Traveling is stressful. Planning a vacation can be a cumbersome endeavor and overlooking some details is inevitable. But while you may be busy thinking about more exciting stuff like what to pack and what sights you'll see, you also have to consider the logistics for things like flights, accommodations and travel documents. Now this is where it gets complicated, thanks to the multitude of travel questions that all seem to have contradicting answers. But fear not, U.S. News has you covered. We've rounded up a list of some of the most commonly asked travel questions and spoke with a handful of industry insiders and travel experts to, once and for all, answer those queries that cause so much anxiety.
How far in advance should I make my flight reservations (domestic and international)?
Technically, there is no "right" time to book a flight, but there are certain guidelines you can follow to ensure you are getting a good price. Christopher Elliott , journalist, consumer advice advocate and creator of Elliott.org, recommended travelers purchase their flight tickets at least 14 or more days (two to three weeks) in advance for both domestic and international flights. And if you can, never buy a flight within 24 hours of departure. "Airlines jack up the rates within 24 hours and for walk-ups," Elliott said. He also strongly warned against buying a flight too early because airlines price flights at their highest when first released about 300 to 320 days in advance. George Hobica, the creator of Airfarewatchdog, advised travelers to "set up free airfare alerts by email and pounce when there's an unadvertised sale, which could happen at any moment, with huge savings."
How far in advance should I book my hotel reservations?
Earlier than when you'd book your flight. The American Hotel & Lodging Association officials recommended booking accommodations as soon as you have your dates finalized, especially if you are traveling with a family or have special requests, such as ADA compliant rooms, cribs, etc. The association also suggested booking directly with the hotel as it typically offers the best rates. Plus, you'll be much more likely to earn loyalty program points if you choose not to book through a third-party site like Expedia or Orbitz. Dave Solomito, director of brand marketing at Kayak, agreed that travelers should make hotel reservations as soon as possible if they have specific dates, but added that those with flexibility may find greater deals booking last minute. "If you wait until the day you arrive in your destination, you may find a great last-minute deal as hotels look to sure up their occupancy each night," he said. Hotel Tonight, Travelzoo and Last Minute Travel are great resources to consult if you're looking to plan a vacation on a whim.
What's the first thing I should do if my flight is canceled?
If your flight is canceled, immediately go to the ticket counter to determine your options. And while you're in line, Hobica recommended calling the airline to see if a customer service representative can assist you over the phone (he or she may be able to help you before you reach the front of the line). Hobica also suggested travelers reach out to the airline via Twitter to see if the customer service agent manning the airline's social media account can be of assistance. "American Airlines' Twitter staff is especially responsive in this regard," Hobica said.
What's the best day to book travel plans?
This question is widely debated and disputed among travel experts and writers alike. All of our sources agreed that there is no such thing as a "best" day for booking travel plans. In fact, Elliott and Solomito noted that recent data has proven that the "best day" theory is a gimmick. And although prices do vary during different times of the week, Solomito noted that the average savings are usually only $5 to $15. "There is absolutely no magic day. That's a myth," Hobica said. "You buy when you're ready to fly. Don't play the game," Elliott added.
How do I obtain a visa?
Before obtaining a visa, travelers should first determine whether or not the country they're traveling to requires one. For instance, some countries like Russia and Australia require you to have a visa regardless of the duration of your stay, even if you'll be in the country for just two days. Luckily, many countries only require a visa for longer stays, usually those exceeding 90 days. The U.S. Department of State is a great resource for American citizens looking to travel abroad and provides a wealth of knowledge and country-specific details, including entry and exit requirements, visa information and travel alerts and warnings.
If you do need a visa, call or make an appointment with the country's consulate. The consulate will provide you with the next steps for obtaining a visa, and tell you whether or not you can send the visa paperwork via mail or if you must apply in person. Keep in mind that visa costs and fees vary from country to country. Also, note that some countries have multiple consulates and cater to geographical areas, so make sure you are in contact with the specific consulate assigned to your region.
When is travel insurance needed?
There is no definitive rule of thumb to help you determine whether or not travel insurance is necessary. However, Elliott recommended investing in travel insurance if it's a trip that costs more than $5,000 or a "vacation that you can't afford to lose." And Solomito agreed: "Travel insurance is always a good idea if you can swing it, especially when you are planning a big trip and have invested significantly into your travel plans," he said. Other factors, such as specific health restrictions, should also be considered. For instance, if you have a health condition that may cause you to cancel your travel plans, health insurance is probably a smart investment. But most importantly, if travel insurance will ease your travel anxieties, it's worth it. "If you're going somewhere and it'll give you peace of mind, buy it," Elliott said.
What should I do if my luggage is delayed?
If your bags don't come off the conveyor belt, alert airline personnel immediately. Each airline usually has a service kiosk located in the baggage claim area where someone will be able to assist you in tracking down your bags and filing a report.
Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Transportation has started to crack down on airlines that are not providing necessary support to travelers with delayed or lost luggage. Specifically, it has enhanced the protection and compensation that airlines must provide to travelers. Factors such as whether or not you're away from home and how long it will take to track down your bag contribute to how much compensation the airline is required to provide. If you have to buy any necessities due to your delayed baggage, make sure to save all your receipts so the airline can properly reimburse you. In rare cases, the airline may give you a cash advance.
If you purchased your flight with a credit card, Hobica recommended checking with your credit card company to see if it covers lost or delayed baggage. "If you paid for the flight with certain credit cards, the issuer may have automatic, free insurance to help out in bag delay situations," he said.
Kaitlyn Chamberlin is an intern for the Travel section at U.S. News. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org