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January 2014

For what its worth, I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to not only read this blog, but also reading this ALT text! I hope you enjoyed this look back at my big stories of 2013. And hopefully, you'll come back for more misadventures in 2014! Ack!2013 was a rather incredible year in the world of travel, wasn’t it? During this year we saw some of the best – and worst – that comes with taking the roads, the skies, and the seas. We’ve seen companies come together, passengers divide on how to get to their destination, and storms that have twisted and snarled traffic across the United States. Personally speaking, my 2013 has been a rather successful campaign in retrospect: nearly 28,000 miles traveled in the air, with 46 total flights – which turns into the equivalent of three days in the air.

In looking back at the year, there were a lot of stories that really stuck out to me for many different reasons. Here are the stories that topped my list of big events in 2013:

In 2014, may our travels be safe, healthy, and may we all get to see much more of the world than we have before. What were your biggest travel stories of 2013? What would you include on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

Sorry, friends - back to the stock photos. I'm kind of in a hurry to get out of here - for the next three days will be spent racing, watching movies, and with the merriment of friends! Good news is, however, that I will be back on a plane in a couple of days - which means more unique traveler photos in 2014!In two days, many people around the world will take a day of pause to observe the holiday season with the company of friends and family, festive foods and the exchange of gifts. Even I will not take the opportunity to step on an airplane, and instead observer the holiday amongst my inner sanctum.

Odds are, you might have someone very similar in your life. Be they a student traveler who spends their time between school and the rest of the world, or the business road warrior who spends at least one week a month in the air or across the land, these might be some of the most difficult people to shop for. What do you give the person who never seems to stand still very long?

The good news is that we crazy travel types aren’t that hard to please. In fact, a simple gift can go a long way for the traveler in your life, and it won’t cost you a terrible amount of time or money to bring a smile to your wayward friends and family. Here’s some of my picks for great last-minute gifts for those just flying in on the last sleigh flight of the night:

Gift Cards
Yes, this may seem like a passé gift, but you have no idea how useful gift cards can be to the everyday traveler. While in our hands, gift cards can be cumbersome and collect rather quickly, a gift card can be a huge value to someone looking to stay at their favorite hotel, or take their preferred flight overseas. Plus, in some situations, gift cards can also be applied to upgrades and other fees faced by travelers. And for a student, using a gift card to wipe out some of the extra baggage fees can be a huge deal when going to their next destination.

Charging Accessories
One of the biggest frustrations that I find is not being able to charge all of my devices when I travel – be it my phone, my tablet, my laptop (either of them), or anything else I can come up with to put together. I think the hardest one of all is my phone – which also doubles as my e-mail device, camera, social media machine, and music player when out on the road. For the traveler in your life, a small device charger can be a lifesaver. Many of them are battery operated, and have at least one USB port on board. When there’s no power outlet around (like on the airplane), a portable USB charger can make the difference between a short flight and a very, VERY long flight.

Power Strip/Surge Protector
I’m pretty sure you’re now asking yourself: “Holiday gifts are supposed to be cool and fun. What’s cool and fun about a power strip?” While this just might be another necessity of your office space, the power strip can be a lifesaver for travelers of all shapes and sizes. Airports (and even airport lounges, for that matter) are not world renowned for their power outlet access. So what do you do when you find one? Plug in a power strip, and enjoy the benefits of the power outlet. This way, not only can you charge your items, but also have several outlets available for those around you to enjoy as well. Instant win for everyone involved!

On behalf of all of us at Travel Insurance Services, I hope you all have a safe and festive holiday season. What are you hoping to get as a gift this season? Let me know in the comments below!

I don't care how you decorate it - mostly because this is the last line I want to be standing in when I get to the airport. Lucky for me, travel insurance may help me out when I've got a trip delay of more than 12 hours, or am forced to cancel a trip because I got frostbite. Don't laugh - it MAY have happened to me once.The pure, white snow falls gently upon the frozen pond. With the descent of Persephone, Winter has taken grasp on the world. The pain is not just felt by Demeter, and those who work with the harvest. As the holidays onset, so too is the sting felt by travelers near and far.

Wait – travelers near and far in the world of Olympus, feeling the sting of winter travel? Yes, you read that all correctly. At the end of the year (and into the next), weather has a huge effect on how – and when – we travel back and forth across the world. Rain and wind on the west coast, and snowstorms in the east can put a huge damper on getting where we want to go - especially when they lead to trip delay and trip cancellation.

Which is what lead me to my surprise when I picked up my copy of the Los Angeles Times last week (yes, I still read the LA Times – even in Central Ohio). The LA Times quoted a report from the National Consumers League, stating that travel insurance is usually a bad deal.

No, there’s not a whole lot of snow on the West Coast – but there’s still always the potential for storms, winds, and rain to wreak havoc on winter travel. Does nobody out there remember the El Nino storms of 1993 that left a wake of damage and delays in California? I do - and the entire winter I spent in the dark as a result thereof...but that's another story entirely.

What I do agree with the National Consumer League on is that a travel insurance plan purchased directly through your travel provider (such as an airline) might not be the one you want. Those plans are written with the airlines in mind - meaning you might not be getting all of the benefits that you are paying for. Instead, many travel experts (myself included) always recommend that you go through a third party when looking for a travel insurance product. Especially during the winter months - when storms can threaten to cancel your trip very quickly.

Why look at a third party product? Third party products (like Travel Insurance Select) offer benefits for events (such as winter storms) that other insurance plans may not necessarily offer. If you purchase before a storm is named, or an event is identified, then you may be able to recover at least part of your travel investment. Additionally, purchase far enough ahead of time and you may qualify for the Cancel for Any Reason benefit – allowing you to do just what the name implies. If you don’t want to go out in the cold, or fight against the storm, then simply cancel your trip, and you may be able to recover at least some of your costs. It beats the high cancellation fees that your airline might charge you.

What else can a third party plan offer you? Your travel insurance plan may also offer you benefits in the event your flight is delayed 12 hours or more, your trip is interrupted midway due to an event, or your baggage is lost or destroyed on the way there or back home. Additionally, if you’re traveling outside of your home country, your third party plan may include medical benefits and emergency evacuation. Which I certainly hope doesn’t happen to you, these benefits can be great to have should you need them.

Yes, the sting of winter is setting in on the world. Demeter’s sadness is felt by us all. Especially us who try to brave the cold rain and snow for winter travel. But not considering travel insurance as part of your winter travel regimen is like Icarus flying too close to the sun. An ounce of prevention today can make your winter travels that much smoother.

How do you prepare for winter travels? Do you consider travel insurance as a part of your winter travels? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

I had a great meme here about bracing yourself because winter is coming. The suits, however, didn't agree with me that it was as entertaining as I thought it was. So here's a picture from one time where a giant snowstorm forced me into a 4-hour trip delay on an airplane. Now you know why winter travel always equates trip delay and trip cancellation in my mind.Okay, the title is a misnomer. Winter trip delay is already here. I believe we discussed this right around Thanksgiving time?

None the less, winter storm season is now officially in full effect. Over this immediate weekend (the weekend of December 7-8, 2013), thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed due to winter storms. And on Monday, December 9th, USA Today is reporting nearly 3,000 flights are delayed or cancelled as a result of winter storms. And the storms and situations aren’t just isolated to certain parts of the United States: major hubs like Dallas/Fort Worth, Philadelphia, and Chicago are suffering the worst in delays, creating major trip delay log jams in places like Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Greater New York (JFK/LaGuardia/Newark). As airlines start trying to play catch-up, there’s not a whole lot we can do except brace ourselves – for winter trip delay is coming.

While I feel that I write about this every winter season, the message remains entirely relevant. Winter storms, at their worst, can be unpredictable, and create some very instable conditions for traveling across any method. Regardless of whether you’re taking a road trip, running on a train, or taking to the skies, winter weather can force you to delay your departure, your arrival, and can entirely change your situation once you get where you’re going.

Until we complete work on the weather control device straight out of our favorite Science Fiction movies (the one from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is one of my favorites), I’m afraid that we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature when it comes to winter trip delay and trip cancellation. However, there are things that we can do – before our trips, at the airport, and after we get back – to make sure our winter adventures are as smooth as possible. Here’s what I recommend when planning around winter travel:

  • Plan for extra time in your trip
    During the winter months, I’ve grown very accustomed to adding extra time into my trip – be it traveling the day before to make sure I get there for the meeting, or planning on not being into work until the day after I’m scheduled to get back. By building extra time into my trip now, I can better buffer myself for trip cancellation or trip delay – and be flexible if the opportunity comes up to miss a flight for an airline credit.
  • Know the alternate routes
    This is just good advice regardless of how you’re getting to where you’re going. Sometimes, the most direct route just isn’t available by any means: be it weather related or otherwise, the most direct route can breed trip delay and trip cancellation woes. Wherever you’re going, know if there are alternate routes and routings available to you, and how to work those into your schedule. Taking the long way about can save you some time ultimately, and also assure that you get to where you’re going on your time.
  • Reach out for help
    Sometimes, despite our best planning around factors such as the weather, we’re just not able to make everything come together. And when you’re standing in a huge line at the airport, the last thing you seem to want to do is wait for half an hour to figure out what to do next. When you’re stranded, those friendly(?) faces at the desk can be your biggest assistance in figuring out what to do under a trip delay. If you don’t want to stand in line, there are other options available to you: frequent travelers can try the airline lounge for assistance, while others might go to Twitter to get help from the airport directly. Shaking a hand instead of a fist might be the ticket to get you out of your winter travel situation.
  • Consider travel insurance for winter travels
    In all seriousness, travel insurance plans can come in handy when considering your winter travel options. In the event you have a trip delay, or are forced to cancel your trip due to extenuating circumstances, travel insurance may be able to assist in some of your costs. From benefits for extra charges to lost luggage, travel insurance may be able to assist you in the midst of the winter travel season. Plus, if you don’t want the hassle of purchasing travel insurance for every trip, an annual plan might be better suited for your needs.

While we can’t control winter storms and the trip delay that comes with them, we can control how we manage the situation. And a little planning and management now can help you get to where you’re going when you do travel. How do you manage trip delay or trip cancellation in the height of winter storms? Let me know your plans in the comments below!

Yes - more generic clipart! What did you expect me to put in here? Stacks of money raining down from the rafters? While it might feel like that when you book your Cyber Monday deals...I thought this would be a better fit for the space. Next blog, I'll use something from the personal archives.The American Thanksgiving weekend has come to an end to much fanfare of turkey and football. I don’t know about you, but this year I had a lot to be grateful about: aside from health, happiness, and my needs being taken care of, I’ve also earned status at three hotel chains, two airlines, and one rental car company. A lot of elite benefits to be thankful for this year!

But after Thanksgiving comes those now infamous sales to ring in the consumer holiday season. I’m talking about Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And today, there are plenty of opportunities for travelers to cash in on discounts for travel at the end of this year and into next. They may not be as good as the Wiederoe mistake fares put up earlier this month, but the discounts can still add up! Here are some of my favorites I’ve found across the internet so far this Cyber Monday 2014:

Flights: Looking to fly away for the holidays? Southwest Airlines is offering select $100 fares (one way) for travel on December 24 & 25, as well as December 31 and January 1, 2014! The entire list of $100 (or less) fares can be found by clicking here.

Frontier Airlines is also offering a 15% discount on flights purchased today through their website on travel between January 16 and March 15, 2014. Use the code CYBER15 when you book. Click here to read more about it on the Frontier Airlines website.

Virgin America is also offering discounts on flights booked today as well – up to 20% on flights booked between December 18, 2013 and March 6, 2014. Use the promo code GAMEPLANE when you book. Click here to read more at the Virgin America website.

Hotels: Once you book the flight, you need a place to stay, right? Lucky for you, there are also great deals to be had on hotels as well! Marriott, for example, is offering a 30% discount at over 300 hotels in the United States between December 20, 2013 and March 31, 2014. Use the promotional code 16C when you book your travel. Click here to see the promotion on the Marriott website.

Starwood Hotels are also offering a Cyber Monday deal worth noting. For stays between January 26 and April 27, 2014, Starwood is offering up to a 40% discount on travel. For more information, click here to visit their page.

It seems that no matter where you want to go this Cyber Monday, there's a discount for you in the works! Do you plan on taking part in these Cyber Monday deals? Or have you found better deals out on the internet? Let me know where you stand (or what you’ve found) in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No compensation nor incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product, service, or brand mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)