The world is a big place, and there's a lot to see – and just as much misinformation about the best way to do it.
We're here to set the record straight and give you some tips on how to make your vacations easier. Here are the top 10 things travelers get wrong, and how to do it right.
Stop Clearing Your Cookies
This is one of the biggest myths out there. We hear it from readers time and time again.
Despite what you may have heard, clearing your cookies will not help you get a better deal on a flight. Airfare prices are always changing due to demand as tickets sell. That's why you see rapid changes in a matter of hours or even minutes – not because the airline or Google Flights are tracking what you're looking at.
Picking One Airline or Hotel Chain and Sticking to It
Everyone loves the idea of building airline status and getting free flight upgrades. But loyalty is expensive.
We firmly believe that the average traveler is way better off following the cheapest fares and hotel rooms rather than sticking with one airline or hotel chain. Of course, we've all got our favorite airlines. But what about when that favored carrier is charging $50 or even $100 more for the exact same flight?
It might make sense if you're a business traveler on the road every week. But for the average traveler, save some money. Getting status like Silver Medallion with Delta might sound cool, but it's just not worth the extra cash.
The same principle applies to travel rewards: You're leaving points and miles on the table by being loyal to just one airline or hotel chain. The best strategy is to go where the points and miles are easiest to get and use.
For example, let's say you live in a Delta hub like Atlanta (ATL) or Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). If you only focus on earning Delta SkyMiles, you're doing it wrong.
Why not earn some American Airlines miles? You can quickly earn 110,000 AAdvantage miles with two credit cards. The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has a 50,000-miles welcome bonus after making just one purchase and paying the $99 annual fee, while you can earn another 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 within the first three months on the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard.
Even if you love flying Delta out of MSP or ATL, there are some amazing ways to use AAdvantage miles out of any airport.
Using Expedia or Kayak to Search for Flights
Google Flights should be your starting point for every single flight. It's a powerful search engine that is easy to use. And it's got some great features you won't find elsewhere to help you find the cheapest flight.
- Set up price alerts for specific dates and destinations.
- Use Google Flights Explore when your travel plans are flexible, or you aren't sure where you want to go.
- Use the baggage allowance filter to make sure your flight allows carry-ons or checked bags.
Stop exchanging your money at the bank or currency exchange counters at the airport. You're losing your own money by doing this – it's how these services make a profit.
Instead, get the Charles Schwab debit card and withdraw your money from an ATM at your destination. It's free to sign up, and there are a lot of other perks to this card:
- Unlimited fee rebates from any ATM worldwide
- No minimum balance or monthly fees
- No foreign transaction fees on debit card purchases
- Free Standard Checks and Visa debit card
- Schwab mobile app allows you to deposit checks with your phone
Paying Foreign Transaction Fees
Stop paying extra on your credit card transactions while abroad.
While a debit card is great for ATMs, we recommend using a credit card for all other purchases. It will protect you against fraud, plus you can keep earning points and miles for your purchases on your travels.
So make sure to always travel with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees. Here is a rundown of the 10 best cards this month, many of which have no foreign transaction fees.
Cut down on your clothes and shoes, and start carrying on your luggage. There are so many reasons why you should always pack light.
- It's free (most of the time)!
- Save time at the airport. You won't have to wait in line to check your bag or to pick it up.
- Never lose your luggage again!
- Easy to get around your destination without a huge bag.
If you need a bag, check out some of our favorite carry-ons.
Waiting in Long Security Lines
- Cut down on waiting in line.
- Keep your shoes, a jacket, and even your belt on!
- Keep all of your items like toiletries and laptops in your bag.
- With Global Entry, breeze through customs on your way back home from an international trip.
Thrifty Tip: Get one of these credit cards to get TSA Precheck or Global Entry for FREE!
Falling Behind with Your Passport, Visa, or ID
There's nothing worse than heading to the airport for an international trip only to be turned away because you don't have the right paperwork
Keep an eye on your passport expiration date and get it renewed early. And it may not be enough just to have a valid passport – many countries, including Mexico, require at least six months of validity.
Be sure to check any visa requirements for the countries you are planning to visit with the U.S. State Department. U.S. citizens can travel to many countries visa-free – Brazil is joining that list soon. Sometimes it's just an e-visa that takes just a few minutes to fill out online, but other countries require a more in-depth process for entry. And the requirements are can change with little notice, like how it became easier to get into Vietnam, but could get harder to get into Europe in 2021.
And change is on the way for even domestic flights. Starting in October 2020, you'll need a new Real ID (or your passport) to board a domestic flight. And unfortunately, it's not as simple as getting your normal driver's license renewed. Read up on everything you need to know to get a Real ID.
Waiting too Long to Book a Flight Deal
This is the big one.
We hear it from Thrifty Traveler Premium subscribers all the time: “The deal is gone already?!” We send out an amazing flight deal, and just a few hours – or even minutes – later it has disappeared.
The hotter the flight deal, the shorter it lasts. For insanely cheap mistake fares, you need to act immediately. So book now and ask questions later!
For any flight booked directly with airlines that touches U.S. soil, you have 24 hours to cancel with no penalty. Never have regrets about missing a flight deal again.
Leaving Points and Miles on the Table
Signing up for credit cards might be the easiest way to earn a bunch of frequent flyer miles, but there is much more. Add up some of these methods, and you might be missing out on a ton of points and miles.
For starters, sign up for frequent flyer accounts to make sure you're earning miles on every flight you take.
If you're paying for flights, use the American Express Platinum card because it earns 5x points per dollar on airfare booked directly with airlines. Or try the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earns 3x and also has great trip cancellation coverage.
Sign up for airline dining programs to keep earning miles when you go out for dinner.
Use online shopping portals for all your shopping to earn bonus points and miles on every purchase. One of our favorites is Rakuten (formerly Ebates), but airlines like Delta also have their own dedicated portals. It's one simple extra step that can quickly add up.
Stop making these simple travel mistakes. Use these tips to make the most of every vacation!