Which Travel Perks Are — and Aren’t — Worth It?
When it comes to flying, gone are the days of checking bags, eating meals, or even resting your head on a pillow for free. In fact, if you fly some airlines, you’ll even pay a fee for your carry-on bag. (It’s no wonder U.S. airlines made $3.35 billion in baggage fees last year.)
And flying-related costs are often more transparent than others, like rental car insurance,club level rooms, and vacation packages. So, which extras are really worth it and which aren’t?
The verdict: Worth it (for long trips, anyway)
Booking an airline seat today is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Your options are no longer limited to economy, business, or first class. You can now choose between bigger seats, more leg room, priority boarding, and WiFi on-board (tip: you’ll pay less if you opt-in ahead of time). On Virgin America, for example, $30 will get you “Express” boarding and first rights to limited overhead storage bins, while $159 bumps you up to Main Cabin Select on flights between New York and San Francisco. That upcharge includes priority security access, priority boarding, and one checked bag (otherwise a $25 fee), plus six inches of extra legroom, as many movies as time allows, and nearly everything on the inflight menu. It doesn’t include WiFi, however, which will set you back $11.95 for one hour.
“It’s a bit of a splurge but you’re getting a lot of value,” says George Hobica, founder of travel site AirfareWatchdog.com. of add-ons like American’s Choice Plus, an $80 upgrade that includes a waived change fee (otherwise $100), a checked bag, Group 1 boarding, a 50 percent mileage boost, and a premium on-board beverage. He adds that the packages Delta offers, like the $21 Ascend package, which pairs a 24-hour WiFi pass with priority boarding, can be a good deal as well, if you have work to get done.
Peak Season Travel
The verdict: Not worth it
You can save money on airfare as well as hotel rooms, says Hobica of off-peak travel. In the Caribbean, for example, low-season rates are typically 50 percent (or more) lower than high-season prices. At Guana Island, a collection of cottages and villas set on 750 acres in the British Virgin Islands, a Sea View Cottage (with meals, wine, and other extras) costs $695 in June, July and August; between December 18 and January 3, rates are $1550 per night.
There are other advantages to avoiding peak season travel as well. Summers in Europe can get hot and sticky; Sometimes the weather is actually better off-season (like the fall). Finally, you’re more likely to have a genuine experience in the off-season as there will be fewer tourists and more locals around.
Club Level Rooms
The verdict: Worth it (sometimes)
Club floor rooms typically cost between $20 and $100 more than regular rooms and what that extra fee gets you runs the gamut. At the Sheraton New York Times Square, the $25 upgrade to a club room includes continental breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres in the club lounge, plus free WiFi and local calls. At the Nines, a Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel in Portland, Oregon, the club lounge has breakfast, midday snacks, pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres and evening chocolates and cordials—plus an open bar at a difference of $80 from a regular room. Ritz-Carlton club-level rooms come with the most perks, but they also have the highest premium. Guests who stay in one of 44 club level rooms and suites at the Hotel Arts, a Ritz-Carlton property in Barcelona, for example, have access to the Six Senses spa, cava tastings and craft cocktails, plus food presentations throughout the day all for 160 euros more than a regular room. Bottom line: Find out what extras come with the club floor rooms before you upgrade.
Car Rental Insurance
The verdict: Know before you go
If you own a car, you’re pretty much always covered, at least domestically. On the other hand, warns Hobica, “If you don’t have a car, you’re probably not covered.” Your credit card only covers you in a collision with another car, and it typically only covers the rental car. Find out what your credit card and your car insurance cover—and what they don’t. At the time of this writing, American Express, for example, offered a premium car rental policy, which covers primary theft and damage up to $100,000 at a flat rate of $24.95 for up to 42 consecutive days. Still, even this premium coverage doesn’t protect you if you’re at fault. The bottom line? It may be worth it to buy the liability policy if you’re not covered otherwise.
The verdict: It depends
Hotel packages have two primary value-add propositions: financial and experiential. The “Sweet Suite” promotion at the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco, for example, includes a bottle of champagne and chocolates, plus a $50 discount off the rack rate for a Deluxe Suite for a total value of $100. The real question is whether the extra wiggle room (approximately 325 square feet) is worth the $160 upgrade from a King Deluxe Room—or would you rather put that money toward a flight upgrade or something else? Other offerings give guests access to events and perks unavailable to the general public. But it often doesn’t come cheap. Before you book a hotel package, ask yourself: How compelling is it? How much time do you plan on spending at the hotel itself? Could you book the services or events on your own (and, maybe, for less)? Are the perks worth the price? Or would you rather spend the money on something else?