It’s no secret that traveling is a big part of LGBTQ culture. Whether it’s planning a weekend trip to Rehoboth or a trip 5,000 miles away to Tel Aviv, we travel to meet new friends, experience new LGBT cultures, and expand our network in our community.
Many new travelers first look at the commonly known travel websites like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. These sites tend to offer ‘loose packages,’ meaning that they will sell you a flight, hotel, rental car and maybe even some excursions, but you’re responsible for execution. One word of caution, however, when using a digital travel agency – many suppliers (e.g. airlines), will require you to contact the agency in case of irregular operations. This can sometimes cause finger pointing between the supplier and the agency, and, unfortunately, the agency may not efficiently address your needs. It is always the safest bet to book with a major agency and be skeptical of firms that you have never heard of. In fact, I only use travel agencies that offer some sort of loyalty program.
If you want or need a more planned experience, Googling ‘gay travel’ will bring up companies like Atlantis, VACAYA, and Outgoing Adventures that offer more organized trips including guides. You cede control and pay a bit more, but know there is a dedicated staff member to ensure you’re happy.
You typically get your best deals by booking things a la carte – meaning purchasing airfare directly from the airline, hotel, rental car, etc. Each of these companies have extra incentive to instill direct loyalty with you. However, it may take a lot more personal organization, but the results (e.g. more cash to spend on the trip) can outweigh the extra pre-planning spreadsheets.
The first step to saving for a la carte travel is to figure out how you plan to get to your destination. A good chunk of the upfront travel costs is air (or even train) fare. If you live in the D.C. metro area, we tend to be dominated by American Airlines (DCA), United (IAD), and Southwest (BWI). Because of that, it may be in your best interest to align with one of those carriers. Depending on which airline you align with, take a look at their own credit cards. Over the past two years, we have seen a marked devaluation in the worth of airline miles, so it’s becoming less advantageous to only earn a single airline’s miles.
That’s where the major credit card companies come in – especially Chase and American Express. Both offer strong cards for earning and redeeming their points. One perk that savvy travelers use in this program are the direct transfer of the points earned in the Membership Rewards/Ultimate Rewards programs directly into various airline and hotel company programs. Essentially, accrued points can be used in a multitude of different ways. In fact, if you check The Points Guy’s monthly valuation of points, those ‘neutral point programs’ come out way ahead in terms of value. You can frequently find cheap business class seats across the Atlantic on an European carrier, but unless you happen to frequent Europe for work, there is little chance you would be able to earn those points.
Finally, when you are abroad, make sure your credit card doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee (most travel cards do not – all Capital One cards do not). It ranges from 1-3%, but can add up fast. If asked when they run your card to pay in local or USD, always choose local currency. Your big U.S.-based financial institution can typically get you a better exchange rate than the local credit card processor.