I recently had to book last minute flights, hotels, and a rental car, and learned a few things along the way:
Book your flights first. You can get everything else sorted later.
Book early, if you can. I booked 7 months out for a trip and paid over $800 less per person than my brother, who booked about 1 month out.
The last few rows of seats on pre-2015 Boeing 737 jets are 5dB louder than the wing seats. Roughly 88dB vs. 83dB. Significant difference. The World Health Organization recommends a maximum exposure time of 4 hours at 88dB. So on long flights, if you’re in the rear seats, give everyone in your family earplugs. Or take shorter flights, and give your ears a rest during layover.
If you have a family with small children, you will usually be relocated together. You don’t always need to purchase seat upgrades. Sometimes your relocation will be over the wing seats. Sometimes the only seats left with room for families of 3 or more will be the more expensive seats that others didn’t pick. Free upgrade!
A few airlines say they can’t seat families together if you purchase economy tickets (also noted in this article), but gate agents will usually still do their best to help. Unless you get there at the last minute, like we did. In that case, our youngest just happened to let out a cry that made the businessman next to us want to give up his window seat for a middle seat elsewhere, and then we all got to sit together. We thanked the man for his kindness.
The Boeing 737 2015 revision that we flew on one leg of our trip had more comfy seats than the older pre-2015 737 we flew on the previous leg. The newer 2015 revision also had seat-back screens.
The Airbus A320 seats are a bit more comfortable than both Boeing 737s we took. The Airbus also had a bit more room in the bathrooms, with bigger changing tables.
In most planes, if you’re in an aisle seat, it will appear like you can’t lift the aisle armrest up, but in many cases, you can. This is required by law for accessibility purposes. Reach under the arm (below where your elbow would sit) until you find a (probably never cleaned) tiny button/lever/toggle. Push it and you will be able to lift the arm up.
Book early. You can always cancel later, usually at no charge. This is especially true in 2021, as car rental fleets have been decimated during the Covid-19 pandemic. I paid $35/day in February 2021 by booking early, while my brother would have paid $200+/day by booking in July 2021, for an August trip.
I tried renting a car through Priceline, but it fell through when I got to the counter at 1AM and the rental company refused to honor the Priceline price. The rental counter price was well over $200 beyond what Priceline quoted.
Priceline customer service offered no help and tried to get me off the phone. They sent me a survey days later and apparently this is a common problem, because the first option they list for not booking the reservation is “price at the counter was not what Priceline quoted“.
Thankfully, I was able to book through Costco Travel and get an even better deal than Priceline gave.
If you have kids that need car seats, occasionally they will be free with the rental, but many times you may be charged exorbitant extra fees (ex. $70/day for the seats alone). Lyft and Uber don’t have car seats either, unless you’re in New York City. It might pay to arrange ahead of time to have a family member or friend pick up a couple of car seats at a store and deliver them to you at the airport.
Be careful of hidden rental charges – extension fees, convenience fees, tolls, and those car seats.
2019 Ford Edge
We rented a Ford Edge sport utility vehicle, which happened to be the best deal at the time. It seemed like a safe car, and was definitely roomy, but also felt pretty disconnected from the road. It had all sorts of bells and whistles (unusual for a rental): radar cruise control with stop & go, lane keeping assist, auto liftgate, and automatic high beams. And CarPlay.
The radar cruise control was okay. It would take you all the way down to a halt in stop and go traffic, but many of the stops would be so jerky the whole cabin/vehicle would lurch forward. So we ended up stopping manually.
The lane keeping assist was kind of cool but mostly ping-ponged you around the lane. It would also lose confidence in its lane keeping ability, turning on and off seemingly randomly.
The auto lift-gate was cool but slow.
The automatic high beams were great – I want them on my next car.
The infotainment displays were faster than the ones in older Ford vehicles, but still way too information-dense and distracting. Most Audis, VWs, Volvos, and even Kias are much cleaner.
You can use your wireless carrier’s international plan, but the options are generally (very) slow and free, or slightly faster and expensive. I always pick a local carrier that offers eSIM service. (And here’s a more complete list of eSIM carriers by country.) It usually comes out to around ~30€ for more fast 4G/5G data than I could ever use on one trip. If you’re using an iPhone 14+, an eSIM is your only choice.
Also see this guide from Apple on traveling with eSIM-only iPhones: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT213448
For hotels, Priceline is actually decent. Especially the Express Deals on 3 and 3.5 star hotels, which are often cheaper than AirBnB. There are several ways to find out the naming of the mystery Express Deal hotels before you book them – search online. Only caveat: You will probably not get hotel points when you book through Priceline.
Hope these tips help!