Feel comfortable bringing your dog along for the trip with this tried-and-true advice for finding—and staying at—pet-friendly Airbnbs.
When my family and I traveled in the Before Times, our dog—a shih tzu named Agnes—usually didn’t come with us when we left our home in Brooklyn: Instead of flying to India or the Azores, Agnes would vacation at my in-laws in New Jersey (a yard!), take the subway to my friend’s in Manhattan (Madison Square Park!), or stay home with my cousin who lived with roommates and would gladly post up at our apartment and give Agnes more attention than she’d gotten from us since our son was born.
Last summer, when I was tentatively ready to leave the pandemic cocoon of my Brooklyn apartment, my husband and I decided to take our son to a vacation home rental on Shelter Island and then a few weeks later, to an Airbnb in the upper Hudson Valley. We had taken Agnes with us to Airbnbs a handful of times, but suddenly, it felt more urgent: My cousin moved back to Portland, my friend was camped out at her dad’s in Maryland, and New Jersey felt very far away. Plus, we’d gotten closer than ever to Agnes, and she was used to us being around all the time while we quarantined together. So we narrowed our search to “Pets allowed,” and selected our vacation homes with Agnes in mind.
We weren’t the only ones: An Airbnb report from February 2021 found that searches made with the “allows pets” filter have increased 65 percent since the beginning of January 2021 compared to the same time period last year.
Over the last year, in my quest for finding pet-friendly properties, I have learned a few things. Read on for advice on locating and staying at pet-friendly Airbnbs or vacation rentals.
Most pet-friendly vacation home rentals include pet fees in addition to their regular cleaning fees, so be sure to factor that into your budget. They typically range from around $25 to $150 per stay. Some rentals may also require a damage deposit that you will get back if no damage occurs.
It may be tempting to not disclose you’re bringing Fido along, since you may not see your host during your stay. But it’s not a good idea to omit this information in order to sneak your dog into a rental that doesn’t allow pets or to skip paying the additional pet fee at a rental that does allow them. You may need to contact the owner if something at the house isn’t working properly, or if you leave your pet alone in the house they may bark and alert the owner to their presence if the host lives nearby. Plus, if they know a pet is coming, some hosts will leave special treats or toys, just like hotels.
It’s a good place to start your search, but selecting the “Pets allowed” filter on Airbnb or other vacation rental sites can instantly make your prospects dwindle. When you can’t find anything that explicitly says it allows pets, consider removing the filter, picking out your dream rental, and contacting the owner to ask if dogs are allowed.
Unless there’s a note in the rules or description emphatically saying that no pets are allowed, I’ve found many owners are agreeable to making an exception, especially if your pet is small and well trained. I like to play up how Agnes doesn’t shed, has never chewed on furniture, and basically sleeps a majority of the day (all true). If you have good reviews from previous stays with your pets, this will also help. Offer to pay a pet cleaning fee and a damage deposit, like pet-friendly rentals typically require, and you’ll have a decent shot.
When you search for your vacation rental, keep your pet’s comfort in mind. If your dog is prone to running away, consider a place with a fenced yard—we learned that the hard way when Agnes escaped from the backyard of our Shelter Island rental and I got a call from the island police station that someone had turned her in. (Another tip: make sure your pet has a collar and is chipped with your up-to-date information.) Shelter Island also has certain beaches that allow dogs during specific hours, which we all enjoyed.
If your rental does have a body of water nearby or a pool, watch your pet near it, just as you would a child. “All dogs should be supervised when swimming, and some of our less talented athletes may require a canine life jacket to help them enjoy the water safely,” says Dr. Kate Bruce, a Brisbane, Australia-based veterinarian.
If your pet doesn’t get along with other animals, be sure to ask your host if there are any living on neighboring properties. Sometimes the owner lives in an adjacent home on the same land with pets, and if it’s a farm stay, there may be a whole range of other animals nearby.
Once everything is booked, you’ll also want to be sure the trip goes smoothly for your pet after you check in. While it’s tempting to share whatever you’re eating with your dog, Dr. Bruce cautions to “be careful offering unfamiliar foods to your pets. It’s best to pack some of their tasty treats from home, and stick to their regular diet to avoid nasty stomach upsets on holiday.”
We love bringing our collapsible dog bowls, which are especially good for long car rides or hikes and then also usable once you arrive. If your dog is particular about their bed, be sure to bring it along, says Dr. Bruce, “and remember to give them something familiar and comforting that smells like home.” Bringing a dog bed also helps keep your pet off the furniture, which some houses may stipulate in their rules. We also like bringing a long, retractable leash when we travel to give Agnes room to roam.
When planning your trip, check the surrounding area for places where you can bring your dog—look for outdoor activities and restaurants and shops that allow dogs: While your dog may be fine for hours on end alone at your home, they may be anxious in a new place. (Even the most well-behaved pets can howl or be destructive if left alone in unfamiliar surroundings.) It’s probably not a great idea to take your dog on a museum-focused trip, for example, where they won’t be allowed to come with you.
You’ll always want to clean up after yourself at a vacation rental whether you have a pet with you or not, but be especially cognizant when your dog has stayed with you. Leave the house as close to how it was when you arrived and be sure to properly dispose of any of your dog’s waste left in the yard or surrounding area. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a lint roller along to brush off any fur left on furniture.
Even though you may have had your heart set on a pet-friendly Airbnb, keep in mind that many hotels welcome animals. I’ve found that more hotels than not allow pets these days, with many rolling out the red carpet for our furry friends.
Last December, we took a road trip from New York to South Carolina and stayed in four hotels plus a vacation rental, and Agnes was allowed at all of them. (Bonus: Sometimes the hotel pet fee was less than it would be at a vacation home rental, and sometimes there wasn’t one at all.)
At Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina, she frolicked across the vast green spaces and got a treat from every staff member we encountered, and when we arrived late at night at 21c Durham, two plates of cookies awaited—one for us humans and one for Agnes. On a recent trip to the Point in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Agnes was almost treated better than I was: a large basket full of toys, treats, and other goodies awaited her, plus they gave us an adorable little tepee for her to sleep in (which she largely ignored).
A city in Spain claimed the top spot in the annual Expat City Ranking by InterNations, which rates the best cities for expats to live in around the world.
International travel has been largely off limits in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but many of us still dream of where we’ll explore when it’s safe to roam again. And many want to take it one step further: Interest in working remotely and the digital nomad life is way up (and very tempting). Considering a future stint as an expat? Consult this list of the best cities for expats first.
This year, Valencia, Spain, was named the world’s best city to live in abroad, according to an annual InterNations survey that reveals how expats rate life in cities around the world. More than 15,000 expats living in 181 countries or territories participated in the Expat City Ranking 2020, which was published by the global expat network on November 26.
Participating expats were asked to rate 66 global cities based on five aspects of life abroad: quality of urban life; ease of getting settled; work-life satisfaction; financial security and housing; and local cost of living. Each of these aspects was divided into subcategories such as public transportation, local climate and weather, safety, friendliness of locals, and leisure options. Then, InterNations looked at the cities with the highest scores in the first four categories to determine its Expat City Ranking 2020. (InterNations says local cost of living didn’t factor into the overall rankings to “avoid overrepresenting financial aspects.”)
The survey—which was conducted in March 2020 just before COVID-19 turned into a pandemic—marks Valencia as the top ranking city worldwide for quality of urban life. A large majority of expats (84 percent) cited that it was easy to get acquainted with the local culture in Valencia, and 91 percent of participating expats said local residents are generally friendly. In addition to its Mediterranean beaches and colorful buildings adorned with traditional ceramic tiles, Valencia is well known for Las Fallas, a rowdy annual festival that takes over the city with massive wooden figures and fireworks for a few days every March. The medieval port city is also revered as the birthplace of Spanish’s traditional seafood dish, paella, as well as horchata (or orxata) a tiger nut milk drink that traces back to the city’s 13th-century Arab past.
In the Expat City Ranking 2020, Valencia also scored high ratings for local climate (it generally sees mild, rainy winters and hot, sunny summers). What’s more: It’s situated on the Mediterranean coast within driving distance from the four other Spanish cities that made this year’s top 10 list.
About 80 miles south of Valencia along the Mediterranean coast, the dynamic port city of Alicante came in second place on the Expat City Ranking 2020. Two other Spanish cities, Málaga and Madrid, came in sixth and ninth place. All four destinations were highly regarded in areas like “ease of getting settled” and leisure options, but it’s worth noting that each received their weakest rankings in the urban work-life index, which refers in part to local career opportunities.
Other global cities high in this year’s list include Kuala Lumpur, which made InterNations’s top 10 list of best cities for expats for the fourth year in a row (placing in the number 8 spot). Nine in 10 expats surveyed in the Malaysian capital city reported it was easy to live in the city without speaking the local language. About 93 percent of expats shared similar sentiments about Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates capital, which landed in the tenth spot on this year’s list.
InterNations’s Expat City Ranking 2020
So what exactly qualifies Valencia as the world’s best city for expats? The Spanish city scored in the top five rankings for all but one category (ahem, urban work-life). Still, Valencia ranked first worldwide in both the urban quality and cost of living indexes. In other words, you might want to consider using this energetic city known for its seafood and street festivals as your base for future adventures once the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us.
We answer this question and ones on in-flight mask arguments, all-inclusive resorts, flight prices, and more in this month’s edition of our travel advice column.
Q. “I’m flying internationally and need a test taken within three days of my flight to enter my destination, as well as one to return to the U.S., and I’m nervous I won’t get results in time. How do I get a PCR test in time for travel?” – KT
A. First, confirm with the airline what type of tests are accepted. Some will allow Rapid PCR tests, while others will only accept RT-PCR tests, which take longer. To reduce the chance of not getting your test result back in time to make your flight, I recommend scheduling two tests if possible, with the first test being taken as early as possible to still meet your 72 hour window.
Check with your city to see what your testing options are. Many cities and towns are still offering free public COVID-19 tests. CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid also provide COVID-19 tests. Call the location you’re considering getting tested at to see what their current turnaround time is for results to make sure you’ll be able to get them back in time. Passport Health (which has locations around the country) is another good option, as they focus on COVID-19 tests for airline passengers.
Also see if your airline or airport offers COVID-19 testing, as these are much more likely to get you the results in the timeframe that you need to fly.
If you’re willing to pay, The COVID Consultants (an at-home testing service) will get you results in 24 hours.
For your return trip, check with your hotel to see if they offer COVID-19 testing or have partnered with a testing location. If you’re unable to find a good option, the CDC recently changed the rules around COVID-19 testing for international flights returning to the U.S. and now allows the use of at-home COVID-19 tests that meet specific criteria. You could pack a test that meets those rules, like this one available through eMed, take it virtually, and get your results instantly..
Q. “Last time I flew, the person next to me wouldn’t wear their mask, and I felt too uncomfortable to say anything. What should I have done?” – DA
A. Flight attendants are definitely enforcing the in-flight mask rule, so ask one to remind your seatmate to wear their mask. I asked a flight attendant (who chose to remain anonymous), what happens if a passenger won’t wear a mask.
According to the flight attendant, they will “Kindly ask the passengers to keep their mask on unless eating or drinking (or of course have a disability and can’t wear one). If they refuse to wear one at the gate they will be denied boarding.
If on the plane, and inflight and still not complying with us, we warn them it’s a federal law and the airline’s policy. Depending on how many warnings the passenger has been given (pilot’s choice) for not complying it could result in not being able to fly the airline. If they become disruptive, the plane lands at the nearest airport and authorities will meet the plane on the tarmac and take possession of the person.”
Q. “What cities have the most navigable public transit if you don’t want to deal with getting a rental car?” – MC
A. With rental car prices at record highs this summer, it’s understandable that you want to opt out of driving on vacation. Here’s SmarterTravel’s list of the top 10 cities with the best public transportation to get you started.
If you’re traveling anytime soon, keep in mind that some cities may have reduced service or even eliminated routes during the pandemic, so be sure to check for the most updated schedules online.
Q. “Are all-inclusives safe/a good idea in the pandemic? Where are the best ones?” – SS
A. All-inclusives have definitely adapted to the pandemic—expect to see a la carte dining rather than buffets, spaced out seating at restaurants, and frequent temperature checks at resorts.
Although all-inclusives aren’t inherently safer than a regular hotel they can reduce the number of people that you come in contact with (if you’re not leaving the resort, you’re likely seeing the same people over and over again, vs. new people every time you leave your hotel).
All-inclusives also tend to be owned by larger hotel chains, which have implemented a strict, standardized safety procedure across all their properties such as enhanced cleaning protocols or COVID-19 testing requirements.
The Caribbean is one of the best places for all-inclusive resorts, where you’ll find one for every budget and type of trip (from adults-only to a family reunion). My personal favorite all-inclusive is East Winds Resort in St. Lucia.
Q. “Flight prices seem to have shot way up since early April for a lot of destinations. Do you anticipate this continuing as things open more or is this basically the top/back to normal for fares?” – SB
A. High flight prices are unfortunately here to stay, and may even continue to rise over the summer. Flight search site Hopper has seen domestic airfare increase 12 percent since April, and expects prices to continue to rise a total of 16 percent overall this summer, with prices peaking in late June.
If you’re looking for a deal, consider booking a fall trip rather than summer, as Hopper predicts domestic airfare to drop in September before rising again in October.
International flight tickets will likely be even more expensive, with prices having already increased by 8 percent since April, when countries began to reopen to tourists. According to Hopper, international airfare to Europe is up 17 percent since the beginning of May, and round trip ticket prices are currently at an average of $880, a number that is expected to rise throughout the summer.
Q. Can I get through TSA with 2 oz. of cannabis oil from Ontario, CA to Oakland, CA? – JL
A. Your cannabis oil will meet the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid carry-on rule, but be aware that no matter the law around cannabis in the state you’re flying to/from, it is illegal under federal law if it contains more than 0.3 percent THC. The TSA advises, “TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law to local, state or federal authorities.”
However, airport security isn’t actively seeking out cannabis when they’re doing their screenings. According to the agency, “TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”
Smartphones are the ultimate travel essential: we use them for research, map guidance, communication, social sharing, to catch a ride, and take photos and video. On average, you use your phone for almost half of your workday (three hours and 4 minutes) and you aren’t fooling anyone by “going off the grid” on your vacation. According to our Twitter poll, SmarterTravel followers would rather travel without a toothbrush or change of clothes instead of their phone.
These five smartphone essentials will protect and improve how you use your precious phone on the road so you’ll never lose it, break it, or run out of battery life again. Here’s what I always travel with.
I recently invested in a phone lanyard and it has been one of my favorite travel-accessory purchases to date. Amazon offers a large selection, with most costing under $10. Not only does the phone lanyard help protect your phone from theft or accidental drops, but it also keeps your phone handy so you’ll never miss the perfect photo opp. Note, this is especially helpful on active or adventure trips.
Unless you keep your phone in Airplane mode all day, your phone battery will most likely be dead from usage at the end of your vacation day. That’s why I like to travel with a phone case that comes with an internal battery, so I don’t have to worry about extra items to carry around. Mophie carries a line of battery phone cases for all different phone styles and sizes. I personally like the Juice Pack Air since it’s lightweight and doesn’t add too much bulk.
There’s nothing worse than a shattered screen. A scratch-resistant, tempered glass screen protector is a traveler’s best friend. I use InvisibleShield for my phone and it comes with a lifetime limited warranty.
Whether it’s a PopSocket, LoveHandle, LoopyCase, or something else, a phone grip helps steady your hand when taking photos and video on vacation. There are many options on the market; I like the CLCKR phone stand and grip.
If you don’t want to attach an adhesive grip to your phone case, but still want to shoot steady photos and video, I recommend traveling with the LINKCOOL smartphone tripod.
How many times have you needed to delete old photos or apps to make room for new photos on your device? Probably plenty. Invest in an inexpensive phone storage plan (I use iCloud’s $3 per month storage plan) so you never have to waste time deleting photos again.
It doesn’t matter if you’re staying in a low-budget hostel or the fanciest hotel in the world. Bedbugs are everywhere. As soon as you arrive in your room, drop your belongings in a safe place like the bathroom—where it’s hard for bedbugs to hide on tile surfaces. Avoid the luggage rack, where the bugs can stay after coming in on another traveler’s bag.
Next, inspect the bed. Start by pulling off all of the bedding until you get to the bare mattress. Use the flashlight app on your smartphone to get a better view as you check around the seams of all four corners. Be sure to check the box spring and headboard as well.
Now here’s the surefire way to spot them: You’re not only looking for the bugs themselves, but for signs that they’ve been there. Small, dark blood from their excrement is a dead giveaway (and super gross, too). Check all the furniture in the room, as well as behind any framed art on the walls, because bugs can lurk there, too.
If you find evidence of bugs, gather your belongings from the bathroom and ask the hotel staff for a new room—one that does not share a wall with the infested room. (Bedbugs can travel between rooms fairly easily.)
Make sure you do not bring the bedbugs home with you by immediately washing all of your clothing in hot water. You’ll need to vacuum out your suitcase as well. And to be extra safe, you should store your suitcase inside a large plastic bag to prevent any hardy bugs from invading your home.
Your cellphone is an incredibly powerful tool, especially when you’re traveling in another country. The maps, directions, translations, restaurant reviews, “things to do” searches, and call capabilities make it pretty essential. But using a cell phone abroad can be expensive, especially if you don’t know your options. With a little knowledge and planning, you can be sure to save money on your international cell phone bill. Here’s how.
Your cell phone provider will have an option for you to add temporary, daily international coverage, which is what most people do. It’s convenient, but it can get very expensive. You can also enroll in a plan that will include some international data. Let’s take a look at the major providers in the U.S. and what they’re charging.
Verizon has an International Trip Planner, which will ask you questions about your destination, planned travel dates, and device before suggesting a plan. You’ll have a set amount of talk, text, and data for international use under the monthly International Plan.
The pay-as-you-go plan is called Verizon TravelPass. Verizon charges an access fee of $10 per day per line, which doesn’t sound bad until you add up all the days on two or more phone lines. A vacation to Europe that is 10 days long, for example, adds up to $200 for two phones—and that’s on top of your regular cell phone bill. You’re also limited on the amount of data you can use.
T-Mobile has a number of plans with data and texting already included. The Magenta, Simple Choice, New Classic and Select Choice plans provide unlimited 2G data and texting while traveling internationally. Calls are $0.25 per minute. This is an unlimited data plan for customers in the U.S. that costs $70/month. However, you might feel bogged down by the 2G network. If you want faster speeds, you can purchase the International Pass for $5 per day, $35 for 10 days for $50 for the month.
All Sprint plans offer free texting and basic data in more than 200 destinations. Calls are $0.25 per minute. Like T-Mobile, the data is available on a 2G network and you’ll need to pay more if you want high-speed data. The cost will depend on your location. If you’re in Mexico or Canada, the charge is $2 per day. Other destinations will incur a $5 or $10 charge per day. If you want to take a deeper look at your options, you’ll want to look here.
AT&T offers the International Day Pass for $10 a day for the first device and $5 a day for each additional device.
If you want to enroll in the Passport plan, you can buy 2 GB of data to use internationally for $70/month or 6 GB of data for $140/month. You’ll also have unlimited texts, but calls will cost $0.35 per minute.
Google FI is technically a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which means it doesn’t own the network infrastructure, but still provides network service. Google FI also smartly connects to a network of public Wi-Fi networks with a VPN (virtual private network) to reduce data consumption while keeping your data private. What’s unique about Google FI is you can use it in over 200 countries. There’s no need to buy a SIM card or pay expensive access fees to foreign carriers. Google FI is your program and will work when you land in another country.
Google FI will cost $20 for basic service with an additional $10 for every GB of data used up to 5 GB ($20+$50=$70). You can also opt for an unlimited program. It’s quite different from a traditional cell carrier, so if you want to read more about it, this article from Computer World can help. Your phone does need to be unlocked and not every phone has full functionality with Google FI, but if you’re interested, you can look into the details here.
The SIM (subscribed identity module) card is the small memory card in your phone. Replacing it with one from the country you’re visiting will give you a phone number from the country and the ability to access their network. Often, this is a cost-effective way to communicate.
Here are the basics:
Step 1: Make sure your phone is unlocked. If you need help unlocking it, this article can guide you. You can also bring an older phone that is unlocked if you’re unable to get your current phone unlocked.
Step 2: Buy a SIM card when you reach your destination. You can usually find them at a kiosk in the airport, a cell phone store, a general retailer, or even a convenience store. Costs vary, but you can expect to pay around $10-30 for a prepaid SIM card. You need to make sure you buy the correct size SIM card for your phone—most will take a micro or nano size SIM card.
Step 3. Take out the old SIM card. If you have an iPhone, there’s usually a small hole on the side of your phone you can stick a paperclip in to get your SIM card out. If you have an Android device, the SIM card is often found behind your battery. The process is pretty straightforward, but if you’re unsure of how to remove and replace your SIM card, this video illustrates the process for a number of different phones.
Step 4: Place the new SIM card in the slot. Your phone will look as it did before. From here, you’ll follow the instructions of the new provider you bought the SIM card from. If you didn’t load credit on at the store, you’ll do it here.
Instead of buying a SIM card once you hit the ground, you can buy an international SIM card before you leave that will work in multiple countries. If you’re a frequent traveler, this can be useful as you don’t need to switch out SIM cards from each country you visit. You’ll have a single international number. It can be more expensive, but may be worth the convenience if you’re visiting multiple countries. You can read more about this option here.
This option will cost you nothing (or pretty close to it). It’s likely your hotel and many of the attractions and restaurants you want to visit will have free Wi-Fi available.
You’ll be able to communicate with the many businesses that use WhatsApp without having to use cellular data.
If you want to ensure you won’t be charged for using data, you’ll want to turn it off on your phone. To turn off your cellular data, go to settings —-> cellular data —->and slide it off.
Free does come at a cost. You have to be careful not to share personal data over a public network, which is hard when you need to book things with a credit card.
The other downside is you’re limited in where you have access. You won’t be able to look something up as you’re strolling down the road or riding in your car. If your car doesn’t have a navigation system, it’s going to be really difficult to find your way around. You also won’t be able to use the translation feature whenever you need it (unless you’ve downloaded an offline app).
A mobile hotspot, or pocket Wi-Fi device, connects any Wi-Fi enabled device to the internet through a mobile telephone network. You’ll be able to do anything you can on a Wi-Fi signal. You won’t have local calling capabilities, but if you’re savvy on an app like Skype or WhatsApp, you’ll still have the ability to contact people.
This is another inexpensive option, especially if you’ll need to work on vacation. You can take a look at highly-rated mobile hotspot products here.
Editor’s Note: For travel insurance information specific to the current COVID-19 epidemic, see our stories on Travel In the Time of COVID: What You Need to Know; Travel Insurance Coverage: 18 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover; and Cancel for Any Reason Travel Insurance, Explained.
Purchasing travel insurance is wise if you want to protect your trip against an array of unforeseen events such as natural disasters, missed flights, personal injury or sickness abroad, tour operators going bankrupt, or even acts of terrorism. But with so many types of travel insurance, lots of fine print, and complicated insider lingo to decipher, it can feel impossible to determine which kind of travel insurance is right for you.
With the right resources, however, it’s possible to pick a trip insurance policy you’ll be confident traveling with and paying for. This ultimate guide to travel insurance covers:
There are several different types of travel insurance policies available, ranging from trip cancellation insurance to emergency medical evacuation, all of which vary widely in what their coverage includes and how much it costs. Make sure you know exactly what your policy will and will not cover before you purchase anything, and always buy your insurance from a reputable company (check out our list of travel insurance providers at the end of this article).
Is Travel Insurance a Waste of Money? For some people and certain trips, travel insurance is a virtual necessity; for others, it’s probably not worth the money. The question boils down to a matter of risk, and the best way to assess that risk is by answering four basic questions.
If you answered “no” to any of the first three as well as the final question, you would probably be wise to invest in a travel insurance policy that includes TCI (trip cancellation or interruption) and/or travel health insurance.
If you need to buy trip insurance for an upcoming vacation, first look at the insurance policies you already have to see what they will cover. Some health insurance policies cover medical emergencies overseas, while others will not. Many credit cards and homeowner’s policies cover baggage loss. Also, many credit card companies (particularly gold cards) offer their members international medical assistance, and accidental death and dismemberment insurance if the user simply charges their airline tickets on their credit card.
Following is a brief description of the different types of travel insurance options available. Note that every policy is a little bit different, so be sure to read the fine print carefully before purchasing.
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance covers you if unforeseen events cause you to cancel or interrupt your trip. In general, this coverage is meant for illness, injury, or death suffered by the insured or a member of the insured’s immediate family. Some policies also cover cancellation in the event of illness, injury, or death to the insured’s travel companion. Most policies exclude trip cancellation in the event of war, civil disturbance, or a change in your own financial circumstances. (Lose your job before your trip? If you don’t have job loss protection—not offered by all companies—you could be out of luck.) Some policies also exclude travel to specific destinations that are prone to political unrest.
Many comprehensive travel insurance policies now include coverage if your tour operator defaults; however, it is important to understand exactly what is covered by your policy. If you buy a policy directly from a tour provider, usually it does not cover the default of that provider—so it’s generally a good idea to purchase your policy from an independent company. Some policies only cover tour operator default if the operator ceases operations entirely, which it may not do even if it files for bankruptcy.
When considering trip cancellation insurance, take time to think about how much money you’ll be putting down before your trip. Are you purchasing expensive airline tickets that can’t be refunded? Are you putting down a large nonrefundable deposit on a cruise or tour? If the answer is yes, or if you might cancel for any reason, then buying trip cancellation insurance is a prudent idea. Some travel insurers also offer comprehensive “cancel for any reason” policies.
Medical insurance encompasses several types of coverage. Emergency medical evacuation insurance covers the cost of transportation if a qualified physician determines that you must be evacuated for treatment to the nearest medical facility or to your home country (if it’s warranted), due to injury or sickness. This insurance is highly recommended for cruise passengers and travelers visiting remote areas or developing countries.
For example, if you fall and are injured while trekking in the Himalayas, you might need to be evacuated by private helicopter, then airplane—which can get quite expensive. Emergency medical evacuation back to the United States without insurance can easily cost $35,000 or more. Check to make sure you choose an insurance provider that does not exclude adventure travel from its coverage. If you’re an adventure traveler who has paid $3,000 up front for a white water rapids package deal in a remote area of South America and you won’t receive any refund if you cancel, then you might want to consider both trip cancellation and emergency medical evacuation insurance.
Other types of medical insurance coverage include:
Keep in mind that you may need to pay up front for your medical services, and then your insurance company will reimburse you later, once you’ve filed a claim. On the other hand, some services provide “proof of direct payment” to the healthcare provider, who may require one before treatment occurs. Talk to your insurance provider about the process upon purchasing the policy.
Before purchasing a travel insurance policy with medical coverage, be sure to check what your regular medical insurance does or doesn’t cover, particularly when traveling overseas. You should also consider the medical care offered at your destination. Many Western countries have excellent socialized medical care available, and you may not even be charged for the care you receive. On the other hand, if you are in a remote area of a developing country and need to be evacuated for adequate medical care, the expenses can mount quickly.
Read the fine print regarding coverage or lack thereof for pre-existing conditions. Generally any medical problem that arises within 60 days prior to purchasing the policy is not covered; however, there are some exceptions to this. (See below for more information on pre-existing medical conditions.)
Baggage loss and delay coverage protects you in the event that your luggage is lost, delayed, or stolen. This often includes a cash payment if your bags are delayed for more than 12 hours after you arrive at your destination.
(sometimes called “travel delay”) typically pays for accommodations, meals, and new travel arrangements once you’ve been delayed a certain amount of time (often six to 12 hours—read your policy carefully).
Travel document protection can kicks in to help you replace a passport or other travel documents when they’re lost or stolen.
If you travel many times a year (particularly internationally), it may be more economical to purchase annual insurance instead of individual policies for each trip. Annual insurance may also be a good idea if you regularly travel to developing countries, even if it’s only a few times a year.
Most annual policies provide medical evacuation coverage, benefits in the event of loss of life or limb, as well as minimums for lost luggage and treatment costs for illness or injury. These policies typically do not include trip cancellation coverage, but in some cases you may add this for an additional fee.
Now that you know what kind of insurance you might need, you can read more here about how to buy travel insurance before your trip.
When buying trip insurance, it’s important to keep in mind the situations that might arise that call for insurance help—and to make sure they’re covered as part of the policy you purchase. The most common incidents that travelers hope are covered on their travel insurance policy are weather-related delays and cancellations, including both winter weather conditions and hurricane-season natural disasters.
Winter weather issues typically covered by travel insurance include:
Generally, you shouldn’t wait until bad weather hits or is in the forecast to purchase insurance—it won’t cover known events.
Hurricane travel insurance coverage also has to be bought well in advance, generally before a storm is known or named. Hurricane travel insurance plans (and most travel insurance plans) typically cover three primary scenarios, with different levels of coverage: advance cancellation, trip interruption, and delay. Each is fairly self-explanatory, but cancellation covers the full canceling of your trip prior to departure.
Other common travel insurance coverage needs include:
Travelers with pre-existing medical conditions will need to be more careful about the travel insurance or healthcare coverage they purchase. Pre-existing medical conditions are often defined by insurance companies as: “Any injury, sickness or condition for which medical advice, diagnosis, care or treatment was recommended or received within the 180-day period ending on your date of departure. Conditions are not considered pre-existing if the condition for which prescribed drugs or medicine is taken remains controlled without any change in the required prescription.” Meaning: The insurance may only cover health problems that are proved to be unforeseen.
Since September 11, 2001, and many headline-making tragedies since then, many are looking to travel insurance to safeguard their trip against any unforeseen terrorist attacks at their destination, whether it be cancellation, delayed departure, or an emergency flight home. Many policies now have an “Acts of Terrorism” clause that will reimburse you if you miss or are delayed in getting to your destination because of acts of terrorism. Check to make sure acts of terrorism are included before purchasing; some policies specifically exclude them.
And then there are the seemingly random things that travel insurance policies simply will not cover. Among them are some inconspicuous healthcare categories, like dental care and pregnancy complications, as well as some topics you should now know better than to try getting covered—like named hurricanes and other natural disasters that have already made the news.
Flights purchased with miles also might not be covered, among other items.
Checking the specific terms of your agreement is also generally a good idea, as technical jargon could be the difference between your policy covering that nightmare situation you bought it for and the insurance company dodging responsibility. For example, some policies list supplier “bankruptcy” as a covered reason; others say supplier “default.” Default protection is stronger: Companies often fail without ever officially declaring bankruptcy, and insurers can cite that as a way to weasel out of coverage.
Here are several established travel insurance companies and comparison sites from which you can consider buying a policy:
Be sure to read all terms and conditions carefully to be sure the policy provides the types of coverage you’re looking for and is valid in the countries you’ll be visiting. And don’t be afraid to ask an expert there to help you choose a policy—you are paying for it, after all. Read more here about the best independent sites for comparing and buying a travel insurance policy.
If you haven’t flown in a while, you may not be up-to-date on the latest airport security changes from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Most travelers are aware that the TSA has instituted strict regulations about the amount of toothpaste, bottled water, and other liquid and gel items that travelers are permitted to bring in carry-on luggage. But what exactly are the rules? Just how much of your favorite shampoo can you bring? Are the rules different if you’re flying overseas? And what about powders?
I’ve gathered answers to these and other common airport security questions to help you figure out your packing strategy under the TSA’s carry-on rules. With air traffic soaring, it’s more important than ever to follow the guidelines—that way you won’t be the fool holding up your entire security line.
Editor’s note: Remember to always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rules, and safety regulations at the airport, at your destination, and upon returning home. For further questions about airport security procedures and COVID-19, you can visit the TSA’s FAQ page here.
A. Yes. The liquid/gel restrictions only apply to carry-on baggage.
A. Yes, but only in limited amounts. Liquids and gels must be in individual containers of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less and placed inside one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag (such as this option from Ziploc). The TSA emphasizes that containers should fit comfortably into your bag and that only one bag is permitted per passenger. If you need to bring more than 3.4 ounces of any liquid or gel substance, it should go into your checked luggage or be shipped ahead.
A. These substances are exempt from the rules above. As long as you declare them at the security checkpoint, you may carry more than 3.4 ounces, and they do not need to be placed in a plastic bag. The TSA recommends but does not require that prescription medications be in their original labeled containers to expedite the screening process. The TSA also makes exceptions for other medical necessities such as insulin, eye drops, or syringes. Just make sure to present these items to the security officer when you reach the checkpoint. (You may even want to consider printing out the TSA’s medical notification cards.)
A. Yes, refillable travel-size containers are acceptable.
A. As of June 2018, powdered items such as coffee, spices, and baby powder in excess of 12 ounces will be subject to additional screening. You may be asked to remove them if they’re judged dangerous or unidentifiable. Learn more here.
While keeping medications and vitamins in their original labeled containers may expedite the screening process, it’s fine to transfer them into more convenient smaller containers such as daily pill minders.
Consider slip-on shoes that can easily be removed at the checkpoint.
A. Makeup is subject to the same liquid and gel rules as all other substances—so if you’re bringing liquid mascara, lip gels (such as Blistex ointment), or other liquid- or gel-like items, they will need to be placed in your quart-size plastic bag in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers. Lipstick, solid lip balms (such as ChapStick), and other solid beauty products are not subject to the rules and may be carried in your hand luggage without restriction. Powders are subject to the rules noted above.
A. Standard stick deodorant is fine to bring on a plane in either your checked or carry-on bag. Gel or spray deodorant is subject to the liquid/gel restrictions and may not be carried on in excess of 3.4 ounces.
A. The same liquid and gel restrictions apply when you want to bring food through airport security. Even though a TSA representative once told me to “try not to over-think” the guidelines, that can be tricky when it comes to food.
Does a cheesecake count as a gel or a solid? What about pecan pie? And can you bring your holiday leftovers like turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes?
A TSA rep told me that turkey and stuffing should be solid enough to pass muster, but mashed potatoes are a bit too gel-like. As for baked goods, the latest word from the TSA is that travelers can take pies, cakes, and other bakery products through security—but be prepared for additional screening.
You may bring solid snack foods such as pretzels, potato chips, or carrot sticks for the plane, but you might want to hold the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Single-serving packages of condiments are permitted as long as they fit within your single zip-top bag. All food must be securely wrapped or in a spill-proof container.
Gel packs to refrigerate food are permitted for medication, but otherwise must be completely solid when you go through the checkpoint. If your freezer pack is partially defrosted and there’s any water in your container, the TSA may confiscate the item.
My advice? If you have any doubts about a particular food, either check it or leave it at home. After all, you can always buy food or drinks after you pass through the security checkpoint if you need some munchies for the plane.
A. In most cases, yes. However, there are some airports (particularly overseas) where you may face additional screening at the gate before boarding, so you may occasionally have to give up larger bottles.
A. Children 12 and under do not need to remove shoes, light jackets, or headwear before going through the checkpoint. If the metal detector or full-body scanner finds anomalies, the screener may choose to let the child go through again and/or swab the child’s hands for explosives in lieu of a pat-down. Children age 13 and up are subject to the same screening processes as adults.
A. Yes. Seniors 75 and older can leave their shoes and light jackets on during screening (although they may have to remove them if the screener finds any anomalies).
A. Loose lithium batteries are not permitted in checked bags. If your batteries are installed in a device (such as a camera), you may pack the device in either a checked bag or a carry-on, but loose lithium batteries may only be transported in your carry-on luggage. Certain quantity limits apply to both loose and installed batteries; for more information, see these FAA guidelines.
A. Common lighters without fuel are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage, while torch lighters (which are typically used to light pipes and cigars) are prohibited in either type of baggage. E-cigarettes are only permitted in carry-on luggage, not in your checked bag.
A. Tweezers are permitted, as are electric razors, disposable razors, and their cartridges. Straight razors are only permitted in your carry-on as long as the blades are packed in your checked baggage. Scissors are allowed on a plane in your carry-on bag as long as the blades do not exceed four inches; otherwise, they should go in your checked bag. (For travel, consider small folding safety scissors such as these.)
A. Yes. However, circular thread cutters, scissors longer than four inches, and other needlepoint tools with blades must be packed in checked luggage.
A. That depends. If you’re flying within the United States, it is legal to travel with products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC. If you’re traveling internationally, you may be better off leaving these products at home unless you’ve thoroughly researched your destination’s laws and know that what you’re bringing is legal. The TSA does not specifically screen for illegal drugs but will report them to law enforcement if found. To learn more, see Can You Travel with CBD Oil?
A. The European Union (E.U.), Australia, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Norway, and numerous other countries have adopted similar security restrictions to those in the U.S. You are permitted 100-milliliter containers of liquid and gel substances, packed within a clear, resealable, one-liter plastic bag.
If you’re not sure which airport security rules will apply in the country you’re visiting, contact your airline or the local tourist board for advice.
A. Duty-free liquids, such as perfume or alcohol, are permitted in excess of 3.4 ounces as long as they were purchased at a duty-free shop and placed in special tamper-evident bags. Liquids not in these bags must be stowed in your checked suitcase if you have more than 3.4 ounces. Be sure to retain your receipt for the item, as you must be able to prove that you purchased it within the previous 48 hours.
A. Passengers may bring up to 5.5 pounds of dry ice in either their carry-on or checked bag as long as it’s stored in a package that allows the venting of carbon dioxide gas. Airline approval is required. Ice in your carry-on must be in a solid state when going through the security checkpoint. That said, a DOT spokesperson recommends that travelers avoid packing dry ice in carry-on luggage, as individual TSA agents unfamiliar with the regulations may confiscate the substance.
A. Although there have been horror stories about the TSA’s treatment of flyers with disabilities and medical conditions, most security officers are discreet and professional. As soon as you approach the TSA agent, disclose your medical issue so that he or she can determine the best way to screen you and any equipment you may be carrying. The TSA does not require travelers to carry a doctor’s note describing their condition, but having this written description may help expedite the screening process. Again, consider carrying the TSA’s medication notification cards.
A. It’s best to arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight, especially if you’re traveling during the summer, the holidays, or another particularly busy time of year. If you’re flying internationally, you should allow yourself even more time. For more information, see How Early Should I Get to the Airport?
A. You will have to put your shoes, clear plastic bag of liquids, jacket, jewelry, cell phone, keys, and metal items into a bin for screening before you step through the metal detector or the full-body scanning machine. (If you opt out of the full-body scan, you will face an “enhanced” pat-down, which is performed by a security officer of your gender and covers all areas of the body, including the groin, buttocks, and breasts.) You might also need to remove your belt if it has any metal parts. (Consider a belt with a plastic buckle to avoid this.)
Laptops, tablets, and other electronics larger than a cell phone should be removed from their cases and screened individually.
Save time by putting metal items into your carry-on before you get to the checkpoint, taking your electronic items out of their cases, and wearing easily removable footwear.
A. According to a TSA representative, you may request to be rescanned before submitting to a pat-down, but it’s up to the individual TSA officer to decide whether to grant that request, based on whether the situation meets security protocols.
A. Do not pack wrapped gifts in either your carry-on or checked baggage, as the TSA may unwrap them for inspection. Your best bet is to wrap your gifts once you arrive at your destination, or ship them ahead of time. You can also put items in gift bags that are easy for the TSA to examine.
A. Laptops, cameras, tablets, hand-held video game consoles, e-readers, and most other standard electronic devices are permitted in both checked and carry-on luggage. (It’s best to keep them in your carry-on to reduce the risk of loss or theft.) As noted above, you should be prepared to remove most of these devices from their cases at the security checkpoint. Because electronic items tend to be frequent targets for security screening, you might want to pack these near the top of your bag so that inspectors don’t need to unpack your whole suitcase to get to them.
A. Yes, but you’ll need to use a TSA-approved lock so that screeners can open it if your bag is selected for inspection. TSA screeners will simply cut off non-approved locks if they need to get into your bag. For more information, see Luggage Locks: Should I Lock My Suitcase When I Fly?
A. Yes. Consider signing up for TSA’s PreCheck program, which offers access to expedited security lines. To learn more, see TSA PreCheck: 10 Things You Need to Know. If you frequently travel internationally, consider getting Global Entry instead, which includes PreCheck membership.
A. Check TSA.gov for packing tips, a searchable list of permitted and prohibited items, and information for travelers who require additional assistance or accommodation.
When you hit the road, don’t rely on rumble strips to keep you alert and on target. Here’s how to stay awake while driving no matter where your next road trip might take you.
Whether you brew your coffee at home or buy it on the road, drink it black if you can tolerate it. The coffee’s bitterness will provide a quick jolt before the caffeine even enters your bloodstream. As a backup, keep something like a 5-Hour Energy drink or NoDoz pills in the glove compartment.
Keep a few snacks within reach, but make sure they’re not just empty calories. Treats with less sugar and more protein tend to distribute energy at a more constant, even pace—rather than a jolt followed by a food coma. Examples include trail mix and protein bars.
A road companion is probably the best thing you can bring with you on a trip. Have your friend DJ or chat with you throughout the ride, but mostly have your pal keep you honest when the sheep want to start jumping overhead. Consider enjoying some audiobooks together as well.
Warm, cozy temperatures are synonymous with the arrival of the Sandman, so keep the vehicle just a few notches below your ideal temperature—though not enough to make it too uncomfortable, of course. Cracking a window open for a burst of fresh air can also help keep you awake.
The original purpose behind facercise is to reduce wrinkles and tone lax facial muscles, but it’s also great for waking up. Here are some techniques to get you started:
Too silly for you? Consider other small movements such as tapping your fingers on the steering wheel or tightening your thigh muscles.
For those with extreme road doze, consider investing in a car with a lane-departure warning system, which will notify you when the vehicle drifts out of its lane without a turn-signal indication.
Even if you’re running late and you still have a long stretch of driving ahead of you, make time for a break. When the scenery starts to lull you into a stupor, pull over—at a rest stop, preferably. It’s always better to arrive late than never at all.
More than a quarter of the population of the U.S. has received at least one COVID-19 vaccination as of this week, and all those shots in arms seem to be directly correlating to a surge in travel.
In fact, the number of passengers in U.S. airports reached their highest numbers in more than a year last week according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Whether you’re vaccinated or not, concerns about new strains of the coronavirus are high, so it’s not surprising to hear that inquiries about travel insurance have also hit their highest level since the pandemic began, according to InsureMyTrip.
However, “there is a big misconception about what travel insurance does — and doesn’t — cover,” said Meghan Walch, pandemic travel insurance expert for InsureMyTrip. In the company’s latest poll of travel insurance agents, the vast majority of questions (a whopping 97%) from would-be travelers are regarding how travel insurance may or may not cover COVID-19 related travel concerns.
So, does your travel insurance cover a pandemic? Here’s everything you need to know.
In general terms, regular travel insurance policies cover the “unknowns” — for example, an accident you couldn’t have anticipated in advance, such as falling while you were hiking and breaking your leg — and not losses caused directly or indirectly by known or foreseeable events (in this case, an epidemic complete with government travel advisories).
Similar to a weather event, once something becomes “known” it may not be a covered reason for cancellation if a traveler purchases insurance after that date.
In other words, if you purchased travel after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, you’ve entered “known” territory, the same as deciding to fly into the eye of a hurricane.
“Essentially, travel insurance covers unexpected events during your travels and pre-departure starting the effective date of your policy,” said Christina Tunnah, general manager of the Americas of travel insurance company World Nomads.
According to Tunnah, regular travel insurance breaks down into three main categories:
Many credit cards also offer travel protection. Covered situations, maximum coverage amounts and eligible expenses vary across the cards that offer this benefit. Covered situations typically include accidental bodily injury; loss of life or sickness; severe weather; terrorist action or hijacking and jury duty or a court subpoena that can’t be postponed or waived.
Not all the news on the COVID-19 insurance front is negative. According to Walch, many traditional travel insurance policies will cover your COVID-19 related travel concerns if you meet regular guidelines.
Examples of COVID-19 coverage in traditional plans include:
In addition, some plans are now offering higher travel delay limits in order to help with additional accommodation expenses due to a covered quarantine, adds Walch.
And, there are also some individual insurers that are simply covering COVID-19 outright. For example, World Nomads’ plans cover the diagnosis of COVID-19 the same as any other illness with benefits that could include emergency medical care, emergency medical evacuation, trip delay and trip interruption coverage if you contract COVID-19 while traveling.
First of all, you should look in the exclusion section to see if pandemics or epidemics are mentioned. If so, you’ll need to shop around for a different policy, said Tunnah.
Even though travel insurance companies may offer COVID-19 sickness coverage, they typically don’t offer benefits for every circumstance.
“Every policy is different, so you’ll want to get a good grasp of a plan’s coverage before you purchase it,” Tunnah explained. Some of the questions you should ask yourself are: Does the plan cover emergency medical and evacuation expenses if I contract COVID-19? What are covered reasons for cancellation? What if my trip is delayed or interrupted because of a COVID-19 event?
If you’re getting confused from reading the legal jargon of a policy, you can contact the customer service department of your travel insurance company, Tunnah advised. Representatives should be able to provide plain English explanations of coverage and help you identify a plan that meets your specific trip needs.
To see multiple options in one place, InsureMyTrip has a COVID-19 coverage tool that allows you to compare different policies.
Here’s what you should be looking for according to the company:
Cancel for any reason, also known as CFAR in the insurance industry, is an add-on to certain traditional trip insurance policies.
While travel insurance policies can offer a range of inclusions (think: medical evacuation, trip cancellation due to foreign or domestic terrorism or rental car damage) not every eventuality is included in all insurance policies. For example, some trip insurance plans cover employment layoffs while others do not. Some policies may have robust emergency medical coverage while competitors don’t. That’s why it’s so important for you to select a plan that meets your specific needs for each trip.
One commonality among insurance policies? A long lists of exclusions. That’s where a CFAR policy comes into play.
“InsureMyTrip strongly recommends travelers strongly consider a CFAR upgrade,” said Walch. This upgrade offers the most trip cancellation flexibility and is the only option available to cover “fear of travel” (traditional travel insurance does not offer cancellation coverage for “fear of travel,” whether related to COVID-19 or not).
If eligibility requirements are met, reimbursement is typically up to 70% of the pre-paid, nonrefundable trip cost. “Just be aware that this add-on will increase the cost of the plan,” Walch advised.
Even in pre-pandemic times, many countries required travelers to have personal medical insurance to visit (although you weren’t necessarily required to provide proof). Now, with pandemic concerns, some countries are instituting mandatory COVID-19 insurance for entry.
The Bahamas is one example. Travel health insurance is required for all incoming visitors and the cost for the mandatory insurance is included in the price of the Travel Health Visa all tourists are required to apply for before entry. Aruba is another example where COVID-19 insurance is purchased onsite at arrival and mandatory for entry.
Note that these insurance coverage policies just are for medical coverage, so travelers will still need additional coverage to cover non-health-related expenses such as travel delays or lost baggage.
If you’re planning on traveling during a pandemic, don’t assume that your usual travel insurance will cover you. Be sure to compare different insurance policies. and strongly consider Cancel For Any Reason insurance if you want to make sure your trip costs are covered.
Many seasoned travelers find planning the perfect flights and hotels just as thrilling as the trip itself. Chasing elite status is an addicting sport, whether you’re booking a mattress run to earn Hyatt Globalist status or scoring bonus perks by status matching from another brand.
But less experienced travelers may find the world of points and miles overwhelming, and infrequent travelers may just need a decent place to rest their heads at night.
If you typically spend fewer than 10 nights a year in hotel rooms, it doesn’t always make sense for you to chase status with most major hotel chains. Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton all require 10 nights per year to earn entry-level elite status. (Hyatt and Hilton have reduced status-earning requirements to five nights for entry-level status in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
A number of hotel cobranded credit cards offer complimentary elite status, such as the Hilton Honors credit cards from American Express. But if you’re an infrequent traveler, those perks may not benefit you much if you only stay a handful of nights each year or if you primarily visit destinations that don’t have many hotels within that brand.
If you just want an easy way to earn rewards without going down the loyalty rabbit hole, this guide is for you.
Here at TPG, we typically recommend that travelers book directly with hotels instead of third-party booking platforms like Expedia for a number of important reasons. Change and cancellation policies are less forgiving, the discounts aren’t always worth the hassle, customer service can be a joke and getting a refund when needed can be well-nigh impossible.
All of those considerations are entirely valid, and travelers should consider online travel agencies at their own risk. That being said, there are many times when the benefits outweigh the concerns. And not all OTAs are created equal: Many of the major players, such as Hotels.com, are quite reputable, at least for third-party sites.
If you’re willing to consider booking through an OTA for perks, you aren’t limited to programs focused on hotels. Booking.com, Expedia and Trip.com all offer unique benefits for travelers as well, from opportunities for free breakfast and upgrades to rewards that can be redeemed for a wide variety of travel.
These are some of the best OTAs for hotel bookings:
The following types of travelers may find the most value in booking with OTAs:
Infrequent travelers have the most opportunity to earn usable rewards when booking through sites like Hotels.com or Rocketmiles. These companies cater to people who don’t really care about elite status or brand loyalty but still want to earn rewards.
“Most (casual) travelers won’t stay enough to earn status or enough points for a free night,” said TPG points and miles editor Ariana Arghandewal. Instead, she recommends programs like Hotels.com Rewards to save money and earn free nights based on a limited number of stays.
Since tools like Hotels.com simply serve as the middleman between hotels and guests, travelers can easily compare properties from multiple chains — as well as independent and alternative housing options — on a single platform.
“Hotels.com is actually my top pick for occasional travelers who aren’t brand-loyal,” said Caroline Lupini, travel analyst at Forbes Advisor. “It’s an easy way for travelers to benefit from their hotel stays, especially if they don’t really travel enough to benefit from hotel loyalty perks for any of the big brands.”
Every so often, you might just need a last-minute place to crash for the night. Perhaps you’re getting sleepy on the road during a long road trip or need a cheap place near the airport to sneak a nap before a red-eye flight. In situations like these, you aren’t looking for special treatment like early check-in or turndown service; you just want the best deal that’s available now.
App-based OTA HotelTonight is perfect in these types of situations. The tool is specifically designed to connect spontaneous travelers with hotels looking to sell last-minute vacancies on short notice. As a result, travelers can often score significantly discounted rooms on same-day or near-future bookings at prices that aren’t available elsewhere, either on the hotel’s website or through other third-party companies.
For example, a same-day booking at the South Congress Hotel in Austin, Texas, would cost $280 before taxes and fees through the hotel website, which conveniently shows a price comparison to major OTAs in the bottom right corner.
Platforms like Hotels.com include bed-and-breakfasts as well as home and apartment rentals, which may feel safer for travelers concerned about social distancing.
Vacation home rental sites like Airbnb also offer private homes for short-term rent, but travelers looking for simplicity may prefer comparing hotels and private homes in a single platform.
Travelers who want housing options beyond the major chains may find unique hotel options through sites like Hotels.com.
“Hotels.com Rewards is great for stays at boutique and independent properties,” said TPG senior writer Andrew Kunesh, who updates The Points Guy’s valuation guide on loyalty programs each month. “Earning a free night every 10 nights keeps your options open, since you’re not linked to a single hotel chain. (Hotels.com) may not get you aspirational award nights, but it’s a surefire way to get a solid return on paid stays.”
TPG senior points and miles writer Katie Genter has a pro tip for travelers interested in boutique and independent hotels.
“It can be beneficial to get a mid-tier hotel credit card and then focus on that brand even if you travel infrequently,” said Genter, who spent three years on the road as a digital nomad before the coronavirus pandemic.
Genter also recommends the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program or Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection for travelers who hold premium travel rewards cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Hotels that participate in these programs offer cardholders elite-like perks such as breakfast, upgrades and late checkout.
Some of these properties may not cost as much as you’d think: “You can sometimes snag inexpensive stays in these programs,” Genter told TPG. “I once stayed at the Loews Chicago Hotel using Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program and got $160 of food and drink included on a $153 stay.”
Of course, we would be remiss to leave out additional ways to boost your earning potential on OTA hotel bookings.
Since you aren’t tied to a cobranded hotel credit card, you’ll do best to use your favorite travel card for bonus points per dollar spent. Here are some of our top picks for travel purchases:
Each of these cards offers more than one point per dollar you spend and many include additional benefits such as trip protection. In some cases, as TPG’s Katie Genter noted above, you can even score bonus perks such as free breakfast.
Leveraging an online shopping portal is one of the easiest ways to score extra rewards. Using a cash-back or rewards portal allows you to “triple dip” on hotel bookings: You earn returns through the website you book with, you earn points on your credit card and you earn bonus nights or free perks through your OTA of choice.
You can learn more about how to use shopping portals to your advantage here.
You can purchase gift cards for major OTAs such as Hotels.com in many supermarkets, office supply stores and online. Not only does this form of payment make it easy to gift travel to yourself or others, but it can also help you reach spending requirements for sign-up bonuses more quickly.
Each program has its own limitations. For example, your free night credits with Hotels.com are only worth the average of the 10 nights you paid for. If you spent $100 a night for 10 paid nights, you won’t get a $200-a-night room for free. Instead, you’ll get a $100 discount on the $200 room. Hotels.com also has several other important caveats: No free night credits for incomplete stays, award nights and rooms booked at promotional rates.
And of course, we would be remiss not to mention the biggest, most important caveat of booking through OTAs once again: In case of emergency, you’ll often have far more trouble getting the help you need, especially if you need to make any changes or cancellations on your third-party reservation.
Of course, travel insurance through a premium credit card can help protect you when booking OTA hotel stays. Not only do travel credit cards pay bonus points per dollar on travel purchases, but they can also help you get your money back under qualifying circumstances.
You’ll want to read the fine print very carefully when it comes to credit card trip protection, especially where OTAs are involved. The minutia can make all the difference as to whether you can get support or your money back. If you’re concerned about your OTA hotel purchase, consider purchasing an independent travel insurance plan for additional protection.