Savvy Consumer Tips

As of last year, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started requiring airlines to collect certain information from all passengers. Under the Secure Flight initiative, travelers now have to provide their full names, dates of birth, genders and redress numbers, if they have one. (A redress number is for passengers who request a correction after having been repeatedly misidentified as being on the “No Fly” watch list.)

If you’re like many people, you go by slightly different names—sometimes you’re Mary Rachel Smith, or you’re Mary R. Smith, or just Mary Smith. Small differences between your government-issued ID and your airline ticket shouldn’t impact your travel, but to avoid problems, use the exact same name that appears on your ID when making your flight reservation. The TSA encourages you to update the name on your frequent flier accounts, too. Use this same format consistently for everything travel-related.

If you've been in an airport since 9/11, you know about all the hoops that you have to jump through before you even get to the gate. The last time I flew, I was asked to show my identification a half a dozen times! In the confusion of removing clothing and opening bags for inspection, I misplaced my ID several times. Was it in my pocket or my wallet or at the bottom of my purse? I would panic until I laid my hands on it.

My advice is to cover the ID in plastic and hang it around your neck, the way some kids hang their bus passes. That way you can flash it as needed and know where it is at all times.

The last time I booked a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, I got a very good deal and it didn't take me hours of shopping around. I already knew that calling the same hotel a few times, both at the 800 number and the local number, might turn up different rates. I also knew that I could get a discount with a AAA or AARP membership. The best price quote was $139 a night for a room with 2 queen-sized beds.

Just on a lark, I decided to try one last thing. I checked with the Portland's Visitors Bureau. They had a special for $109/night at the same hotel, which, unlike the other rate, included a complimentary breakfast for two and free parking (otherwise $20 per night). Whenever you're planning to visit a major city, take a peek at what the visitors' bureaus have to offer. You could end up with some extra bucks in your pocket for a night out on the town.

Not too long ago, I discovered one of the tricks to getting a decent seat on Southwest Airlines. I printed out my boarding pass before leaving for the airport. As a result, I ended up in the first boarding group and had my pick of the best seats. I didn't arrive at the airport hours in advance either. Another great way to find the best seats in coach is by calling the airline before departure. Some of the seats saved for preferred customers are freed up 48 to 24 hours ahead of time.

Where you sit is important, too. You can find out more about where the primo seats are by using a Web site called seatguru.com. They list which seats on specific planes have the most legroom, which ones don't recline, which ones are near emergency exits, and even where you might have a difficult time seeing the on-board movie!

A friend booked a trip to Europe on-line. When she later checked to see if she could upgrade, the airline told her the ticket she had purchased was not "upgradeable." She understood, but while discussing this with the agent, she mentioned that she had booked her reservation using her first initial only and her last name. The agent warned her that this could cause trouble for her at the airport because the name on the ticket would not EXACTLY match the name on her passport.

Could they reissue her ticket using her full first and last name, same itinerary? They said,"Yes," but it would cost $100! Travel expert Ed Perkins has heard of outrageous fees to change a name for ANY reason, even to fix a stupid mistake. Don’t bother to ask why – the reason is that they can get away with it. My friend complained so much a supervisor waived the fee!

The one time our home was broken into was when we let newspapers pile up out front while away. I have not forgotten to place a vacation hold on my subscriptions since then. Mark White, owner of The Loss Prevention Group, a Diamond Certified company, says taking a few precautions, like making sure a car is parked in your driveway, is the best way to protect your belongings.

The key strategy is to make it appear like you’re still home. For example, plug a timer into a radio and lamps, programmed to go off at different times.  Check outside lighting to make sure none of the bulbs are burned out. Make sure the lawn looks well-maintained, and leave your blinds and shades in a normal position.  If they’re not normally completely closed, don’t close them.  And never hide the extra house keys under a flowerpot. Leave them with a trusted neighbor.