It is an unfortunate fact of life these days that you must consider and plan for the expense of checking your luggage when you take a flight. With rare (and decreasing) exception, there are going to be baggage fees. Discount carriers in Europe have charged separately for bags for years, and that business model is taking hold on this side of the pond in a big way.
So, the first thing is to understand that you’re probably going to pay for your checked baggage. Some notable exceptions at the time of this writing is Southwest Airlines and our wonderful AeroMexico charters from Dallas to Cancun this summer. Both of these carriers offer two checked bags per person, no charge. Oh, the luxury!
Another challenge in figuring out what you’ll pay to check your baggage is that the policies and the prices seem to change on a continual basis. So, what you’ll pay sometimes depends on what the policy was at the time your ticket was issued. (Do you remember when your ticket was issued?)
In an effort to decipher this puzzle, I offer these resources:
Be sure to verify any of the information directly with the carriers.
A few more notes:
Most upper level members of frequent flyer programs have baggage fees waived. (i.e. AAdvantage Gold, Platinum etc)
Consider shipping rather than checking where it is less expensive and appropriate.
Consider traveling so light that you don’t have to check bags at all. (Remember, though, that the struggle for overhead space onboard your flight gets more intense every day, so that’s no picnic either.)
What tricks do you use to minimize baggage charges?
We recently added this to our invoices:
We know you’re all excited that you’ve just bought your vacation. We also know that in the excitement it is easy to skip over some very important information. Please don’t do that.
1) Please read your itinerary. Make sure it is the dates, the hotel, the flights and the price you intended to book. Bring it to our attention immediately if it isn’t.
2)Travel Insurance: We strongly believe in the value of travel insurance. You were probably offered insurance while you were talking to your agent booking your trip. If you haven’t purchased it and want to now, contact your agent asap.
3) We both know there’s no way you’re not going on this trip. You’ve been looking forward to it for way too long, right? But, life has a way of getting in the way sometimes. If something does happens and you have to cancel, there will be cancellation penalties. You’ll find more information about the specifics elsewhere on your invoice. Also, we charge a $100.00 cancellation fee in addition to whatever the company we booked you through charges.
4) Hotel Room Requests: Maybe you want your room assigned next to your in-laws, maybe you want to request a room on a specific floor. Perhaps you’re celebrating a special occasion. Maybe you have a thing for those towel animals. Whatever your request, if you tell your agent, we will communicate it to the hotel. Ultimately the hotel will be the one to fulfill the request or not.
5) Airline Seat Assignments: If you are flying on a scheduled carrier that preassigns seats we will assign the best possible seats for you immediately after you confirm your trip. If the available seats are less than perfect, we will let you know about the situation and will continue to check for more acceptable ones to become available. The most movement we usually see on seat assignments is in the days immediately preceding the flight. Be patient. Airlines do hold back a certain percentage of seats that only the airport can assign. They do this so they can accommodate people with special needs and families.
6) Luggage Fees: Sadly, the current state of global aviation is such that airlines are charging to check baggage. There are rare exceptions that become more rare every day. If you would like to have an idea in advance what those fees will be, ask us.
7) Please read this whole invoice. If you have any questions or anything doesn’t appear to be accurate, call your agent asap and bring it to their attention. If we know about it right away we can fix it. Later, our options will be more limited.
The duty free shop at the airport beckons you while you await your flight. Rows and rows of liquor bottles and various perfumes and cosmetics from which to choose. Bringing some rum home would make your vacation complete, right? The price on that bottle of perfume is a fraction of what you spend for it at Nordstrom, how can you not take advantage of that?
But, wait! What can you legally (and without paying duty) bring back into the United States?
Lucky for you, the Customs and Border Patrol puts all of the information on a handy website so you’ll be able to take full advantage of duty free shopping.
http://www.cbp.gov is the online home of the US Customs and Border Patrol. The travel section is especially helpful. There’s even a whole page for if you’re traveling to Mexico.
The high points:
1. You can bring home $800.00 per person of merchandise or gifts which can include up to one liter of alcohol. (Only people over 21 can bring in the liter of alcohol. So, for instance, if you’re traveling with your husband and your 5 year old, you can bring in a liter, your husband can bring in a liter, but your 5 year old cannot.)
2. You can’t bring in any fruit or meat products. So, don’t fill your carry on with the fruit from that fruit basket that was in your room. Don’t panic if you forgot to eat that last apple you brought back to eat on the plane. As long as you declare and surrender it, you’re fine. The CBP will destroy that apple for you.
3. No Cuban cigars. (Really, no Cuban anything. Except maybe Mark Cuban.)
4. No product of an endangered species. (That crocodile wallet, or that elephant tusk chess set for instance.)
5. No illegal drugs. (Like you would do that anyway.)
The Customs and Border Patrol has even put together a handy dandy guide with all of the information about what you can bring back. (There are many more details beyond what I’ve listed here.) You can access the guide called “Know Before You Go” by clicking here:
On the same page there’s a publication called “Top 10 Tips for Travelers”. Check that out too.
As long as I’m writing about the Customs and Border Patrol, I must put a plug in for Global Entry. You’ll find that on the same website under “Trusted Traveler Programs”. If you travel out of the country more than once or twice a year, consider signing up for Global Entry. The application fee is $100.00 and, if you’re accepted, it allows you to bypass the lines in the immigration and in customs when you arrive back into the US from out of the country. (Not at every airport, but only airports that have the Global Entry kiosks. Most of the airports where you’d arrive on an international flight have the kiosks.)
There is a screening and a pretty through background check, so keep that in mind if that sort of thing creeps you out. I joined Global Entry a few months ago and it has already saved me hours of waiting in line.
1) Be Early (Booking): Naturally, if you reserve your flight early there will be more seats free to choose from. An exception to this rule happened to some of our clients recently when American Airlines consolidated two flights to Cancun. A group of our clients was moved from one flight to another. They all had great assigned seats on the original flight, now they are all airport check in. It stinks.
2) Be flexible: If you can be comfortable in a wide variety of seat situations, you’re more likely to find a satisfactory seat. I used to think I always had to have a window seat. Now I’m fine in an aisle seat, or even in the dreaded center seat. I do need to be able to see out a window, even if it is across my seatmate. I need to be able to orient myself to the horizon.
3) Be Early (Checking In): It is often amazing how much a seat map can change as the flight draws closer. Also, airlines hold back a certain percentage of seats in order to be able to accommodate passengers with special needs, or perhaps to accommodate families with young children who have been unable to get seats assigned together. Early arrival at the airport means that you’ll be more likely to receive assistance from airport personnel.
4) Be Preferred: Preferred level in airline frequent flyer programs comes with some seating advantages. For instance, AAdvantage Gold and Platinum (and above) level travelers have the ability to unblock seats for preassignment. The upgrades to the mysterious “front of the cabin” don’t hurt either.
5) Be persistent: If the seats you would like are not at first available, keep trying. When we do seat assignments for our customers, and the available seats are not what we would like, we look at them several times a week until we get the seats we want. I would say we are able to eventually get the seats we want about 80% of the time.
A Bonus Tip: As of recently, American Airlines is the latest to charge a premium for certain assigned seats in the coach section that they deem as preferable to others (the ones toward the front of the coach cabin). United Airlines has had their “Economy Plus” section for a while. So I guess my 6th bonus tip would be “Be willing to pay another airline service charge”.
What hidden expenses can I expect on my cruise vacation?
You’ve done your homework. You’ve compared several different types of vacation. You want to be prudent with your money. (Who doesn’t need to do that these days?)
Lucky you! You’ve found what appears to be a great deal on a cruise. What could be better? All of your meals are included, all of your onboard entertainment as well. What a value!
You need to know what other charges you’re going to be responsible for once you get on board. Because the value of that price you got on that cruise isn’t complete until you know what you spend on the vacation from beginning to end.
The cruise price you pay prior to departure does include your cruise fare, your port charges (what are port charges, anyway?) and your taxes. For that you can expect to receive accommodations onboard the ship as well as your meals. Most onboard entertainment is included as well.
You will most likely have a significant amount of additional charges after your cruise. First of all, you will be expected to pay gratuities. On most mainstream cruiselines this comes to approximately $10.00 per person per night of the cruise. So, for a family of four on a seven night cruise this would be an additional $280.00. This is if you tip the standard amount. You have complete latitude on this, but most people do tip the recommended amount, if not more.
Additionally, all of your alcoholic drinks, all of your carbonated beverages as well as things like bottled water are an additional cost. This is just one of many ways an all inclusive resort differs from a cruise vacation. The costs for these beverages frequently adds up to a substantial cost.
Passengers on board a cruise ship typically take organized shore excursions while in port. Because passengers are in port for just the one day, there is no time to become familiar enough to really strike out on one’s own. Most passengers, in fact, take the shore excursions sold through the cruise line. Passengers feel safe in taking these excursions because they feel like the ship won’t leave them behind if they’re on a ship sponsored adventure. They also feel safe because they believe that they will receive what they have paid for. That’s great, but the ship’s own shore excursions are also the most marked up. They do have a captive audience.
Beyond the drinks and the shore excursions, you’ll find countless other ways on board to part with your hard earned vacation dollars. Some ships now have coffee shops that cost extra (think Starbucks). Of course, the spa is a huge draw. There are art auctions at sea on many ships. Ships even now have optional restaurants that carry an additional charge. Some lines charge also for room service. A couple of years when I was sailing on Carnival Cruises I found a very nice assortment of what appeared to be room amenities. Upon closer inspection it became evident that the cost of these items would be added to my room bill if they were consumed.
Back right after 9/11 when no one was traveling, I remember reading an article in a trade publication explaining that even if the ships were to sail with passengers who boarded at no cost, the cruise line would make a profit just from the onboard revenue.
So, beware. Keep track of what you’re spending on board. If you don’t, be prepared to experience what several of our clients have experienced. Upon returning home, discovering a credit card bill and believing that you’ve been double charged for your cruise. You haven’t been double billed… Those are just your on board charges!
Years ago we had just the six o’clock news on three different channels. There was only so much news that could be packed into that hour. That meant that there was a lot that went on in the world that didn’t spread like wildfire across our collective consciousness.
Today, we live in the era of the 24 hour news cycle. I counted ten different news channels and I’m sure I missed several. Add to that the various websites of not only the already established news organizations (TV news channels, Network News, Newspapers), but also millions of blogs (some more responsible than others).
Each of those news portals have to find something to talk about 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They’re all looking for the new, hot story. They’re all trying to “scoop” each other. If they are reporting a story that another portal has already reported, they’ll try to make it more sensational than the last one.
What does this mean for your vacation? Sometimes vacation destinations get caught in the cross fire.
As I write this, I’m in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Gulf Shores is located on the Gulf of Mexico right where Florida, Alabama and Mississippi come together. My mother in-law owns a beach house down here and we’ve come here periodically for over 20 years. My in-laws have been coming much longer than that.
During our visits, we sit in the living room and watch porpoises swim by in the morning. We sit out on the screen porch and have long conversations. We sit out on the beach and watch the sun set.
This year is different. This year there is almost no one on the beach. This year there is no wait at the restaurants (the restaurants that are still open for business, anyway). This year we didn’t have to work our visit in amongst the people who rent this house for their own summer vacations, because there weren’t any renters. This year we overhear the locals talk about which business aren’t going to be here next year.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know why. It’s the Deepwater Horizon oil spill out in the Gulf. To hear the press talk about it, you would think that a walk on the beach would be a slippery, slimy mess. At least here in Gulf Shores, that couldn’t be farther than the truth. The beaches are every bit as beautiful as they’ve always been. We’ve seen more porpoises and more seashells.
I do know that there have been areas that have been affected. It breaks my heart, though, to think of so many people who cancelled what would have been fabulous vacations for no reason. It breaks my heart to think of the rental properties that will go into foreclosure because the renters didn’t come this year. It breaks my heart to think of the small business owners who won’t make it through the off-season this year because the on-season never happened.
I’m starting to think it may be a good idea to let the media dictate where we vacation. Yes, that’s right, I said I think it’s a GOOD idea. I think that from now on, wherever is getting beat up in the media, that’s where I’m going to vacation.
Just think about it. It won’t be crowded. I’ll get the best prices. I’ll have my pick of the best places. I’ll be assured of the best vacations ever.
You should try it too.
With apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, this is a question that we get quite a bit as people are making final preparations for their all inclusive vacation.
Technically speaking, tipping is included at all inclusive resorts. That said, there are several schools of thought on the subject.
Some people you’ll talk to say that you’ve saved all year for this all inclusive vacation and its ridiculous to think that you would give additional tips that are supposed to be included.
Then there are other people who say that you tip at home for good service and there isn’t any reason to think you shouldn’t do the same when you’re abroad at a resort.
As with many things, I think there are a range of right answers and you should decide what you are comfortable with.
If you’re asking my opinion (and I guess you are, since you’re still reading) I do think its both nice and useful to tip while you’re in a resort.
First, lets look at the useful aspects of tipping. When you’re spending the day by the pool or the beach, and there is waiter service going by periodically, think about who is going to get better more consistent attention? Would it be the person who is not tipping and all, or the person who tips a dollar or so every couple of drinks? Who is going to get the towel animals on their bed, or a couple of extra towels, or just more helpful enthusiastic service? Tippers, or non tippers? I’m not talking about a great deal of money here, just a dollar or two at a time.
Next, let’s look at the nice reasons to tip. The people who work at these resorts make very little money. One source I saw said that the minimum wage in Cancun is 51 pesos per day. These workers work very long days six days a week At today’s exchange rate that is just over $4.00 (not per hour…per day). While the cost of living in the resort areas is maybe slightly less than in major US metropolitan areas, you can see that $4.00 per day doesn’t go far no matter how you slice it. Tipping even a little helps these people make ends meet. What is a small amount for you can go a long way for the people who make your vacation special.
The mechanics of tipping: If you decide that you do want to tip, make sure you’re prepared. Before you leave, get a supply of small bills. The workers in Mexico seem especially amused by $2.00 bills. I try to get as many as I can from the bank before I leave. Regardless of what denomination you choose, make sure that the bills aren’t damaged or written on. If they are, they cannot be exchanged for pesos and will be worthless to the hard working recipient of your tip.
Either way you go, certainly don’t tip in situations where you don’t feel you’ve received good service. Tipping at all inclusive is truly optional and you should not feel obligated. Your tip should be a gift for great service, something you’re happy to give.
We are much more connected than previous generations. We are expected to respond to emails within a fairly short period of time. If we don’t check in on Facebook regularly people start to wonder if we’re dead, or at least gravely injured. Gone are the days when most people can go completely off the grid for any length of time.
Even on vacation, most people want to be connected at some level. These days, it’s a pretty rare person who disconnects completely, even for a 3 or 4 night trip. At Legacy Travel, we are frequently asked questions that relate to Internet access or phone service in destination.
So, what’s the answer? What’s the best and least expensive and easiest way to be connected while you’re at a resort in Mexico?
As in many of life’s quandaries, the answer is…it depends.
There are several different situations regarding Internet access depending on the resort you’ve chosen. Not so long ago, the most common Internet access at Mexico resorts was “none”. You still find that at a few resorts.
The most common situation now, though, is internet terminals either in a business center or in an area in or near the lobby. You either feed coins into the terminal itself which gives you a certain amount of time online, or you buy a code from the front desk that you type in to let you online.
Another common situation is to find free wifi in the lobby of your hotel. Of course, this only works if you brought your laptop along with you. Free wifi in the lobby is also handy if you want to access the internet via your iPad or iPhone.
The newest and most deluxe resorts now are starting to install in room wired and/or wireless internet.
If you have a smart phone that allows you to be online via the cell phone company, you want to be very very careful to discover how much that access is going to cost you during your trip. Call your carrier before your trip so you’re not caught by surprise.
What if you want to call home from Mexico? What’s the best way to do that without breaking the bank?
Again, call your cell carrier and find out the per minute charge for using your phone. Not so long ago, people purchased phone cards to make affordable calls from pay phones (not from the phone in your room) so they could check on things at home. Most of the time, the rate on your cell plan is not horrible for just checking in though, so most people don’t bother with phone cards any more.
My favorite way to call home lately is via the Vonage app on my iPhone. When I’m within the range of free wireless, I can make international calls for almost no cost at all.
A word of caution, you should never, ever, (except in case of emergency) call from the phone in your room. Those rates are highway robbery.
Now, the question of if you should be so connected while you’re on vacation? That’ll have to be the subject of another article.