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Q – We are in our mid-fifties but in quite fine shape as I am actually the owner of a small string of health clubs . We have been to Australia and loved it and we are now heading back to spend some time in Tasmania. Just wondering your thoughts regarding the best month to go and any hotel/resort we shouldn’t miss? Is the food as good as we had in Sydney and Melbourne and any advice about hiking in the bush. We’ve done Grand Canyon etc. but never got to hike in Australia.
A – Being a hiker and a foodie you really ought to be looking into some of the excellent programs run by the Canadian company, Butterfield & Robinson. They hike during the day on carefully planned routes and stay at the finest inns while dining on gourmet cuisine. Do check them out. Backroads is another excellent company we recommend though a but downscale of B&R.
We’re all in on this trip. Choose a professional travel consultant with excellent on-site offices in Australia. We think you should do the trip in November or early December. It is springtime, with temperatures in the high sixties and sunny skies. Don;t miss staying at the Islington just outside Hobart. Everything you eat will be farm fresh. They can’t believe the poison we eat here in the States. If you love seafood you will feel you have arrived in heaven. The cheeses and fruit are other-worldly.
We would urge some caution if you are doing any really long hikes. Know the local weather and where you can stop if you must. You may well be alone for days at end. Tasmania is the best of Australia and New Zealand without the people. The food is memorable as are the vistas. If you were also into photography, this might be the perfect destination.
Q – I have traveled quite a bit since my Mom is in the international real estate business. I like your site but it is a bit behind in technology. I am wondering why airlines are still showing movies in seat backs, which is very 1950’s. Wouldn’t it be better if every passenger was given a Virtual Reality headset so they could watch movies and also play games without disturbing the person sitting next to them? The technology already exists. Hope you can answer this. I think you need more younger writers but this is still a cool site. I’ve learned a lot.
A – Thank you very much and congratulations on your choice of reading. You are certainly right about our need for younger technology writers. We would be pleased to print any additional commentary you might care to provide in the future.
The use of VR is a bit up in the air. The fact is that we will be seeing a great deal of Virtual Reality products taking to the air in the next 36 months. But not necessarily because it is better. The airlines are quite concerned about the cost and particularly the weight of back-of-seat TV technology. The system that must be installed in every seat to operate the program, along with the cost of repairs, makes this a feature airlines can’t wait to remove from their aircraft. The company that is pioneering this technology is called Inflight VR and what they have going for them is that each of their current VR headsets weighs less than a pound. The content, currently being tested on several smaller airlines, can be changed easily to suit the destination. For instance, you might opt to see ten minutes of a Broadway play en route to New York with the option to order tickets at your seat.
The airlines are mostly concerned about cost and weight of seat back monitors but they also realize that by the time they are installed much of the content and certainly the technology is already outdated. The first step in the elimination of back of seat technology will be the announcement by the three major carriers that they will be eliminating seat back monitors on shorter flights of under three hours. VR will be available as a perk in First Class and should attain at least “break even” status for use in economy. The early studies seem to show that flyers using VR headsets do have a better flight experience. The anticipated occasional motion sickness has not shown up as a problem. One of the things that will be possible with in-seat VR is the ability to feel like you are flying the plane from your seat. This one will really be fun to watch and the airlines are definitely on-board with anything that will help them shed significant weight from the aircraft because of the immediate savings in fuel consumption. Keep reading and tell us what else we’re missing..
Q – We are in the fortunate position of planning two business trips and two pleasure trips to Europe and Asia in the next 12 months. We enjoy the search aspect of planning but we never know exactly when we should be purchasing the ticket to get the best pricing. As you know, prices seem to change by the minute. We keep reading there are certain days of the week when the “savvy” travelers try to make all of their reservations. We would really appreciate any insight you might provide on this topic. And thanks very much for years of entertaining reading.
A – It turns out that there is no simple answer.. There are so many variables that some of the previous “wisdom” on this topic is now being questioned. What we do know is that humans do not have much to do with the setting of fares. There are numerous computer programs using algorithms that instantly react to what a competitor has posted with most sales fares appearing by 10:00 am. on Monday. Many of the pros say that the 2:00 pm. Tuesday loading of new fares (there are millions each day and they are loaded four times in a 24-hour cycle) will present a limited number of “sale matching” fares for purchase by 2:30 pm. on Tuesday. The best window for purchasing tickets at the lowest fare seems to be between 2:30 pm. on Tuesday through 12:00 noon on Wednesday. But that seems to apply specifically to domestic fares. For international fares the best strategy seems to be to concentrate on day of departure. June generally sees the highest fares of the year while September/October has some of the lowest. Thursday and Friday are said to be the days with the best pricing for departures to Europe. Sunday is a day to be avoided in terms of both travel and pricing. But none of this is scientific, really scientific, and note there are likely more than 3 million exceptions to these “rules”.
The best advice is to try to take an average of the fares you find and then, when you see something close to the bottom range on the actual site of the airline you will be flying, book it immediately. In that way you will avoid fees and have the security of having an actual, valid ticket issued directly by the airline. We do not recommend booking your air on a web site call center operated by a so-called “Online Travel Agency”.
Q – I know you are going to have fun with this but I wouldn’t turn to anyone else for help. Have been following your work and advice for many years and am extremely grateful. We live in Arizona, no not Sun City, and I have, with the time of retirement, been getting into Ayurvedic natural medicine and meditation. My husband and I want to plan a holistic-based vacation in an exotic locale that is top quality where the day tour possibilities are in keeping with the spiritual nature of the accommodations. We would want the options of designing our own programs and detox from stress and technology should be part of the program. We have a gizzilion miles we want to use before the US goes on lock down so flying halfway around the world is no issue at all. We’ll be meditating in First Class. But once we arrive, we don;t want to feel that we are being ripped off with pricing that is totally out of whack with the destination. We just want fair pricing. We’d like to try to keep spending under $2,000 per night. Does any place in your radar come to mind for us?
A – We think you might love the 21-acre Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort in Sri Lanka. It sits on a coconut plantation overlooking the Indian Ocean. The excursions include visits to local artists , cooking classes, and some incredible Buddhist temples, but the main draw is the combination of bespoke treatments, Ayurvedic cuisine, and meditative detox. And we won;t have “fun” with this at all. We admire you for knowing what you want and for deciding that your vacation will, in many ways, be life-changing.
Q – We are headed to Mexico to look around San Miguel de Allende for a possible retirement retreat. The prices just can’t be beat and there is a huge ex-pat American community. Our real estate people have set us up for accommodations but we are wondering of there is a particular restaurant we should designate as our evening headquarters. We’re not all that into trendy – we just like good.
A – We’re not going to suggest that it might be less expensive still to move into the back of a Chipolte. You are correct, San Miguel de Allende is actually the centerpiece for the largest ex-pat American community on earth. It is a lovely area. It sounds as though the restaurant you might really enjoy is Bovine. Great steaks and seafood in buildings that house lovely small boutiques.
Q – We are leaving in two weeks for Milan – a quick three-night addition to a business trip I have planned. My husband will be joining me and, strange as it sounds, he actually loves to shop high-end Italian clothing shops. To save time – please, please tell us where we should shop and where we should stay (hopefully in the same neighborhood).
A – Head to Quadrilatero della Moda which is in the centro-storico district. The two streets you want are Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga.. Do not stay anywhere but the Townhouse at the Galleria..We forbid it. It is Milan’s best-kept secret and one of Europe’s best properties. Rooms overlook the cafes and shops of Milan’s famed Galleria. Don;t be shocked if you run into a few Hollywood types in hiding – or, perhaps, Michael Cohen.
Q – The other day i was about to board a flight to Los Angeles with my husband and he commented on how new it looked. It was not, however, a new plane. It just looked like it had been washed. The paint was gleaming. I am wondering how often the outside of these planes are washed? Are there any rules in place?
A – No hard and fast rules but the wash rotation for major carriers seems to vary from 30 to 60 days of flight time. Singapore Airlines claims its planes are washed on a monthly schedule. United washes its planes every 50 days. The airline has wash facilities worldwide to service its fleet. All of the world’s leading airlines seriously believe that “first impressions matter.”
Q – I would never criticize your industry but I hope you won;t mind my suggesting that most of the information I’ve read about Jet Lag is pure nonsense. My new job requires very frequent international travel, primarily to Asia. Really wondering if there is any way to arrive more refreshed than I do. I have followed all the traditional remedies like no drinking, Melatonin, etc. I just seem to arrive in no shape to conduct business and I am almost always in the front of the plane. What am I missing here? My doctor is stumped and so am I.
A – Obviously, we don’t have a solution but we do have a suggestion. Instead of concentrating on magic remedies and pills, try concentrating more on the aircraft and just when it left the factory. The fact is that when most people fly in an aircraft they are flying a plane that is pressured to about the comfort you might feel sleeping at an elevation of 8,000 feet. The 767, 707, and older A340’s and 350’s all maintain air pressure at about the same level and it approximates what you would experience spending the night in Bogota, Columbia. Of course you are having trouble sleeping.
Use Seatguru.com or flightradar24.com to check the type of aircraft being used on your route. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus 350 XWB are new commercial aircraft types constructed out of carbon fiber reinforced polymer. This is a lighter material that sharply reduces fuel consumption. But there is some serious evidence that suggests they also cut down on some of the major symptoms we see in jet lag. That is because these new materials can handle more interior pressurization that metal which practically produces an in-cabin air atmosphere that is about the same as trying to sleep at an elevation of 6,000 feet. That 25% reduction can help eliminate jet lag which is also known as “mountain sickness” on older model aircraft, The new generation aircraft also maintain a higher humidity level so the air is far less dry. This also helps with sleep.And if that is not enough, be aware that the newest aircraft have much better air filtration systems, higher ceilings, and larger windows. These improvements help contribute to creating better rest on-board and they will likely help you with the jet lag you are experiencing. The really good news for you is that the Asian carriers have been purchasing large numbers of these new-generation aircraft.
Q – There seems to be a lot of nonsense written about the best places to sit on an aircraft. Some say it is safer in the rear of the aircraft, some say the exit row, some say an aisle up front. I really don’t care about safety or an accident in the air. No worries there. What my husband and I do care about is contacting e-coli and the best place to sit to avoid the most contact. We take one or two international vacations a year and I am always worried about catching something in that filthy environment. My niece is a flight attendant and she has stories that just curl my hair. Just wondering if there is any evidence on this subject you could share with your followers? Is coach really much worse than Business Class or First? Is Premium Economy better than Economy in terms of germ count?
A – There really is some hard evidence on this subject. One of the nation’s most prominent researchers in the field of getting sick on an aircraft is Charles Gerba an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona. Gerba specializes in just how diseases spread through indoor spaces like planes, cruise ships, and casinos. There was an important study about the transmission of viruses aboard commercial aircraft at a recent meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. We have seen some of the research and it is rather complex with many variables in terms of type of aircraft, cost per ticket, number of passengers aboard, time of year, destination etc. All the variables you would expect. But we want to answer your question as best we can in layman’s terms and based solely on our understanding of the research, allow us to offer the following summary:
01 – The so-called “two row” rule is largely myth. Infectious viruses can easily affect those seated beyond a two row perimeter of a contaminated person. Movement about the plane is the most critical factor in terms of exposure to e-coli and other serious bacterial infections.
02 – Aisle seats are generally the worst place to sit in terms of contamination. There are several reasons why. Those in aisle seats tend to get up from their seats more often than those in window or middle seats. That places them in contact with a higher percentage of the aircraft’s passengers. Crew has a staggering number of close contacts compared to seated passengers so infected crew member can easily spread disease within a confined space. Those in aisle seats have their seat arms and headrests touched by numerous fellow passengers who are going to and from the lavatory, a prime source of infection.
03 – Tray tables are the single greatest source of contamination, with arm rests and seat headrests as other areas of high bacteria concentration. No one should ever be seated on a commercial aircraft without first using sanitizing wipes or liquid to clean all surfaces where one would be eating or placing one’s hands or head. It is important not to touch your eyes when you fly. Use tissues to open and flush lavatory doors.
04 – Never use airline pillows. They are thrown into the overhead racks which are laden with bacteria from shoes and the bottom portions of luggage. Only use airline blankets to cover your feet.
05 – Those in window seats face the lowest threat of infection from infectious diseases.
06 – The internal cleaning of airline seats and lavatories is supposed to occur about every 100 hours of flying. But this service is usually outsourced and cleaning crews are under tremendous pressure to clean cabins quickly for a quick turn-around. The practical result is that planes are rarely cleaned. Instead, “cleaners” clean out seat backs and collect garbage. Do not imagine that the seats and the TV screens, along with other surfaces you might touch are cleaned regularly.
07 – For those who are prone to infection for any reason or those who have a concern about cleanliness, it is always recommended that seating in the forward part of the plane be considered. Business and First Class seating is cleaned more often and the air quality is generally far superior.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is why we have never been asked to create an airline commercial.
Q – After more years than I care to count with the Ford, I am set to begin showing my bride a bit of the world. We want to start in my ancestral home, Ireland and are tentatively thinking about travel in mid-July when it gets rather warm here in Atlanta. We’ve done some business-related travel to Europe but this would be our first in-depth trip and I am thinking of spending about two and a half weeks. I will likely want to stay at nice places and will follow your advice in that regard but I am wondering about timing and crowds and even itinerary. I just read a piece in Bloomberg that indicated that several European destinations are getting seriously crowded, including the roads, in mid-summer. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. And please don’t waste your time suggesting that I rent anything but a Ford product in Europe. Love this site and grateful for the help you provide those who may not be your clients.
A – In a general sense, American travelers really need to get more creative. In Europe specifically, Europeans are doing much more international travel than their American counterparts and China, Japan, and Russia are sending enough tourists to major destinations to really impact both pricing and availability. It is time that the savvy traveler starts doing more travel to Europe in the off-season and more wandering to sites just to the left of the tourist map. Here are some strategies we would suggest:
- Avoid traveling in July or August. Change your departure to mid-May or even late April. On the other side, consider “post-tourist” travel in late September or early to mid-October.
- Consider actually skipping the big-name Irish sites for alternatives that are just as lovely. This is, after all, a country filled with natural beauty and charm and any wrong turn will likely bring you past colorful villages surrounded by lovely farmland and gently rolling hills. Don’t, for instance, even do the Ring of Kerry. Many experts will tell you that the Beara Peninsula is as beautiful with a lot less traffic.
- The Americans have not yet discovered what many European know, the city of Belfast is wonderful and only two hours away from Dublin with far fewer tourists. It is the gateway to lovely drives including the incredible Causeway Coast. It is becoming more popular because so many of the scenes from Game of Thrones were filed there.
Q — We are in our early and mid-seventies, in great health, and we love adventure. We don’t mind camping out to see great sites but we do have some qualms about safety as we consider a trip to Colombia. We’ve been big fans of Narcos on Netflix and it does not paint the most beautiful picture of the local crime scene. Any thoughts would be very much appreciated. Our entire community in Scottsdale now follows your Q&A.
A – The deal is that the FARC rebels made a peace agreement with the present Colombian government in 2016. That opened up major portions of the country including the west coast, which appears in Narcos. It is a land of lovely beaches and underdevelopment. Make certain that you use a really good on-site tour company to handle your arrangements. There are now flights from both Bogata and Medellin to the really quaint towns of Nuqui and Bahia Solano. You will likely end up staying in eco-lodges. We think this is a safe destination when compared to the average city in the United States. Hard to imagine that when watching Narcos – but true. Do the trip but take out emergency evacuation air insurance with a company like Med-Jet.
Q – We are in our mid-forties and, being self-employed, I’ve worked things out so I can get away up to four weeks a year on various vacations. Most last a week but sometimes we do a longer trip. I don’t use an agent because all we are booking are flights and hotels and, quite frankly, sometimes we just arrive in our destination and select a place to stay or we use AirBnB to book a small home or apartment. Yes, we’ve one or two hiccups, but for the most p[art, the freedom to just do our own thing, mostly beaches, is worth it.
My question has to do with strategy. Given our profile should we be using a travel agent and how should we focus that search? I would also like to know whether you would trust Kayak or Skyscanner more in terms of finding the lowest fares?
A – We really see no reason why you should not continue to make your own travel arrangements. We think that a professional agent with expertise might get in your way. Kayak and Skyscanner are really quite different. Kayak is good at showing you routing, who flies it, and what the airlines are charging on their own sides. It is one-stop for fares and schedules. Skyscanner consolidates data from a number of firms that sell discounted tickets. It also checks them out, to a degree, as discounted international air tickets from third parties is frequently not what it appears to be. The best strategy for air is simple. Search everywhere and everything you want to until you have all of your “information”. Then go to the airline’s actual site and book it directly with them. It is foolish to do otherwise as you have little recourse if there is a change or more serious problem down the runway.
Q – We are seriously interested in doing all possible to preserve our fragile environment when we travel. We are interested in spending just over a week touring portions of the Arctic out of Churchill, Manitoba. We are quite serious about not wanting to leave a carbon footprint when we travel, although our aircraft will certainly mess up those plans. We’ve come across a company called Natural Habitat Adventures. Do you recommend them and their program in this region?
A – We think you will be extremely pleased with this company. They really attempt to be a carbon-neutral travel provider and they work in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund. Their seven-night program out of Churchill will include interaction with indigenous people including village elders, tracking polar bears, and a chance to truly understand issues related to geology and climate change.It is a wonderful program and they limit group size. It is priced from $6000-$7000 based on traveling date and specific itinerary. Good work. You have found a “keeper”. But room service will not be 24 hours and that thing on your pillow may not be chocolate.
Q – We are now taking three to four vacations a year and we’ve been using a local travel agent here in St. Louis. She seems fine but I’ve started noticing that we’re being charged $25 per hotel for every booking she makes. Since I assume she gets a kickback from the hotel, does it seem outrageous to you that we’re being charged these fees which certainly add up? We tend to use middle-of-the-road smaller hotels and we do a great deal of touring on our own. But we book the car and the airlines through her. She charges something or everything she does, When we went to Australia last year, our fees totaled $600.
A – Based on the information you have provided, it would appear that your agent is seriously undercharging you. If you asked us to plan a truly memorable vacation in Australia, which we have to assume was in the two to three-week range, our Planning Fee would be $500 Per Person. Charging for hotel reservations is now standard industry practice. Agents don’t get “kickbacks” from hotels but you are paying the travel agency commission in the price of your room. The trouble is that hotels are notoriously slow in paying agents these commissions so there is often a great deal of back-and-forth paperwork. Many agencies now charge $50-$100 per hotel booking for their time and work.
There is some good news. You have a choice. You can always book you hotels directly. You can and should demand a refund of the travel agent commission because you booked direct. That way you can save the agent’s booking fee as well as the commission. If you go on one of the online sites be prepared to be treated as a statistic and know that there is a good likelihood that the best-located rooms are not going to be assigned when you arrive.
You can assume that your travel agent is making next to nothing on your airfare unless you happen to be a First Class flyer, which, we suspect, is not the case. There is a general rule you might want to try to understand: If you book your trip yourself, you should theoretically be saving between 12-15% of the total cost in travel agency fees and commissions. That sounds pretty swell until you realize that the only fees you will actually save are the small fees assessed by your agent. You will still be charged the agency commission by the hotels, the auto-rental firms. and the airlines. You can kick and scream but they are going to charge you anyway. So even though you will be devoting a great deal of time into reserving your trip with all details confirmed, you will have saved very little in the big picture since the commission that makes up well over 80% of your costs is still going on your credit card. In the United States of America you are charged for the services of a travel consultant even when you don’t use one. That appears to still be legal. It is the secret no one wants to tell you because it involves huge profits for billion-dollar corporations. They absolutely want you to book with them directly so they can double and triple their profit on your transaction while giving you nothing in return except a short chat with Harry or Harriet Headset who are clueless about you and your vacation.
Q – This airline business is uniquely frustrating and I am wondering if they make it intentionally tough to cash in miles? I currently have miles and elite status with American, Alaska, and United Airlines. I get e-mails and notifications but it is all very confusing and I tend t just give up and pay whatever they ask me for. Is there some way to make this easier? I do a lot of flying at age 73, but it is now mostly to visit family and friends. Two of my children are studying abroad, one in Milan, Italy and the other in San Paolo, so there is a good bit of traveling. I just hate the idea of leaving miles on the table. This is a well-run site and we have recommended it to our friends. You should advertise a bit. It never hurts.
A – Well, actually, they do make it complicated so that approximately 20% of all miles are never cashed in. There are a number of strategies but we don;t want to give you a strategy that is too challenging. We can understand why you are traveling overseas frequently – we wouldn’t buy the “study in Italy and Brazil” stories either. You can affiliate with a travel agency that does a lot of business air ticketing. They will have a program where, for a fee, they will keep careful track of your miles. They use computer programs that do this for them, Or, you can do it yourself by using one of the better Apps that manages airline miles. The two best are Awardwallet.com, and Points.com. Thank you for the advice. This site, as well as our others, is primarily designed to help our own clients navigate the complicated world of travel planning.
Q – We are off on our second trip to Europe, following London last year. We’ve arranged a Collette Tour and we are trying to do some homework. We love Deli food in the US, being New Yorkers I suppose that is not surprising, and we are wondering if the Delis we see listed in Venice and Florence are going to look familiar and have some of the sandwiches we love. We really hate to take the time to eat a sit down lunch – we far prefer take-out Deli food and a stroll in the park.
A – Italy does not do the kind of Deli food you would find in New York Deli, in the New York sense, originated in Germany in the mid 1700’s and then spread to the United States where Ashkenazi Jews who had migrated from Germany were served by kosher delicatessens which first opened int he late 1800’s. But the ritual you describe is very Italian and you should seek out shops in Italy bearing titles such as gastronomica, bottega alimentare, and salumeria (a store that features salami). Italian delis are wonderous places and the adventurous traveler will find a wide variety of things to enjoy on a park bench or back in your hotel room. Whether or not you will enjoy sharing your Italian deli products with the pigeons is another story. Better to stick with Katz’s.
Q – This is only marginally a travel question. My wife is extremely concerned about the environment and the lack of cleanliness in American cities compared to what we have seen in our travels. America really is a garbage dump in a high percentage of our cities with litter and filth everywhere. We’ve about had it and want to move. We would move to the cleanest city in America if we knew what it was but we’re not averse to moving north or south. The data we’ve examined is mostly biased so we’d love to know, because you don’t seem to be in bed with any of the tourist boards, what city you might look at for a reconnaissance visit?
A – We will take this as a serious request, although there are a great many small towns in New England, the Midwest, the South, and the Western States that would seem to be cleaner than the city you are describing. But if you want an itinerary – fly north and go to Ottawa, Canada. There are dozens of programs in the Canadian capital designed to keep the city clean and livable. Our favorite is the annual Spring Cleaning Program that starts every April 15th and lasts a month. Last year, more than 60,000 volunteers showed up to clean the city’s roadways, sidewalks, green spaces, and parks – even though many hardly needed it.
From Ottawa we’d head to Calgary, which is generally acknowledged to be the cleanest city on the planet. Calgary has a well-planned grid system that reduced traffic and pollution. There is a terrific light rail system and any number of transfer stations that sort through every citizens garbage removing recyclable and biodegradable materials.
Finally, we’d suggest you end your tour by giving one American city a try. Fly to Honolulu, the cleanest large city in America. The city is covered with a transportation system using pollution-free buses that are the envy of city planners from all over the country.
Or – just get your wife a new vacuum. Let her know that, while we may not be the cleanest country in the world, our Olympic Curling team is really good.
Q – We are kind of newbies to the idea of travel out of the country. We will be taking our first trip to Europe aboard a Celebrity cruise in July sailing the lower Med to Spain, Italy, and Greece. We couldn’t be more excited. One bit of advice we need concerns credit cards. We took out an American Express card because our travel agent said it was reliable. We also like the way American Express totals everything when you get your bill. Our agent, who works for Celebrity, also said we should pay for everything in dollars as it makes it easier. Also wondering about dress for this trip. The agent said it might be warm and to bring some summer clothes but not shorts. Any comments about this would be appreciated. As I said, this is all very new to us.
A – You want “comments” – we’re going to give you comments:
01 – No Travel Agent works for Celebrity. Since it would appear that you have only made deposit and not a final payment, take the booking away from Celebrity and sit down with the best local travel agent in your town. Have them take over your booking. You’ve been dealing with a reservations staff member who works on commission and knows nothing about worldwide conditions, credit cards, or much of anything else that will be useful for you to know. The job of someone in reservations in to get your booking.
02 – You haven’t told us which type of American Express card you took out. There are several different cards and each one carries different benefits and features. It is likely that the one you chose does carry a foreign transaction fee which normally is 3%. This is a total rip-off. You should always travel travel with a card that has “No foreign transaction fees”. Amex has some co-branded cards that carry this benefit. We do agree that Amex is “reliable” and they are aggressive about fighting fraud. They are also less readily accepted by merchants abroad than Visa or Mastercard.
03 – You always want to pay in local currency using your US bank credit card. That will assure that the currency conversion is done by your bank utilizing the official rate. This will negate costly commissions and conversion fees abroad.
04 – Finally, your “agent” seems to be underestimating the heat issues. July has seen heat waves with temps reaching 100 degrees for the past two years. You can wear shorts in that weather but it would be better to wear lightweight slacks given the likelihood that you will be touring churches and buildings of historical importance. Discuss this with your real “agent” once you convert the booking.
Q – We recently checked in to a Hilton at the airport in Rome. I was really disappointed with my room and I went to the front desk and reminded them that I had made my reservation with one of the largest online agencies and that I personally post frequently on Facebook, Instagram, and TripAdvisor about my travel experiences. This did not seem to do a lot of good. Finally, I asked for the manager on-duty, who explained that they were sold out that night and she could not make a change. I’m not sure if I believed her. It was only for one night so I didn’t pursue it further. How should I deal with this in the future to obtain an upgrade? I certainly feel that with my postings, I am influencing lots of their potential customers but they do not seem to want to hear about it.
A – When you are shown to a disappointing room you should politely walk back down to the front desk and ask to speak to the Rooms Manager or the Manager on-duty. Explain why this trip is important to you and keep your tine low and polite so other guests do not hear your conversation. We would suggest you keep your TripAdvisor connection to yourself as hotels are quite tired of hearing about those who expect to get something for free because they have enough time on their hands to type amateur reviews as self-anointed “critics”. Most of the better travel critics we know have years of hard-earned credentials.
If you belong to Hilton’s Honors Club, your room preferences should be a part of your stored profile. You should not be assigned an inferior room. But you booked on one of the online sites and you were, we would guess, assigned one of the remaining rooms in your category. Hotel chains want bookings to be made via their own sites so they do not have to be paying out commission to third-party web sites. When it is noted that you have been brought to the property by a discount online agency, you should expect less than VIP treatment. If you care about your accommodations, have your travel consultant VIP you or write a short note tot he Hotel Manager in advance explaining why you worthy of upgrade consideration. Never mention that you blog or have online “followers” or billions of “likes”. Travel industry staff are so tired of hearing this from consumers headed their way that it has become an industry joke. The fact that you are celebrating an important anniversary or taking a “second honeymoon” will get you much further than referencing the junk you share online. Most hotel staff have a healthy disdain for opinions posted about their properties online.They realize that the internet has proven itself to be the most perfect vehicle for the dissemination of misinformation ever devised.
Q – I fear I may be ridiculed in your pages, but let me explain that there are certain liquors and tequilla that I really prefer to what is offered in Business Class on the airlines I fly. The flight attendants tell me there is no way to legally bring my own liquor on the plane but I just wonder if you guys know of a work-around. I do not have a drinking problem – I suppose my real problem is that I am a snob when it comes to choosing my alcoholic beverages. Am I out of luck?
A – Actually there is a work-around. We’re going to share it with you but we are wondering just how long these flights are that you can’t abide by the drink offerings in Business Class – no less. TSA rules require that any liquids be clearly displayed and carried in small bottles not to exceed 100 mil. Just try to find the mini-size bottles of your favorite brand and keep them in your carry-on next to your hand cream and cologne. They have to be kept in a clear bag for inspection. But they are totally legal.
Now, here’s the thing. You can drink them at your seat but absolutely are not allowed to open the mini-bottles by yourself. Only a flight attendant is allowed to do that.
One more thing. You are permitted to purchase a bottle of liquor from the duty-free airport store and you may request that a flight attendant open it for you aboard the aircraft. But do not attempt to bring the bottle with you when connecting to another flight. It will be confiscated and show up at a TSA Supervisor party weeks later.
Q – I have been reading this material religiously but I keep coming back to one piece of advice you gave some time ago. Wondering if you are still suggesting that it is really dangerous to drink coffee aboard an aircraft. If there was an issue – it would seem like the airlines would have fixed it by now. Are you really suggesting that I bring a cup of Starbucks aboard my future morning flights?
A – Dangerous may be too strong a term. Let’s just say that those savvy travelers who do their research, stay away from coffee and tea cooked aboard aircraft using tank storage water that has not been properly brought to the boiling point. That makes it possible for storage tank well-documented bacterial content to exist in the water. Our own investigations into this subject have never uncovered a single aircraft where care was taken to boil the water being served to passengers. We have never, for example, encountered an airline that used sealed bottled water to brew coffee in coach. You drinks their coffee and you takes your chances! This is very much a budgetary issue. The cost of using bottled water versus the storage tank water filled by airport maintenance crews would be significant. This is a bottom-line issue. So, yes, absolutely board with your own Starbucks.
Q – Great site – thinking about renting a Ferrari for a slow drive from the Bay area down to LA. Can this be easily done and any advice? This is a definite bucket list item I want to complete before my 40th birthday.
A – You are breaking the “Bucket List” rule. Bucket lists are not supposed to begin until you are at least fifty years of age. You can certainly rent from a number of companies. The Ferrari California is, of course, the model everyone wants. The standard rental is just around $1,500 plus delivery fees and taxes. But the cars are rarely rented for less than a week. The costs of transportation are just too high. The real cost is when they have to fly out a techie to show you how to use the car. If you can avoid that, the cost is much less. This is one of those situations where you need to know exactly what you want and then call the top three companies in the market for price quotes. And make one of those calls to the exotic car department at Hertz or Avis. We believe that you will find that costs vary tremendously. Make sure to verify that your current auto insurance policy offers coverage for “exotics.”
For starters, try Menlo Park Exotic Car Rentals, Gotham Dream Cars, Italia Rental, or San Francisco Exotic Car Rental by Enterprise.
Q – My husband and I were scheduled to fly our favorite airline, Alaska Air, to Cuba in March. We live in Pasadena and the non-stop flight from LAX was perfect. Now, we have been notified that they are operating their last flight in January. We’re making other plans, but we’re wondering why they would pull out when the flights appeared to be going out full?
A – Actually, business to Cuba is down significantly, Alaska Air says by 80% since the November 9th U.S. government decision to end the people-to-people program. Given the sharp reduction in business, Alaska, along with several other operators, have cancelled or reduced their operations to Cuba.
There are several intertwined issues here one of which is the fact that laws in Cuba currently require heavy percentages of Cuban hotel and tourism industry ownership. This basically means that if you construct a new hotel, there is a likelihood that your partners will be Cuban military and government officials. We have been advising that travel to Cuba should be postponed for 24 months. We now think that a more realistic timetable is five or six years assuming new construction plans with ownership adjustments can be implemented by the current administration. (wasn’t that said nicely?)
Q – We are doing a Caribbean cruise that includes several days in Cuba. The information about spending money in their country is a bit contradictory. Do we just bring a bunch of singles, do we use local currency for best results? What is the best strategy? As Cuba is opening up, we think you should increase your coverage of questions related to this destination.
A – Actually, Cuba is closing up last we looked. If you found anyone willing to accept US dollars you would be totally ripped off. Cuba hosts many European tourists. The strategy that is the simplest is bringing in Euros for your shopping and incidentals. They are readily accepted and the exchange rate is quite fair. Leave your dollars in the room safe aboard your ship.
Q – This is a bit out of your normal range of questions but wondering if you might help me with a recommendation on an issue of personal security. As I write this it looks like the US is moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem and I am headed to visit several parts of the middle east, including Iran, where protests could be an issue. I also have to meet with manufacturers in India and China, not always in the best of locations. Any hotels you might avoid and any recommendation as to whether or not I should plan on purchasing a satellite phone just in case internet is disrupted. I worry about that more than anything as I imagine CNN will not always be available. I’m not afraid, and I’m fairly well read on these countries, with some travel experience in India and China, but just wondering what you all would advise. Thanking you in advance.
A – There are several questions here so let us break them down as clearly as possible, point by point:
- We recommend that you stay in a non-US luxury hotel, preferably one that is locally-owned. Try to ascertain in advance if you will be able to get CNN in your room – in an emergency that could be extremely useful. Avoid hotels that cater to American guests. In times of duress you might actually find that having Wolf Blitzer in your room is comforting – although we can;t really see why.
- Start practicing used text messages on your phone. In fact, China and India have outlawed satellite phones so that is not a good option.
- Figure out where the safest neighborhood is in each of your scheduled stops and try to choose a hotel located within that area.
- In all cases – do not make these arrangements on your own. Have your agent use a locally-based on-site office with whom they have a close relationship. That will provide a valuable source of comfort and protection should any situation get out of hand.
- As you are no doubt aware, India and China are significantly safer than we are here in the US. Gun violence is extremely rare. Iran does, of course, have parts of town that are not kosher. Travel safe