How to tell a duck from an eagle

Have you ever come across a hotel employee, airline crewmember or car rental agent who was either unable -- or just plain unwilling -- to help you? If your experiences are anything similar to mine, it’s probably happen more then once. It doesn’t have to. Instead of being resigned to bad service follow these solutions to finding the right person to help you.

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Upgrade lessons from Columbo

Looking for an upgrade? Be like Columbo. Remember the TV detective who blundered his way from case to case? He often controlled his environment – and the outcome of each case – by what appeared to be dumb luck. A seemingly clueless Columbo use his clumsy appearance to catch his suspects off guard, when, in fact, he knew exactly where he was going and want he wanted to achieve. I suspect that if Columbo was a world traveler he would navigate his way in the same disarming manner.

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A stylin' summer vacation for less

Every year at about this time, the travel industry's talking heads pull out their polyester suits and go on TV to dish out the same tired advice about summer travel. Check the pressure of your car's tires. Shop around for the best deals. Don't eat every meal in a restaurant. Yawn. So this year, I'm leaving my suit in the closet and sparing you a TV appearance. Instead, I thought I'd give you some tips on summer travel I guarantee you won't find anywhere else.

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The secret of my upgrade success

My secret to getting travel upgrades is similar to Warren Buffet's
approach to the stock market: simple and boring, but effective. I have flown over two million miles on more than 1,000 flights, and since 1994 I have been upgraded on every flight I have taken while only paying coach prices. There are no hyped-up gimmicks, tricks, or loopholes.

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Joel's tips on tipping

Your valet pauses for a moment after you hand him the keys to your car. Your luggage porter lingers after delivering your bags to your room. A server signs your check with a smiley-face, hoping for a generous gratuity.

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You'll get what you pay for

The conventional wisdom is that the less money you pay for a trip, the better you'll feel about it. The conventional wisdom is wrong. How can you put a price on avoiding a long check-in or security line? Or sidestepping employees who are indifferent to your needs?

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What's your loyalty worth?

At a time when every airline offers homogenous routes and services, is consolidating your loyalty with one airline still a worthwhile proposition? I found myself pondering this 54 days into the New Year, when I had skyrocketed to 80,000 qualifying miles on Delta Air Lines, extending my top-tier elite status for the next two years.

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5 contrarian travel tactics

Looking for great travel deals is a popular pastime. It seems everyone has a different strategy for reaching the holy grail of travel – a great experience at a reasonable price. That used to be pretty easy. Value-conscious travelers just booked a trip during the off-season. No more.

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3 overseas car insurance tips

If you're traveling internationally, should you spring for the extra car rental insurance? Determining whether that friendly agent is offering you an optional policy for your protection, or just for the commission, can be a trick. In the U.S., it's usually an easy call. If you already have personal auto insurance or are renting with a major credit card, you're probably covered.

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4 reasons to switch carriers

Is it time to jettison your preferred airline? If you're getting bad service, you've moved, you can't get an upgrade any more or your carrier is in financial trouble, the answer might be "yes." Spend your loyalty dollars wisely. I review my travel partnerships once a year to make sure I'm not throwing away my money. If I need a loyalty tune-up, I switch programs.

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