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Eight ways to make your flight better

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For those who want a credit card rich with travel benefits, there’s the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. The fee is a hefty $450 (U.S.) a year, although the card earns three times the points per $1 spent on travel and restaurant dining (and one point per dollar spent on other purchases).

Among the card’s other advantages are a $300 annual statement credit as reimbursement for travel purchases such as baggage fees; free airport lounge access through Priority Pass Select (more on that below); reimbursement for the application fee for expedited security programs such as Global Entry and TSA Precheck; reimbursement for trip delays and lost luggage; and the ability to transfer points to hotel and airline loyalty programs like United MileagePlus, British Airways Executive Club, Marriott Rewards and World of Hyatt.

Members can also use their card, points or both, to book trips — airfare, hotels, rental cars — through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards online portal. In August, Chase said it was improving Ultimate Rewards by partnering with Expedia, allowing card holders to use Expedia’s inventory of flights, hotels and vacation rentals, car rentals, and experiences and activities. The new Ultimate Rewards has been rolled out to members of some Chase cards and will be available to Chase Sapphire users in the coming months.

When it comes to using points you accrue, some of the biggest wins can be had by booking business or first-class award tickets, often through international rather than U.S. carriers. You will need to find out which international airlines have relationships with your domestic carrier, sign up for the international carriers’ frequent flyer programs, and then get your ticket through whichever partner charges the fewest miles.

For example, explained Gary Leff, the founder of the miles and points blog, View from the Wing, a domestic first-class ticket to Hawaii on United Airlines costs 80,000 miles if purchased through United’s MileagePlus. If you were to buy that same first-class seat through KrisFlyer, the frequent flyer program of United’s partner Singapore Airlines, it would cost only 60,000 miles.

To find these sorts of deals, familiarize yourself with award charts (available on airline websites) and alliances. For instance, airlines such as Delta, Korean Air, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are in the same alliance. If you were to join Korean Air’s loyalty program, you could search its website for awards that Leff said would allow you to get a Hawaii first-class award ticket on Delta, Hawaiian, or Alaska Airlines using Korean Air’s miles for about the same miles that each of those programs would charge you for coach.

On some airlines, upgrading an award ticket to the next class of service doesn’t cost many more miles. Edward Pizzarello, the founder of the travel blog Pizza in Motion and the podcast Miles to Go, said that a business-class award ticket on Lufthansa (a United Airlines partner) requires 70,000 United MileagePlus miles one-way, but for an additional 40,000 miles, you can have a first-class seat on Lufthansa, which he described as “a truly unbelievable experience.”

2. Scoring free or discounted fares for children

Flying as a family can be cost-prohibitive, but there are occasional deals, so keep your eyes peeled. For instance, Hull said that Scandinavian Airlines has typically offered an annual deal whereby children fly free (not including taxes and fees) to certain Nordic countries with just one paid adult ticket.

Travelling internationally with an infant? Flying with a “lap infant” (usually defined as under 2 years old), can still cost hundreds of dollars, even if you don’t buy a seat for your baby, Hull said, because you are typically required to pay 10 to 25 per cent of the adult fare. But some loyalty programs allow you to use miles for your infant’s fare if the adult is also using miles for the trip. British Airways, for example, charges 10 per cent of the miles that the adult award ticket costs, she said.

In general, remember that children can earn frequent flyer miles, so you may want to register them for your preferred program. Some airlines (including JetBlue, Lufthansa and Etihad) allow families to pool their miles and score award tickets faster.

3. Fool-proofing your itinerary

Many credit cards with annual fees come with trip delay coverage — reimbursement for hotel rooms, meals and misplaced bags — that people often don’t realize they have.

If your flight is delayed a certain number of hours, or overnight, the issuers of these cards will provide several hundred dollars in expenses (for things like lodging and toiletries) for each purchased ticket. Such cards typically pay you for lost baggage as well.

Airlines will rarely put you up in a hotel room, and even if they do, Leff said, “I don’t want to stay in the hotels they’re offering.” He goes online and books himself a hotel room instead, then sends the receipt, along with receipts for meals, taxis or ride-sharing, to his credit card company.

A number of things are excluded from coverage, though, so read the fine print. In order to be reimbursed, you typically have to provide proof of your delay, along with receipts for related expenses. The process isn’t always smooth. In some ways, it’s “no different than dealing with the cable company,” Leff said.

When delayed at the airport, he tries to look up flight alternatives himself because the agent at the gate or on the phone may suggest only itineraries that the average traveller would want. Sometimes, Leff said, when a phone agent says “We have nothing available,” what he or she really means is “nothing a sane person would want is available.”

As a rule of thumb, if he doesn’t get the answer he’s looking for, his maxim is “Hang up; call back.” He says it’s the frequent flyer’s version of “If Mom says no, ask Dad.” You canalso talk to an agent at the gate, at a check-in counter, at a kiosk or in a lounge.

“So often people feel powerless in travel,” Leff said. “Having a few of these tactics just changes that mindset.”

4. Ordering airport meals, snacks and sundries

Hungry, but short on time before your flight? At some airports, food apps allow you to order a meal, snack or coffee and have it delivered to your departure gate or elsewhere in the terminal.

American Airlines, for one, has an option integrated into its own app that allows users to preorder food from airport restaurants so they can skip the lines. And AtYourGate and Airport Sherpa are apps that enable passengers at a few participating airports to request food — even souvenirs and sundries they may have forgotten (phone chargers, flip-flops) — through their smartphones and have it delivered to their gate.

5. Bypassing lines with expedited security programs

“If you travel with a family and don’t yet have Precheck,” said Hull, “you just like being miserable.”

TSA Precheck is the Transportation Security Administration’s expedited screening program that allows members to use designated airport lanes where they are not required to take off shoes and belts, or remove things like liquids and laptops from their carry-on bags. Often, you receive Precheck after applying and being approved for Global Entry, the security program that allows members to scan their fingerprints and passports at automatic kiosks instead of waiting in lines. A background check with fingerprinting is required for enrolment.

A number of rewards cards — Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige and certain American Express cards, among them — offer statement credits to customers who charge the application fee ($100 for Global Entry; $85 for Precheck, each for five years). Yet even if your card doesn’t cover such fees, Hull said, it’s less than $20 a year to avoid a longer, slower, domestic security line. “Kids 12 and under can piggyback with approved adults in the Precheck line,” she said (although they do need to get approved for Global Entry if travelling internationally).

You may also want to sign up for a free program called Mobile Passport Control, which saves users the time it takes to fill out a paper declaration form. Rather, they use a free app that works at more than two dozen airports, as well as a couple of cruise ports. No background check is required.

Clear is yet another expedited security program ($179 a year for individuals). It’s not a government-run program, although it allows you to skip the identification checkpoint. Instead, you go directly to a kiosk where your iris or fingerprints are scanned, after which you’re led to a physical screening line.

6. Flying early, yet fare-shopping until the last minute

Flight delays and cancellations build up throughout the day, and as things get pushed back, there’s a risk flight crews will run out of allowable work hours. Want the best chance of taking off? Leave early.

Booking early may also be a good idea. Pizzarello’s strategy is to make an initial reservation that works yet may not be ideal. Then he refines it later. For example, travellers can use miles to initially book an economy ticket when there’s no availability in business class. Then it’s simply a matter of checking back to see if business-class inventory becomes available. Lufthansa, for instance, often opens up its premium seats a week or two before departure, Pizzarello said. You may have to pay a change fee and some additional miles — but maybe not if you have elite status, the agent agrees to waive the fee or there’s been a schedule change. So ask.

To find out when better seats become available, you may want to consider signing up for ExpertFlyer. The paid “pro” versions (from $4.99 a month for the Basic plan) give users detailed information like flight awards and upgrades, flight availability and seats. You can try the seat alert feature for free, receiving a notification when a preferable option turns up.

7. Scoring lounge access

Given that some airports are outfitting their common spaces with pretty eateries, power outlets, tabletop tablets and children’s play areas, hanging out in communal spaces can be more relaxing than a crowded domestic lounge with busted power outlets. Still, what you often get with an airline’s domestic lounge is slightly better customer service, roomier bathrooms and free snacks.

If your plane ticket doesn’t allow you access, and you don’t want to pay an annual membership fee, you can opt for a credit card that includes lounge membership as a benefit. American Express Platinum card holders, for example, can use the American Express Global Lounge Collection, which includes the brand’s popular Centurion lounges, among others. And Chase Sapphire Reserve card holders receive Priority Pass Select lounge membership, which, in some places, also includes meals or discounts at airport restaurants, as well as discounts on stays with partners like IHG hotels (owner of such brands as Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts). Frequent flyers of certain carriers may also get access with airline-branded credit cards like the United MileagePlus Club Card.

8. Keeping the kids entertained

Unless you’re flying an airline with individual entertainment screens throughout coach, Hull recommends having a tablet for the kids with entertainment options downloaded. They need not be iPads, she said; Amazon Fire Tablets are less costly.

She also likes children’s headphones with volume limiters, like Kidz Gear KidzControl Volume Limit Wired Headphones (about $18).

Grown-ups with a bigger allowance may want to try Pizzarello’s pick: Bose QuietComfort20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones (about $250). He said they can go for 16 hours before needing a charge. And, perhaps more important to some travellers, “they shut out the entire world.”

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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