Imagine it: every single airline ticket for the foreseeable future booked at exactly 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday morning, when the winter solstice hits full swing. If there really were a perfect time to book airline tickets, everyone would buy them exactly then. But they don’t. Because there isn’t. That’s right: like claims that reading in the dark will make you blind, Tuesday pricing is a myth. (There are, however, best practices.) Everyone loves a trick, a tip, or a deal; but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We know: some travel myths will live forever. But here are a few that can, at last, be put to rest.
We get it: The stuff they sell in duty free—from champagne to perfume, chocolate to cosmetics—is incredibly tempting. That doesn’t, however, mean it’s always a good deal. Duty free just means taxes won’t be collected; it does not mean prices are necessarily lower. In certain countries, duty free may represent excellent value; in others, you’ll pay more than the steepest retail prices in your hometown. Don’t assume. Do your homework. Considering purchasing a bottle of top-shelf Japanese whisky? Know what it costs before you go, or give yourself a budget and stick to it—wherever you’re buying.
What’s sketchier, riding with a guy you’ve never met till you reached the airport sidewalk, or tapping into a major app with millions of users- that offers you a picture of your driver, route tracking, and easy, cashless transactions? Uber, Airbnb, and their competitors are worldwide companies with substantial resources and a powerful interest in the safety—and the perceived safety—of their patrons. Due diligence is a necessity, so before you rent or ride, be sure to check out the reviews. But at least there are reviews. When was the last time your taxi driver showed you his star rating? Do your homework, but don’t hold back. Want to camp in a garden in London, or rent a basketball in China? You’re covered.
Sure, sometimes online travel agencies will sell rooms at lower prices than those you can find from the hotel or hotel chain itself; but that’s getting rarer and rarer. For obvious reasons, hotels would rather not pay commission to booking sites, so many now match prices with the lowest booking site, or even beat it outright. Plus, even if you can get an equal or reduced rate, many hotels offer perks for booking direct. That could mean free Wi-Fi, a room upgrade, or a food and beverage credit. And then there’s always the higher risk of glitches that OTA bookings can be prone to, such a mistransferred (or untransferred) reservations. Yikes.
Actually, something close to the opposite is true—if you don’t reserve a seat, you almost certainly won’t get upgraded. You’ll also be far more likely to get the worst middle seat in economy. Upgrades happen because of factors like elite frequent flier status, how much you paid for the ticket, and whether the economy cabin is oversold. Contrary to popular belief, it’s widely accepted industry practice to distribute upgrades (when they’re available) on a first-checked-in, first-upgraded basis. So claim that seat as soon as you can. (And always be nice to the folks at the counter.)
Almost all currency exchange opportunities at airports offer a consumer rate of exchange—calling it “no fee” obscures the fact that the fee’s already built in. Most banks allow you to use your debit card while abroad, giving you access to the bank rate of exchange that’s roughly 10 percent better. You’ll pay a fee for the transaction, but if you take your cash in one big grab, the savings can be tremendous. If you’re a planner, you can also go into your bank and get foreign money at least a week in advance, often with no fee at all.
By all means, get up unnaturally early and stand in line if that puts your heart at rest. But the cold, hard truth is that if it’s in a guide book, you’re probably not going to be the only one there early, late, or middle of the day to take in the majestic tourist attraction. If you really want to avoid the crowds, the best move is to stagger your vacation schedule just ahead of, or just behind, the main rush. Taking advantage of shoulder season lulls can lead to lower rates on tours, and even special access unavailable at peak times. If “school holidays” start on Monday, get in on the Friday before, when it’s “off peak”—and empty.
Myths aside, jet lag isn’t necessarily caused by a lack of sleep, but rather sleeping at the wrong time. It only makes sense to sleep on a plane or at your hotel if it’s sleeping time at your destination. The same goes for eating. Though it’s hard to pass up free food (and by the way, it’s not free food if you paid for your ticket), the best practice is to align your eating and sleeping as closely as possible to the appropriate times for those activities in the local time of your destination. This will help you avoid that dazed, drowsy feeling we know all too well.
Thanks to credit cards, loyalty programs, and frequent flier miles, you’ve got more ways to reduce the cost of travel than ever. Countless people at all income levels manage not only to travel, but also to upgrade and redeem rewards for premium travel, just by doing their homework and learning about credit card points and miles. And, with opportunities to work remotely on the rise in this digital age, it’s even possible to makemoney while you travel.