Budget Travel Strategy: Smart Travel Uses For Your Tax Refund

tax refundIf a tax refund is headed your way, common recommendations include paying off debt; making a major purchase and paying cash, rather than putting it on a credit card and other assorted common sense moves. Travelers can benefit too by using some of the same thinking about what we spend on airline tickets, cruise fare, gear and more.

“Set aside some money for vacation rather than using your credit card and paying interest long after you have returned,” financial experts suggest at Kiplinger in “Ten Smart Uses for Your Tax Refund.”

Looking beyond financial guru tips that can include beginning or adding to a retirement fund, throwing much of that refund into the never ending bog of student loans, maybe some immediate feel good uses would be appropriate also.

Load up travel cards and accounts
Going to be traveling sometime this year? Load up pre-paid travel cards, perhaps a gift card received as a gift that has a few dollars left but was handy to use at the time. Starbucks cards, gas cards or hotel cards some to mind.

MasterCard’s Travel Money Cards are handy. While you have the cash, avoid worrying about it down the road, in several ways with the MasterCard version or one of a number of other cards.

Registering your pre-paid card protects travel funds in case the card is lost or stolen, with no liability, just like a credit card. Starting with a nice chunk of cash from your tax refund, then add to it between now and travel is a good way to save too.

I do this with a dedicated card that is just for my travel fund and believe me, adding to and carrying my “travel card” is a whole lot more fun than a savings account up front. On the backside, eliminate post-travel blues of a new payment to make on a credit card too.

Known Expense Buys
Thinking ahead here is the key.

If, on your last trek through the mountains, one of the last thoughts was “I’m going to need to replace this old backpack before I go again,” but travel is not happening until the fall, get ahead of the game. Buy it now and buy it wisely. Shop and compare various sources with plenty of time, looking for a sale price on the perfect gear.

That works for just about anything and even small items like socks, shoes or more of the pre-paid cards noted above are fair game also. On cruise vacations some travelers choose to pre-pay shore exploration packages, gratuities or beverage packages that can add up quickly on a cruise ship.

Looking ahead to more efficient travel and making the buy you have been putting off is a good idea too. Time for a new digital camera? Buying before the peak travel months this summer can often find lower prices on models those going on vacation are apt to buy.

Buy Now, Travel Later
Cruise lines – between wave season (the busiest booking time of the year) and summer buying season (when many travelers finally get around to booking) – have some of the best deals around right now.

  • Carnival Cruise Lines Friends And Family event, just extended through the end of the month, offer the best rates we have seen so far this year with maximum upgrades and lower fares. Often, it’s one or the other.
  • Celebrity Cruises 123 Go offer new bookers a choice of a free beverage package, free prepaid gratuities or free onboard credit if booked before April 15.
  • Princess Cruises Spring Into Savings Sale has big savings on Europe cruises and Alaska cruises and up to $100 onboard spending money and up to $500 air savings per person. Seven-day Caribbean sailings and seven-day Alaska Inside Passage sailings are also on sale.

Not just the exclusive domain of cruise vacations, other travel options like hotel packages, resort stays and prepaid expenses at destinations around the world are possible too. In Rome, for example, a taxi ride from the air or cruise port can be arranged and paid for in advance. So can tour packages separate from cruise line offerings or hotel-suggested tours, both of which have some of the cost going right back to the source that suggested it.

Beware Of Bargains
Knowing that a great many Americans get a tax refund in the second quarter of the year, sellers of travel and travel-related services feature package deals with refund-laden travelers in mind.

Many are a great value, bundling airfare with car rental and hotel, cruise or resort packages. Some are scams that lie in wait for us to receive that chunk of cash, so check with your trusted travel source or Better Business Bureau before buying.

Bonus Tip: there really is no “Royal Cruise Line.” That’s an old scam by online thieves to get “just $99″ to pay the tax on your otherwise-free ride.

Some taxpayers even make spending their refund on travel an annual event. This video shows a bunch of travelers on their third annual tax refund trip.




[Photo credit - Flickr user robotson]

Free Internet For Travelers In Japan

Japan

Japan can be an expensive country in which to travel. Food, lodging, along with other goods and services that travelers might commonly buy are often high-priced, compared to American standards. Comparing Internet Wi-Fi hotspots to American standards, Japan is even tougher on visitors, offering few places for service and even less that support multiple languages. But recently, two companies operating in Japan started offering free Wi-Fi to foreign visitors.

Rail operator JR East Japan now has free public wireless LAN services intended for visiting travelers starting today at JR EAST Japan Travel Service Center and 13 stations located on Tokyo’s most famous circle rail route, the Yamanote Line, including some of the busiest stations.

Registration by email can be done in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese for access via PC or smartphone at a variety of locations including Tokyo Station, Narita Airport Station and Haneda Airport International Terminal Station. Users can log on to a connection that is valid up to three hours.Visa Worldwide has partnered with Wire and Wireless Co., Ltd. to launch free one-day Wi-Fi access for all Visa cardholders visiting Japan. Happening right now, the offer runs through August 29, 2014.

This free one-day Wi-Fi connection also has multi-language support for visiting tourists, followed by a 20 percent discount for three-day and seven-day Wi-Fi service. Wi-Fi networks are available throughout Japan, including major airports and leading merchants such as Starbucks and Lawson convenience stores.

Visa cardholders should register before departure from their home countries. Alternatively, after they arriving in Japan, visiting cardholders simply find either “Wi2″ or “Wi2premium” access points to access the website for registration.

Looking for other public places with free Internet access? Try WiFiFreeSpot.com or Airport WiFi Guide for more listings.



[Flickr photo by Dennis Wong]

Gift cards can stretch travel funds

Gift CardsGift cards often come with bonus offers and special deals that bump up the value and make a whole lot of sense for travelers. It’s like cutting expenses by 10% or more when we cash in on some great offers being made for the holidays.

Best Western Hotels has an offer where buying a $100 Best Western Travel Card online gets a $10 bonus gift card free. With this offer, we can get a $10 Best Western Travel Card or choose from a variety of restaurant cards. This one is especially good for international travelers as it can be loaded and reloaded with the currency of the country they will be traveling to.

“Whether gifting a Best Western travel card to friends and family or gifting one to yourself for travel in the new year, this limited-time promotion offers the perfect opportunity to rack-up cash at popular retailers,” said Dorothy Dowling, Best Western’s senior vice president of marketing and sales. “With this special holiday deal, it’s more rewarding than ever before to give the gift of travel – and get $10 back in your pocket.”

Another offer that can stretch travel funds is Mastercard’s $20 gift card offer. On this one, Mastercard will send us a $20 gift card with any $200 spent online using a Mastercard. To be eligible to receive the MasterCard gift card, enroll a MasterCard card here. They need a card number to qualify online spending, and an email address to alert buyers when they have earned their gift card.

Looking to make a difference in a really easy way? We can take care of that when we fly with an offer from American Airlines. This one earns travelers a donation of $5 for every $50 travel card purchased to either Susan G. Komen for the Cure® or the USO.

10% might not seem like much but these things can really add up.

Reloadable gift cards often carry bonus offers to encourage their use. Using them on the road eliminates some of the need for cash and often translates to bonus value as well.

Starbucks reloadable gift cards are a good example. Once registered, the holders online account can also be accessed by iPhone or Android app and bonus offers are given as usage increases. Subway Restaurants has a similar program, giving a free sub with every time users add $25 back on the card.

These and many other cards make great gifts for travelers that are easy, safe and fun to use.

Photo: Chris Owen



Gift Cards and Gift Certificates