The picks below are part of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance’s annual Best List, a roundup of the best values in all the areas we cover – from funds, stocks and ETFs to credit cards and bank accounts to cars, college, kid stuff, phone plans, travel and health. Discover all our Best List picks here.
Best Airline for On-Time Arrival
You’ll maximize vacation time by taking Alaska Airlines. In 2016, more than 89% of its flights landed on schedule
Best Airline for Baggage Handling
You can breathe a little easier when you check a bag with Virgin America. The airline lost only 1.21 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2016.
Best Airfare Deals
With Google Flights, the most appealing flights (in terms of price, number of stops and other factors) are listed first. It also shines with features such as its calendar view, which lets you check alternative dates to find lower fares. Follow The Flight Deal for a curated roundup of cheap fares out of major U.S. cities. You can find commentary about the deals (including tip-offs if the fares drop or disappear) and step-by-step instructions on how to find dates with the lowest prices.
Best Loyalty Programs
The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan still hands out miles based on distance flown rather than on the price of your ticket. Its partners for earning and redeeming miles include Delta, American and a number of international carriers. Look for Alaska’s range to expand if a merger with Virgin America goes through. With more than 1,300 properties, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) doesn’t have the footprint of the major chains, but it offers strong value per point and allows 1:1 transfers to more than 30 airline partners (plus a 5,000-point bonus for each 20,000-point transfer). Members of both Marriott Rewards and SPG can now link their accounts, gain reciprocal elite status and transfer points.
Hotels.com offers verified reviews, plenty of filters to pinpoint your ideal hotel amenities and location, and a “pay now or later” option. The rewards program is simple: Book 10 nights at any of the 269,000 qualifying properties around the globe and you’ll earn credit for a night’s stay.
Best Expedited Customs
Do some prep work on the Mobile Passport app while you’re still on the plane and you can skip the paper customs forms or kiosks. This app won’t let you bypass the post-landing interview with customs agents or speed you through security lines. But unlike other services, it’s free. Look for dedicated Mobile Passport lines at 20 U.S. airports, with more to come.
The Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 series’ “worry-free warranty” will cover your bag for life, including damage caused by the airline. For carry-on bags, the 22” Expandable Rollaboard ($246 on eBags.com) meets domestic size requirements and weighs just less than 8 pounds. Need to pack for a wedding, a three-day hike and city touring all in one trip? The 29” Expandable Spinner ($340 on eBags.com) measures 29 x 20.5 x 12.75 inches and weighs about 11 pounds.
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