Traveling can be quite anxiety inducing, which can easily lead to thoughtless purchases. Airlines and other businesses are quick to take advantage by persuading travelers that they need to buy certain services, products or upgrades.
Sure, there are a few things you should have—think neck pillow, adult beverages and noise-canceling headphones to drown out the crying infant behind you.
But there’s also a lot of crap you’d be a fool to sign up for, such as the following…
1. Checked Luggage
Gone are the days when you could check your luggage for free. Most domestic airlines will force you to pay for your first checked bag these days. Or you have the option to sign up to be a card member. Delta for example, offers a SkyMiles card through which you can book your flight and then the first bag of each passenger in the reservation will be free at check-in. You’ll also earn two miles per dollar spent whenever you use the card, which could earn you an entire flight down the line.
You can also book first-class tickets, which will typically offer you a free checked bag, or do a better job packing and then you won’t have to worry about checking any bags at all.
Editor’s note: Just about every flight we’ve taken recently has begged people to check their rolling luggage at the gate—for free. So if you’re the type to check things that can be carried on, just hold onto it until you get to that stage.
2. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance, in theory, is a life saver. According to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, which represents 90 percent of the trip-insurance market, Americans spent $1.9 billion on insuring their travel in 2012—up nearly 50 percent from five years prior. Why? Certain types of travel insurance allow you to cancel an otherwise nonrefundable trip, reimbursing 75 to 90 percent of the cost. Travel insurance also can cover a large portion of expenses if you need medical evacuation following an emergency. But it costs, on average, four to eight percent of the total trip cost.
So think about the type of trip you’re taking and how necessary travel insurance really is. If you’re traveling internationally—and especially on an adventurous trip with a high risk of injury—emergency medical and evacuation coverage might be wise, assuming you’re not otherwise covered. But if you’re traveling domestically and highly unlikely to change your plans, save your money.
3. International Phone Plan
Most international phone plans make sense for short-term travel. If you’re leaving the country for more than a week or two, however, it’s probably smarter to buy a cheap phone overseas or just keep your phone on airplane mode and only use it when you’re on Wi-Fi.
Verizon, for example, offers international phone plans that’ll cost you almost $2 a minute to talk, .50 cents to send a text and .05 cents to receive a text. That adds up (plus astronomical roaming fees) if you’re traveling for a while, and you’ll only get 100 MB of data per month. You could come home with a phone bill that costs more than your entire trip. In some cases, it’d actually be cheaper to purchase a SIM card overseas or a prepaid phone.
You might also consider getting yourself portable Wi-Fi instead of a phone plan or new phone entirely. Products like Skyroam offer a global Wi-Fi hotspot to keep you connected (and from accruing roaming fees) for just a daily charge per use. Skyroam, in particular, boasts 4G LTE Wi-Fi in over 100 countries for $9 a day only when you need it—no monthly fees or charges attached.
4. Upgraded Seat
If you’re stuck with a middle seat and really wanted a window or aisle seat, you might be inclined to change your seat online. But, sometimes, the only other seats that are available come with a price tag attached. It’s not necessary to purchase a better seat if you’re prompted to do so. Chances are that someone on the plane will also want to move—maybe you’re an aisle seat guy and she’s a window-seat chick, or maybe a separated couple would prefer to be seated together—and you can swap.
Plus, people miss flights all the time, which means that planes don’t always fill up. Airline crew members are typically lenient when it comes to moving people around if there are indeed free seats after everyone boards. You can also ask to change your seat when you check in. Complimenting the attendant on his glasses or her nails can work wonders.
Feeling lucky? Chances are that if you sit up in an empty seat in first class, too, no one will double check that you’re really supposed to be there. Just make sure you’re not in anyone else’s seat.
5. Fancy Airplane Meals
Maybe you don’t like the dry chicken or sticky pasta that most airlines serve, and you’re hoping for a little more luxury. Or maybe you just want to eat more than one meal, because they don’t fill you up. You don’t necessarily need to pay for a special or extra meal. After everyone’s been served, most airline crew members will be more than willing to give you what’s left over. Especially if it’s that same person you complimented earlier.
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