5 ways to travel better in 2023 — and maybe save some money doing it
The start of a new year brings fresh opportunities, and that includes travel.
People are figuring out where they'd like to go and what they need to do in order to make successful trips happen.
Now is a good time to apply for or renew a passport and sign up for a Trusted Traveler program such as Global Entry or TSA PreCheck — or check to make sure your enrollment isn't expiring soon. It's also a good time to consider whether visiting must-see Arizona destinations in off-peak times or getting a credit card with improved travel perks is right for you.
Here are five things to do right now to enjoy traveling more in 2023.
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1. Apply for or renew your passport right away
Demand for international travel is apparent as airlines add more flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. American Airlines will introduce new service to Monterrey, Mexico, in January and ultra-low-cost carrier Lynx Air will enter the market with flights between Sky Harbor and Calgary, the largest city in Alberta, Canada, starting in February.
If you've booked an international trip or are planning one for the not-so-distant future, get your passport as soon as possible if you don't already have it. The U.S. Department of State estimates travelers can expect to wait six to nine weeks for routine passport processing and three to five weeks for expedited processing. These times may increase if demand surges.
If you have a passport, check the expiration date. Passports are valid for 10 years. If yours is expired or close to expiring, renew it as soon as possible. Some countries won't let you enter if your passport is near expiration. That window varies by country, so check the travel requirements of your destination if your passport has less than one year remaining.
Online passport renewal is available; to see if you're eligible to renew online, go to http://travel.state.gov.
Where to apply:Passport applications, renewals and appointments in Arizona
2. Make sure your PreCheck or Global Entry is current
Passports aren't the only travel tools that can expire. Now is good time to check how much time remains on your Trusted Traveler program enrollment.
These programs help speed you through security and immigration lines. Enrollment, which requires going through an interview, lasts five years and can be renewed the year before it expires.
The Transportation Security Administration offers PreCheck ($85). U.S. Customs and Border Protection administers Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI. Global Entry ($100) allows expedited entry into the U.S. from international destinations. SENTRI ($122.25) expedites entry to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. NEXUS ($50) allows expedited entry to the U.S. from Canada.
Applying or renewing well in advance is key. PreCheck processing can take up to two months in some cases, though most applicants receive their Known Traveler Number within three to five days. The process for the CPB programs could take as long as six to 18 months, and interview availability is limited.
Arizona has eight PreCheck enrollment centers, at Sky Harbor Airport, Staples locations at Camelback Colonnade in Phoenix and Arrowhead Crossing in Peoria, and IdentoGo locations in Gilbert, Sun City, Casa Grande, Tucson and Flagstaff.
Arizona has five enrollment centers for the CPB programs: Sky Harbor Airport, Tucson International Airport and the port of entry offices in Douglas, Nogales and San Luis. You can check interview appointment availability before applying; to do so, visit http://ttp.dhs.gov.
If your Global Entry is close to expiration and you have a filed your renewal application, you can use it past the expiration date for up to two years, according to Homeland Security.
3. Consider getting a credit card with travel perks
Credit cards with perks like airline miles, hotel points or cash back for purchases can supplement your travel budget.
The Capital One Venture Rewards card, for example, offers 2 miles per dollar on every purchase, 5 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One travel, and an introductory offer of 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of the account. Other cards have different combinations of benefits that may suit your needs.
Be aware that many of these credit cards have annual fees, like Venture Rewards' $95 per year. Some cards have no enrollment fees, like Chase Freedom Unlimited, which currently has an introductory offer of 6.5% cash back on travel purchases made with the card in the user's first year.
4. Visit Arizona's hottest destinations in the offseason
It might feel like Sedona, Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon are always crowded. But a comfortable experience is possible if you travel when people are less likely to go.
The spring and fall months tend to be the busiest times to visit Sedona, while fewer tourists are likely in summer and winter. Data from the Sedona Chamber of Commerce confirms this — bed tax collections in the 2021-22 fiscal year were highest in spring and fall, peaking at just over $1 million in May 2022.
The Grand Canyon is busiest from the late spring to the early fall, with this past summer averaging around 500,000 visitors in each peak-season month, according to the National Park Service. October through March typically is less busy, though people who visit during the winter months should be aware of winter weather hazards and plan for snowy and icy conditions.
5. Consider flying from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport instead of Sky Harbor
As the main airport serving metro Phoenix, Sky Harbor International is where most of the region's leisure and business travelers fly.
But for residents of the eastern part of Phoenix and cities including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe, Apache Junction and Queen Creek, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport may win out over Sky Harbor for its convenient location and smaller, easily navigable size.
The east Mesa airport continues to experience record-setting passenger growth, and October 2022's passenger count of 150,846 people marked a 15% increase from the same month in 2021.
Gateway Airport continues to evolve to keep pace with airline industry and regional growth. It recently began work on a 30,000-square-foot terminal extension that will add new gates, a glass walkway, a tech lounge and restaurants and shops upon its expected completion in 2024.
Gateway Airport is targeted toward leisure travelers. Be aware that its airlines — the biggest one is Allegiant Air — offer flights only on certain days, not every day. Parking is cheaper than at Sky Harbor — $13 per day in the main daily lot just south of the terminal, $11 in a covered economy lot and $9 in an uncovered economy lot — but travelers should still give themselves plenty of time to find a spot and get to the terminal.
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