We have two predictions for 2006 we know will come true. You will travel somewhere. And you'll hit potholes. As a holiday gift, instead of just giving you one way to improve your travel life, we've got 50!
1. Don't panic about fare hikes. They're coming, to the tune of 3 to 6 percent. But bankrupt carriers will always cut prices as a lure. So you don't have to buy summer tickets just yet!
2. But if you see a good fare, nab it. Because really, the trend is up, up, and away.
3. Busy = bargains. Competition from low-fare carriers will keep prices low on popular legs (like New York-L.A. or Chicago-Dallas).
5. Always check the airline site. Typically, you'll save $5 to $10 a ticket.
6. Steer clear of troubled li'l carriers. Like Independence Air. They're at the greatest risk of folding. Book only for the near future.
7. Pack lunch. And more. Want a pillow on Air Canada? That'll be $2.
8. Better yet, bring your own. Cocoon's travel pillows ($20-$40) pack into a fist-size bag and come in three sizes, including a new 13-by-17-inch model.
9. Pack light. To keep fuel costs down, airlines are enforcing luggage weight limits--usually 40 to 50 pounds. Go over and you may have to pay $150--if the airline accepts your luggage.
10. Consider an online agent. Dot-com travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity charge a $5 booking fee but now promise that if something goes wrong, they'll make it right--and they've been doing their best.
11. Burn your miles. Got enough for a ticket? Cash out. The uncertainty of some carriers could make frequent-flier points depreciate.
12. Earn points like a pro. Tim Winship and Randy Petersen tell all in Mileage Pro ($19.95, mileageprobook com ), from "double-dipping" (earning airline and hotel points at the same time) to awards for other purchases.
13. Kids still fly free. Alaska Airlines Vacations offers free airfare for ages 2 through 11 on Southern California packages. Book by March 19, travel January 3 through June 28.
14. Call for your car. Rates are edging up. Car rental websites typically have the best prices, but there may be special discounts for callers.
15. For speed, try Orbitz. Just three screens to book a "no sticker shock" car (taxes and fees included, insurance and optional fuel charges not).
16. Don't overinsure. Call your insurer to find out what coverage you have. Better yet, pay with Visa: Any car rented with its card will be covered.
17. Defend against dents. Agencies are cracking down on customers who dent or scratch a car. Examine your car before leaving the lot. When you return it, take pictures as proof of no damage.
18. Pump it yourself. The prepaid option is a rip-off unless you come back on "empty."
19. Go for hot wheels. Hertz's new "Fun Collection" features convertibles like the Mazda Miata as well as SUV s like the Ford Escape XLT Sport.
20. Pay in full ASAP. Or you may be asked for a bit more cash when you settle up: a fuel-related surcharge of up to $10 a day.
21. Get repositioned. A repositioning ship changes its itinerary, typically because of weather, then cuts its price. Ask a travel agent who specializes in cruises for details.
22. Buy cancellation insurance. In leaner years, the cruise industry would offer credit if you canceled. But as business picks up, cruise lines are taking a hard line.
23. Check out EasyCruise. This buzzed-about new line has made a splash with hipper ships and low nightly rates (as low as $24 a person, double occupancy, for a Caribbean jaunt).
24. Dance with the starfish. Holland America's new Noordam sails from Europe this summer with a 16-day Atlantic crossing with big-band music and contests.
25. Don't delay for deluxe. High-end ships are practically full for '06. Book now, Daddy Warbucks!
26. Hitch a ride on a freighter. No cruise directors, but the prices are good. For details, see Freighter-travel.com or Freighterworld.com.
27. Hey, Bro! Occupancy levels are soaring. So are rates. Explore time shares. Or--dare we say?--mooch off friends.
29. Beware of new fees. They're everywhere, according to a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study--$10 to connect to the Internet, a $50 "early arrival" fee. If your hotel doesn't forewarn you, you can usually persuade it to can the fee.
30. Snuff it out! Next year, Westin will become the first chain to ban smoking in all rooms and public areas.
31. Welcome iPod. The Conrad London now has in-room Bose SoundDock Digital Music System for iPods. IPod stations are standard in select W Hotels, too.
32. Gang up. Buy two tickets on Amtrak in the Northeast, and up to four more in your party get 90 percent off. Expires March 31.
33. College shoppers, rejoice. Amtrak still offers its free companion fare for a parent and a college-hunting teen at collegevisit.com/amtrak/.
34. Leave the DVD player home. Amtrak now rents portable entertainment devices on its Auto Train to Sanford, Fla.
35. Euro expansion. New passes cover two-country combos (like France and Germany; at raileurope.com). And nation No. 18 is on board: Romania.
36. Luxe for less. Get $1,000 off select Seattle-L.A. tours: americanorientexpress.com.
37. Sign up early, eh. Book a Canadian rail trip at rockymountaineer.comby January 15; they'll knock off up to $478 a couple and toss in an "Explore Vancouver" tour. A six-day trip starts at $1,269.
38. Banish food stains. Press the nib of the $3 Tide to Go stain remover pen on fresh food stains to release solvent, then rub it over fabric. The stain disappears--even, in our test, a splash of radioactive orange kimchi.
39. Join a club. For $500/year, Neiman Marcus's "CouTour" clubpromises custom luxury trips, like Tuscany with Salvatore Ferragamo's grandson. Plus: free upgrades, spa visits.
40. Go green.Rainforestalliance.orghas a guide to tourist ventures in the Americas that respect the environment--and workers.
41. "Lost" in China. Hook up the $249 Slingboxto a home TV and watch your shows in real time anywhere in the world on your PC.
42. Found in China. With a $10 sticker from trackit back.com affixed to your cell, laptop, or camera, the service will cover costs for the return of lost items.
43. Learn Marine lore. The National Museum of the Marine Corps, to open in Quantico, Va., in November, goes from boot camp to Iwo Jima.
44. Get hitched free. Occidental Hotels in Aruba and other exotic spots invite you to wed on their dime: party, photos, and more. But freedom has a price: six rooms for four nights at $1,436 a night. The offer expires October 31.
45. Tune in, tune out. The $40 RaceQuiet earphones muffle travel noise while you enjoy Rachmaninoff MP3s.
46. Zagat to go. Subscribe to 25,000 reviews ($25), downloadable to a BlackBerry.
47. Crank your cell. The tiny SideWinder ($25) lets you recharge your phone by cranking a handle. Two minutes of churning yields about six minutes of talk.
48. Use less gas. Your mileage is best from 35 to 55 mph, says a AAA spokesman. And quick accelerating and decelerating is a gas waster.
49. Not as think as you drunk I am. Alcohawk Micro breathalyzer ($55) dangles from a key chain, should keep you from driving if tipsy.
50. Look good. The portable Ultimate Make-Up Mirror ($60, brookstone.com) has 8x magnification, sunlight bulb, alarm clock. Just don't look too closely upon awakening.