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Traveling can be a stressful experience at any time of the year, but holiday travel can truly test even the most patient person’s limits. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little extra money to ensure less stressful travels during this busy holiday season. Here are the top eight Holiday Travel Splurges worth the price.
1. Checked baggage
We typically suggest packing light enough to use a carryon. This time of year, though, that can be tough. Paying $25 is well worth not having to haul your luggage through a crowded airport this time of year. Recently, airlines have been getting checked baggage to baggage claim more quickly, too.
2. Extra legroom in Coach
Most airlines offer a few coach seats with “extra legroom”. While they say legroom, most passengers notice the difference in shoulder and level. Typical coach seats are cramped and barely provide enough space to use a laptop, tablet or e-reader comfortably. The 3-4 extra inches provided in extra legroom seats can help make holiday travel a lot more enjoyable. The price for this upgrade can be minimal for a short flight to around $100 on a long-haul domestic flight and up to $200 on an intercontinental flight.
Air travel doesn’t always have to be uncomfortable. First, business and premium economy class are the best ways to travel in comfort. With seats costing anywhere from three to 20 times the cost of a coach ticket, this isn’t always an option, especially for families traveling during the holidays. When you do see an upgrade available for a reasonable amount though, it is well worth it. Factor in the free baggage, meals and beverage service included in the premium class tickets when making this decision.
Airlines sometime advertise sale prices in advance, some ask if you’d like to purchase an upgrade when you buy your ticket and some allow you to upgrade last minute at the departure counter. Research all options before making your decision to ensure you get the best deal possible.
4. Seat assignment/Early boarding
Most low-fare airlines now charge a fee for advance seat selection. The fee can be as little as $5, but sometimes as much as $30. Paying to select seats ahead of time might be worth the peace of mind of knowing you’ll be seated next to your loved one, or that you won’t get stuck with a middle seat.
On Southwest Airlines, you don’t have an option to choose seats ahead of time at all. The best option here it to check in early (24 hours in advance) to get into an early boarding group. You can pay an extra fee for early bird check in when purchasing your ticket to secure your spot in the early boarding group, even if you forget to check in 24 hours before departure.
5. First class Railpass in Europe or Japan
Second class rail in Europe is definitely better than economy class air anywhere, but first class has wider seats and even more legroom. First class can cost 30-50% more than second class but if you have the Railpass you’ll typically be spending a lot of time on the train, so it may be worth it. For senior travelers age 60+, the French senior railpass offers 4 days of first class travel during a 30 day period. At $265, it is only $21 more than the senior second class pass. The senior BritRail costs 25% more than second class.
In Japan, because standard seats are very small, most North Americans chose to travel in the more spacious “Green cars”–even if you’re on a strict budget. Prices for a seven-day nationwide Japan Rail pass is $316 in Green Cars and $237 in standard class. A seven day pass costs only $5 more than a regular round-trip between Tokyo and Osaka so it’s a great deal for holiday travelers looking to go from Tokyo to the Osaka-Kyoto area and an even better deal for those traveling to further away Hiroshima.
6. Cruise Balcony Cabin
Splurging on a balcony cabin in areas such as Alaska and parts of Europe is well worth it to see the breathtaking views of the passing landscape. If you’ll mostly be looking at the open ocean onboard though, stick to the cheapest standard cabin and splurge on shore-excursions instead. Balcony cabins typically cost about $200 more than in inside cabin, but can be much more expensive. Check if your cruise offers any balcony cabins as last-minute upgrades, as well. Balcony cabins are typically standard on European river cruises.
7. Superior Hotel Room
If you’re simply using a hotel room to sleep, skip the upgrade, which offers some combination of more space, a better view, or both. If you see yourself spending a decent amount of time in the room, though, an upgrade is worth considering. In some hotels, a suite often includes basic cooking and refrigeration options, allowing you to prepare some meals and snacks. In other hotels, a suite includes two rooms–one for sleeping, the other for daytime use–perfect for longer stays.
8. Private Sightseeing Guide
Avoid one-size-fits-all guided holiday travel tours–that often include a guide repeating the same bout of information in multiple languages and overly-touristy tourists–by hiring your own guide. This allows for a more personalized, interesting experience. Book a private tour guide through travel agencies, online postings, recommendations, blogs or universities.
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Ed Perkins, SmarterTravel.com | December 24, 2015