New York

Post-Lockdown Travel Tips

I’ve never been so glad to come home from a trip.

Travel is more stressful than usual these days — long lines, high costs, delays and cancellations.  My recent trip to New York and New Jersey was no exception.  I had a great time (more on the sites to see in later posts), but the transportation and lodging logistics were a nightmare.

Here’s how you can profit from my example:

Book fully flexible reservations NOW.

Reservations are filling up fast everywhere — planes, trains, rental cars, and especially hotels.  Attractions from museums to amusement parks are requiring advance tickets.

My advice is:  Book now; plan later.  You can always cancel if you find a better deal — or if your plans change.

Prepare to be bumped.

I did everything right:

I booked my one-bedroom suite at the Jersey City Residence Inn directly through the Marriott site.  I dressed presentably in slacks and a blazer.  I checked in mid-afternoon.  I have elite status.  And I run a successful travel blog.

Yet still, the hotel bumped me.  In fact, it bumped me without telling me it was bumping me.

And so, I arrived at my assigned room to discover a small studio.  I called the check-in agent, who argued his records showed that “you guys” had reserved a studio.  I told him that his records were incorrect.  He transferred me to someone else, who matter-of-factly conceded that, yes, I had reserved a suite, but they were oversold, as though reserving a room type is no stronger a guarantee than rolling dice.

Moreover, the postage-stamp studio was across the hallway from some slob(s) who evidently eschewed daily housekeeping, and so each day I was treated to the sight of damp dirty towels piled on the hall carpet and a waste basket brimming with the congealed remains of whatever they’d recently eaten.

I went to bed each night counting the days till I could come home.

When the happy day of my escape came, I fared better than others on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train.

Across the aisle from me, multiple people had assignments for the same seats.  A conductor explained that he and his colleagues hadn’t scanned all the tickets of the passengers who boarded north of New York, so Amtrak’s system automatically cancelled their reservations and assigned their seats to other passengers.  And so my seat-mate and I watched a game of musical chairs at subsequent stops, and feared to get up to go to the café car lest someone squat our seats before we returned.

My advice is:  Travel early in the day, both to claim what you’ve reserved and to have time and energy to fight if necessary.  (My other advice is:  Never stay at the Jersey City Residence Inn.)

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Anticipate delays.

When I arrived at New York‘s packed Moynihan Train Hall, a canned announcement repeated over and over that all southbound Northeast Regional trains were delayed and that there was no estimate for how long.  Ugh.

But then I noted that the trains were actually running, just a few hours late.  I sat on the floor and downloaded Amtrak’s app.  I hoped to rebook myself on an earlier train, but none were popping up.

Then I noticed that the departures board had changed my train’s status to “Standby”.  Not sure what this really meant, and fearful that it would soon change to “Cancelled”, I lined up behind about three dozen other would-be travellers trying to reach the ticket counter.

While standing in line, I kept checking my train’s status on the Amtrak app.  Suddenly, it switched to “Boarding”, and I rushed to the gate.  I actually jumped onto the train several cars behind mine, just to be safe, and then made my way to my assigned, and happily empty, seat.

All in all, I arrived home in Alexandria only about 45 minutes late.

My advice is:  Download your train or airline’s app ahead of time, and keep alert and ready to respond quickly to any status changes.

Brace for sticker shock.

I had planned to meet my group at 10:00 for a morning walk in Central Park.  Since I was staying in Jersey City, I rode the local PATH train to its final stop at the World Trade Center.  I intended to use a ride-share for the remaining 5.5 miles to our meeting spot.

But the Uber fare was a ridiculous $73.  Lyft didn’t have cars available to get me there on time.

It was 9:15.  Okay, I thought, I have 45 minutes to figure out the New York City subway system and meet the group.  I found a station — but (sorry for the indelicacy) the stench of urine was so great that I just couldn’t stomach it.

My advice is:  Make a Plan B for ground transportation ahead of time.  (My other advice is:  Avoid the New York City subway system.)

Use the right credit cards.

For a summer when travel is expected to be both expensive and unreliable, you need a mix of credit cards that offer travel benefits and cash back.  Here are a few good ones:

  • Capital One Venture X is a premium card that offers lots of travel benefits, including:  $300 back in statement credits for travel booked through its portal, lounge access, Hertz elite status, trip-delay reimbursement, and more.
  • Discover it offers 5 percent cash-back on quarterly rotating categories throughout the year.  As of this writing, it’s awarding 5 percent cash-back on gasoline during April-June and 5 percent back at restaurants during July-September.  It will also double all the cash-back you earn during your first year of card membership.
  • Rakuten Visa offers an additional 3 percent cash-back on travel reserved through the program’s portal.  That’s on top of the cash-back you earn simply for booking through the site, which I’ve seen reach as high as 15 percent.  That means that you could score a whopping 18 percent cash-back on travel.

I hope these tips help you enjoy a wonderful vacation.  And if not, at least you’ll be glad to come home.

Post-Lockdown Travel Tips


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