What travelers say about how to navigate travel insurance and leverage credit cards or frequent flyer points

It doesn’t take long when you’re visiting with other travelers to figure out that everyone likes things a certain way.

Some travelers only fly Alaska Airlines. Others won’t fly the red-eye. Still others simply have to have an aisle seat.

Last month, I hosted several get-togethers, called Travel Pop-ups, just to chat with travelers about where they’re going, trips they’ve taken and to glean valuable tips on getting the most bang for the travel buck.

Some topics kept coming up, like Alaska Air’s credit card with Bank of America, travel insurance and the actual value of frequent flyer points.

Several travelers asked about recent changes to Alaska’s credit card, particularly new requirements for getting a companion pass every year.

Many travelers, included myself, carry more than one of the cards specifically to take advantage of the companion pass. When you buy one ticket at the best available price, you can get a second ticket for $99, plus applicable taxes and fees. Those extras can push the final cost to between $121 and $200.

Earlier this year, Alaska made changes in the program, including boosting the annual fee to $95. But the big change was a $6,000 annual spend requirement for each card to get the companion pass.

However, current cardholders are exempt. Only those who apply for new cards will have to meet that minimum spending threshold.

But travelers are looking at other cards to collect miles and points. One traveler in Fairbanks likes Capital One’s Venture card. The top-of-the-line Venture X card costs $395 per year. But that includes an annual $300 travel credit. New cardholders can get a 75,000-mile bonus after spending at least $4,000 within 90 days.

Also, Capital One cardholders get access to the Priority Pass airport lounge program. Cardholders can transfer miles to 15 other partners, including British Airways, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Wyndham hotels and Accor hotels.

Several travelers mentioned the high hotel prices. That’s where the “flexible spend” cards like Capital One, Chase and American Express come in handy.

Still, one traveler revealed that getting the hotel group’s own card yielded more rewards than simply transferring points. In his case, IHG (Intercontinental Hotel Group) was his favorite. He and his family got 13 free nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Puerto Vallarta using his points. The IHG family includes Holiday Inns, Crowne Plaza and Intercontinental Hotels.

All of the major hotel groups have their own cards: Hyatt, Bonvoy (Marriott and Sheraton) and Hilton’s Honors.

At an afternoon session, a traveler bemoaned the demise of the day pass for Alaska Air’s lounges. Last year, Alaska Air credit card holders could get a day pass to the lounge for $25. But a representative of Alaska Airlines who sat in on our session told us what we already knew: “There are too many people using the lounges.”

By boosting the price for annual membership and doing away with day passes, the airline hopes to thin out the crowd.

Up in Fairbanks, a traveler was getting ready for a 35-day cruise around South America. Her question: “Should I buy the cruise line’s travel insurance?”

Well, you have to read the fine print. If you’re going on a long or unusual trip, it makes sense to examine the operator’s own travel insurance offering.

While examining a safari to Tanzania, I noticed the tour operator included a mandatory medical evacuation insurance policy. But travelers were urged to purchase a separate travel insurance policy for lost baggage, en route delays or flight cancellations and other covered items.

For several years, I’ve purchased an annual policy from Allianz. But there are many different policies for specific needs. For example, my annual plan does not include trip cancellation insurance. Other, more expensive plans include the option to cancel for any reason.

There are two websites that offer side-by-side comparisons of insurance plans, to help you determine which plan might be right for you: InsureMyTrip.com and Squaremouth.com. Keep in mind that most credit cards include some for travel insurance, including collision damage insurance for rental cars.

Many travelers still have sticker shock about car rental and hotel costs. On the car rental front, I’ve rented from Turo.com several times. It’s the Airbnb of rental cars, allowing people to rent out their own cars.

If car rental prices are super-high where you’re going, you can reserve a Turo car while you wait to see if regular car rental rates will go down. Although Turo rates may display prices much lower than Avis and Hertz, pay close attention to the add-ons, including a trip fee from Turo. Typically, the “all in” cost will appear in a much smaller type.

If prices do come down closer to departure, you can cancel a Turo reservation up to 24 hours before pick-up.

The high cost of hotels is one reason I collect miles and points. My preferred flexible spend credit card is the Chase family of cards. Hyatt is one of the transfer partners — and Chase offers a favorable conversion rate. That said, Hyatt’s own credit card yields more rewards specifically for Hyatt and its affiliated brands.

Another popular topic with travelers is Alaska Air’s decision to join the one world alliance, made up of airlines including American, British, Qatar Air, Japan Airlines and Qantas.

The No. 1 advantage for travelers is that their Alaska Air elite benefits transfer nicely to American Airlines. For example, MVP Gold travelers have access to American’s extra-legroom seats at the time of booking for no additional cost.

Also, Alaska Air elite travelers qualify for upgrades on American’s domestic flights.

Alaska’s loyalty plan goes beyond oneworld, though. Travelers can earn-and-burn miles on several airlines outside the oneworld family, including Turkish Airlines, Singapore Air and Condor, among others.

When it comes to using miles, many travelers are conflicted. They wanted to use their miles but had to keep buying tickets in order to qualify for their elite status.

Nursing their coffee cups, all the travelers nodded their heads when this subject came up. Folks with kids or grandkids often gave the miles to them, so they could continue to rack up miles toward their MVP status.

Nobody in the group seemed particularly upset at Alaska Air’s decision to award the cheapest Saver ticket holders just 30% of the actual miles flown. That policy starts for tickets purchased after July 19. Real travel enthusiasts don’t often purchase Saver tickets because they are less flexible for seat assignments, changes and upgrades.

Our pop-up travelers are still curious — and they’re planning trips all over the world. But they know what they like and don’t mind working all the angles to get the right travel formula.

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