Sure, it's important to watch your money when you travel. But some extras can be worth the savings in pain and regret.
So for 2010, here are my top 10 indulgences that can really pay off:
1. Nonstop flights: Think of the issue this way: Each stop provides another opportunity to miss your flight, get bumped by overbooking, languish on the runway or have your bags sent to the wrong place. Plus a trip with multiple stops takes more time.
2. Checked luggage: The airlines' fees for this can be burdensome, and your luggage occasionally may be mishandled. But your bags can be burdensome too if you have to lug or wheel them through what seem to be miles of airport hallways.
Fly Southwest Airlines, which doesn't charge for the first two bags, or ante up the $15 or more each way that most carriers charge these days. Or pack lightly and limit yourself to one small, wheeled carry-on.
3. Premium economy class: Worth it for a long flight. Many airlines offer this choice, under various names, which gives you extra legroom. United Airlines, for instance, adds up to 5 inches in Economy Plus. On its website, United gives "sample" one-way add-ons for Economy Plus that cost as little as $9 for Chicago-Madison, Wis., and as much as $109 for Los Angeles-Tokyo. The cost can vary by date and flight distance.
4. Rental car upgrade: If you are tall or traveling with several people, get a bigger car or a van. In snow country, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is a must, unless your idea of fun is fastening chains to tires in a blizzard.
5.Family suite: Extra space, or preferably an extra room, can keep peace, especially if your family includes offspring who crave privacy. Look for an all-suite chain and make sure you really get two separate rooms; some hotels' "suites" are just bigger rooms or have kitchens or both.
6. A room with a view: Normally, I don't care what's outside my window because when I travel, I'm mostly out all day exploring and return to the room only to sleep. But that's just me.
If you spend a lot of time in your room or cruise cabin, the view does matter. And for a special occasion, nothing beats the romance of an ocean vista. Even I will spring for that.
But here's the unromantic truth: "Ocean view" can be a matter of opinion; you may see only a sliver of blue. So grill the hotel before you book.
7. Cruise beverage package: This covers the purchase of nonalcoholic drinks at the bar, which can add up. Some packages cost $10 or less per day.
8. Cancel-for-any-reason insurance: A standard travel policy covers your costs of canceling a trip only for one of its listed reasons. A cancel-for-any-reason rider expands this list to just about anything, which can save you hours of paperwork.
Such a rider can increase the premium by half or so. But because the typical premium for a travel policy is about 4% to 8% of the trip's cost, this means you'll pay just $50 to $100 more to add the rider to, say, a $2,500 trip.
9. Travel agent: A worthwhile expense if you're going abroad, planning a complicated journey, taking a cruise or organizing travel for a wedding or family reunion. In fact, many agents will charge nothing to book a cruise or tour package because they earn commissions. Sure, you can usually book these trips on the Web. But an agent can save you hours of research time and troubleshoot along the way.
10. Once-in-a-lifetime experience: Only you know the true value of this. But if I figured I'd be able to make it only once to Africa for a safari or to Antarctica for a cruise, I'd save up, book with a high-quality company and spend at least two weeks. Maybe more.
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