Travel is expensive. So those of us who travel regularly spend a lot of time trying to get the best deal on air fares, hotels and all the other things a traveller needs. But now and then the lowest price ends up being a bad bargain. We end up suffering through the air flight from hell, or getting the hotel room with the dumpster next door.
There’s a lesson to be learned here: especially if you’re a baby boomer, it can be worth passing up the cut-rate deal and paying a little more for some extra comfort. It can be the difference between having a trip that’s survivable and one that’s a real pleasure.
So, when is it worth spending the extra cash? I can think of five things that can repay the investment in time, comfort and convenience. And I can think of a few that don’t make the cut, at least on my value scale. See if you agree — and if you have a few of your own, leave a comment and let us know.
Here are my five things that are worth the extra cost when you travel.
A non-stop flight
The more I fly, the more I want to just get on the plane and get off at my destination. I don’t want to suffer through two or three takeoffs and landings — my ears don’t respond well to the assault. And I don’t want to get dragged through some airport in a city I didn’t want to go to and have them put me through a second, redundant security gauntlet because they felt like it. So if I can find a non-stop flight for anything like a reasonable price, these days I’ll take it.
But beware: if you’re offered a “direct” flight, that’s not always the same as non-stop. To airlines, the word “direct” only means the flight number doesn’t change on the way to your destination. They can still make you change planes as many times as they like. Always check the flight details on the listing when you’re booking your trip.
A comfortable seat
It’s no secret that while people are steadily getting bigger, airlines are steadily making their seats smaller. It just makes sense — if you’re trying to make your customers as uncomfortable as possible. So nowadays it can be worthwhile spending extra money on a bigger seat, with more leg room and a better location on the plane — maybe an aisle seat instead of one jammed between two strangers.
How much you pay is a whole other subject: on some airlines, just choosing your seat will cost you. After that, there are “comfort” seats, and “premium economy” seats, then business class, first class, and so on, each with a progressively higher price. What you’re willing to pay depends on your disposable income: the price of a first-class seat is breathtaking these days. But especially if you’re going to be in the air for several hours, I think it’s worth spending some money to be comfortable.
An all-inclusive hotel
If you travel to sun destinations, spending a little extra money on your hotel can actually end up saving you money. Two hotels may look pretty much the same on the booking site, but choosing the all-inclusive hotel (or the all-inclusive option on the one you book) can end up being a good deal. Don’t underestimate the amount you can spend on three meals a day, even in place like Mexico. And when they throw in free booze, you can’t lose — at least, if you’re a drinker.
Doesn’t this tie you into a whole week of institutional food in a nondescript dining room? It can, but that’s something you should research on Tripadvisor before you book. And remember, staying at an all-inclusive hotel doesn’t mean you have to eat every meal there. You can try out some interesting restaurants here and there when the hotel fare gets boring and still save money.
A special meal
It’s true, you can go broke eating in fancy restaurants every night, especially in places like London and Paris. But a country’s cuisine is a major part of its culture and its charm. So at least once during your stay, it’s worth splashing out on a fancy dinner in a nice restaurant — maybe even a famous once, if you can manage it. Have the best regional dishes, cooked by expert chefs; then you can say you had the real French, or German, or Spanish food experience.
If dinner in the nice restaurant stretches your budget too far, try going for lunch. It’s a travel cliché that the lunch menu at pricey restaurants is less expensive, but most of the time it’s true. And if you can’t manage that, drop by and have a drink at the bar; in some places you can get a light meal there. The moral is, eating cheap can save you a lot of money, but now and then you have to try the real thing.
A hotel suite
Speaking of hotels, if you’re booking more than one room when you travel, consider getting a suite. It’ll cost more than a single room, but it may be less than the price of two rooms. And if you choose well, you could end up with a big living room, a balcony, and extras like a kitchen — which can save you money on meals.
One hint, though: check the details of the suite carefully before you book. Some are truly super-sized, with lots of extra amenities, while others are just regular rooms that have been stretched a little. On my recent trip to Canada’s east coast, my friend Dennis and I got a “suite” at a Travelodge in New Brunswick that left us in disbelief — I’ll tell you the whole story one day.
Those are my five choices for things that are worth the extra cost when you travel. But there some things that I won’t spend the extra money on, because the comfort they provide isn’t worth the cost. Here are a few.
If your hotel you comes with free breakfast, you’re doing well. But if it offers you the option of paying for it, take a critical look. In my experience, the amount hotels charge for a breakfast in their dining room is considerably more than I want to spend on that meal. And in most cases, there’s a restaurant or coffee shop nearby where I can get a bite for half the price. Especially if you eat a small breakfast, paying $15 or $20 for the hotel meal is bad value.
Room service and mini-bars
Hotels make a lot of their money by charging you extra fees for things these days. In most cases you’re getting some convenience, but you’re paying a rich — often outrageous — price for it. Unless there’s absolutely no other place to get a meal or a snack, avoid the room service and mini-bar like the plague.
The airport limo
This is a more controversial choice. In some cases taking a taxi into town from the airport is worth the money, especially if you’re splitting the cost among two or three people. But especially in European cities, there’s often a special bus or train that goes straight from the airport to the city centre, for a fraction of the price. Many of them are quite comfortable these days. And even if you lose a bit of comfort, you may make it up in time saved: trains don’t get stuck in traffic jams.
Admittedly, what’s good value and what isn’t depends a lot on your travel style. For example, I never spend the extra money on a balcony cabin when I cruise. I like to be out and about, and on the occasions I’ve had a balcony, I hardly used it. But there are others who love to spend hours reading in the privacy of their little outdoor space, or just watching the sea slide by.
So, you can decide what’s affordable comfort for yourself. But the moral is this: when you’re booking a trip, take the time to think about your own well-being while you’re thinking about the price. Paying a little extra here and there to make yourself comfortable can be the best bargain you make all day.