9 Tips for Better Summer Travel

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (TheStreet) -- The most important travel decisions are often the ones made long before the vacation even starts, as you do your due diligence checking out hotels, airlines and exotic destinations. Other times they are the little choices you make at the airport or hotel front desk that can define the mood for the rest of your trip. We've asked a few travel insiders and business travelers for their most guarded travel secrets of each kind to help your next vacation or business trip go off without a hitch:

Become a Tripadvisor photo expert

Tripadvisor has become one of the most frequently visited travel websites for scouting out hotels in a place you've never been or don't know very well. While the objectivity of some Tripadvisor travel reviews has been rightly called into question (just check out the top hotel picks in your own home city), a picture can tell a thousand words and rarely lies. At least for hotels there's almost more travel knowledge to be had in scouring user pictures -- and seeing how they compare with promo shots -- than reading lengthy, often tedious reviews to see if the hotel meets your demands.

Hotel loyalty isn't always rewarded

A fabulous W Hotel in Barcelona does not always mean an equally fabulous W in Montreal. While we understand the desire to accumulate frequent guest points at chains that offer them, such as Hilton and Starwood (Stock Quote: HOT), keep in mind that not all luxury hotels of the same chain are created equally. If traveling with Starwood, take a look at the hotel's SPG Category rating. The company's top properties are usually rated SPG Category 6 or 7. The category level refers to redemption points required for an SPG Award stay but also offers even non-SPG members a glimpse at what the company considers to be their hottest and most in-demand properties.

See more with short stays

Some people like to take multiweek trips to Paris or Rome and be immersed in a culture, while others prefer to see a handful of cities in a trip. If you're a picky traveler, consider shorter stays in cities you've never been to. It lessens your chances of being disappointed or just plain bored. Depending on your age, sometimes it's also best to see as much of the world as possible while you're most physically able. Either way, spread out your itinerary in no less than two- or three-night stops that allow you to cover a number of cities at a leisurely but adventurous pace.

Try the telephone

With most Internet travel websites offering essentially the same published rates for hotels, we've learned a little secret with a recent hotel stay booked over the phone: The affable receptionist answering the phone was able to offer an extra 20% off the rate I found online and didn't even require pre-payment, as many online booking engines do. It was a last-minute rate -- but hotels are often better able to facilitate bargain shoppers over the phone, as well as deviate from any minimum-night room requirements.

Splurge on the rental car

Few things are worse that disembarking from a transcontinental flight, getting stuck in customs and finally making your way out of the airport only to wait in line at a rental car desk. Join a frequent rental program such as Hertz Gold that will have your car waiting for you at the airport with no paperwork, lines or hassles other than finding your parking stall. Too many people also opt for the cheapest car they can book. Why not try a sports car or luxury sedan in lieu of that subcompact? It will make driving on Germany's Autobahn or Italy's Amalfi Highway so much more memorable.

Unpack only after committing to the room

It's inevitable, especially when traveling as a couple, that you'll check in to the hotel room and begin unpacking before realizing you want to move rooms because of a lackluster view or leaky faucet. Before even unpacking your toothbrush, walk around the room and make sure you're happy with it. Hoteliers and cruise operators are more than happy to swap out rooms and cabins for unhappy guests but prefer to do it as soon as possible. You don't want to go through unpacking and repacking to finally get it right.

Frequent flier booking tips

It's tough for anyone to score a summertime award ticket, but the most studious of award travelers have some good techniques. Award tickets are released on a delayed basis from around 320 days in advance of travel to the same day, so check often -- especially early in the week and mornings, when cancellations are likely to register in an airline's system. If traveling as a group, try asking for one ticket at a time and in various classes and award types that may get you saver award for one traveler and a higher redemption option for another. Most airlines don't offer all partner airline awards online, making this another time you should pick up a phone and talk to an airline rep directly.

Buy the biggest carry-on allowed

Why check a bag when you can skip a wait and carry one aboard for free? Until the airlines become savvy to the fact that everyone is carrying on to avoid fees and long lines, it's best to buy the biggest bag allowed. It will shave a half-hour off your time at the airport and ensure that your pricey Louis Vuitton bag isn't lost or damaged downstairs.

Squeaky wheels get what they want

Politeness and demure behavior died with the advent of the TSA. If any request passes through your head, such as asking for an upgrade in the airport, whether a higher room category is available in the hotel or if there's a better table in the restaurant, you will never get what you want if you don't at least ask. Go ahead and be bold -- you may be surprised to get what you want, although probably only 5% of the time. The comfort of first class or a suite upgrade is worth the potential rejection.

Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.

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