Consumer IQ, How To

Money-Saving Tools for Travelers

A few items are always useful for travel - either vacation or business - including Ziplock bags ($7.64 for 54-count Quart Freezer Bags), duct tape (Scotch All-Weather Duct Tape, $8.95), and an umbrella (Totes Micro Umbrella, $19.99). But when it comes to some of the more expensive travel gadgets, are they really worth it? Below are a few tools that can actually help save you money (or at least make your trip more comfortable).

Problem: Exorbitant charges for overweight bags (and how to avoid checked-bag charges).

Solution: Luggage scale (and credit cards that waive bag fees).

With airlines cranking up the fees on oversized bags, and implementing charges for checked bags, it is useful to know how much your bag weighs before you get to the airport. Most of the time, your bathroom scale (Omega Ultra Slim Digital Bathroom Scale, $24.95) is going to work just fine, but if you plan to bring a bunch of tschotckes home from your next European adventure, a lightweight travel scale, such as the TraveLite Luggage Scale ($24.95), might be handy.

If you cannot get away from checking a bag, consider purchasing your ticket with a branded airline credit card. Delta SkyMiles American Express ($95 annual fee, checked-bag fee waived for two bags) or Continental Airlines ($95 annual fee, 2nd checked-bag fee waived), are two examples. Or you could fly with airlines that don’t have checked-bag fees, such as Southwest and JetBlue.

Packing a carry-on bag is easy if you follow a few simple steps:

 1. Take out half of the clothes you put in, you won’t need them.

 2. Invest in a set of Travel Space Bags (Container Store, $7 for two medium, $8 for two large) and pack thoughtfully. 

3. Mix and match outfits and layer judiciously. No one is going to care if you wear the same outfit more than once, they will never see you again!

Problem: Fees to change flights, stranded travelers and trip cancellation.

Solution: Travel insurance

Some airlines have reasonable fees to change flights (JetBlue $20 online, $25 with an agent), but most major carriers charge $100-150, plus the difference in airfare, if any. Fortunately, travel insurance will cover the fees to change a flight, and if necessary, to cancel the entire trip.

Did you book your trip with frequent flyer miles or loyalty points? While the cash value of loyalty points or frequent flyer miles cannot be insured, the fees associated with the program can be insured (for example, fees associated with penalties to re-deposit the miles or points because of cancelled plans or date changes).

If you find yourself stranded, travel insurance benefits can be a lifesaver. When Hurricane Irene hit this summer, thousands of flights and trains were canceled, leaving travelers stranded and many trying to get through to their airlines for rebooking. Travel insurance companies can help re-book your trip with special concierge services, and even help with additional needs including hotels, restaurant bookings and reimbursement for incidentals.

Problem: Loud and annoying seatmate on crowded flight

Solution: Noise canceling headphones

Frequent travelers swear by a good pair of noise-canceling headphones, and won’t travel anywhere without them. Starting at about $79.95, these headphones work by reducing the amount of ambient noise your ear takes in, allowing you to listen to music and movies at a much lower volume. Sure, they don’t seem cheap, but if you travel frequently, they pay for themselves in no time.

Problem: Uncomfortable coach seats on overseas trips

Solution: 1st Class Sleeper

Besides actually upgrading to first class (just try using all those miles you have accumulated), making your coach seat into first class accommodations for a long flight is tricky. Sure, you can ask for a bulk head seat, or hope that the flight has empty seats, but those are all gambles. If you want to ensure a comfortable flight, look into the 1st Class Sleeper by Travelon. At $29.95, it is a reasonable option for comfort. The sleeper turns a regular coach seat into a first class recliner, all with an easy to store and inflate pillow.

While you are there, consider earplugs (Mack’s, $2.99 for 10 pairs) and an eyeshade ($5.95) to complete the package. For shorter trips, a comfort neck pillow (Eagle Creek, $20.00) might be just the thing.