Travel Talk: Don’t forget to fine tune your return trip
I get it! When you’re planning a vacation, you’re thinking about getting outta town. Which flights will get you on that beach at the earliest possible moment? Which hotels or resorts have early check-in and speedy transfers? Normally, scrutinizing aspects of the return are very, very low on your priority list. But pooh-poohing the importance of the return can lead to misery, frustration, lost luggage and worse.
Booking flights: Let’s assume you’ve got the best itinerary to get you to your destination. Great! Since virtually all booking sites now display and price itineraries on a one-way basis (outbound for departure and inbound for return, in airline speak), you can mix and match flights for your own convenience and your own pocketbook. You’ll often find that on any given day one-way flights back to the United States from, say, Miami or San Juan or other points south, can range from $200 up to $500 or more. The best itineraries are more, of course. You can save money by flying from that lovely locale at 6 a.m., but do you really want to get up at 3 or 4 a.m. to get to the airport? You can also save by flying home very late in the day – 4 p.m. or later – But does getting home after midnight sound good? Sometimes a very long layover (3 to 4 hours or more) or a scary short one (less than an hour) will save money; the first can wear on you, especially if you have kids along, and the latter can result in missed connections, lost luggage and much worse. Look for a balance of price and convenience.
Lodging: Selecting your hotel or resort based on how easy it is to leave is silly, of course. But at least be aware of policies that could make the departure process easier for you. Some resorts have early check-in times (wahoo for getting to that beach!), but be aware that this can also mean very early check-out times. If you have a late flight and want to hang out on the beach, make sure they have courtesy showers and changing rooms or (much better) will allow a courtesy late check-out so you can stay in your room. Late check-outs will depend on how busy the hotel is and your relationship with the powers that be – so getting to know management can help. If policies aren’t clear online, email the lodging to check. Also check out transfers, especially with all-inclusives. Big resorts usually bus groups of travelers to and from the airport, and you may have to leave much earlier than you’d like.
Confirm and verify: Being informed helps avoid nasty surprises. Before you leave, make sure the airline has all your contact info – email, cell phone, hotel landline, hotel email. They won’t always be able to reach you (or bother, perhaps), so make a note to check two days before your departure. Start with flight status. If you don’t have a smart phone, tablet or laptop, use the hotel internet access or ask the manager. Print boarding passes as soon as you can (many hotels do this for free). Once you’re confirmed, verify transfers and plan how your last day will go. The morning of departure – and especially before leaving for the airport – check again. And don’t forget the weather. Preload a weather app, such as Living Earth.