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Vacation-bound this month? Travel smart

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This month is a big one for travel. If you’re vacation-bound, be aware that airlines’ recent changes mean crowded airports, packed planes and nervous travelers.

Make your (or your boss’s) trip a little smoother by following these tips from Wall Street Journal travel columnist Scott McCartney:

1. Consider shipping luggage instead of checking it. Why? Hefty charges now apply if you travel with more than one piece of luggage or with big, heavy bags. For example, United charges $200 round trip if your bag is heavier than 50 pounds. Most airlines charge $50 round trip to check a second piece of luggage; some airlines charge $200 round trip to check a third bag.

Package shippers such as FedEx or UPS could be an attractive alternative. For example, you can ship three bags (two at 40 pounds and one at 60 pounds) round trip from Dallas to Boston for about $250, using FedEx three-day service. Those same bags on United would cost you $450 round trip. Most shippers now have tags for luggage.

Tip: Weigh bags before leaving home, so you know what to expect.

2. Stay informed by signing up for flight alerts that can be e-mailed to your BlackBerry or sent to your cell phone. Example: can notify you of gate changes, as well as delays. Since FlightStats receives its data from multiple sources, it can often alert you to cancellations or major problems before you hear it from gate agents.With early warning, you can be first in line to rebook or first to call airline hotlines.

3. Pack these critical phone numbers:

The hotel reservation desk,
so you can call if the airline delays your flight. That ensures an overbooked hotel doesn’t give away your room to another guest.

The airline’s hotline number, so you can rebook if your flight is disrupted. A few airlines have special numbers for this purpose. Examples: American’s hotline is (800) 446-7834; Northwest’s is (800) 225-2525.

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