By Erin Burt and Rebecca Dolan
Each year we round up a list of fabulous freebies, valuable offers with few or no strings attached. This year's list is packed with more something-for-nothing deals than ever. Here are our favorite travel freebies.
Domestic airlines are stingy with giveaways, but some airlines still offer a few freebies for fliers. Southwest lets you check two bags for free - that can save you $120 per person round-trip when compared to Delta, for instance - and JetBlue lets you check one bag free (plus gives you access to free TV, satellite radio and all-you-can-eat snacks.) American, Delta, United and US Air also allow the first and sometimes second bags to fly free to most international destinations.
Traveling with kids? You deserve even more freebies. Children under age 2 can fly domestically on most major airlines, or ride Amtrak, free of charge when they sit on a paying adult's lap. Also, watch for kids-cruise-free and kids-ski-free promotions, and ask the cruise or resort in advance about free supervised kid programs so you can have some much-needed grown-up time.
If you have to fly, you may as well earn extra credit for it. Sign up for the airline's frequent flier program to accumulate points toward free flights and other goodies.
You'll pay about $15 at the post office to get your picture taken for your passport. Instead, take your photo with your own digital camera, then upload it to ePassportPhoto.com, which will help you size it properly before printing on your home printer. The best part: You can redo your picture as many times as you like. After all, who wants to get stuck with a bad photo for the next 10 years?
Prepare for your international getaway with the free foreign language lessons online at FSI-language-courses.org. Or go to Openculture.com for a list of lessons around the web that you can download to your MP3 player. Your public library may also offer courses or software to help you prepare for your travels.
You can find free breakfasts at a number of hotel chains, and we aren't just talking coffee and bagels. Country Inns & Suites, Homewood Suites, SpringHill Suites and Holiday Inn Express are just a few chains that offer a hot morning meal. Some hotel chains, like Marriott's Residence Inn or Embassy Suites by Hilton, hold nightly receptions with free heavy appetizers or light dinners.
Don't forget to grab the famous free chocolate chip cookies when you check in at a Doubletree. Visit Priceline.com for a searchable list of hotel freebies, including free parking and Wi-Fi.
Parents can save even more on hotel costs by booking hotels where kids sleep and eat free. Choice Hotels allow children 18 and younger to stay free when sharing a room with their parents or grandparents. Kids 19 and younger stay free in their parents' room at Holiday Inn Hotels, while up to four children aged 12 and younger eat free off the hotel restaurant's kids' menu.
Don't you hate it when you pay for a flight, and then the price drops? Enlist the help of Yapta.com, which tracks your flight's price after you buy your ticket. If the fare drops, it will notify you and help you collect a refund or travel vouchers from the airline. (Note: Yapta only kicks in if the price drop exceeds the ticket-change fee you'd be obligated to pay.) Yapta does the same for hotels too. For rental cars, try AutoSlash.com.
To get a real feel for a city when you're traveling, team up with a local. The Global Greeter Network organizes volunteers in several cities worldwide to show you around, give you the inside scoop and answer your questions. Tours can last a couple hours, and there's a strict no-tipping policy.
Prefer to explore at your own pace? Browse the free audio walking tours available for download at iTunes.com, Audisseyguides.com and iAudioguide.com. You can also search the web for walking tours of your destination. In our simple search, we found free audio tour downloads from Boston and Chicago to Dublin and Jerusalem.
By simply carrying a credit card, you may be entitled to some cool travel freebies. Many airline, hotel and travel rewards cards offer no foreign transaction fees, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Capital one Venture Rewards. Some also offer free rental car insurance, and some will cover the cost of your vacation if you have to cancel your trip. Call your card issuer to find out what perks you qualify for.
Some airline rewards cards offer one free checked bag, lounge access or both.
Anyone interested in visiting a U.S. national park should plan their trip around the system's free admission days. The U.S. National Park Service holds a number of these events throughout the year, like on Presidents' Day weekend and Veterans Day.
You can also have free fun in many cities by checking out free museums, or looking out for free museum days. Also, Smithsonian magazine's Museum Day Live partners with museums across the country to make them free for a day. Just visit the website to get your free ticket.
Avoid hotel fees altogether by house swapping or house sitting, couch-surfing, or farming.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) allows travelers to stay and eat free on an organic farm in exchange for a few hours' help each day. (The only cost is a small fee to join WWOOF.) Similarly, engaging in a house-sit or exchange allows you to stay in homes all over the world for just the cost of a membership.
More adventurous types can arrange to sleep on a local's couch (or guest bed) for free through Couchsurfing.com. Just create an online profile, and look for available crash pads in your destination.
For more on this and similar travel topics, visit Kiplinger.com.
This was printed in the July 13 - July 26 edition.