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Saturday, December 28, 2013

How to Fly for Free

It's the holidays and usually that means packed flights and lots of drama from some passengers who think it's all about them. What this means for you is a good chance of getting bumped or the chance to volunteer to get on the next available flight. Why would you do this? To get a free flight, of course. 

Everyone has heard the term “bumped”. If you haven’t – or if you have and are not sure what it means – it is the term given to a person who has the misfortune to get to the airport too late (read: after almost all the other passengers) to check in for their overbooked flight and loses their seat. They are “bumped” from the flight. With the amount of overall flights being reduced, there are now more people who want to fly on those that are available most days. There are a certain number of no-shows or ticketed passengers that miss their flights each day. The airlines have always planned for this, but in these tough economic times they also want to fill their seats on the limited flights they have, so they overbook. (This was always a common thing on their most popular flights before the recession.) Sometimes everyone shows up and that leaves around 3-5 people without an actual seat. The airlines will rebook them on the next available flight, but will also always ask if others are willing to be bumped instead. This is how you get comped free travel/hotel/food.

Tip: Ask for a credit voucher instead of a free flight voucher. This works like a gift certificate for the airline and allows you more freedom when booking your flight with it (i.e. you can use it for international airfare if you wish or to buy more than one cheap ticket).

When you get to the gate, you will normally see on the monitor at the check-in desk if there is a list of passengers. These people are already on the “waiting” list. They may have checked in after everyone else or were able to be put on stand-by. If someone else doesn’t show up, or someone gives up their seat willingly, they get to board that flight. If you aren’t in a hurry to get to your destination, then maybe you wouldn’t mind volunteering to hang out until the next flight. The more people on the list, the more willing the airline will be to work with you in giving up your seat. Go up to the airline employee and ask if they need volunteers to be bumped. If so, ask what you will be compensated. Usually, because you have been helpful and friendly (this is certainly key in any customer/customer service conversation), they will give you a voucher for a free flight or credit to use at a later date. You’ll, of course, not have to pay extra for being rebooked on a new flight.

This is what everyone seems to look like during holiday travel
Depending on how long of a wait it will be until your next flight, you might also be able to negotiate a free hotel room and/or dining vouchers for the airport while you hang around and wait for the next flight to come in. While you end up with a free flight (and probably more), the airline doesn’t really lose any money by giving you these things in exchange for your seat. They will be flying that future flight anyway and your seat was already paid for by the passenger who will be filling your seat when they purposely oversold the flight. You get all the perks for just being nice (even if it was selfish) and you might have made someone’s day by letting them take your place. This is a great way to be able to stretch your dollars and be able to vacation more throughout the year. You’ll also get more frequent flyer miles added to your account (if you are compensated with a voucher for a dollar figure and not a free flight)!

Tip: If the airline pays for you to stay in a hotel overnight, they must also pay for your transportation to that accommodation.

Want to avoid getting bumped? Make sure you get to the airport early instead of the last minute. It just takes that one person to get there before you for the flight to be full. I always suggest getting to the airport at least one hour early for domestic and at least two hours early for international. Of course, I get excited for any travel I do and want to allow time for anything that might delay me (traffic, long security lines, etc.), so we tend to get to the airport two hours ahead of any flight. We use the extra time to browse shops, watch people and eat. It’s always nice to be able to sit down and have a decent meal, instead of grabbing fast food right before you get on the flight. It gives you time to relax if you stress right before you travel. It also boosts your energy and helps reduce jet lag. Make sure you drink lots of water, too. I always buy a big bottle of water after security to take with me on the flight, since I am often thirsty, flying dehydrates you and I don’t always want to wait 45 minutes to an hour before they bring around the drink cart.

Tip: Want to finally get into the fancy schmancy airline lounge? Ask for a pass to use it if you’re bumped and have to wait a few extra hours.

More tips on getting “bumped”:
  • If you want to get bumped, it helps to get to the airport early as well. Get your name on the list of volunteers before anyone else.
  • Book on a flight that is likely to be overbooked (holidays, afternoon flights, early evening flights, last flight of the day, red eye, etc.)
  • Be polite. Don’t demand higher compensation than what they are offering you. If you know they are desperate, you can use it to your advantage, but negotiate in a polite manner.
  • Know the flight schedule. This can be just as useful to you and your travel plans as it is to the airline employee rebooking you.
  • Make sure you’re booking on an airline that does overbook flights. Some airlines do not. (Of course, this information is also helpful in not getting bumped.)
  • Be willing to fly on a different airline or a different route. This makes it easier to rebook you as well.
  • Pack light. While this doesn’t really help you to get booked, it does ensure that you keep all your belongings with you and the airline doesn’t have to figure out how to reroute your bags in addition to you (and your travel companions).
  • Fly through busy airports when possible. Obviously, these airports have more passengers flying everyday and have more overbooked flights than smaller airports.

I haven't had the chance to get bumped yet, but I am open to it. If it can help me budget a trip for cheaper the next time I travel, then it’s totally worth it. What about you? Have you ever purposely volunteered to be “bumped” in order to receive free travel?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays 2013

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate. I am off enjoying family time today, but I wanted to bring you some photos from around town:

This is the most festive shark I've ever seen 
One of the trees at my favorite movie theater

Wine anyone?
How many of you buy or make a yule log?

Technically, this is from my Disney trip, but it is around a town :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Infographic: What Do You Want From Hotels?

I always look at the inclusions when I plan my vacations. If I'm going to stay at an accommodation, it needs to at least have free Wi-Fi, otherwise, I feel like I'm getting a bad deal. I mean, internet is super-easy for hotels to supply to guests, but a lot of them must think that this is a great way to squeeze some more bucks out of us, instead of being a huge insult. It looks like I'm not the only one who has amenity standards for hotels. Hotels.com polled guests to find out what they want from where they stay. Where do you stand? And does it matter where you're going which amenities you'd rather have?
2013 Hotels.com Amenities Survey

Friday, December 20, 2013

Super Useful Travel Links

Don't forget to enter our contest for a great pair of work + travel men's pants from Bluff Works.

The holidays are upon us, which means many of you are probably getting ready to travel for Christmas or New Year's. Holidays can bring out the best and worst in people when stressed out, so I've found some fun and helpful links for you this week. Also, if you want to get through airport security a little more quickly and less painfully, check out my last blog post.

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Everyone likes to get gifts, but what if you got a gift just for flying and telling the airline what was on your ultimate wish list? That's exactly what happened for some people on a WestJet flight. Kids and adults both had a great time coming up with things they would love to have and when they got off the plane, they were surprised with gift boxes with their names on it. Would you have loved to be on that flight? I know I would have.

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With ever-shrinking space on airplanes for passengers, it's hard to find more room to spread out. When people encroach on your personal space, you probably start to get a bit grouchy. When I'm busy reading or trying to do a crossword to pass the time, when someone uses my seatback as a handle or hogs the armrest, I can get a bit irritated. The worst though is the person who reclines their seat, giving you even less room to keep your drink or use your tablet. It seems I'm not the only one who wants to start wailing on that person for my extra three inches of space back. Soon, we may see an end to reclining seats, at least on domestic flights.

Ugh! Have you ever been woken up in the middle of a flight just for the flight attendant to ask if your seatbelt is fastened? I hate that! Soon, this may be a thing of the past, as some airlines are looking into getting a new electronic system that will show lights on the aisle when a seatbelt is locked. Thanks to Stuck at the Airport for bringing this story to us.

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Don't you love it when people think they are the only people who have somewhere to be on a holiday (or even on a normal day)? For some  reason, they think anything that goes wrong is a personal attack on them and that everyone should drop everything to make them happy, even if they are doing everything they can. Please don't ruin everyone else's day, like the rude lady on this guy's flight. While he may have taken it a bit far, his point was clear. Stop being a jerk. You may have to see the final outcome of his war against rudeness on Twitter, but it's worth it.

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When you travel, can you identify where you've been on a map? Apparently, that's a feat for some, which means they probably couldn't identify many countries or states that they haven't been to either. Buzzfeed asked Brits to label a map of the United States to see if they could name (correctly) all the states. You'll be surprised what their maps looked like.

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Do you travel alone and look back at your photos with sadness? I don't think many of us do, but blogger and photographer Keisuke Jinushi was so depressed about his lonesome travel pics that he decided to do something about it. By posing for "couples" photos with a non-existent girlfriend on his trips, he now looks back on his travel snaps with happiness. Apparently, he doesn't think back on all the time he wasted taking these pics. Personally, I think his solution to solo travel is rather sad, but you might find it genius. What do you think?

If you really want to make your travels more memorable, how about expanding your horizons by doing something new and throwing yourself into your destination's culture. I promise you'll look back on your trip with more fondness than you would if you had a bunch of fake girlfriend photos in an album.

I hope you took something away from this week's posts. If you found anything cool, unusual or helpful related to travel, leave the link in the comments so the rest can enjoy it too! Happy holiday travel!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter at the "Beach"

I love the beach. Not so much laying on it, but I like to walk on the beach and enjoy the view while I'm out sightseeing. My husband loves to swim and hang out in the water, which is easy to do when we travel in the warmer months or to tropical destinations, but hard to do pretty much every other time and most of the year in Portland. The truth is, it's hard to get to the beach a lot of the time and it can be expensive. When we feel like a sandy getaway, we have discovered a great alternative: salt rooms.

Okay, I know you probably think this sounds nothing like the beach and, in a way, you're right. In other ways, salt rooms are even better than the beach. It's because of these reasons that we have a plan to build our own in our backyard sometime in the future. So, what the heck is a salt room? That's normally the question I get when I say I'm going to one. Most people don't know much about them, if they've heard of them at all. A salt room is just what it sounds like. You make a reservation and sit in a room on a lounge chair that is covered in salt from the dead sea. Most have salt rocks/bricks on the walls and then large salt "sand" on the floor, making it feel like the beach. 

Us at the now shuttered Salt Grotto in Portland
Your appointment lasts one hour and you do what you normally do at the beach: hang out, maybe play in the sand, chat with whoever you came with or, in my case, do a bit of blogging in a totally relaxing atmosphere. There are a lot of benefits to salt rooms. In Europe, you can visit a salt cave, which have been proven to improve health. One hour in the salt room is like spending three days at the beach. Ever breathed easier after a seaside trip? All that salt from the water that floats in the air is cleansing. A salt room just takes the water out of the equation. Those ionic particles are all around you, helping you soaking up the great properties.

Salt Wonder in Vancouver, BC - this is the best one we've ever been to!
if you have allergies, skin issues, respiratory problems or many other ailments, a trip to the salt room can really help you out. You may not notice after your first visit, but you definitely will after a while. I see a noticeable difference in my skin and my allergy level even after an hour visit. I also feel completely relaxed after my session, which is why it was so appealing to do on my vacation when traveling can take so much out of you. If you're prone to getting sick on trips, the salt room will help you kick the sniffles faster and easier, without cold meds.

A visit to the salt room may not be cheap, but it is more affordable than a trip to the beach - even if you buy multiple sessions at a time - and fits a mini-getaway into even the busiest schedule. Even if you don't have a salt room near where you live, be on the lookout for ones when you travel, like we do, and watch the daily deal sites for discounts.

Salt Therapy in London - I love that we look like lunch ladies :)
Have you ever been to a salt room? If so, which one(s)? I want to add it to my list!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review & Giveaway: Bluff Works (New) Travel Pants for Men

As you may remember, my husband reviewed Bluff Works pants in the past and liked them so much that we ordered a second pair and they were two of the three pants he packed to go to Europe for two weeks. He was not disappointed. The pants fit great, were comfortable and could go many wears between washes (though, we did laundry often enough that they only got worn twice before they were clean again). Bluff Works has been working on a new cut to these awesome pants and asked if Eric would review them with the new features. Of course, he said yes!

The last time we tested these pants, summer was right around the corner and Eric wore them to brunch, the movies and to do some gardening. Unfortunately, this time of year, we aren’t quite that active, so I had him wear them to work one day and another day where we ran some errands and he had to carry some heavy bags of litter from the trunk into the garage.

So, how do these pants compare to the original Bluffs? Eric gives them two thumbs up! The originals had straight pockets and this new cut has traditional slash pockets, so they look more like dress pants and it’s easier to get things out of them. On vacation, Eric is always afraid of putting his wallet in his pants pockets as he normally does. With the new Bluffs, there are two zippered security pockets that are large enough for your passport – one in the front and one in the back. Eric loved that the front zippered pocket was large enough to fit his wallet and also keeps it from settling at the bottom of the pocket and making his leg all lumpy looking. So, if you are a guy who likes to keep his wallet in your back pocket, feel more secure putting it in the zipper pocket.

These new slash pockets are large and even when you keep keys, a wallet and phone in one, they don’t gap out, even when sitting down. If you’re like me, this is really a pet peeve of mine. Pockets that don’t sit flat are really unattractive and ruin your whole look, especially when you’re just standing there. The cut of these pants is perfect. The pockets sit exactly how they’re supposed to.

Hate digging through your pockets for your keys? The bottom of your pockets should be for spare change, not everything you carry with you. Keep your keys handy with the soft cloth loop that you can clip them onto. And if you don’t want to use it for your keys, it lays flat against the inside of your pocket and out of the way.

Everyone has a smartphone now and those things can be pretty bulky. Putting it in your pocket is okay, but between getting scratched up by your other items and the worry of sitting down and breaking the screen, you start to wonder if maybe you need to be that guy who keeps it in his front shirt pocket – where it may fall out a thousand times a day – or that has it clipped to their belt. Bluff Works has eliminated the issue altogether by putting in a fancy little slip pocket above your back pockets where you can keep your phone. It’s not in danger of falling out, getting picked or being sat on. The fabric and cut also make it easy to get out when you’re getting a call. It’s awesome!

The other great thing about these pants is the fit. The same size as the original has more room and Eric said it felt like they were cut on a slight angle instead of straight as the originals fit. They still look great for business needs, but they have more room and are more comfortable, making them pretty much the perfect pant for every occasion. You need these in your closet and travel bag.

And hey! If you forget how to care for your Bluffs (which is super easy), just turn them inside out and look at the instructions on your pocket!

Buy some now – they make amazing gifts! – or scroll down to win a pair of your own:

Eric's size: Eric is 5' 10" and is wearing Khaki Bluffs in 42/32.
More information
Where you can buy them: BluffWorks online
Other colors they come invelvet brown, charcoal, classic grey
How much they cost$88
Fabricspecially-woven polyester 

Follow Bluff Works: Facebook | Twitter

Disclaimer: We were provided with a pair of Bluffs for the purpose of this review, but all opinions are my own and Eric's.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Less Stressful Holiday Travel

Make sure to enter to win a Lay-n-Go Lite travel bag. Giveaway ends soon!

It's that time again. The holidays are upon us and many of you will be traveling. Whether you'll be visiting friends and family or getting away from them with a relaxing getaway, the airport over Christmas is crazy, packed and chaotic. After packing, just making your way through security and getting on the plane is a challenge. Here are some ways to make it easier on you and everyone around you.

Keep your ID and boarding pass handy - Nobody likes waiting in line, but having to wait for someone to dig around in their bag for things they know they need is like when you're stuck behind the person in the checkout line that waits until the checker rings up everything and tells them the price before pulling out their checkbook. You know what I'm talking about. Don't be a check-writer. Have your ID or passport and boarding pass in your hand by the time you get to the TSA agent letting you into the lines for security screening. 

Bag your liquids - The 3-1-1 bag can be a pain and sometimes hard to pack, but don't make it harder by not packing it ahead of time like some people. It has been a rule for years, so when you either don't pack your gels and liquids in one before you get to the airport and are trying to hunt and gather for them in your carry-on while in line, it just makes people angry that they are behind you. You can buy quart-size zip-top bags at the grocery store and discount stores, like Target. Pull together all your toiletries and pack your 3-1-1 before you leave home. You'll save time, make friends and make sure that everything you want to take fits inside it. It's good to also place it near the top of your carry-on, so you can easily pull it out and throw it in a bin.

Wear some shoes you can slip on or off - Every airport you go to will make you take your shoes off to go through security. Why not make it painless for you and everyone behind you by wearing shoes that don't take forever to get off or on. Leave your combat boots at home and opt for more reasonable options, like loafers or sneakers. Heck, wear your stilettos if you must be glam, as they will take seconds to remove and put back on. Other travelers will thank you when you can grab all your stuff from the other side of the conveyor and get out of the way for them.

Keep your gifts unwrapped - As much as you'll want to wrap any gifts you're bringing before you leave home, resist the urge, because TSA doesn't like them. While they can x-ray your box, wrapped gifts are still suspicious, so you will have spent all that time and energy making it look pretty and then getting it into your bag, only to have an agent rip your paper to shreds to find out what you packed. Bring small gifts that can be packed without boxes and wrapping paper. You can always bring those staples with your and wrap them at your destination.

Make your laptop easily accessible - Yes, yes, you have all that other stuff you need to have in-hand and now I'm adding another. It's one more thing that will need to go in the bin, next to your shoes, 3-1-1, jacket and contents of your pockets. If you're bringing your laptop, netbook or iPad, make sure you can quickly slide it in and out of your carry-on. The faster you can get all your belongings into a bin, the sooner you can push them towards the conveyor belt and the X-Ray machine, making room for other travelers' belongings and causing everyone around you to be happy that you're helping to move the line along as best as possible, so they can get to their designated gate with minimal hurdles. 

Make sure you get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. You never know what can happen, so check wait times and give yourself at least 2 hours before you flight. If you get to the gate and find you've been bumped or your flight has been delayed, know your rights.

What are your tips for traveling a little more stress-free?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

French Macarons

My birthday was this week and I received some fancy kitchen stuff that I wanted, including a book on how to make macarons. That's not a typo. I'm talking about the French macarons, not America's chewy and coconutty macaroons. If you don't know the difference, here's a chart! 

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I tried making these lovely little confections before with sad, sad results, but I'm going to try again. While on vacation, I got my hands on quite a few professionally-made macarons, because knowing how difficult they are to master, I definitely couldn't pass up the chance(s) to much on some yummy cookies from big names like Pierre Herme and Ladurée. To get your mouth watering and encourage you to seek out a French patisserie near you, I have gathered some of my favorite photos of these little flavor-packed pastries. (Also, these make a pretty affordable alternative to dessert on your travels...and lower in calories than you'd think.)

Do you have a favorite macaron flavor (mine is gingerbread!) or other dessert/goodie?

Monday, December 9, 2013

5-Star Vacations on a Budget in Puerto Rico

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Puerto Rico, The All-Star Island. All opinions are 100% mine.

As a budget traveler, I love to get a fantastic deal, especially on a luxury travel experience. I also love my trip to be stress-free. It's not always easy to get both of those things in on vacation, but you can if you travel to Puerto Rico. You get to visit a foreign country without a passport or exchanging money or learning another language (though if you speak some Spanish or want to work on it, it's probably appreciated).

With the temperatures dropping, you're probably wishing you were somewhere warm and sunny. It's summertime in Puerto Rico, which is enough to make anyone start packing their shorts and swimsuits. You can't go wrong with 270 miles of coastline and some of the world's best beaches. Enjoy them even at night with bioluminescent bays that are full of plankton that light up when the water is disturbed, so you look like you're glowing when you are out for a swim or kayaking at night. These bays are very rare and amazing. Three of the only five in the world are located in Puerto Rico! That seems like a reason to visit alone.

You don't have to be a beach lover to head to island though. There is so much to do, you might find yourself thinking there ins't enough time to do it all in one trip. There's:
  • hiking, rock climbing and ziplining for the adventurous. 
  • fishing, horseback riding and biking for the sports and outdoor enthusiast. 
  • haute cuisine and coffee for the foodie.
  • art, music and historical sites for culture buffs.
  • casinos, dance clubs and bars for for the night owls.
If you can't find it in Puerto Rico, you probably haven't left your hotel room! I mean, you can even visit the only rainforest of the U.S. National Parks. This is your chance to see some unique species of flora and fauna in their beautiful natural habitat. The country gets top ratings from travelers and, to show you how much people love it, SeePuertoRico.com has teamed up with TripAdvisor to bring life to travel reviews. See just how awesome a trip can be with short films inspired by these reviews, like the one below:

If you don't think you can afford a vacation this holiday season, think again, because you can start planning an affordable trip right now. In fact, you can plan a mid-January arrival and get in on the San Sebastián Street Festival. It's four days of culture, music and art. Fun, right? If I were planning a trip, I'd want to stay at the Casa Condada Hotel in the historical San Juan, because it's just one block away from the beach, has a terrace where one can just laze away in a hammock and is convenient to nightlife and restaurants. Under $100 per night for a plush room in a boutique hotel with less than 25 rooms is almost impossible to find nowadays. Here are some of the things I would have on my itinerary:
  • Rum tasting! What happened to all the rum? If it's good, I probably drank it. You won't fined better premium rums that in PR.
  • Snorkeling! My husband, Eric, loves the water. Though I have had mixed emotions about getting in the deep end, I'm willing to give it another shot because he likes it and to get a glimpse of some of their local marine life, including an abundant sea turtle population.
  • Agrotourism! Have you ever heard of this? Me either, but I want to go to a plantation and taste coffee and learning about eco-conscious and fair trade growing processes.
  • Ziplining! I'm definitely not afraid of heights and soaring through the canopy and over the Tanama River sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon.
  • Boat tour! I'm really into seeing those bioluminescent bays, and taking a nighttime tour sounds like the perfect way to see them. I'm especially interested in seeing them from the comfort of a dry boat.
  • Food, food, food! Yup, you know how much I adore trying new foods when I go on vacation. With local delicacies like mofongo, asopao and lechón, my taste buds are going to be working overtime.
All these things and more can make you turn any budget adventure into a 5-star experience! So, what are you waiting for? Are you adding Puerto Rico to your travel list? Live your own 5-star vacation story in Puerto Rico.

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