26 Travel Secrets You Need to Know

Find out how to get a free massage, save money on car rentals and score more legroom on your next flight in our roundup of insider travel advice.
By Travel+Leisure Editors

Over the past year, Travel + Leisure editors and correspondents have scoured the globe to unearth the best undiscovered tips and tools for traveling smarter, faster, safer, and more affordably. Whether you’re trying to identify the perfect seat on a plane, steer clear of traffic on the road, book a hot table, or avoid unnecessary ATM fees abroad, you’ll find all the right solutions in our second annual guide.

Want to know how to get more before you check in?

1. Request extras with your room

If you’re booking several nights at a quiet time of year—or if you regularly visit one particular property—a hotel will often be willing to include some extra services (spa treatments, meals, transportation from the airport, and other perks) in the price of your room. The Hotel Hana-Maui (800/321-4262; hotelhanamaui.com; doubles from $495), a Travel + Leisure World's Best Award winner, has recently informally offered guests planning to stay five nights or more in a standard room a dinner for two at Kauiki, its seafood restaurant, plus a massage (a $400 value). Emmalani Park, the hotel’s head of reservations, says the best approach is to speak to a manager or a sales or marketing agent before you arrive: "Both can be more flexible than reservation agents."

2. Pack these security-friendly hotel amenities

Forget decanting your favorite beauty products into mini containers; some of our favorite hotels around the world now stock top lines in sizes (3 ounces and under) that meet TSA requirements. Mandarin Oriental in New York carries Fresh; Four Seasons and Mexico's Habita chain provide L'Occitane; Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg, California, and all domestic Ritz-Carlton properties have Bulgari; in London, the Connaught, Claridge's, and the Berkeley stock Asprey, and Dukes keeps Ren on hand. And look out for Malin + Goetz at the Tribeca and SoHo Grand hotels in New York.

3. Test the waters with a one-way cruise

"Repositioning cruises"—when ships stationed in the Mediterranean in the summer move to warmer Caribbean waters in the winter—used to be the rare way to find a deal on a luxury line. Now, as companies expand their itineraries across the globe, one-way cruises, another alternative, are also growing. Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Yachts of Seabourn are some of the lines that offer one-way routes from New England to Montreal, from British Columbia to Alaska, and even from Los Angeles to Australia. Regent Seven Seas (877/505-5370; rssc.com) has a one-way, 14-night cruise from Seward, Alaska, to Osaka, Japan, aboard its Seven Seas Mariner for $5,695. And this winter, travelers can buy a single 12- to 22-day leg of Crystal's 106-day, 46-port, globe-spanning Full World Cruise (888/722-0021; crystalcruises.com), starting at $5,895. According to Bob Sharak, executive vice president of the Cruise Line International Association, 50 percent of all Alaska itineraries are now one-way: "People are catching on and these [trips] are selling out."

4. City secret: London

Pay the $6 deposit on an Oyster Card at any tube, bus, or tram station and you can ride for roughly 50 percent less.

5. Find complete train schedules

Rail Europe (raileurope.com), which specializes in train travel on the Continent, offers comprehensive itineraries throughout the EU. But if you’re traveling within a country and want to find all available train times, be sure to check country-specific Web sites, which often display more options.

Number of daily departures found on Rail Europe, 12 trains
Number of daily departures found on Italy’s Trenitalia (
trenitalia.it), 17 trains

Trip: Seville-Madrid
Departures on Rail Europe, 16 trains
Departures on Spain’s Renfe (
renfe.es), 24 trains

Trip: Hamburg-Berlin
Departures on Rail Europe, 18 trains
Departures on Germany’s Die Bahn (
bahn.de), 21 trains

6. How to snag a prized table

T+L contributing editor and restaurant guru Anya von Bremzen has two time-honored tips: 1) Show up a half-hour prior to your desired seating to catch any cancellations; and 2) send a fax or e-mail, a strategy known to work at even the most popular spots like El Bulli, in Spain (34/97-215-0457; fax: 34/97-215-0717; bulli@elbulli.com). Here are suggestions from reservationists at three other hard-to-book restaurants:

Babbo, New York: "Call at 10 a.m. one month ahead of the date you want. And for a last-minute booking, try 9 p.m. the night before, or after 3 p.m. the day of." 110 Waverly Place: 212/777-0303; dinner for two $120.

French Laundry, Napa Valley: "We're open seven days, so call on the weekend, not during the week. Also, try OpenTable.com—we usually release two tables (one seats two, the other four) on a daily basis to the Web site." 6640 Washington St., Yountville; 707/944-2380; dinner for two $480.

L'astrance, Paris: "Two months before the date you desire, call at precisely 10 a.m. Try to get on the waiting list, as we limit it to three parties; so if you make it onto the list, there's a realistic chance of getting a table." 4 Rue Beethoven, 16th Arr.; 33-1/40-50-84-40; dinner for two $581.

7. How to dial 911 abroad

Emergencies can arise anytime—and any place. Be prepared when traveling; know how to call for help.

All EU countries, 112
Argentina, 911
Australia, 000
Canada, 911
Hong Kong, 999
Israel, 100
Japan, 119
Mexico, 060
Switzerland, 144
Thailand, 191

8. City secret:
Washington, D.C.

The 19 Smithsonian museums are open 364 days a year—every day but Christmas. So holidays are a great time to go—you’ll practically have the place to yourself.

9. Don’t let your job cost you a vacation!

When a work emergency comes up, forcing you to cancel your travel plans, you may be able to insure yourself against calling it a wash. New add-on features to standard travel insurance plans at AIG (travelguard.com) and Access America (accessamerica.com) cover trip cancellation and interruption for business reasons. For an additional $25 or less, both companies offer coverage that will refund any expenses (hotel, airfare) if an event like an unexpected deadline prevents you from taking a trip, or if a catastrophe (fire, hurricane) affects your work.

There are three rules to know before you book:

1) You must buy the coverage within 14 (Access America) or 15 (AIG) days of your initial trip deposit;
2) the claim needs to be filed within 90 days of the event that caused you to cancel; and
3) you have to provide detailed proof that the event occurred, such as a letter from your employer.

10. Supplement your health insurance while at sea

Even if you're traveling on a cruise originating from the United States with an American line, your health insurance coverage may not apply on board. As far as insurers are concerned, once you set sail, you're on foreign soil (or waters)—and, in general, you're on your own. Visit the ship's doctor for mild flu-like symptoms and you may find yourself with a bill and no chance of being reimbursed, unless you buy supplemental travel health insurance before you depart. "This insurance usually includes coverage for medical emergencies," says Mark Cipolletti, spokesperson for insurance company Access America, "the same coverage you wouldn't do without back home."

11. Watch out for the water

Flight attendants begin most flights serving bottled water, but if they turn to the plane's onboard tanks, there may be cause for concern. According to the most recent available EPA study, one out of every six planes had coliform bacteria in its water tanks. Since 2004, the agency has ordered 46 domestic airlines to regularly flush, disinfect, and test their water systems. At press time, results of the EPA’s follow-up tests were forthcoming, as were new water tank maintenance regulations. Whatever the latest tests show, Richard Naylor, the EPA’s Aircraft Drinking Water Rule manager, suggests that concerned passengers avoid drinking coffee or tea on board (water may not reach a cleansing boil). T+L tip: Also avoid using bathroom tap water (use wipes or mouthwash). For a long flight, Corey Caldwell, a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, in Washington, D.C., advises opting for canned drinks or stocking up on water after clearing security.

12. City secret: Tokyo

The Japan Rail Pass—good for intercity travel—also works on the handy Yamanote Line, an aboveground train that encircles central Tokyo.

13. Fly business class for less

The best way to get a discount on a business-class ticket is to sign up for newsletters from the airlines you fly most frequently. Continental's newsletter listed business-class tickets from the U.S. to Europe over Christmas for as low as $900. But if you want to see the full range of options, the site FlightBliss.com sends out e-mail alerts with the week's top deals on first- and business-class fares from more than 30 major domestic and international carriers. Matthew Bennett, FlightBliss.com’s founder, says that when business travel is at a low—summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas—airlines generally discount business-class seats by up to 80 percent.

14. Search globally, not locally

Aggregators and search engines scour hundreds of airline sites and then offer results in one handy location. Yet many sites have foreign companion versions (e.g., Kayak.com vs. Spain's Kayak.es), which turn up more-extensive results than the U.S. Web sites—especially on intra-country flights. (Sample trips based on bookings made two months in advance.)

Barcelona to Madrid in April
Online Fares, U.S.: Kayak.com, $129 on Air Europa
Online Fares, Intl: Kayak.es $94 on Air Europa

Melbourne to Sydney in April
Online Fares, U.S.: Expedia.com, $356 on Qantas
Online Fares, Intl: Expedia.com.au, $316 on Qantas

Mumbai to New Delhi in April
Online Fares, U.S.: Travelocity.com, $248 on Kingfisher Airlines
Online Fares, Intl: Travelocity.com.in, $141 on Deccan and IndiGo

15. Extend the hold on your reservations

Most airlines don't want you to hold your flight reservation for longer than 24 hours (the industry standard), as it ties up valuable tickets. However, there's more flexibility than you might think, especially if you're working with an agent over the phone rather than booking online, buying a ticket in a high fare class, traveling during off-peak periods, or traveling internationally. We recently put this strategy to the test: An agent at Continental allowed us to hold a rewards ticket from New York to Paris for three days, at which point she canceled the hold and immediately rebooked it for us, preserving the seat and fare for another three days while we sorted out our plans.

16. Find out just how horizontal that "flat" seat really is

Many airlines have introduced "lie-flat" or "flat-bed" seats in their business and first class cabins, but don't assume that "flat" translates to horizontal. For in-depth analysis of airline seats on a range of carriers, turn to FlatSeats.com, an industry watchdog site that ranks seats on factors such as configuration, width, cushion comfort, privacy, massage options, and more. FlatSeats' data comes from Skytrax, a U.K.-based airline consultancy whose employees spend an average of 65 hours in the air per week. (Their top flat-seat picks? British Airways, South African Airways, and Virgin Atlantic.)
163°: Aer Lingus
169°: El Al
170°: Continental, Japan Airlines
171°: American, Lufthansa
175°: Air France, Qantas
176°: Northwest
180°: Air Canada, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, Jet Airways, Qatar, Singapore, South African, United, Virgin Atlantic

17. Seek out the best seats on board

The distance between rows of seats (referred to as "pitch" in the airline industry) varies from plane to plane—and even row to row. In general, the pitch on domestic carriers ranges from 30 to 38 inches, averaging about 32. How much of a difference does a few inches make? With 31 inches, a six-foot-tall person's knees would touch the seat in front of him; with 34 inches, he could put a hardcover book in his seat pocket without his knees hitting it; and with 36 inches, he could get up from a window seat and walk out to the aisle without disturbing the person next to him. And when it comes to exit rows, know that they're not equally spacious. When they are aligned one right after the other, the front exit-row seats will not recline. For more information on seat pitches and exit-row configurations for most carriers, go to SeatGuru.com.

18. City secret:

Skip lines at theme parks: Get discount tickets at select Wal-Marts in the area. Call 800/925-6278 for more info.

19. Find up-to-the-minute security line wait times

Security-line times are notoriously unpredictable, but two American airports are making it easier to plan exactly how far in advance to arrive before your flight departs. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (atlanta-airport.com) and Denver International (flydenver.com) airports provide real-time updates on their Web sites, refreshed every 15 to 30 minutes. Hartsfield-Jackson will even send the updates directly to your PDA or cell phone, through its Trak-a-Line program. It's worth noting that the TSA also publishes security wait times on its Web site (tsa.gov) for 450 commercial domestic airports, but the data is less reliable, as it's compiled over a four-week period prior to your departure date—and does not reflect actual conditions.

20. Explore off-the-radar GPS functions

Sure, GPS devices help you get from point A to point B, but that's just the beginning. Most have all kinds of unexpected extras that help you navigate in surprising ways. Garmin Nuvi 680 (garmin.com; $799) sends local traffic information every two minutes to the gadget's FM receiver, and uses a pool of recent credit card purchases at area gas stations to help point you to the best prices at the closest pumps. Magellan Maestro 4250 (magellangps.com; $499) follows voice commands ("nearest coffee" or "go home") to keep you safely watching the road. It also helps you choose your ideal route based on a variety of factors: fastest time, shortest distance, most frequently used freeways, or fewest tolls. The Help Me! feature on TomTom Go 920T (tomtom.com; $650), guides you to the nearest police station, hospital, or fire department.

21. City secret: New York

Avoid looking for a cab in New York between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. and 4:30 and 5:30 p.m.—that's when many drivers change shifts or go off duty.

22. Rent a car by the hour

It's not always necessary or cost-effective to rent a car by the day. Hertz and Enterprise, as well as auto-sharing services like Zipcar, now have hourly rentals in several major U.S. cities, subject to availability. Zipcar requires a membership (there's a $50 annual fee and a $25 one-time application charge for its base plan), but rates include all gas, insurance, and tolls. Here are two comparisons for rates on a sample weekend:

Hourly: Enterprise, $8.50; Zipcar, $9 Daily: Enterprise, $46; Zipcar, $66

New York
Hourly: Hertz, $15; Zipcar, $10Daily: Hertz, $111; Zipcar, $69

23. Speed past toll lines

If you are heading off on a road trip in a rental, there's no need to lose time in long toll lines. An E-ZPass or equivalent device (I-Pass, I-Zoom, Fast Lane) will function across 12 Eastern and Midwestern states that use the same transponders, the technology that registers your car as it approaches a tollbooth. (By comparison, California's FasTrak, Texas's TxTag, and Florida's SunPass work only in-state.) You can temporarily add up to four cars to your E-ZPass account online or over the phone (888/288-6865; ezpass.com) using your account number and the rental car's license plate number, make, model, and year.

Where E-ZPass Works:
Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

24. Score last-minute discounted tickets to Broadway shows

Theater tickets are more expensive than ever—if you can even get one. Many shows sell out months before they open. But if you’re willing to be spontaneous and accept whatever seat is available, here are three smart solutions:

Many Broadway productions run a day-of-show drawing, usually offering 10 to 25 tickets at drastically reduced prices, as low as $20. Give your name at the theater two to four hours before curtain, and then return 30 minutes to an hour before the show (specific instructions depend on the venue) to see if you’re a winner (each winner can buy two tickets). At press time, participating shows included Avenue Q, Hairspray, Rent, and Wicked. To find other shows that offer lottery seating, call individual box offices.

Theatre Development Fund
This nonprofit agency (212/221-0885; tdf.org) subsidizes admission to plays and musicals for seniors, students, and teachers; a $27.50 annual fee gets members discounts of up to 70 percent on dozens of shows. A full list is on their Web site.

Membership to the popular theater magazine’s Playbill Club (212/557-5757; playbill.com) is free and carries all kinds of discounts—up to 60 percent off for theater, opera, dance, and occasionally restaurants and hotels. The only downside: You have to be willing to receive five to eight e-mails a week to find out about the best deals.

25. City secret: Berlin

From 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, you can get in free to the permanent exhibitions at several national museums, including the Picture Gallery, the New National Gallery, and the Egyptian Museum. For a full list, visit smb.spk-berlin.de.

26. Avoid ATM charges overseas

When you use an ATM abroad, your home bank charges a fee of up to 3 percent or a flat rate ($1.50 to $5) for every transaction. However, Commerce Bank, which has branches in the eastern United States, doesn’t add on any fees for customers who use alternative ATM's when traveling. Even better, customers are reimbursed for any fees levied by the international bank.

Reporters Ken Baron, Tanvi Chheda, Jennifer Flowers, Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg, Bree Sposato, Alison Tyler, Anya von Bremzen and Jennifer Welbel contributed to this story; Nina Willdorf edited.

[via MSN]

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home