7 ways to save serious cash on holiday travel

Want to fly home (or far away) for the holidays? According to AAA, the average price of an airline ticket to fly home around the holidays is close to $500 per person. Checked bags — or even boxes of presents — can set you back $60 or more per trip if you aren’t careful. And if you need to book a hotel room to stay near your family, you’re easily looking at an additional $100 per night, if not more, depending on location.
Quick math says a family of four is in for a few grand in travel costs before they can say, “Ho, Ho — no way that’s too expensive, we’re staying home!”
Fortunately, we have more than a few strategies for saving money every step of the way, whether you want to find affordable flights or save money on bag fees and airport food.
Know how to look for cheap airfare
Despite headlines that suggest otherwise, you can find affordable flights out there, even for holiday travel dates — but you have to know where to look or you won’t find them.
TPG has a complete guide to finding cheap airfare, so I won’t repeat all the tips, but I’ll remind you of my favorite tool: Google Flights, which has a search option that doesn’t require you to put in your destination. This tool is good as gold if your holiday travel plans are still up in the air.
You can put your city as the origin, your preferred travel dates and then just leave the destination blank and see the prices it finds to points near and far.

Or, if you already know exactly where you need to go to trim the tree and break the bread, plug in your origin and destination, and use Google Flights to quickly scan for the cheapest travel date. During the holidays, having even one or two days of flexibility can swing the price over $100 in either direction.
Go where others aren’t
If you live in New York City, flying to sunny Cancun or Aruba during Thanksgiving may be appealing, but it could cost you more than $600 per person. Keep those swimsuits packed away in the drawer, however, and you could save about $150 each if you cross the ocean to London, Amsterdam and Milan instead. And there are plenty of great reasons to visit London — and the rest of Europe — during the holidays beyond cheaper airfare. (Think: Christmas markets and thin crowds.)
Tropical getaways can cost a fortune during the holidays, but from Houston, approximately $200 per person during Thanksgiving week gets you round-trip flights to Las Vegas, which is a great starting point for exploring great outdoors destinations such as the Valley of Fire, Death Valley, Zion and the Grand Canyon if Vegas itself isn’t your thing. They’re all a reasonable drive from Las Vegas, and you don’t have to worry about stifling desert heat during November and December.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. (Photo by Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images)
And travelers based in Los Angeles can spend around $300 round-trip to really skip town and go to Beijing or Shanghai, while approximately $400 on airfare can be the key to spending your holiday hunting for the northern lights in Alaska.
No matter where you’re based, good deals can be found by heading to offseason locales and setting your sights somewhere far from the crowds. Instead of a beachy retreat in the Caribbean or Mexico, or a classic holiday ski week — especially during the December holidays and the New Year — consider a European city break or a national park.
Related: Best places to travel in November
Don’t rule out first class
Here’s the weird thing about the holiday travel season: Leisure travel picks up, but business travel grinds to a halt. Business travelers are usually the ones snapping up first class seats on someone else’s dime or with their frequent flyer perks. So, around the holidays, it’s not that unusual to find first class seats that don’t cost much more than economy would if you pay with cash — and with miles, those first class fares may be cheaper than economy. This was true on the search I ran on flights from Houston (IAH) to Los Angeles (LAX) the day before Thanksgiving.
That nonstop flight is available for 30,000 American Airlines miles in economy, but the exact same flight in first class is just 25,000 American Airlines miles.

And on Nov. 26, American’s economy seats from New York-JFK to Miami International (MIA) aren’t available using partner miles, such as British Airways Avios. But you can fly that same route in domestic first class/business class for just 16,500 Avios, plus $5.60 in taxes and fees.
Related: How to fly American’s best business class seats domestically

Be a points pro
I know, your favorite airline frequent flyer program or using points at a fixed cash value is your warm and comfy spot. But this is the holiday season, when otherwise sane people line-up at Walmart at midnight to save a few bucks on a gadget or gizmo. This is when we cut down live trees, cover them in tiny lights and fake snow, and watch them die slowly over the course of a month in our living rooms.
Mostly, however, it’s the time to up your points game if you want to save a lot of money on holiday travel.
Learn about transferring those Chase, Capital One, Citi and Amex points to partners as it can be the difference between saving all your holiday dreams or emptying out your wallet. Want to fly to snowy Aspen before New Year’s Eve? That’ll cost you 10,000 Avianca LifeMiles from Houston — or more than $300 per person in each direction if you prefer cash. So transfer your miles to Avianca from Capital One, Amex or Citi and book that United flight without blowing your budget.

If you just can’t shake the idea of ditching your turkey and cranberry sauce for sunny Aruba, JetBlue might be your answer, as you can book a one-way flight on the Monday of Thanksgiving week from New York-JFK to Aruba (AUA) for 9,100 points and just $15. If you don’t have JetBlue points right now, that’s not a problem. You can transfer them from Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to fill your up TrueBlue account.
Eagle Beach in Aruba. (Photo by Marc Boettinger/Getty Images)
Leave early or stay late
Want to pay 32% more for your holiday flights? Go home on Sunday. If you want to avoid that Sunday surcharge, Hipmunk advises travelers to sneak out early or stay an extra couple of days. Whether you depart on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or fly out last-minute on Thanksgiving morning, your savings will be significant if you leave the Friday following Thanksgiving. Even Saturday departures are significantly less expensive than those turkey-stuffed travelers flying on Sunday. You can also save on the front-end of the trip if you head home for Thanksgiving on Monday or Tuesday instead of waiting for Wednesday.
While we’re talking about travel dates, yes, Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas and the New Year are very busy and often pricey. But those first couple weeks in December are slower than normal and there are outstanding deals to be had if you’re OK taking your holiday trip sandwiched between the most popular travel times. There are other timeless travel tips that still hold true, too. Among them? It’s almost always cheaper to fly on the holiday itself.
Last year, Expedia reported, travelers saved roughly $100 by flying on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve versus travelers who began their trip the Saturday before.
Photo by Mikhail Starodubov/Shutterstock
Ship it or pack it?
It can cost $30 to $50 for a standard checked bag on a domestic flight. Ideally, you have a way around those fees thanks to elite status or with the right credit card in your wallet, but if you don’t, that adds up. If your bag is overweight or oversized, it adds up even faster.
For example, a 50-pound bag would cost at least $90 to check with Spirit Airlines, as it’s overweight by a good 10 pounds. However, in the case of our test flight from Houston to New York, you could ship it via a UPS extra-large simple ship box (up to 50 pounds) for about $24. If you don’t want to shop around yourself, you can use the site LugLess to price out and purchase shipping for your stuff with services ranging from DIY dropoff to doorstep pick-up and delivery.
Shipping won’t aways be cheaper, but it can be. Even if shipping isn’t cheaper, it will usually be easier than lugging extra stuff and waiting around at baggage claim. Just be sure to allow some buffer delivery time around the holidays.
Fill up for free
It’s a known fact of life that airport food is expensive. Sure, you can pack your own snacks and sandwiches from home (and huge high fives if you do), but you may have enough going on around the holidays without slicing grapes and melons before heading to the airport. If you get to the airport hungry or thirsty, remember there are 28 restaurants across 21 U.S. airports where a Priority Pass lounge membership that comes with select credit cards may buy you and your friend(s) or family a free meal.
Whether you’re starting your journey or connecting at an airport such as Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Boston (BOS), Miami (MIA) or St. Louis (STL), pack a Priority Pass membership that didn’t come with an Amex card, and get around $28 per person worth of free food — usually at least one or two guests is allowed a $28 food allowance, too.
Eat at Landry’s in Houston’s Terminal C for free (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
If you do have The Platinum Card® from American Express, swipe your way into one of the Amex Centurion Lounges across the country in airports such as New York-LGA, Philadelphia (PHL) Miami (MIA), Las Vegas (LAS) or Houston (IAH) and visit the buffet or bar with up to two guests at no extra charge.
Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access
Bottom line
The holidays are a dichotomy of extremes — it can be a magical time to travel, relax and spend time with family, but it can also be stressful, harried and expensive. Our goal is to help you minimize the stress and expense that can come with holiday travel. Since the holidays fall around the time of year that winter weather picks up, be sure and book the trip with a card that conveys trip insurance (or buy your own) in case you hit delays or cancellations. You’ll also want to ensure that your PreCheck, Global Entry and/or CLEAR memberships are up to date so you can get through airport security faster.
Cheaper holiday travel is a very real thing, as long as you are strategic with when you fly, where you travel and what type of rewards you use to help you get there.
Featured image by Bernd Ducke/Courtesy Munich Airport

The monthly cost of public transit in 24 worldwide destinations

Around the world, billions of people use public transportation to commute between their workplaces, schools and homes each day. Some do so for convenience, while others do so for environmental reasons. Still others use public trains and buses because they would have no other feasible way of reaching their destinations otherwise.
Whatever the need, public transportation often forms the central network that laces a city together. But at what cost?
TPG set out to answer the question by compiling subway fares from 11 major U.S. cities, for both single-use and monthly tickets. And the team at Globehunters scoured data from dozens of countries and cities, using crowd-sourced data gleaned from Numbeo, to find the world’s cheapest and most expensive commutes by monthly average cost.  
So, where will you find the least and most expensive public transportation costs? Here’s what we found.
The 5 most expensive cities for public transportation
London (Photo by Getty Images.)
The five cities on this list are some of the world’s most desirable places to live, and that envy factor comes at a price. Based on the Globehunters report, London currently holds the world record for the priciest monthly commute at an average of over $6 a day — 25% more expensive than Sydney, Australia, the second-ranked city on this list. In comparison, the monthly commute in Toronto, Canada — fifth on this list —only costs 60% of what a Londoner is used to paying.
With London salaries averaging $51,200 per year, according to Investopedia via Guardian Jobs UK, the estimated annual transportation bill of $2,232 seemingly makes up just 4.3% of the daily commuter’s income. But the price spikes during rush hour: Investopedia said the average working Londoner pays up to $9,000 per year for peak-hour train passes.

City
Average monthly commuting cost

London, U.K.
$186

Sydney, Australia
$151.45

Dublin, Ireland
$143.32

New York City
$119.88

Toronto, Canada
$111.59

The 5 cheapest cities for public transport
Mumbai (Photo by Getty Images).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, both India and Vietnam have two out of the five cheapest cities worldwide for monthly commuting costs, with Indonesia’s Jakarta claiming the No. 5 spot.
The size of each city’s population varies widely. In India, for example, Mumbai has nearly 18.5 million residents, while Jaipur only has 3 million. But each of these cities has something in common: the monthly cost of traveling within city limits averages somewhere between $4 and $8 — roughly the price of a Happy Meal or Big Mac combo in the U.S.
Mumbai may be India’s financial capital and home to the richest family in Asia, whose skyscraper home cost $1 billion to build. But the average per capita income is just $921.91, and transportation costs consume nearly 6% of that. And for the 1.2 million inhabitants of Mumbai who earn less than 28 cents per day, or right around $100 per year, public transit costs more than 50% of their annual income.

City
Average monthly commuting cost

Mumbai, India
$4.34

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
$6.40

Jaipur, India
$7.24

Hanoi, Vietnam
$8.54

Jakarta, Indonesia
$11.59

The 5 most expensive countries for public transport
Ireland (Photo by Getty Images.)
In Ireland, the average person pays $120 per month for the privilege of commuting on public transportation. That’s 31% pricier than Japan, despite the Asian nation’s efficient but expensive system of Shinkansen bullet trains. Still, the annual cost of $1,445.76 averages out to around 5.7% of the average Irish person’s annual income — about $25,310 per person.
Australia and New Zealand also appeared on the list, with average monthly commuting costs exceeding $100. Japan and Iceland also took spots in the top five (if you’re wondering, Iceland does in fact have a public bus and ferry network).

Country
Average monthly commuting cost

Ireland
$120.48

Australia
$104.52

New Zealand
$100.07

Iceland
$96.83

Japan
$91.75

The 5 cheapest countries for public transport
Pakistan (Photo by Getty Images.)
While Vietnam managed to land itself on this list, too, you won’t find India in the top five cheapest countries worldwide. Instead, the top slot goes to Pakistan, the South Asian nation of nearly 200 million people.
Reflecting the average annual income that hovers around $420 per person, a typical commute in Pakistan costs just $5.17 per month. To put that in perspective, it’s just 4.3% of what the average person in Ireland pays for commuting each month. But at $62.04 per year, the average cost of Pakistan’s public transportation still eats up nearly 15% of that $420 annual income.
Sri Lanka, Moldova and Nepal also appear on the index of most affordable countries for public transportation.

Country
Average monthly commuting cost

Pakistan
$5.17

Sri Lanka
$5.63

Vietnam
$7.03

Moldova
$7.82

Nepal
$8.12

Interested in seeing the full list of countries and cities ranked by commute cost? Trot over to Globehunters for the full ranking, including the cost of monthly transport passes.
Data geeks will appreciate Numbeo’s full cost-of-living breakdown, which is sourced from local users and offers hundreds of search options for each category. To find the transportation costs referenced here, click on “Cost of Living” — the first tab under the logo on the left — to select prices by city or country. Then scroll through the list until you reach the “Transportation” categories.

Public transportation fares for U.S. cities
Wondering about costs a little closer to home? So did we. In keeping with the way Globehunters organized its global transit statistics, TPG pulled numbers for monthly passes in the nation’s five most populated cities.
Here’s what it costs to commute by bus or train in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. As you’ll see from the data, public transport consistently costs between 3 and 4% of the average per capita income.

Single pass
Monthly or 30-day pass
Average annual income per person
(2017 data)
Percentage of income average

Houston METRORail
$1.25
$3 max per day: $84 to $93
$32,441
3%

Los Angeles Metro Rail
$1.75
$100
$32,413
3.7%

Philadelphia SEPTA
$2.50
$96
$37,235
3%

Chicago Transit Authority
$2.50 ($2.25 per bus ride)
$105
$36,010
3.5%

New York City MTA
$2.75
$127
$37,156
4%

Regardless of where you live or visit, you’ll want to maximize your points earnings on public transportation spend, whether you’re paying $5.17 a month in Pakistan, $1.25 per trip in Houston or $120.48 a month in Ireland.
Some of TPG’s top picks for commuter costs include our perennial favorites for travel rewards: the Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar, or its little sibling, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which earns 2x points per dollar. This is because Chase defines travel in pretty broad terms, so you earn bonus points for most types of transportation expenses, from airfare to Uber and public trains and buses.
Not a Chase user? Other serious contenders for best credit card for public transportation include the Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express®, and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.
Featured photo by Getty Images. 

Travelers may have been exposed to measles at Disneyland — Here’s how to keep your family safe

On Oct. 16, a person with measles traveled to Disneyland while infectious, according to the Los Angeles Times. Anyone who was at Disneyland between 9:15 a.m. and 8:35 p.m. may have been exposed, and could develop measles within 21 days of exposure.
This is just the latest report of travelers being exposed to measles. By Oct. 3, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had recorded 1,250 individual cases of measles across 31 states this year — the highest number in the nation since 1992.
In May, a cruise ship in St. Lucia was quarantined after a case of measles was confirmed on board, and there have been multiple measles reports at major U.S. airports including Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (MDW) and Newark Liberty (EWR).
Outside of the U.S., measles has remained a common disease in some areas of the world. The CDC indicates that 10 million people around the world get measles annually, and about 110,000 of them die from the disease.
Given the increase in measles outbreaks, it’s important for travelers, and especially families, to know how to stay safe during a measles outbreak.
What you need to know about the measles
Measles is an airborne disease, spread from coughing and sneezing, and can linger up to two hours. Symptoms — which according to the CDC often manifest with seven to 14 days from exposure — typically include a high fever, cough, runny nose and red and watery eyes. The signature measles rash usually manifests itself three to five days after these symptoms surface. Those who have measles can spread the infection during a roughly eight-day window — four days before the rash appears, and another four days after.
(Photo by Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock)
Dr. Nava Yeganeh, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, pointed out that measles is more infectious than Ebola. “It has a really high degree of infectivity. ​One person​ with measles might infect ​up to 18 ​others, whereas ​one person with Ebola usually infects two to three individuals.”
She adds that families are “wise to be cautious” because the effects of the disease are much more scary for children.
“Measles is often much more devastating in younger children,” said Dr. Yeganeh. “Children with measles suffer more of the complications, ​such as pneumonia and encephalitis. If you get measles when you’re under the age of 1, there’s a 1-in-600 chance you might develop a fatal ​chronic brain inflammation disorder ​called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).”
Fortunately, said Dr. Jon Sutter of Nuheights Pediatrics in Clifton, New Jersey, the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is an effective way of avoiding the disease altogether and he strongly advises following established recommended schedules for vaccination. Two shots of the MMR vaccine are 97% effective against measles, and children who have those two doses enjoy lifetime protection against the disease.
Should babies who travel get the measles shot early?
If international travel is on the docket, the CDC recommends that infants 6 to 11 months of age should have one dose of measles vaccine (usually, children in the U.S. receive this first dose between 12 and 15 months of age).
Also, the CDC recommends that any infant vaccinated before 12 months of age should also be revaccinated on or after the first birthday with two doses, separated by at least 28 days. Dr. Yeganeh added that travel should wait until after the antibodies have had a chance to form, which typically takes two to three weeks.
Should preschoolers get the measles booster early?
Typically, children in the U.S. get the booster MMR shot between 4 and 6 years of age, but an accelerated schedule after the first birthday of two doses separated by at least 28 days is recommended by the CDC if you’re planning travel abroad, especially to countries on the CDC watchlist.
(Photo by NadyaEugene / Shutterstock)
The doctor’s prescription
Here’s the first piece of advice when trying to decide how to handle the measles vaccine for your family: Don’t panic.
Dr. Louis Morledge, a New York City-based internist with a specialty in travel medicine, advises families to first review their itinerary. “If they are going to areas that the CDC has labeled on the watchlist, then I would exhibit a lot of caution with regards to traveling with young children who are pre-vaccination age.”
(Image by Westend61 / Getty Images)
Morledge pointed out that families need not avoid travel altogether — or overreact to headlines.
“Yes, there are more cases in the U.S. since the year 2000, and the number will probably only increase,” Morledge said. “But at the same time, this is a very small percentage of people that are affected and, for the most part, they’ve been in select communities where there are a lot of non-vaccinators.”
Morledge does not see a reason to accelerate vaccination schedules if families are not traveling to areas with outbreaks as announced by the CDC.
He does add that, because the situation on the ground changes so often, families should consult their state health departments before proceeding.
Parents who are traveling with their kids should also check on their vaccinations, Morledge advised. “If an adult doesn’t know [his or her] vaccination status and they’re traveling with young children, they should find out about their immunity status with a blood test that gives this information.” Lost immunity would signal that the adult should get vaccinated, too.
Finally, said Yeganeh, don’t forget the importance of basic hygiene, including washing hands and exercising caution, especially in public places.
Bottom line
Yes, the U.S. is grappling with a measles outbreak at a level that outpaces recent years. The exact recommendations for families when it comes to accelerated measles vaccination schedules differs a bit depending on who you consult, but the doctors agree that a little common sense and following CDC- and doctor-prescribed strategies are key.
In the end, you need to determine what is right for your family. That may mean vaccinating early, avoiding certain countries or locations with current measles outbreaks until children are fully vaccinated, or doing nothing differently at all. You (and perhaps your physicians) need to make the decision you’re most comfortable with to keep your family as healthy as possible for the long haul.
Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman.
Featured image by Hero Images/Getty Images

7 VIP experiences you didn’t know your Mastercard could unlock

We talk a lot here at TPG about credit card benefits. From lounge access to Uber and Lyft credit to Saks Fifth Avenue credit and even a monthly piece of cheesecake, we’re all about maximizing the value you get from your wallet. While some benefits are well documented in articles, one of my favorite credit card perks actually doesn’t get enough love: Mastercard Priceless Cities.
Mastercard Priceless Cities is a wonderful under-the-radar program that offers unique programs, deals and gifts all over the globe. I especially like Priceless because it isn’t bank-specific or card-specific; any Mastercard will do, even one with no annual fee or a debit card.
For example, any of these Mastercards unlock the benefits of the Mastercard Priceless Cities program: IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® , Citi® Double Cash Card or the Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard credit card.
The information for the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
I’ve used Mastercard Priceless Cities numerous times and want to share some of my favorite offerings with you.
Related: Best Mastercard credit cards of 2019
Dine with an art historian in Rome
This experience, which I just purchased, is the inspiration for my post: a private dinner at an art historian’s home in the Eternal City. For just $73/person, we get an invitation to Massimiliano del Moro’s apartment, where we will dine on a meal based on traditional Roman recipes while he relates the stories behind the dishes.
Dine with an art historian in Rome. (Image courtesy of Mastercard Priceless.)
Here are other suggestions for savvy traveling when in Rome.
You book tours and experiences directly at the Mastercard Priceless Cities website.
Booking an experience through the Mastercard Priceless Cities is easy on the website.
Make doughnuts with the Doughnut King in New York
If you’ve got a tween in the family, book this experience for your next trip to the Big Apple: a private meet-and-greet with celebrated young-adult author Jessie Janowitz. If you’re not familiar, Janowitz is the award-winning author of “The Doughnut Fix” and “The Doughnut King.” That’s pretty cool, but Mastercard Priceless Cities takes it up a notch.
Not only do you get to hang out with the author, but you also get to make doughnuts during a private lesson at Dough, then take home your custom-stuffed doughnut holes. At $150/person, this could be the perfect gift for the young bookworm in your life.
Meet a famous YA author and make some doughnuts. (Image courtesy of Mastercard Priceless Cities.)
Privately shop till you drop in Toronto
Here’s a fun experience that doesn’t cost a dime: an after-hours shopping date at the trendy Toronto boutique Crywolf. You may dream of being a kid in a candy shop, but I’d rather be a kid in a funky boutique. Crywolf’s selection of quirky T-shirts and fashion accessories will appeal to teens and college kids. You’ll get a 10–20% discount on anything you purchase.
Looking for something more upscale? Check out the complimentary private shopping session at Toronto style spot Georges Rech. All you need for both of these shopping experiences is a reservation. There is no fee.
Shop for cool clothes. (Image courtesy of Mastercard Priceless Cities.)
Learn about London by drinking gin
Walking tours are all well and good, but how about The Great London Gin Walk through the streets of London? This $45 tour (for Mastercard cardholders) is a bargain considering the two-hour tour features specialists who discuss the origins of gin and the opportunity to sample at three beverage stops along the way.
See the great Monarch butterfly migration with a biologist
Seeing the Monarch butterfly migration has been on my wish list since watching an IMAX movie about it years ago. Every year, millions of Monarch butterflies gather at a specific spot in Mexico, and then head for points north in a mass exodus. This tour gets you deep into the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, with a biologist as your guide. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but you’ll also enjoy a picnic prepared by a top Mexican chef. The Monarch butterfly experience is $204/person. The exclusive access is the Mastercard Priceless Cities advantage.
Be Improv inspiration in Boston
For an entertaining date night or celebration, check out the Improv Asylum experience in Boston. You’ll dine with two cast members, go backstage for drinks and a meet-and-greet, and then get front-row seats to the show. Not only will you get to watch the show, but they’ll also create and perform a sketch about you and make sure you get a copy to share. The cost of $150 for dinner and a show in downtown Boston is a decent deal on its face, but a night out with the cast and a memento you’ll enjoy forever is a no-brainer, if you’re a comedy fan.
Dine with some comedians. (Image courtesy of Mastercard Priceless Cities.)
Drive a Formula One car in Singapore
Have a need for speed? How does driving a Ferrari F430 F1 Spider or a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder during a Formula One experience sound? For just under $200/person, you can race along the Singapore F1 circuit for 30 minutes, then celebrate with a glass of Champagne. You might not get the checkered flag, but you can celebrate like a winner. I love this idea for a milestone birthday.
Bottom line
Our credit cards not only give us rewards, they also open doors that otherwise remain locked to most of us. Mastercard Priceless Cities is an easy way to get VIP treatment, and all you have to do is hold a Mastercard.
For more inspiration:

Capital One expands access to exclusive dining experiences
New Chase Sapphire perk: Access to curated tours and experiences
Unique airline aviation experiences bookable with points and miles
How to book VIP activities — like breakfast in the Vatican and a princess makeover — with Chase points

Featured image by Christine Wehrmeier/Getty Images

The best credit cards to use for train travel

All aboard! For the entire month of September at The Points Guy, we’ll be exploring the world of train travel with reviews, features, deals and tips for maximizing your trip by rail.
As the CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, Jim Mathews travels up to 17,000 miles a year. That may not sound like a lot when compared to air travel, but Mathews reminds us that those are surface miles, which adds up to 75 one-way trips between Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The association, based in D.C., represents more than 40 million rail passengers in the U.S. with a mission to improve and expand conventional intercity and regional passenger train services; support higher speed rail initiatives; increase connectivity among all forms of transportation; and ensure safety for the country’s train and passengers.
When it comes time to pay for his travel, he uses two cards: the Wells Fargo Business Platinum Credit Card and the Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard. The Wells Fargo card is used for business travel. It comes with $500 cash back or 50,000 points after spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months of the account opening, with no annual fee. Earn either 1.5% cash back for every dollar spent or 1 point for every dollar spent and receive 1,000 bonus points when your company spend is $1,000 or more in any monthly billing period. (The information for the Wells Fargo Business Platinum card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.)
The Amtrak Guest Rewards card offers 3x points for Amtrak travel, including onboard purchases, and 2x on other travel, including airlines, car rental agencies, hotels, motels, inns, resorts, cruise lines, commuter rail, non-Amtrak passenger rail and travel agencies. You’ll earn 1x on all other purchases.

Mathews’ personal credit card (no surprise) is Amtrak Guest Rewards, because he earns solid points per dollar on rail and air travel purchases — and because the points are tied to what you pay for a fare, the more you spend the more you earn. Other perks include the free companion and upgrade coupons he receives each year the card is renewed, and the 5% Amtrak Guest Rewards point rebate for redemptions made on Amtrak travel. Also, the card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
Like Mathews, Amtrak Guest Rewards card holders earn 1,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward elite status after spending $5,000 in a calendar year on the card — up to 4,000 TQPs a year — a 20% rebate on food and beverage purchases onboard when using the card and a complimentary station lounge pass upon account opening, worth up to $25 in Amtrak travel.
Typically, Mathews redeems his points to cover his wife’s weekly trips between Washington, D.C. and New York. “Otherwise, she would take the bus, despite me being the CEO of the Rail Passengers Association,” he quipped.
Of course, the Amtrak Guest Rewards card isn’t the only game in town when it comes to earning points for train travel. Here are some other great options for travelers exploring the world by rail.
Comparison Overview

Card
Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve
Citi Premier℠ Card

Annual fee
$79
$0 intro for the first year, $95 after
$95
$450
$95

Earning rates
3x points on Amtrak travel, 2x on other travel and 1x on everything else
2x miles on all spending
2x points on travel and dining, 1x on everything else
3x points on travel and dining, 1x on everything else
3x points on travel, 2x at restaurants and on entertainment,  1x on everything else

Sign-up bonus
40,000 points after you spend $2,500 within 90 days of account opening
50,000 miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months from account opening
60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months
50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months

60,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months of account opening

TPG points value*
2.5 cents
1.4 cents
1.25 cents
1.5 cents
1.7 cents

Credits
N/A

N/A
Up to $300 annual travel credit, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100)
N/A

Benefits
1 free station lounge pass per year; annual companion, upgrade coupons; and 5% rebate when booking travel with points
10x for spending at hotels.com/venture; transfer miles to 15 airline partners; up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck
Transfer points to 10 airline/3 hotel partners; travel insurance; and purchase protections
$300 annual travel credit; Transfer points to 10 airline/3 hotel partners; up to $100 credit for Global Entry/TSA PreCheck; travel insurance; and Priority Pass Select membership
Points worth 25% more on airfare when redeemed at ThankYou.com; transfer points to 15 airline partners

*Bonus valuation based on TPG valuations and not provided by issuer
Bottom Line
If you travel regularly on Amtrak like Mathews, having the Amtrak Guest Rewards in your wallet is a smart choice, thanks to the 3x points earned on trains and 2x points on a very generous definition of travel, along with the train-related perks that come with the card. We also really like the 2.5 cents per dollar spent you earn on the card, based on current TPG valuations. But, in order to get the best value from your points, you need to redeem them on Amtrak travel, although you can also redeem them for hotels, car rentals, cruises, dining, entertainment and gift cards.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Citi Premier are the only cards that match Amtrak Guest Rewards when it comes to higher points for train travel. All four cards, including the Capital One Venture and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, offer higher points for dining. The Premier, Reserve and Preferred all offer higher points for dining. And all four cards allow you to transfer points to airline partners; the Reserve and Preferred also allow transfers to three hotel partners.
Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy

Things You Should Do Before, During and After Flying to Stay Healthy

Not many travelers are aware of the affect that flying long-haul can have on your body. In fact, many seem to think is that flying is associated just with feelings of jet lag at your destination. But, you don’t need to become a health expert to hack flying. There are a few simple steps you can take to support your health when traveling to make you feel fresher, less bloated and have more energy when you land.
TPG has outlined the things you can do before, during and after flying to get back on track with feeling fresh and healthy again.
Preflight
Prepare your snacks 
It’s no secret that airplane food can be a bit ‘touch and go’ when it comes to nutrition. There are rarely healthy options, and even the BA M & S buy on board menu items are high in sugar, and the shortcake comes in as one of the healthiest options on the menu. If you can, try to bring some healthy snacks with you for your journey. Examples include:

Protein bars, which will help you keep your energy balanced until your destination. They do good for helping to satisfy the sweet tooth as well. Look for a bar containing at least 10g protein per bar and one that is low in sugar (5g per 100g of carbohydrate of which are sugars).
Oatcakes with some slices of meat and cheese prepared and stored in a container. The balance of protein and slow-releasing carbohydrates will help fuel your body for a trip.
Nuts and seeds contain protein and fat but also contain nutrients that can support the immune system during a flight.
Beef jerky is easy to carry, as you can buy it in a health store and is also a super healthy snack to have with you in times of hunger. Make sure you get a brand that does not have any added sugar, honey or maple syrup.

Hydrate
Your flight hydration begins at home. Start your morning with a big glass of water and you should try to get 1-2 liters of water in before you board the plane. Herbal teas count toward this, but regular tea and coffee do not count as water intake. If you can’t manage this, then start slowly in the days before the flight adding in an extra glass of water each day.
Eat a rainbow
Try to get a meal in before your flight that is rich in color, as it will be loaded with antioxidants, which can support your body and immune system during travel. Most people do not eat many fruit and vegetables when they’re on a plane, so having a meal with a high vegetable content before the flight is advised.
(Image courtesy of BANT)
Get in a workout
You’re going to spend a number of hours sedentary in a confined space, so it’s a good idea to get moving before you fly. A yoga class or swimming class is ideal, as those activities stretches the whole body. Don’t have time to workout before you fly? Then try do some light stretching at the boarding gate or in the lounge.
During Flight
Support your immune system
A video recently went viral of Naomi Campbell wet-wiping her first-class seat, remote and “anything you can touch” before she sat down so she could minimize the risk getting sick. If you don’t want to take it to that extreme, it may be a good idea to take vitamin C during the flight, as it can support your immune system and play a role in supporting your body if you drink on the plane.

Skip the meal or eat light
Whilst you may not want to do this, a solid recommendation to arrive feeling your best is to limit the amount of food you eat during the flight. Stay away from the heavy carbohydrate-laden foods and try to get a light meal of protein and salad. Traveling in economy? Try ordering a gluten free meal, which often comes with a fresh fruit plate for desert. Eating light can mean you get to your destination feeling less bloated and increases your chance of arriving free of jet lag.
Hydrate some more
This cannot be stressed enough. It’s so important to drink 2-3 liters in the air, as you are more likely to be dehydrated and therefore suffer with low energy, headaches, dizziness and lethargy. Try to get some water from a member of the cabin crew each time you go for a comfort break. It’s also a good idea to bring a moisturizer with you on the flight, as skin can feel dry during travel.
Move when you can
Right up there with hydration, moving around is just as important when traveling. Lack of movement can increase your risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), which can be life threatening.
Post-Flight
Take Magnesium
Whilst there can be a number of supplements that can be good for air travel, Magnesium is one of the best to help the post-travel yucky feeling. It’s great at supporting the nervous system and calming the body, helps balance electrolytes and can also help relax the bowel for those who feel a bit constipated or bloated. The best type of Magnesium for travelers is Magnesium Glycinate in a pill, but you can also get a Magnesium spray, which is good for cramps and general feeling of stiffness after traveling.
Get some exercise
If your flight arrives at a decent hour, then try and get to the hotel gym and get a workout in. It can wake up your body and stretch your muscles, which haven’t been used for a long time. If you arrive late at night, at least do some stretching before bed. I recommend the downward dog yoga pose to release the tension in the whole body.

Eat a healthy meal
Try not to gorge on sugar and drink a lot of alcohol on the first night away. Your body is still recovering from the flight. Try to get a meal that is rich in protein and vegetables, and go easy on the carbohydrates. This combination will help you sleep and support your flight recovery and minimize jet lag risk.
Consider a sleep tea
There are many herbal teas designed to support the body for sleeping. The ingredients of these usually are camomile, lavender and valerian. Sample a few different brands at your health shop and see which one works the best for you. If it helps you sleep better when adjusting to a new time zone, then be sure to pack it with you.
Featured photo by Melissa Tse/Getty Images.

#AvGeeks of Instagram: Industry Insiders Share Their Best Travel Tips

Airports have always been a place for celebrity sightings, but these days it’s not just Hollywood stars who are getting noticed.
Through Instagram and other social media platforms, airline employees are getting recognized as influencers for their unconventional lifestyles, travels and zeal for aviation.
TPG asked some of these highly visible airline veterans and newcomers about their careers and for their best advice on everything from the best places to eat at the airport to tips for wrinkle-free packing to managing life in the air. Here’s what they had to say.
Love, @comeflywithlove
Occupation: Flight attendant, United Airlines

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This #???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? was a special one for both myself and my company. @???????????????????????? flew the world’s most eco-friendly flight ever, ???????????????????????? ???????????? ???????????? ???????????????????????? and I had the honor of flying on it. The plane flew using sustainable biofuel, used only compostable or recyclable materials in the cabin and used carbon offsets to reduce its impact on the environment. The ???? is such an amazing place and I’m so proud to work for a company that cares so dearly about it. #????????????????????????????????????⁣ ⁣ #EcoSkies #MyUnitedJourney #FlightForThePlanet #comeflywithlove #unitedairlines
A post shared by Love???? (@comeflywithlove) on Jun 6, 2019 at 9:51am PDT

Motto: “Love life and life will love you back.”
Favorite aircraft: “I’ll take anything with wings! But to work, definitely United’s beautiful Dreamliner 787 aircraft.”
Favorite destination: Home (Hawai’i) or Greece
Best airport shopping: London Heathrow’s Queens Terminal 2
Packing tip: Iron clothes before packing, then fold clothing in “an optimal way to make each piece as flat as possible,” says Love. Finally, unpack, hang the clothes, and spray with Downy Wrinkle Releaser. And always carry a travel steamer.
When she’s not flying, “Love” as she is known, depends on technology, including FaceTime, to stay in touch with her daughter. “I literally take her with me as if she’s on my trip — she’s just physically not there.” Starting her 19th year in the sky, she advises parents who have to travel for work to be good communicators. She shares her schedule with her daughter before she departs and writes notes to her daughter when she is away.
Andrea Davis, @dreadavis
Occupation: Flight attendant, Delta Air Lines

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Today is the beginning of a new journey! It takes courage to change. Last year, I took a chance on myself to step out and pursue my hearts desire to go back to being a Flight Attendant. It’s been 15 yrs since I’ve been a crew member. Well… after an 8 month interviewing process, being selected from a group of 200,000+ applicants, 9 weeks of training that included leaving my family and home to live in a hotel with a stranger, emergency drills, multiple tests, lack of rest, swimming, climbing in a rafts, basic medical training, maintaining an A average, fire fighting skills, meeting new people, group projects, learning the about every aircraft in the fleet, all while maintaining a professional image that included red lips, red nails and neat hair bun, my goal has been achieved. I did my best to fly with the best! Today it is official!!! I’m a Delta Flight Attendant???? . These wings were not given, they were truly earned. The journey was not easy at all, but it was 100% worth the process. Oh the places my girls will go!! ???????????? . . They say it’s easier to get into Harvard than to become a Delta Flight Attendant (Google it). I believe them!!???? . To everyone that gave their support at anytime during this process, I truly, truly appreciate you!! . To the Delta, January 2019, B class, it was nice meeting you! May you all have great success in your new career!! . From the depth of my heart….. I thank God!! This journey has pulled out of me more than what I knew He put in me. I grateful that I now get to represent Him and share His love all over the world! . When you do what you love, you never have to work! #Deltaproud #nobodybetterconnectstheworld #flightattendant #deltawidget #worldtravler #globalgoals #passportplum #zacposen #itshappening #bestofthebest #takeflight #secondact #itsalifestyle #keepclimbing #delta #deltaflightattendant
A post shared by Andrea Davis (@dreadavis) on Mar 21, 2019 at 5:50pm PDT

Motto: “Enjoy this thing called life!”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 747. “Though I’ve never had the opportunity to work on or travel on one, I find it exciting to watch them take off and land,” says Davis.
Suitcase essential: “My most important ‘MUST HAVE’ accessory in my suitcase is my sleep eye mask. Due to my fluctuating rest periods, I need to be able to get to sleep deep and fast. My eye mask helps to darken my environment quick.”
Family travel tip: “Pay attention to the time of day when you are traveling and how long the travel will take.”
Packing tips: “If the child is old enough, empower them to carry their essentials in a backpack they can handle. Parents with infants, try switching to a backpack diaper bag to have an even amount of weight distribution and the ability to be hands-free to hold the baby or push a stroller. You don’t need everything on a short flight and be sure to only bring the right things you need for long flights,” says Davis.
Nick Engen, @nonrevnick
Occupation: Flight attendant, United Airlines

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It’s crazy to me how you can just walk into an airport and go anywhere in the world! #united #unitedAirlines #airbusa319 #airbus #a319 #pilotlife #pilot #rampagent #avgeek #aviationgeek #aviationphotography #aviationlover #aviationlovers #instaaviation #instagramaviation #megaplane #megalapse #megashot #megaaviation #staralliance #ramprat #nonrev #nonrevlife #megaplane #megashot #boeing #boeing737 #denverinternationalairport #kden
A post shared by Nick (@nonrevnick) on Aug 27, 2018 at 7:00pm PDT

 
Motto: “Travel while you can.”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Suitcase essential: A hoodie “even in summer, because you never know where you are going to be sent.”
Favorite destination: Hong Kong
From cold winter days on the tarmac to video tours of aircraft cabins complete with glimpses into the galley, visitors to Engen’s Instagram page will get an inside look at what life is like working for an airline. It’s a must-see for any AvGeek. Currently a flight attendant, Engen’s career at United Airlines began working the ramp, with ambitions to become a pilot. His advice to others: “Don’t give up on your dreams and to never let anyone stand in the way of the dreams you have. You can achieve anything you put your mind to!”
Billy Wilson, @flywithbilly48
Occupation: Captain, Southwest Airlines

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My #crew is always trying to mess with me! #Photobomber .Another reason why #ILoveMyJob. – Happy #FlexFriday – #Photobomber #southwestairlines #HavingFunAtWork #Flexin
A post shared by Billy Wilson (@flywithbilly48) on Feb 1, 2019 at 6:00am PST

Motto: “Attitudes are contagious. Make yours worth catching.”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 737
Favorite healthy airport snack: “My go-to is a protein bar. I look for bars with at least 20g of protein, low sugars and low net carbs.”
Favorite way to stay fit during a layover: “I love doing pullups in between flights. I usually do three sets of 12. I also challenge other employees to join me in my pullups.”
Best fitness equipment to travel with: “My swim goggles. They are sometimes hard to find, but I love it when a hotel has a nice-sized swimming pool. I will even skip the gym for some good laps in the pool.”
Wilson has many titles. He served in the Air Force and he’s a father, a triathlete and a pilot for Southwest Airlines. His Instagram account reflects his eclectic life. From pictures with his family to a video doing burpees in his hotel room, Wilson shares his routines in an unpredictable industry. However, Wilson admits to also having a sweet tooth, indulging in chocolate or candy from fellow crew members or passengers.
Joe & Margrit Fahan, @FlyingFahans
Occupations: Joe is a captain with Delta Air Lines; Margrit is a first officer with Delta (and the first female pilot to fly the Airbus A320)

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How cool is this beauty? Truly one of the sexiest machines ever built!
A post shared by Joe & Margrit (@flyingfahans) on Jun 28, 2019 at 7:33pm PDT

Joe’s motto: “If you can’t laugh, it’s time to cry.”
Margrit’s motto: “Life is short. Live for today.”
Favorite aircraft: Airbus A330
Suitcase essentials: “I have a bathing suit which lives in its own pocket. Also, a black long-sleeve sweater so if I’m riding in a passenger seat in uniform, I can be a little more anonymous,” says Joe.
“Most importantly, I carry a note from each of my sons that says, ‘I love you, mommy,’ which they wrote when they were 4 years old. I also have a baby sock that each one wore home from the hospital,” says Margrit.
Tips for handling delays: “Start early in the day. It’s probably the best thing you can do,” says Joe. “When booking a trip, stay away from those 30-minute connections — you are asking for trouble. I’m very happy with two hours between flights, and that’s speaking from experience. Try to eat before the flight, you’ll be much happier. If your flight cancels, get on the airline app or on the phone — long lines are for amateurs,” he adds.
Joe and Margrit Fahan live together and fly together. As married pilots for Delta, the two share the cockpit together as often as possible, with Joe as captain and Margrit as first officer. They both have flown for Delta for more than 30 years. Known as the Flying Fahans, they share a passion for aviation with their family as well: their two sons are also pilots — one commercially, the other in the military. If you log onto their Instagram account, you’ll see their love of trips to Greece and the layover that comes with it. They’ve also created bonds with young and aspiring aviators, fellow crew members and passengers, all highlighted in their social feed.
Scott Shankland, @captscott737
Occupation: Captain, American Airlines

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“Meet me on the ramp.” ???? #pilotcouple #flyingcouple #crewlife #airlinepilot #captain #airlinelife #aastews #ramppics #airlinepics #igpicoftheday #cozumel #cozumelairport #hotpilotwife #blessed #flying
A post shared by Scott Shankland ???????? ???????? (@captscott737) on Aug 2, 2018 at 4:00pm PDT

Motto: “Work like a captain, play like a pirate!”
Favorite aircraft: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 (“the most magnificent large cockpit windows”); Boeing 757
Favorite airport restaurant: Garrett’s Popcorn in Chicago (ORD) and Dallas Fort Worth (DFW)
Suitcase essential: Workout clothing
Best airport shopping: The Smithsonian Museum Store, Washington, DC, Reagan International Airport (DCA)
Scott Shankland met Jennifer Ewald-Shankland (see below for profile) on a Boeing 757. Jennifer was in the jump seat on a flight from St. Louis to Dallas Fort Worth, Scott was the first officer. By the time they landed in Dallas, Scott had asked her out on a date. They’ve now been married for 10 years and regularly share the flight deck. “When flying together, we comfortably fit into our roles as captain and first officer, as well defined by AA’s exceptional standardized flight procedures,” says Scott.
Jennifer Ewald-Shankland, @jetchick92
Occupation: First Officer, American Airlines

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Good morning to my #boeing737 . Here I come #cancun #pilotlife #boeing #girlsflytoo #dfw
A post shared by Jennifer Shankland???? (@jetchick92) on Oct 4, 2018 at 9:21am PDT

Motto: “Flying is a great equalizer; the plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot.”
Favorite aircraft: Fokker F-100; 737 MAX. “We [Scott and Jennifer] enjoyed our experiences flying the new 737 Max-8 aircraft before they were temporarily grounded; a magnificent new jet that we look forward to resume flying,” says Jennifer.
Favorite airport restaurants: “An airline crew member favorite for dining is La Carreta, a cooked on-site Cuban restaurant in the Miami International Airport. Also, the DFW Airport terminals have fabulous restaurants, including Ling & Louie Asian Bar, Pappadeaux, Reata Grill, and Twisted Root Burger Bar, just to name a few.”
Suitcase essentials: Swimsuit and comfortable sandals
Aviation is a family tradition for Scott (see above for profile) and Jennifer. Scott flew in the Air Force. Jennifer’s father was a United Airlines 747 captain; her mother, a flight attendant. Their son is an airline pilot. Now flying the Boeing 737 on international routes, they highlight their layovers — from New York City to the tropics — on their Instagram account.
“Any layover where Scott and I are together is turned into a great layover,” says Jennifer. “Our joy flying together is contagious for the rest of the crew, so the trips are always fun. I particularly remember a Belize layover where we chartered a boat and took our crew out for an afternoon of snorkeling and swimming.”
Maddie Peters, @maddieryanee
Occupation: Flight Attendant, American Airlines

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Story time y’all! Incase you missed it. The other day I was working a flight to Dallas. I had our CEO (Doug Parker) on my flight. I was serving drinks during boarding to the first class cabin. I had a full tray with drinks on it, when the passenger in front of me stops in the aisle and backs up. He bumps into the tray and the drinks go flying. Guys I have worked for American Airlines for 4 years, and not once have I ever spilt a drink on a passenger. Guess who they land on. Half of them went all over me, the other half in Doug’s lap. I WAS MORTIFIED. I wanted to drop dead right there in the aisle. (Like am I still employed?!) I’m still slightly traumatized/embarrassed. Luckily he was super cool, and a good sport about it. He later came back and we chatted for a little, and joked about it the rest of the flight. When he was getting off the plane he told me he’d never forget me…. guess that’s a good thing right? Most people never even meet their CEO let alone shower them with beverages. But it’s too good of a story not to tell. Accidents happen. ????????‍ OOPS
A post shared by Flight attendant (@maddieryanee) on Apr 7, 2019 at 5:23pm PDT

Motto: “Make the most of every opportunity.”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 777
Favorite airport restaurant: Banh Shop at DFW, Terminal D. “I always get the tofu green curry,” says Peters.
Packing tip: “I am the worst packer. I over-pack, I under-pack. I hate packing. But I always keep the same essentials in my bag: one item of clothing for each climate.”
Dubbed the “Mile High Mess” by the Today Show, flight attendant Maddie Peters made the news after spilling drinks on American Airlines CEO Doug Parker while boarding a flight earlier this year. Both Parker and Peters took the mishap in stride, joking together and snapping a picture.
It also led to a teachable moment about dealing with embarrassing and unexpected situations. “Turn what seems to be a negative into a positive,” says Peters, who has been flying for four years. “Don’t let it weigh too heavily on yourself. We are all human and accidents happen. It’s how you handle it that defines the outcome of the situation. Thankfully, Mr. Parker and I were able to joke about the situation after the fact, but that’s because I didn’t let it get to me.”
Nate Coats, @b737mech
Occupation: Line maintenance supervisor, Alaska Airlines

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When the hangar holds three airplanes but you need to make it hold four, we compromise.
A post shared by Nathan Coats (@b737mech) on Oct 2, 2018 at 8:44am PDT

 
Motto: “Always student, sometimes teacher”
Favorite aircraft: Boeing 737
Favorite airport restaurant: Nugget Restaurant and Bakery at the Sitka, Alaska airport. “Always get a slice of their pie,” says Coats.
Favorite style of suitcase for travel: Hard shell. “I recently switched to a hard aluminum carry-on from Away Travel. Absolutely love the metal protection, and built-in TSA-approved locks. Plus, it comes with a bunch of other features that are great for traveling domestically and internationally.”
Working on Alaska Airline’s fleet as a maintenance supervisor, Coats captures stunning pictures of commercial and military aircraft in the Pacific Northwest. With a focus on safety, his advice to passengers facing a mechanical delay is to be patient. “Maintenance is here to make sure the aircraft is safe to operate. We all know you want to get to your destination on time but we want everybody to get there safely,” Coats says. Although it’s often hard to pinpoint how long you’ll have to wait, he stresses there is close connection between maintenance and operations to make the best decision possible.
For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips please subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.
Photo by Andrei Troitskiy / Getty Images

9 Ways to Go Green on Your Next Flight

We know travel has a significant environmental footprint and much of that footprint is created by transportation. However, it is possible to reduce the environmental footprint of traveling, starting with the plane ride. Airlines such as JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic are getting in on the action by bringing more eco-friendly jet fuel to the skies, while United has been testing out compostable cutlery and recycling programs.
For passengers, if you’re concerned about the impact satisfying your wanderlust might be having on the environment, there are also more than a few simple and easy ways that you can help reduce your impact when you fly. These nine tips will help you lessen your environmental impact when flying off to your next destination.
1. Use Public Transport to Get To and From the Airport
While this option might not be available to everyone, if you have the chance to use public transportation to reach the airport it’s a great way to start your trip by reducing your carbon footprint. If you live in a metropolitan area, chances are high that you have a public transportation option available, whether it’s via city bus or subway.
2. Purchase Carbon Offsets
If you fly as much as some of us here at TPG do, the amount of carbon your travel creates each year might be a point of concern. The good news is that most airlines offer the option to purchase carbon offsets for your flights. Purchasing carbon offsets is easy and probably costs less than you might think. Most carbon offset calculators will give you an estimate of around $10 for a round-trip transcontinental trip in the United States, say from New York’s JFK to Los Angeles.
Related: Your Guide to Airline Carbon Offset Programs
3. Stop Printing Your Boarding Pass
With the ubiquity of smartphones, the need for a paper boarding pass has gone the way of the dinosaur at this point. Airline mobile app offers you the ability to simply use your phone both at TSA as well as at the gate when it comes time to board. If you’re in the habit of printing your boarding pass at home, not only will you reduce waste, but your own costs will go down by not having to stock up on paper and ink. If you’re interested in what other perks and features you can expect from your airline’s mobile app check out our guide.
4. Get a Sturdy TSA 3-1-1 Bag
While most of us are use to grabbing a plastic zip-top bag for liquids, investing in a slightly more durable option is a good idea, especially for frequent flyers. While you might be able to get a few runs out of a single zip-top bag, having something truly reusable over time is a better option. There are plenty of options out there that are clear and will meet the TSA requirements for a 3-1-1 bag for security.
Related: TSA 3-1-1 Liquids Rule
5. Pack Reusable Toiletry Containers
While it might be convenient to grab those travel size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and other essential items for your travel, small plastic bottles produce a lot of waste. Some states are even moving to ban single-use bottles in hotels. Small reusable plastic or glass containers that you can refill at home are a great way to reduce your single-use plastic consumption. This also means you can still use your favorite brands while on the road.
6. Bring You Own Water Bottle …
Plastic water bottles generate a tremendous amount of waste worldwide each year. There is a simple solution to this problem: get a reusable, refillable water bottle. Just recently, San Francisco banned the sale of water sold in plastic bottles at SFO. The airport has also installed a number of bottle refill stations throughout the airport, something you can find in most major airports these days. Having a water bottle that you can refill at a station once past security will not only reduce your use of plastics, but will save you money as well. With prices ranging from $7-20 for a reusable water bottle, you will recover that cost in no time when you can stop paying airport prices for bottled water.
Related: Product Review: 5 Top Travel Water Bottles Square Off
7. … And Your Own Snacks
If you’re planning to snack on your flight, think about packing your own items in reusable containers. Not only will you be able to enjoy the snack of your choice — you’re packing it after all — but you will also cut down on the amount of packaging waste generated by those subpar turkey sandwiches. Bringing your own snacks also allows you to choose healthier options than what you might find onboard — a double win.
Photo by Getty Images
 
8. Invest in Reusable Utensils
These days, many airlines and the travel industry in general are already putting programs in place to help reduce the amount of single-use plastic items. Packing items like reusable utensils for those snacks you already packed — don’t worry, titanium is very light — or your own reusable straw can be a great way to avoid having to use single-use plastic versions. Not only will you be able to use these items in flight, but once you get to your final destination these items will allow you to avoid those single use plastics for your entire trip.
9. Go the Extra Mile and Recycle Your Onboard Waste
If you’re flying in a class of service with amenity kits, all that plastic the kits come in generates a lot of landfill waste. So, collect and recycle packaging to lessen your impact. Check out this video with Jason DiVenere on what he does to reduce waste from those amenity kits.

Bottom Line
While we should all be thinking long term about how our travel impacts the earth, it’s easy to take steps right now to help lessen that impact. If you’re looking for tips on how to make your trip greener in between flights, check out our guide on How to Be More Eco-Friendly While Traveling.
For the latest travel news, deals, and points and miles tips please subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.
Featured photo by Getty Images

Yes, the Internet on Cruise Ships Is Getting Better — Really

For most of the many years I’ve been writing about cruising, the typical internet connection at sea hasn’t just been slow. It’s been glacial. You’d click on a website only to experience many seconds of frustration. Maybe the page would come up. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe the cruise would end while you were still sitting there.
Meanwhile, you were paying a small fortune for the privilege of giving it a try. The base rate for Wi-Fi on many ships for years started around 75 cents a minute. That’s $45 for a single hour online!
But we have good news for those of you who assume the only way to stay in touch with home from a cruise ship is via a message in a bottle: The Wi-Fi connection on ships has been getting faster at a rapid rate — and cheaper, too.
While checking emails and surfing the web on some vessels still requires the patience of Job, on-board technological improvements on many ships combined with new satellite and direct ship-to-shore systems is making the internet experience at sea much more like what you find on land (or even in the air).
On some ships, the signal has become so much faster you now can stream Netflix from the comfort of your cabin — something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
If you’re booking a cruise and wondering about your connectivity, here are five things to know before you set sail.
The Best Credit Cards for Booking Cruises
Cruise Wi-Fi Will Never Be as Fast (or Reliable) as Home
There is no Comcast cable wire running to your cruise ship. That should be obvious, right? We’re pretty sure it is. Except that I routinely encounter people on ships who don’t understand why the internet can’t be as fast as it is at their home, where they probably have a hard wire bringing it in at speeds of 50, 100 or even 200 megabits per second.
On cruise ships, every packet of data you are downloading onto your phone or computer, for the most part, is coming over a satellite, which is not a simple or inexpensive proposition.
There are maritime communication companies that specialize in providing internet connections to ships, and in recent years, they’ve been speeding things up by adding more satellites and linking their systems to land-based towers that connect with ships as they near shore.
There have been major speed improvements in internet on cruise ships over the years but there is still work to do. (Photo by anthony metcalfe / Unsplash)
But, in the end, there are limits to just how well a satellite system can work. For starters, a ship needs a clear “line of sight” to a satellite to exchange data, something that isn’t always the case. Vessels traveling through the famed Norwegian fjords, for instance, can lose their satellite signal due to the height of surrounding mountains. And there are certain parts of the world where satellite coverage is too thin or nonexistent to allow for internet access. Last year, during a sailing in the Russian Arctic on a Hapag-Lloyd Cruises ship, I was forced to live without internet for a good part of a week due to a lack of satellite coverage in the area (something, I must say, was kind of wonderful).
But It Is Getting Much Faster
New satellite systems, paired with multimillion-dollar investments in shipboard technology, really are making things better in a big way. A turning point came in 2014, when cruise giant Royal Caribbean partnered with satellite company O3b Networks to create a new on-board internet system that it claimed was six times faster than anything else at sea. Called Voom, the system tapped into new Medium Earth Orbit satellites operated by O3b that can shoot their beams directly at ships as they move.
Speed tests run by the cruise site Cruzely.com in 2018 found Voom allowed for downloading at 3 to 5 megabits per second. While still significantly slower than many home connections, that’s fast enough to enjoy Netflix and other streaming video services.
You won’t get the same speeds as home but cruise ship internet is improving over time. (Photo by vidar nordli mathisen / Unsplash)
Royal Caribbean still claims the Wi-Fi speed on its ships is six times faster than on any other cruise vessel. But we’re a bit skeptical, given the catch-up we’ve seen at other lines. Carnival Cruise Line has begun touting internet connections fast enough to support Netflix streaming, too, on some of its ships. The company uses a hybrid system that combines faster satellite connections at sea with a network of less-expensive land-based towers that take over as its vessels near coastal areas.
On a recent sailing on one of the Carnival ships outfitted for faster internet, Carnival Sunrise, I did notice a significant improvement in speed. But as I wrote in May, the promised access to Netflix streaming wasn’t quite as smooth as I had hoped. Clicking on a favorite show, I only could watch for a few minutes before the connection inevitably froze.
And It’s Becoming More Affordable
At many lines, the old pay-by-the-minute system that could leave even modest internet users with sky-high bills is giving way to simpler and more affordable “all you can browse” plans. The highest-speed version of Royal Caribbean’s Voom connection currently costs $19.99 per day for one device. In the old days of 75 cents-a-minute pricing, that same amount of money would have gotten you just 27 minutes of web time. Royal Caribbean also offers a slower-speed version of Voom that can’t support streaming for $15.99 per day for one device. For both packages, there are discounts for adding more devices.
Another line bringing down costs dramatically is Carnival. At the very low end, it now offers a Social Wi-Fi plan that allows access to all the key social sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) as well as messaging services such as WhatsApp, for just $8 a day. A slightly more expensive Value Wi-Fi plan, at $12 per day, adds access to email and most websites. The line’s top-tier Premium Wi-Fi plan, at $17 per day, triples the speed of the Value plan and adds access to VoIP calling on messaging apps and Skype (but not FaceTime). Passengers who pay for a plan in advance of sailing get a 15% discount. That knocks the price of the top-tier Premium plan to just $14.45 per day.
But perhaps the biggest development in cruise internet costs in recent years is that many higher-end lines have begun offering internet access for — get this — free. Viking Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea are among lines now including unlimited internet time in the base cost of a voyage. At some of these lines, such as Regent, you can pay extra for faster service.
Viking Cruises and a few other carries are even offering FREE internet onboard some cruises. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP / Getty Images)
Another way to get free internet time on ships is to join cruise line loyalty programs. Many offer at least a few hours of free internet per voyage to customers who hit mid- to upper-tier levels. At Princess Cruises, for instance, customers can get 150 to 500 minutes of free internet time per voyage, depending on the voyage length, after reaching the Platinum level in the line’s Captain’s Circle loyalty program (to qualify, you’ll need to complete either six cruises, or 51 cruise days). At Celebrity Cruises, the top Zenith tier in the line’s Captain’s Club loyalty program comes with unlimited free internet.
Apps Offer an Alternative to Paid Wi-Fi
In recent years, a growing number of cruise lines have rolled out free apps for your phone that will let you make reservations for on-board restaurants, spa treatments and other services without ever leaving your Lido Deck lounge chair. On some ships operated by Carnival, you even can order beer and pizza to wherever you happen to be using an app.
On Carnival cruises, you can order pizza and beer wherever you are on the ship. (Photo by mtcurado / Getty Images)
Many of these apps also will show you a schedule of daily activities, offer ship deck plans and sometimes port maps to help you get around, and let you check your onboard account statement in real time. On one of Celebrity Cruises’ newest ships, Celebrity Edge, you even can use an app to remotely open your cabin door, change channels on the television and turn off the lights.
While all these apps work off the Wi-Fi systems on ships, the good news is they don’t require the purchase of a plan to use. Nor do they come with any other sort of fee — at least for most features. At Carnival, you’ll pay $5 per cruise to add a “chat” feature to the line’s otherwise free HUB app that will let you communicate via text-like messages with other app-enabled passengers. Norwegian Cruise Line also requires passengers to pay a fee (currently $9.95 per cruise) to use a messaging and calling feature of its Cruise Norwegian app.
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Use Airplane Mode to Avoid Unwanted Charges
Whether or not you’re purchasing a Wi-Fi plan on a ship, I have one very strong piece of advice: Put your phone in airplane mode the moment you step on board the vessel and leave it that way for the duration of the sailing. This is the safest way to avoid unwanted data charges, which can be enormous. (Remember the story of a family that recently racked up $14,000 in data charges on a cruise?)
As many cruisers have found the hard way, international phone plans such as AT&T’s $10-a-day International Day Pass do not apply to cruise ships at sea. If you let your AT&T phone roam while you’re on a vessel, you’ll pay an exorbitant $6.14 per megabyte of data — even if your base plan at home offers you unlimited data. You’ll also pay $3 per minute to make a call, $0.50 per text and $1.30 to send a photo. All that adds up very quickly.
It’s a smart idea to keep Airplane mode on your phone to avoid any unnecessary surcharges. (Photo by dimarik / Getty Images)
AT&T does offer a “cruise talk, text and data” plan for a flat fee of $100 that allows unlimited talk and text during sailings up to 30 days in duration. But it only comes with 200 megabytes of data, with any overage billing at a still-hefty $2 per megabyte. It’s also not available on every ship. As of this month, about 170 vessels are part of the program.
If you insist on leaving your cellular service on during a cruise, you should at least disable any apps running in the background (as they’ll be eating up data, and running up your bill) and disable email auto-check.
Personally, I find it easier to just hit the airplane mode button. Once in airplane mode, I reactivate the Wi-Fi feature on my phone to access the ship’s Wi-Fi, and sign up for a shipboard plan that will let me stay in touch by email or a VoIP service like WhatsApp.
Featured photo by leonardo yip / Unsplash.

How to Take Better Photos When Traveling

Travel is a remarkable thing, opening our minds to new places, new cultures and new experiences. And with powerful cameras built right into most modern smartphones, it’s easier than ever to photograph one’s travels for future reference. We don’t want you to just take photos, though. We want you to take excellent photos.
Regardless of whether or not you intend to share your memories on social media, or simply archive them to share with friends and family, we’ve compiled a list of tips for everyday travelers who want to up their photography game.

In This Post

Splurge on Your Smartphone
Grand Canyon National Park most definitely deserves a panorama. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)
When it comes to camera quality on smartphones, you get what you pay for. TPG Editor-at-Large (and phone photographer extraordinaire) Zach Honig bounces back and forth between the latest iPhone and the latest Google Pixel. Both of these phones have excellent cameras. It pays to know a bit about lighting and framing (which we’ll touch on below), but these two devices are safe bets for those who plan to point and shoot.
If you’re looking for a different perspective, consider a DJI Osmo Pocket or DJI Mavic 2 Zoom drone.
Lighting, Framing and Panoramas
Framing up a shot in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)
There’s a lot of nuance involved in capturing excellent shots. Below is a quick checklist for optimal settings:

Try to shoot at sunrise, sunset or with cloud cover (diffused lighting) to reduce excess shadows
If possible, avoid having a part of your shot in broad daylight and another (including people) in shade
During the day, you want light beaming onto a subject, not behind it, so bring sunglasses
Do whatever you can to avoid using a flash — it makes your images look artificial
Avoid framing faces at the extreme edge of the screen, as they’re likely to appear warped or stretched
Always take a lot of snaps when people are involved, giving yourself options to find ideal smiles and no blinks
Tap on your subject on the screen to adjust the focus and lighting
Hold your phone or camera steady to avoid blurring
Leave a lot of buffer room on the edges of your photo, enabling you to use a single shot for multiple sharing platforms
Make liberal use of your phone’s panorama feature to capture cityscapes and landscapes, but hold it steady and pan slowly for optimal image quality

For those interested in putting in the time to take their smartphone photography to the next level, Austin Mann and David Molnar are acclaimed photographers offering online educational courses.
We’ve also rounded up the best iPhone lenses, but beware that these are easy to misplace.
Selfies and Tripods
Tripods make it possible for entire families to frame themselves in a shot. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)
Ah, the selfie. A quintessential part of any vacation. Although most modern smartphones offer a front-facing camera embedded exclusively for this purpose, I never use the one on my iPhone. Why? Front-facing cameras are typically subpar. Your phone’s rear-facing camera is likely higher quality, and if quality matters to you, you can work to master the art of the reach-around selfie.
There are also a host of compact, travel-friendly tripods and phone mounts to consider. My personal favorite is the Pedco UltraPod, paired with a basic phone mount easily found on Amazon and other retailers. If you’re using an iPhone and also own an Apple Watch, you can actually use the watch face as a viewfinder to make sure everyone is in the frame. You can then use your Apple Watch as a camera remote, either by tapping a button to trigger a timer countdown or telling Siri, “Take a picture.”  Apple has a guide on using Apple Watch as an iPhone camera remote.
Download the Right Photo-Editing Apps
Have iPhone, will travel. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)
I recommend that people don’t go crazy with filters. It may feel fun in the moment, but outlandish filters rarely age well. Instead, I look to filters to correct my own capturing miscues, shaping the photo to match my memory of the moment. Your options are nearly limitless, but we’ve created a guide to the best apps for retouching and editing photos.
My personal favorite is VSCO, which is available for iPhone and Android. The free version is OK, but the $20 per year upgrade is well worth it. Plus, VSCO isn’t just for editing. Photographers will like the manual camera options, which allow you to edit the shutter speed, white balance, focus and ISO before snapping. Small icons at the bottom of the editing screen are options for changing the color, sharpness, exposure and more to photos either snapped within the app or with your regular phone camera.
Backup, Archive and Storage
One beautiful thing about living in the age of the internet is availability of cheap storage. Your most precious memories can now easily be saved forever, and that’s especially true for cameraphone images. My favorite app is Google Photos, which allows iPhone and Android users to back up every phone photo and video they’ve ever taken to the cloud for safe keeping.
The free and unlimited backup-option limits the resolution of stored photos (16MP) and videos (1080p), but that’s robust enough for most. It only takes one destroyed phone to appreciate the luxury of having everything automatically backed up.
Check out our full guide to useful apps for storing and organizing travel photos.
Mirrorless and DSLR Cameras
A sunset in Joshua Tree National Park. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
Although phone cameras are good enough for the vast majority of travelers, the advent of the mirrorless camera has opened up another alluring option. It wasn’t long ago that travelers were faced with a one-extreme-or-the-other scenario. Either shoot their entire vacation on a phone, or lug around a hefty DSLR with multiple lenses.
Now, there’s a solid in-between option. The mirrorless class of camera offers image quality that far surpasses a smartphone, particularly in low light or when capturing fast movement (e.g., kids). It also offers fine-tuning when it comes to things like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, white balance, etc. Sony’s mirrorless cameras are widely regarded as best-in-class.
I actually prefer a full-frame DSLR, but that may have something to do with my justification — I simply tell myself that 10 extra pounds of camera and lenses means that I’m getting an even bigger workout from whatever hike I’m planning. The other reality is that I’m already invested in Nikon lenses, which are best used on a full-fledged Nikon DSLR. If you’re already entrenched in a camera ecosystem, your wallet will thank you for not veering into some other brand. If you’re just now diving into the DSLR world, spring for a full-frame DSLR (as opposed to a cropped-frame).
Related: The 7 Best Starter Travel Credit Cards!
Wielding an expensive camera isn’t enough to guarantee excellent travel photos. You’ll still want to mind all of the tips already mentioned, and you’ll want to spend time shooting near your home in different lighting scenarios. This is the best way to learn what setting does what, and how to adjust them quickly. Nothing generates DSLR frustration like not knowing what knob does what, and thus losing “the shot” while traveling.
In the photo of Joshua Tree National Park above, we tweaked our Nikon DSLR settings so that we wouldn’t blow out the sky, while over-exposing the shot just enough to get a band of sun flare on the right. If you buy a DSLR with an automatic setting and lean on that, you’ll very rarely capture shots like these. If you invest in top-tier camera gear, make sure you invest in learning. I strongly recommend the guides at SLR Lounge.
Hire (or Bring) a Professional
Leave the photography to an expert if you want one less thing to worry about during your travels. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)
If you’re going on a special family trip, you’ll quickly realize that it’s really tough to get everyone in a shot that you’re proud of. If you really want album-worthy captures, check out Craigslist or photography forums for professionals at your destination. Googling “Honolulu photographer,” for instance, will land you all sorts of local options, where you can reach out ahead of time and negotiate a rate for capturing your family during a window of time. The photography service Flytographer is also available to fill this niche, especially in popular destinations from $250 for a 30-minute shoot.
An option that may seem out-of-range, but that we’ve used is to use your points and miles to fly a photographer along with you. I’ve done this on many occasions, though it helps to have a sister-in-law who shoots professionally. If you know someone who you would enjoy traveling with, and they’re willing to pull double duty as a photographer, trading a trip for lifelong memories may not be such a bad deal.
Have any other expert photography tips? Share them in comments below!
Featured image by the author.