Who hasn't come back from a trip with an insanely high credit card bill? We're guilty of it (in fact some of us are still paying it off after a year). But you can always be smarter about it next time. So go ahead and forgive yourself, then read up on the tips and tricks for getting more go for your dough in 2016.
The sputtering Eurozone economy. Chinese stock market swings. Latin American politics. Plummeting petrol prices. A reawakening Russian bear. Did you catch all that? If not, just know that while the factors revitalizing the U.S. dollar can seem super complicated, taking the time to read up on currency affairs and their impact on global travel could help you bank on the strongest American dollar in years.
Here's the rundown: The Australian dollar has dipped to its 2009 low, with the value of $1 AUD hovering around $0.70 USD. The U.S. dollar is straight up crushing the Canadian Loonie with some analysts expecting the currency to bottom out at $0.68 CAD (saving Americans close to 33 percent since 2013). And down in Argentina, the country's Peso has tumbled 29 percent, effectively slashing prices on Tango lessons and Malbec tastings.
Plan your trip with a lengthy layover in one of your airline's hub cities and you can explore two destinations for the price of just one flight. Paris in spring? Plan your itinerary with Icelandair for a multi-night stopover in Reykjavik en-route and you can start the trip with a soak in the geothermal Blue Lagoon. Considering Beijing, Tokyo or Hong Kong? Look at Air Canada flights laying over in Vancouver, where jetsetters can schedule extended breaks, and the airport is only a 30-minute train ride from the waterfront. Other destinations worth the stopover: Dublin (Aer Lingus), Paris (Air France), Amsterdam (KLM), Helsinki (Finnair), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines), and Singapore (Singapore Airlines).
If you built up your credit while interest rates were low and you never run balances, this could be your prime time to enter the airline-branded credit card arena. With interest rates up – and threatening to go higher – in 2016, banks will be increasingly competing for customers with good credit, making you a hot commodity. That means if you play your cards right you can score big mileage payouts and perks like lounge access and waived fees. But before you dive in, there are a few things you need to know:
First, airline-branded credit cards represent a relationship with a bank, not an airline. If you thought your fave airline was the one handing over free miles, parting the velvet lounge ropes, and waiving those pesky fees, think again. Banks actually buy miles from and pay reduced bag fees to the partner airline in exchange for the right to sell you their branded card. So plan to pay for your tickets with their plastic, or you'll be waving goodbye to waived fees.
Second, sign up for every frequent flyer program possible and let the offers roll in before you jump at anything. Last year the American Airlines-branded AAdvantage Citi Mastercard offered bonuses between 40,000 and 80,000 miles and the Delta SkyMiles American Express handed out 30,000 to 50,000 miles. Fortunately, you don't need to obsessively monitor the market day-and-night to score the best deals. Just log on to ThePointsGuy.com where expert Brian Kelly keeps track of the top offers for you.
Finally, we're confident you already know this...but never, ever run a balance on an airline-branded credit card. Super high interest rates are the name of the game when it comes to bonus miles and freebies, so spending beyond your limit is a risky move. Also, be sure to note that most banks waive the annual fee for the first year only, so keep in mind the rate that year two will run at. If your perks aren't equal to or greater than the fee, then it's not worth your while.
Unlocking phones is all the rage in 2016, with wireless contracts and smartphone subsidies going out the window. Basically, having an unlocked phone means you aren't bound to a single carrier, aka you can hop from network to network to avoid outrageous roaming fees. Apple, once an anti-unlocking establishment, has even begun to sell carrier-freed iPhones, something that was unfathomable when the device launched on AT&T way back in 2008. Go with the flow and free your phone to more easily control the network on which it operates by using local SIM cards for calls, texts and data. If you can't unlock your smartphone as you're still bound by an active contract, consider buying a cheap-o unlocked phone to use exclusively with local SIM cards.
If thinking about the logistics of SIM cards and international data plans gives you a headache, you can still save money without them. Turn off your data, and connect to a WiFi network to send texts (on iOS) and messages, as well as update your social medias. If you find a dependable network, you can even make calls or video chat. In fact, chances are that you have access to top communication apps already, as the big players in tech are releasing more and more in their battle for users. For instance, Microsoft Surface users have Skype at their fingertips for video and audio calls. Apple iOS users also have Skype, and can always FaceTime with other iOS addicts. Use Gmail? You can easily tap into Google Hangouts to hit up friends and family, and you can often dial U.S. phone numbers for free. Connect with Facebook friends on the site's Messenger or WhatsApp platforms and you can update everybody on your list. Good news on that front: founder Jan Koum just announced the company will be dropping their annual subscription fee.
We love the hotel life, but also understand that if you're looking to save, innovative new travel companies can pose a solution. Still an AirBnB virgin? Why? You don't have to open your home to others in order to rent rooms, cottages, cabins and other unique accommodations listed on the pioneering home-stay website. On the other hand, if you're looking for authentic community, join CouchSurfing to share your couch and to crash on couches across the globe for pennies on the dollar.
Uber continues to revolutionize the way we experience destinations from Park City to Paris, offering ease and potential savings on airport transfers and late-night jaunts. Just be sure to keep your rating high and always stay on top of the ebb and flow of surge pricing.
Beyond the now established travel alternatives, new apps and digital communities are continuing to pop up left and right. Road tripping? Log on to BlaBlaCar, a long-distance ride-share platform connecting people driving from one city to another with travelers willing to pay for a ride in an empty seat. Want to discover the next locavore trend? Log on to EatWith to book a seat at a local chef's kitchen table to discover what's fresh in your fave destination. Interested in touring a European capital with a local? Check out Vayable to book tours with on the ground experts in top destinations.
And innovative travel options aren't always about the discounts – they're also about getting more for your money. For instance, you can upgrade your jetset status to baller for less than you think with Wheels Up. The membership-based startup uses new algorithms to manage a fleet providing the perks of private flying at a considerable discount. Keep start-up Beacon, another flight-membership service, on your radar for 2016. Right now the company's flights are limited between Boston and New York, but they're looking to grow.