Friday, April 12, 2013

10 most affordable cities in Europe for 2013

For the intrepid budget traveler, few frontiers offer as many challenges—and potential victories—as Europe. It may seem like sky-high prices, particularly in summer, are a nonnegotiable in Europe, but travelers willing to expand their frontiers will encounter dazzling affordability along with dozens of new reasons to love the continent.

To find cities offering exceptional value right now, we looked at five value indexes that measure everything from flight prices to average hotel costs to the amount you can expect to pay for a pint of beer in a particular city. Often, the cities featured on lists like these come with more expensive flights, so we also factored in average airfares by season. For the places where flights are pricier, we offer some suggestions for keeping airfare costs down.

What we found is that while there are deals to be found in Western Europe, for a truly affordable European experience, your best bet is to look east.

Bon voyage! Or, should we say (in Latvian), drosu braucienu!


Affordability lowdown: Topping Price of Travel's European 3-Star Traveler Index —which compares the cost of a centrally located, well-reviewed three-star hotel, plus the c
ost of transportation, some activities, food and drink—Sofia, Bulgaria, earns the title of Europe's cheapest tourist city for 2013, coming in at under $50 a day (all prices mentioned are accurate as of press time).

Budget-travel challenges: Airfare to Sofia is somewhat expensive, and there aren't a ton of good alternative options, though Sofia does have connecting service from other European cities on low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Wizz Air. If you're thinking of relying on train or bus service from another, more affordable European entry point, know that it will likely be a long, long journey.

Hotels in Sofia


Affordability lowdown: While they're not among the absolute cheapest spring and summer airfares, flights to Berlin from the U.S. are definitely on the cheaper end of the spectrum, in some cases beating out flights to gateways such as Paris and London. But it's not until you take a look at accommodations costs that Berlin's affordability really starts to shine. Healthy competition among hostels and cheaper hotels keeps budget accommodations inexpensive. According to CNN, Berlin is also home to some of the world's most affordable five-star hotels, a definite perk for budget travelers seeking something more upscale. Even when you factor in food and activities, Berlin remains a bargain; in fact, the city made this year's European 3-Star Traveler Index, with an average daily cost of $108 per traveler.

Budget-travel challenges: Right now, the euro is the primary challenge for budget travelers visiting Berlin. The Economist's Big Mac Index suggests that the euro is overvalued by about 12 percent, meaning the exchange rate isn't maximizing value for travelers converting U.S. dollars. But it's not all bad news: Due in part to recent eurozone struggles, we're seeing exchange rates that are at least decent, compared to the high rates of the last five years.

Hotels in Berlin
Sightseeing in Berlin


Affordability lowdown: In a country whose currency offers Americans an excellent exchange rate, Riga stands out as a city with plenty to offer even those on a tight budget.'s Hotel Price Index rates Riga the second most affordable city in Europe for accommodations, with an average price of about $82 per night. The city also scored top spots on Price of Travel's European Backpacker Index for 2013 and European 3-Star Traveler Index.

Budget-travel challenges: Airfare to Riga tends to be more expensive than flights to other major European cities. If you're looking to save, you might consider booking a less expensive ticket to a city with connections to Riga via low-fare carriers such as Ryanair or easyJet. When you're pricing this out, however, be sure to factor in all the added fees (including steep baggage and check-in fees) you'll incur by flying these low-cost carriers. And note that you may have to change airports, since low-cost carriers tend to favor smaller airports, sometimes in inconvenient locations.


Affordability lowdown: Lisbon stands out among European destinations for its comparatively low spring and summer airfare prices. In fact, from San Francisco, average summer airfares were about half as much to Lisbon as they were to London. And according to's Hotel Price Index, year-over-year accommodations costs dropped by seven percent in 2012, bringing the average nightly price of a hotel down to $115.

Budget-travel challenges: As with Berlin, the biggest challenge in Lisbon is the euro itself, which doesn't offer as much value as some of the other currencies on this list. However, eurozone troubles have driven the euro down enough that travelers exchanging U.S. dollars will still find decently good value.

Hotels in Lisbon
Sightseeing in Lisbon


Affordability lowdown: Kiev is the affordable capital of a country we recently named one of our 10 Places You Should Go While They're Still Cheap. The European Backpacker Index for 2013 puts the daily cost of accommodations, food and drink, and some activities and transportation at a mere $26. And according to The Economist's Big Mac Index, the Ukranian hryvnia is undervalued by nearly 50 percent against the dollar, giving travelers even more spending power.

Budget-travel challenges: Its off-the-beaten-path location offers a lot of benefits, but it also equates to higher airfare prices. A lack of service from low-cost carriers means that savings options are limited, so if you're looking to save, keep an eye out for airfare sales from larger carriers serving the country.

Hotels in Kiev


Affordability lowdown: Spring and summer airfare prices from the U.S. to Istanbul are consistently among the lowest to Europe. While this might seem surprising, given that a flight from the U.S. to Turkey is much longer than a flight to, say, Madrid, it actually makes a fair amount of sense: Istanbul has become a worldwide air hub (and earned itself a top spot on our Destinations to Watch in 2013 because of it), with plenty of competition to keep costs low. And attesting to its wealth of budget accommodations, Istanbul secured a place on the European Backpacker Index for 2013.

Budget-travel challenges: Unless you're willing to fly between cities, Istanbul is pretty far off Europe's beaten path, so combining a trip there with stops in other European cities isn't a simple matter of a Eurail Pass or a bus ride. And while Istanbul is wallet-friendly for those who are cost conscious, it's a trendy destination full of restaurants, bars, and cafes, so it can get expensive quickly if you decide to live it up.

Hotels in Istanbul
Sightseeing in Istanbul


Affordability lowdown: Its popularity over the last decade has caused prices to rise somewhat, but Prague can still be an impressively affordable city, particularly for backpackers willing to settle for modest accommodations. The European Backpacker Index for 2013 puts the daily cost of on-the-cheap lodging, food, drinks, and activities at just $41 per day. Even those not willing to scrimp to save should be able to find good deals:'s Hotel Price Index puts the average price of a hotel in Prague at $107 per night. And everyone can still toast the appealingly low cost of celebration— reports that the price of a pint of beer in Prague averages $1.06.

Budget-travel challenges: If the last time you visited Prague was more than a decade ago, you might find prices much higher than on your last visit. The key is to keep it in perspective: The city may no longer be a total steal, but it's still a great deal. And with so much to offer, it's still more than worth the uptick in cost.

Hotels in Prague
Sightseeing in Prague


Affordability lowdown: There's a lot that stands out to make Budapest an affordable European destination. Its currency, the forint, offers solid value to Americans abroad. It's easy to eat, drink, and sightsee on a budget. And at the end of the day, you won't have to spend much for a decent place to stay: Budapest receives high affordability marks for backpackers and budget travelers, and even when you factor in more expensive hotels, the average cost of a night's stay in Budapest still comes in under $100. Plus, many of the thermal spas that make the city famous are affordable enough to work into any trip. For instance, at Dandar Bath, discounts on Wednesdays drive the admission price down to about $4.

Budget-travel challenges: Airfare to Budapest is often (though not always) on the expensive end of the U.S.-to-Europe airfare spectrum. However, Budapest is about three hours by train from Vienna, which in a spot check had slightly lower fares for spring and summer flights than Budapest. And the city is well connected to other European cities by low-cost carriers, including airberlin, easyJet, and Ryanair.

Hotels in Budapest
Sightseeing in Budapest


Affordability lowdown: Krakow has affordability all sewn up. Its currency offers U.S. travelers good value right now. It ranks high on accommodations-affordability rankings. In fact, it's the third-cheapest city on the European Backpacker Index for 2013 and the fourth-cheapest on the European 3-Star Traveler Index, with daily average lodging and travel costs of $25 for backpackers and $58 for budget travelers. And here's another thing Krakow has going for it: The Polish airline LOT has been running periodic fare sales for flights from New York or Chicago to Krakow. These sales tend to run for a short time only, but they offer some really impressive deals on airfare (for instance, $712 round-trip, including taxes and fees, for a May flight).

Budget-travel challenges: If you want a really great airfare to Krakow, you'll likely have to work for it by keeping tabs on sales and even thinking creatively about connecting cities. If you've traveled around Poland before, you might consider Krakow a bit pricey in comparison to the rest of the country. But the city offers such a rich density of historic buildings (it was spared much physical damage in World War II) and attractions that it seems only fair.

Hotels in Krakow
Sightseeing in Krakow


Affordability lowdown: It's a city Lonely Planet colorfully calls "eccentric and soulful," and one that offers the best overall hotel prices in all of Europe. According to's Hotel Price Index, Vilnius in Lithuania has an average per-night hotel price of $80, putting accommodations costs within reach of budget travelers. Sweeten the pot with a favorable exchange rate, quirky attractions, and Europe's largest baroque old town, and you've got an intriguing and affordable destination.

Budget-travel challenges: We found a few exceptions, but in general, airfare from the U.S. to Vilnius tends to be a bit more expensive than to bigger European airports. However, since low-cost carriers, including Ryanair and Wizz Air, serve area airports, it's worth doing some comparison shopping before resigning yourself to a higher fare.

Hotels in Vilnius
Sightseeing in Vilnius

Saturday, March 2, 2013

10 Coolest Small Towns in Europe

Paris, London, Rome…the big cities require no introductions. But have you heard of the foodie haven of Tremolat, France or the pristine Alpine hamlet of Binn, Switzerland? In our travels, we've discovered that some of Europe's most divine towns are also some of its smallest.


One of the oldest villages in the Czech Republic, Cesky Krumlov is set in a valley in Bohemia south of the Blansko Forest and circled by the Vltava River. The village grew up around the 13th-century Gothic castle of the Lords of Krumlov, which has 40 buildings and palaces, gardens, and turrets and today is a major performing arts location. The cobblestone streets of Cesky Krumlov's Old Town are lined with Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings housing art galleries, cafes, and quaint B&Bs. One of the best ways to experience the town is to take a ride down the Vltava on a wooden raft ($24,


Founded in 1593 as a stronghold of the Venetian Republic, this UNESCO World Heritage town was built in a unique, 18-sided octadecagon shape. When viewed from above, the fortress community looks like a delicately made paper snowflake, with streets radiating out of the structure like sunbeams. Tucked into a valley with a lagoon running into the Adriatic Sea, the land surrounding Palmanova yields high-quality Chardonnay, while the local waters are stocked with mullet, sea bass, and other delicious fish. In town, look out for the symbol of a leafy bough, or a frasca, hanging outside of restaurants to pinpoint ones serving regionally sourced food, such as the classic Venetian dish baccalà, made with dry-salted cod. At night, the city's earth-and-stone defensive works are lit up like a movie set.


Germany's so-called Romantic Road—which slices north to south through the southern German state of Bavaria—earned its name for its string of stunning castles. But most of the region's bastions are stand-alone tourist attractions, not thriving municipalities. A charming exception is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a red-walled town set up on a hill above the Tauber River. It has all the pastoral views and scenery of the Romantic Road's other castle stops yet has a strong civic pulse, too. Walt Disney was so taken by the town, in fact, that he used it as inspiration for the village in the movie Pinocchio. An earthquake destroyed the castle's main tower in 1356, but the town's red-roofed medieval and Renaissance houses have endured for centuries and were fully restored after World War II. Visitors can tour the castle's stone towers—protected beneath covered walkways—and stop by its base, where crafts shops sell everything from antique clocks to handmade garden gnomes. Cuisine is celebrated here in a way it isn't in larger German cities like Frankfurt or Berlin, let alone in castle canteens elsewhere. You may come here for the shining armor—but you'll return for the delicious renditions of Bavarian comfort foods (more spätzle, anyone?).


Located on the River Coln in hilly west-central England, Bibury was described by 19th-century artist-writer William Morris as "the most beautiful village in England"—which is saying something in a country known for its watercolor views. Honey-colored 17th-century stone cottages, the Saxon Church of St. Mary, and a still-working 1902 trout farm are some of the ancient village's must-sees. The most photographed spot is Arlington Row, a collection of 14th-century stone buildings that were converted into weavers' cottages in the 1600s.


On the banks of the Danube, in the shadow of a castle from the Middle Ages, Dürnstein is one of those impossibly quaint towns where everything, from the red-tiled roofs to the baroque clock tower to the winding cobblestoned alleys, seems lifted straight from the Brothers Grimm. Just an hour downriver from Vienna, Dürnstein is an under-explored retreat and a gateway to the surrounding Wachau valley, a grape region prized for crisp, dry Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. To experience the area like a local, take a seat inside a Heuriger, a cozy tavern that sells only indigenous wines, namely those from the most recent harvest. Authentic establishments hang fir branches above their doorways to welcome the thirsty, while Schrammelmusik (traditional fiddle-and-accordion folk music) plays from within. Although the Wachau is known for its grapes, it is the Marille (apricot) that sets the region apart. In early April, the valley erupts in pale-pink blossoms, and the fruit begins showing up in strudels, pork dishes, and Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings rolled in butter-toasted bread crumbs). Wieser Wachau Shop & Café, with locations throughout the valley, sells apricot soap, schnapps, and marmalade (


Life moves slowly in the village of Binn—and that's by design. Years ago, the residents of this tiny Alpine town (pop. 150, two and a half hours from Bern) decided to stave off development by preserving the surrounding valley as a park. Today, instead of the posh ski resorts and multilane highways in much of southwestern Switzerland, Binn remains a time capsule of village life. Gravel lanes wind between neat pine chalets. Flower boxes filled with geraniums hang from every window. The town's 16th-century bridge is traversed by hikers and goats instead of cars. Up the Binna River, visitors will find even smaller hamlets and picture-perfect meadows, where they can spread out a picnic of local wine and raclette cheese and listen to the cowbells ring down from the high pastures. About a mile from Binn along mountain trails, the riverside Restaurant Imfeld is a timber chalet at 4,983 feet with a terrace overlooking the Alps. Hikers can stop in for fresh trout and Valais air-dried beef—prepared by rubbing salt, herbs, and spices into raw beef and leaving it to dry in a wooden barn for at least six weeks (011-41/27-971-4596, entrées from $9).


While Provence is justifiably famous for its rosé and rustic gîtes (holiday rental homes), that celebrity comes at a high price. Nearly a straight shot across the country, close to Bordeaux, the cluster of market towns known as Périgord Noir offers weekly cottage rentals at nearly half the cost—and the small-town experience is no less picturesque. One of the quaintest towns in the area, Trémolat sits on a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Dordogne River and is dominated by a fortresslike Romanesque church that dates back to the 11th century. But the highlight of the town is farm-to-table restaurant Les Truffières. Yanick Le Goff oversees a classic ferme auberge—a working farm that serves the food it grows (011-33/5-53-27-30-44, six-course family-style meal with wine $34, reservations required). Plates like barbecued duck, garlic-and-goose-fat soup, and house made foie gras are paired with local wines like a lavender-tinged aperitif or a rosé. The surrounding area is best known for its dark oak forests, hillside vineyards, medieval châteaux, Stonehenge-like megaliths, and, of course, the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux with haunting images of bison, horses, and traced human hands estimated to be an astounding 17,000 years old.


The city walls of the seaside resort town of Tenby might have kept attackers out during the Middle Ages, but today they can't quite contain the pastel Georgian buildings spilling right out onto the sand. The view from the harbor is rightfully renowned, but you can get an even better taste of Tenby's medieval past by taking a ramble down one of its narrow, winding alleys—like the quirkily named Lower Frog Street, a canyon of color. (No amphibian greens, though—Tenby's hues skew lighter.) The town is always popular with holidaymakers, but it's getting an extra boost this year with the recent opening of the Wales Coast Path, an 870-mile meander along the country's edge that includes Tenby on its route. Trekkers can enjoy shades as sweet as the seaside treats sold by candymaker Lollies.


With its cobblestoned streets and tiled buildings, Ericeira looks like a quintessential Portuguese fishing village. But north and south of the village center, scalloped cliffs give way to white-sand beaches and—much to surfers' delight—consistent right-hand reef breaks. Thanks to its seaside location, Ericeira is also well-known for its seafood. Though the town's name is said to come from the Portuguese word for sea urchins, the regional specialty here is lobster, which are bred in nurseries along the rocky coast. 


From their base in the capital city of Reykjavik, most visitors to Iceland will follow the usual tourist circuit of the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, and thermodynamic geysers. The Westman Islands, a wild volcanic archipelago off Iceland's southern coast, feel a world away. The 15 islands are named not for the Norse settlers that conquered these parts but for the Irish they enslaved; the Norse referred to the Irish as Vestmenn, or Westmen. The inhabitants on Heimaey—the only inhabited island in the bunch—and the main port town of Vestmannaeyjar are still mostly a mix of Norse and Celtic descendants. The principal industry is commercial fishing, and the wharf is lined with unassuming seafood restaurants. The just-caught fish—cold-water species like cod and halibut—are usually prepared in a traditional European style, sautéed in brown butter. Adventurous travelers can explore the islands by hitching rides with local fishermen. If a professional operation is more your speed, go with Viking Tours (, 90-minute island circle tour $40). The 90-minute ride circles Heimaey, yielding picture-perfect vistas of rugged sheer cliffs, with killer whales splashing offshore, plus a healthy population of puffins. Venture inside Klettshellur, a sea cave formed by crashing waves; a crew member will likely play a tune or two on a saxophone to demonstrate the dramatic acoustics.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

6 Smart Ways to Save on a Cruise

The high cost of a dream cruise vacation can leave you feeling a little queasy before you even set sail. (And let's not mention the add-ons!) Here, our Trip Coach's sage advice about how to save big before boarding.


By reserving six to 12 months ahead of your cruise, you can lock in an early-bird rate that's 25 to 50 percent lower than the published "brochure" rate most lines advertise. You'll also have a wider selection of itineraries, dates, and cabins, and possibly get better deals on airfare and hotels. If prices go down after you book, a good travel agent—or the cruise line itself—should help you get the new lower rate.


Yes, it runs completely counter to what we just said about booking early, but if you wait 60 to 90 days before you want to sail, cruise lines often drop prices significantly to fill any remaining spaces on their ships. If you're willing and able to white-knuckle it, this is when you can nab a weeklong Caribbean cruise for under $500. But of course, you won't have as much choice of itinerary or cabin, it may be tricky to find a low airfare to your port, and last-minute fares are typically nonrefundable.


Asking the right questions can work magic. If you're a return customer, mention it when booking and politely inquire whether you're eligible for a discount—it can shave 5 to 15 percent off your fare. Since cruise prices are based on double occupancy, a third or fourth person in your cabin should get a 30 to 60 percent discount. If you're 55 or older, don't be shy about asking for a 5 percent discount; likewise, active and retired servicemen and women should always ask if the line offers them savings.

USE A TRAVEL AGENT (like Nonstop Travel!)

Sites like Kayak and Expedia have put you in the driver's seat—sometimes literally—but don't underestimate the role a good agent can play in finding you the right deal. Many have reserved spaces they can sell you at a discount, and they can explain whether an advertised "free" upgrade or all-inclusive package is for real or just a ploy. They can also advocate for you if rates drop after you've booked your cruise.


Large groups—like family reunions at sea—can be complicated to pull together, but they can also knock big bucks off the price of cabins. A group of 16 people in eight cabins, for instance, can sometimes get a steep discount on the 16th fare, or in some cases a free berth. For large groups, booking a year in advance is advised to ensure you get the block of cabins you want.


You won't save a ton, but sailing when most folks stay home can nab you a modest bargain—maybe 10 percent off typical high-season rates. Here are the best times to find deals in four highly popular cruise regions:

  • Caribbean. September and October, the non-holiday weeks in December, and early January to Presidents' Day.
  • Europe. Mid-March and April, September to December
  • Alaska. May and September
  • Bermuda. April and October 


The end of a beautiful cruise can be stunning in all the wrong ways—if the bill tacks on a bunch of extras you weren't prepared for. Ask in advance what activities, food, drinks, and sundries are included in your fare and which will cost more. In general, be ready to pay the following:

  • $2+ for a can of soda
  • $3+ for a latte
  • $5+ for a mixed drink
  • $10+ for a photo shot by cruise staff
  • $20+ for a bottle of wine
  • $10 to $75 per person for alternative dining
  • $10 to $15 per person per day gratuities

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Jet lag: What the tired traveler needs to know

Question: My wife and I travel to Israel at least twice a year to visit children and grandchildren. There is a 10-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Because of time constraints, we can stay only about seven days. Even though we take Ambien on the plane, we are hit with heavy jet lag for the entire time we are in Israel, which affects the enjoyment of our trip. Is there anything we can do to reduce the jet lag?
Zach Samuels
Los Angeles
Answer: Short of not going, there is so far no magic potion that will cure jet lag, which is a disruption of circadian rhythms that regulate our body clocks. When we are jet-lagged, we want to sleep and eat at the times that are inappropriate to where we have landed.
And, alas, for the Samuelses, flying east is more difficult, said Dr. Herbert L. DuPont, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. "Expect jet lag when you are going east across time zones," DuPont said. "As a general rule you are going to take a day for every [time zone] you cross to become acclimated."
The bad news about jet lag just keeps on coming: "As you get older, it may get worse — like everything else," DuPont said.
Neither DuPont nor Dr. Tanvir Hussain, a Los Angeles cardiologist, thinks Ambien is the magic potion either. A recent Food and Drug Administration statement noted that the insomnia drug probably should be taken at lower doses than that at which it has traditionally been prescribed.
"It's long been known that older patients metabolize drugs more slowly, and in the case of Ambien, there is a greater than 30% reduction of metabolism for people over the age of 65 or 70," Hussain said in an email. "Thus, the sedation and disorientation effects can be more pronounced and prolonged."
DuPont said Ambien and similar drugs might "put you to sleep, but it may not be high-quality sleep."
If you're going to take medication to sleep, it's important that you are sleeping at the time that you would be sleeping at your destination. "If you're traveling east and the local time will be evening upon arrival, it may be counterproductive to sleep on the plane and then lie awake all night" at your destination, Hussain said. It may work better to take a sleeping medication at bedtime after you arrive.
What's a tired traveler to do? If it's daytime when you arrive, "the very best thing to do is to get out in sunlight as soon as you arrive, not go into a dark room and go to bed," DuPont said. "You need to reprogram that circadian rhythm so you can get closer to the schedule locally."
You may try to get on the local schedule before you leave, said Daryal Mark, author of "Jet Lag Relief: It's About Time." You can change your bedtime and meal times to the destination's, he said. That's just one method, and it may not work for everyone, he said. It also can prove disruptive to your regular schedule. Just make sure your timing is on the money.
In his more than 100 trips abroad, he has found that working to reset the body's clock to the local time is most effective for him (sunlight, sleeping and eating on the local schedule) and, most important, being gentler with himself because he knows he might feel a little out of sorts.

Mark made this point: We think jet lag is abnormal. It's not. It's a body's natural reaction. Even presidents and policymakers have to deal with its effects. Sometimes you just have to let go, he said, and let Mother Nature take over. Once again, Mom really does know best — at least, better than her jet-setting children.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Airport security checks might change

Travelers are as diverse as the destinations they're headed to, but on this much many can agree: Getting through airport security is, at best, annoying. I'm tired of taking my shoes off, sick of removing my laptop and my liquids, fed up with feeling like a suspect in some sinister plot of which I am completely unaware. But after a sit-down with the head of the Transportation Security Administration, I have some hope that things will change for the better in 2013, thanks to a risk-based assessment approach to security.

Here's what irritates me most: I'm a leisure traveler. I fly whatever airline is going to get me where I need to go at the most reasonable rate. Therefore, I don't have a big fat wad of frequent-flier miles that gives me any kind of elite status. And that means I'm never going to be invited to join TSA's PreCheck, the "trusted traveler" program that allows you (if you're a heavy-duty flier) to skip merrily through security, your light jacket, shoes and belt on, your laptop in its case.
OK, I admit it. I have PreCheck envy, even though PreCheckers don't always get to use their PreCheck-ness. They still can be chosen at random to go through regular security, and there are only five airlines that are part of the program (Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways) so if you have a trip on two or more carriers and one carrier is part of PreCheck and the next one isn't, it's back off with the belt, the shoes, the jacket and so on.
But, John Pistole, the TSA administrator, reminded me that anyone can try to sign up for the Global Entry program, through Customs and Border Protection, although acceptance isn't guaranteed. (See You complete an application form, pay $100 and then, if you're accepted, you schedule an in-person interview. If you aren't accepted, you don't get your money back. If you are and the interview goes well, you not only get to play with the big kids in PreCheck, but you also get to whisk through Customs when you return to the U.S.
Global Entry is not in every airport (nor is PreCheck, which was just instituted at Santa Ana's John Wayne, the 35th airport to be accepted into the program this year), but I'd rather have it than not. New Year's resolution: I will finish my Global Online Enrollment Systems, or GOES, application, which has so stymied me on half a dozen occasions that I've never completed it.
The best news, though, for me is that PreCheck and Global Entry (and maybe more) are part of a movement away from treating all travelers like the lowest common denominator.
"We are looking at a whole range of options to significantly expand the known and trusted population simply with a recognition that the vast majority of the people traveling … just want to get from Point A to Point B safely," Pistole said. "They are not terrorists. And also it allows us, I believe, to provide a better security approach because we are not focused the same on everybody, so the one-size-fits-all construct that was necessary after 9/11, I think we can move away from that."
For instance, in Indianapolis and Tampa, Fla., during the Thanksgiving travel crush, the TSA allowed some non-PreCheck passengers to go through the PreCheck lanes after the fliers had been sniffed by bomb-detecting dogs and assessed by a behavior detection officer. This trial program could be expanded in the next year. Glory be.
The TSA may even use a third party to do the vetting for the trusted-traveler programs, whatever form they take. (Pistole hinted there may be more programs.) Pistole called this new era a "win win" all the way around. Beats the "whine whine" from me and a chorus of unhappy travelers who really want to do the right thing without having to constantly pay the psychic price.