By Nikki Bayley
Almost four million Brits visit the USA each year. We asked our team of travel experts for their top tips on everything from beating immigration queues to bagging a bargain on a rental car to make sure you have a brilliant USA break.
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There are three things every UK passport holder must do before travelling to the USA:
1. Make sure your passport has at least a year left on it.
2. Have Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) in your booking (basically full name and date of birth).
3. Apply online at least 72 hours before arrival for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). Do it here (avoid the annoying spam visa sites on Google - they’re a rip-off); this costs US$14 and is valid for two years.
Stuart Lodge is co-founder of Round the World Flights.
Queues at US immigration can be horrendous, particularly at large hubs such as Miami and New York’s JFK. Better options include San Francisco, Denver and Cincinnati. My tip is to get on your airline’s website the second that online check-in opens and try to bag an aisle seat near the front of the cabin. On arrival, grab your hand baggage and hotfoot it to immigration so you’ll at least avoid getting stuck at the back of the queue. If there’s a choice of lines, pick the one beside the channel for US Citizens - once they have been processed, the desk may be opened for all non-US citizens.
Mark Hodson, editor of 101 Holidays.
With few commendable exceptions such as New York City, you'll need a car to make the most of the USA. Rental costs can be slashed considerably by buying excess insurance (such as the one offered by Insurance4CarHire.com) and a North American sat nav system before you go. Oh, and don't be tricked into upgrading to a bigger vehicle - what our American chums see as a tiny midget car is a perfectly adequate medium-sized vehicle to us.
David Whitley of Grumpytraveller.com.
America is renowned for its customer service, and this is largely down to the tipping culture. Don't begrudge it; food, drinks, etc, are all cheaper there because staff get paid minuscule wages, made up for by hefty tips. Before you leave the airport, buy a pack of mints and get change from a $20 - you'll need those $1 bills. A rough guide to tipping is as follows:
Airport porter: $1 per bag
Cabs: 10 to 15 per cent
Bellhop/doorman: $1-2 per bag or for hailing a cab
Valet parking: $2
Concierge: $5-10 for reservations or tickets
Room service: $2-3
Housekeeping: $2 per night
Bartender: $1 per drink or 20 per cent for drinks brought to your table
Waiter: 15 to 20 per cent
Spa staff: 20 per cent
Baristas: not essential
Jill Starley-Grainger, the American-born editor of www.EcoLuxHotels.com.
[Related feature: Top five classic America trips]
Tax on goods varies from state to state and gets added at the till, but if you’re making a big purchase, keep your receipts, get them stamped at the airport and claim back. At the mall, head to the info desk as they hand out discount vouchers with savings of around 10 to 20 per cent. Lots of shops offer money off to armed forces, police and emergency services if you show your ID. Expect friendly service and lots of freebies at beauty counters.
Lee Cobaj is an air stewardess turned travel writer who has a lifetime of bargain hunting under her half-price designer belt.
The USA is the land of buffets, and portions are typically much greater than in other countries. However, don't shy away from asking for a to-go box. Many restaurants will offer one as you're finishing up your meal, which is ideal if you're staying in self-catered acommodation. Don't forget: your waitress isn't flirting with you, she wants a good tip. Make sure you tip accordingly, as low tippers are looked down upon.
Spencer Spellman is a San Francisco-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog, The Traveling Philosopher.
Liquor laws are strict, and vary from state to state. Often the bartender is personally liable for the consequences of a drunkard’s actions, so don’t be upset if you get 'cut off' if you start stumbling and slurring – or even just before. Always take a form of ID and don't forget the minimum drinking age is 21.
Natalie Bovis, TheLiquidMuse.com.
Out and about
Covering the 58 national parks, America's National Park Service ensures they're accessible to everyone, with trails, wheelchair-friendly boardwalks and hikes to suit all. Check in advance for seasonal road closures and remember to get out of the car! The best viewpoints are often away from the roadside. Park entrance is free on certain days of the year, or waive fees anytime with an America the Beautiful pass ($80) - good value if you're planning to visit several parks in one trip.
Maxine Sheppard is a travel writer and editor. She blogs at www.untraveller.com.