Seven perks you shouldn't buy before you travel

Smarter Travel

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The plane ticket, hotel reservations, and car rental are easy. What's not so simple is the decision to buy the array of additional perks, products, and add-ons available to travelers prior to departure. Should you insure your trip? Do you really need those extra inches of legroom? Is an expedited-passport service worth the cost? We have the answers. In the interest of saving you money, we've rounded up seven things that you can probably do without on your next trip. Think twice before handing over your hard-earned money for the following products and services.

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Travel Insurance

Travel insurance can be a wise investment. Or it can be a needless expense. Many avid travelers move across the planet without ever even considering purchasing trip insurance. (I've never paid for a policy.) They find travel insurance unnecessary because, often, they're planning budget trips or they don't consider themselves at high risk for cancellation. To find out whether it's wise to insure yourtrip, ask yourself some important questions. For example, are you planning an unusually long and expensive journey (such as a honeymoon or a three-week jaunt to Asia)? If you were forced to cancel your trip due to an unforeseen reason, would you be OK with the financial loss?

Furthermore, if you're in a higher-risk situation—if, say, your medical insurance doesn't cover you abroad or you're heading to the Caribbean during hurricane season—travel insurance might be a smart purchase. Otherwise, maybe you're better off pocketing the extra hundred dollars or so and taking your chances on the road.

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Private Passport-Expediting Service

Paying for a private passport expediter—a very expensive service—usually isn't your best option for getting that little blue book in a hurry. Did you know that you can get a same-day passport directly from the State Department by visiting an official passport agency in person? This will run you $195, which is far cheaper than the cost of a same-day passport from a private company. (The cost of a private expediting service will always include additional charges on top of requisite State Department fees.) The only reason any traveler should pay for a private expediting service is if he or she doesn't live near a passport agency or cannot make it to one. (See a list of passport agencies here.) The State Department also offers a two-week fast-track processing service that gets a passport to your mailbox in 14 days.

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Seat Assignment

Certain airlines charge passengers for the "privilege" of selecting an assigned seat upon booking. We're not afraid to name names: Spirit and AirTran are guilty. When booking your flight with one of these guys, you might find yourself wondering whether it's worth the extra fee to secure a designated seat before your trip. In many cases, it's not. A seat assignment guarantees that you'll be plopped in a space next to your partner, or near the window, or wherever it is that you've chosen—but that's the extent of its advantages. There's no guarantee that you won't get bumped, that you'll find enough room in the overhead bin for your carry-on bag, or that you'll really make it onto the plane before the herds of line cutters at the gate. A far better and free option? Check in for your flight as early as possible. Get to your computer exactly 24 hours before boarding and you'll likely be among the first to select your seat.

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Prepaid Credit Cards

We all want to keep our money secure while traveling. Prepaid credit cards, which are often billed as a safer and more convenient alternative to carrying cash abroad, might seem like a smart option. You purchase a card and load it with funds in your preferred currency ahead of your trip. And if your card gets lost or stolen, you can cancel it immediately. Simple, right? Unfortunately, it's not so simple. Most prepaid credit cards come with some surprising hidden fees, such as inactivity fees, reloading charges, monthly fees, activation fees, and so on. John Ulzheimer, CEO of SmartCredit.com, told CNNMoney, "Consumers need to realize that any insinuation that a prepaid card is less expensive than a debit card is false, and any claim that it will help you rebuild credit is just a lie." Ulzheimer also called a prepaid credit card "a gift card with fees." Do yourself a favor and stick with a good-quality credit card.

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Premium-Economy Seat Upgrade

Premium seats are not all alike. Generally, when flying internationally, a premium-seat upgrade is a big deal. Turkish Airlines' Comfort Class, for example, features 46 inches of seat pitch, a seat that is 19.5 inches wide, plus other goodies like a reading light, a power outlet, and unique food and beverage offerings on select planes; it's way cooler than coach class. But on most domestic flights, premium-economy seating is paltry. You get a couple extra inches of seat pitch, end of story. As a short person with no need for extra legroom, I've found premium-economy seats on domestic flights to be disappointing. Investigate whether the cost is worth the reward by looking up the details of your prospective premium-economy product on your airline's website or on our sister site SeatGuru.

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TV-Show Downloads

I have a habit of paying to download a season of some kind of mystery TV show on my iPad before a long flight. But increasingly, I find myself watching something on the in-flight entertainment system rather than powering up my iPad and wasting its battery. Airlines have been beefing up their entertainment offerings in big ways in the past year or so, with many major carriers implementing live TV and Wi-Fi services. JetBlue has live DirecTV. Virgin America has touch screens with live TV and newly released movies, as well as for-fee Wi-Fi on all domestic flights. (You can see a list of available movies on the Virgin America website.) Emirates—one of our favorite airlines for onboard entertainment—wows with its "Ice" offerings: live TV as well as more than 600 channels of games, shows, and movies. Find out what your airline offers for entertainment before you log into iTunes.

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Expedited Security

Expedited security can be a really awesome perk when you're faced with a lengthy line that snakes off into the distance. On the other hand, when there are three other people in line and the sound of crickets in the air, it can feel like a rip-off. So when should you buy an expedited-security add-on like JetBlue's Even More Speed? First, consider your travel dates: Are you heading to the airport during peak travel days (holidays or weekends)? If so, expect lines. If not, check the security wait times for your terminal and airport on the TSA website. You can also view airport-security wait times on some airport websites. For example, find security-line wait times for Reagan and Dulles airports on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority website.

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