My very own travel hacks
We all have our personal travel hacks – meaning, shortcuts – that we value and are sometimes surprised that others really do not know about them. I have a (mental) checklist of sorts (it isn’t perfect and I sometimes do not do things by the book) which I would like to share with you.
Here are my 5 travel hacks that I hope will improve your travel experience – they certainly help mine!
Pre-book airport transfers
Uber is a great idea, but if you have tried hailing one at a major airport, you know what I am talking about. I have recently tried it at JFK and didn’t realise it would be me and another 100+ passengers (I kid you not) looking for their own uber. It wasn’t pretty.
I have used Blacklane 5 or 6 times (and will continue to do so) and love its simplicity. You go to their website (or app), ideally a day before travelling, very easily add your travel information and you choose your type of car (business, SUV/van or first class) and you will have a driver waiting for you on arrival at the airport or wherever you choose. You get 1h waiting time and you can also cancel the service up to 1 hour before, if your plans change.
It is a private car service (and you choose if you’d like say a BMW Series 5 or 7 to pick you up), and obviously more expensive than a taxi or uber – but it is much cheaper than a hotel car service. In Istanbul, I think it cost us less than half. In Prague, it cost the same as a taxi. And was much nicer. And prices include tax, tips and everything else, so no extra stress.
Pre-order your foreign currency
I have only done this a few times recently, and I cannot tell you how proud of myself I was. If you pre-order your currency, you get a much better rate than at the airport. And if you are UK-based, Travelex sends you the money home for next day delivery (so you need to order 48 hours before), or you can pre-order and collect at one of their airport (or non-airport) locations. When I stayed at the Hyatt Regency London recently, I pre-ordered some Euros and picked them up the next morning at Selfridges.
I know that there is a very obvious case to get cash on an ATM on arrival, but that isn’t always possible. And we have relied on this quite a few times and had serious issues. So even if it is just £300 or something, get it sorted before.
Get status with your car rental company
We tend to make all our bookings with Avis (sometimes with Hertz now as they seem to be upping their game and have a lot more ‘guaranteed premium models’) but we use the UK website (which is handy no matter where you are in the world). The prices are more transparent and they include all the insurance you need.
The other advantage is that Avis and Hertz lets you cancel your booking up to 48/24 hours before without penalty if you choose the ‘pay later’ option, so you can shop around. If the difference of ‘paying now and paying at counter’ isn’t crazy, I will ‘pay later’, if not, they will refund the amount on your credit card quite quickly. Trip planning 101.
And as a little travel hack, if you are a BA Executive Club Member, use these AWD codes on the Avis website when booking: Gold N744400; Silver N744300; Bronze N284300; Blue N744100.
And for the love of God, join Avis Preferred before you make your booking – it will save you hours of queuing at your holiday destination. Yes, you will jump the queue or, if they are a proper Avis location, your key and documents will be ready for you in the car. You will find your name on a board: e.g. OREILLY D22 means, we go to D22 and get in our car there and then. When it works…
If you are an American Express Platinum Cardholder, use as your discount code 211762. You will be part of Hertz’ own Gold Plus Rewards programme (we are still new to it, but it works like Avis Preferred).
Careful with car rental extras
With regards to petrol – we always take the tank full to be returned full, with the exception of the USA where you can pre-pay (at the station) for a full tank and it actually works out at the same price. BUT ONLY if you specifically have it in your contract – check the prices locally. In 99% of other places, it isn’t worth it (in my opinion – and as you can imagine, all I can offer is my opinion and experience).
A word about excess insurance – get it if your credit card does not offer it. It is the best £52 you will spend – and probably the most under the radar travel hack from this list. If something ‘happens’ to your hired car, you will pay the car hire company but then file a claim with the insurance company. There are lots of policies around – some cover just Europe, others cover Worldwide and I recommend Direct Car Hire Excess Insurance by AIG.
On 2 different recent trips with friends (one to Portugal and one to Italy) we were booking cars and I suggested Avis Preferred and the Excess Insurance to save us time – guess what happened? None of them had it and a) we were done in 15 mins getting the car and had to wait a good 45 minutes for them and b) sadly, one couple had damage to the under part of their car. You can tell I am really good at ‘speaking car’! One was caused by the hotel valet and the other had a problem with the windscreen. Moral of the story: 750 Euros excess each, which could have been preventable. I did not say ‘I told you so’, but I did want to.
American Express Platinum gives you this cover free of charge.
Get an airport loyalty card
My love for Heathrow airport is well documented and I have recently teamed up with them to explain a bit more about their fantastic Heathrow Rewards programme. You basically collect points for every £1 you spend anywhere at the airport (including car parking, foreign exchange, beauty, fashion, food & drink, newspapers, books… everything except cigarettes).
I personally do shop at the airport regularly and I have to say, I love the rewards. I got quite a few bottles of champagne and/or gin, make up, perfume, whatever. To sign up for the card, just visit the Heathrow Rewards website.
Check your flight details on Google and use Google Flights to book
I think this is one of the most useful services ever – and it even works with Myanmar regional airlines (I kid you not).
You basically go to Google and type in your flight number with no spaces – for example BA501 and the information just appears. And sometimes, it actually beats the airport screens.
What are your own travel hacks – little things (or big things) you cannot travel without? Let me know!