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What you need to know to be a smart traveler for 2019

A sign for the real I.D. at the Glendlae, CA DMV.
A sign for the real I.D. at the Glendale Department of Motor Vehicles.
(Los Angeles Times)

In 2019 I’m taking my new Real ID driver’s license with me, leaving my credit card at home and debating whether I can stand to show up at the airport without a seat assignment.

These are some of the things travelers will need to know in 2019. And the voice of travel? Her name may be Alexa. Read on.

Real ID

Real ID is a new flavor of driver’s license that addresses the federal government’s need for more identification. That upgraded license will allow you to board a domestic flight beginning Oct. 1, 2020. (Other forms of identification can be used instead to get through airport security.)

California began issuing Real ID on Jan. 22, and about 2.3 million people have received the new licenses. All was well until recently, when the Department of Homeland Security said that California had not complied with its requirements on proof of residence.

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Before you panic, note that:

--If you have a Real ID and it is valid on Oct. 1, 2020, you can use it to get on a domestic flight.

--When you renew your newly gotten Real ID, you may be asked to provide additional proof of residence.

--If you’re applying for Real ID after April 1, you probably will need that extra proof of residence.

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--Find out what constitutes that extra proof of residence

--When you look at that list, it will contain no information about how many forms of proof of residence you need. That may change by April 1.

--You do not need a Real ID to operate a motor vehicle. A plain old license will do.

Get ready to re-up

Prepare to fight a few digital demons when you renew your Global Entry card. Global Entry expedites travelers through U.S. Customs and comes with PreCheck, the Transportation Security Administration’s program that lets you keep your belt, shoes, jacket and liquids (less than 3.4 ounces) on your person or in your carry-on bag when you go through security.

You may renew your Global Entry card as early as a year before it expires. The good news (and I just applied for renewal): You no longer need to use the dysfunctional GOES system to do so online. It has been replaced by a Trusted Traveler Programs website that was fairly intuitive.

You will need to remember all of the countries you have visited (although Mexico and Canada don’t seem to count), and you will need to detail any other changes, including addresses (work or home).

If I forgot or omitted something critical (pretty sure I didn’t lie about anything, because they didn’t ask for weight or hair color) and my application is denied, I’m out the $100 fee.

If I’m in, my way is eased for five more years, unless I somehow become an untrusted traveler.

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The top 10 of places to visit in 2019, from Belize to Tasmania and Napa/Sonoma in between »

It’s a luxe-apalooza

Hotel occupancy is expected to set a record in 2019 despite an increase in hotel rooms, according to a report, released in September, from CBRE Hotels Americas Research. Average daily rates are not expected to increase.

What is increasing: spending on luxury travel, expected to reach $1.2 billion in the next four years.

If you’d like to sleep in the lap of luxury, you’ll have more choices in 2019. Marriott International, which includes eight luxury brands, is expecting to open 30 new luxury hotels, including a Luxury Collection hotel in Okinawa, Japan, a St. Regis in Cairo and a W in Dubai in the next year.

An improved economy and increased demand, especially in emerging markets, are part of what’s behind the spurt, said Stephanie Linnartz, chief commercial officer for Marriott.

But it’s no longer just about the plush digs, Linnartz said. Luxury hotels understand that guests want “experiences” unique to the destination and the property. That could mean a desert safari tour in Dubai or tango lessons in Buenos Aires.

At the other end of the spectrum, though, is an airfare trend that might be considered anti-luxury.

Basic instinct

Basic economy, the low-cost fare that legacy carriers introduced to compete with the ultra-low-cost-carriers, continues to expand to domestic and international flights. Alaska, SAS and Hawaiian are among those joining the fare fray.

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Although the names of these low-cost fares may vary (SAS Go Light, for instance), you’ll know them by their restrictions: On Hawaiian’s Main Cabin Basic, for instance, expected to be rolled out in the second half of the year, you may not change or upgrade your ticket, you can’t choose your seat until check-in, and you’ll board last.

Depending on the airline, a carry-on bag may not be allowed (United doesn’t let you), so check before you book or risk running up add-ons fees that could make your fare more expensive than a regular economy fare.

And you don’t always save that much; only you can judge whether the restrictions are worth it.

Airfare roller coaster

Airfares are confounding. How confounding? Sometimes “it’s cheaper to go to Europe than to go to Hawaii,” said Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations for CheapOair, a travel booking site.

That’s because airlines have added capacity, and low-cost carriers in Europe and Asia have pressured legacy carriers to become more price-competitive.

The wild card is fuel prices and airlines’ financial health. The price of crude oil climbed 45% in 2016 and appeared to be headed again into the stratosphere for 2018 but they ended the year at a price well below 2016, Macrotrends.net reported

Here’s why fuel prices matter: About 25% of the cost of your ticket is fuel, Spagnola said.

When you look at fares in the Travel section for Dec. 18, 2011, a year of big fuel price increases, a round-trip fare to Honolulu from LAX was $677, adjusted to 2018 dollars. The fare in the Dec. 16, 2018, section: $520.

Airfare prices can be influenced by many factors so a straight-up comparison is tough. One of those is competition. Near the end of 2018, Wow Air, a low-cost carrier based in Iceland, announced it would pull out of the L.A. market, and Norwegian Air, which also serves L.A., has reported financial difficulties. Will their absence cause a price increase? Keep your eyes peeled.

10 milestones that will inspire travel in 2019 »

Cruising anew

If you like bright, shiny things, book a cruise vacation.

Among the new (or newish) ships: the Carnival Panorama, which will sail from Long Beach starting in December 2019, Holland America’s Nieuw Statendam, which debuted this month and will sail the Caribbean, and the Celebrity Edge, which debuted in November and will be in the Caribbean for the winter and reposition to Europe for several cruises that depart from Amsterdam and sail in Northern Europe before heading to the Mediterranean.

The Edge may no longer be the newest kid on the block, but it is arguably the shiniest thing.

“There was a tremendous amount of hype leading up to the debut,” said John Mast, senior director of global cruise marketing for Expedia Cruise Ship Centers, who recently spent two nights on the ship, “and I can say in all honesty it delivered and then some.”

Such features as the infinite veranda along with more spacious cabins and elegant interior design from a team that includes Nate Berkus and Kelly Hoppen helped put it in the over-the-top category.

Start saving for vacay yesterday

The Federal Reserve raised the interest rate four times in 2018. The good news from the most recent rate hike in December: The Fed may raise rates only two times in 2019. The bad news: The Fed may raise rates two times in 2019.

The bad news is worse if you’re a borrower — which is what you are if you’re using your credit card to pay for travel — unless you’re using it to earn rewards points and then paying the bill in full immediately. Instead of charging and paying off slowly, create an FTO savings account (For Travel Only) and pay that way.

You can argue — and you would be right — that the financial impact on a credit card is minimal, but over time, it adds up. And any money you’re spending on interest is money you’re not spending seeing the world.

Relax and take the train to Chicago

You’re not going to have to hop on the bus, Gus. At least not in 2019.

There was some concern earlier this year that Amtrak would mandate work on 219 miles of track from Albuquerque to Dodge City, Kan., and that would mean Southwest Chief passengers would have to get off, climb aboard a bus, and re-board on the other side. That’s not happening in 2019.

Which isn’t to say it won’t at some point, because Amtrak would like to make that part of the track safer. But for now, all aboard.

If you can speak, you can book

Just when you’ve decided you can use your phone to book an airfare, along comes … your voice.

“Smart speakers, still just in the toddler stage as far as the development of the technology, mark the beginning of a new voice-enabled era of travel,” Scot Hornick and Shri Santhanam wrote in an August Harvard Business Review article.

I recently tested Alexa, Amazon’s useful if occasionally annoying smart speaker, after enabling the Expedia and Kayak “skills” (an Amazon term for something that is like an app that’s never seen but is heard).

Expedia was tripped up by a flight search for Melbourne, Fla., repeatedly telling me to search for a “city like Paris, France, or Kansas City, Mo.” It seemed confounded by the notion that there could be more than one city with the same name.

Eventually, she told me she was sorry she was taking so long and to try later.

Kayak outperformed Expedia by coming up with several options.

The technology is there, and over time, the execution should improve.

Other ways to pay

We continue to fret (with some reason) about having a chipped card that might not work abroad. That may soon be a thing of the past.

By the end of 2019, according to Mark Jamison, senior vice president for global innovation and design at Visa, there will be 100 million contactless Visa cards in circulation.

“You pull out your card, you tap it on the terminal,” Jamison said. “It’s really that simple.” No more “dipping,” the term used for chipped cards. Tap and go. Your phone also can be used for contactless payment.

As the world grows more complex, it’s reassuring that other things become simpler.

travel@latimes.com

@latimestravel


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