Should you upgrade your summer vacation? Why you need that upgraded seat and hotel suite this summer

Jun 1, 2022

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Interest in summer travel is skyrocketing. As a result, prices for summer travel are sky-high.

Americans will spend a record-breaking $194 billion on summer travel in 2022, according to Allianz Partners USA’s 14th annual Vacation Confidence Index. That’s a 91% increase compared to pre-COVID-19 spending in the summer of 2019.

As you book your airfare, car rental and hotels, you may find very few budget options. Add to those high prices packed airports and capacity crowds at hotels and attractions, and summer vacation can start to sound like a chore instead of a reward.

However, a better summer travel experience may be available, if you’re willing to pay to upgrade.

Related: How to navigate the sold-out summer

“If it’s possible that paying for elevated experiences can save you from crowds and make your travel experience easier, and ultimately more relaxing, many travelers are willing to pay for less travel pain,” said Casey Brogan of Tripadvisor.

Travelers say they’re willing to splurge on luxury items, “be it a premium flight or nicer hotel room,” Brogan said, to make their travel experience better. “If travelers see an upgrade or deal, they are likely to take advantage of it to help make their trip more memorable and ease travel anxiety.”

Wondering when to pay to upgrade your summer travels? Here are some tips for a stress-free summer vacation.

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Upgrade your airport experience

Time is indeed money when it comes to navigating airport security and customs lines. If you want to get through the airport without getting stuck in long lines this summer, you’re probably going to need to sign up for programs that reduce your wait time.

TPG has written extensively about TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear. These three programs help travelers speed their way through the airport security and customs process after you’re approved and pay application and subscription fees ($85 for TSA PreCheck and $100 for Global Entry, both good for five years, and $189 for Clear for a single year).

Some good news for TPG readers, though, is that with many credit cards and loyalty programs, you can get access to these front-of-the-line programs without having to pay full price. Here are seven ways to save money on TSA PreCheck, Clear and Global Entry.

If you aren’t familiar with these programs, check out our guides to TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear to find the right fit for your travel needs.

Upgrade your flight experience

Want to avoid the middle seat? Hoping for a few more inches of valuable legroom in the back of the plane? Or thinking of splurging to turn left when you get on the plane? All of these are possible — with an extra expenditure. We all know on one level that everyone on a plane gets to their destination at the same time, regardless of what they paid. However, the comfort factor during the ride can definitely be controlled.

According to The Atlantic, the back of the plane — where 70% of seats are located on a Boeing 737 — has been designed to make you want to upgrade. If it was comfortable, you’d have no reason to want to pay more to sit closer to the front. It specifically called out premium economy as a major revenue driver for airlines, with the perception of better service and more space without having to shell out for business class.

You don’t need to splurge for business class, though. We’ve found that even a strategic $34 can make a big difference on Spirit in getting you into Big Front Seat. On other airlines, extra legroom and early boarding (so there’s still room in the overhead bin for your bag) can be a worthwhile investment if it starts your vacation with less stress.

(Photo courtesy of the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa)

Upgrade your hotel

Many hotels are at capacity this summer. If you want to guarantee your room preference, you’ll need to pay upfront for exactly what you want. Loyalty status with a hotel will often help you avoid the worst room at a property. However, if you need two beds or a bathtub, or know you want to have a high floor, this is the summer to spend on the exact class of room you’d prefer.

For example, for the July 4 weekend, we saw a room at the Thompson Seattle rise by nearly double for an option that would fit a family — from $250 to nearly $500 — with two queen beds as opposed to one king.

Cristiano Cabutti, general manager at the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa, said he’s also seen a surge of interest from families looking for spacious accommodations. In particular, one trend he’s noted is, “Those with Marriott Bonvoy loyalty points saved up can choose to book their stay at the resort with points, and then pay extra for the upgrade to larger accommodations,” which here are a bit further removed from the main hotel and tucked among gardens and olive groves.

Cabutti also drew our attention to another perk of paying to stay at an upgraded property: access to a concierge who can help secure tickets and tours. In busy Venice, that means arranging everything from private behind-the-scenes tours and babysitting services to olive oil tastings and spa services.

Upgrade your car rental

“An issue for car rentals this summer is availability,” shared Leslie Overton, head of travel operations at Fora travel services. “We’re finding car rentals are tough to come by — period. However,  it’s easier to find a ‘signature’ car rental than the regular ones.” That means luxury car rentals may be a place to splurge if you’re looking for a car that fits your travel dates and needs.

Fortunately, you may already hold a credit card that offers you elite status with a rental car company that can help you get to the front of the line for premium cars and possibly skip the counter altogether and go straight to your vehicle once you arrive.

Upgrade your destination experiences

“I’m all for upgrading to make your trip less stressful,” said Overton of Fora.  “An arrival transfer for instance can really take a load off when you have flown on a night flight to Europe and arrive with four people and their luggage so you don’t have to fumble with wonky cell networks and airport Uber issues. Having someone waiting for you with an appropriately sized car is a relief!”

Another place Overton advises her clients to splurge: “Booking a tour with early or late access or any special entry access is absolutely worth the price,” to avoid the crowds. “I had clients visiting the Blue Lagoon last summer in Croatia and they were so happy they could bypass the 2-3 hour line and cruise in and out! Especially with the low euro, these splurges will be worth it!”

Featured photo by MauroBianchi/Getty Images.

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