines when they recently trimmed their flights and routes (and Cranky Concierge’s newsletter also covers those updates).

Will economy fares and premium fares be affected differently?

Syth thinks they are both likely to go up. “However, if there is a strong recovery in business demand, premium fares might go up faster this year,” she says. She notes that during the pandemic some travelers were willing to pay more for that better experience. “So far that seems to be holding, but I am not sure how long that lasts.”

Snyder also wonders about this. “They can raise the price, but if people won’t pay it, it doesn’t matter. Now people are paying more for their gas in cars and more for other goods, so they have less to pay for airfare.”

How international fares are likely to be affected

As both Syth and Snyder point out, fare trends depend on the destination, as well as factors such as how many flights go there, how big those planes are, how many travelers want to travel to go there, and global politics.

“I suspect Latin America will see cheaper fare offerings in the near- to medium-term than the Transatlantic, particularly to South America (although possibly not on U.S. airlines),” says Syth. “Asia will be a bit more mixed. Demand is low, so you would expect good fares, but capacity has also been pared back significantly. Also the Russia-Ukraine conflict has made it difficult for U.S. airlines to serve some South Asian destinations. Here too, it will vary by country.“

That said, both experts say Europe is going to be expensive because everyone wants to travel there. “You have two things going on: You have general demand of everyone wanting to travel, and you also have Asia off limits, so everyone is focusing on Europe,” Snyder says.

 

teenager at airport at night wearing mask and looking at 2 phones

Tips for Surviving This Summer’s Flight Delays

After my fifth flight this summer, I wanted to share some tips for other people flying in the U.S. now because U.S. airports and airplanes are like the wild west. Anything can happen, and you may need to fend for yourself. Expect long waits, lines, closed services, and staff shortages.

Every flight I’ve taken during Covid (including my first one back in June 2020) has been delayed at least an hour and a half, and multiple times we’ve been on a six-hour flight for nine or ten hours. They may not serve drinks or food on the plane, and many shops and restaurants in the airports are closed, which means you might be thirsty or hungry for long periods of time. I’ve seen long lines for lost luggage, so do not pack anything with significant value. On a flight from San Francisco to New York, we were diverted to Cleveland and stuck on the tarmac for two hours in the middle of the night because there was nobody in the airport who had the proper certification to operate the gate. They had to go wake someone up at their house. The next morning, we had to stand in line for a paper boarding pass to get back onto our flight, since none of the check-in machines worked and we had to see an agent (who spent 25 minutes trying to get a dog ticketed for another flight). Our TSAPre didn’t work with the paper ticket either. In addition, boarding was alphabetical because they didn’t have a scanner at the gate.

Based on the flight problems I’ve seen and experienced this summer, here is my advice for families headed to the airport:

1. Bring two different types of masks that sit on your face differently. Because you could be in your mask for a very long time. From entering the airport to exiting your destination airport, it may be many hours before you can get outside again.

2. Pack for any climate. You could land in a place where the climate is completely different from where you expected to land. The air temperature on the plane can vary greatly too. So, if you’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt, bring long pants and a hoodie. And always have a spare toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on.

3. You might not have access to food when you want it, so bring enough snacks to last you. We were stuck on a plane for more than nine hours (on a five-hour flight) with basic snacks served early in the flight. A lot of airport shops aren’t open yet or are closed when you’re there. Especially if you need special foods like gluten-free or vegan, bring it with you!

4. Expect your flight time to change at the last minute. It could likely change multiple times. Make sure you’re getting notifications from your airline to your phone. We were getting updates on the phone while the pilot said she was getting none.

5. For long delays in the gate area, quickly find a spot off the floor where you can lie flat. Quickly because you may find yourself in competition with 250 other passengers. We found a very wide padded windowsill where we could sleep. Or at least lie flat and keep our carry-ons with us.

6. Use the restroom right before you get on the plane. Because of delays on the tarmac, you may not be able to get up from your seat for a long time after takeoff. You may be stuck in your seat for a while after landing too, because they’re trying to find a gate for your plane. So use it again before the landing process starts and the seatbelt sign goes on.

7. If you land in a different location than expected, don’t rely on the airline for anything. Be prepared to find your own hotel room and transportation to it. We were on the last plane to divert from Newark, so the other planes had gotten all the hotel rooms near the airport. The airline made an announcement that we all had to figure it out for ourselves because every room near the airport was booked. (They gave us a paper that stated their reimbursement policy of approx. $200 per passenger.) My older brother Charlie managed to find us a room in Cleveland at 1:00 a.m. because he searched for one downtown, farther away. He got us an Uber to get there. At the hotel, he had to explain our situation to the night manager so that she would waive the two-night minimum stay.

8. Don’t assume you’re getting back on the same plane you took off on. When you leave a plane, take everything with you. And make sure your bags have your mobile phone number on them, in case they get lost.

9. Fly nonstop when you can. On each delayed flight, the only thing that made it better was that we didn’t have to catch a connecting flight. A lot of people missed their connecting flights. So take nonstop flights when you can. And if you’re flying to an event you can’t miss—like a wedding or boarding a cruise ship—you might want to fly a day early.

As for our night in Cleveland, we wish we’d had either much more time there (to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or a Cleveland Indians game) or much less.

 


 

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Aerial view of Athens Greece from airplane June 4 2021

6 Things I Learned About Taking an International Flight to a Recently Reopened Country

I’ve just landed in Greece, after a nine-hour nonstop flight from New York. Here are five things I learned about taking an international flight to a recently reopened country.

Check the situation at the gate at least an hour before boarding—it is likely to be hectic.

When I arrived at JFK two hours before my flight to Athens, I passed through security in less than a minute (really!), but at the gate I found a scene that was a mess. For one thing, the flight was packed—it was a big plane (2-4-2 configuration in economy) and nearly every single seat was taken, which meant that there were a ton of people huddled around the gate. But what made it worse was that everyone was queued up in a very, very long line for a reason that few people seemed to understand. Some thought it was the usual pre-boarding lineup. Others thought we had to get verified for something before we’d be allowed to board. Still others weren’t sure if this was a verification line only for people who had to show their Covid test and if there was a separate line for vaccinated people.

Delta representatives were at the gate, but they were not using a PA system to make announcements, just shouting occasionally—so you couldn’t hear anything. We all waited, wondering what we were supposed to be doing. I got the feeling that the airline staff was feeling the same way. As rules change and solidify for the countries we’re traveling to, the airlines are tasked with a lot of the prep work—and they don’t yet have good systems in place. This is why boarding was scheduled to start an hour before departure, but it was still a confusing hour. So if you’re the kind of traveler who usually saunters to the gate right around boarding time, do yourself a favor and (a) get to the airport at minimum two hours ahead of your flight and (b) head to the gate as soon as you get through security so that you can evaluate the situation and find out whether you need to start queuing up early for any verification process that has suddenly popped up.

In my case, it turned out that the airline staff wanted to look at everyone’s passport, boarding pass, and official Passenger Locator Form—a contact-tracing form from the Greek government that had to be submitted online prior to departure. (To make things more complicated, when some passengers had filled out the form, me included, they got confirmation emails that the QR-coded, approved document wouldn’t arrive in their email inbox until midnight on the day of their arrival in Greece—and since our flight was an overnight flight that started the day before, we only had proof of submission but not the actual approved form. In the end, the frazzled single Delta staff member tasked with checking the documentation allowed this, but there was a lot of stress among my fellow passengers as to whether they’d be allowed to board.)

Print everything out.

If you keep all your documents on your phone (boarding pass, vaccine/test proof, and any government-required health forms), you’re going to have to shuffle through a bunch of apps when an official asks to see each one. If it’s allowed, you might want to go old-school and print everything out on paper so you can hand over the stack in one fell swoop rather than wrestling with your phone. In fact, the Delta attendant asked me for a paper boarding pass—maybe it makes their lives a little easier too.

Carry a scarf—it’s even more important now.

This is a classic tip, but there’s a new reason why a scarf is part of my essential plane gear. Delta put a blanket and pillow on every seat (yes, even in economy) for the overnight flight, but I couldn’t help but wonder: How clean are they? How are airplane pillows sanitized? The blanket came wrapped in plastic, which I guess indicates that it came from the cleaners. However, the pillows were not wrapped in anything—it was just a pillow in a pillowcase, and I couldn’t tell if the pillowcases were disposable or had been cleaned, as they were just sitting there on the seat on top of the blanket. So throwing a scarf or an extra shirt over the top can act as a personal pillowcase.

Eat at a different time than everyone else.

We took off at 5:15 pm NYC time, and dinner was served shortly after we boarded. Of course everyone took off their masks to eat (quick shout-out to all the passengers, because almost everyone wore their masks correctly; and kudos to the Delta flight crew, who politely nudged noncompliant passengers throughout the flight). Even though I’m vaccinated, and I know that airplanes are pretty safe environments, I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable dining with a few hundred strangers with their masks off. So I decided to wait to have my meal until everyone around me had finished eating and put their masks back on. This had two additional perks: First, I was able to use the bathrooms before the inevitable post-meal rush left them nasty. Second, delaying my meal meant that I could go right to sleep after we took off and therefore get on Greece time more effectively (it was midnight in Greece when our flight took off, we landed at 10am, and I am writing this feeling well rested and ready to get on with my day). When I woke a few hours later, I could eat while everyone else was masked. (I had brought my own food, but if you prefer to eat what they’re handing out, ask a flight attendant to hold your meal.)

Look for open seats at the last minute.

On my way to the airport, I checked the seat plan on the Delta app to see if there were any open rows left on my flight. I already knew the plane was going to be packed, but I also knew there’d been a few of the paid “preferred” rows still available when I checked that morning, and I was considering using my miles to upgrade. But I wanted to wait until closer to the flight time because I also knew I’d be frustrated if I spent the miles expecting to have a two-seat row to myself only to have someone snatch up the other seat at the last second. It was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off: I got the aisle spot in a two-seat row, and no one took the window. I don’t know why that row was considered “preferred”—it wasn’t an exit row, and the seats were the same size as the others—but my 9,500 SkyMiles points purchase ended up being worth it. I had more space for my own Covid-related comfort, and I could stretch out to sleep. If you don’t want to upgrade to a premium class or even a comfort-plus category seat (which was sold out on this flight), you could try this hack and see if you can get a little more space at the last minute.

Get the VIP fast-track pick-up for when you land at your destination.

Ironically, the entry process once I landed in Greece ran a lot smoother, and took a lot less time, than the boarding process in New York. That’s partly because the ground staff in the country you’re traveling to probably knows exactly what they need and how the process works. But it’s also because Mina Agnos, one of Wendy’s recommended travel fixers for Greece, booked a VIP fast-track pick-up service for me: A guide met me with a sign before I entered the passport control area and whisked me past the line of other passengers. First I flashed my CDC vaccine card and my Passenger Locator Form (as promised, the official version with the QR code was in my inbox when I landed, although no one ended up actually scanning the code). Then my fast-track fixer brought me to a special, no-line window to get my passport stamp. Several dozen people were on the regular line, and I expect there would be even more of a crowd as our plane continued to unload all its passengers. Not only did this whole process take just a few minutes, but it also alleviated the stress of dealing with the unfamiliar logistics of our Covid-travel era. With my fast-track fixer at my side, I knew that if I ran into a problem, she could communicate with whatever authorities might have questions, aid me in solving them, and help me get any additional support I needed.


We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Where to Travel in 2021: What’s open, what’s worth it

Every week more countries are reopening to U.S. travelers, but which will deliver a Covid-era experience you’ll be happy with?  We asked our WOW Listers based around the world to share on-the-ground intelligence in a live conversation and Q&A on May 3, 2021. During this WOW Week talk, they shared smart options for travelers and weighed in on whether you’re better off going soon, or later this year, or next year instead.

The hour was packed with valuable trip-planning insights, which we’ve outlined here for quick reference.  Watch the video above for the full conversation (start at 3:25, which is when viewers had arrived and we got started in earnest.)  For a complete list of the countries that are open to U.S. travelers now, click here.  And for a list of the countries where vaccinated U.S. travelers can go with no pre-trip testing required, click here.

North America

The most popular U.S. national parks will be packed this summer. Forward the video to 10:40 to learn about lesser-known yet spectacular national parks.  Read reviews of superb national-park trips that our readers have taken during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to ensure your own national-parks trip is extraordinary.

To hear about Colorado ski resorts in summertime (where you’ll find 5-star hotels at 3-star prices) and Hawaii specials, skip to 13:10. Read reviews of exciting ski-resort and tropical-resort vacations during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a five-star mountain or beach vacation.

To learn how to visit Disney World safely, skipping the lines and enjoying private experiences, forward the video to 16:10.  Read reviews of Disney trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward Disney trip.

For Alaska by small expedition ship (think Glacier Bay all to yourself, with no large cruise ships and everyone on your ship vaccinated), skip to 17:45.  Use our questionnaire for a low-risk Alaska adventure.

To learn about safe travel to Mexico, with no pre-trip Covid testing required, skip to 20:47.  Read reviews of successful Mexico trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Tropical Islands

Think Belize for Caribbean beaches, coral reefs, and boating adventures, and forward the video to 25:00. Read reviews of Belize trips during the pandemic so you can understand why we’re recommending it so highly, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, low-hassle trip there.

If your dream is a private overwater bungalow in Tahiti or Bora Bora, skip to 28:30 to learn how French Polynesia has kept Covid cases low. Read reviews of these islands during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire to get your own extraordinary experience of French Polynesia.

To learn about safe sailing in the Galapagos Islands, with few other boats around, skip to 32:00. Read reviews of Galapagos trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

Pre-Covid-style private-island idylls in the Maldives are addressed at 36:14. Read about Brook’s trip to the Maldives during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward trip there.

“Outdoor Museums”: A Unique Moment for Iconic Sights Without the Crowds

Soak up Croatia‘s medieval walled towns and charming islands, minus the tour groups and cruise hordes that normally pack the streets in summertime.  Learn more at 48:06.  Read reviews of carefully planned Croatia trips during the pandemic, and use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, high-reward experience there.

Turkey‘s legendary archaeological sites are all but empty, no tour groups or cruise crowds in sight.  Watch the video at 50:42, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Turkey trip.

In Morocco,  you can stroll the winding alleyways in the medinas of Marrakech and Fez with few people around and enjoy private, plush, well-ventilated villas, with external entrances off charming courtyards, at a great value. Watch at 1:16:08, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Morocco trip.

Egypt has few visitors at its tombs and temples now, and you can spend most of your time outdoors, sailing in feluccas along the Nile and dining al fresco. Skip to 1:13:10 to learn more, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary Egypt trip.

African Safaris: If You’re Vaccinated, an Optimal Moment is Actually Right Now

A well-constructed Kenya safari can be safe from start to finish, with physical distancing, private vehicles, standalone accommodations, and abundant wildlife throughout.  Local infections are low in much of Africa, and in Victoria Falls, the gateway to Zimbabwe, the entire local population has been vaccinated.  Watch at 1:03:18 and read reviews of safe safaris during the pandemic. Then use our questionnaire for your own low-risk, extraordinary safari.

In Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia, private and socially-distanced experiences are easily had now, and you will pay much less this year than next. (As we learned from professor of pathology Dr. Timothy Triche in our to-be-published-soon WOW Week Zoom talk on May 4, the situation in South Africa has improved dramatically, it looks like herd immunity has been reached there, and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective against the South Africa variant.)  Watch at 1:05:50, and use our questionnaire for a low-risk, high-reward safari.

Western Europe: Summer and Fall Possibilities

Consider France in the fall, once the summer crowds from other European countries have dissipated.  Forward the video to 41:20, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to France.

Italy’s iconic museums and monuments, as well as transportation around the country, are all operating at reduced capacity, so book ahead to get the timing you want. A WOW trip should be feasible starting in July. Watch at 56:10, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to Italy.

Fall is a lovely time for Italy’s many outdoor delights, from ancient ruins to village-to-village hikes to cooking experiences on farms and in vineyards. Skip to 59:00 and use our questionnaire for safe itineraries in Italy’s countryside this fall.

Thanks to the success of the vaccination roll-outs in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, travel without quarantine could resume between the two countries as early as this summer. Watch at 1:01:17, and use our questionnaire for an extraordinary trip to the U.K.



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Smarter Airline Travel in 2021: Best flights, seats, and fares

 

In one of our travel talks for WOW Week 2021, air travel watchdogs Brett Snyder, founder of Cranky Concierge, and Gary Leff , founder of View From the Wing and Book Your Award, revealed what you can expect from airlines and airfares this year, when to buy your tickets, how to choose the safest flights, where to find business-class bargains, how to get the most value for your miles, and much more.

Our conversation included:

• Airfare pricing trends
• Domestic airfare vs. international airfare
• Business-class deals
• How frequent-flier programs have changed
• Airlines’ change fees and refund policies
• Health and safety while flying
• Airfare predictions for holiday travel in 2021
• Buying tickets through an online service vs. the airline or a travel agent

Here are excerpts from our talk; answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Airfare price predictions

Brett Snyder: It’s been an interesting roller coaster over the last year, to say the least. What we’re seeing with airfare now is that, as demand is starting to get a lot stronger domestically, a lot of those deals that we saw just a few months ago aren’t there anymore. There are still deals to be had, of course, depending on when you’re flying, but for the most part, fares are rising domestically.  Internationally, it’s a bit more of a crapshoot. I would say that, to some places that we know Americans can visit this year, it’s unlikely you’re going to find these amazing deals right now, and the airlines know that—they know where you can go.  But what we have seen a lot of is refundable fares that are much lower than they used to be in a lot of places. And that is really a nice option for people. The difference between non-refundable and refundable used to be so ridiculous that it just wasn’t worth considering. But that’s something that’s changed a lot. So, on the whole, if you see a hot destination where people are going, the chances are less that you’re going to get a better deal than if you’re going to somewhere else.

Gary Leff:  The general principle is the same that it’s always been: Where the price of airfare is driven by supply and demand, and where there are a lot of people wanting to travel somewhere, it’s going to cost more to get there. Back in March, I was able to buy $31 tickets from Austin, where I live, to Miami.  I’m not able to do anything like that anymore.  Airlines are going to scale back up their capacity—they’re beginning to do that over the next few weeks.  If the return of travel continues, as it seems highly likely to, we’re going to see airfares rise as well.

To Brett’s point about refundable tickets being cheaper:  There are deals on business-class tickets, but it varies by destination.  One of the things that’s changed is who’s traveling: The people who used to buy refundable tickets aren’t the ones who are traveling now or they’re not the ones buying the tickets for work. The people who were buying long-haul business class don’t have employers paying for it for business travel. And so there’s a compression as well to some extent. About a week ago, there were $900 roundtrips on TAP Air Portugal business class between the US and Europe. Now, that was a deal worth jumping on. It was before we saw some of the latest news about Europe’s opening.  United shared during their earnings call that, as soon as the word came out that Americans could visit Greece, the number of searches on their website skyrocketed, and the number of ticket purchases on their Athens flights skyrocketed. So, if you’re going where everyone else is going and searching where everyone else is searching, then it’s going to be more expensive, but not necessarily more expensive than it was before the pandemic. So we sort of need to attenuate our expectations. It’s not the $13 cross-country fares that we saw a year ago. But it is not outsized expense, relative to the past.

Bargain-hunting for international flights

Brett: It all goes back to supply and demand again, for the most part, but sometimes foreign airlines have mandates and just decide to do things that are less market-based than you’ll find from U.S. airlines. If China ever opens again, I would expect there would be a flood of low fares on the Chinese carriers. … Europe is a little bit tougher.

Gary: If you’re buying tickets now, you’re making a bet on the future. And certainly things have not always played out the way they’ve been expected to play out over the last year. And in COVID, we think we know what direction things are going,…but you’re making a bet on reopening and staying open. So it is certainly the case that you would be more inclined to have tickets on a carrier with some flexibility, and that you trust is going to, you know, be there. … I think there are going to be deals, and to Brett’s point, I think some of those deals will be on foreign carriers as they restart service, or as they attempt to gain traffic for the flights that they’re operating.

Frequent-flier programs in the Covid-travel era

Gary:  In some ways, they haven’t changed very much, although a couple of things that are worth highlighting: American Advantage, I really have to applaud something that they did, which is to eliminate cancellation and redeposit-of-miles fees. United is more flexible than they were, and if you cancel more than a month out, they’re not going to charge you a fee to put your miles back. American won’t charge any of their members at all for redepositing the miles on any of their awards. That means booking with them is something you can do, even if you think you might take the trip, and you can cancel later—and it’s really a risk-free proposition. Other than that, the miles you have in your account can only be used for ticketing one trip at a time. Giving that sort of flexibility and that kind of confidence is something that I think is really valuable.

But getting cheap fares is not really that different than getting award seats: it’s very difficult to get award seats when you’re looking to fly where everyone else wants to go when they want to go. … As a general rule, you get award availability when you’re flying where other people aren’t going or on the planes other people aren’t taking.

Holiday travel airfare

Gary: Holiday travel is always hard. In fact, holiday travel with miles and holiday travel with cash, you’re not seeing a whole lot of deals. This is one of the things that American Airlines Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja talked about on their earnings call: They’re not releasing their cheap fares for the holidays yet, because they’re taking a wait-and-see attitude on passenger demand. They could fill all these flights really cheap now, but they think they may have a shot at filling them at a higher price point later on. And so the old advice about booking three months out, but for the holidays maybe six months out, is maybe not quite right. I think it’s much more along the lines of: Look for the flight that you want, whether it’s revenue or on an award, and when you find it, grab it. There’s more flexibility than there used to be in terms of changeability and in terms of returning miles. So grab it, and then consider improving or, if your plans change, retaining a credit or putting your miles back, or if you see a better deal come along later.

Watch the video to learn more about how to get the best flights, seats, and fares in 2021.

 


We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

private jet with red carpet

Private Jets: The Safest Option, and More Affordable Than You Might Think

The biggest Covid risk that savvy travelers face nowadays is not at their destination. It’s getting to their destination. It’s airports and airplanes. So imagine if you could cut your airport waiting time down to 20 minutes, and share your airplane cabin’s air with just a few other people, by flying private. Think private jets are too expensive? If you’re already flying in first or business class, and if you’re traveling with a group of five or more people, you may find that chartering your own plane is within reach—and worth the cost to minimize your risk of exposure to Covid and ensure a worry-free trip.

Flying private will never be cheaper than flying commercial. Rates for a six-passenger aircraft generally start at $3,000 per hour of flying time. But if you can fill every seat—and provided you book through the right private-jet broker who doesn’t add a huge markup—it might make sense for your travel group. The price of, say, a transcontinental flight on a six- or seven-passenger light jet works out to about $3,750 per person each way. If you’ve got flexibility in your timing, airports, or destination, that price can actually drop by 75%: The trick is to book an “empty leg,” which means filling the return flight of a plane that’s been booked for a one-way trip. The schedule is dictated by the original passengers, but the savings for you are considerable: a coast-to-coast “empty leg” one-way might cost less than $1,000 each for a family of six.

If you don’t have the flexibility for an “empty leg,” you’re looking at pricing of perhaps $1,800 per person each way for a flight between New York and West Palm Beach, $3,000 per person each way between Boston and Vail, $3,500 per person each way between Dallas and St. Barts, or $3,000 per person each way between Chicago and Los Cabos, Mexico. Yes, it’s a splurge, but you also might gain more than you imagine, and not just in health and peace of mind. Here are additional benefits to consider:

Less time in airports

With a commercial flight, you need to get to the airport an hour or two ahead—time when you’re sharing indoor air with other people, some of whom may take their mask off to eat or simply aren’t bothering to wear it properly. If you’ve chartered your own jet, however, you can arrive 20 minutes before flight time, and you’re likely flying in and out of much smaller airports with few other passengers around.

Less exposure in the air

While commercial jets’ hospital-grade air filters are very effective, the particles exhaled by your seatmate may reach you before the air has a chance to be filtered. On a private plane, you share that air with just two or three people—a pilot, copilot, and possibly a flight attendant—instead of two or three hundred, and you could even pay for the crew to be tested before your flight.

Less vacation time wasted in transit

Say you want to fly from your home in Miami to a ski trip in Lake Tahoe, California. The commercial airport closest to the slopes is an hour away in Reno, Nevada. Since there are no scheduled nonstop flights from Miami to Reno, you’ll spend most of a day getting from A (Miami) to B (Denver) to C (Reno) to D (Tahoe). On a private charter, you can fly straight from Miami to a smaller airport that’s just 20 minutes from your lodge and strap on skis that same afternoon. In the U.S., there are about 500 airports open to commercial traffic, compared to 5,000 for private aircraft.

Your choice of timing

Airlines have drastically cut schedules during the pandemic, often leaving travelers with just one or two flight times to choose from on their preferred day of travel; sometimes these inconvenient changes are made at the last minute. When you fly charter, though, you dictate the schedule. And if you’re late to the airport, your plane will wait for you.

Frequent last-minute availability

With commercial flights, the closer you are to your departure, the more prices go up and options dwindle. With private jets, it’s not hard to find a charter at the last minute—and you may even pay less, since an operator doesn’t want their jet sitting idle. Payment can also wait: You’ll likely need to put down a 10% to 20% deposit to reserve a charter flight, with the balance commonly due two weeks before the flight.

Thinking of flying private?

There is a variety of private-jet brokers and sources, each with different pros and cons. Feel free to ask us for a personalized recommendation . We can level with you about the right source for your specific needs—one who will find you the safest, smartest option and negotiate the best rates on your behalf.

Ask Us About a Private Jet Trip

 

We’re here to help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Covid testing sign Newark Airport

Airport and Airline Covid Testing: What You Need to Know

UPDATE: Starting December 6, 2021, U.S. will require that all travelers entering the U.S. via air—regardless of vaccination status or citizenship—must show a negative Covid test taken within one day of their departure. You can read the CDC details for testing and vaccine requirements here.

As travelers make decisions about whether and where to travel in 2021, airports and airlines are announcing new Covid testing options to help passengers comply with the rules implemented by various countries and states.

Starting January 26, they will take their biggest role yet. On that date, the CDC is instituting a new policy that requires all travelers flying into the U.S. to show proof of a negative Covid test taken within three days of arrival. Airlines will be responsible for vetting the proof—and denying boarding to those who don’t comply. They seem to be okay with this, since Airlines for America, the trade organization that represents all major U.S. airlines, recently sent a letter to Vice President Pence urging this kind of blanket testing program.

While we applaud these developments and wait to see how they play out, there are important caveats that travelers need to understand in order to smartly and safely plan their trips.

What you need to know about AIRPORT tests:

It may take a few days to get your results.
Various companies are partnering with airports to open on-site testing facilities. Already XpresCheck (formerly XpresSpa) has centers at EWR, JFK, Hartford and Logan, and JFK has additional facilities run by Adams Health. But there is a wide variety in the kinds of tests they offer, the prices, and the turnaround times. While some do offer rapid testing, in many cases, you’ll still have to wait two to five days to get your results, so it may not be worth it to go all the way to the airport for the test rather than visiting a clinic near home. Call ahead to find out what tests are available, and whether tests are limited to travelers en route to destinations that require them.

It may not be the right kind of test you need.
Xpress Check is offering 15-minute turnaround in some locations, but these are not PCR nasal swab tests, the kind usually required by destinations that ask for pre-trip tests. The reason is that rapid tests have been shown to be less reliable and have a higher rate of false negatives. Still it’s better than nothing, so these rapid tests can be useful for domestic travelers who want to be tested before going to visit Grandma, but not for most people who are crossing a border.

You will likely have to pay for it out of pocket.
The trend right now is that these in-airport testing sites charge travelers directly. The cost can run up to $250 or more depending on how fast you want results (if a rapid test is even available). There are some exceptions though. At Oakland Airport, Hawaii-approved testing partner CityHealth is offering tests to travelers flying to the islands, and their website says they accept “most insurance”. At New York City’s LaGuardia airport, testing is available for free but your results won’t come back for about 48 hours and are given only by phone—making this testing option useless for travelers who need immediate results or documented proof of their results in order to enter another state or country, or to bypass quarantine (including New York State).

Testing options by airport:

Alaska: Anchorage International Airport (ANC):  Alaska requires incoming travelers to arrive with proof of a negative test. If they do not have that, they will be required to test upon arrival and quarantine until the results come back. Nonresident testing is available at the airport for $250 (tests for residents are free).

Arizona: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX):  XpresCheck (formerly XpresSpa) is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days (no rapid tests available at this location. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

California: Oakland International Airport (OAK): Travelers flying from OAK to Hawaii can make an appointment to be tested at one of two airport locations. Same-day appointments are not recommended.

California: San Francisco International Airport (SFO):  United Airlines passengers flying from SFO to Hawaii (and that route only) are eligible for a test at the airport. They can choose between taking a rapid test on the day of their flight inside the international terminal ($250; results in about 15 minutes), or taking a PCR test via a drive-through location at an airport parking lot ($105; results within 48 hours).

Connecticut: Bradley International Airport (BDL): Incoming travelers can get a test on the day their flight arrives—and that day only. The test is a PCR nasal swab, costs $125 without insurance, and results take up to 72 hours.

Florida: Tampa International Airport (TPA): Both PCR (three-day turnaround) and antigen tests (1-hour turnaround) are offered at cost to the traveler. Note that your destination may require a specific kind of test.

Massachusetts: Boston Logan International Airport (BOS): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days (no rapid tests available at this location. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

Minnesota: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP): Free saliva tests are available to any traveler and are administered Vault Medical Health. Results are available in a few days.

New York: JFK Airport (JFK): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days, and rapid tests with results available in 15 minutes. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

New York: LaGuardia Airport (LGA): Testing is free to all passengers. Results are turned around within 48 hours but they are delivered by phone only — which the site acknowledges will not be acceptable proof to bypass quarantine for some places, including New York State.

New York/New Jersey: Newark Liberty Airport (EWR): XpresCheck is offering PCR tests with a turn-around time of two to three days, and rapid tests with results available in 15 minutes. If your insurance doesn’t cover the test, you must pay out of pocket.

Texas: Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): Testing is available for American Airlines passengers flying to Hawaii only. This is rapid test and it costs $249.

Vermont: Burlington International Airport (BTV): The airport offers PCR and rapid tests for Covid and rapid tests for the flu to anyone (including those not traveling), at the individual’s expense.

What you need to know about AIRLINE tests:

They may be offered for specific routes only.
But as of early November, domestic airlines are only offering testing options for flights to Hawaii (where a pre-trip Covid test is required), and the testing is available only from specific departure airports. As of now, airlines are not offering pre-flight tests to all of their travelers.

Airlines are partnering with labs to offer their passengers tests in different ways.
This does not mean you can get a test at check-in at the airport. Instead, it means you can maybe get a discount or preferred treatment at certain lab locations (or for mail-in kits) with stipulated proof of your flight.

In many cases, the tests may still take a few days to turn around results.
Just because a test is performed at an airport doesn’t mean you’ll get the results in time to take your flight—which makes these facilities less useful for travelers who are on their way to somewhere else.  These offerings are more useful for those who are arriving and want post-flight reassurance.  Where rapid testing is available, it may only be available from a specific airport. For example, United offers rapid testing for those flying from SFO to Hawaii; American has it at DFW.

The type of test offered may not be the one you need.
Many destinations require a PCR test (Hawaii doesn’t), so travelers need to check the type provided by the airline-lab partnership.

Testing options by airline:

As the holidays approach, here is a snapshot of what airlines are offering Covid test options right now, and what travelers need to know about them:

Alaska Airlines
Passengers of Alaska Airlines can show their Hawaii itinerary and get discounted tests from Carbon Health. The testing site in Seattle gives priority to Alaska Airlines passengers, and the Portland location is only for the airline’s passengers.

American
American Airlines has a few programs:

The airline has partnered with LetsGetChecked to sell at-home, mail-in testing kits to passengers flying to U.S. destinations that require testing, as well as to Belize, Grenada and St. Lucia. Tests cost $129, can be ordered online, and promise results within 48 hours of the specimen arriving to the lab.

Travelers on flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to Hawaii have two options from American’s partnership with CareNow: They can book an in-person rapid test at a CareNow urgent care location, or at DFW on day of their flight.

American and British Airways
American is also partnering with British Airways and the oneworld airline alliance on a trial testing program. For select flights, eligible volunteers will take three different Covid tests for free: The alliance’s goal is to show that testing can prevent infection during air travel and to determine how many tests are recommended in order to ensure virus-free cabins. The trial will start with flights AA50 DFW-LHR, BA114 JFK-LHR, and BA268 LAX-LHR; at a time yet to be announced, the trial will also add the flight AA106 JFK-LRH.

Delta
Delta has launched a trial of what it calls “Covid-Tested flights” on two routes.  One route is between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Rome-Fiumicino International Airport (FCO), and for these trial flights, passengers departing from Atlanta must obtain a PCR test (at their own cost) within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time and show proof of negative results at check-in. Then passengers will be tested again before they board with a rapid antigen test provided by the airline at no additional cost; a negative result is required for boarding. Covid-Tested Italy flights are available on select flights through February 12, 2021.

Delta is also running this trial between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS), but the rules are slightly different. For the Amsterdam flight, travelers must get a PRC test within 5 days of the scheduled arrival time in Amsterdam and self-isolate between when they take the test and when they board the plane. Then they will get a rapid test at the airport at no extra cost, and will need to test negative before they’re allowed to board. This trial runs on select flights through January 6, 2021.

Hawaiian Airlines
The airline has partnered with Worksite Labs for drive-through testing exclusively for their passengers in San Francisco. Passengers can opt for a 36-hour version or a more expensive same-day service.

They also offer their passengers expedited processing of and a slight discount on VaultHealth’s saliva test, which is taken at home and then mailed in.

JetBlue
JetBlue offers all of its travelers a discount for VaultHealth’s at-home testing kit.

United
Hawaii passengers whose flights originate at San Francisco airport can book one of two different tests: a test that they take at the airport on the day of their flight, or a drive-through test at the airport several days before their trip.

On November 16, United started a four-week rapid-testing trial for passengers flying from Newark Airport to London Heathrow. On select dates, all passengers over the age of two will be required to take a free rapid test before boarding and will receive results within 30 minutes.

Starting December 7, United passengers flying certain routes from Houston to Latin America and the Caribbean can order an at-home, self-collected, mail-in Covid test, which (if negative) will allow them to bypass quarantine restrictions. Two weeks before their flights, travelers going from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to specific airports in Aruba, Belize, Guatemala, Peru, the Bahamas, Panama, Honduras, or El Salvador will receive information on how to order the at-home testing kit for $119 via Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Concept of airplane travel to exotic destination with shadow of commercial airplane flying above beautiful tropical beach.

Need to Fly Long-Haul? How to Choose a Safe, Smart Flight During Covid

Travel isn’t just my job; it’s my favorite hobby too. After Covid forced me to cancel three trips this spring and summer, I wondered when I’d get to leave the U.S. again. One of those cancelled trips was a tenth-anniversary getaway to the Maldives, the collection of white-sand atolls dotting crystal-clear turquoise waters in the Arabian Sea. The Maldives reopened to travelers in July.  I knew it’d be easy to socially distance at our private bungalow on the water’s edge. What worried me more were the long flights to get there: about 17 hours from New York, with a layover required somewhere. I recently rescheduled my trip to visit next week; here are the strategies I used that made me comfortable doing so:

Choose a flight where everybody boarding has just had a negative Covid test.

Many destinations that have reopened require travelers to be tested prior to arrival; some won’t even allow passengers to board an incoming flight until they have uploaded their test results or presented them at the airport. When the Maldives first reopened on July 15, they didn’t require pre-trip testing. It was only last month, after the government changed its policy and started requiring visitors to show recent test results on arrival, that I decided I was comfortable enough to go. I chose to fly via Dubai because the United Arab Emirates also requires a pre-travel test—as do most of the other destinations that are currently served by Emirates, are open to U.S. travelers, and don’t have more direct flights from New York. This same strategy is what made reader Jeff Goble comfortable traveling to French Polynesia (which also requires a pre-trip test, as well as a second test four days after arrival).

Choose an aircraft where you can avoid sitting next to a stranger.

My husband and I wanted as much personal space as we could get, but we couldn’t afford to fly business class. Most long-haul jets seat three or more passengers together in economy; while some U.S. airlines are blocking middle seats, foreign carriers haven’t followed suit. Happily, the 777s that Emirates flies on the routes we’ll be taking have a tapered design, so the last few rows have two seats side-by-side. Emirates charges for seat assignments, so I spent $550 to ensure that we wouldn’t be seated beside a stranger—even though I think it’s likely that the flights will be pretty empty. (On the other hand, I might be saving a bit of money by flying Emirates: Through October, they’re giving all passengers free coverage for Covid-related medical bills and quarantine stays.) Read Wendy’s additional tips about where to sit on a plane.

If you can’t fly nonstop, make your layover long enough to have some mask-free time.

I’d have flown nonstop to the Maldives if I could. But since I had to change planes somewhere, I wanted the opportunity to take my mask off after wearing it throughout a 13-hour flight. So that I can do just that, I’ve booked a three-hour stay at a hotel inside the Dubai terminal on the way to the Maldives, and two nights at a desert lodge near Dubai on the way back.

Keep in mind that combining countries on the same trip can make testing requirements even more rigid: In order to comply with the rules of both the Maldives and the United Arab Emirates, I had to find an in-person test with results returned in less than 72 hours. Were I headed just to Dubai, I’d only need an in-person test in a 96-hour window (which is much easier to arrange); if my only destination were the Maldives, I could have used a mail-in Covid test kit that returned results in 72 hours. After several hours of research, and hoping to get tested near where I’d be staying before the trip in upstate New York, I instead found a doctor’s office in Manhattan that returns results in 24 to 48 hours. So I’ll drive an hour into New York City to be tested on a Wednesday morning, receive results by Friday morning, and head to the airport that afternoon for my 11 p.m. flight. (Postscript: Just over a week before my flight, Emirates changed its policy and stopped requiring tests from some passengers transiting through Dubai; unfortunately, it’s too late for us to order a mail-in kit and receive results in time for our flight—and given the changing regulations, I’m still happy to be following the stricter protocols.)

We’re here to help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

view out of airplane window of Cancun Mexico with jet engine in bottom corner

4 Things to Know About Airline Miles Now

The coronavirus pandemic has raised a lot of questions about air travel: routes, rules, restrictions, refunds, how much to spend, where to sit, when to book. And not least of all: What about my miles? Frequent travelers want to know what the current airline industry landscape means for all those points and miles they’ve been racking up or have had to re-deposit back into their accounts due to canceled travel plans.

We invited miles-and-points expert Gary Leff to speak in our Zoom chat last week about air travel in 2020 and 2021. Gary reports on this topic every day at his View From the Wing blog, and he works directly with travelers at his Book Your Award flight-planning service.

Here are the four things he wants to make sure travelers know about airline miles now, in his own words:

1. Your miles are generally safe, unless the airline goes out of business.

“Even if an airline goes into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the frequent-flier programs are incredibly valuable. They’re often the most valuable part of the airline. United Airlines was just able to raise private funds for an airline at the $5 billion level now, backing the loans with its frequent-flier program. People were willing to put up $5 billion knowing that there’s substantial revenue there. American, for its part, is expected to put up its frequent-flier programs as collateral for a $4.75 billion CARES Act loan. The Treasury Department considers it to be pretty good as well. So your miles are generally going to be safe, as long as the airline itself remains in business.”

2. It’s going to be a pretty good time for frequent fliers in the near- and medium term—until airlines recover and fill their planes again.

“For paid tickets, up until now, there haven’t been a ton of great offers. That’s largely because there hasn’t been an opportunity to really incentivize travel. The airlines haven’t been using their loyalty programs to really drive business. Concern for health is a binding constraint. Restrictions on international travel are binding constraints. Once the circumstances of the world change, we’ll really start to see deals and mileage offers. The fact that there are empty seats will lead airlines to use their primary marketing programs to encourage filling those seats.

I think that award availability will be pretty good for a while too. As the airlines recover and print more and more miles (and eventually they will, and seats will begin to fill up), those points that we’re all earning very quickly will probably become worth less in the future. So I think it’s a good idea to earn and burn miles within roughly the same time period—meaning, earn those miles and then use them in the near term, rather than saving them for the future.”

3. For travel in the distant future, it’s generally better to use miles or points than to pay money, unless it’s for the most exclusive accommodations or remote flights.

“One of the things that I really like about miles is their flexibility. Certainly ticketing policies have been more flexible recently than they have been in the past, but mileage bookings have long been very flexible. If you need to cancel, you can put the miles back in your account, usually for a modest fee. Hotel bookings with points are also often very cancel-able as well, so they give you a lot of flexibility and peace of mind. You make a booking, and then if things don’t work out the way that you want, you can change often at the very last minute. (But always check the cancellation rules when making a reservation.)

I like taking a wait-and-see approach on booking paid flights right now. To folks who may have booked far in advance in the past, I’m saying to them: Wait, hang on to your cash. Except for flights to the most remote places, planes aren’t completely selling out. Holding off is often a good idea.

For mileage tickets, though, you may want to book the best available flights you see today. Because planes are empty, you might find your ideal seat. If you find a good but not ideal seat, you can keep checking for availability to improve and then pay a modest fee later to improve your trip.

4. Schedules will change, and that could be to your advantage.

“Schedules are going to change, so don’t assume that the flight that you book today is going to operate exactly the same way ten months from now.

Because the schedules aren’t real, the one advantage of a schedule change is that you may book a sub-optimal schedule with miles, and most airlines—certainly U.S. airlines—will be pretty darn flexible in terms of giving you an alternative. I’ve often used schedule changes to improve my itinerary.

Mileage tickets are very low-risk. They often aren’t exactly what you want the first time out, but if what you booked has changed, the airline will usually open up revenue inventory. At that point, you won’t be limited to what was available as an award, and then you can kind of get the schedule that you would have wanted.”

 

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Flying in 2020 and 2021: How Airlines Are Adapting and How Passengers Can Stay Safe

Air travel is a big stressful question mark for a lot of us right now. How safe is it? What steps are airlines and airports taking to ensure passenger health? How are airfares affected? And what about miles? We invited two air travel experts to answer all these questions and more during a recent Zoom chat.

Many of you may know our two speakers because Wendy has been recommending them for years. Brett Snyder is the founder of Cranky Concierge, a service that not only helps people find and book the best flight options, but also monitors those flights for schedule changes and subsequent refund/credit options. Brett also writes and hosts a podcast about the airline industry at Cranky Flier.

Gary Leff covers miles and points at his blog View From the Wing and also started Book Your Award, the go-to service for whenever you want to know how to get the best value for your miles and points. He understands the nitty-gritty of all the programs, so he knows how to move points from one program to another, who the partners are, and how to access hard-to-find award seats.

Below, we’ve excerpted their answers to help travelers figure out how to approach flight planning in 2020 and 2021.

Stay in the know about our future Zoom chats through our weekly newsletter; and if you have questions about how to approach your own trips during the time of COVID-19, write to Ask Wendy.

How can I find out which airports in my area are safe? And, once in the airport, what can I do to stay safe?

Brett Snyder: The airport experience is one that’s naturally going to be a challenge. You have a lot of people in a small indoor space, and so that’s where mask wearing becomes really important and hand sanitizer and all the stuff they tell you to do. But if you live in a city with multiple airports, a secondary airport might make you feel comfortable.

In the gate area, we have seen in some places they’ll block every other seat. As for boarding, they’re trying to do it in smaller group numbers, or back-to-front. But they still let the premium cabin and elite members board earlier, so it’s not true back-to-front.

Gary Leff: And do as much self-service as you can: Use the airline’s app to check in, so you have the boarding pass on your phone. Scan that yourself at the TSA line, scan it yourself at the gate. Airlines in many cases will let you print your own baggage tags and drop the bags off yourself, instead of involving someone else in the transaction. Your bag is still ultimately going to be touched by somebody else who moves it. But when you get your bag back at the other end, you’ve got your sanitizer. Self-service minimizes the touch points.

I feel more comfortable on the plane itself, where you have circulating outside air with HEPA air filtration, than I do inside the terminal. The interesting thing is that we really haven’t seen aircraft as vectors of significant spread. United CEO Scott Kirby may make the case more boldly than I would when he says that the aircraft is about the safest indoor environment that you could possibly have, but it is absolutely the case that we haven’t tracked a lot of spread to being on planes.

Which airlines are taking the most stringent and well-executed safety precautions?

Gary: I think all of the airlines are taking safety incredibly seriously. They’re doing more cleaning than they’ve ever done, with newer and more innovative technologies then they’ve ever used before. The differentiator is that middle seat. Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska continue to limit the number of people onboard so that they don’t have to fill middle seats, whereas United and American do not. It’s a uniquely U.S. thing, this idea of blocking middle seats. On airlines worldwide. this is not something that you’re going to find.

Brett: Most of the airlines are now doing questionnaires asking if you’ve had any symptoms. Of course, it’s very easy for someone to lie about that unless it’s something that a gate agent can actually see. The questionnaire doesn’t help with pre-symptomatic transmission, of course, but it still does help, as does the wearing of masks.

Another thing to consider is that the smallest airplanes—50-seat regional jets like the ERJ-145s or the CRJ-200s—don’t have HEPA filters. Now, that doesn’t mean all regional aircraft. The planes with 70 or 76 seats—those do have HEPA filters. So, if you are concerned, you might want to avoid those really small airplanes.

What can I do if I book the flight and then discover that it’s packed?

Brett: Some airlines will block middle seats. But on American or United, you could walk on and find that the airplane is full. Those airlines are telling people ahead of time if their flight will be relatively full, and they’re letting people change without penalty if they want to.

Gary: Airlines that are blocking middle seats or capping load factors—they’re offering more value to customers, so I would choose one of them. Although I would not choose to take a connecting flight on one of them versus a nonstop on American or United.

Is there a difference in safety if I’m on a three-hour flight vs. a ten-hour flight?

Brett: Well, I’m not a doctor, but the longer the flight, the longer your potential exposure to the virus. So I would assume if you’re sitting next to someone for three hours and that person’s nose is sticking out of his mask, ten hours of that is worse than three hours of that. Also, if you think about meal services—because that’s when you’re allowed to take your mask off: On a longer flight, you’ll have more food or drink. But again, as Gary mentioned, there just haven’t been many examples of transmission in an airplane.

Gary: Worldwide, there is really only one flight where there’s a consensus that the virus might have spread on the plane—but it also could have been in the gate area or on the jetway. It was the March 1st London–Hanoi flight on Vietnam Airlines, where several people were exposed during that trip and developed symptoms of the virus afterward. Again, it may not even have been on the plane itself.

This is why I was so concerned early on when the U.S. was placing restrictions on arrivals. It was a mess where people were standing body-to-body in arrivals holds for hours. The plane is where I am not super-concerned. But there are a lot of other elements of the trip that you have to watch out for.

Will airfare increase dramatically?

Gary: At some point in the future. But in the near term, I think that we’re going to see a lot of deals because airlines have added more flights to their schedules than the number of passengers has grown, and so there are empty seats.

The only thing that I think would fundamentally drive higher fares is if there were a law, say, that required blocking middle seats, and it took a third of capacity out of the market. Then, all of a sudden, you would have so many fewer seats that customers would be bidding up to get access to.

That doesn’t seem to be in the cards, though, so I wouldn’t expect much higher fares, except if you’re going to some place that’s really difficult to get to right now. Like, right now, if you have to go to Australia, they’re only letting in a certain number of people every day.

What are the odds of getting reimbursed for unused tickets if we don’t travel in 2020?

Brett: The answer is: It depends, because every airline has a different policy. If it’s a refundable fare, great, go ahead and get a refund. But for the most part, fares are not refundable—or, if they are, there’s a hefty penalty that goes along with it. So the best thing you can do is just wait and hope for a schedule change. A schedule change would potentially allow a refund, and your chances are pretty good at this point that there will be a schedule change.

Where it gets tricky is with international carriers. The rules that govern what happens to the value of a ticket are based on which airline issued the ticket, even if you have multiple airlines on that ticket.

Gary: If you are not able to travel because of circumstances on the ground, you might think: Because it’s a force majeure event and they closed the border, contracts are void. But that’s generally not how it works. If the airline operates the flight—if the flight takes off and you’re not on it—you can get a credit for canceling, but they’re likely not going to give you back your money. So if you choose not to go or circumstances mean it’s obvious you shouldn’t go, but the flight travels, you’re far more likely to get a credit than a refund.

Are there any advantages to booking now for 2021 trips?

Gary: The reason to book now is if you see an incredible deal. By incredible, I don’t just mean a good price—I mean orders of magnitude better than what you usually see.

One reason to wait is that we don’t know what the world is going to look like. Places that look pretty good now in terms of COVID-19 may not look great many months from now, and places that look bad now might look much better many months from now. So my inclination is to wait where possible, and only jump at either an outstanding deal or because that particular flight is really important to you.

But schedules will change, so if you book a flight for ten months from now, don’t assume that it will still operate exactly the same way. The options are going to be different.

Brett: Also, if there’s decent mileage availability and you see a flight you like, there’s not that much risk in booking it. Be sure what the rules are with your program, but worst case, you can get your miles re-deposited for a relatively small fee.

But you can’t book for most of next summer yet. The general rule of thumb is about 330 days in advance of travel—that’s when schedules open up. As Gary said, though, none of those are real schedules for the most part—they will change.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Two teenage boys with masks on in business class of a United airplane during coronavirus

Our First-Hand Accounts of What It’s Like to Travel Now

Like many of you, I am certifiably stir-crazy right about now. I live in New York City, and I haven’t ventured farther than six miles from my apartment in four and a half months—and that’s just on long walks. So last Thursday, I found myself in the same boat as all the other grounded travelers who showed up for our latest Zoom chat: eager to hear aboutthe essential trips that Brook, Wendy, and Wendy’s husband, Tim, recently took. Not only because I am starving for some vicarious travel, but also because I want to hear reliable first-hand accounts from people I trust—experienced travelers who pay attention to the kinds of details and questions I’ll have when I’m ready to travel again myself. That’s the whole point of our Zoom chat series—to cut through the noise and share the travel intel that’s most relevant to you…and, we hope, soothe some of that restlessness and stoke future dreams of safe adventures.

If you didn’t make it to our “What It’s Really Like to Travel in the U.S. Now” Zoom chat, we’ve collected some of the highlights and tips below. Don’t miss our next get-togethers. On July 16, we’ll talk about smart family travel (including some of our favorite past trips and what those might look like going forward); and on July 23, air travel experts will forecast the near-future of flying. Sign up using our RSVP form, where you can also let us know what other chats you’d like to see and how we can help keep your travel brain inspired until you’re ready to hit the road again. In the meantime, stay safe! —Billie

What it’s like: In the car

Sunrise in Spartanburg, S.C. Road Trip, Wendy Perrin Covid-19

Sunrise in Spartanburg, South Carolina, June 23, 2020

Wendy: “It used to be that on a road trip, the place you stopped to get gas was the same place you got snacks and used the restroom. Now those three things need to be done in three different places. The convenience stores attached to the gas stations had ‘mask required’ signs but no one complied. So instead we used the bathrooms at state welcome centers—they were clean, spacious, and often touchless. To get food, we went to drive-throughs or found out what restaurants were ahead of us on the highway, then we’d call ahead and do curbside pick-up.”

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What it’s like: At the airport

Two teenage boys walking through empty TSA airport security during coronavirus

The normally packed security lanes at Newark airport were empty when Tim flew. Note the social-distancing markers on the floor.

Brook: “I had to hand over my boarding pass and ID, I was not able to scan those myself. There were big jugs of sanitizer before and after, and all staff was wearing masks. It was easy to social distance at the airport. It didn’t have that empty apocalyptic feeling but it was noticeably empty, so it was easy to stay away from each other. I told my son to keep his hands in his pockets to keep him from touching anything.”

Tim: “At Newark airport we wore gloves because we knew we’d be going through security and handing papers to people. Once we got through, we took our gloves off because they’d gotten all sweaty. The airport reminded me of a casino at ten in the morning: Yeah, there are a few people there, but it’s pretty empty and not the same scene.”

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What it’s like: On the plane

Two teenage boys with masks on in business class of a United airplane during coronavirus

Because of the layout of this 787’s business-class cabin, Tim felt the last row was the safest.

Brook: “My parents bought us business class. That’s not normally how I travel, but we all felt the financial investment was worth it. My son and I flew United on a 757 with the upgraded Polaris class, so the seats were separate private pods. I originally chose the last row of the cabin to be farthest from the flight attendant and closest to the door. But when I got to the airport, I spoke to the gate agent (through Plexiglas) and had him move us to a row that was otherwise empty.”

Tim: “We also splurged on business class—in a United 787—and took the back row so we could be the last on the plane and the first off. We never walked past anyone; we just got on and got in our seats. We did not use the lavatory. We wore masks and also tried goggles. They didn’t work very well; they fogged up. So on the return flight we wore Face Shields in addition to the masks. Leaving the plane, everyone got up and wanted to leave at once. So even though the plane was only a third full, that final moment was problematic and made us uncomfortable.”

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What it’s like: Getting to/from the airport

empty Avis car rental lot at SFO airport San Francisco California during coronavirus

SFO’s normally full Avis rental-car lot had very few cars available.

Tim: “In California, we had reserved a rental car at SFO. There were five people in front of us at Avis, and two people behind the counter, and it took us an hour and a half to get our car. First they said they had no cars available. (Apparently they’re selling off some of their fleet.) Then they said it was taking longer to clean the few cars they do have. So factor in a lot of time when picking up a rental car. Also, leave more time for air trains; they may be running on a slower schedule.”

Billie: “I’ve taken five rideshare trips over the past few months in NYC. Four out of five times, the driver had installed a protective barrier between the front and back seats (usually a custom-fit Plexiglas wall, but one time it was a taped up shower curtain), and in every case, the drivers opened the windows and were patient while I wiped everything down before I got in. Lyft and Uber both require that passengers and drivers wear masks. If you’re not wearing one, the driver can refuse to let you in and cancel your ride; likewise you can cancel the trip for health safety reasons if you are not comfortable.”

What it’s like: At hotels

Flamingo Resort hotel clean and dirty jars for pens during coronavirus

The poolside bar at the Flamingo Resort separated used pens (for signing bar bills) from unused ones.

Tim: “For our nights in Santa Rosa, we picked an older hotel I’ve known for years (The Flamingo Resort) because it had an upstairs balcony with a sliding glass door, and we knew we could keep that open at night, to keep the room ventilated. I gave Charlie a pack of wet wipes, and he wiped everything down (the rental car too). The TV remote was already in a plastic bag, but we wiped it down too. We left the windows open, and did not have the staff come in while we were there. Having the balcony worked out well. We put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door the entire time we were there, and I would go find Housekeeping and trade in towels. Everyone inside the hotel wore masks, but around the pool everyone took them off and stayed socially distant. There were also about a dozen dogs around the pool, which was interesting.

Then we spent a week camping in the Mendocino National Forest. I was pleasantly surprised how militant they were—even at the little general store deep in the woods—about masks and social distancing.”

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Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

United Airlines 787 Dreamliner Polaris business class cabin Flight from Newark to San Francisco during coronavirus Wendy Perrin boys

If You Have To Fly in a Pandemic, Here’s Where to Sit on the Plane

UPDATE ON JULY 19: It’s been 14 days since Tim and the kids returned from California, nobody got sick, and both kids tested negative for Covid-19. (Tim was not tested.)  This update does not represent a recommendation that people fly; I am simply reporting the outcome of my family’s decisions, as described below.

As you know from Steps to Reduce Your Health Risk When You Fly, the problem with flying nowadays is likely not the air on the plane; scientists say the HEPA filtration system generates hospital-quality air. The problem is the close quarters and the unpredictable behavior of other passengers.  While it may be impossible to know with certainty how empty or full a flight will be or whether there might be passengers who refuse to wear masks (note: major U.S. airlines require passengers to wear masks), it is certainly possible—if you need to make an essential airline trip (remember, the CDC advises against non-essential travel)— to choose an aircraft layout and seat location so as to mitigate your risk.

That was my goal when I had to book a transcontinental flight for my husband and two sons. They flew from Newark to San Francisco on United Airlines on June 25. Based on their experience, here’s my advice for picking planes and seats so as to lessen your risk:

Know which airlines will keep seats empty during your flight.

Back in April when I booked the flight and chose the seats I wanted, United was blocking certain seats to try to maintain some space between passengers. But I knew I could not count on those seats remaining empty. United offered no guarantee that it wouldn’t fill every seat if it could. And, in fact, United is now no longer blocking seats; this week, the airline’s communications chief, Josh Earnest, said that blocking middle seats is just a PR strategy and not a safety strategy, since it still doesn’t keep passengers six feet apart.

By contrast, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Jetblue, and Southwest promise to keep certain seats blocked through at least the end of July: Alaska says it will block middle seats and cap flights at 65% capacity through July 31. Delta says it will block all middle seats, and some aisle seats in aircraft with 2×2 seating configurations, through September 30. Jetblue is blocking seats through July 31: middle seats on big planes, aisle seats on small ones. Southwest says it will block middle seats through September 30.

American and United are booking their flights to capacity when possible. United says it will alert passengers beforehand if their flight is “expected to be fairly full.” If you want to change your flight, the airline will let you do so for no fee; if you want to cancel, the airline will give you a credit toward a future flight in the amount that you paid. (See the “Prioritizing Your Well-being” section here.)  I recommend calling the airline ahead of time to check how full your flight really is (as opposed to waiting for the airline to alert you).

If you’re going to splurge on a business-class seat, pick an aircraft model where that will make a big difference.

I wanted a nonstop flight (to reduce time in airports), which limited my options to Alaska, Jetblue, and United. On United.com, as I pulled up flights during the search process, I compared every plane on offer between Newark and San Francisco by clicking to find out the aircraft model and view the seat map. My goal was to put as much physical distance as possible between my family and other passengers, and if there was ever a time when I was willing to pay more for that, this was it, so I checked out all the business-class options too. I saw that United was flying a 787-10 Dreamliner with the Polaris business-class cabin. The seat design means that you get something akin to your own cubicle onboard. Here’s a 3-D, 360-degree view of the cabin, so you can see how each passenger is partially shielded and how there are many solitary window seats with no aisle seat next to them. (If you hold your cursor down on the 3-D view and scroll in a circular fashion, you can “tour” the cabin.)  And the seats were surprisingly affordable (this was back in April, when the coronavirus outbreak was peaking in New Jersey).

It was the combination of the seat design, the cabin spaciousness, the newness of the plane, my elite status with United, and the price—plus the fact that if I needed to change the flights, United would have the most other flights to choose from—that made this option the best for my family’s needs. (If you’re comparing flights and can’t easily determine the aircraft model, seating configuration, and other seat details via the website you’re using, you can do your seat research on Seatguru.)

teenage boys traveling in business class United flight with masks on

My kids had seats with protective barriers.

When choosing your seat location, consider all the factors that might protect you from other people’s movements.

After studying the layout of the seats in the business-class cabin, I assigned my family seats in the last row. Here’s why I wanted the last row:

  • Since the business-class lavatory is at the front of the cabin, there would be no foot traffic past them to/from the lavatory.
  • The other passengers in the cabin would be seated in front of them, facing forward, so if any of those passengers were to cough or sneeze, they would hopefully do so in the opposite direction from Tim and the kids.
  • The aircraft door is immediately behind that row.  This increased the probability that my family could board the plane last and not have to walk past already-seated passengers. (Boarding the plane last meant they could avoid standing in line at the gate.) They would also probably be able to disembark first.

Tim reports that we made all the right decisions and that the flight felt very safe, as did the entire airport experience. Newark airport was empty. In the TSA line, nobody touched anything. At each gate was a gallon jug of hand sanitizer. When they boarded the plane, they were given wipes so they could wipe down their seat area. Every passenger Tim saw onboard wore a mask. Every airport staffer and traveler he saw at EWR and SFO wore masks, although a few passengers at SFO had their masks at their chins as they spoke on their mobile phones.

United flight crew attendant with mask around chin

The purser was the only person Tim saw onboard whose mask was not covering his nose and mouth.

Tim reports that there were only two exceptions to his sense of safety on the flight: (1) The United Airlines purser wore his mask at his chin instead of over his mouth and nose. (2) At the end of the flight, passengers were in a rush to get off the plane and kept only about two feet of distance from one another when emerging from their seats and moving from the plane to the jetway.

Based on my family’s flight experience, we have a few more tips to share:

When I dropped Tim and the kids off at Newark airport, they wore goggles, but they’ll be trying out face shields on the return flight.

  • Consider wearing a face shield (in addition to a mask). It can protect your eyes or at least prevent you from touching your eyes with unwashed hands.  When I dropped Tim and the kids off at the airport, they wore goggles recommended to us by a friend who is an E.R. doctor. The goggles fogged up, though, so I’ve shipped face shields to the boys for the return flight.
  • Use the lavatory earlier rather than later.  As you know from Steps to Reduce Your Health Risk When You Fly, the lavatory is cleaner earlier in the flight.  My family’s goal was not to use the lavatory at all.  And they succeeded!  They used the airport restroom immediately before boarding and immediately after disembarking. (And they report that everything in the airport male restrooms was touchless.)  During the flight, they never left their pods; they stayed nestled down behind their privacy barriers.
  • Bring a sweater. They turned their air nozzles on for purified air throughout the flight, but those nozzles blast cold air, so it got chilly.
  • Bring food. Newark airport was empty, with restaurants and almost everything else closed except for one convenience store on each pier. Tim and the kids brought deli sandwiches from home, in case the food service on the flight didn’t happen or didn’t appear to be safe. As it turned out, everything served to them—including silverware—came wrapped in plastic.

 

stock photo of toy airplane on stack of masks and passport with a globe signifying travel during Covid

Steps to Reduce Your Health Risk When You Fly

Now that some countries are reopening to U.S. travelers, and require international flights to get there, we’ve asked health experts to outline the most important steps travelers can take to limit their chances of contracting or spreading the coronavirus when they fly.

Starting with how you transport yourself to the airport, and ending with how you exit it at your destination, there are many tricky touch points to plan for. One factor in your favor, though, is that you’re not likely to encounter crowds at the airport or on the plane right away. According to Airlines for America, the trade association and lobby group for the U.S. airline industry, U.S. airline passenger volumes are down nearly 90%, and the TSA is screening 88% fewer travelers compared to this time last year.

That could change with time, however: Your airport could see a wave of restless travelers, or your particular flight may be the unexpectedly popular one. So it’s smart to be prepared.

Making the decision to fly

First, we want to be clear that the CDC and the U.S. State Department are still advising Americans to avoid all nonessential international travel. The CDC has this advice about the risks of contracting COVID-19 when traveling by planes specifically: “Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces.” It also notes the difficulty of social distancing. So thinking carefully about whether to even take a trip is your first line of protection.

“The decision is important,” says Dr. Petra Illig, an aerospace-medicine physician based in Anchorage, Alaska. Dr. Illig was a CDC quarantine medical officer during the Ebola, H1N1, and MERS outbreaks, worked as regional medical director for major airlines, and currently serves as secretary of the International Airline Medical Association. “You have to decide: Do I really need to make this trip and are there other alternatives?” If the answer is yes, you do need to make the trip, then plan for potential pitfalls, like getting stuck at your destination, requiring hospitalization there, needing prescription refills, or not being allowed in when you come back home. Consider your contingency options and make sure you have all the necessary items with you in your carry-on: not just your medications (and enough to last in case you do get stuck), but also information about your medical status, physicians, allergies, insurance, and an emergency contact. “Plan for not coming back when you want to,” she says.

Getting to/from the airport

The best way to minimize your risk of exposure is to drive yourself to the airport and park there, says Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician based in California who also serves as vice chair of the Infectious Disease Society of America’s Global Health Committee and who served as medical director of an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone during the 2014 outbreak. “The next best option would be to see if someone you know (preferably someone that you live with and have been around frequently—i.e. someone in your bubble) can drive you. Even if you do this, I would recommend wearing masks and practicing good hand hygiene, since being in the car is an enclosed space that potentially places you at risk.” If you have to take an Uber, Lyft, or taxi, she recommends “wearing a mask, using good hand hygiene, and if possible having the windows down for air circulation.”

Checking in

Check in online whenever possible so that you don’t have to interact with any people or touch any kiosk screens. The same goes for checking luggage: Try not to.

When you do have to check in at the airport, be conscious of the things you touch and that other people have touched. “At the counter, don’t give your ID to the person: Try to handle it yourself,” says Dr. Illig. “Same with credit cards—try not to let people hold your card.” If you have to use a kiosk screen, wipe it down first, and then wipe your hands (or gloves) right after. “I already have my gloves on when I’m going into a place where I have to handle things,” she continues, “because I find it a lot easier to sanitize my hands if I’m wearing gloves rather than constantly washing my hands, which you can’t always do. I can vigorously use Lysol wipes on the gloves.”

Dr. Illig’s trick: Keep a Ziploc bag of wipes with you at all times. “But make sure it’s well sealed,” she cautions, “because the alcohol on them will evaporate quicker than the water in them. Just because the wipe is wet doesn’t mean it’s effective.”

TSA screening/baggage handling

Since you’ll be interacting with people, Dr. Kuppalli advises wearing a mask when you go through TSA screening. “Going through the Whole Body Image scanner should not pose any additional risk to people,” she adds. “However, if the screener has to do a pat-down or any additional screening, they may get close to you. The best thing you can do is protect yourself with your mask, and you have the right to ask the agent to wear clean fresh gloves and to wear a mask.”

What about all those shared surfaces you’ll have to put your bags on—conveyor belts, screening bins, and, at the other end of your journey, baggage-claim carousels? How much should we stress about those? “I wouldn’t worry about it,” says Dr. Illig. “You’re not going to lick your bag, so even if it comes into contact with something, it’s unlikely it will have enough particles attached to the handles of your bag [to transfer if you] pick it up and then touch your nose.” She explains that while we’ve all heard the reports about how the virus can be detected on certain surfaces for hours or days, that detection does not necessarily mean the virus is alive. “The testing we do now is for the genetic fingerprint of that virus on the surface. That doesn’t mean the virus was alive or can be infectious; it just means the RNA is still evident but the virus is most likely not capable of infecting a living cell. Plus it requires a certain amount of virus [to start an infection].”

Still, Dr. Kuppalli says she usually wipes down the outside of her bags after going through security, and then she washes her hands—because when touching luggage, that should be your main concern. “The most important thing to remember is that after handling your items, your hands will be dirty, so you don’t want to touch your mask, mouth, eyes, or nose,” she explains. “You want to make sure to clean your hands with hand sanitizer or soap/water first. As long as you do that, you will be fine.” And remember: The TSA now allows you to bring 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in your carry-on, so don’t be stingy.

Waiting in the airport

The time when you’re waiting in the airport for your flight to take off seems riddled with traps. Should you avoid hanging around the gate? Is it safe to buy snacks or drinks? And what about using the bathrooms?

“I would avoid the crowded gate and food courts,” says Dr. Kuppalli. Instead, she suggests looking for an empty gate close to yours and camping out there until it’s time to board. She adds that buying food or drinks is probably fine, but be sure to wash or sanitize your hands before you eat anything.

“The place I get most nervous are the bathrooms: There you have to be ultra cautious,” says Dr. Illig, who suggests looking for one that’s not crowded and getting in and out as quickly as possible. “You want to think about everything you might touch, and try not to touch it.”

Dr. Kuppalli agrees: “The main concern are the high-touch surfaces that may not be cleaned as often or as well as one would hope. Wash your hands completely with soap and water for at least 20 seconds while scrubbing between the webs of fingers, under nails, and on both sides of hands.”

On the airplane

Let’s clear up a common myth first: The air on a plane is not a big cloud of germs; it’s not what makes people sick. U.S. airlines use HEPA filtration systems to generate hospital-quality air, and that air is cycled so frequently that infection risk is low.

“According to the WHO, research shows there is little risk of any infectious disease being transmitted onboard an aircraft because the aircraft cabin air is carefully controlled. Ventilation provides a total change of air 20 to 30 times per hour,” says Dr. Kuppalli. Even the CDC is trying to set the record straight with this information on its page about air travel: “Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.”

In a recent essay for the Washington Post, Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained that airplanes are rarely the source of disease outbreaks. He pointed to a study on the risk of infection posed by a person with tuberculosis to 169 other passengers. The answer: between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a million. And that’s without everyone wearing masks.

Nevertheless, the airline industry is still trying to better understand how coronavirus and other pathogens behave in cabin air—and what they can do about it. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Boeing and Airbus have started conversations with the FAA, the CDC, and a few universities to figure out and address in-flight risk factors. Those discussions could lead to academic research grants and studies that would inform the way airplanes are designed, maintained, and ventilated.

In the meantime, the air nozzle above your airline seat blasts purified air, so turn it on and position it toward you throughout your flight.

Other passengers

The air is not the problem. People are. “The greatest risk is really your distance to the next passenger,” says Dr. Illig.

Airlines are attempting to address that problem. Members of Airlines for America (A4A)—which include Delta, JetBlue, American, United, Southwest, Hawaiian, and Alaskan airlines, and which require passengers and staff to wear masks all the way through from check-in to de-planing—are trying out tactics such as back-to-front boarding, staggering passengers, and not selling middle seats. (Update: Several airlines have recently announced they’ll end this policy and sell planes to full capacity, including American, United, Spirt, Air Canada, and WestJet). Still, as Dr. Illig points out, even if the middle seat next to you is open, you’re still not a full six feet from the person in front of or behind you. “Therefore, it’s even more important to have everyone wearing a mask,” she says.

At this point, though, so few people are flying that crowded planes are unlikely to be an issue. If you feel uncomfortable because you’re seated close to another passenger, talk to the flight attendant about switching. If the passenger count is very low, the flight attendants might have to strategically space out the seating arrangements to keep the plane balanced (this happened on my own last flight, back in March).

There are reports that suggest that choosing a window seat provides a little extra safety, because it limits the number of people surrounding you. Window passengers are also less likely to get up during the flight to go to the bathroom or walk the aisle—times when you’d be exposing yourself to other people’s germs.

Wendy has been hearing from travelers who’ve decided to splurge on business- or first-class seats in order to reduce the number of passengers within their six-foot radius. They’ve assigned themselves window seats in order to reduce contact with people passing through the aisles (their specific airlines have blocked off the aisle seats next to them for now). These travelers have also assigned themselves seats in the last row of the upfront cabin, figuring that if other passengers in the cabin sneeze or cough, they’d rather be sitting behind those passengers than in front of them. Plus, in the last row (or the first), there are fewer people seated close to you.

Your seat area

Airlines are already upping their hygiene efforts (for example, member airlines of A4A are using electrostatic foggers for sanitization), but it’s a good idea to wipe down your seat area anyway: buckles and seatbelts, trays, screens, windows and window shades, armrests, overhead lights and fans, call buttons, and the overhead bin.

“I would mostly recommend that passengers do the things we have been recommending since the outset of the pandemic,,” says Dr. Kuppalli, “wear their masks on board so in case they are sick they don’t spread their infectious droplets to others; if possible, maintain their distance from others; wipe down their seats, seat buckles, tray tables and other surrounding high-touch surfaces with disinfectant wipes prior to takeoff; and use hand sanitizer before eating/drinking or touching their face mask.”

The bathroom

If it’s a long flight, you might have to face your biggest challenge yet: the tiny airplane lavatory. “The bathroom is definitely a place of concern just because it is a small, confined space,” says Dr. Kuppalli. “As the flight goes on, I would be increasingly concerned about it.” She and Dr. Illig have the same advice: Exercise caution, don’t touch anything you don’t have to touch, and wash your hands. “Whatever you touch is possibly contaminated, so I would wear gloves,” says Dr. Illig. “And if you can’t [use gloves], use a towel or something to touch any surface. Then after you leave the bathroom, don’t touch your face, and when you get to your seat, decontaminate your hands whether you’re wearing gloves or not.”

Arriving and exiting the destination airport

Depending on where you’ve traveled to, you might have to navigate passport control, customs, and baggage claim when you land. Follow the same precautions as you did when you departed from your home airport: Wear a mask, wear gloves, limit your interactions with people and shared items, maintain social distance (maybe wait for the impatient crowd around the baggage carousel to dissipate before you grab your bag), don’t touch your face, and—as always—wash your hands.

“I wish I had some cool secret or magic, but it’s just sticking with a pattern,” says Dr. Illig. “The problem is when people break the pattern, then they’re at risk for contaminating themselves. Follow the same steps, ingrain them into your brain.”

This article was originally published May 30, 2020. It has been updated.

 

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

map with beach chairs -2734535_1920 CR Pixabay

Airline Miles and Points: How to Get the Best Award Flights in 2020

The major U.S. airlines haven’t had to work very hard to win our business over the past several years. With the economy growing and the number of carriers shrinking (thanks to mergers), their planes have been packed. And since they’re able to sell their seats, they aren’t too interested in making them available for award travel. That’s why your best bet for using miles in 2020 is to look abroad to these airlines’ alliance partners, many of whom fly to the U.S. and do have empty seats. On these partners, you’ll get the greatest value exchanging your miles for international business and first class. Here are five more ways to get the most out of your miles this year:

Be flexible…and persistent.

The key to getting the award ticket you want is to be willing to consider a range of dates or at least connecting flights. If your heart is set on the only non-stop flight on your route and there’s only one day you can travel, it might work out, but the odds aren’t in your favor. Airlines don’t always make it easy to find the awards either: American Airlines features only some of its partners on its website, and Delta.com and United.com frequently throw errors. Pick up the phone and call, but know that the agents aren’t always incentivized to be helpful either. I never assume that no means no in air travel until I’ve heard it three times.

Here are just a few of my go-to routes for redeeming premium-cabin award travel where I find a great deal of success:

•Air France business class using Air France’s own miles (transfers from major bank programs)
•Singapore Airlines business class using Singapore’s own miles (transfers from major bank programs)
•Emirates first class (Emirates is an American Express and a Chase transfer partner)
•Korean Air first class using Korean’s miles (transfer from Marriott)
•Cathay Pacific business class for four passengers if booking 6–11 months in advance (American or Alaska miles)
•Asiana business class (United partner, bookable with miles from any Star Alliance program)

Your credit card choice matters more than your airline choice.

Miles aren’t about flying anymore. About two-thirds of miles are sold to and awarded by third parties, largely credit-card–issuing banks. There’s intense competition for credit-card customers. Use that to your advantage. These are my picks for the best credit cards for travelers.

Airline credit cards are for benefits, not spending.

If you don’t fly one airline enough to earn frequent-flier elite status, but you do fly one several times a year, get their credit card. At a minimum, that will entitle you to free checked bags and priority boarding It also means you won’t be forced to gate-check your carry-on, and you will be able to bring on a carry-on even if you’re booked on a dreaded Basic Economy fare on United. But don’t put any unnecessary spending on the airline credit card, because….

Bank programs that transfer to miles earn rewards faster and give you greater flexibility.

Even if you want to collect Delta miles, the Delta card doesn’t earn the most SkyMiles. American Express Membership Rewards cards transfer to SkyMiles and to other airlines too, and they earn points faster than the Delta card. The same is true for the United card and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards products, such as the Sapphire Reserve.

Use an airline card for the benefits, but put your spending on a card whose points—like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards—transfer to a variety of mileage programs. You’ll earn more points, and you’ll have the flexibility to put them where you need them later, once you know the trip you want and which airline has availability.

Consider buying your ticket (with money, not miles).

Even though planes are full, fares are lower than they were just a few years ago. First, there’s competition from ultra-low-cost carriers such as Spirit and Frontier in the U.S. and Norwegian across the Atlantic. Second, airlines are now better able to offer lower first-class fares because of changes to the technology they use—especially for premium cabins. Domestic first class used to be several times more expensive than coach; now it’s frequently less than 50% more.

Business class and premium economy go on sale. In addition, British Airways will give $200 off even a sale-fare business-class ticket to AARP members (and this is stackable with a 10% discount for Chase British Airways credit-card customers). There are great deals out there. Take advantage of them when they pop up, rather than searching for award trips that require greater flexibility (and sometimes too many miles). Consider premium economy—akin to domestic first class—rather than business class, especially for daytime flights when you don’t need that bed. Norwegian, especially, sells it at bargain prices to Europe.

Once coronavirus concerns subside, be on the lookout for cheap business class fares to and through China. China Eastern, Hainan, Sichuan, and Xiamen all run sales and sometimes their U.S. counterparts will match pricing. Once you’re in Asia, buying cheap tickets to your final destination or redeeming miles to local destinations can make great sense.

There’s still tremendous value in frequent-flier programs, but that value is only really achieved by using miles to fly on non-U.S. airlines—or by transferring miles to the programs offered by those international airlines, if you’re willing to venture into the less familiar.

 

Gary Leff is the points-and-miles expert behind View from the Wing and the award-flight booking service BookYourAward.com. Follow him for smart takes on airlines, credit cards, points and perks on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for his newsletter at View from the Wing.

Singapore Airlines premium economy seat

How to Get the Best Business Class or Premium Economy Flight Experience

Figuring out how to get the best value on air travel is one of life’s most infuriating challenges. It’s not just about the dollar value of airfare either: The algorithm travelers have to invent in order to rank competing priorities of seat comfort, seat location, checked luggage fees, overhead bin space, boarding order, Wi-Fi access, power outlets, inflight entertainment options, and mileage rewards is more complicated than the one Google uses to return your everyday search results.

To help travelers cut through the noise, we asked air-travel booking guru Brett Snyder for insights and strategies on how to get the best flight experiences and airfare values. Snyder founded a company called Cranky Concierge, which specializes not only in ferreting out the smartest routes and fares for your specific trip, but also in monitoring your chosen flight to let you know asap if anything goes wrong and, even more crucial, provide emergency rerouting assistance if your flight is delayed or canceled, or if you miss a connection. Snyder’s deep knowledge of the air travel world is one reason we invited him to speak at our 2017 Global Travel Summit, and it’s also why we tapped him for the following tips. “The idea is that there are trade-offs in travel,” Snyder told us. “And you can pick and choose the things that matter to you to find the best options for what you want and need to do.”

At the 2017 Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge shares tips on how to get the best flight experience for your dollar

At the 2017 Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit, Brett Snyder, founder of air-travel-assistance company Cranky Concierge, shares tips on how to get the best flight experience for your dollar.

How to Get the Best Business Class Flight Experience

The challenges:

“Lots of airlines have ‘flat beds’ now, but not all flat beds are equal,” Snyder cautions. “[Travelers] don’t always know what the seats are like. How would you know that the Emirates 777 doesn’t have fully flat beds, or that different aircraft on the same route don’t have the same seats?” Two other critieria to consider are the cabin’s seat layout (do all seats have direct aisle access?) and whether each seat is a private cocoon. “Having a leading business class [used to mean] you had to have flatbed seats, but then the goalpost moved and became direct-aisle access,” Snyder says, before explaining why this is important: “United still has some planes without direct-aisle access, which means most of their seats are 2-2-2. So if you’re traveling with kids, you can be sitting next to them—it’s still a flatbed but at least you’re there with them. But Virgin Atlantic, across the fleet, the seats are basically individual seats. You can have your kid near you, but not right next you, and you won’t see them from your seat because they’re meant to be private.”

The solutions:

Snyder recommends three tools that help inform a clear picture of what you’ll be getting in a particular business class cabin.

  • One is SeatGuru, where the seat maps show the layout of the cabin. “Those seat maps won’t tell you much about how great or terrible the product is; you’ll just see a square where the seat is,” he says. “But it’ll tell you whether you’re sitting together with someone or not.” The catch is that airlines often have multiple configurations on each aircraft type, so you need to make sure to compare the airline seat map with Seatguru on your specific flight to make sure you’re looking at the right one.
  • Brett’s other tool recommendation is online trip reports. These are photo-heavy, often very detail-oriented reviews written by travel bloggers about their specific flight experiences. “A seat map will tell you there are flatbeds, but a trip report will say, Yeah and they’re shredded and half of them didn’t work,” Snyder says. “We send these to clients all the time if they’re trying to decide between two flights.” He names One Mile at a Time, The Designair, Travel Codex, and TravelSort as a few he regularly points his own clients to. Some trip reports span the whole flight experience: what the lounge is like, the check-in process, the boarding process, the inflight food, and more. “Typically what I do is Google, for example, ‘Emirates 777 business class trip report’: include the airline, the aircraft, the cabin, and the words ‘trip report’. Then look at the pictures,” Snyder says. “That’s what we’re really trying to show people with this: what it really looks like on the airplane.”

How to Get the Best Economy Flight Experience     

The challenges:

If you can’t afford business class—or simply prefer to spend your travel dollars elsewhere—how do you nevertheless maintain some level of comfort and dignity?

The solutions:

Snyder has three suggestions for making your flight comfortable if you opt to turn right, rather than left, when you board.

  • To save money, but still have a better overall flight experience, consider coach or premium economy on the way home. “One example I like is if someone is going on their honeymoon,” Snyder says. “They get married, they’re going to the airport soon after, and they want to sit in business class—they want the champagne and to continue in the halo of the wedding. But after two weeks, you just want to get home, so maybe you don’t care. If you had to choose [where to delegate your funds], you could just sit in coach. Another example is if you’re going to Asia and even if it is your honeymoon, let’s say going over it’s a daytime flight, but coming back it’s an overnight flight, so you might want business class on the way back so you can sleep. Just piece it together based on the budget you have and what’s important to you.”
  • Get to know what “premium economy” really means. “An increasing number of airlines have premium economy, but it’s very different from what people in the United States think,” Snyder says. “It’s not just a coach seat with a little more leg room.” Real premium economy, he explains, has wider seats, more legroom, often a leg rest, upgraded food, priority boarding, a smaller cabin. “So it almost feels like domestic first class, which isn’t all that great but it’s better than coach. For some people, that’s a great upgrade over what you’re used to, and it’s a whole lot nicer and more affordable.” Snyder notes that American, Delta, and United all have a premium economy category and do a good job with it, as do foreign carriers Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia, Japan, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, and Air New Zealand.
  • Snyder speculates that the number of low-cost airlines flying over the Atlantic is likely to increase in the near future, so travelers should keep their eyes open for news on this front. “Norwegian is the most visible of these so far,” he says. “They are flying to a ton of places, and it’s only going to continue. They also have cheap one-way fares. Long-haul one-way flights are traditionally very expensive,” Snyder explains, so this development is valuable: Travelers can now use miles for a one-way ticket to Europe, then buy a ticket home that won’t be outrageously expensive. Snyder raises all the usual flags about low-cost airlines: You have to pay extra for food and baggage, etc., and if something goes wrong with your flight, an airline like Wow doesn’t have the same support as, say, United, where there’s a network of airline partners to help take you where you need to go. Still, Snyder says, the low-cost airlines have their benefits: “We have often found that it can be cheaper to buy two one-ways on Norwegian than a round-trip.” Interestingly, all of this is good news for every traveler, not just those trying to fly on a shoestring: Snyder expects this competition to drive down pricing on the bigger-name airlines.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Beautiful beach landscape with overwater bungalows Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives

Why You Should Travel Between Thanksgiving and Christmas

The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the smartest times of the year to travel.  From the Tuesday after Thanksgiving weekend until approximately the Thursday before Christmas week, tourists are scarce, hotel rates are low, free upgrades abound, and in much of the world the favorable prices coincide with either lovely post-rainy-season weather or festive-winter-wonderland holiday charm. True, you may miss holiday parties back home, but you’ll also get away from all that holiday traffic and lines at the mall. Personally, I’d rather do my holiday shopping in Europe’s Christmas markets or in the cellars of Argentina’s wine country.

One year my own between-the-holidays trip was a cruise from Barcelona to Rome to put Viking Cruises’ new Viking Star to the test. I’ve sailed in the Mediterranean in December before, and it has its pros and cons: It can be chilly on deck or on your balcony, and the sun sets at about 4 p.m., so there are fewer hours for sightseeing than in summertime. But onshore you get pleasant sightseeing temps in the 50s and 60s—especially along the French Riviera and on islands like Malta and Sicily—and it’s a relief not to have to battle the peak-season tourist crush.

While the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not the optimal time for a Mediterranean cruise, it is an optimal time for the following seven places. If you’re headed to any and want to book your trip so as to get the maximum experience for your money, you may ask our advice here.

Hawaii

Four Seasons Maui balcony

Four Seasons Maui. Photo: Four Seasons

With the exception of Thanksgiving, all of November through December 18th or so is uncrowded, with hotels offering deals of the pay-for-three-nights-get-four and pay-for-five-nights-get-seven variety. Look for values on Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island in particular.

The Caribbean

Hermitage Bay, Antigua

Ocean views at the Hermitage Bay Resort in Antigua. Photo: Hermitage Bay Resort

Hurricane season is over, the weather is sunny and clear, and upgrades abound at blissfully empty five-star resorts in the Caribbean islands.

Mexico

three orange beach chairs and a green umbrella facing the ocean in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

‘Tis the season for fourth-night-free and fifth-night-free deals in Mexico up until December 18th or so.

Europe’s Christmas Markets

A Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. Photo: AmaWaterways

One year, my between-the-holidays trip was a European river cruise focused on the magical Christmas markets of Central Europe. I’ve traveled in Austria and Germany in practically every month of the year, and the holidays is my favorite time, thanks to the homespun festive decorations everywhere, the mouthwatering holiday foods, and the concerts and other celebratory activities in towns large and small, not to mention the stomach-warming glühwein and the ease of meeting and chatting with locals at the outdoor markets. It’s not very cold; if there’s any snow, it only adds to the atmosphere. Darkness falls at 4:30, but it’s not a disadvantage because the towns are gorgeously lit up at night and there’s plenty to see and do after dark. Here’s how to plan the perfect trip to Europe’s Christmas markets.

New Zealand

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand on a cloudy day. With hills and trees.

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock

I chose early December for my honeymoon in New Zealand. We had perfect late-spring weather and blossoms from the tip of the North Island to the toe of the South (remember, summer starts circa December 21 in the southern hemisphere), and conditions were great for the crazy adventure activities we did, from jetboating in Queenstown to blackwater rafting in Waitomo.

The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

Early December brings lovely weather, optimal conditions for snorkeling and diving, and extraordinary values at the over-the-top private island resorts you find only in the Maldives.

Argentina/Chile/Patagonia

vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Shutterstock

Late spring is one of the most beautiful moments in Argentina’s wine country, and it’s when you’ll find the best wildlife spotting in Patagonia.

 

What other destinations are at their best between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Share your own recommendations with us!

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.
United's Polaris business class cabin

How to Find Affordable Business-Class Airfare to Europe, South America, and Asia

Question:

Wendy, we’d like your help finding a reliable airline ticket consolidator for a July trip for five of us. We need two business-class and three economy tickets on the same plane. Thank you for any guidance you can give us. —Bonnie

Answer:

Bonnie, for business-class consolidator airline tickets, you might try Blake Fleetwood of Cook Travel, a boutique consolidator with 35 years of experience and a high level of personalized service. Blake negotiates low fares with all the major airlines to just about every international destination, mostly in business or first class; his best deals are to Europe, South America, and Asia. Look to him when you have some flexibility in your travel dates, so that his team can peruse the options to find you the best deal.

Blake’s business-class fares save you between 10% and 40%, depending on how far ahead you’re buying them (three to four months is ideal, though you can sometimes find great deals at the last minute) and the time of year you’re flying. Business-class fares are relatively low during holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter. They’re relatively high from September through November and March through May, since those are the two peak times of year for business travel.

Blake’s team is available 24 hours a day, and they have an emergency hotline if your flights go awry en route. Beware of less reputable consolidators that may be reselling frequent-flier tickets; if you can’t earn miles on a ticket, that’s a likely sign that it’s fraudulent. Another bonus: Blake’s business- and first-class fares are almost always refundable, though sometimes minus a penalty of about $500 per ticket.

UPDATE:  The company mentioned above, Cook Travel Inc (based in New York City), is not affiliated with Thomas Cook Group Plc (based in Britain), which went bankrupt on September 23, 2019. The company mentioned in this article is not affected by that bankruptcy.

How Air Travel Will Change in 2019

It’s that time again where I get to look into my crystal ball and see which airline trends will make news in the coming year. This year, my list isn’t quite as rosy as it was last year. But it’s not all bad news. Read on to see what’s coming in 2019.

1. More international routes from mid-sized U.S. cities

This trend was on the list last year, as airlines raced to add flights from interior U.S. points to Europe, as well as from small European points to the U.S. That trend continues in 2019. American blazed a trail by adding Philadelphia to Prague and Budapest last year, but next summer it digs even deeper with flights from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik and Bologna. Last year, British Airways went small in the U.S., with flights from Nashville to London. Those flights have done well, and now BA is going even smaller with flights from Pittsburgh and Charleston, South Carolina. As long as the economy remains strong, expect this trend to continue.

2. The fall of Iceland and the rise of Portugal

Iceland has been a hot tourist destination for some time now, and both stalwart Icelandair and upstart WOW Air have been pumping travelers to and through the country on the way to the rest of Europe. Capacity has grown far too quickly, and both airlines have been suffering. A recent proposal for Icelandair to acquire WOW fell apart and WOW has been teetering on the edge of solvency. WOW has already shrunk significantly, and I’d definitely expect to see even fewer seats from fewer U.S. cities. Meanwhile, TAP Air Portugal has been trying to grow its business as another gateway to mainland Europe. Up until now, it has had only limited gateways into the U.S., but expect that to change. TAP has new airplanes on order, and it recently announced three new U.S. gateways to Lisbon: San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington/Dulles, all launching in June. Keep that in mind if you’re looking for a place to spend a few days.

3. The incredible shrinking lavatory

You may have noticed things felt a little more snug the last time you stepped into an aircraft lavatory. Don’t worry—it’s not that you ate too much on that cruise. Both Boeing and Airbus have come up with space-saving lavatories primarily for short-haul aircraft. In these bathrooms, the sink extends further into your personal space, making more room for more seats in the cabin. How can you avoid these? Well, drink less water, so you won’t need to go as often.

4. More long-haul flights

If you thought that last flight to Tokyo was long, just wait until you see some of the newest flights being launched. Aircraft are increasingly being built with more range, and airlines are taking full advantage. Qantas opted to stretch the legs of its 787 fleet with the first nonstop flight from London to Australia. Granted, it’s from Perth and not Sydney, but Qantas has already asked for an airplane with enough range for that flight. The Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and Turkish) have always operated long flights, but Singapore Airlines now tops them all. With the delivery of its new A350-900ULR (that’s Ultra Long Range) aircraft, Singapore has been able to re-start nonstop service from Newark to Singapore. That’s in addition to new service from Singapore to LA, San Francisco, and soon, Seattle.

5. Basic Economy spreads basically everywhere

It’s been a few years since the Basic Economy concept rolled out domestically in the U.S. Basic fares generally allow no changes and no advance seat assignments, and on occasion they don’t allow carry-on bags either. There are other restrictions as well. The upside? They cost less than a full coach fare. This fare strategy was originally isolated to the U.S. market and then spread into other parts of North America. Now it is catching on with more airlines. Alaska Airlines will have its version of Basic Economy rolled out for travel in 2019. And JetBlue has said it will follow. If you’re flying internationally, you might think you’re immune to this, but you’re not. We’re now seeing more of these fares head into the transatlantic market. The big three U.S. airlines and their European partners all have a form of Basic Economy flying over the water. Be careful to understand the rules when you buy your ticket.

 

Brett Snyder is President at Cranky Concierge, a service that Wendy recommends to WOW List travelers seeking the savviest help with international airline travel. Brett’s service ferrets out the smartest routes and fares, monitors your flights, and provides emergency rerouting assistance if your flight is delayed or cancelled. We asked him to talk about 2019’s biggest air travel trends and what you need to know about them.

Singapore Airlines plane in the sky

Strategies for Flying Smarter in 2018

When George Hobica founded Airfarewatchdog.com, he solved one of the most frustrating challenges for fliers: how to tell if you’re getting the best price on a flight. But suddenly, by signing up for the website’s customizable low-fare alerts, fliers were receiving key fare information and assurance right in their inboxes. Over the years, the website has continued to come up with solutions for travelers, including a hotel-deal finder and one-sheets for domestic airlines that detail fees, contact numbers, and user reviews all in one place. So when we started wondering what 2018 is likely to have in store for airline passengers and how to make the best of any changes, we went right to George. These are his top five strategies for flying smarter in 2018.

1. Economy class seating will get tighter, so it’s never been more necessary to research before you book.

Those flying in economy class will see seats spaced closer together. Visit SeatGuru to see which airlines have added extra seats to rows in economy and which have added more rows per plane. JetBlue will remain the only U.S. airline with at least 34 inches of space between rows in economy (the others may space them 30 or 31 inches apart).  On the plus side, airlines are expanding their premium economy cabins on international routes, with United being the latest to announce they are adding premium cabins this year.

2. Business class will feel more private and get upgrades, so this could be a good year to consider splurging (or spending miles).

Singapore Airline's new first class suites are like mini apartments

Singapore Airline’s new first class suites feature a real bed. Photo: Singapore Airlines

Some airlines will be adding more privacy to their business class cabins, offering all-aisle access in a 1-2-1 configuration. Singapore Airlines’ new first class “Suites” will feature a real bed and a seat, not just a seat that turns into a bed (two people traveling together can turn them into a cozy double bed). British Airways is rolling out an enhanced business class cabin with quilted mattress pads and a fancier meal service.

3. You’ll fly more comfortably if you choose the right planes.

We’ll see newer planes on many more routes, but be sure to opt for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350, if available, on ultra-long-haul flights. These aircraft lower the equivalent altitude inside the cabin by about 2,000 feet compared to other planes, meaning you’ll breathe easier and generally feel better on long flights. They also keep more passenger-generated humidity inside the plane; your mucous membranes will thank you for choosing one of these aircraft. Boeing shows where the Dreamliner flies and on which airlines. There are many similar sources for the A350 (just do a search for “A350 routes”). Or ask a travel agent.

4. Watch for new technology that will speed and simplify boarding.

 

britishairways biometric boarding gates LAX

British Airways has introduced biometric boarding at LAX. Photo: British Airways

We will see more airlines automate the boarding procedure by using self-boarding via facial-recognition technology. British Airways tested this on international flights from LAX in January and eventually all airlines will use self-boarding turnstiles to speed the process and make it more secure. (Scans of U.S. passport holders are compared to their photos stored by Customs and Border Protection; scans of foreign visitors are compared to photos captured by cameras at immigration.) I recently witnessed 180 passengers self-boarding a Dreamliner in less than 20 minutes. No need to show passports or boarding passes, just look into the camera and pass through the turnstile.

5. Spend more time in airport lounges—they’re improving.

Air Canada's business class lounge at Pearson Airport in Toronto

Air Canada’s business class lounge at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Photo: Air Canada

Passengers with access to airport lounges will find vastly improved pre-flight dining options. Air Canada, for example, has launched a new business class lounge at Toronto’s Pearson Airport, available only to paid business class passengers, that combines the traditional amenities found in airport lounges with a restaurant helmed by Vancouver-based celebrity chef David Hawksworth. Those operated by United, American and Delta, many of which were showing their age, are getting upgrades: new furniture, décor, and lighting, with places to charge your electronics at every seat, and a wider choice of edibles (Delta now serves a full hot breakfast in some of its Skyclubs). Most U.S. airlines will sell you a day pass for about $50 (think of it as three airport martinis plus free Wi-Fi and nibbles and it won’t sound so pricey).

Singapore Air first class suites a380

The Big Air Travel Trends of 2018: More Comfort and Price Points

There’s nothing quite like planning a big adventure to see something amazing, but chances are at some point along the way, you’ve had a momentary sense of dread. After all, to get to any of these exotic locales, you’re likely going to have to fly, and for some, that’s not a pleasant thought. Fortunately, trends in 2018 continue to point toward a better flying experience with more ways to get more comfort, more direct flights, and more flexible pricing options. Below, you’ll find 5 air travel trends (at least 4 of which are unequivocally positive) to look for in 2018.

New international routes from midsize cities

paris vacation rental with view of eiffel tower France

It’s never been easier to get to Europe from midsize cities. Airlines are adding routes such as Indianapolis-Paris, Nashville-London, and Philadelphia-Prague. Photo: Paris Perfect

If you live in the middle of the country, you’ve long hated having to connect through a traffic-choked U.S. airport to get over to Europe. This year, things are changing. Icelandair just announced it will fly from Kansas City to Iceland (and beyond). This follows an earlier announcement that both it and competitor WOW will fly from Cleveland. Bonus: Both Icelandair and WOW tend to have very competitive fares compared to the big guys. British Airways begins flying from Nashville to London this summer, and Delta will connect Indianapolis and Paris. Conversely, big U.S. cities are getting connected to smaller European cities. Flights like Newark to Porto, Chicago to Venice, and Philadelphia to Prague will be operating this summer. It’s never been easier to get from anywhere in the U.S. to anywhere in Europe.

First class gets (more) extravagant

Emirates' first class rooms with floor-to-ceiling walls and fully flat beds. Photo: Emirates

Emirates improves its first class by offering rooms with floor-to-ceiling walls and fully flat beds. Photo: Emirates

International first class has become increasingly scarce over the years as airlines opted to put most resources into an upgraded business class instead. But those airlines that have kept first class around have started to upgrade their offerings beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Emirates has recently rolled out a new first class featuring floor-to-ceiling walls making for a completely private room for each first class passenger (even more awesome than their suites, which had doors but not full walls). For those in the middle of the cabin, fear not. There will be virtual windows with real-time views of what you’d be seeing outside. Singapore Airlines has also put forth a similarly impressive major upgrade. On Singapore, if you’re traveling with another person, you can combine two of the suites to make one big one. If you don’t have an unlimited budget, you may want to consider using your miles, if you can find the space. And make sure to confirm that your route has the new suites onboard before you buy.

Premium economy takes center stage

Delta Premium Select premium economy seats

Delta is one U.S. airline improving its premium economy seating (called Premium Select) to compete with international airlines. Photo: Delta

If you’ve flown Economy Plus on United or Comfort+ on Delta, you may think you’ve flown premium economy, but you haven’t. Real premium economy is more than just the little extra legroom you’ll find on most domestic airlines today. It’s a wider seat that usually has leg or foot support. You get upgraded meals, priority check-in/security/boarding, and you get a higher baggage allowance. This cabin in between coach and business class has been around for years with some foreign airlines, but it’s becoming more and more popular. This year, U.S.-based airlines are finally stepping up their game. American now has many of its 787 and 777 aircraft flying with a premium economy cabin. Delta has also rolled out premium economy on its new A350 aircraft with more to come. Just last week, United announced it would introduce its own version of premium economy on some international flights as well. If you’re on a budget but want something better than coach, pay close attention to these options. You can often find premium economy options for less than double the price of coach and half the price of business class.

Business class gets stripped down (but at least fares are coming down)

We’ve only just seen the beginning of this trend, but I expect it to pick up steam in 2018. Business class has always been expensive, but fares have been coming down. With that trend, airlines have started pulling some amenities out of the basic business class fare. For example, Virgin Atlantic has long provided chauffeur service for its so-called Upper Class passengers. That perk was taken away from those on the lowest business class fares. Then there’s the case of British Airways, which actually charges for a seat assignment on any business class fare. As premium cabin prices become more competitive and airlines feel the pressure, you can expect to see more of the “à la carte” style we’ve seen in coach. That should mean lower business class fares will be available, especially if all you care about is that flat-bed seat and not the other frills. Let’s just hope they do a better job of implementing it than they did in coach.

The rise of one-way pricing

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

More airlines are offering affordable one-way pricing and in some cases, as with TAP Air Portugal, a free stopover in their home country. Photo: cristinamacia/Pixabay

Remember the days when flying in the U.S. meant having to buy a round-trip ticket and stay over a Saturday night to get the lowest fares? Those days are mostly gone thanks to the entrance of low-cost carriers, but that kind of pricing is still largely intact when you fly over the oceans. As low-cost carriers make inroads on long-haul flights, however, we’ve seen some airlines start to melt away those restrictions to get a leg up. Over the Atlantic, Norwegian, TAP Air Portugal, Icelandair, and Aer Lingus are known for having good one-way fares (and both TAP and Icelandair’s flights include a free stopover in their home countries). This can be hugely helpful if, say, you have enough miles to fly one way over water but not the return. This allows you to mix and match to get what you need, and it’s a welcome improvement.

 

Brett Snyder is President at Cranky Concierge, where he specializes in air travel assistance. Brett’s the guy to call when you need to find last-minute alternatives to canceled or delayed flights, book a complicated airline itinerary, or find an ally who can talk directly to airlines and untangle their rules and regulations. You can also follow his news and insights into the air travel world on his blog Cranky Flier.

Fakarava island in french polynesia with canoe on turquoise blue water

New Flight Routes That Could Improve Your 2018 Travels

At the start of each new year, as I plot out my travels for the year ahead, I like to look at the new routes and flights being launched. That’s not just because airlines sometimes offer special fares on introductory routes. It’s because these added flights indicate which places are growing in popularity and thus are best visited sooner rather than later (when they could get overrun).

It’s not at all surprising to see airlines adding routes in 2018 to destinations that have skyrocketed in popularity, such as Iceland (which in the past few years has gone from blissfully empty to teeming with tour buses), Portugal (a hot spot, thanks to a buzzing architecture-and-design scene, stylish new hotels, and exciting new food and wine experiences) and Hawaii (which is currently so in-demand that top hotels are already almost sold out for the 2018 Christmas-New Year holiday). Personally, I’m most excited about the new non-stop from New York to the Azores, the sunny Atlantic islands off Portugal that will soon be reachable from JFK in only six hours.

These are the new flights, all from major U.S. hubs, that excite me the most:

Atlanta to Lisbon, Portugal, on Delta, starting May 24.

Chicago (O’Hare) to Venice, Italy, on American Airlines, starting May 4.
Chicago (O’Hare) to Vancouver, Canada, on American Airlines, starting May 4.
Chicago (O’Hare) to Calgary, Canada, on American Airlines, starting June 7.

Dallas to Reykjavik, Iceland, on American Airlines, starting June 7.

Houston to Sydney, Australia, on United, starting January 18.

Los Angeles (LAX) to Kona, on Hawaiian Airlines, starting March 12.
Los Angeles (Long Beach) to Honolulu, on Hawaiian Airlines, starting June 1.
Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris (CDG), on Delta, starting June 16.
Los Angeles (LAX) to Amsterdam, on Delta, starting June 16.
Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai, on Delta, starting July 2.

New York (Newark) to Porto, Portugal, on United, starting May 4.
New York (Newark) to Reykjavik, Iceland, on United, starting May 23.
New York (JFK) to the Azores (Ponta Delgada), Portugal, on Delta, starting May 24.
New York (JFK) to Nairobi, Kenya, on Kenya Airways, starting October 28.

Philadelphia to Dublin, on Aer Lingus, starting March 25.
Philadelphia to Budapest, on American Airlines, starting May 4.
Philadelphia to Prague, on American Airlines, starting May 4.

San Francisco (Oakland) to Kauai, on Hawaiian Airlines, starting April 12.
San Francisco (SFO) to Madrid, on Iberia Airlines, starting April 25.
San Francisco (SFO to Zurich, Switzerland, on United, starting June 7.
San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti, on United, starting October 30.

Seattle to Paris (CDG), on Air France, starting March 25.
Seattle to Dublin, on Aer Lingus, starting May 18.

Washington, D.C. (Dulles) to Edinburgh, Scotland, on United, starting May 23.
Washington, D.C. (Dulles) to Hong Kong, on Cathay Pacific, starting September 15.

 

ALSO: Southwest Airlines has promised to start flying to Hawaii in 2018 from multiple U.S. hubs, but has not yet revealed where or when. Hurry up, Southwest. Travelers need those extra flights!

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

wallet full of credit cards

Best Credit Cards for Canadian Travelers

Using the right credit card is a smart way to maximize your travel booking power, and there are several that we recommend every traveler have in his or her arsenal. Some cards come with sign-up bonuses, others offer the potential to earn valuable points you can trade for hotel stays and flights, and others reward you with cash back.

We regularly update our Best Credit Cards for Travelers list, and every time we do, we are gently reminded by our Canadian readers that our advice is very useful…unless you live in Canada. That’s because Canadians can’t apply for a U.S. credit card unless they have a U.S. bank account and a U.S. address. In the interest of serving all of you globetrotters who reside in Canada, we reached out to our old friend and miles-and-points expert Gary Leff, who writes View from the Wing and founded BookYourAward.com.

“The Canadian card market isn’t quite as lucrative or competitive as the U.S. market,” Gary explained. “And it’s also somewhat in flux, because Air Canada is going to be ending its relationship with Aeroplan (the frequent-flier program that it spun off) and starting its own new program. As a result the value of accumulated unused Aeroplan miles is likely to fall. As a result my three favorite Canadian cards are American Express products.”

Here are Gary’s picks for the best credit cards for Canadian travelers:

• Starwood American Express: This has been a go-to in the U.S. for me for 16 years and is pretty similar in Canada.

• Gold Rewards: This one earns Membership Rewards points, which transfer to a variety of airline mileage programs (different programs than the U.S. cards have access to).

• Simply Cash Preferred: For cash back, this one gets you 2% rebates.

If you have any questions (for us or Gary), let us know in the comments below. And be sure to follow Gary on ViewFromtheWing.com for the latest insider info and explanations of the world of miles and points.

 

Photo credit: Plant Hide

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

northern lights photographed from airplane

A Pro Photographer’s Solutions to the Airline Electronics Ban

Travel bans of any kind never come at a good time. But this latest one is coming at a particularly bad time for me. As a photojournalist, it’s my very job description to carry my cameras with me. Sure, iPhone cameras are fine for snapshots, but I make my living using professional-grade cameras that I am now forced to place in checked luggage if I’m flying to the U.S. or U.K. from certain airports. So this ban is going to hurt. I have an assignment in Morocco next week and another in Dubai this summer, and I’ll be flying through and from airports that are on the new watch list.

I always arrive at the security gate well before scheduled departure so that my gear can be scrutinized. In fact, I fly with so much gear, electronics, and cords that I get very suspicious if the security agency doesn’t check my bag with a fine-tooth comb. But this ban will seriously change how I work.

My biggest complaint with the ban is the vagaries of it. Okay, I understand laptops won’t be allowed, or iPads, or my kids’ DS. But what about battery chargers or the cell-phone-sized hard drives I use to back up all the photos I shoot on assignment? What are you supposed to do with a key piece of equipment you thought was okay to carry onboard when a security guard says you can’t take that onboard because…well…he says so. Your checked bags are already down the chute. Now what?

My other concern is theft. You might as well put a “Steal Me” sticker on the outside of a bag with your camera in it. Security staff and luggage handlers X-ray bags well out of sight from the public, so the theft rate could increase exponentially. I remember going through Heathrow years ago when a similar ban was in effect. I had placed my underwater video camera in a checked bag (because my carry-on was already maxed out with other— more important—equipment), and they brought it to the gate where I was waiting, and I had to show the security agents what it was and prove that it was operational. That was the last time I saw it. Those little TSA-approved travel locks? Sure. Why not? But they and your ballistic-material luggage can be breached in mere seconds. Or just stolen completely, little locks and all.

So what am I going to do about it?

I live in fear of a camera getting lost or stolen on a trip, but now I will be changing how I work.

•For starters, I will leave my top-of-the-line camera bodies (the part of the camera minus the lens) at home. Instead, I will use cameras that are a few years or models old. Though not the latest and greatest, they are still usable and more expendable than my best—which I will need back at home.

•I will never put more than one camera body into each piece of checked luggage. That will give me a better chance of arriving at my destination with at least one of them.

•I will carry more media cards on which to store the photos I shoot. Let me explain: Until now I’ve always carried my laptop on my trips, downloaded each day’s photos to it each night, and backed them up on a portable hard drive (if not two). This is so as not to lose the images I’ve shot during the trip. The system allowed me to reuse media cards once I’d transferred the images to my laptop. Since I’ll now be leaving the laptop at home (since I won’t entrust my laptop to checked baggage), I’ll buy more media cards on which to store my photos. I’ll simply save the photos on the cards and wait till I’m home to download them to my laptop. SD cards are actually cheap enough now to do this, but keep in mind that they are small, notoriously slippery, and easy to lose!

•On some trips I might bring an older laptop (from which I’ve erased my personal data) to use as storage and for transferring photos to a portable, cell-phone-size hard drive. Will I be allowed to carry the hard drive into airline cabins? I don’t know.

•I will probably invest in a product such as Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless Pro. You can plug your SD cards right into it (its USB slot handles other format card readers) and copy photos or data right to a 2 or 3 TB drive.

•If you place your cameras in checked baggage, make sure to remove the media cards from the cameras. My video camera was stolen at Heathrow, but at least I had the sense to take the tape out and hand-carry it.

You will also have to remove the batteries from your camera, as most cameras use lithium batteries. However, the FAA specifically says that lithium batteries can’t be in checked bags, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that catch-22 gets solved.

•So what about chargers? I’m going to have to carry extra spare batteries in addition to what I carry now, in case my battery chargers are banned from carry-on luggage and get stolen. I’ll get a second charger too—so I can put each into two separate checked bags, again hoping that both of my bags won’t be taken or violated.

•With the camera bodies in the belly of the plane, that will leave more room in my carry-on for lenses. But this worries me too. A security agent once probed his finger into my telephoto lens and not only made it unusable but did several hundred dollars’ worth of damage to it.

On a personal level, one of my favorite things to do is to take photos while I’m flying. That’s gone now. I will miss shooting sights from a 33,000+-foot vantage point.

I’ve lived with previous bans and increases in airport security since the days of D.B. Cooper and almost daily hijackings to Cuba. And I’ve dealt with higher-speed films being ruined by third-world x-ray machines. So this ban is nothing new. I just wish it weren’t so vague. I’m looking forward to hard-and-fast rules.

Stay tuned.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Airfare Deals to Europe Are Excellent Right Now

If you’re even toying with the idea of traveling to Europe next year, talk to your family or travel companions this holiday weekend and purchase your plane tickets right away. Airfare to Europe is currently at a remarkable low; cheap flights and airfare sales are popping up left and right.

“We are seeing some epic airfare sales to Europe,” says George Hobica, president and founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. “[Flights are] 66% or less than usual, and many were good for summer travel, which is highly unusual.”

Joe Brancatelli of Joe Sent Me agrees. “These are the lowest fares I’ve seen in a generation, since about 1985, give or take for inflation,” he says. “Even when you factor in seat charges and other ancillaries, the coach fares are insanely low. I mean, under $400 on major airlines to Europe. That is serious stuff. Record-breaking low stuff.”

George is seeing great deals to Paris, London, Italy, Germany, Brussels, and more, while Joe adds that Spain and Portugal are among the best deals right now. “Some of that is due to the fact that TAP Air Portugal has charged back into the market,” Joe says. “Some of it is that all three U.S. carriers serve Lisbon, Madrid, and Barcelona, and Spain itself has two carriers (Iberia and Air Europa).” Joe suggests keeping an eye out for super-cheap prices to Iceland (thanks to low-cost carrier WOW), and for business travelers, specialty carriers such as LaCompagnie for France and Emirates for Milan are making the New York–Paris and New York–Milan routes a great deal.

What’s the catch?

Well, according to Joe, who’s been covering the airline industry and consumer travel for decades, there isn’t one. “The dollar is very strong in Europe and is nearing parity with the euro—something we haven’t seen since the euro was introduced in 2002. The dollar is also at 30-year highs against the British pound. You also want to watch for cheaper room rates in specific countries (France, Belgium, Turkey) because of the terrorist incidents.”

In fact, the negatives he cited don’t actually have to do with airfare. Joe cautions travelers to watch out for “credit cards that still impose a currency-exchange fee and airport ATMs operated by currency traders (because they offer lousy rates, just like their cash booths).” And, of course, the weather. “So that means watch out for snow storms in your U.S. departure cities that can mess with your schedule. And watch the weather because some European destinations (looking at you, Paris and London) get messed up if they get snow. I mean, an inch of snow at Heathrow creates nightmares.”

If you do find yourself stranded or snowed in, Wendy recommends contacting Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge. He and his team specialize in emergency air travel solutions, and if anyone can find a way to get you where you need to be, it’s Brett.

How to find the deals:

To find the deals, you can sign up for fare alerts at Airfarewatchdog.com or use the site’s helpful “fares from a city” feature. Just type in your departure city, and it’ll spit back great deals to locations all over the world. Two other useful tools are Google Flights (type in your departure city and it’ll show you several low-price options; shift the date to see more) and Kayak.com (when you click on the calendar icon in your initial search, small green dots below certain dates indicate days when airfare is cheaper).

So what are you waiting for? As Joe put it, “Honestly, this is one of the greatest times for Europe travel I have ever seen. Cheap fares. Cheaper hotel rates. Fabulous currency exchange rates. And because it is winter, the culture of Europe is in full swing—you’ll not only get good theater, you’ll actually meet locals in their own cities and towns. That doesn’t happen when Americans go in August!”

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

United 787 amenities kit

What It’s Like to Fly on a 787 Dreamliner

What’s it like to fly on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner?  I recently flew United’s 787-9 Dreamliner on what is currently the longest 787 route flown by a U.S. airline, between San Francisco and Singapore. It covers 8,446 miles and takes 16 hours 20 minutes going to Singapore. I flew the opposite way, on my trip home from Asia, which clocked in at a slightly shorter 15 hours 30 minutes. Here’s what it was like.

The seats

The seats in business class on United’s 787-9 are arranged 2-2-2, and are staggered slightly to offer some privacy when you’re reclined.

My home for 15 hours and 30 minutes. I slept wonderfully.

My home for 15 hours and 30 minutes. I slept wonderfully.

The seats are 20.6″ wide (the widest BusinessFirst seat United offers) and truly go flat, so you can sleep pretty well on them; and they are adjustable in various ways so you can recline or raise your feet to keep comfortable when not dozing. The blankets are duvet-style, cozy without being too heavy, and the seat cushion is plush enough that you don’t feel the bones of the seat when you lie down.

I had an aisle seat in the middle section of the first row. If you prefer the window spot, keep in mind that they are the only ones without direct aisle access, and you can find yourself trapped when your seat neighbor is fully reclined. This problem isn’t unique to United; I had it on my Qatar Airways flight too; and it’ll be solved when United launches its new Polaris international business class product in December of this year.

The Polaris premium cabin reboot will feature new seats that are more like private pods and that will have custom bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue—with new pillows! This is great news because one of my quibbles with United’s long-haul business class is its uncomfortable pillows. That may seem like nitpicking, but it’s surprising just how much a bad headrest can affect your sleep. The current pillows feel like loose sacks of lumpy cotton balls. In the future, flights outfitted with the Polaris design will give passengers the choice between the snazzy Saks pillow and a cooling gel pillow (they’ll also be able to request a mattress cushion).

United 787 business first cabin

The BusinessFirst cabin on United’s 787-9 Dreamliner, flying from Singapore to San Francisco.

United 787 business first seat power

Every BusinessFirst seat on the 787-9 has a personal power plug, a USB port, and a set of noise-canceling headphones that fit into that two-holed jack at left. You can plug your own headphones into a single hole, but the sound isn’t as good.

United 787 business first seat controls

The seats recline a full 180 degrees, but you can set them in just about any other position too, including adding extra lumbar support.

United 787 lumpy pillow

United’s lumpy BusinessFirst pillows are thankfully being replaced by custom bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue in the new Polaris class, to be unveiled in December. Photo: Billie Cohen

United 787 cubby space

Lots of room for your legs, and a convenient cubby for your stuff. When your seat is fully extended you won’t be able to access the bottom cubby, and if you’re tall, your feet might be inside the second one. Loved the mini banana-sized shelf at the top. Came in handy!

The environment

Thanks to several of the 787’s features, and the flight crew’s smart use of them, it’s very easy to get a good night’s sleep on this aircraft, and therefore to feel less jetlagged. To start with, the cabin pressure of Boeing’s Dreamliner makes it feel like you’re at only 6,000 feet instead of the usual 8,000. That makes a big difference in how dehydrated and dry you’ll be after 15-plus hours in the air.

Next, the lighting is much gentler and can be adjusted to different colors (blue, orange, etc.) to make your brain subtly register that the day is passing. The windows help with this too. Windows on the Dreamliner are bigger than what you’re used to on other planes—and the shades can stay open during the entire flight, thanks to a special tinting material within the windowpane itself. The feature can be tuned to mimic different times of day, so even though we took off at 8:45 a.m., the crew made it look like night after a few hours so that we could all switch over to San Francisco time more easily. And it worked for me—I adjusted time zones without any problem when I arrived; and I am embarrassingly wimpy when it comes to jet lag, no matter the direction of travel. As a bonus, the special windows mean that whenever you are awake you can still look outside rather than having to stealthily crack the shade up and hope you don’t bother your snoring seatmate.

The amenities

I’ve already mentioned the 180-degree lie-flat bed (thumbs up), and I also appreciated the easily reachable USB port, power outlet, and headphones in every seat. I’m also a sucker for a cool amenities kit, and I love the commemorative Rio Olympics-themed kit United is using this summer; it’s packaged in a cool tin shaped like the body of an airplane. The lotion and lip balm are from Soho House’s luxe Cowshed Spa, and the eye mask is comfortable cloth instead of nylon; the rest is the usual toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. Big plus: The bathroom sinks and toilets are touch-free. This should be standard in every bathroom on every plane everywhere. Genius.

For entertainment, each business-class seat has a nice big 15-inch TV screen, but the screens are missing a key design feature: privacy overlays. This means you can see everything on everyone else’s TV at full brightness. From my seat in the center section, I could not help but see all five of the other screens in my row. In an aircraft that takes such care to create soothing cabin lighting and a relaxing environment, this was a surprising (and surprisingly bright) oversight. Regardless, I was perfectly happy binging on bad action movies and TV shows in my cozy recliner until I fell asleep.

United 787 TV screens

Someone forgot to add privacy filters to all of the BusinessFirst TV screens, so there is no way to not see what everyone else is watching. This was particularly disruptive when the cabin was otherwise dark and I was trying to sleep. Those screens are bright!

United 787 entertainment center

You can control your personal TV either by this handheld device or by touch-screen.

United 787 amenities kit

We each received this commemorative amenities kit, made special for the Rio Olympics. United is the airline sponsor for Team USA.

United 787 amenities kit

All the goodies in the Olympics-themed amenities kit. Not only is the tin special, but the cloth eye mask and patterned socks are inspired by Team USA too.

The food

No one will be surprised to hear that the food isn’t very good. But when other airlines are elevating inflight dining, even in coach, it seems fair to expect that a business-class meal on a premier new plane would be at least edible. If only. Over the course of my three-month trip in Asia, I flew seven airlines; most of the time I was in coach, and United was the only U.S. airline I took. On every flight—even a domestic-China trip that was less than two hours—I was served a meal, and it was pretty good. So I’m just saying: It is possible. Even for vegetarians.

On this flight, I didn’t touch my special meals (one course had chicken in it, and the other was just really unappetizing). And for breakfast, the only vegetarian option is cold cereal. Which is weird because if you don’t drink milk, your meal is just dry corn flakes with a banana. Oh, wait, mine did come with a small bowl of the congee toppings; when, confused, I asked a flight attendant what it was, he said “I don’t know.” I figured it out by putting a heap of shredded ginger in my mouth. That’ll wake you up.

To be fair, it’s not just this flight that has challenges with special meals. Lots of airlines suffer, and United, despite its partnership with the Trotter Project, has not figured it out yet. Maybe there aren’t that many of us vegetarians or special-meal requesters, but if an airline kitchen is going to make the effort (and believe me, I so appreciate that they do), how about some input from the passengers who have to eat it? Call me, United, we’ll talk.

United 787 appetizer

The mystery appetizer, which may or may not have been chicken. The small cup of warm roasted mixed nuts in the top left corner is my favorite though—they could just feed me that and I’d be happy.

United 787 main vegetarian meal

Sounded good on paper, wasn’t good in reality: vegetarian braised tofu with mixed vegetables in sha cha sauce. Glad I brought my own PB&J instead.

United 787 breakfast

The only vegetarian breakfast is cereal. I don’t drink milk, so I ate it dry. You could add those congee toppings in the bowl, but it’s not quite the right complement for Corn Flakes.

The last word

United’s 787 experience made all the difference in my long-haul return flight. I slept so well, and the aircraft environment was so comfortable, that the 15 and a half hours went by pretty quickly. If given the option to take a 787 on a long-haul flight, I would definitely choose it, and I can’t wait to see how United improves its already enjoyable business class later this year when it rolls out Polaris.

United airlines 787 Dreamliner

United’s 787 Dreamliner. Photo: United

 

*Full disclosure: My flight was fully paid for by United. The airline’s SFO-SIN route was introduced July 1 and as part of the launch, I was invited to take the flight and review it. As I already had a trip to Asia planned, I accepted the offer. Wendy and I both fly United often and felt comfortable that we could represent a fair picture of this experience. 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

How to Avoid Long Airport Security Lines This Summer

Airport security lines have grown absurdly long of late, thanks to more people traveling and fewer TSA workers. With the busy summer travel season upon us, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Here’s how to minimize your time stuck in a TSA line on your next trip:

If You’re Flying Soon

Find out if your airport terminal has more than one security checkpoint.

Many terminals do. Before leaving home, go to the airport’s website and pull up a map showing the security checkpoints. (This map, for instance, indicates where the three checkpoints are in Newark airport’s Terminal C; this one shows where they are for all five terminals at Dallas-Fort Worth.) At the airport, ask an official which checkpoint has the shortest line.

Download the MyTSA app.

Available for free for iPhones and Android, this app gives you current security wait times at your airport, as reported by your fellow travelers. You can also view them here; just type in your airport code.

Arrive early and hit the club lounge.

The bigger and busier your airport—e.g., J.F.K., Chicago (O’Hare), or Miami International—the earlier you’ll want to arrive, especially if you’re flying at a peak time.  At least two hours early for a domestic flight, and three hours early for international, may be a good rule of thumb for most airports. To keep your stress level down, you might consider arriving really early and buying a day pass to an airport lounge club (if the club is gate-side).

If You’re Flying Later

Don’t buy airline tickets for flights at peak times.

Avoid Friday late afternoon and early evening, for example, because that’s when business travelers returning from business trips are hitting the airport at the same time as leisure travelers leaving on vacation, creating security-line pile-ups. If you’re taking a long weekend, consider flying on a Saturday morning and returning Tuesday. (That’s also less expensive than a Thursday-to-Sunday long weekend.)

Enroll in TSA PreCheck or, even better, Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck admits you into a priority lane where you need not remove your shoes, liquids, or laptop. The $85 fee covers you for five years. For an extra $15, though, get Global Entry (the $100 fee also covers you for five years), which lets you skip the long customs line on your way back into the U.S. from an international trip, and which automatically gives you TSA PreCheck. Not every airport has PreCheck lanes or Global Entry kiosks, so check whether yours does.

Buy access to the priority security line.

Many travelers who have elite status with an airline can use the express lane at the security checkpoint. If you don’t have elite status, some airlines let you purchase access to the priority security lane on a one-time basis. United, for instance, lets you buy access at 68 airports worldwide (prices start at $15), and JetBlue lets you buy it at 62 airports.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Symphony of Lights show, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Is A Great Place for a Layover: Here’s What to Do

Hong Kong’s exceptional public transportation system makes it easy to explore the city between flights; whatever else you do, taking in the skyline of this sky-scraping metropolis is a must. We asked the Hong Kong staff of Context Travel—a company on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts that runs cultural walking tours in cities worldwide—for their favorite ways to get a taste of Asia’s financial hub. Keep in mind that because of immigration, getting to and from the airport, and checking back in, you’ll need at least six hours between flights.

The Basics

How to get out of the airport:

Train: The best option is the Airport Express, which takes you to Kowloon or Hong Kong island in no more than 24 minutes. The platform is located in the main terminal building, just after arrivals, and is clearly signed. Trains depart every ten minutes from 5:50 a.m. until 12:48 a.m. A round-trip ticket is 100 Hong Kong dollars (about U.S. $13); purchase tickets by the platform before boarding the train or on arrival at your destination.

Taxi: The Airport Express is the quicker and more convenient option, but you can also take a taxi to Kowloon for approximately HKD $270 (about U.S. $35) and to Central for approximately HKD $320 (about U.S. $40).

What to do with your luggage:

If you haven’t checked your baggage through to your final destination, stow it at the left luggage counter on Level 3 of Terminal 2, which is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Prices are HKD $12 (about U.S. $1.50) per hour or HKD $140 (about U.S. $18) for the day.

If you have a 6-hour layover:

Context recommends allowing three hours for immigration, exiting the airport, and traveling to and from your desired destination. So don’t bother leaving the airport unless your layover is at least six hours long.

But if you do have six hours, you’ve got enough time to explore Kowloon Island and absorb the famous Victoria Harbor skyline. The best route is to take the Airport Express to Kowloon Station (about 20 minutes); from here, you can either stretch your legs on a 15-minute stroll to the Jordan district, or jump in a taxi for the five-minute ride (HKD $22 /U.S. $3). Here you’ll find some interesting markets selling anything from fish balls to your fortune to the newest gadgets. It’s a great place to soak in the bustling atmosphere and see today’s Hong Kong firsthand. Grab a bite to eat in one of the many tasty eateries in Jordan before walking down Nathan Road toward the harbor, where you can walk along the Avenue of Stars to see the city’s iconic skyscrapers. It’s a striking view day or night, and a great place to sit with a drink or an ice cream.

Head back to Kowloon Station on foot through Kowloon Park (25 minutes) or via a ten-minute taxi ride. If you find that you are ahead of schedule and have an hour to spare, head up to Ozone, the highest bar in the world—located 118 floors above Kowloon Station inside the Ritz-Carlton—for an impressive panorama before boarding the Airport Express to get you speedily back to the airport.

If you’d like a more structured interlude, Context Travel offers a three-hour Today’s Hong Kong walking tour of Kowloon Island. This allows first-timers to understand the social, cultural, and political changes that Hong Kong has experienced (and is still experiencing) since the 1997 British handover.

If you have a 9-hour layover:

A slightly longer layover allows you to head into the Central district and go up to Victoria Peak to admire the sprawling metropolis below. Take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Station (the final stop). Once you’re in Central, signage along the walkways will help you navigate to the “Mid-Levels Escalator,” which links different parts of the hilly city, from sea level to 443 feet high; take the escalator up to admire the bustling streets below. In the Central area Context offers a two-and-a-half-hour food tour; you could sample local delicacies, from dim sum to custard egg tarts.

Continue on your way up the escalator until you see a sign for Hollywood Road. Turn right down Hollywood Road toward Sheung Wan, and you’ll find yourself on an interesting street lined with antiques shops and ancient trees growing up the stone walls. Pop into Man Mo Temple, an interesting contrast to the financial center and towers surrounding it. Now it’s time to see Central and Kowloon from an outstanding vantage point: Victoria Peak. You could catch a tram, which leaves from the Lower Peak Tram terminus; however, the queues can sometimes be long, which may be risky during a layover. A safer bet is a taxi, which should take approximately 30 minutes each way and will cost about HKD $90 ($11.60). The top of the peak is the perfect place to soak up the view, walk off your plane legs, and grab a drink or a bite. When it’s time to leave, jump in a taxi back to Hong Kong station to board the Airport Express.

If you don’t have time to leave the airport:

The Hong Kong airport is a comfortable place to spend a few hours. There are a number of V.I.P. lounges that are free for business-class ticket holders; at some travelers can pay for a day pass. Terminal 2 is home to SkyPlaza and SkyMart (large shopping and restaurant areas), and there is even an IMAX cinema. For a bit of R&R, you can grab a foot massage or a spa treatment inside Terminal 1. Free Wi-Fi is also a plus, to help you pass the time or plan for your next leg of the trip.

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.

 

More Layover Solutions:

Philadelphia Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Istanbul Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Tokyo Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

sleeping on a plane

15 Problem-Solving Items for Overnight Flights

Leave it to frequent fliers to come up with creative ways to make overnight flights comfortable. These unusual recommendations come from assorted travel experts and friends on Facebook. They’re not all what you’d expect, but they’re all very clever. What items do you take on the plane to help make you more comfortable?

Cabeau Fold ‘n Go Travel Blanket and Case

Cabeau Fold n Go-Blanket

Cabeau Fold n Go-Blanket

It’s super plush and comfy and can also be used as a pillow and lumbar support. It has a loop with a snap that lets me attach it to my carry-on bag so it’s easy to access and doesn’t take up precious space in my bag. —Susan Portnoy, founder, The Insatiable Traveler

Lululemon Vinyasa scarf

I never board a flight without it. The wide, soft, cotton scarf with snaps can be worn all sorts of ways, which is great for travel. For flights though, I love that it can be a blanket, a pillow, a wrap, or even a sort of light-blocking head scarf.” —Christine Sarkis, senior editor, Smarter Travel

 

FitKicks

Fit Kicks

Fit Kicks

I always bring “FitKicks,” as they keep my feet comfy and clean. I also wear my L.L. Bean 850 down jacket that weighs about 2 ounces and doubles as a pillow when stuffed inside its own pocket. —Gail Rosenberg, luxury travel designer, Largay Travel

Trtl Pillow

Trtl Pillow

Trtl Pillow

It’s a machine-washable, super-soft-fleece travel neck pillow that is the best thing ever. —Margaret Stevenson

4Head

It’s a natural headache relief treatment I buy in the U.K. It comes in a small container that you roll up, like a solid deodorant stick. It’s great for headaches and stuffy sinuses, and if you take a big whiff of it, it wakes you up too. Think of it as a solid Vicks Vapor Rub, only tinier and convenient. —Marie Fritz

Bach Remedy Rescue Night

Use these flower remedies and hope for a better sleep. —Paola Fiocchi van den Brande, founder of Passepartout Homes

 

Inflatable beach ball

beach ball photo by Michael Frascella

If you never thought to pack an inflatable beach ball in your carry-on, you’re missing out on a great nap. Photo: Michael Frascella/Flickr

Bring one of those cheap blow-up beach balls and a hand towel. Blow up the beach ball, cover with the towel, and use as a giant pillow to lay on in your lap. It’s a refreshing change from the neck pillow for those who need a “little more” cushion. —Mark Estill, travel consultant/owner, Mark4 Vacations

White noise app

I use a white noise app on my iPad. Pop in my earbuds, turn on the waves, and the sound masks airplane and passenger noises better than noise-cancelling headphones. —Deb Arora, partner, Jacks & Stars

Rosemary oil

I bring a tiny vial of rosemary oil. My sinuses get super-dry on those long flights, and that leads to headaches and other weirdness. The smell of that oil just brightens up the inside of my head. And bonus, it banishes that weird airplane smell for a bit. —Pam Mandel, writer/editor, Nerd’s Eye View

Coconut oil

I use it as a moisturizer (face and body), hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant (it’s anti-bacterial). —Lynn Braz, author, LynnBraz.com

Baby wipes

First, so that you can wipe off the tray table, armrests, and headrest. Second, so that when you wake up, you can wipe your face and feel refreshed. —Katie Kenner-Bohl

Emergen-C packets

I take one while flying, and I keep a few extra in my toiletries bag, for the trip. Better safe than sick! —Kelsey Ebner

Your favorite herbal tea

It’s comforting to have something familiar while traveling, and a cup of hot water is easily gotten from a flight attendant. —Scott Laird, writer, AbFabSkyLife

iPad with extra storage

Beyond all the usual stuff that experienced travelers know to do to try to sleep (much of which will work or not work with the reliability of a cheap watch), what seems to affect me best when I’m struggling to sleep is knowing I have comfort “content” handy. Most of my favorite novels—and we’re not talking Tolstoy but easier-on-the-spirit reads—are already loaded on my iPad. And if I’m too tired to read, I have episodes of favorite TV shows (“Gilmore Girls” and “Frasier” among ‘em) and movies that help me feel at home and relax (“Mamma Mia” always makes me smile). When I replaced my old iPad with a new one, I doubled up on the storage space for just this reason: I wanted to make sure there was enough room for my old pals.—Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief, Cruise Critic

What do you pack in your carry-on for a more comfortable flight?

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Concourse play area, Seoul Incheon Airport

How Not to Get Lost in the Seoul Airport

Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is widely considered the second-best airport in the world (after Singapore’s Changi Airport); blog after blog sings its praises. Surely my family could while away a ten-hour layover in this epicenter of creature comforts, where the amenities, I read, would include leather recliners and free Wi-Fi—right? Well, I’m here to warn you that Incheon’s facilities might be impressive, but it falls down in one crucial area: signage. The chairs might be cushy, the shopping divine (for collectors of perfume, Toblerone, and other duty-free knick-knacks—I’ll get to that later). But to my mind, maps and signs that are easily understood by your jet-lagged, sleep-deprived customers should be every airport’s top priority. Let me explain:

I’d heard that Incheon had several play areas—perfect, I thought, for letting my four-year-old burn off some energy between flights. So upon arrival, I consulted a touch-screen map to find a play area near our gate. The map’s menu listed nearly 100 duty-free shops, but not a single kid space; when I searched for “play,” the single result was a playground on the Concourse, a corridor of gates separated from the terminal by a shuttle train. We boarded the train and made our way to the advertised play area, which consisted of a large cargo net hanging a foot or two off the ground like an enormous hammock, plus some small plastic balls to throw around. Somehow, after having read glowing reviews of this airport posted by fellow parents, I’d been expecting more. My son grew tired of the place within a few minutes, and so we went in search of a different—hopefully better—kids’ area.

Trying to retrace our steps, we saw not a single sign pointing our way back to the terminal, where our departure gate was located. When we finally made our way to the shuttle platform, a guard turned us around, explaining that the train takes passengers in only one direction. We finally found an airport employee who agreed to escort us back to the terminal, quietly chiding us the whole time for missing the signs that the shuttle ride was a one-way trip. (I suppose what makes Incheon world-class is that a guy in a suit showed us the way back to our gate; back home, a TSA officer probably would have kicked us out to the curb.)

Seoul Incheon Airport signage

Would you have known, based on the photo above, that by boarding the shuttle train you’d lose access to the entire terminal? Photo: Ryan Damm

I ask you, readers: Would you have known, based on the photo above, that by boarding the shuttle train you’d lose access to the entire terminal? I now see our mistake, but at the time—bleary-eyed after a red-eye from Saigon—I breezed past these signs, not realizing that “Concourse Only” meant we couldn’t return to the terminal.

When we finally found the Kids’ Zone on the second floor of the Terminal, I was again disappointed, this time by the wide-screen TV that was showing Jurassic Park (a PG13-rated movie) beside a climbing structure appropriate for kids under six. Way to go, Incheon: Let’s give little kids nightmares before they board a long-haul flight!

Kids area in the Terminal, Seoul Incheon Airport

The kids’ area in the Terminal at Seoul’s Incheon Airport was disappointing. Photo: Ryan Damm

As far as I can tell, Incheon is a glorified shopping mall with gates as afterthoughts, and little concern for the basic needs of travelers. In the market for a Swarovski bracelet, a Louis Vuitton suitcase (who buys luggage when they’re already on a trip, anyway), or fast-food kimchi? Incheon has you covered. A can of soda water, a bag of crackers, or a globally understood sign indicating DO NOT ENTER? In those departments, I found that Incheon was sorely lacking. Next time, I’ll be flying through Singapore.

Which airports do you think are the most kid-friendly?

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Philadelphia Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.

With a name that’s Greek for brotherly love, Philadelphia is just waiting to welcome you for a few hours between flights. Philly has Colonial history, Revolutionary-era artifacts, and world-class art. Plus, it’s home to the main office of Context Travel, a company on Wendy’s WOW List that runs cultural walking tours in cities worldwide. So we asked them: How would you spend a layover in your own city? Here’s their advice:

The Basics

How to get out of the airport:

Taxi: Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is only a 20-minute cab ride from Center City Philadelphia. Line up at the taxi rank outside the ground transportation exit after baggage claim. The taxis have a flat rate of $28.50 (excluding tip) into Center City, and a $10 minimum for destinations closer to the airport.

There is rarely a lot of traffic between the airport and Center City. The exception is when a Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, or Sixers game is beginning or ending. Just ask a security guard or information desk attendant at the airport if any of these teams are playing at home when you arrive. If the answer is yes, opt for the train.

Train: The regional rail (SEPTA) runs every 30 minutes directly from all terminals of the airport into the city. The ride takes between 25 and 35 minutes, depending on which stop you get on/off, and costs $8 one way, $16 round-trip if you buy your tickets on the train, or $6.50/$13 if purchased at a ticket kiosk or window in advance.

If you only have a couple of hours and want to squeeze in more than a few stops in the city, opt for the more expensive cab ride. Not only will save you time getting into the city, but the taxi can drop you right at the doorstep of your first stop.

What to do with your luggage:

If you have luggage, you should make sure it gets checked through to your next flight before you leave the airport, or be prepared to carry it with you; PHL does not provide luggage storage facilities.

If you have a 4-hour layover

If you want to hit Colonial- and Revolutionary-era Philadelphia, we recommend taking a taxi directly to Independence National Park. From here you can get a close look at the Liberty Bell (but don’t wait in the insanely long line; its new home has huge glass walls, so you can see the American icon without wasting time) and Independence Hall, home to the signings of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. While you won’t have time for the full interior tour of Independence Hall, National Park Service rangers are always stationed outside to answer questions and give a brief history of the building. From here, wander south along 5th Street into the heart of the Society Hill neighborhood, past the American Philosophical Society, where many of the nation’s earliest intellects—think Ben Franklin and John Adams—established the country’s first “think tank.” The APS Museum’s galleries are free and open to the public, and rotating exhibitions display some of the most fascinating objects in American history, including Thomas Jefferson’s hand-written draft of the Declaration of Independence, and a notebook from Lewis and Clark’s exploratory journey. Cut east down Walnut Street, south down 4th Street, and duck into Willings Alley, one of the few remaining Colonial alleyways in the city. When you emerge on the other side, you will find Powel House half a block south (244 S 3rd Street), home to one of the most influential power couples of Colonial Philadelphia: Samuel Powel, the last mayor of the city under British rule, and his wife Elizabeth Willing.

If you have a 6-hour layover

Consider a 3-hour tour, with starting points just minutes from city train stations. You may want to pre-book an immersive exploration of the political, economic, and social strata of early Philadelphia with an expert on 18th century history, to find out what really brought about the first rumblings of the Revolution. Or experience the city’s world-class public art collection—second only to Paris!—through sculpture (think Calder, di Suvero, and Rodin), murals (more than 8,000), and mosaics with a contemporary artist on a brisk stroll from City Hall, at the very heart of Philadelphia, and up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. More art can be found in Albert C. Barnes’s whimsically assembled and displayed collection.

If you don’t have time to leave the airport

Head to Chickie’s & Pete’s (Terminals A-West, C, D, and E), a South Philadelphia favorite, for a beer and to catch a Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, or Sixers game with local fans. Or take a brisk walk across all of the terminals to see the Art at the Airport installations, featuring works by local contemporary artists.

More Layover Solutions:

Istanbul Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them
Tokyo Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them
Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them
Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them
Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them
Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle
London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR
Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

kid eating pretzels and watching TV on a plane

How to Ace Long-Haul Flights with Young Kids

When I decided to take my four-year-old son to Asia, the trans-Pacific flight loomed large in my mind. How would we get through 18 hours on a plane?

I needn’t have been so worried about the flight; while there were a few tough moments, we passed the time surprisingly easily. Flying that distance with a baby or toddler would have been much more trying, but by four years old, kids are better able to entertain themselves, and to adhere to expectations of good behavior. So, aside from advising fellow parents not to let a long flight derail their travel plans, here’s what I learned:

Treat the flight as a highlight of the trip, not a chore. Most of us have forgotten the romance of air travel—and for good reason. Kids, however, are primed to find the idea of soaring through clouds and landing in a new part of the world—in the middle of a new day, even—downright magical. Present the flight as a fun adventure. Tell your kids how lucky they are to get to sleep overnight on the plane; bring pajamas and any other portable parts of their bedtime routine.

kid asleep in airplane seat

For a better chance of having more space, I always book window and aisle seats at the back of the plane. Photo: Ryan Damm

Strategize for more space. I always book window and aisle seats at the back of the plane, leaving the seat between two of us open. These aft middle seats become the least desirable and often go unfilled, giving us more room to stretch out. If another passenger claims the seat, we simply trade them one of our window or aisle spots.

kid in airport pushing luggage cart

Get to the airport early so you can find ways to burn off your child’s energy. Photo: Ryan Damm

Burn off some energy. Before a long flight, get to the airport extra-early so that your kids will have ample time to run around before boarding. Find an empty gate and set up an obstacle course using the chairs, garbage cans, and whatever else you can find. The more ya-yas you get out on the ground, the fewer you’ll have to deal with in the air. 

Establish ground rules. Explain to your kid what constitutes proper plane etiquette. Don’t expect them to automatically know not to speak loudly, rest their feet on the seat in front of them, or take off their seatbelt during turbulence. Balance this with positives: They alone can control the window shade or armrest, for instance.

Don’t act as activity director on the plane. On previous flights, I’ve lugged along a huge bag of toys and activities, most of which go unused. This time, I gave my son unlimited use of the seat-back entertainment system and an iPad (a boon for him, since screen time is very limited at home). This allowed me to be well rested for the trip ahead, and it also trained him to be a much more pleasant flying companion.

kid looking out airplane window

Flights don’t have to be a chore: Kids are primed to find the idea of soaring through clouds downright magical. Photo: Ryan Damm

Test before takeoff. I kept my son’s new iPad a surprise until we boarded the plane—a huge mistake, once I realized that several of the movies I thought I’d loaded onto it weren’t working, and many of his favorite apps now had new purchase requirements. Next time, I’ll road test any new devices first.

Bring lots of food. No one likes airplane food, least of all picky kids. My son refused to even uncover one “kids’ meal” that was served to him, based on the odors emanating from under the tinfoil. Bring enough food to keep your kids satiated throughout the flight; The best flight advice I got from Andrea Ross, the Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia who designed my kid-friendly Asia trip, was to pack instant noodles in a cup, to which the flight attendants will happily add water for a hot meal.

What are your tricks for surviving a long flight with children?

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Harajuku, Tokyo

Tokyo Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.


 

Since U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to enter Japan (unless you’re staying longer than 90 days), it’s not hard to do a bit of sightseeing during even a short layover. We talked to the Tokyo team at Context Travel (an in-depth walking tour company on Wendy’s WOW List), to find out where to go, how to get there, and what to do—even if you don’t have enough time to leave the airport.

The Basics

How to get out of the airport: The Narita Express (N’EX) runs from Narita Airport to Tokyo station in an hour, with some trains also running to Shinjuku, which takes about 85 minutes. Trains run from Narita terminals 1 and 2 every 30 minutes from 7:30am to 9:44pm; trains run from Tokyo station back to Narita every 30 minutes from 6:18am to 10:03pm. Tickets from Narita to Tokyo are ¥1,500 (about $13) for foreign passport holders; the return trip is the normal price of ¥3,020 (about $25). If you will  be traveling extensively by train through Japan later, it makes sense to buy a JR (Japan Rail) pass; they’re available for seven, 14, or 21 days starting from ¥29,110 (about $250), and can be used to ride the N’EX.

The Kesei Skyliner runs from Narita Airport to Ueno station in 41 minutes. Trains from both airport terminals to Ueno station every 40–60 minutes from 8:17am to 10:30pm. Trains run from Ueno back to the airport every 20 minutes from 5:58am to 5:45pm. Tickets are ¥2,470 each way. Several trains on the Kesei line stop in Narita; the ride is around 10 minutes and costs less than ¥300. Get yen before you leave the airport or at 7-11 at JR Narita station. In Narita, you can utilize the Narita City Round Bus to get around (it also stops at the airport).

The train stations in Tokyo are very large; when heading back to the airport, leave yourself plenty of time to get to the correct platform.

What to do with your luggage: If you haven’t checked your baggage through to your final destination, stow it at one of the left luggage counters, which are on the first floor in Terminal 1, and the first and third floors in Terminal 2; the cost is ¥520 ($5) for a medium-sized suitcase.

If You Have a 4-Hour Layover

With four hours, you don’t have enough time to see Tokyo, but you can explore the city of Narita a bit. From the Narita train station, stroll down the main street, Omotesando, where you can pick up fruit, rice crackers, and other local snacks, as well as souvenirs like chopsticks and cookware. If you continue down Omotesando, you’ll come to Naritasan Shinshoji, a large Buddhist temple that sits at the top of a hill. The surrounding Naritasan Park is lovely, particularly when the trees are a fiery red-orange or when the cherry blossoms are out. Dotted with ponds, statues, and fountains, it’s a welcoming, shady place to stretch your legs. (If you happen to be there at 3pm, you can watch the Goma ceremony, during which priests take votive sticks left by visitors and burn them as an offering.) There are plenty of places to eat along the main road and the side streets. One of the most common traditional dishes is unagi, broiled eel in a sweet sauce, served over rice. Takoyaki (fried octopus balls) are another popular snack, especially during cherry blossom season, when they’re eaten at picnics under the trees. Most restaurants only have Japanese menus, but also colorful plastic models of each of their set lunches, so you can just point to what you want.

If You Have an 8-Hour Layover

Tsukiji market, Tokyo. Photo: Context Travel

Tsukiji market, Tokyo. Photo: Context Travel

If you have eight hours, you can go into Tokyo, but be sure to allow yourself an hour’s travel time on each end.

Start off with a walk around Tsukiji outer market, a maze-like warren of food and cookware shops. (To get to the market from the airport, take the Skyliner to Keisei-Ueno station, walk the short distance to Ueno station, and take the Hibiya Line, toward Naka-Megura, to Tsukiji station.) Browse the stalls, grazing on tamagoyaki (sweet rolled omelet), assorted pickled vegetables, rice crackers, and other small bites. Grab a plate of super-fresh sashimi, and then move on to a bubbling bowl of ramen—or, if it’s summer, cool soba. For dessert, cleanse your palate with matcha (green tea) soft serve or taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake filled with red bean paste (or sometimes chocolate or vanilla). From Tsukiji train station, take the Hibiya line toward Nakameguro; at Chiyoda, transfer to the Chiyoda line to Yoyogi-Uehara and get off at Meiji-jingumae station. The 20-minute trip will bring you to Harajuku. Ogle the bright, out-there fashions on pedestrian-only Takeshita-dori, then find serenity in lush Yoyogi Park. To get back to the airport, take the Chiyoda line from Meiji-jingumae station to Tokyo station and hop on the Narita Express.

Alternatively, if you are interested in getting a peek into Tokyo subcultures, then a walk through the Akihabara neighborhood is a must. Otaku—enthusiasts of anime (cartoons) and manga (comics)—are the main theme of this tour. (To get here from the airport, hop on the Skyliner to Nippori station, change to the Keihintohoku line toward Isogo, and get off at Akihabara station.) Try your luck in one of the neighborhood’s arcades, wander through the busy streets, and even enter a maid café and see costume play (shorthanded to “cosplay”) in action. From Akihabara station, take the Yamanote line to Ueno station, which will bring you to Ueno Park, home to the beautiful Shinobazu Pond and a number of interesting shrines and museums. To reach the airport, exit the park from the south and jump on the Skyliner from Keisei-Ueno station.

If you don’t want to go it alone, Context Travel offers three-hour scholar-led walking tours in Tokyo and can organize custom walks based on your layover timing.

If You Don’t Have Time to Leave the Airport

There are a slew of nearby hotels that offer reasonable day rates. Nearly all have breakfast included, and several have pools, including the Hotel Nikko. Within the airport itself are fantastic facilities for passing the time: You can visit the dentist, get a haircut, go for a manicure or a massage, breathe deeply at the oxygen bar, take the kids to one of the playrooms, or book some time in a dayroom or shower. The shopping and dining options are excellent; if this is your only stop in Japan, you’d be remiss not to sample some ramen, sushi, and soba.


 

More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

How to Deal with Flight Delays, Cancellations, and More

Winter storms mean all kinds of problems: delays, cancellations, long lines, and changed plans. But they don’t have to mean stress. Here are steps you can take—and tools you need in your arsenal—to prepare for anything the snow can throw at you this season. Safe travels!

Change your flight.
The simplest way to avoid the hassle of a storm is to avoid the storm altogether. So if you don’t have to travel when a blizzard is on the way—don’t. When big storms are expected, airlines will often take preemptive action and allow you to change your flight without fees. Check your airline’s website or Twitter feed to find out more. If do you have to travel, consider rerouting your flight to avoid the storm altogether. Look for hubs with good weather; this FlightStats chart tells you which airports are seeing the fewest cancellations.

Use the right technology.
Speaking of Twitter, watch your airline’s feed closely for info on flight changes or cancellations. Another option is to download the airline’s app, which will also keep you updated about last-minute things like gate changes or flight delays.

Other apps that come in handy during bad weather include FlightStats.com, which can alert to you delays or weather cancellations (sometimes more efficiently than the airline will), and LoungeBuddy, which will help you find pay-by-day airport lounges so you can relax a little while you wait for your flight. We’ve got a full list of problem-solving apps here, and more info on airport lounge day passes here.

Use the right humans.
Even with all the right apps, you might still need to talk to a real person to solve your travel snafu. A great way to avoid long hold times is to call an airline’s customer-service office in a different country (here’s more on how to never wait on hold with airline customer service again). Your credit card concierge can usually be of help as well, but you can also call in the experts and let them handle it for you: Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge specializes in emergency air travel assistance, and his team is well prepped for messy weekends like this one.

Prep the kids.
If you have kids, and there’s a possibility you’ll be stuck in an airport (or on the tarmac) for a while, you might want to try some of these tricks for flying with toddlers shared by contributing editor Brook Wilkinson. One of her secrets is to bring a bunch of new, very cheap toys to keep her son occupied. “Scour the library book sales and Target $1 bins for inexpensive options,” she writes. “Some of my favorites: play dough, pipe cleaners, magnetic playsets, and reusable sticker pads. On one flight, a pack of small monster trucks entertained Zeke for a good 30 minutes. Just make sure that you liberate toys from their plastic clamshell packaging at home, while you still have access to scissors!”

Do what you have to do to avoid as much stress as possible.
Business travel expert Joe Brancatelli once told me his three most sanity-saving travel tips, and this was one of them: “Even if it costs you a few bucks, do whatever you have to do to fix a travel problem on the spot so you can go back to enjoying your trip. Argue with the travel company about compensation later. But, within reason, fix the problem first, worry about compensation later.”

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Singapore's Changi Airport has several gardens

Best Foreign Airports to Get Stuck In

Sometimes getting stuck in an airport isn’t that bad. Really. Especially if you’re in a world-class hub that’s like a small city, with vast food, entertainment, shopping, and spa options.

You already know the best U.S. airports for long layovers and for great eats. Now we bring you the best foreign airports, according to our readers and other expert travelers. Next time you’re booking an international flight, seriously consider an itinerary that gives you a layover in one of these hubs.

Asia

Singapore Changi Airport, SIN

“So much to do there. A movie theater, outdoor pool, butterfly garden, and you can even do a quick city tour for free if you have a longer layover. It’s hands down the best.”
—George Hobica, president and founder of Airfarewatchdog.com

“The whole place is a wonder that can keep you endlessly entertained.  But my favorite thing about Changi is ‘Singapore Food Street’.  It’s not the perfect recreation of the hawker centers ubiquitous throughout Singapore, offering fantastic food at cheap prices—there are constraints in an airport after all—but it’s the next best thing.”
—Gary Leff, View from the Wing

Seoul Incheon International Airport, ICN

“One could live behind security there for days.  There are day rooms for those who want to spend a little money (or just free showers for those who don’t).  There are tablets available for people to use and fast Wi-Fi throughout.  There are, of course, a ton of shops and restaurants.  They even have a cultural center with performances throughout the day that also allows travelers to participate in making traditional crafts. If travelers have a little more time, they can venture outside the terminal to one of the stranger things I’ve seen: In an office area right near the terminal, there is a medical facility designed specifically for medical tourism. Go get a little botox or maybe some tooth implants while you wait for your next flight.”
—Brett Snyder, The Cranky Flier and CrankyConcierge.com

“After Singapore Changi, my second favorite airport is Seoul Incheon for the free transit tours of the city.  There are plenty of overnight flights arriving from Southeast Asia, where a connection to the U.S. won’t leave until midday.  That means a long time at the airport, and they’ve made it possible to get off the airport grounds and experience the city.”
—Gary Leff, View from the Wing

Hong Kong International Airport, HKG

“I usually take the fast train into the city if I have enough time, but if I’m staying at the airport, I amuse myself by shopping. They have Kiehls, Zara, Muji, Chanel, Gucci, and duty-free. There’s an IMAX theater, a nine-hole golf course, eateries like Hung’s Delicacies and Tasty Congee. If you do not have access to any of the amazing airline lounges, you can still pay to get into one of the Plaza Premium lounges to snack, rest, and take a shower.”
—Arnette, Round The World Girl

Narita Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND), Tokyo

“Narita and Haneda can do no wrong in my book. Clean amazing bathrooms, great restaurants, and lots of awesome shopping.”
—Paula Froelich, host A Broad Abroad

Europe

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, AMS

“My favorite airport for long layovers is Amsterdam…because I don’t stay in the airport. No matter where I’m coming from, it’s typically very fast to go through immigration and store carry-on luggage (I usually use the basement lockers between Arrival Halls 1 and 2). There’s a train station in the airport itself, it’s a quick journey to Central Station, and the trains run frequently. Once I get into the city, I usually explore on foot, although the trams work well too.”
—Eric Stoen, TravelBabbo

sleep pods at Helsinki airport

Long layover at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport? No need for a hotel, just grab a quick nap in the GoSleep pods. Photo: UNI

Helsinki Airport, HEL

“Vantaa Airport in Helsinki is wonderful. Compact and quite fun to be in. There are truly original sleep pods if you want a snooze and a good hotel inside the building (Hotel Glo) if you want a more traditional room. Food’s okay and the shopping is less cookie-cutter than some airports. Several high-style Finnish shops and a Moomin shop, if you’re into that stuff…”
—Joe Brancatelli, Joe Sent Me

“Helsinki Airport is cozy for a layover. The Kainuu room, near gate 30, is a quiet room with a green carpet and two ‘sun-tanning beds’ that are great for sleeping! There’s even a free book swap for avid readers. The Almost@Home Lounge, with its replica of a private home’s lounge and kitchen area, is really cool. Both terminals offer passengers free Wi-Fi, which I think is a necessity!”
—Cacinda Maloney, PointsandTravel.com

Istanbul Atatürk Airport, IST

“Istanbul is a favorite, if you’ve got access to the Turkish Airlines lounge. Great sampling of ‘street food.’ Amazing space, size-wise, with a variety of entertainment and activity options. Excellent service and very comfortable.”
—Bob Holland, The Holland Group

London Heathrow, LHR

“My favorite airport for long layovers is such a fabulous place to visit that sometimes I actually book flights with super-long wait times, including overnights! Heathrow’s Terminal Five is pretty, with lots of light, lots of terrific shops, plenty of bookstores, and pleasant enough restaurants. The BA Lounge is terrific and I typically will nosh there after shopping sprees. But the best place to while away extra time is the Sofitel London Heathrow. It’s got two good restaurants (one French, one more international), a charming bar and lounge area, lovely service, and the most beautiful spa I’ve ever seen anywhere near any airport. Most times the rates for overnight stays are quite reasonable, and I look forward to spending time there as much as I might for a genuine resort vacation.”
—Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief, Cruise Critic

“Heathrow is the airport we all love to hate. But the Heathrow Express gets you into Paddington Station in 15-20 minutes, and that puts all of London at your feet for a layover. And, if you really get hung up, take the escalator up to the Hilton at Paddington Station.”
—Joe Brancatelli, Joe Sent Me

Reykjavik Keflavik International Airport, KEF

“Between flights you can go to the Blue Lagoon!”
—Katherine Eklund 

Middle East

Pool at Doha Airport

Qatar’s Doha International Airport has a pool, a spa, and other amenities. Photo: Billie Cohen

Doha International Airport, DOH

“The new Doha Airport in Qatar has 24-hour shopping, decent and varied food options, and also rooms for overnight layovers. And being home to Qatar Airways, those flying business and first class have access to their lounges—which have quiet sleeping areas (business class) and actual bedrooms and a Jacuzzi (first class). Also, the dining experience is fantastic.”
—Ana Silva O’Reilly, Mrs. O. Around the World

North America

Vancouver International Airport, YVR

“Vancouver really does have a lovely facility. An absolutely wonderful hotel, the Fairmont, is up a flight of steps. And, again, there’s a fast transit system to get you quickly into town if your layover extends.”
—Joe Brancatelli, Joe Sent Me

What’s your favorite foreign airport to get stuck in?

 

More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

 

La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.


 

If you’re flying through Barcelona-El Prat airport (BCN) and have a layover, you’ll probably be tempted to try to duck into the city and look around. The good news is that as long as you have at least seven hours, you can do it. We talked to Paul Bennett of Context Travel—our Trusted Travel Expert for short, cultural experiences in cities worldwide—for tips on how make the most of your Barcelona airport layover:

How to get out of the airport:

Taxis: Taxis are plentiful at the airport. A taxi to central Barcelona should run about 25 to 35 euros. The journey should take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day..

Train: There is train service from the airport to the station Barcelona-Passeig de Gràcia in central Barcelona. The train line is the R2 Norte Aeropuerto – Sant Celoni / Maçanet Massanes. This train runs every 30 minutes for most of the day, and the journey takes approximately 30 minutes. You can purchase your ticket at the airport station before boarding. Finding your way to the train from the airport is easy—it’s clearly marked. The station Barcelona-Passeig de Gracia is in the heart of the Eixample district, where many of Gaudi’s works are located.

Bus: Try the Aerobus. There are two options—one leaving from Terminal 1 and the other from Terminal 2. The buses come frequently, every 5 to 10 minutes. They are affordable (about 10.80 euros per round-trip ticket), comfortable, and fast (35 minutes). You purchase your ticket from the driver while boarding or sometimes there is a person selling tickets at a kiosk by the bus (they are legit). The bus makes a few stops at various spots in the city—its terminus is Plaza Catalonia, which is ideally located just between the Gothic Quarter and Eixample district and is served by several metro lines. Its website is very easy to navigate. Don’t be alarmed if your bus is full when you arrive and you can’t get on, just remember that another one will come very shortly. It’s also very easy to find the Aerobus at the airport—it should be very well marked.

Note: The aerobus is generally easier to navigate than the train, as it’s designed for tourists. But if your time is very limited, or you have a very specific destination in mind, a taxi might be worth the extra cost.

What to do with your luggage: There is a left-luggage office in Terminal 1, on the first floor (Spanish floor 0) and it’s possible to leave luggage there for up to 30 days (fee per 24-hour period). If you’re arriving into Terminal 2, Terminal 1 is a short walk away. There is also a free shuttle bus that runs 24 hours a day. The charge for all or part of each 24-hour period depends on the size of your luggage: large locker (50x80x90 cm), €5.80; medium locker (35x80x60 cm), €5.10; small locker (35x80x45 cm), €4.50.

Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain

Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain. Photo: mertxe iturrioz/Flickr

If you have a 7-hour layover:

 Allot four hours for travel to and from the city in order to be back in time (two hours in advance) for an international flight. That will give you a nice three hours in the city, which is enough to get a feel for Barcelona’s medieval Gothic Quarter and its more gritty sister, the El Raval neighborhood.

Start with a quick look at La Rambla, the city’s ancient thoroughfare, which was once a stream located outside the city walls. (In fact, a “La Rambla” street exists in many cities and was derived from the Arabic word ramlah, meaning riverbed). If you’re hungry, head to the Boqueria to see the sites and smell the smells. It’s a tourist haven, sure, but it is a historic market worth taking in, with many authentic vendors and locals doing their shopping. Pinotxo bar is one of the best stands for regional specialties; try the bacalao (dry salt cod), which is ubiquitous. After a bite, wander briefly through the Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets, staying especially attuned to the neighborhood’s ancient Jewish Call (the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 but there are still traces, however slight, of their existence in Barcelona). Then head over to El Raval, on the Boqueria side of La Rambla. It’s an area that was once grazing land for the walled city and has undergone great transformation over the centuries. The last century was hard on the area (it became the red-light district); however, in the 1990s the city poured money into developing the Raval, and it’s now a bohemian center. It’s home to the Richard Meier–designed Museum of Contemporary Art but still a haven for trendy artistic types (check out the street art).

For those interested in learning about the Raval’s history with an expert, you could skip the stroll through the Gothic Quarter and consider Context Travel’s three-hour history seminar of the neighborhood: Revealing the Raval.

 

If you have an 8-hour layover or longer:

Take a taxi to the top of Montjuïc hill for a spectacular view of the city and a bit of exploration. The area is home to a 17th-century fortress (the Montjuïc castle, Carretera de Montjuïc); two Olympic stadiums (1936 and 1992); the International Exposition (World’s Fair) of 1929; the Palau Nacional (built for the World’s Fair and intended to be a temporary structure, but now the Museum of Catalan Art; a museum dedicated to the work of Catalan artist Joan Miró; and quaint secret gardens along the hill’s side. Later, board the cable car (near the Funicular de Montjuïc’s Miramar station; walk about a half mile along Avinguda de Miramar in the direction of the sea (east), or take the #50 bus, for a thrilling ride down to the port, where you can stroll along the seaside promenade and stop for a relaxing drink or bite to eat in the sun. After this break, depending on how much time remains, explore the area of Barceloneta just next door. It’s a neighborhood created in the 18th century to provide housing for families who were displaced by the construction of the citadel in the Ribera neighborhood. Many of Barceloneta’s original 18th-century, two-story houses exist today, and its comparatively wide streets are a bright alternative to the dark and narrow alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. Stop in at the lively neighborhood tapas restaurant La Bombeta for some great snacks before taking a taxi back to the airport.

For those looking for more structured time, try Context Travel’s three-hour Montjuic, Conquering the Mountain walk or the three-hour Barcelona and the Sea tour.

 

If you don’t have time to leave the airport:

There are a number of VIP lounges that are free for business-class ticket holders and open to other ticket holders for a small fee (26 euros per adult/12.50 euros per child). These lounges usually have food and beverage service, television, Internet access (sometimes even computers for use), newspapers, and books. The Joan Miró VIP Lounge in Terminal 1 is open to travelers flying only to non-Schengen countries and even has showers and a leisure area with pool tables.

Terminal 1 also has several air rooms, air showers (30 minutes; includes towel, gel, and slippers), and an air wellness program (read: massage). These should all be pre-reserved on the website.

There are a few play areas for children spread out around both terminals. They can be found on the interactive airport map.

The airport offers 15 minutes of free Wi-Fi to every traveler. Beyond that, it must be purchased.


 

More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Tokyo Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The Best Airport Restaurants in the U.S.

When you’re stuck in the airport, as is likely to happen this time of year, one of the tried-and-true ways to kill time is to eat something. Happily, airport restaurants have improved so much in the past few years that you might just wish you had more time to dine before taking off.

Inspired by the list that The Daily Meal just released, compiling its editors’ picks for the 35 best airport restaurants in the world, we asked our readers—frequent and sophisticated travelers that they are—for their expert opinion on the matter.

We narrowed the field to restaurants in U.S. airports, because other countries recognized the value of quality airport cuisine long before our own did, and so it’s simply too easy to ask for the best airport restaurants in the world.

Here’s what your fellow travelers named as the best airport restaurants in the U.S. Bookmark this page—you’re likely to need it if you’re traveling over the next few months.

Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL)

“One Flew South. They fly in their sushi fresh every day! It’s located in the International Terminal and feels like a real restaurant with funky decor. It’s amazing!”
—Lissa Harnish Poirot, Editor-in-Chief, FamilyVacationCritic.com

Cafe Intermezzo at ATL airport

Grab a book with your meal: Cafe Intermezzo at ATL is a restaurant and a bookstore. Photo: Cafe Intermezzo

“Cafe Intermezzo ATL. Both of my favorites in one place: great salads, and the tables are surrounded by a book store!”
Beth Aton Stewart

“Ecco in Terminal F. It’s a Midtown Atlanta restaurant that now offers an airport outpost. Wonderful Mediterranean cuisine and a respectable wine list.”
—Marshall Jackson, MJ on Travel

“Fresh to Order is fantastic. All fresh, light, and healthy menu selections at affordable price points. Refreshing to see in an airport!
—Laura Faust, Ciao Laura

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)

“The Salt Lick has the BEST BBQ at an airport I have ever had. The brisket was amazing! And I am from Texas, so I should know! They have one at DFW too.”
—Cacinda Maloney, Points and Travel

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)

“Legal Sea Foods—there is more than one, and some have that ‘airport’ feel, but Legal is very fussy about quality, and you can get some of the best, freshest seafood in Boston.”
Go See It Travel

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

“Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits! I used to live down south, now I’m in Pittsburgh. I try and make all my flights connect through CLT, and I will run from one end to the other for my chicken biscuits!”
Tasha Heckla

Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

Rick Bayless's gourmet Mexican dishes—and margaritas—are fan favorites at Chicago O'Hare. Photo: Tortas Frontera

Rick Bayless’s gourmet Mexican dishes—and margaritas—are fan favorites at Chicago O’Hare. Photo: Tortas Frontera

“Tortas Frontera is SO good. Delicious sandwiches, locally sourced ingredients, and a killer margarita. For about the same price as other airport options, you can get a little bit of gourmet (Rick Bayless knows his stuff). I actually look forward to this airport meal!”
Kelly Ratliff

“Always make the rounds of Garrett’s popcorn, Vosge’s chocolates, and Tortas Frontera sandwich with margaritas!!!”
Katherine Montgomery

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Texas favorite Salt Lick BBQ has an outpost at DFW location. Photo: Salt Lick BBQ/Facebook

Texas favorite Salt Lick BBQ has an outpost at DFW location. Photo: Salt Lick BBQ/Facebook

“Salt Lick BBQ gets my vote. Being a Texan, this gives me the taste of home even if only passing through. And yes, Texas BBQ is the BEST!”
Charles Wolfe

“Cousins Bar-B-Que @ Dallas. D’lish!”
Lisa Ringler

“DFW Pappasitos, Mexican.”
Leslie Kaminski

Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)

“Max & Erma’s: A taste of typical Midwest always makes me happy to be home! Their cheesy tortilla soup and warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies are sure to cheer and warm up any wintery blues. Also would vote for National Coney Island, a Michigan classic.”
—Jessica Seba, Journey Mexico

Indianapolis International Airport (IND)

“Harry and Izzy’s is a great spot to sit down and have their famous shrimp cocktail and a drink.”
Midori Fujii

New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

“Delta’s terminal at LGA offers a wealth of modern café options. Last time flying through I made extra time to pop into Crust. Fresh coal-oven pizzas and quiet atmosphere. Love the iPad order system. Swift service, darkened lighting, and a location just footsteps to the gates make this a perfect dining spot.”
—Sharon Pomerantz Strelzer, Pomerantz PR

Miami International Airport (MIA)

“Cafe Versailles totally gets you in the mood of Miami—hot, sizzling, tropical. You want to do the salsa while ordering your Cuban sandwich. When you can speak Spanish to the staff while you are still in the U.S., it’s like you’ve taken a ‘little trip’ to another country, and that’s priceless!”
Robyn Webb

“At MIA, La Caretta is terrific authentic Latin cuisine.”
Marcy Gross Schackne

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

“Ye Olde College Inn—fantastic food!”
Lucie Thornton

Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

“At EWR, Jersey Mike’s subs are the best.”
Leslie Kaminski

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

“At JFK, The Palm has fabulous burgers. (Would you expect anything else?)”
Marcy Gross Schackne

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

“I like Cibo Wine Bar at PHL. Great wines, nice Italian food, and an ambience that makes me forget I’m at an airport.”
—Lissa Harnish Poirot, Editor-in-Chief, FamilyVacationCritic.com

Portland International Airport (PDX)

“Do food trucks count? PDX has the popular Pok Pok food truck now, and LAX terminal 4 has Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ.”
—Arnette, founder, Round The World Girl

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

“I love Le Grand Orange at PHX—maybe because LGO was also in my Phoenix neighborhood. I’d often stop to get carry-out to take home from the airport! I love their salads, their pizza is delicious, and they offer a gluten-free chocolate cookie that is delectable.”
—Micheline Maynard, Editor in Chief, Curbing Cars

Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA)

Legal Sea Foods clam chowder

A cup of clam chowder or a lobster roll? Or maybe a crab roll? Legal Sea Foods serves all its signatures at various airport locations. Photo: Legal Sea Foods/Facebook

“Bowl of clam chowder at Legal Sea Foods. Also, Boudin Bakery in SFO for fresh sourdough bread. They would be great together!”
— Charles McCool, McCool Travel

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Best Ways to Spend Delays in 17 U.S. Airports

For many of us, Thanksgiving and Christmas mean too much time spent in airports: The holiday crowds require you to get there early, messy weather can mean delays, and planes are so packed that, if your flight is cancelled, it can be untold hours before you get a seat on another flight. But some airports are far more tolerable than others. In some cases they’re even enjoyable. You already know the best way to spend a layover in 10 of the biggest U.S. hubs. Here, a selection of savvy globe trotters—from travel experts to my Facebook followers—share the best U.S. airports to get stuck in, and their favorite way to pass the time there.

Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL)
“ATL – One Flew South – sushi.”
—Willis McKee, reader

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
“If I had to choose one airport, it would be Austin, Texas, for the great local restaurants, including several that often have live bands.”
Scott Mayerowitz,  Executive Editorial Director, The Points Guy

Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
“Relax in the charming white rocking chairs scattered throughout the airport. Makes me think ‘Southern Hospitality’.”
—Kathy Belden, reader

Centurion Lounge in Miami International Airport

The Centurion Lounge

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
“I’ve been stuck for days at DFW, and it was just fine—I looked into declaring residency in the American Express Centurion lounge. The DFW airport grounds are bigger than the island of Manhattan, and the airport offers myriad amenities, including the American Express lounge and an almost-too-nice Grand Hyatt attached to the terminal with a pool deck overlooking the runways. What more could you need?”
—Gary Leff, founder, View From The Wing

Denver International Airport (DEN)
“Food, not too much shopping, lots of open-space feeling from the high ceilings and huge windows— and views of the mountains.”
—Carolyn Trabuco, reader

Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
“Detroit is the best airport in the USA at the moment. Great local restaurants. Beautiful and clean.”
—David Rosati, reader

honolulu airport chinese garden

Believe it or not, this is an airport. HNL’s Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian gardens were designed in 1962, when the airport was built. Photo: Courtesy HNL

Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
“I love the gardens in the middle of the airport.”
—Perri Collins, reader

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
“My favorite domestic airport to get stuck in is Los Angeles International (LAX)! They’ve brought in a bunch of local restaurants and shops which have made all the difference in the world. A lot of travelers don’t realize that your same-day boarding pass allows you to go into any terminal no matter which airline you’re flying! So if you like a restaurant in one of the other terminals, go ahead and check it out.”
—Johnny Jet, JohnnyJet.com

Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP)
“Lots of good shopping and restaurants, and if it’s a long enough layover, in less than 15 minutes you can take the train to the Mall of America for a ride on the carousel.”
—Lori Bruns, reader

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Terminal 5
“I love the JetBlue terminal (Terminal 5) at JFK. They have that great store MUJI to GO, an Ex Officio shop, great restaurants, and a spa.”
—Paula Froelich, founder of A Broad Abroad

New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK): Terminal 4
“I love the Delta lounge in Terminal 4. It’s so big that I can always find a quiet corner. The space is subdivided into a lot of different rooms, so it’s easy to have a different experience each time. Every seat has outlets and USB ports, which is key for last-minute charging. And there’s an outdoor lounge, which is just fun because I’ll take any oxygen I can before being locked in a tin can.”
—Pavia Rosati, founder/CEO, Fathom

Palm Beach International Airport (PBI)
“It’s low-key and truly Floridian, with a relaxing vibe. And if you forgot a souvenir, there are always those kitschy coconut candy treats.”
—Sharon Pomerantz Strelzer, reader

Portland International Airport (PDX)
“PDX has the best store: CC McKenzie has awesome clothes, shoes, and accessories. They also have the Dragontree holistic day spa, and Powell’s Books!”
—Brandy Audette, reader

San Francisco International Airport yoga room

SFO’s Yoga Room, the first ever in an airport, lets you get in a good stretch before you board your flight. Photo: Courtesy San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
“It has a spa for massages and a yoga room.”
—Deb Arora, reader

Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA)
“I love taking a walk into the historic lobby in what’s now Terminal A. It’s usually pretty empty there, but if you stop for a moment, you can just feel the presence of all of the historic figures that have graced those halls since the terminal opened during World War II.”
—Brett Snyder, president and Chief Airline Dork, The Cranky Flier

What’s your ideal airport to get stuck in? Weigh in below!

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Astonishing Business-Class Airfare Deal to Europe—But You Have to Act Fast

 

Every year I wait with bated breath for the day when business travel expert Joe Brancatelli announces that the airlines have started their secret business-class airfare sales to Europe. Today’s the day, folks—and this time the sales, which are usually for either the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays or for summertime, are actually for both! Joe has found outstanding business-class airfares to Europe for as low as $1,566 roundtrip from the East Coast and $1,616 roundtrip from the West.

If you don’t know who Joe is or why I think he’s the smartest guy in the room when it comes to getting the most for your business-travel dollar, you can read our interview with him here. You can also sign up for his Joe Sent Me newsletter as soon as you finish reading this; you’ll be glad you did.

But back to the sale: The low fares, which are on British Airways, are for travel between November 16, 2015 and August 2016, but you must book by the end of the day tomorrow, October 16. Fares available include:

  • Tampa to London for $1,566
  • New York to London for $1,605
  • San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, or Washington, D.C., to London for $1,611
  • Los Angeles to London for $1,616
  • Atlanta to London for $1,811

If you want to travel elsewhere in Europe via London, business-class fares start as low as $1,533 roundtrip.

But wait—it gets even cheaper: If you are an AARP member, says Joe, “you can drive your fare down below $1,200 roundtrip on some routes between late November and next August. (Yes, August, 2016.) And, yes, other carriers do seem to be matching. And, yes, there’s a great mileage bonus opportunity. And even a first-class sale.”

The key to many of these low fares is a Sunday-night stay, says Joe. Start reading about the sale at www.ba.com/2015, and then dig deeper with BA’s pricing tool here. The sale includes American Airlines, Iberia and OpenSkies, BA’s boutique carrier to Paris and Iberia. And, amazingly, Joe reports good availability.

So, if you’ve been toying with the idea of a trip to Europe, now is the moment to book. And if you were ever thinking, “I wish I knew about great business-class travel deals,” now is the time to become a member at Joe Sent Me. Yes, you’ll still get some great info if you opt only for his free weekly newsletter, but you’ll get the really good stuff—including breaking travel alerts and deals—if you purchase a membership. Starting at just $69 a year, you can see that it very quickly pays for itself.

Save Time, Room, and Money: Secret Travel Uses For Common Accessories

Note from Wendy: All travelers develop packing hacks over the years. I have several of my own. For instance, I always pack a thin, lightweight day pack or duffel in my carry-on, just in case I end up coming home with more than I left with and need to check the carry-on. In this article from Brittany Jones Cooper at Yahoo! Travel, she finds creative travel uses for items many of us have lying around the house. What are some of your best packing tips? Tell us in the comments below.

This article originally ran on Yahoo! Travel


 

Everyone has secret tricks they use when packing and traveling, and I think the best part is that it doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money.

In fact, some of my favorite travel hacks involve secret uses for items I use every day.

So, this week I’m going to share some ways that your eyewear can help you on the road…other than the obvious use of helping you to see.

sunglasses-cr-yahooSunglasses

You download a movie on your phone to watch on the plane…great planning. But what you didn’t plan on was holding it in your hands the entire time. To prevent fatigue, use your sunglasses to prop up your smartphone. You’ll look like a genius, and your arm won’t get tired!

contact case-cr-yahooContact Case

If you’re a contact wearer, you probably have a bunch of these contact cases lying around. You get them every time you buy a bottle of solution. But they can also be used to hold a small amount of cream. For instance, if you have really expensive eye cream that’s in a big bottle, you can put a small amount in your contact case for a short trip. You can also do the same thing with foundation or gels.

Added bonus: These cases are also a great place to carry small items that easily get lost—like earrings.

glasses case-cd-yahooGlasses Case

When I’m packing, I always throw my brush, comb, and toothbrush in my toiletry bag, but all of the small stuff always gets lost in the shuffle. That’s why I’ve started using my extra glasses case as a smaller vanity kit. I put in small things like cotton balls, Q-tips, hair ties, bobby pins, and even a small sewing kit. Now, they easily accessible AND organized!

Also from Yahoo! Travel: 6 Unusual Household Items You Need to Use When Packing

What are your best packing hacks?

singapore airlines suites

The Best Frequent-Flier Deals for American Express Points

Question:

Wendy, I have accumulated 2 million American Express points. How do I get the best bang for my buck redeeming them for airline tickets? Should I dump them all into a frequent-flier program? I am open to any and all suggestions. Thank you!
—Dee

Answer:

For smart advice on using AmEx Membership Rewards points, I’ve called in my old buddy Brian Kelly, a.k.a. The Points Guy. Brian’s been so successful at collecting and leveraging his own miles that he was able to give up his Wall Street job (which is what he was doing when I met him) to travel around the world full-time. He shares his hard-won knowledge on his website ThePointsGuy.com, and he’s got three nifty suggestions for you, Dee:

“Having 2,000,000 Membership Rewards points at your disposal is definitely a great position to be in. I would keep the points in your American Express account until you’re ready to plan a trip, but you don’t need to blow all two million on a single high-end round-the-world adventure (though you certainly can, assuming you have a few weeks to travel).

Instead, I’d suggest transferring the points to Membership Rewards partners as you need to use them, or, if American Express is offering a temporary transfer bonus to a certain program, it may make sense to transfer speculatively. For example, earlier this year, you could convert Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios with a 40-percent bonus, so you’d earn 1.4 Avios for every point you transferred. If you had transferred all two million points, you would have ended up with 2,800,000 Avios, which is enough for a whopping 622 one-way short-haul flights on American or US Airways within the US (up to 650 miles), at 4,500 Avios a pop for coach.

Because airline-program devaluations can come at any time (and bonus opportunities can always pop up), it usually makes more sense to keep your points in a flexible currency, like Membership Rewards, until you’re ready to book.

If you’re looking to travel in style, another great airline transfer partner is Singapore Airlines. Singapore reserves the best awards in First and Suites Class on its 777-300ER and A380 aircraft for its own members, so you can’t book premium seats on long-haul flights using miles from a Star Alliance partner. This makes Singapore’s KrisFlyer miles exceptionally valuable. For every 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll receive 1,000 KrisFlyer miles. You can experience Suites Class on the A380 starting at just 31,875 miles (or 31,875 American Express Points) for a one-way flight between Singapore and Hong Kong. Or you can travel all the way from New York City in Suites Class for 93,750 miles, plus about $300 in taxes and fees. Your 2 million points will get you and a friend to and from New York to Singapore in Suites ten times.

Finally, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program is another great transfer partner. As with British Airways and Singapore, you’ll receive 1,000 Aeroplan miles for every 1,000 points you transfer, and points typically transfer instantly (or within a day or two). Aeroplan is especially valuable for premium-cabin travel when compared to United Airlines, allowing you to fly between the US and Europe in Lufthansa First Class for 62,500 miles, rather than the 110,000 miles United requires. Note that Aeroplan does charge fuel surcharges on some carriers, including Lufthansa, so you may need to pay a few hundred dollars in fees in addition to the miles you’ll use for an award.

In total, American Express partners with 16 airline programs and four hotel chains, though you’ll generally get the most bang for your buck from the programs I’ve outlined above.”

Dee, I’m beyond jealous! Enjoy all those trips!

Qatar Airways seat configuration

5 Things I Loved About My 13-Hour Flight on Qatar Airways, and Two I Didn’t

“These might be the most comfortable pajamas I’ve ever worn.”

That is my most lasting impression from my 13 hours on a Qatar Airways flight from JFK to Doha the other week. The big draw of the airline is its business class, which travelers have named best in the world in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards for the past two years running (its seats, amenities, food, and lounge earned high rankings too). The back of the plane isn’t shabby either: Skift named Qatar Airways Best Economy Long-Haul Experience in 2015. But it was the business class experience—complete with a Giorgio Armani amenity kit, soft gray pajamas, and cushy slippers—that I indulged in last week.*

The rise of the airline—which launched as a regional service in 1994 and was revamped as a global player in 1997—mirrors the rise of Qatar as an international tourist destination. A young country in general (it was a British protectorate until 1971), the capital city of Doha was raised into existence only 35 years ago, but already the wealthy Qatari government has positioned it as a luxury Middle East destination, attracting all the biggies in luxury travel brands: Four Seasons, St. Regis, InterContinental, and most recently Anantara, which recently opened the Banana Island Resort to which I was bound. There’s star power in the culinary space (Alain Ducasse, Nobu, Shake Shack, and NYC cupcake stalwart Magnolia Bakery); in the arts scene (I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art, and Richard Serra created a monumental series of obelisks for the museum and for the desert), and along the skyline (you’ll find projects by Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, and Rem Koolhaas). Construction is everywhere: a new cultural village packed with galleries and a striking 4,000-seat marble amphitheater; a new metro rail system; a new education “city” offering American universities to Middle East residents; the new Mall of Qatar (which will be the largest in the country); and, of course, a rush of new sports facilities in anticipation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Travelers are taking notice, and their introduction to Qatar begins on the plane. It’s an impressive one. Here are five things I loved about my nonstop business-class flight…and two things I didn’t.

The Good

1. The personal attention begins as soon as you check in.

Qatar Airways’ VIP service starts right at the airport check-in counter, when one of the desk agents offers to escort you to the lounge. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was code for “you will get to cut every line in security and insert yourself and your bins right at the front.” I definitely enjoyed the celebrity treatment’s speed and ease, but it came with a side of guilt for cutting in front of all the regular folk waiting to make their way through the TSA maze. However, anyone flying QR in any cabin class can purchase this VIP treatment. It’s called the Al Maha service and includes an escort from check-in to the gate and a welcome escort at Doha International Airport who will guide you through passport inspection and out to your ground transportation; the service is also available on arrival (prices start at 300 Qatari riyals each way).

Once onboard, you’ll find a set of pajamas and a Giorgio Armani amenities kit stuffed with the usual essentials (ear plugs, eye shade, socks) and some Armani perfume and lotion.

 

The Giorgio Armani business class amenities kit contains perfume and lotion—men get one set, women get another.

The Giorgio Armani business class amenities kit contains perfume and lotion—men get one set, women get another. Photo courtesy Qatar Airways.

 

2. The seat configuration allows for space and decent privacy.

The 777 we took from JFK to Doha had a 2-2-2 configuration. For easiest access to an aisle, choose seats in the middle section.

The 777 we took from JFK to Doha had a 2-2-2 configuration. For easiest access to an aisle, choose seats in the middle section. Photo: Billie Cohen.

My plane was the B777-300ER, which meant a 2-2-2 configuration in business class. I shared my nook with only one other person, with whom I could enjoy conversation while we got settled and then completely ignore once we reclined for movies and sleep, thanks to the cocoon-like design of the lie-flat seats.

 

3. The in-flight entertainment system made it kind of hard to leave the plane.

All seven of the Harry Potter movies, all three of the Lord of the Rings movies, an entire collection devoted to Meryl Streep, plus a ton of Bollywood films and TV and music from around the world. I kept thinking, Why can’t Netflix have as good a selection? It was hard to choose between sleep and staying up all 13 hours to watch movies.

It was hard to choose between a Harry Potter marathon and a nap. I did both.

It was hard to choose between a Harry Potter marathon and a nap. I did both. Photo: Billie Cohen.

 

4. The food is good enough to be served on the ground.

Pumpkin and chestnut soup. Summer greens and mozzarella salad. Greek yogurt with raspberry compote and toasted granola. A selection of desserts from Ladurée. Special dishes created by Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia (the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star). And lots of small details added to the feeling of fine dining: warm mixed nuts, warm bread and butter, mini boxes of Valrhona chocolates, white-cloth napkins, real silverware, and real glasses. Unfortunately, my food pictures are horrible; I have not mastered the art of Instagramming dishes in any appetizing way whatsoever, so I haven’t done justice here, but believe me this was food I would’ve been happy to be served in a restaurant. And the best part is that it’s all delivered to your seat whenever you want, rather than when the flight attendants’ schedule says it’s time.

This yogurt parfait with raspberry compote was delicious.

This yogurt parfait with raspberry compote was delicious.

 

5. The award-winning lie-flat bed

As a light sleeper, I was skeptical that this “bed” would be as comfortable as promised. It was. After the flight attendants set you up with a thin mattress, a fluffy pillow and a light cloth quilt (none of that staticky fake fleece stuff), it is really hard to stay awake. On both flights, the lights were dimmed, with only the soft glow of the color-changing ceiling accents, which cycled through blues, greens, and oranges to indicate time of day. According to Qatar Airways, the purpose of the mood lighting—which exists in the economy cabin as well—is to decrease the effects of jet lag, but I’m thinking it has more to do with the beds than the light bulbs.

Qatar Airways lie-flat beds

The model in this press photo is not faking—the beds are comfortable. Photo courtesy Qatar Airways.

The fully adjustable bed not only made for comfortable sleeping, but for working, and curling up and watching Harry Potter. I especially appreciated the adjustable attached footrest; thanks to button controls that let you raise it to your comfort level, my short legs (which don’t usually reach the floor on airplanes…or buses, subways and office chairs for that matter) enjoyed the full benefits of a footrest for the first time I can remember.

At 4’11, my legs aren’t long enough to reach most footrests. Thanks to the adjustable one on my business-class seat, I got to see what all the fuss is about. I liked it.

At 4’11, my legs aren’t long enough to reach most footrests. Thanks to the adjustable one on my business-class seat, I got to see what all the fuss is about. I liked it.

The Not So Good

No exit 

There I am, happily cozying up in my reclined seat, snacking on chocolates, flipping through movies while my neighbor gently snored in the next seat, when nature called and I discovered the first downside to life in QA’s business class. Not the bathrooms (which were cleaned often and stocked with aromatic soaps), but the one drawback of these award-winning lie-flat beds.

I chose a window seat in on both of my flights. Great for sightseeing (I’m a sucker for takeoff and landing photos), but bad for every time I wanted to go to the bathroom. Once my seatmate was fully reclined and snoring, I was trapped: His feet reached all the way to the wall, so to get out of our row, I had to climb over his legs, a fate I had naively thought was limited to the coach-class experience. Thankfully he was a heavy sleeper and there wasn’t much turbulence. Otherwise, there could have been a very awkward spill onto his bed. If you want to avoid this on your next business class flight, check SeatGuru to determine the cabin’s seat configuration. If it’s 2-2-2, like mine was, choose the middle section to guarantee easy aisle access from both seats.

No Wi-Fi, inaccessible power

Power plugs are a must-have these days. Even if you’re distracted by Meryl Streep’s complete catalog of films, at some point on a 13-hour flight, most of us have to do some work. But on QR’s 777, the plug (which, conveniently, does not require an adapter) is inconveniently hidden behind the lower-leg portion of the seat. Even when the seat is in its fully upright position, it covers the recess where the plug is located; if I didn’t have small hands (and if I wasn’t willing to sit on the floor in front of my seat holding a phone flashlight), I would not have been able to plug in my computer. Once I did, I realized the other drawback of QR’s 777s: no Wi-Fi. I understand that some aircraft are older and not able, or worthwhile, to be retrofitted—and the airline’s 787s, A350s, and A380 all have internet—but business class should allow you to, you know, get some business done.

To be fair, these are pretty minor quibbles considering how comfortable the flights were, how impressive the food and service were, and how easy it was to sleep. While getting work out of the way is key to having a good vacation once you’re on the ground, the truth is that you can’t get anything done—on or off the plane—if you’re tired and hungry, and Qatar Airways sufficiently takes care of both. Plus, you get those pajamas.

 

*Full disclosure: My flight was fully paid for by Qatar Airways, as part of a small media trip to Anantara’s new Banana Island Resort, just off the coast of Doha. (The five of us were the first American journalists to see Anantara’s new property here.) Onboard, I watched carefully to see if the flight crew treated me or my colleagues any differently than other passengers and it did not seem to be so.

In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on our hosts’ part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our signed agreement with Qatar Airways here and with Anantara here. 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Virgin America Wi-fi

Wi-Fi Report Card: Which Airlines Keep You Connected the Best?

For Internet-addicted business travelers, an in-flight announcement that “Wi-Fi is down at the moment” is enough to induce the shakes. And getting booked on a flight that doesn’t offer Wi-Fi at all is enough to send them into fits of rage.

Fortunately, a new study finds plugged-in road warriors had less reason to panic over their in-flight connectivity last year. And 2015 looks even better.

 

Also from Yahoo! Travel: The Wi-Fi Race: What Are the Best-Connected U.S. Airlines?

 

A new report by travel website Routehappy finds U.S. flyers now have at least “some chance” of finding Wi-Fi on 66 percent of domestic flights. In contrast, Routehappy’s last report, in June 2013, found Wi-Fi connectivity on less than half of domestic flights. And the story is getting brighter internationally too.

So what’s the Wi-Fi state of the union? Here are the main highlights of Routehappy’s “Global State of In-Flight Wi-Fi” report.

Routehappy Wi-Fi report

Virgin America is out in front on percentage of flights with Wi-Fi. But when you look at the total number of Wi-Fi-connected flights, it’s another story. (Photo: Routehappy)

Wi-Fi is growing like a weed on U.S. air carriers.

Overall, Virgin America leads Routehappy’s list, with the highest percentage of total flights and flight miles with Wi-Fi (that’s not surprising; unlike many other carriers, all of Virgin America’s planes offer Wi-Fi). Southwest is in second place.

But when you’re talking the raw total number of flights that offer Wi-Fi, Delta Air Lines—which runs many more flights than Virgin—is number one by far. It’s followed by the newly combined American Airlines/US Airways.

Delta Wi-Fi

Because of its size and aggressive upgrades, Delta has more Wi-Fi connected flights than anyone. (Photo: Delta)

 

Also from Yahoo! Travel: No More In-Flight Wi-Fi for AT&T

 

United Airlines did top one domestic category: Wi-Fi growth. In Routehappy’s last survey, United offered at least “some chance” of Wi-Fi on 518 U.S. domestic flights. Today, that number is 1,445 flights—a 179 percent increase. American/US was a distant second with a 23 percent increase, followed by Delta with 15 percent.

“Domestically, Wi-Fi is being offered on more flights than ever before,” Jason Rabinowitz, data research manager for Routehappy, tells Yahoo Travel. “All mainline airlines have either finished or are nearly finished rolling out Wi-Fi to their entire domestic fleets.”

It’s not just what airline you fly—it’s where you go.

Routehappy finds that all the busiest U.S. domestic routes (20 daily flights or more in each direction) have Wi-Fi availability on all flights. That includes: New York’s JFK to Los Angeles; New York’s LaGuardia to Boston; LaGuardia to Washington-Dulles; New York’s JFK to San Francisco; and Charlotte to Atlanta.

Wi-Fi and power don’t always go together (but they should).

What’s the point of offering passengers Wi-Fi if their computers, tablets and phones run out of juice while they’re using it? “That drives people crazy,” Rabinowitz says. Offering Wi-Fi without power is like offering mac without cheese: Yeah, you can do it, but what’s the point?

Fortunately, some airlines have gotten that message. In Routehappy’s report, Virgin America leads the way with 100 percent of flight miles with Wi-Fi and in-seat power in Economy class. Alaska Airlines is second, and United is third. But if you’re flying JetBlue or Southwest, you’d better bring a book: Those airlines were found to offer the greatest majority of flights with that unfortunate Wi-Fi/no power combination.

 

Wi-Fi on international flights

Wi-Fi on international flights is getting much more common, especially on Icelandair. (Photo: Routehappy)

Slowly but surely, Wi-Fi is spreading worldwide.

International airlines have been slower to offer Wi-Fi than U.S.-based airlines, but they’re getting better.  In Routehappy’s latest report, non-U.S. airlines offered at least “some” chance of Wi-Fi on 15 percent of their international flights. That may not seem like much, but it’s still a slight improvement. “As of our last report 18 months ago, very few airlines outside of the United States offered the service, with only a handful of flights each day,” Rabinowitz says. But now, “some airlines have nearly completed the rollout of in-flight Wi-Fi on their entire widebody fleet.”

In all, Routehappy finds nine non-U.S. airlines now offer a “very good” chance of having Wi-Fi on 20 percent or more of their international flight miles: Japan, Emirates, Aeroflot, Iberia, Lufthansa, Singapore and Etihad. On the remaining two airlines—Norwegian and Icelandair—that number tops 80 percent. Overall, the airline with the most international planes with Wi-Fi was United.

Wi-Fi user on a plane

Don’t worry: There’s a lot more Wi-Fi in your future. (Photo: Thinkstock)

The future is bright for Wi-Fi on planes.

Rabinowitz thinks we’re not far from seeing in-flight Wi-Fi that resembles the speedy connections you have at home and the office. “In-flight Wi-Fi will be faster, less expensive and available on airlines you probably wouldn’t have guessed today,” he says. With the launch of newer satellites—which offer better connectivity than the more common land-based Wi-Fi systems—he expects the Wi-Fi experience to greatly improve.

In addition to getting faster, Rabinowitz predicts Wi-Fi will get even more commonplace, with U.S. airlines expanding it to more international routes and to their smaller regional planes as well. “Passengers are not only aware that in-flight Wi-Fi exists, but they actually expect it to be available,” he says.

So it looks like “What do you mean this flight doesn’t have Wi-Fi?” will be a question workaholic business travelers will have to ask less and less.

 

More from Yahoo! Travel

The Millennial’s Guide to Surviving Your First Business Trip

Confessions: The Top 10 Things That Will Make Your Flight Attendant Hate You

Extreme Weapons the TSA Seized at US Airports in 2014

 

This article originally ran on Yahoo! Travel

United Airlines Business First class

How to Find the Best Flight with your Frequent Flier Miles

Question:

Wendy, is there someone you recommend to make airline reservations using frequent flier miles? I have a ton of United miles and American Express Membership Rewards points and am looking for someone to figure out the best way for me to use them. We want to fly to Europe this summer in business class.

Thanks,
Francis

Answer:

Francis, I get this question at least once a week. There are a few mileage-award redemption advisory services, but I’ve always sworn by Gary Leff, whose Book Your Award service, geared to travelers who want to fly in first or business class, has been put to the test by thousands of my readers over the years.

Gary is the blogger behind View From the Wing, a co-founder of the frequent-flier community MilePoint.com, and a one-time hilarious guest in a Colbert Report skit. His partner at BookYourAward.com is Steve Belkin, another mileage magician and the founder of Competitours, an Amazing Race–type travel company.

I’ve known Gary and Steve for years. Between them, they can figure out any first-class or business-class mileage ticket you need, taking into consideration your personal requirements (date range, maximum number of stops, etc.) and your available bank of miles, credit-card points, and other loyalty-program points. (And they’ll help you find more if you come up short).

They know which airlines offer the best award-seat value for which destinations. They come up with flights and routes that require fewer miles than you thought you were going to have to spend or that provide a few welcome layover days in a destination you thought you’d have to skip. And, if that’s not enough, once you’ve used your miles, they’ll teach you how to replenish your bank for your next trip. Their flat fee is $150 per ticket. They’re also insanely busy helping people like you so, if you do reach out to Gary and Steve, tell them I sent you.

Beating Jet Lag and Travel Exhaustion with Science and Magic

Note from Wendy: My strategy for beating jet lag when flying across an ocean is, upon landing, to make the rest of the day about getting outdoor exercise and sunlight. I walk around sightseeing all day and don’t stop moving till 8 p.m., when I collapse into bed, taking two Benadryl (the drowsy-making kind) or Tylenol PM to ensure I’ll sleep uninterrupted through the night. When I wake up circa 6 a.m., I find I’m adjusted to the new time zone. We all try different ways of coping with jet lag, though—and I got a kick out of these unusual solutions tested by Yahoo! Travel’s Managing Editor Jo Piazza. Maybe one of them will work for you.

 

Between June and September, I was on the road for about 20 days out of each month.

By the time October rolled around, I was completely knackered. In my years of traveling, I have learned to conquer traditional jet lag. I stay away from both alcohol and caffeine when I travel. I make sure I get eight hours of sleep a night on the road, and I try to work out for at least 30 minutes outside whenever I land in a new place.

But after hopping from time zone to time zone for three months, the jet lag starts to settle into your bones, along with complete and utter travel exhaustion. My immune system was shot. I couldn’t sleep. When I fell asleep, I couldn’t wake up. My whole body hurt in places where I didn’t know my body could hurt. I came down with bronchitis accompanied by a persistent cough that just wouldn’t go away and made mothers pull their children away from me on the subway.

Something had to change, because my travel schedule certainly wasn’t going to. I started talking to other frequent travelers, doctors, scientists, the checkout guy at GNC, and my acupuncturist, anyone who might have a suggestion for how to conquer my complete and utter exhaustion. And then I tried it all. These are the five things I attempted to rebuild my immune system and boost my energy. I’m still traveling just as much, but I haven’t gotten run down again.

1. Blue Light Therapy
Blue LED technology has been used by NASA to adjust researchers’ body clocks to stay synchronized for important space missions and research has shown that blue light can help to improve mood and energy by regulating your circadian rhythms. I got myself a Philips goLITE BLU, which is small and portable and connected to a timer so that it beams 15 minutes of blue light onto my face right when I wake up at 6 a.m. each morning. It is like Avatar every single day. I also keep one in the office timed to energy dips around 3 p.m. It has replaced my 3:30 p.m. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups habit, which was causing an unhealthy sugar spike in the afternoon. I bring it along when I travel and put it next to my hotel bed. It is smaller than my Kindle.

 2. A Vitamin IV Treatment
I had heard of friends using intravenous vitamin therapy to cure their hangovers, but I hadn’t even thought about it to cure anything more than a night of too much tequila. But since I was willing to try anything, I went to Fountain Med Spa in New York City, where they customized an intravenous vitamin bag for me with vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin) to help with energy and immunity. They added vitamins B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), and B-6 (pyridoxine) to help with my metabolism, fatigue, and skin.

Also from Yahoo! Travel: 10 Ways to Stay Healthy While Flying

 

“Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, and only a small amount can be absorbed orally a day,” said Dr. Todd Schlifstein of Fountain, explaining why the IV treatment was more effective. “Phosphatidylcholine also helps booster your immune system, which may be lowered due to travel, fatigue, and lack of sleep. Intravenous vitamins are a quick way to recover from jet lag, fatigue, and just feeling rundown after a trip.”

I was a little scared at first. Needles! IVs! But they calmed me down with the promise of a moisturizing facial and after the initial prick, I hardly noticed that I was hooked up to the drip for the better part of an hour.

Dr. Schlifstein told me I might not feel anything right away.

“Some people feel it right after they hop off the table,” he said. “Some don’t.” I didn’t. But within a few days, I definitely noticed a difference in my energy levels. And I haven’t been sick since (fingers crossed).

Also from Yahoo! Travel: These Apps Claim to Help You Get Over Jet Lag — But, Do They Work?

 

3. Supplements
I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is the queen of supplements. If it guarantees that she will look 12 years younger or that it will make her boyfriend perform better in bed, she will buy a crate of it. And so when she recommended something called Youth H2O, I blew her off. But then I chatted with Youth H2O’s nutritionist Manuel Villacorta about what it could do for me.

“Jet lag means low energy. Your immunity is compromised, and your system is unbalanced,” Villacorta said. “Youth H2O is filled with three ingredients that are extremely potent and will get you back up to speed with one shot in this easy energy booster.” The drink, sold in shot form, contains maca, which raises stamina and focus; camu, which supports the immune system; and purple corn, which is filled with antioxidants to ward off exhaustion.

Also from Yahoo! Travel: Everything You Need to Know About Sleeping on the Plane and Beating Jet Lag

 

4. Acupuncture
Most people think of acupuncture as a way to relieve pain and stress, but it can also do wonders for your immune system.

When we get sick, our immune system is unable to defend against the invading bacteria. Traditional Chinese medicine works to rid the body of blockages that are making the immune system work more slowly or ineffectively. I had four different appointments with an acupuncturist. She selected about 10 points—my wrists, the top of my head, my ear lobes, my belly and my feet—where the needles would help my nervous system to remove those blockages. Each session last about an hour and she gave me a delightful neck rub during each appointment.

5. Magic
I happened to mention my exhaustion to my friend Anabel, who is a practicing Wiccan.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“All over,” I replied. “Ireland, Bermuda, New Orleans.” She nodded.

“It was New Orleans. You probably have a jinx.”

“A jinx?” I asked.

“A curse, a hex, a jinx.” And so she gave me a jinx-removing candle. I burned it for seven days, and I have to say, I have never felt better.

Overhead bins, carry-on luggage

10 Simple Changes that Would Drastically Improve Travel in 2015

As you think about where to go next, you can’t help but think about how you’ll get there. And the prospect might make you cringe. So we asked our Facebook friends what simple changes they’d like to see that would drastically improve travel in 2015. Here’s what they propose. What change would you most like to see next year?

1. “Reverse the baggage-charge policy: Charge people to carry their bags onto the aircraft and let those who check baggage do it for free. Either that or enforce the carry-on rules so that people are not boarding with their entire lives in tow.”
—Jean Hull Cross

2. “Load planes from back to front. Or window, then middle, then aisle.”
—Sheryl Starry

3. “I would like to see a consistent bag-checking policy at airline gates. Right now, some airlines let passengers board with anything that fits. Other gate agents play hardball. Either check them, or not, but pick a lane.”
Micheline Maynard

4. “Assign space in the overhead bin to match the seating, so that no matter what order you board in, you know you can rely on having the same access to carry-on space as the next ‘important’ person.”
Lori Ryerson

5. “Better trains.”
Sara Tucker

6. “Free Wi-Fi. Make logging on to Wi-Fi really easy as well.”
Lindsey Wallace

7. “GPS-enabled luggage tags, connected to an app that would make keeping track of your luggage from beginning to end a breeze.”
Jill Siegel

8. “Accurate reporting on international incidents with no scare tactics. Maybe that’s not a simple change. :) ”
Andrea Ross

9. “If travel-related businesses asked travelers ‘Why are you taking this trip?’ instead of just the dates and destination—and then actually tried to help the traveler accomplish their goal. The focus seems to always be on ‘Who, What, Where, When How?’ forgetting the all-important ‘Why?’”
Robert Cole

10. “Travelers themselves can heighten the overall travel experience—from the airport to their destination to all the people they come into contact with. Have a smile on your face—yes, even with the TSA folks—and respect all those you come into contact with. Everyone has a story, and you can learn from each and every one of them. A great experience begins with you.”
—Linda Condron

8 Secrets to a Stress-Free Flight With Toddlers

There’s nothing like flying with a toddler to make a solo trip in coach feel downright luxurious. Nevertheless, bringing the kids onboard doesn’t have to be torture. Here are my road-…er, air-tested tips for surviving a flight with young kids. (At the end of my most recent trip with my three-year-old, two nearby passengers paid the ultimate compliment, declaring me the best-prepared mom onboard.)

Don’t fly during nap times.

Whenever possible, choose flights that don’t coincide with your toddler’s periods of sleep. You might think that flying during a nap will give you a little time off. That might work with an infant, but toddlers are different: They have a much harder time falling asleep on a plane, and it typically involves lots of tears. When I fly cross-country with my son, I book a 6:00 a.m. departure: It’s much easier to wake him up a few hours early than to try to get him down for a nap on the plane.

Avoid bulkhead seats.

Before Zeke turned two (when we had to start buying him his own seat), my husband and I would book aisle and window seats toward the back of the plane, where we had the best chance of getting a row to ourselves. This gives your kid more room to spread out playthings, and it relieves you of the stress of shielding a stranger from your child’s noise and energy. Whatever you do, avoid bulkheads: The armrests don’t move, so you can’t easily share space with your kid, and you won’t always have access to your bags, which must be stowed in the overhead compartments.

Arrive early.

Give yourself a cushion for security—in my experience, bags full of small objects have a knack for requiring secondary screening—and allow plenty of time to walk through the airport to your gate. I turn this part of the journey into a game, telling my son what number to look for and having him guide me at his own pace. Letting Zeke burn off some energy also makes him more agreeable about staying in his seat onboard (translation: fewer trips up and down the aisle).

Don’t eat just before takeoff or landing.

Those first and last moments of a flight are often the toughest, when the change in cabin pressure hurts your kid’s ears. Eating and drinking can help, and your child is more likely to chew and swallow if he or she hasn’t just had a meal. I like to bring lollipops for these moments; it’s a special treat with some lasting power. (Don’t starve the kid, though: Mid-flight snacks are essential in preventing the low-blood-sugar grumps.)

Have new toys on hand.

In the weeks before a trip, scour the library book sales and Target $1 bins for inexpensive options; extra credit for play things that encourage open-ended, imaginary play. Some of my favorites: play dough, pipe cleaners, magnetic playsets, and reusable sticker pads. On one flight, a pack of small monster trucks entertained Zeke for a good 30 minutes. Just make sure that you liberate toys from their plastic clamshell packaging at home, while you still have access to scissors! Too busy to shop? Order a Busy Kit.

Wrap everything.

Not just the new toys, but old reliable ones, snacks, even a cube of Post-It notes for small drawings. Opening each package helps small tots with their fine motor skills and makes each new event last a little longer; use old newspapers to cut down on waste. This works better with the younger set, though: My three-year-old now tears through the wrapping quickly.

Know your kid.

Whatever appeals to him or her at home will be a good bet in the air. For Zeke, that’s playing trucks and drawing. We never fly without a generous helping of small vehicles, Crayola washable crayons (the best I’ve found), and scrap paper.

When all else fails, treat your kid to some screen time.

I like to leave this as an option of last resort—we’ve gone through entire flights without pulling out the iPad. Many parents swear by them, but if you limit screen time at home, your kid (like mine) might not have the attention span to sit through more than a few minutes of it on a plane. Don’t forget to load some new apps and videos onto your device before the flight, while you still have a fast Internet connection.

 

What strategies work for you and your kids?

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Turkish Airlines plane

When To Buy Summer Airline Tickets to Europe

A ton of families I know have the same question each year: When is the best time to buy summer airline tickets to Europe? It’s trickier for a family of four or five that’s operating around school vacation dates than it is for a solo traveler or couple who have schedule flexibility and can wait for late-winter and spring airfare sales.

Here’s the latest quandary:

“Hi Wendy,
My family of four wants to leave in early June and spend three weeks in Spain, France, and Italy. We could fly to Paris, Barcelona, Rome, or whatever city affords the best airfare. Based on airfares we’ve been monitoring to date, Milan seems like the best value, with tickets in the $1,200 range. Milan would work well because it’s in the center and would allow us plenty of flexibility to go in any direction we like. We’re tempted to purchase the Milan flights but aren’t sure if we should wait a little longer to see if we can get a better deal. Thanks!  Greg”

For an in-depth answer, I turned to AirfareWatchdog founder George Hobica. “This is such a thorny question,” says George, “and no one has an ‘airfare magic eight ball.’” Nonetheless, he offers this advice to families generally:

* Fly before peak summer fares kick in.
“Early June is actually a good time to visit Europe because the summer peak fares have not kicked in yet. (Early June is still technically spring.) There could always be a sale. In fact, just recently OneWorld Alliance airlines (American, USAirways, Iberia, British Airways, etc.) had an unadvertised airfare sale to many European destinations, with fares 70% lower than usual. It was valid only for travel through May, but it proves the point that flash sales do happen. Airfare alerts by email are a good way to find them.”

* Search for two seats, then another two seats.
“When there are four people traveling, in addition to searching for four seats at a go, search for two seats plus two seats, in case there are only three seats available at the lowest fare.

* Consider connecting flights, even with forced overnights.
“Some airlines have been offering great deals to Europe if you’re willing to connect, sometimes with a forced overnight in the connecting city. Turkish Airlines, for example, has some very cheap fares from its U.S. gateways. (And everyone should experience their in-flight catering at least once. It’s really good!) You might have an overnight in Istanbul, but the good news is that they will give you either a free hotel at the airport or a free tour of Istanbul. Icelandair, Condor, Norwegian Air Shuttle, and now WOW Airlines are also offering some good fares. These fares might require long layovers, but the savings can be significant, especially for a family of four.”

And here’s George’s advice specific to this family’s request for flights to Italy, France, or Spain.

* Consider flying to Milan or Barcelona.
“As your reader discovered, Milan is relatively cheap to fly into and is centrally located. Emirates now flies New York to Milan non-stop, and there are even fares for a three-week trip departing in early June for $840 roundtrip, including taxes. Flying to Paris is going to be more expensive, with Barcelona a second choice after Milan. It’s a good idea to check fares into both Milan airports (MXP and LIN).”

* Wait to buy your tickets.
“There’s plenty of time to wait until pulling the trigger. Although I’m not airfare-psychic, I don’t expect early June fares to rise much above $1,200 roundtrip (that’s about what they cost currently from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, New York, etc.), and they could go lower. So I think there’s more downside potential movement than upside. Wait and keep checking. Check airfares several times a day over a period of several weeks, and sign up for airfare emails at various airfare alert sites.”

In addition to signing up for AirfareWatchdog’s airfare alerts, you might also follow @airfarewatchdog on Twitter because George tweets surprise fare sales and sudden unadvertised deals to all manner of cool places.

Does anyone have additional tips for families buying summer airline tickets to Europe?

Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog Founder George Hobica: Interview with an Expert Traveler

George Hobica accomplishes two things that mean a lot to me as a traveler and as a journalist: First, the website he founded, Airfarewatchdog.com, solves one of the most frustrating challenges of travel by offering customizable low-fare alerts for any route you choose. Second, his own high standards as a longtime reporter mean you can rely on the intel sourced by his entire team, whether they’re relentlessly hunting down the best deals or delivering travel news. But George isn’t one to rest on his laurels. Recently, Airfarewatchdog (which, full disclosure, is owned by TripAdvisor, where I am Travel Advocate) ventured into new territory, launching a beta version of a hotel-deal-finding feature. We’ll be watching closely to see how that develops. In the meantime, we asked George a few revealing questions about his own travel experiences and about some valuable tips and strategies we can all use.

Job and title:
President and Founder, Airfarewatchdog.com

Most memorable travel moment:
When I first started travel writing, I was a last-minute replacement on a press trip to Bangkok with two very seasoned and grumpy (and rather cynical) travel pros, who wondered who this interloper was. We were staying at the famed Oriental Hotel and my floor attendant couldn’t have been nicer, so we really hit it off. Just before check-out, he presented me with a handwritten thank-you note and a small gift—a pair of silk shoe bags, which I still own. On the way back to the airport, thinking that his gesture was one of those things that hotels tell their employees to do to impress visiting travel writers, I remarked to my colleagues, who also had the same floor attendant, “Wasn’t that a nice gift and note?” One of them snapped, “What gift? What note?”

Most embarrassing travel moment:
When I was 18 and on my very first cruise, I was discovered by the fire department in a storage room on board the Queen Elizabeth 2, while making out with a crew member who had earlier invited me down below for a drink in the crew bar. There was no fire, and I can only speculate as to why the alarm was sounded soon after we began snogging. True story. I blush.

Name one thing people would be surprised to find in your travel bag.
My goose-down travel pillow. I never go anywhere without it. If I could only bring one thing when I travel, that would be it.

Touristy spot that’s actually worth it, and the trick to doing it right:
Venice. Just go in the off-season, even in winter.

Non-touristy spot people might not know about (or thought much about visiting) but should add to their must-visit list:
Lanai. Many visitors to Hawaii give it a miss, but the two Four Seasons resorts there are worth the trip.

Name two indispensable apps you use when you travel:
I fly a lot on British Airways and American Airlines, and their apps are the last two I’d delete from my iPhone. They both offer a high level of functionality and cool features.

The travel gadget or gear that has saved your life…or your mind:
The second thing I’d never leave home without is my Bose noise-cancelling headphones. They drown out jet and wind noise and crying babies, and reducing noise helps you relax during flight. In fact, one morning on the way to JFK I discovered I’d left them at home and told the taxi to return so I could grab them.

Choose any two travel-world bloggers and tell us the most important thing you’ve learned from each.
I’m not just saying this because this is being posted on WendyPerrin.com, but with whom else would I begin but Wendy Perrin? I learned from her many things, including the importance of putting yourself in the hands of expert travel agents to plan out-of-the-ordinary trips. I also learn a lot of insider stuff from Peter Greenberg’s blog.

Name one way the travel industry can do better. 
As an airfare guy, I’d love to see an airfare search engine that allowed you to plug in a departure date and a return date and then spit back 50 or 100 of the cheapest destinations for just those dates. Southwest experimented with this for a few days last year and then quickly killed it.

Look into the future and describe one aspect of travel, or the travel industry, that you think will be different in 20 years:
I think that eventually we will see an end to the archaic laws that prevent true globalization of the airline industry. If Fiat can buy 100% of Chrysler, why can’t Singapore Airlines, if it wished, buy 100% of Delta? Current laws restrict ownership to a minority interest. I also think in 20 or 25 years we will see something like Star Alliance Airways or Sky Team Airlines—in other words, true global airlines that can fly anywhere they wish and combine with anyone they wish.

Most effective thing you’ve ever said or done to get an upgrade or a special perk while traveling:
This doesn’t work very often, but one day I was in the United lounge at JFK waiting for my flight, and I heard my name paged. That day, as most times I fly, I was well dressed—on this occasion, a dark suit, tie, and nice shoes. I have never had status on United (and still don’t) but they upgraded me to first class. Everyone else in the lounge was in the usual attire—jeans, dirty sneakers, some gym shorts and tank tops. I’m well aware that computer programs assign upgrades by frequent flyer status automatically, so who knows—I suppose an airline employee can fiddle with a computer if they wish. I certainly didn’t question the reason. Anyway, it certainly never hurts to dress respectfully while flying.

To make friends, I always carry…
Pens for the flight attendants. Want to make your flight attendant smile? Hand out some Uni-ball Vision Elite pens (they don’t leak in pressurized cabins).

Overrated:
AirBnB

Underrated:
Talking to strangers on planes is underrated.

If you were in my car during a road trip, you’d hear me singing…
“Me and You and a Dog named Boo” by Lobo. “Traveling and livin’ off the land.” The corniest road trip track ever.

The airplane movie that, unexpectedly, made me bawl was…
The Kite Runner, among many others. I will never watch that movie in flight again. Too embarrassing!

When I travel, I’m not afraid of…
crashing

…but I am afraid of…
the middle seat in economy class. I’m platinum on American and at my age and size, flying eight hours in an economy class seat is eight hours of squirming, slouching, shifting and just trying in vain to find a comfortable position.

 

Follow George and Airfarewatchdog:
Twitter: @airfarewatchdog and @georgehobica
Instagram: @airfarewatchdog
Facebook: facebook.com/Airfarewatchdog

View of Manhattan from airplane window.

How to Reserve Airline Tickets for Up to Three Weeks

The travel problem: You see airline tickets for a great price, but you haven’t really nailed down your trip plans yet. Will those dates work for everyone? Does the hotel you want even have rooms available? Most important, will the fare go up if you wait till tomorrow? By law, U.S. airlines have to give you a full refund within 24 hours of booking if you change your mind, but 24 hours isn’t always enough time to figure it all out.

The tool that solves it: Options Away, a website and app that lets you lock in an airfare and reserve it for up to three weeks. Launched by Robert and Heidi Brown—who both have backgrounds in the finance industry—Options Away operates the way stock options do: You give a little bit of money up front for the right to purchase the airfare you want later.

Search the site for flights just as you would anywhere else; when you find the one you like, you’ll see a few different hold “options” you can purchase—3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days. (There’s also a $4 24-hour option, but since the Department of Transportation requires U.S. airlines to allow customers to cancel or change their tickets within 24 hours for a full refund, you don’t need Options Away for that.) The fee for the option is separate from the cost of the airfare and usually ranges from $9 for three days to about $45 for three weeks, though it can be as high as $80 depending on route, price of the flight, and length of time before departure. Purchase the option you want for the flight you like, and then come back before your time limit expires to buy the flight at that same cost. If you decide you don’t want the flight, just let your option expire; you’ll lose the option fee, but that may be less painful than losing the whole fare or paying a flight-change fee.

Some airlines offer similar services—United has FareLock, for instance—but at Options Away you can search and compare fares and schedules from multiple airlines at a time. You can even search for flights for other people—no traveler information is required at the time of purchase and options are transferrable. What’s more, during your option period, whether it’s one week or three, Options Away will continue to look for lower fares and will alert you to any new possibilities when you sign back into your account. (If you prefer the new fare and want to book it right away, there is no change fee; however, if you want to lock in the newly suggested fare, you must purchase a new option and let the old one expire.)

For now you can purchase options on domestic flights only, but cofounder Heidi Brown says that international flights are planned soon (and rental car options are available now too). “We have the ability to add airport pairs whenever we feel we are staffed to do so,” Brown said via email, but adds, “We insist on ‘Zappos-like’ customer service and feel that we must only grow at a pace that allows us to offer this.”

Fogo Island Inn Newfoundland aerial view

Fly Your Own Plane to Fogo Island, Newfoundland

If piloting your own small plane to the edge of the earth sounds like your kind of fun, or like a great gift for a significant other, I’ve got an idea for you—and you don’t even need to be certified to fly. It’s the birthday present I gave my husband last year. You can even combine it with a trip to the Fogo Island Inn, the buzzy new hotel off the remote northeast coast of Newfoundland (next stop: Greenland) that is on many people’s travel to-do lists right now.

Getting to Fogo Island can feel like a journey to the edge of the world. In fact, according to the Flat Earth Society, Fogo is one of the four corners of the world. From Gander, Newfoundland, the journey requires a two-hour drive, a 45-minute ferry ride, another 20-minute drive, and a mess of logistics.

Last summer I needed an easier way. I was bound for Fogo and crunched for time. I also needed a birthday present for Tim. So I killed two birds with one stone: Tim got to pilot a four-seat Cessna 172 Skyhawk from Gander to Fogo and back—even though he’s not certified to fly—and I got a transit time of just 30 minutes each way.

Gander is, of course, an internationally renowned center for aviation training. At 8:00 a.m. we reported to Gander Flight Training HQ and met our trainer, a young pilot named Derek Sparkes. He weighed us and our luggage, had us help him with the aircraft safety check, and taught us about all the controls, gauges, and dials in the cockpit. He sat next to Tim throughout the flight, leading him through each step, his hands almost on the controls so he could take over in a nanosecond if necessary; in fact, sometimes Tim could feel the yoke and pedals move to where Derek wanted them to be. But Tim taxied down the runway, communicated with air traffic control, and took off all by himself. As we sailed over vast expanses of blue and green, Tim even managed to shoot some photos too. But when it came time to land on Fogo, the landing strip looked awfully narrow. Tim decided he’d better leave the touchdown to an expert and gladly handed over control.

Such private flights out of Gander are both weather- and weight-dependent. Thankfully, the wind cooperated and our luggage was light. Such flights aren’t cheap either. I paid $1,200 to the travel planner who recommended and arranged it for me, Marc Telio of Entrée Canada. It was a splurge, for sure, but the roundtrip flight saved us at least six hours of travel time and left us with a priceless memory. And because I also booked my Fogo Island Inn stay through Marc—who gets a greatly reduced rate, thanks to his friendship with the Inn’s founder—I saved almost as much as I spent.

Pilot Derek Sparkes performs a safety check

Pilot Derek Sparkes performs a safety check on the plane.

Tim takes the pilot's seat.

Tim takes the pilot’s seat.

Inside the Cessna

Inside the Cessna

The runway

The runway

The view from inside the plane

The view as we took off

aerial view of Newfoundland

View from the plane

Fogo Island 5aerial view of Fogo Island Newfoundlandaerial view of Fogo Island Newfoundland

Fogo Island 11
I’d love to hear: What’s the best travel gift you’ve given anyone?

Transparency disclosure: Yes, the Fogo Island Inn is an advertiser. But I visited and fell in love with the Inn and its people, community, and concept long before this website was conceived.