3 lessons I hope to learn sooner about booking travel | personal financing
Liz Weston, CFP®
Almost every trip teaches me something about myself, the world, and what not to do next. Here are three hard-earned travel lessons that might help you learn from my mistakes.
Bundling trips together isn’t worth the savings
Whenever possible, I book non-stop flights. Non-stop flights may cost a bit more, but they avoid the inconvenience of layovers and the stress of potentially losing connectivity.
Sometimes, of course, non-stop flights aren’t available or affordable. I’ve learned through bitter experience that what you don’t want to do is try to save money by booking flight legs with different non-affiliated airlines – especially if you’re dealing with baggage or customs.
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In 2017, my husband, daughter and I traveled to London and then Barcelona, Spain. All went well. It was a comeback that turned into a nightmare. Barcelona flight to London delayed. When we landed at London Heathrow, we knew we had to collect our luggage at the baggage claim center, go through customs, check our bags at another airline’s ticket counter in a different terminal, cross through security and run to the gate. Connection – all in about an hour.
Somehow, incredibly, we made our trip home, but my heart didn’t stop beating until we got to the Atlantic. Now I make sure to book with one airline and its partners. Our baggage is checked down to our final destination, and flight delays become an issue that the airline has to fix.
Make sure you are safe
For years, I’ve been jogging around the world, not thinking what would happen if I got sick or injured far from home. Then my father had a stroke while visiting his sister in Florida. A medical evacuation trip to get him home in Washington state, with the required attendants and other necessary medical care, would have cost more than $100,000.
Unfortunately, he did not recover enough to make the trip. But I realized how vulnerable I am, especially traveling in places that lack medical care. Now I make sure that when we are away from home, we have travel insurance that includes medical evacuation. If we are traveling outside the US, I guarantee that we have health insurance coverage as well.
These days, travelers also have to worry about COVID-19. Although the United States has dropped its requirement that incoming travelers test negative for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against travel if you have symptoms or test positive. That could mean a week or two of unexpected hotel and meal costs, so I make sure our travel insurance covers COVID-related expenses and that the “travel delay” portion has a high limit – like $250 per person per day.
Other things can go wrong on a trip: flight delays and cancellations, baggage loss, rental car accidents. I charge all of our trips with credit cards that provide coverage for such small disasters. I especially like the basic type of car rental coverage, which means the car insurance company never needs to know that you’ve caused an accident or damaged the rental car. Many cards offer secondary coverage, which means your insurance company must be notified and the card only pays what your insurance doesn’t, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Here’s a lesson I didn’t have to learn the hard way: The first time a rental car agency tried to pay my bill for a knock on the door, I notified my credit card company. I have no idea if the claim was pushed or dropped; I just know I didn’t have to deal with it then.
Beware of external booking sites
Many credit cards offer general travel rewards that you can transfer to the issuer’s airline and hotel partners. But some credit card companies also offer their own travel portals. These functions are very similar to online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz, allowing you to search among various travel service providers and then book with your points.
I don’t usually use online travel agencies, because I think I get better customer service by booking directly. But earlier this year, I decided to give the travel portal option a whirl — and I lived to regret it.
The flight I booked from Los Angeles to Vienna with my credit card points stopped in Istanbul. A few weeks into booking, I received an email that the flight from Istanbul to Vienna had been cancelled.
I logged into the airline’s website, expecting to be presented with options to rebook a canceled stop. Instead, I got a message that my itinerary could not be modified. When I called the airline, the customer service agent told me I needed to contact the credit card company. When I called the credit card company, I was told I needed to speak to the airline.
I tried sending an email to solve the problem with the same result. Finally, in desperation, I reached out via Twitter. It took a few more rounds of finger pointing, but in the end I was able to cancel the reservation, get my points back – and swear by using the travel portal again.
This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by the Associated Press.