The lowdown on 5 common travel upgrades
Is that extra legroom on the plane really worth the cost?
Whether you're a road warrior who spends more days out of town than at home, or you take pleasure-only getaways, you've likely debated whether certain travel perks would make your jaunts more enjoyable.
After all, a little extra legroom on that long international flight or a private cabana rental at the beach resort sure would be nice.
Then again... those types of luxuries aren't free. (Plus, if you're like most Americans, you've likely already shelled out a cool $2,000 or so this summer on family trips, leaving a modest year-end travel budget.)
So you decide to bypass those coveted upgrades, assuming they wouldn't enhance your trip enough to justify the cost. But you're still left wondering: Would it?
"Little upgrades, when chosen judiciously, can really boost your travel experience," says Kara Bebell, a consultant at Tzell Travel Group and co-owner of the Travel Siblings, a luxury vacation booking site that she runs with her brother.
The key, of course, is actually knowing how to choose.
Not sure which add-ons fall into the "worth it!" column? In light of the upcoming holiday travel season, we asked Bebell and George Hobica, founder of the flight-deal website AirFareWatchdog.com, to give us the skinny on which extras give you the biggest bang for your buck — and which you're better off skipping.
Upgrade #1: Shelling out for more legroom
We get it. You're six-foot-four — and totally dreading the hours you'll spend cramped in coach before arriving at your destination.
So, naturally, you're eyeing those "economy comfort" seats that promise more space to stretch out, and maybe even an earlier boarding group. And who wouldn't want the chance to nab a spot for your bag in the overhead bins before they fill up?
Worth it? No. These upgrades can cost up to $200, depending on the length of your flight — on top of what you've already paid for your economy ticket. "And the seats are equally hard and uncomfortable," Hobica says. "Paying that much more for a couple extra inches of legroom simply isn't worth it."
What our travel pros suggest Hobica recommends springing for the full monty: an upgrade to business or first class — but only under certain circumstances.
First, make sure your flight time is pretty substantial, and you're spending at least three hours in the air or more, Hobica says. Otherwise, the benefit isn't significant enough to justify the cost. Then check that you have enough frequent flyer miles or credit card rewards points to cover the upgrade expense.
Spending cash for a last-minute, first-class ticket could set you back thousands, even for a short flight, Hobica says. But using rewards miles is a much smarter strategy, since you've likely accumulated them for free as a perk of using your credit card or taking other flights, so your cash output will be significantly lower.
Upgrade #2: Paying for club floor access
Bebell describes hotel club levels as a secret society with indulgent treats — not only free hors d'oeuvres and drinks but better service, to boot. "The staff gets to know you, and the concierge is at your beck and call," she says.
Worth it? Usually. This splurge, which typically adds about 20 percent to 30 percent to your regular room tab, is a favorite of both Bebell's and Hobica's — unless you're vacationing in a foodie paradise, like Rome or New Orleans, and already have a list of must-eat spots for dining around town.
What our travel pros suggest Whether you plan to spend most of your time visiting all the top city sights or lounging by the pool at an island resort, this splurge can be well worth the extra money you'll pay for it.
In many cases, club rooms offer the best views in the hotel, extras amenities — like early check-in and free Wi-Fi — and even access to specialty tours. But scoring club access isn't just about living the good life. Spending more on this perk up-front can actually decrease your restaurant budget.
"Usually, there is so much food in club lounges that you can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner there," Hobica says. "If you're in a pricey city like London, that can save you some serious cash — maybe even hundreds of dollars a day."
Upgrade #3: Investing in travel insurance
Sure, there's a chance you'll get sick right before your big trip. Or your airline could go out of business.
In theory, all of these things could go wrong — but are they common enough to justify the added cost of travel insurance?
Worth it? Yes. In fact, Bebell advises all of her clients to tack on this expense — because sometimes you just can't avoid a curveball. "There aren't too many refundable travel experiences these days, so it's better safe than sorry," she says.
What our travel pros suggest Insurance can cover a bevy of accidents, such as illness, missed flights, canceled tours, lost baggage, and theft. It will run you about 5 percent to 12 percent of the total trip's cost, depending on your destination, the time of year and your age. (Just like health insurance, premiums are likely to increase for those over 50, but are much less expensive for kids.)
Note: If you're working with a travel agent, you'll likely be told that travel insurance is a must, since agents typically earn a commission per plan sold, and can be held liable for your losses if they don't adequately explain insurance options.
But that doesn't mean you should skip this to-do. Instead, you should do your homework to make sure you're getting the best quotes, and work directly with the insurance provider. To compare different options and prices, try travel insurance search site insuremytrip.com.
Upgrade #4: Springing for wi-fi
Whether you're a business traveler or you just don't want to miss an opportunity to Instagram moments from your envy-worthy European excursion, on-the-go internet connectivity has become essential these days...which is probably why it's so darn expensive!
Worth it? No. Shelling out $15 a day at your hotel or $8 at the airport adds up a little too quickly in Hobica's opinion. But that doesn't mean you're destined for a Facebook-free vacay.
What our travel pros suggest If you're embarking on a long trip or have a few getaways planned this season, Hobica recommends eschewing the ludicrous rates charged by airports and hotels and buying a travel Wi-Fi router and a plan from a major carrier.
"For $50 a month, I have a Verizon mobile hotspot that's reliable and sometimes faster than the hotel's service," Hobica says. "It's an expense that's well worth it because it pays for itself in just one, several-day trip."
Upgrade #5: Booking a private guide
For many popular locales, hiring a private guide can elevate the experience from outstanding to life-changing, Bebell says.
After all, who wouldn't want their own personal tour of the Pompeii ruins from someone who speaks perfect English…and also happens to be an archeologist?
Worth it? Yes, especially if you're embarking on an adventure, multi-destination, or once-in-a-lifetime trip.
What our travel pros suggest "Many travelers these days have a very short period of leisure time, and want to make the most of it," Bebell says. "For just about any area of interest — from vineyards to museums — there is someone you can hire to make the experience seamless and as over-the-top or as low-key as you wish."
As for where to find these fabulous guides, you can start by consulting a travel agent, who can tap into their contacts in the particular location you're visiting, Bebell says, adding that she's handpicked more than 20 guides in Italy alone just by virtue of sending so many clients to that country over the years.
If you're planning your vacation solo, do your own research by contacting art schools, universities, and museums in your destination to see if they have any expert guides to recommend, based on your needs and price range. And don't forget sites like TripAdvisor and Private-Guides.com, which are also great resources for recommendations and ratings.
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