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Friday, January 24, 2014

How your connection city can impact your trip and the 5 things you need to know.



This is the season when many of you are heading south for a much needed respite from the cold. Unless you travel a lot,  you probably don't think twice about the city you are connecting through to your final destination.

I recently took a trip to Jamaica and flew back to Boston with a layover in Miami.

I arrived into Miami airport on a Monday night. Now mind you 
it was not on a holiday, but January is high season for south Florida.

Upon arrival, it was apparent that the wait for immigration was quite long. 
Luckily, I had applied for and received my Global Entry card, https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes, in the fall and was able to bypass those lines. It took all of about five minutes to get through immigration.

The big surprise came at baggage claim. It was so crowded that there wasn't a clear access path to get to the other side where I needed to be. Like an ambulance chaser trying to get through traffic, I got behind a woman pushing a wheelchair in order  to get over to the line for Global Entry passengers to go through customs.

I made a quick exit after that and within twenty minutes I was grateful to be sitting on my balcony at the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables. If I had a connecting flight without my Global Entry access, I'm not sure I would have made the connection.

This leads to the question: Where should you connect through when making flight reservations?

Here are some things to consider.

1. Cost. One airline may be significantly more expensive than the other. You have to consider the upside and downside of connecting through busier hubs like Miami or JFK. If American Airlines is having a sale it may be to your benefit to connect through Miami if you are looking to stay on budget rather than purchasing a higher priced ticket to go connect through a smaller hub.

2. Availability.  If you are booking your flights during a busy holiday period or close to departure you may have to be flexible since seat availability may be limited. Your choice of connecting point may be out of the question. 

3. Airline Preference and  Frequent Flier Program. I have my biggest stash of points with one carrier so I try to use that carrier as much as possible. This may be a consideration for you as well. If you have a lot of Delta points, but don't like the thought of taking the tram to
connect in their hub city of Atlanta, you may want to rethink who you might accumulate your points with.

4. Traveling with kids or an elderly person. This is a situation where you definitely need to give yourself some leeway. When checking flight availability, look for flights that have extra connecting time. 

5. Mobility. If you or someone you are traveling with has mobility issues, by all means call the airline in advance and request a wheelchair. When you arrive at the airport notify airline staff that you have made this request. There is a special line at customs and immigration designated for those passengers needing wheelchair assistance. Keep in mind that riding in a wheelchair is a great relief if your knees aren't up to standing for long periods of time or if you have had a recent surgery and are just beginning to regain your mobility.

Sometimes an airport can be very busy at certain times of the year or when a particular event is happening in that city. There are also certain times of day that are busier than others.
For example, U.S. airports on the east coast generally receive international arrivals in the afternoon. Knowing when an airport will be filled with fellow travelers can help you prepare for your trip. 

What have been your experiences when connecting through airports?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

To Check Bags or Carry On? How you can avoid the whole checked baggage hassle.


Are you really tired of feeling anchored down by your stuff when you travel? As if the laptop bag stuffed into the extra large pocketbook, stuffed into the tote bag weren’t enough, there is the large
black suitcase, that you had to sit on to close, that may or may not make it to the baggage carousel at your final destination.

Unless I’m bringing school supplies to the Caribbean, I take a carryon and a pocketbook. Years ago I went to Chicago for the weekend and the airline lost my luggage. Since I worked for a different airline at the time, I spent a good part of the weekend tracking down my bag. Not exactly the fun time I had envisioned. After that it was carry on only.

Since then, the three ounce liquid rule has come into play and this is one of the main reasons why people end up checking a bag. The other reason is the indecision that kicks in when deciding what to pack. In end way too many clothes/shoes make a trip and never get worn.

Here are some 7 tips to make you think twice about checking a bag:

1. Save on checked bag fees. Most airlines are remaining profitable because of ancillary fees. If a family of four checks bags at $25.00 each, it adds up.

2. You can always buy suntan lotion/shampoo etc at your destination. Either toss it when you leave or if that seems too wasteful, bring empty three ounce bottles with you and decant what’s left in the full size bottle. 

3. If your flight cancels and you have a checked bag on that airplane, that bag has to travel with you on your new flight. That means you have to wait for the bag to be offloaded. If you only have carryon the agent can rebook you so that you get on another flight and you get to your destination sooner.

4. If you want to shop on vacation, bring a collapsable duffel bag that you can check on the return trip or better yet Fedex it home.

5. Some airports have free luggage trolleys at baggage claim, some charge a fee and then there is the airport where you have to do a missing trolley search outside on the sidewalk. At midnight. When it’s snowing. 

6. The wait at the baggage carousel...as it chugs around....hoping that yours didn’t get lost. If you are arriving at an international destination you will be arriving at your hotel later than those people who breezed through customs with carry on.

7. Save yourself the sore muscles from lugging all the stuff from the house to the car to checkin and back.

Make a list of what is absolutely essential for your trip. With some planning everything that you need for your trip should fit into your carryon.

Do you check bags or bring carryon? I’d love to hear your packing tips!





Monday, April 1, 2013

10 Tips for a Beautiful Destination Wedding


If you are thinking about traveling to an exotic destination to get married, be aware of what you may encounter in a faraway location. Here are ten things to consider before you are enticed by the beautiful setting and the tropical breezes.

1. Some loved ones won’t come. You may have a long list of guests that are near and dear to you, however when it comes to shelling out $3000 to $4000 for their trip, even the best of friends may have to decline. To increase the chances of loved ones attending, consider choosing a month when folks would have elected to take their vacation anyway, such as January or February.

2. Has your travel agent ever coordinated a destination wedding? Under no circumstances should you work with a travel professional who has not been to the destination that you have in mind. Ask to see their photos from their last trip and inquire about their relationship with the wedding staff.

3. Will your wedding dress safely make the trip? That dress with the super long train from a bridal magazine that you have had your eye on may not be the most practical for a destination wedding. Remember that you have to get it there. This means that if your aircraft does not have a closet, you will have to put it in the overhead bin.

4. Do you envision the small details of your wedding reception to be exactly like what you would get if you had your reception locally? Perhaps you love your local bakery because they make your favorite red velvet cake. Or perhaps you have your heart set on a bouquet of calla lilies dyed your favorite shade of aquamarine. These small details may not be available at your destination.

5. Will the resort accommodate everyone on your guest list? For example, if an elderly relative is attending, is the resort easy to get around without a lot of stairs? Or, is it a couples resort and if so, where will the guests stay that are bringing children?

6. You won’t be able to taste the food prior to arriving on site. At a local venue at home you will most likely attend a tasting to determine your reception menu. At a destination wedding, you have to rely on someone who has been to the resort.

7. Your favorite photographer probably will not be making the trip with you. Ask to see examples of wedding photographs so you won’t be disappointed.

8. Ditto for hair and makeup. Don’t wait until you get to the resort to find out if you can get the hairstyle that you envisioned.

9. Do you want to spend your honeymoon with all your guests? If not, you may want to consider going to a different resort the day after the wedding.

10. Does the resort have private areas for the ceremony or will you be getting married alongside lounge chairs filled with sun worshippers? Ask to see the various locations on the resort and the times of day when you can tie the knot. If you have your heart set on sunset wedding you may have to reserve this time slot in advance.

There are other issues that can make the easy, beautiful and romantic destination wedding your worst nightmare. The success of all great weddings, whether simple or elaborate, boils down to coordination. The first step is to pick a destination wedding specialist and onsite wedding team to make sure that your special day will be customized to your liking.

Here are four simple tips to minimize problems:

1. Once you have booked your destination, get every detail of the wedding in writing so that there are no surprises or miscommunications. Make sure that your requests are itemized and priced accordingly.

2. Give your guests as much notice as possible since there is travel involved. By sending out your invitations immediately after you have booked the wedding, they will have access to the best air and hotel rates.

3. Make sure that you have your birth certificates and/or divorce decrees on hand. You will need to provide these wedding documents to the wedding coordinator so that your marriage license can be processed.

4. Ask about any extras that the resort can provide based on the size of your group. You may be able to score a room upgrade or a free room depending on the number of guests booked at the resort.

With the help of a knowledgeable wedding specialist, getting hitched in paradise can go off without a hitch.