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nov 30

Travel gift ideas that won't weigh anyone down

(Courtesy robinn./flickr)

True lovers of travel don't want to be weighed down with stuff. But what to buy a traveler who doesn't want new luggage, toiletry kits, or alarm clocks? Find some gift-giving inspiration in the following roundup of ideas. (Batteries not required).

Buy an airline gift card. The money you add to the card may be redeemed toward a plane ticket. Southwest's gift card is particularly attractive because the airline charges no bag fees or itinerary-change fees. In other words, your gift won't accidentally set up your loved one to be hit with nasty fees. For international trips, opt for an American Express gift card, to buy plane tickets on any major airline. Your gift recipient can then choose which airline has the best fares and routes for their trip. But encourage him or her to travel within a year's time. After that, monthly fees of about $2 typically kick in, depleting the value. (Expect to also pay a shipping fee of about $9.)

Buy a hotel gift card. Travelocity's Hotel Gift Card, for instance, is redeemable for stays at more than 55,000 hotels—with no expiration date. You can personalize the gift card with a photo and a message, too. The big catch: Don't overload the card with money. If the hotel costs less than the value of the card, the remaining value on the card vanishes. Ugh.

Give the gift of a walking tour. If your loved one is going to a particular urban destination within the next year, look into gift certificates redeemable for a tour or activity there. A couple of examples: Viator has a variety of options in a wide array of destinations around the world, such as dining at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Alternately, Context Tours is strongest in its array of high culture walking tours of European cities. (On the site contexttravel.com, pick the city from the drop down menu first, then search for "gift certificates" in the box at the top right.)

Use your frequent flier miles to someone else's advantage. Airlines allow you to give the ticket you earn with your miles as a gift to someone else, as long as no money changes hands. The less attractive alternative is to transfer miles into another person's account. It's unappealing because airlines charge fees for this service.

Teach them to earn their own miles faster. The Frequent Flyer Master course by Unconventional Guides costs $49. The 40-page manual is supplemented with a half-dozen e-mail updates over a six month period that alert you to points-earning opportunities. There's a guarantee, too. If the advice doesn't help your gift recipient get enough miles to fly for free at least once, there's a full refund. (I gave this as a gift to myself a year ago, and I can vouch for the high quality of the material, presented in an easy-to-digest way. And, no, the guide describes several other strategies besides signing up for airline co-branded credit cards, and roughly half of the material is about how to effectively redeem the miles for flights—not just how to rack up "non-qualifying" miles.)

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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