We love to hack our way to a good travel deal -- because quite frankly, it sometimes seems like the big companies are out to get us.
But, fair traveler, this is not entirely so. Many corporations seem aimed at helping travelers achieve their dream trips in cost-effective ways, from phone plans to airline perks to hotel rewards programs.
Here, five companies we think are making travel especially hassle-free.
You could hack your phone, call a hotline and fight with your provider... OR you could just get AT&T Passport. The brand-new program tricks out your phone for up to 30 days with unlimited texting, a nice chunk of free data usage, call rates starting at 35 cents/minute and unlimited Wi-Fi (at AT&T hotspots in 35 countries). The best part is that it's a one-time fee -- from $30 to $120, depending on the program you choose -- with nothing to cancel once you come back home.
Okay first things first: they still hand out free peanuts, so we obviously love this airline. But things at Southwest just seem engineered to help travelers: the Companion Pass program allows a companion of your choice -- spouse, friend, or otherwise -- to fly with you FREE* for an entire year, after you take 100 qualifying flights or accrue 110,000 qualifying points in a year as a Rapid Rewards member. The airline recently added a collection of international flights, which we love, AND we still can't believe they gave out free trips for their 43rd birthday. Who celebrates 43rd birthdays?!
*Okay fine, there is a $5.60 September 11th security fee for your companion. But that's pretty much as close to free as free can get.
The hotel company -- which includes W Hotels, Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis and more -- offers a whole bevy of exciting perks for members of its loyalty program (which, by the way, is free to join). At select locations (our search turned up the W Times Square and a Westin in the Caribbean), Starwood Preferred Guests pay one night full-price and then "pay their birth year" for the second night (so if you were born in 1965, the rate is literally $65). Starwood is also famous for their free night awards, which don't have blackout dates, and a festive little program in which members who book their wedding at specific Starwood locations will earn points to spend on a honeymoon room. Don't want to book a stay? Just exchange your Starpoints for Amazon gift cards.
Not only does Expedia cull deals from all around the interwebs -- there's also no fee to change or cancel most flights, hotels, cruises and cars booked through the site (third-party fees may apply, in some cases). And you can literally make money booking a trip: If you find a better price within 24 hours of booking, Expedia will refund the difference and toss in a $50 credit. Experts are also on hand 24/7 during hurricane season to help you reschedule or troubleshoot a trip... it's a breath of fresh air, indeed.
Unlike travel sites that seem to have added a car rental search as an afterthought, car rentals are what Auto Europe does. They offer rentals in more than 20,000 locations around the globe (despite the name), with free upgrades in a number of hot-ticket countries like Italy and France (during specific time frames). The option to lease a Peugeot for a month takes the confusion out of that European road trip you've been plotting, or you can book a chauffeured tour in the city of your choice. Travel expert Rick Steves says that while prices are generally discounted at consolidators like Auto Europe, you should always check beforehand to make sure you won't get womped with any sneaky fees.