Monthly Archives: December 2016

All About Jet Lag

Jet lag is a physical reaction to a rapid change in time zones. It affects most travelers, including seasoned fliers like flight attendants and pilots. Common symptoms include disorientation, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, dry eyes, headaches, irregular bowels and general malaise.

It doesn’t help that long-haul flying is so debilitating. Dehydration, unfamiliar foods, cramped spaces, recycled air, lack of sleep, uncomfortable clothes, continual low-level noise and connections that disrupt sleep all add to the misery of jet lag, and can even make you feel jet lagged when you’re just a little beat up.

Flying from, say, New York City to Santiago won’t produce jet lag in the true sense because both cities are in the same time zone — but the effects of the long flight might feel quite a bit like classic jet lag. In these cases, you’re just tired from the flight, and a good night’s sleep and perhaps some exercise will set things right.

On long flights — especially red-eye flights — you can lose several hours of sleep time, which can set you back considerably even without the jarring time change. If you live by a regular schedule (up at 7 a.m., in bed by 10 p.m. every night), watch out. Jet lag hits those with rigid body clocks the hardest. For parents, be sure to bring along books and toys your child can play with on his or her own, in case the jet lag hits you differently than it does your little ones.

A general rule of thumb to keep in mind before any long trip is the 1:1 ratio: allow yourself one day to recover for every hour of time difference that you experience. Some people find that they recover from jet lag more easily when traveling east instead of west (or vice versa).

Before You Go

Treat your body well before you fly. Exercise, sleep well, stay hydrated and stay sober. The worst thing you can do is get on a long flight with a hangover.

Some travelers like to exercise before they go to the airport. (This can actually help you sleep better on the plane.) Once you’re at the airport, avoid the escalators and moving sidewalks. Instead, walk and take the stairs on the way to your check-in area and gate connections.

Adjust your habits before you leave. If you are traveling from the East to the West Coast of the U.S., you’re facing a three-hour time change and you should try to adjust your internal clock. A few days before you leave, start to stay up a little later than usual, and sleep in a little longer. That way, if you become accustomed to falling asleep at 1 a.m. and waking up at 9 a.m. on the East Coast, it will be the same as falling asleep at 10 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. on the West Coast. Traveling west to east, do the opposite: get up and go to bed earlier.

Wearing two watches, one set to the current time, and one to the time at your destination, can help you prepare yourself mentally for the coming time change. Many business travelers also use this tactic to stay in touch with what’s happening back at the office.

During the Flight

airplane sleep man travelPerhaps the most effective way to combat jet lag while in flight is to treat your body well. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids. Don’t be afraid to ask your flight attendant for extra water.

Get up out of your seat at regular intervals to walk and stretch. You can also do exercises like toe raises, isometric exercises, stomach crunches and shoulder shrugs right in your seat. This keeps your blood flowing and prevents it from pooling at your extremities, a common phenomenon in pressurized cabins.

Other tips: Get up to wash your face, brush your teeth or just stand for several minutes. Wear loose-fitting clothing that breathes. Bring a neck pillow, eye mask, ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones — these can be invaluable on red-eye flights. Also, avoid any snug footwear (high heels or wingtips); it is quite possible that your feet will swell in transit, making your post-flight trek to baggage claim a nightmare.

To help you get more rest in flight, see our tips for sleeping on planes.

Medications and Vitamins

Melatonin is a chemical in the body that helps regulate sleep cycles. It can be taken in pill form, and many travelers swear by it for fighting jet lag. However, as popular as melatonin is, it’s also controversial. Studies have indicated that incorrect melatonin usage can make you feel even more fatigued, so be sure to read all instructions and consult your physician before taking the product.

One widely available homeopathic remedy is the aptly named No-Jet-Lag. The company claims the chewable tablets address all jet lag symptoms, and offers testimonials from flight attendants and other frequent fliers. A bag of dried cherries is another natural remedy that some travelers use, as these are a good source of melatonin.

Some travelers use sleeping pills, antihistamines and motion sickness pills to induce sleep on planes and at hotels after arrival. While they work for some, others are left feeling miserably groggy. For more information, see Medications for Travel, and consult your doctor before taking any medication.

woman bench beach smile travelIf all else fails, try an alternate therapy. Light therapy has become a popular treatment for jet lag. At its heart, jet lag means you’re out of step with the rising and setting of the sun, so exposing yourself to light at the appropriate time can theoretically help you align your body with your new time zone. Unfortunately, the jury’s still out on the effectiveness of this. The debate centers on precisely which kind of light is best — natural, artificial, bright or dim. Some researchers and enthusiasts recommend simply spending 15 to 20 minutes in direct sunlight without sunglasses as soon as possible after landing.

Jet Lag Apps

Several smartphone apps have been developed to help travelers fight jet lag. Enter your flight details into Jet Lag Rooster or Entrain, and they’ll create a suggested schedule of when to sleep, eat and/or take melatonin to prepare for the time change. Both apps are available for iPhone and Android.

Dietary Tactics

The so-called “jet lag diet,” an alternation of feasting and fasting for three days leading up to a long-haul flight, was very popular a few years back. The military tested the diet and concluded, basically, that it is bunk. Nonetheless, Ronald and Nancy Reagan used it during their White House days, and some travelers still do. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, check out the diet regimen.

Restrict your diet to foods that are easily digested, like those that are relatively high in fiber but not too rich. If you’re trying to stay awake in order to get your body in step with the local time zone, caffeine can be useful — but don’t go overboard. While it might seem tempting to guzzle several cups of coffee when your eyelids begin to droop, you could end up wide awake at 1 a.m. Be sure to implement all dietary changes in moderation.

Tips To Get the Best Hotel Rate

While even cars have gone the way of reliable sticker prices, hotel accommodations remain a haggler’s game, with arcane and confusing rules and terminology that seem aimed to sneak dollars out of your pocket even when you think you’re making out well. Take the term “corporate rate,” for instance. Corporate employees travel a lot; they must get a good rate, right? Well, some of them do, but probably not the ones who ask for the corporate rate.

Following are some tactics for getting the best hotel rates any time you travel. Your mileage may vary, and some hotels are more flexible than others, but these 15 tricks should keep you on the winning side of the bargaining table.

1. Ask for a lower rate.
This sounds simple, even doomed, but very often works like a charm. Ask whether the hotel is currently running any promotions or packages, and then see if any of the following special rates might apply: AAA, senior, family, hotel membership, weekend, government discount, frequent flier, convention, shareholder or corporate. Hotels sometimes even have what is called a “fallback” rate for travelers who are resisting the quoted rate.

2. Shop around online.
For the latest hotel bargains in locations around the world, be sure to check our discount hotel deals daily. In addition, check the Web sites of your favorite hotel chains; often they will run promotions exclusively for Web bookings.

Hotel discount reservation services like Hotels.com can also help you save considerably on hotel rates, as can general travel booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity. Note, however, that these sites may charge booking fees, so often your best strategy is to shop around to find the lowest rate and then call the hotel directly to see if they can match it.

You may also want to check aggregator sites like Kayak or Mobissimo, which search a wide range of hotel chains and travel sites, and then send you directly to the provider for booking.

3. Book by price, not by property.
If you care less about a specific hotel than getting the cheapest deal, you may want to consider choosing your own price on Priceline or shopping the anonymous (but deeply discounted) hotel inventory on Hotwire. On these sites you often won’t know which hotel you’re staying at until it’s booked, but you can request the general location and quality (three-star, four-star, etc.) — and you could save a significant amount of money over other booking sites.

4. Call the hotel directly.
Many times specials are offered at the hotel that can’t be submitted through the 1-800 central reservations system. The 800 agents have no direct access to room availability, and are often not authorized to negotiate. Hotel agents are generally more in touch with availability and specials, and are therefore more flexible with rates.

Many chains allot only a select number of rooms to the central reservations system, so 800 agents may even tell you a hotel is sold out when in fact the hotel is discounting rooms because of low booking rates!

5. Be flexible with your dates.
Hotel rates can vary widely based on the time of year and the time of week when you travel. If you’re staying at a property that serves mostly business travelers, you may find great weekend deals, while B&B’s and other leisure properties tend to have lower rates midweek. On a broader scale, know when the peak seasons to visit your destination are — such as wintertime in the Caribbean or summertime in Europe. Rates will be sky-high at those times of year, so scheduling your trip for a less popular travel time could save you big bucks on your hotel.

6. Take advantage of last-minute specials.
If your travel plans are flexible, you could get a great rate by waiting to book your hotel until the last minute. Hotel managers are often willing to lower their rates to fill their last remaining rooms.

7. Consider a package deal.
If you’re looking for both airfare and hotels, shop around and see if it’s worth booking the two together as a package deal. You may not have as many hotel choices as you would if you were booking your lodging separately, but the discounts could be worth the lack of flexibility.

8. Consider a private sale.
Private sale sites Jetsetter.com and TabletHotels.com/privatesale/ offer exclusive deals on hotels and resorts, but you must be a member to access them, and most sales don’t last very long. If you’re open-minded about where you want to go and when, these sites can help you land deep discounts at upscale properties.

new orleans courtyard9. Look beyond the big hotels.
If you’re seeing high rates at big chain hotels, consider some alternatives. These could include bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, hostels or independently owned small hotels — most of which can’t be found on big booking engines. For advice on how to research these, see our guide to finding hidden hotels.

10. Know the full cost.
You may think you’ve found a great deal, but keep in mind that the base rate isn’t the only thing that will determine your total bill. Be sure to ask what taxes, resort fees, parking costs, energy surcharges, and other odds and ends will apply to your final tally. Even if one hotel has a lower base rate, it may end up being a more expensive option once all the extras are added in. For more information, see Hidden Hotel Fees.

11. Keep an eye on your credit card statements.
Occasionally, buried in all that junk stuffed in with your credit card statement are vouchers or guarantees for good hotel rates offered in conjunction with your credit card company. Typically, you have to request a specific rate code, included in the “literature,” and reserve and pay for the room with that particular credit card (or one issued by the same bank or company).

12. Use coupon and voucher books.
The number of discount coupon and voucher companies, both in print and on the Internet, is almost mind-boggling. Everywhere you look, you can tear off, cut out, download, print out or merely mention a discount coupon rate, and you can save on just about every aspect of travel. Do a Web search for “coupons” for your destination or hotel chain for some links to local and online coupon distributors.

In the midst of this abundance, one discount book stands head and shoulders above the rest: Entertainment Books published by Entertainment Publications. The great majority of discounts available come in at half price, whether they’re two-for-one meals or movies, or straight 50 percent discounts on hotel rooms. The company publishes books annually for dozens of major U.S. and Canadian destinations. They can be purchased online for $25 to $50.

13. Follow up.
Once you’ve booked your hotel, don’t just rest on your laurels. Call back or check online in another month or so and see whether rates have gone down. If they have, cancel your booking and rebook your stay at the lower rate. (Read the hotel’s cancellation policy carefully before doing so to make sure you won’t have to pay any penalties.)

14. Use your points.
Can’t find the rate you want? Try paying with hotel points instead. If you belong to a hotel’s loyalty program and have accumulated enough reward points, you can often use them to pay for your room (or for an upgrade to a better class of room).

15. Leave your bags in the car.
Planning to negotiate when you arrive? Don’t haul a huge piece of luggage into the lobby and then tell the agent that you’d just as soon go elsewhere if they can’t bring their rates down. You’ll look tired, hassled, sick of lugging bags and, to a shrewd hotel clerk, ready to pay handsomely to unpack that suitcase.

Secret Ways to Save at Hotels

Our story on how to get the best hotel rate contains most of the standard tips to start with when you’re trying to save on a hotel. But if you’ve been traveling for a while, you’re probably looking for a few more advanced strategies to shave a few bucks off your hotel bill. Here are some expert tips for folks who know all the standard hotel booking tricks and want to take things a bit further.

1. Check prices online before extending a stay.
If you have ever seen a calendar grid of hotel room prices, you know that prices change from day to day and from room to room. If you decide to extend your stay — or shorten it — doing the advance research on how much your room costs for the night or nights in question can be extremely helpful.

In this situation, the easiest way to extend your stay is simply to talk to the folks at the front desk, as that way you can typically stay in the same room, have the additional night appear on the same final invoice, leave your incidentals on the same card, etc. — in short, you don’t have to create a completely new booking with a new confirmation code.

But before you do, you will still want to research the price online first, for two reasons. First, if the new night is a peak night for the hotel, you won’t be surprised if the price is jacked up considerably — and you may even be able to negotiate it down to be closer to the rate you are already paying. Conversely, if the new night is a slow one for the hotel, you won’t merely extend your reservation at the same rate, only to find out later that the additional night should have been priced much lower.

This is especially the case for summer travel, where weeknight rates can be a fraction of weekend rates. For example, on a recent search for a Labor Day weekend hotel, I noticed that prices came down from around $200 per night to under $100 per night on Monday night as off-peak autumn pricing kicked in. If you didn’t know this, and the front desk offered you another night at the same rate you had paid previously, you would be out a lot of money you could have pocketed.

Similarly, if you shorten your stay, you will want to know the rate for that night so that your bill is adjusted correctly. In short, research prices just as you would for a new booking.

2. When booking flights, check prices at airport hotels.
If you find you can save lot of money on airfare by shifting your flights a day, or by flying very early in the morning, take a look at prices at airport hotels, as they are not always as expensive as you might think. In fact, I have found airport hotels to offer extremely competitive prices, especially in major cities where hotel choice is extensive and the airport hotel tends not to be a first choice except for folks who absolutely need to be in that area. If the airfare difference is more than the cost of the hotel, tacking on an extra night’s accommodations could actually save you money.

3. Speaking of airport hotels…
Many airport hotels also offer free or cheap parking for a few days. A hotel at which I stay occasionally near the Philadelphia airport offers four days of free parking with a one-night stay at the hotel, as well as a 24-hour airport shuttle. So a short stay at an airport hotel can sometimes result in a cheaper flight, completely cover the cost of airport parking, and offer an extra hour or more of sleep and a free breakfast to boot.

4. Check for a “best price” guarantee.
Many of the major booking sites offer a “best price guarantee” for flights, lodging, car rentals and more; this can mitigate the hassle and anxiety of searching for a rate on a booking site, then checking the hotel site, then checking the discount sites, etc. This way, if you see a good deal and want to book it straight away, you have options if you later find the same room for a better price elsewhere.

Expedia, for example, will refund the difference if you find a cheaper room within 24 hours of booking, and give you a $50 travel coupon; book a room, then see if there is a better price out there when you have a little time (within 24 hours, of course). Orbitz’s guarantee is a little more time-limited for airfares, and a little less so for hotels and car rentals.

5. Check hotel Web sites for deals and better customer service.
As hotel chains get into the act of driving customers to their own Web sites with the offer of otherwise unadvertised discounts, they are also withholding some of the best rooms in the hotel for folks who take the bait.

As often as not, you will find very similar prices on booking sites as compared to the specific hotel Web sites (in part due to a controversial practice called rate parity, in which booking sites exert influence to make sure hotel Web sites don’t undercut their prices). But a little-known fact of booking directly is that you tend to get slightly better service with direct bookings than with third-party bookings. Hotels make more money on direct bookings because they don’t have to pay commissions, which can be up to 25 percent, so they tend to show appreciation for the extra revenue by giving those folks slightly better rooms. It gets worse the less you pay; when a reservation shows it was booked at an almost obscenely low price on an auction site, it has become more or less standard operating procedure to withhold the best rooms in the hotel for folks who paid more and paid directly.

Corollary to Nos. 4 and 5: The hotel and booking site wars are only just now heating up; more and more travelers are hearing the words, “Well, you booked this on a third-party site” when checking in or asking for amenities and room changes, so the hotels are clearly using this as a bargaining chip.

hotel front desk check in coupleThat said, while the booking sites are engaging in rate parity practices, not all the hotels are doing the same, and just because you are booking on their Web sites doesn’t mean they will give you the best price. That means you can use the booking sites’ best price guarantees as your own bargaining chip with the hotels. If you see a much better price on Expedia, as I did for a hotel booking in Atlanta recently, give the hotel reservation number a call directly and ask if they can match it.

6. Beware of auction sites, but use if you must.
While I recommend blind auction sites such as Priceline for car rentals, especially from the major rental companies, they can be quite risky for hotels, almost more so than for airfares. This is because some of the steepest discounts are offered by hotels that might be less attractive when you know exactly where you will be staying, whether due to poor reviews, ongoing construction, inconvenient or shady neighborhoods, or maybe even a listing on a bedbug registry.

That said, when your search is extremely specific — an airport hotel might be a good example — use Priceline’s neighborhood mapping guide in an area where you know hotel choices are pretty limited, and you could do really well.

7. Are you a member? There’s a deal for you.
Most Americans are members of one association or another — most commonly AAA or AARP — and most membership associations offer member benefits that include hotel discounts. I am a member of USRowing, which offers 15 percent off the best available rate at all hotels in the Hilton family. My AAA membership offers deals at Best Western, Starwood, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt hotels. Your credit card company probably has even more relationships.

That said, I know truly almost no one who has ever taken advantage of these offers. Most of us go online, search for and find a price, book it, and forget about it. But 15 percent off a $199 booking is a fair chunk of money, and the vast majority of us leave it on the table. For more on these types of offers, have a look at Take the Ouch Out of Hotel Pricing: Four Common Discounts.

If those types of deals are too old-fashioned for you, try Groupon, LivingSocial and other social media-based offers; there are truly heaps of them out there as startups tussle over your loyalty and small margins.

8. Ask your hotel if it has an airport shuttle.
Many hotels that are not necessarily in immediate proximity to the airport still run airport shuttles; it just might not be very widely advertised (especially on larger booking sites, where specific hotels do not always have detailed control over the content of their listings). Finding this info will usually require a phone call directly to the hotel.

9. Ask your hotel for taxi recommendations.
If the hotel doesn’t have a shuttle, it will often have a relationship with a taxi company that will offer consistent pricing and service to its lodgers. On a recent trip to Europe, the front desk not only called a taxi for us, but also negotiated a price and sent the car out to pick us up at the end of the day. While we were sightseeing, I decided to ask another taxi company for a quote back to our hotel, and it was more than double the price the front desk had negotiated for us. Not bad.

10. If you miss breakfast, get a to-go box.
On the same recent trip to Europe, the hotel staff knew we had a very early flight that would require us to check out before the hotel breakfast was served, so they made a to-go box breakfast for us to take with us to the airport. Not all hotels offer this amenity — I haven’t seen much of it in the U.S. lately — but it’s worth asking the night before you leave if the hotel can bundle up some muffins or the like for you in the morning.