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We all know to lock our hotel doors and avoid flashing our cash when we travel. But there are some critical facts many people don't know, and they can make the difference in whether your next trip is happy or horrible.
1. Airplanes aren't as clean as you think
Thirsty on your flight? Stick with bottled water. The holding tank on planes is seldom cleaned, so pass on the coffee, tea and ice cubes, as well. And planes sometimes refill at foreign airports, where water standards can be questionable.
Airplanes aren't thoroughly cleaned until they reach their final stop for the day, so you might be stepping into three flights' worth of collective grime. Have a late flight? You better bring disinfecting wipes to clean down the tray table. Avoid putting belongings in seat pockets and using airplane pillows and blankets. Finally, don't wash your hands in the airplane bathroom, which uses water from the holding tank. Use hand sanitizer instead.
2. That hotel room safe … isn't
Did you know hotel employees usually have a master code to access the room safe in case a guest loses the key? Keep your passport and other valuables with you, or store them in the hotel's main safe or in your suitcase instead. Pick up a good cable lock and fasten it to something immobile when you leave your room.
3. Most credit card rewards are nonrefundable
Are you booking rewards travel with credit card points? Better be absolutely certain about your travel plans. Most earned points that are not part of a major airline frequent-flier mile program can't be redeposited, so if you have to cancel your reservation, you won't be getting them back. Travel insurance providers often don't insure awards travel, so don't count on them to rescue you, either.
4. RV rentals can have hidden fees
By now you have seen those commercials: A Rockwell-esque family of four and their retriever pile into a camper and hit the open road. But before you try RV-ing yourself, realize the rental companies may ask a $1,000-plus security deposit. Be extremely careful about children, pets and smoking (do we really have to mention that last one?) in the vehicle. And bring your own towels, linens and kitchenware or expect to pay for rentals.
5. Cellphones on cruise ships will drown you with fees
Surprised that you get reception on the open water? You'll be even more surprised when the bill arrives from your wireless company. Don't be fooled because you're close to the coast. If you're connecting to the ship's onboard cell tower, you'll pay hefty roaming fees. Wait until you get to shore and find an Internet cafe where you can use a service such as Skype.
6. Renting a car? You can probably skip the insurance
If you drive, you should already have waiver and liability coverage with your own existing insurance. Alternatively, if you have a credit card, check to see if it provides waiver coverage — many do. While you're filling out the paperwork, always make sure you have someone sign off on the visual inspection of the car — or better yet, take 360-degree photos of the vehicle. You don't want to end up paying for someone else's mistakes. Finally, pay attention as you leave the facility for gas stations to visit on the way back. Rental car companies may charge $8 or more per gallon for empty tanks.
7. The truth about 'free' flight vouchers
Volunteering to be bumped from a flight? Always ask for cash-equivalent vouchers. "Free Flight" vouchers might sound like a better deal, but they are intentionally difficult to redeem and subject to all sorts of restrictions and blackout days.
8. Your passport could get you stuck at the border
Believe it or not, even with a valid passport in hand, you could have trouble entering or exiting a country. Passports must have at least two blank visa pages. If you have fewer than that, you can order additional visa pages through the State Department.
Many countries also require that your passport be valid at least three to six months after your date of travel. The rules vary by country: For example, all visitors to New Zealand must carry a passport that's valid for at least three months after the date of departure; travelers to Brazil must have a passport that's valid for at least another six months when applying for a visa. Check with the embassy of your destination country to confirm which rules apply to you. If you need to expedite a new passport, contact the State Department.
9. Your credit card may be rejected at the counter when traveling abroad
You thought you were playing it smart by using your credit card rather than getting nailed by withdrawal fees at the ATM. But in an effort to reduce fraud, more and more countries are switching over to a "chip and PIN" system over the "swipe and sign" system that we're more familiar with in the United States. The chip and PIN process involves credit and debit cards that have an embedded microchip, and consumers must type in a four-digit personal identification number.