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Travel columnist Ed Perkins is a nationally recognized reporter and consumer advocate. His weekly columns focus on how travelers can find ...

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Seniors on the Go: High-end vacation rental -- sometimes a good value

Seniors on the Go: High-end vacation rental -- sometimes a good value

October 28, 2014

Cheapest isn't always the best choice: Look at the lousy product you get on a cheap airline ticket. That's why I never talk about "saving" money: After all, the best way to save money on travel is to stay home. What I really focus on is good value, not necessarily the lowest price. And although high-end travel often seems to be a waste of money, a top-of-the-line vacation rental is sometimes a good value.

  • Low-fare airlines to Europe next Summer: Early look

    October 28, 2014

    "Fly to London for $99!" You probably saw those excited press reports about spectacularly low fares WOW Air hyped for its new flights starting next March. By now, those ultra-low fare seats have probably sold out, but the line will still have some pretty good deals. In any event, if you're thinking about a trip to Europe next summer, it's not too early to start checking out the prospects for low-fare alternatives to the giant lines.

  • Seniors on the Go: Avoiding airport parking gouges

    October 21, 2014

    On a recent three-week trip from my home airport, I chose to stay the night before departure at an airport-area motel. Why? Even though the airport is only 25 minutes from my home, the motel's stay-park-fly package was the best deal. The room rate was $80 for one night, with shuttles to/from the airport and up to 30 days of parking included. The airport's long-term parking lot charge would have been $180 and the round-trip taxi fare from my home would have been close to $100.

  • Global survey of passengers gives glimpse of air travel in 10 years

    October 21, 2014

    The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), "a network of leading airlines, suppliers and related companies committed to elevating the level of the airline passenger experience," released its latest "global survey of passengers," and the primary conclusion is that passengers want to be thoroughly connected and wired. That theme also pervades the association's 10-year travel forecast: No matter how bad the rest of your travel experience may be, you'll be connected.

  • Seniors on the Go: Wall Street's formula will ruin the best airlines

    October 14, 2014

    "JetBlue must reduce legroom and add baggage fees." "Virgin America must increase its fees." "Southwest has to start charging baggage fees." Both the financial and the aviation media are full of stories highlighting Wall Street's dicta for these airlines. And Wall Street apparently doesn't care if its formula will effectively destroy these three lines as you know them. As one respected airlines writer put it, "That nice-guy approach to air travel wins awards and attracts a cult following, but may not fly with Wall Street."

  • Premium economy: What's new in airline seating classification?

    October 14, 2014

    Lufthansa is the latest major holdout to join the group of giant airlines offering premium-economy class. All newly-delivered 747-8s incorporate the new cabin, with initial routes linking Frankfurt with Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington. The airline will start offering premium economy on its A380s and A340s next spring, with installation completed by the end of next year. Lufthansa's product will closely resemble that of Air France.

  • Seniors on the Go: Frequent flyer programs for infrequent flyers

    October 7, 2014

    Mighty Travels says American has the most generous frequent flyer program among the three giant lines and Delta has the worst. IdeaWorks says Southwest and JetBlue are best among lines in the United States, followed by United, Alaska, American and Delta. Some insiders like Alaska's program because it has good award deals on partner lines. Consumer Reports found Spirit was pretty bad, but didn't find any clear winners. Given the range of opinion, what should an occasional traveler do? Here are some considerations.

  • What's new in credit card technology

    October 7, 2014

    Diners Club, the original Travel and Entertainment" (T-and-E) card, is re-opening in the United States. That's the biggest news in the always-turbulent credit card world. For some reason, the pioneering card has been dormant in the U.S. for several years, servicing prior holders but not adding new ones. Now, it is again accepting applications, and it offers four key advantages over most other cards:

  • Seniors on the Go: Hotel customer service: Who's best?

    September 30, 2014

    The hotel chain with the highest ratings for customer satisfaction is Park Hyatt, with a 94 percent "positive" rating. That's according to a report published by Medallia, a prominent customer experience specialist, covering the second quarter of this year. Scores are based on combining traveler ratings posted on "some of the world's most visited and used travel and hospitality review sites" including TripAdvisor, Hotels.com and Booking.com. The report covers only multi-property brands in the United States.

  • What's new in travel industry news?

    September 30, 2014

    A lot of innovations and announcements either appeared recently or just recently came to my attention. Although none is a game-changer, many provide useful features.

  • Seniors on the Go: Look for advance-purchase ski deals

    September 23, 2014

    Maybe the leaves haven't turned yet, but this is a good time to start thinking about locking in some good-deal prices on your ski lift tickets for the coming winter. Lots of ski areas and passes offer "early bird" discounts and promotions, but they're available to buy only through late September or mid-October.

  • Last week's cheers and jeers

    September 23, 2014

    Cheers to the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General, which started an "audit" of airline frequent flyer programs. The primary focus, apparently at the urging of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), is whether airlines are providing adequate disclosure of costs associated with supposedly "free" award travel, specifically including fuel surcharges. Those fuel and other "airline mandated" surcharges added to award trips aren't just a minor annoyance; they're a big scam: On a recent quote for a trip to London, they amounted to almost $1,000.

  • Unaccompanied minors: What's new?

    September 16, 2014

    Children traveling alone: That's an uncomfortable consequence of today's split families, remote retirement centers and extended offsite job assignments. And that means you sometimes need to arrange flights for kids traveling by themselves. Most airlines have "unaccompanied minor" provisions to take care of the problem; they're included in contracts of carriage, as augmented by various rules. But they're not free. And the recent announcement from American that it upped its charge presents an opportunity to revisit a question I last covered more than a year ago.

  • Seniors on the Go: Oktoberfest, anybody?

    September 16, 2014

    You don't have to be German to enjoy hot sausage and cold beer, do you? And what's more German than Oktoberfest? Because some 20 percent of the American population can claim some sort of roots to Germany, you can find Oktoberfests in dozens of U.S. cities and towns, from late September through October. And if you're a stickler for authenticity, you can still catch a flight to the genuine article in Munich.

  • Where to ski this winter

    September 8, 2014

    Yes, it's likely still hot where you live, but it's not too early to start thinking about your winter vacation plans. Presumably, you'll find acceptable snow and facilities in most developed ski centers. So you obviously want to select your destination on the basis of some combination of the total destination experience, the extent of ski and other winter activity options, accessibility and the cost at options available to you.

  • Seniors on the Go: New flights coming to an airport near you

    September 8, 2014

    Allegiant Air will be a big factor in air travel the rest of this year and next. It will add new routes, and even if it won't fly to your home airport, some other line might, following Allegiant's business model. Although next summer is a long way off, some of the developments already announced may have a big impact on your travel plans for 2015.

  • Seniors on the Go: Coming soon to a cruise ship near you: Big tech

    September 2, 2014

    If you're one of the growing number of seniors -- or anyone else, for that matter -- with a pronounced geek streak, think about a fall cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ship, the Quantum of the Seas. It will carry more tech capability than anything outside of the Navy.

  • Ride-sharing in the air: Down but not out

    September 2, 2014

    The FAA recently determined that the two pioneering share-the-plane ride websites were not operating legally. As a result, the two pioneering outfits, Airpooler.com and Flytenow.com, are in some sort of limbo. Although the FAA has had nothing additional to say, however, my take is that, over the next few months, the government and the operators will come to some sort of accommodation.

  • Seniors on the Go: Fall travel: Where, when, and how

    August 26, 2014

    If it's Labor Day, it's time to think about fall foliage travel. Although New England grabs a lot of the publicity, you actually find good fall foliage throughout much of the U.S. and Canada. Peak times for viewing depend on where you go; they move from North to South over a period between mid-September and mid-November. And you can view them on your own, on bus tours, or on trains.

  • Hotel Wi-Fi: How fast, how costly?

    August 26, 2014

    In-room Wi-Fi is the new near-essential hotel requirement these days, along with air-conditioning and flat-screen TV. Surveys repeatedly show that Wi-Fi ranks near the top of special features and amenities that business and leisure travelers crave. Unlike air and TV, however, Wi-Fi is not yet universal, and many hotels -- especially higher-priced ones -- charge extra. Moreover, the Wi-Fi available in hotels varies substantially from hotel to hotel. And the newest hotel-semi scam is to hype "free Wi-Fi" but offer only very slow connections "free," and ask for a premium payment for full-speed connections. Although the marketplace is fluid, you have some useful resources.

  • New train to DFW Airport

    August 19, 2014

    You can now travel to/from Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) by train. Last week, DART, the Dallas area rapid transit system, opened the long-awaited extension of the Orange light rail line directly to Terminal A. From the airport, it runs to the central district, then turns northward again toward Richardson. Trains run frequently from 3:50 a.m. to 1:12 a.m. (12:12 on weekends). DART says that typical running time between the airport and downtown is about 50 minutes. You ride modern three-section light rail vehicles, with easy-boarding, low-level floors in the central section, but they do not provide racks or other special provisions for travelers' baggage.

  • Seniors on the Go: Traveling by bus a viable option ... yes, really!

    August 19, 2014

    Take a Bus. Really? Yes, Really

  • Airline gripe? Make it work -- or at least make it count

    August 12, 2014

    In case you were wondering how big airlines respond to complaints personally and specifically, consider a United Airlines message actually sent to a dissatisfied customer. The letter, widely circulating online, literally, starts out this way:

  • Seniors on the Go: Last-minute vacation rentals

    August 12, 2014

    With all the travel writers urging "rent early," you might think that "last-minute vacation rentals" is an oxymoron. Fortunately, it isn't. A newly launched British website, snaptrip.com, focuses on last-minute vacation rentals, and the industry giants HomeAway and Flipkey allow you to locate various special deals, including last-minute offers.

  • Seniors on the Go: Anti-consumer Airfare Display Bill sneaks through House

    August 5, 2014

    The ironically named "Transparent Airfares Act of 2014" passed the House of Representatives on July 28. This misbegotten bill, which would actually make the costs of air travel less transparent, passed by voice vote, presumably in part to avoid embarrassing the self-proclaimed pro-consumer representatives who supported it.

  • 8 car rental gotchas your credit card insurance may not cover

    August 5, 2014

    Say you're renting a car and you plan to rely on your credit card's built-in collision coverage. Or maybe you're even prepared to buy the rental company's wildly overpriced collision damage waiver (CDW). Either way, you think you're covered. But are you fully covered? MileCards just released a report on eight rental car gotchas that at least some credit card collision benefits won't cover.

  • Seniors on the Go: 40 Tourist scams? Well, sort of

    July 29, 2014

    A recent posting on Justtheflight.com warned travelers of 40 tourist scams prevalent around the world. Wow -- that's a long checklist. Fortunately, many of the 40 are "variations on a theme," and a comparable posting of 10 scams from Cheapflights.com is more realistic. Yes, none of the 10 or even the 40 is really new or innovative, but they bear repeating, anyhow.

  • World troubles: Would travel insurance help?

    July 29, 2014

    The current headlines -- the downing of Malaysia flight 17 and the Israeli-Gaza hostilities -- focus a spotlight on today's travel uncertainties. And that, in turn, raises the question of how travel insurance would help you in coping with the fallout from these problems. The short answer is that trip-interruption/trip cancellation (TCI) might not help as much as you might hope, or think.

  • Seniors on the Go: Will U.S. railroad service ever get better?

    July 22, 2014

    "I just returned from a trip to Europe, and really enjoyed riding the high-speed Eurostar and TGV. Why can't we have something like that here in the U.S.?" So asked a reader, and the fundamental answer is simple: The United States, as a nation, does not and will not enjoy a robust passenger rail system because, as a nation, it doesn't have the will to develop and operate one.

  • 'Best' airlines? Really?

    July 22, 2014

    To nobody's surprise, Cathay Pacific came in as the number one "airline of the year" on the latest Skytrax ratings of the world's major airlines. This survey, which Skytrax modestly claims to be "a most respected global airline passenger study," always generates a lot of ink and pixels, along with some controversy, but you can hardly escape it. And if you judge on the basis of the awards for North America, you may rethink your trust in the results.

  • Deceptions du jour for the summer

    July 15, 2014

    Ten years ago, I compiled a list of some of the travel industry's false and misleading pricing techniques, using the metaphor of a man who observed various promotions as he walked along a city street.

  • Seniors on the Go: Long flight? Take a mid-course break

    July 15, 2014

    If you're planning a long-distance overseas trip -- one of those 18-hour marathon nonstops, or even worse, two 12-hour flights with a connection, you might want to take a stopover at an intermediate point, especially when the normal itinerary is back-to-back red-eyes. Or maybe you really want to visit two countries. Either way, you can sometimes arrange a stopover between your home airport and most distant destination with little or no extra cost.

  • Norwegian flies to London -- for now

    July 8, 2014

    Despite some opposition, Norwegian launched its new low-fare nonstops to London/Gatwick from three U.S. airports last week: twice a week from Ft. Lauderdale, twice a week from Los Angeles and three times a week from New York/JFK. Schedules are the standard transatlantic pattern: overnight to London, day flight returning. Norwegian touts "affordable" fares, and its prices, as posted, are generally lower than comparable nonstop fares on the giant lines. Norwegian's fares vary from flight to flight, but I sampled typical round-trip summer (mid-August) and winter (mid-January) round-trip fares to London/Gatwick:

  • Seniors on the Go: Summer senior summary

    July 8, 2014

    If you're a senior about to shove off on your vacation, here are a few notes on the current state of senior travel.

  • Seniors on the Go: Great cruise deals: Go sooner rather than later

    July 1, 2014

    If you're looking for a good deal on a cruise, think about the rest of this year. Even cruise line execs admit that the industry is currently doing a lot of discounting, while, at the same time, they tout efforts to "discipline" the marketplace next year. Even though those execs routinely promise to end discounting, however, their track record has been notoriously poor. Still, as with so many travel services, when you see some really great prices, buy; don't wait for even more price drops.

  • Consumer travel issues: Midyear status report

    July 1, 2014

    What's the current status of the major consumer issues in travel? Here's a quick overview:

  • Google upgrades air and hotel search -- but not enough

    June 24, 2014

    Google has added and improved some features that make it one of the important contenders for a go-to airfare and hotel search engine (google.com/flights). Among its current features:

  • Seniors on the Go: Unloading excess miles

    June 24, 2014

    "Can you tell me how I can sell my frequent flyer miles," asked a reader. "My wife and I are in our mid-80s and we don't fly any more. I have a combined 230,000 miles divided between two airlines and I don't want to lose any. Airline websites aren't much help." You might well be in the same situation. Airline limits on the number of miles you can transfer to other people are restrictive and the fees can be more than the miles are worth. So transferring miles through airline programs is a nonstarter.

  • United's new frequent flyer deal: Bad news for most of you

    June 17, 2014

    To nobody's surprise, United announced a mostly "me too" makeover of its frequent flyer program in the Delta pattern. And, also to nobody's surprise, the new program is likely to make award travel worse for leisure travelers who use inexpensive tickets:

  • Seniors on the Go: The European Rail Timetable lives!

    June 17, 2014

    Despite all the digital travel resources that are now readily available, I'm still a fan of printed references. Although a senior, I'm not a luddite; when I travel, I carry the usual Wi-Fi notebook and smartphone, use Wi-Fi everywhere I stay and I'm enough of a geek that I recently upgraded my primary hard drive to an SSD. (If you want your programs to load like lightning, get an SSD.) But when I'm planning a tour of Europe, I still want the paper: printed rail schedules and detailed road maps. And you should, too.

  • Seniors on the Go: VIA Rail Canada raises the bar on rail accommodations

    June 10, 2014

    VIA Rail Canada's new "Prestige Class" sleeping cars will top all previous cars -- and anything on Amtrak, as well -- in providing the most comfortable and livable long-haul overnight rail accommodations. And the refurbished business-class cars for the busy Quebec to Windsor corridor will equal the best anywhere. That's the overall take-away from last week's press preview in Vancouver and a strong indication that, at least in Canada, rail retains an important niche in the overall transportation scheme.

  • New 'flight glitch' insurance

    June 10, 2014

    Flight delayed on the tarmac more than two hours? Collect $1,000. Baggage lost or stolen? Collect $1,000. Miss your connecting flight? Collect $500. More than 12 hours to reunite you with your misdirected baggage? Collect $500. Flight arrives more than two hours late? Collect $50. Those are the top payouts from AirCare, a new breed of travel protection, covering some of the more annoying air travel glitches. In addition to the money payouts, AirCare includes MyAssist trip monitoring: If you miss a connection, the service can rebook you and pay ticket change fees up to the policy limit. In a tarmac delay, you don't even need to file a claim: MyAssist tracks flights and automatically deposits the money in your bank account. And the cost is a reasonable $25 per person per trip.

  • Seniors on the Go: PEOPLExpress flies again -- but will it fly?

    June 3, 2014

    A new airline, recycling the PEOPLExpress brand name, announced it will start flying June 30. Initial service from its base at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport -- or, if you prefer, Patrick Henry Field -- will be two daily round-trips to Newark and one each to Boston and Pittsburgh. By the end of August, the airline expects to add round-trips to Atlanta, New Orleans, St Petersburg, and West Palm Beach.

  • Top-level airline credit cards: Are they worth the price tag?

    June 3, 2014

    The three giant U.S. legacy airlines sponsor premium cards that feature additional benefits over their base cards. All charge yearly fees several times the fees for lower-level cards; all include the same lower-level cards' basic benefits, including one no-charge checked bag, no fees for foreign transactions, and some additional benefits. But their unique extra is access to airport lounge club programs.

  • Seniors on the Go: What could go wrong? Let me count the ways

    May 27, 2014

    Consider these headlines: Rampant crime in destination areas. Lax safety standards. Sloppy management. Faulty equipment. Untrained operators. Deliberate targeting of visitors for scams. Or these reports: Cruise line passengers murdered in Antigua. Visitor drowns when caught in hot tub's underwater suction. Resort visitor killed when palm tree fell on his lounge chair. Six tourists disappear from a boat in the Caribbean. Four-day gun battle in Kingston leaves dozens dead. Elephant rampages in Phuket Province kill several visitors. Visitor impaled on a fencepost after bus crash in New Zealand. An airline tossed a frequent flyer out of its program and voided his miles. Tourist dies in rented car due to faulty safety belt. Air bags failed to deploy. Foreign tourists shot in Miami while driving rental car. That's just a sampling of the many mishaps Judge Thomas Dickerson, author of "Travel Law," recounts in recent travel law articles. But you get the drift: Lots of bad stuff can happen when you're traveling.

  • Dept. of Transportation: 'More protection, not less'

    May 27, 2014

    Apparently unfazed by the current congressional proposal to undo its earlier airline passenger protection rules, the Department of Transportation proposed a set of new, additional consumer protections. The most important deals with fees: DoT proposes that airlines and ticket sellers be required to disclose fees for four "basic airline services" at all points of sale: one checked bag, a second checked bag, a carry-on bag, and an advance seat assignment. DoT certainly knows that these specific fees are truly optional: You can fly without checking a bag, taking a carry-on bag, or getting your seat in advance. But the apparent idea is that these options are so widely used that consumers should be notified of their costs throughout the search and purchase processes.

  • Frequent flyer seats: Getting better -- sort of

    May 20, 2014

    Your best chances of scoring a "free" frequent flyer domestic seat are on Southwest and JetBlue, a repeat of last year's performance. That's from the latest Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey, produced by IdeaWorks. US Airways replaced perennial loser Delta at the bottom of the list.

  • Seniors on the Go: Summer travel, hotwire version

    May 20, 2014

    This summer, you can look for hotel rates in the U.S. to be up some 7 percent over last year, airfares to be up only 2 percent, and car rental rates to be down 8 percent, if you buy now. That's the current finding from Hotwire, the big online agency that does an outstanding job of mining its own database of online transactions. But those figures are nationwide averages, and you remember the old saying "a statistician is someone who drowns wading in a river that averages three feet deep." So Hotwire pulled some detailed conclusions from its data -- presented with a few of my own interpolations.

  • Which credit card for 'free' air trips?

    May 13, 2014

    Your choice of cards depends on how you earn the credit and how you prefer to use it. Overall, your most important choice is between cards that earn credit in airline frequent flyer programs and cards that earn credit -- whether it's called "miles" or points -- in bank programs. Next, you have to look at your own travel patterns. Let's look at a few scenarios.

  • Seniors on the Go: Cruising close to home

    May 13, 2014

    A reader recently asked about cruising close to home, and if you're interested, you'll find quite a few options. The big mass-market cruise lines, with their mega-ships, offer a few stay-near-home itineraries, at prices close to rates in the Caribbean and Mexico, starting at around $100 per person per day. But most of the action is with a handful of small-ship operators whose ships can navigate inland lakes and rivers, at much higher prices.

  • Seniors on the Go: AARP's new website adds trip finder option

    May 6, 2014

    AARP recently mounted a complete website do-over -- not just travel; everything. But travel did get some updates that you might find useful.

  • Frontier Airlines now an 'ultra-low-fare' carrier

    May 6, 2014

    Frontier's recent announcement that it was transforming itself into an "ultra-low-cost" airline was something of a misnomer: The only changes so far are to fares, not costs; and it should have said "ultra-low-fare" airline. Either way, however, the move raises the question about exactly what an ultra-low-fare airline does and who does it.

  • Frequent flyer status changes

    April 29, 2014

    In recent months, giant airlines have made some big changes to their frequent flyer programs, affecting earning and award schedules. Over the years, most changes have had a negative impact on ordinary travelers, and the recent ones are no different.

  • Seniors on the Go: Prevention key to foiling baggage loss

    April 29, 2014

    You arrive at your airport, claim your baggage, go home and start to unpack, only to find that the heirloom silver cup your grandmother passed on to you is missing. Who was responsible? And what should you do now? Although I've never had anything lifted from a checked bag, it does happen. Prevention is the best protection:

  • Airline change fees: 'Optional' fees that punish

    April 22, 2014

    "Optional" airline fees remain a major source of irritation. But most are truly optional: You don't really need to select your seat in advance, check a bag, or buy an onboard drink when you fly. One supposedly "optional" fee, however -- the onerous ticket change fee -- is often not really optional. If you suddenly have to change a family vacation because of some personal emergency, you have to cancel your flights and -- at best -- reschedule your trip for a different time. On the legacy lines, the typical fee to change a domestic ticket is $200; international fees start at around $300 but can go as high as $700, depending on the type of ticket and route. So changing your ticket can really punish you:

  • Seniors on the Go: 2014 ACSI report scores travel industries

    April 22, 2014

    JetBlue is tops in customer service among the six largest U.S. airlines. Marriott earns top marks among the eight largest multi-brand hotel chains. Among the online travel agencies (OTA), the little guys -- lumped into the "all others" group -- slightly outpoint top scorer big agency Orbitz. So says the new American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) report for 2014. ACSI scores, developed by some folks at the University of Michigan, the American Society of Quality, and the CFI Group, are based on more than 7,000 consumer interviews.

  • Airline change fees: 'Optional' fees that punish

    April 22, 2014

    "Optional" airline fees remain a major source of irritation. But most are truly optional: You don't really need to select your seat in advance, check a bag, or buy an onboard drink when you fly. One supposedly "optional" fee, however -- the onerous ticket change fee -- is often not really optional. If you suddenly have to change a family vacation because of some personal emergency, you have to cancel your flights and -- at best -- reschedule your trip for a different time. On the legacy lines, the typical fee to change a domestic ticket is $200; international fees start at around $300 but can go as high as $700, depending on the type of ticket and route. So changing your ticket can really punish you:

  • Transparent Airfares Act of 2014: A proposal based on lies

    April 15, 2014

    Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marked up a proposed bill that would allow airlines once again to omit taxes and fees from advertised prices and instead add them in later, just before you buy. Make no mistake: This "Transparent Airfares Act of 2014" is an anti-consumer bill. It was drafted, marked up, and sent to the House without any input from consumer or business travel interests. And it is based on lies.

  • Seniors on the Go: Airline 'quality' for 2013

    April 15, 2014

    The overall "quality" score of the 15 biggest U.S. airlines for 2013 increased enough over their 2012 performance to the best level ever recorded. At least that's what the authors of the annual "Airline Quality Rating" (AQR) scores have to say. In 2013, reductions in denied boarding (bumping) and consumer complaints offset slightly poorer on-time arrivals and numbers of mishandled bags.

  • What you need to know about airline 'ancillary revenue'

    April 8, 2014

    What airlines look on fondly as "ancillary revenue" hits you in the form of pesky -- and often outrageous -- fees and charges. A new report from the meticulous folks at IdeaWorks tells airline industry professionals what they need to know about ancillary revenues, but it also illustrates some of what you, as consumers, need to know, and how best to game the system.

  • Seniors on the Go: Airline safety -- where are we?

    April 8, 2014

    "How safe is air travel?" The relentless media obsession with the mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 again focuses attention on the broad question of airline safety. And despite the apparent tragic fate of the flight 370 passengers, last week's release of safety data by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows that air travel, overall, is incredibly safe. Among the highlights for 2013:

  • Accommodations, cars, and cruises: promises, but no guarantees

    April 1, 2014

    Let's say you arrive at a hotel, late at night after an exhausting flight, only to be told your supposedly "confirmed" reservation has disappeared. The hotel has already rented out "your" room to someone else and has no more vacancies. Obviously, the night reception desk agent can't quickly build you a new room, so what can he or she do? If you're lucky, the agent will arrange to "walk" you: Find a room in a nearby hotel that is at least as good, pay for your first night there and pay for your taxi fare to get there, if it's not right around the corner or across the street. It's happened to me more than once, and I suspect also to most other frequent travelers. Overbooking isn't the only reason hotels may not be able to honor a reservation: Earlier guests may stay longer than planned, and some local regulations may actually prevent hotels from evicting them.

  • Europe this summer? Buy tickets now!

    April 1, 2014

    If you're headed for Europe this summer, CheapAir.com says, "Buy as soon as you can." That's based on actual ticket prices in CheapAir's database for this year and last, and it contradicts some earlier findings about buying long-haul international trips around three months in advance. Although CheapAir's posted report doesn't say so, would-be visitors to Europe may well face sticker shock at the peak-season prices.

  • Avoiding long-haul red-eyes, at least some of the time

    March 25, 2014

    A few of you might actually prefer red-eye schedules on long intercontinental flights -- they avoid the cost of a hotel night and maximize your available time at your destination. And you may tolerate them as the inevitable penalty you have to pay for a trip to Europe, Asia, the South Pacific or South America. If you're in business class, red-eyes are really not bad: These days, most competitive business-class seats allow you to lie straight, if at a bit of an angle in some. And red-eyes aren't totally intolerable in true premium economy, where you have a reasonable amount of room and a decent recline. But in economy class, they're terrible: My own view is that economy-class red-eyes violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. And even if you aren't that vehement, you know that spending a night in a too-tight economy seat can be an exhausting ordeal. Fortunately, even on long intercontinental routes where red-eyes predominate, a few airlines run a few daytime flights.

  • Seniors on the Go: Heading overseas? Get around on local transit

    March 25, 2014

    Don't be apprehensive about navigating public transit just because you're overseas. Transit systems in much of the world, especially in popular destinations, are at least as good as those at home and often better, and most include stops to the main airport. Earlier, I urged you to consider the many day-passes and discounts on U.S. transit systems. Although hardly any foreign systems offer senior discounts, many sell day or longer "travel all you want" passes that target tourists who want to get around the city. Here's a detailed look at the "big three" overseas destinations for American travelers plus some quickies about others, concentrating on easy-to-use rail options.

  • Airline Fees: Up, down, or sideways?

    March 18, 2014

    Have the airlines become too arrogant about steadily increasing their fees? Some prominent consumer advocates are starting to think so. Specifically, they believe that some fees, although nominally "optional," have become so high as to exceed any standard of reasonability and have reached the level of consumer abuse.

  • Seniors on the Go: Visiting a U.S. city? Go transit

    March 18, 2014

    If your spring and summer travel plans include a big city, presumably you don't need or even want a rented car, and you probably don't want to pay for taxis everywhere you go. So check the transit options. Fortunately, transit systems in many big cities offer a variety of all-day and multi-day transit passes that allow you to use buses, light rail, subway and even suburban railroads without having to pony up a separate fare every time you want a ride. Many cities offer senior deals, although you may have to obtain special senior ID. Here's a rundown of the options available in 10 of the top domestic destination cities. In most cases, the qualifying age for seniors is 65; a Medicare card is accepted as senior ID for fare payment or senior ID card.

  • Seniors on the Go: Good value domestic destinations

    March 11, 2014

    Not many of you decide where to go strictly on the basis of prices -- after all, you'd "save" the most money by staying home, and you could find inexpensive hotels and restaurants in almost any nearby small town. Still, relative value is important to many of you, and the good folks in the travel industry are happy to guide you in your destination search.

  • Airline news update

    March 11, 2014

    We've seen a flurry of airline announcements over the last few weeks. And in this industry, when one big line announces some new initiative -- especially when it's a bad idea -- the other giants are very likely to follow. Among the more important developments for consumers:

  • Seniors on the Go: Your legal rights in foreign travel

    March 4, 2014

    Nothing is more frustrating than to suffer an accident when you're traveling, especially if you suffer damages through the negligence of a hotel, cruise line, tourist attraction, sightseeing operator, or such. Judge Thomas Dickerson, who literally writes the book on travel law, recently published several articles that address legal questions about overseas travel, but they offer less certainty than you might expect. The key question is whether you can claim jurisdiction over a foreign supplier in a U.S. court, and Judge Dickerson's analyses suggests that the answer is a firm "maybe."

  • Dealing with Delta's new frequent flyer program

    March 4, 2014

    Next year, Delta will switch its Skymiles frequent flyer program from a mileage base to a dollar base. You've probably already read about that, so the question becomes one of how to deal with it. Overall, the new rules will be good for business travelers and bad for vacation travelers -- so bad that vacation travelers might want to reconsider loyalty to Delta, if other lines don't follow suit.

  • Top consumer issues in travel: NextGen

    February 25, 2014

    Probably no single issue will have a greater impact on our air travel system than the NextGen (Next Generation) air-traffic control (ATC) system slowly being implemented by the FAA, airlines and other airspace users. And emphasize the "slowly" part: Even the nominal 2025 completion date looks iffy. This isn't just my own conclusion. Last week, in Washington, I met with Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and consumer representative on the Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protections, and his organization is also strongly advocating for faster installation of NextGen.

  • Seniors on the Go: Local destination deals

    February 25, 2014

    Just about anywhere you look you see "tips" on how to "save" money on the big-ticket travel services: air tickets, hotel accommodations, rental cars and cruises. But if you're really being careful, you will want to take advantage of ways to cut the costs of daily activities at your destination, notably restaurant food and entertainment. And, as you might expect, some folks are eager to help you there, as well.

  • Southwest's big Dallas expansion -- what it means

    February 18, 2014

    Southwest Airlines announced it will start flying between Dallas/Love Field and 15 new destinations this fall, as soon as the law allows:

  • Seniors on the Go: Upgrade bidding update

    February 18, 2014

    Say you buy a cheap economy ticket. But also say you're a bit on the large size or old enough that getting in and out of a sardine-can seat isn't as easy as it once was. So you'd really like to escape the cattle-car seat squeeze and lousy cabin service that come with that economy ticket. Unfortunately, at list prices, first-class and business-class tickets cost up to 20 times more than economy tickets -- prices that are nonstarters for most travelers. Until recently, your only hopes for a comfortable seat were that you were at an exalted level in an airline's frequent flyer program, that you had started with a full-fare economy ticket, or that you had enough miles or purchased certificates for an upgrade. But now, a handful of big airlines give you an additional option: Bid for available upgrades.

  • Civil unrest; transit strikes: Will insurance cover me?

    February 11, 2014

    Chances are that if you had booked a tour to Bangkok for this spring, you're having an "agonizing reappraisal" right about now. Or if you're already there, you're thinking about avoiding the local hassle by going somewhere else or going home early. If so, you'd have lots of company: Because of widespread political unrest, hotel revenues in central Bangkok are down 40-50 percent. How about a tour to London for next week, facing the prospect of another 48-hour complete strike on the Underground? Or a flight inside Europe threatened by the likely strike by French air traffic controllers? Whether or not some of these problems are resolved by the time you read this, many of you are wondering whether travel insurance would allow you to recover nonrefundable prepayments and cancellation penalties, if you decided not to go under these or similar circumstances elsewhere.

  • Seniors on the Go: When you need some help flying

    February 11, 2014

    For one reason or another, some travelers may need a bit of help in air travel -- at the airport, and maybe during a flight. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires airlines to accommodate disabled travelers, provide assistance during flight and accept wheelchairs and similar necessary equipment as checked baggage. But not everybody is physically disabled, in the legal sense; maybe they just need some assistance coping with airport hassles at either end or both ends of a trip. Assistance of this sort may be especially useful for travelers with a minor degree of impairment, from those with early stages of Alzheimer's to teenagers who don't know their way around an airport, or even just those who are apprehensive in new situations.

  • Buy online; waive your rights

    February 4, 2014

    When you go online to arrange a hotel room or any travel service other than an airline ticket, before the website lets you buy, you have to check a box that acknowledges that you accept the fine print. Chances are, you just check that "terms of use" or similarly titled box without much thought, and get on to the next screen. But if you really read the complete fine print, you'd find one of the industry's dirty little secrets: By accepting those terms, you're waiving almost any right you have to legal recourse should anything go wrong with the transaction or your trip. Here's a sample, from Expedia, verbatim:

  • Seniors on the Go: Arranging travel: Making it more personal

    February 4, 2014

    By now, travelers of any age realize that if they don't use online resources they have almost zero chance of finding the best travel deals on their own. But the big online travel agencies, with their "we'll find the lowest fare" mantra, are too impersonal for many travelers. One big change I expect to see in the next few years is much more personalization to online travel. Here are some current examples.

  • Seniors on the Go: Rail discount wrap-up for 2014

    January 28, 2014

    In just about any part of the world that has a good rail system, traveling by train is far more pleasant than traveling by economy-class air. Seats are wider, legroom is better, you avoid the time and expense of getting to/from airports, you avoid security hassles, and you see some great scenery out of wide windows. Relative costs vary -- in many places, trains are cheaper than flying; in others, rail fares are higher. Many rail systems offer discounted rates to seniors, youth, and members of various organizations, but "sale" fares for travelers of any age are sometimes better.

  • Websites with a gimmick

    January 28, 2014

    "You Gotta Get a Gimmick," sang three strippers in the musical "Gypsy," and some wannabe Internet start-up millionaires have taken that advice to heart. By now the "we find the lowest fares" shtick is very 20th century, and innovators realize they either have to add something to the raw fare/rate information or allow you to search beyond the mere base prices. Here are three recent innovations.

  • Hotel buying -- what's new

    January 21, 2014

    You can expect some new ways to arrange hotel accommodations this year, as well as a few changes in the old ways. And, as usual, along the way you'll have to watch out for gotchas.

  • Seniors on the Go: Delta: Pointing to the future

    January 21, 2014

    With United still suffering from residual post-merger indigestion and American-US Airways just entering the assimilation maze, Delta is emerging as the trendsetter among giant domestic airlines. Don't be surprised if the new American and United adopt a "me, too" strategy on the Delta pattern.

  • Big American-US merger announces first 'customer benefits'

    January 14, 2014

    Well, you could call at least some of the changes "benefits." But the departure of US Airways from the Star Alliance leaves a big gap for some transatlantic travelers that remains at least temporarily unfilled.

  • Seniors on the Go: Tracking airfares

    January 14, 2014

    You don't have to have been traveling very long to know that airfares can go up and down like an elevator at quitting time. And you pretty much know that you want to buy at the bottom floor, not the penthouse prices. Sure, you could spend hours a day scouring the various travel websites the way technical stock traders scour the markets, but there's an easier way: Sign up for a few of the free airfare alert systems that keep track for you.

  • Seniors on the Go: For 2014: The usual travel questions

    January 7, 2014

    When is the best time to visit a destination? When is the best time to buy air tickets? What is the best way to arrange hotel accommodations? What's the most reliable way to arrange a vacation rental? Although I cover a bunch of topics over the course of a year, these questions keep coming up over and over again. And although I'll be covering them in various degrees of detail in the coming year, here's a quick summary of the most important points.

  • Flying in 100 years? Nobody knows

    January 7, 2014

    On January 1, 1914, the first commercial flight in history took one paying passenger across Tampa Bay, from St. Petersburg to Tampa, in a two-seat seaplane. Several industry leaders took note of the coincident 100th anniversary of flight and this New Year's Day to speculate about the next 100 years of flight, along with the next five and the next 25. Sadly, most of their prognostications were pedestrian and obvious, with only three even slightly adventurous or thought-provoking:

  • Seniors on the Go: The senior travel outlook for 2014

    December 31, 2013

    Like nostalgia, senior status in travel isn't what it used to be. Gone are those golden days of airline senior coupons and senior clubs; of 30 percent hotel discounts, and such. As the bookend to my earlier column on how seniors fared in 2013, my view of 2014 shows me comparatively few improved opportunities for seniors to take advantage of their senior status.

  • Beware: Gotchas for 2014

    December 31, 2013

    Although many professional colleagues take the opportunity of a new year to tout the good stuff you can expect, I'm concentrating -- as I often do -- on the potential potholes in your 2014 journeys.

  • Seniors on the Go: Retire overseas?

    December 24, 2013

    "Retire in Pago Pago where you can buy a beachfront villa for less than $100,000 and live on Social Security income." You've undoubtedly seen such a pitch somewhere. And whether you're already approaching retirement age or just starting to plan for retirement, you may well be at least considering retiring overseas.

  • 'Airline Passenger Bill of Rights 2.0': A good start

    December 24, 2013

    Flyersrights.org, a leading consumerist organization for airline passengers, published a proposed updated "bill of rights" that it is urging upon the Department of Transportation and Congress. Although some of its 30 points are toothless -- as are any "rights" that lack recourse -- the new proposal includes some significant proposals with real teeth that would, if adopted, have a big impact on the industry and its customers (list edited for space):

  • Seniors on the Go: Finding the best ski deals

    December 17, 2013

    "Skiing is expensive," starts a new posting at Outside Online (http://www.outsideonline.com). Just in case you didn't already know. But Outside Online, along with several other sources of ski information, is right there with places to look for the best ski vacation deals.

  • Does travel insurance cover weather problems?

    December 17, 2013

    The several big recent storms -- and the many airline cancellations that resulted -- raise the question of the extent to which travel insurance can help to recoup your travel investment. The short answer is that at least some of it does, at least sometimes. But you find lots of variation: Policies vary substantially in what they specify as "covered reasons" to provide payment. So you have to take a close look at the fine print, as well as the price, before you buy. Three different coverages apply.

  • Avoiding those airport lines -- at least some of the time

    December 10, 2013

    Airport Security. The TSA has opened up enrollment in its "Precheck" DHS Trusted Traveler program to anyone who wants to join -- and pay the $85 fee for five years participation. As a Trusted Traveler, you are eligible to use the presumably-shorter airport security lines and you are exempt from removing your shoes, belt, light jacket, your 3-1-1 bag for fluid containers and taking your laptop out of your carry-on baggage.

  • Seniors on the Go: 2013: That was the year that was

    December 10, 2013

    Looking back, I'd conclude that 2013 wasn't a great year for travel, but it wasn't a bad one, either. Here are some of the highlights

  • Seniors on the Go: Airport wheelchair service

    December 3, 2013

    Earlier this year, a reader had a six-hour cancer surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. After discharge, he was still quite weak and asked his airline to provide wheelchair service at Rochester, his connecting airport, and his final destination. The trip started out reasonably well, but at his home airport, he had to stand in the cold at the open airplane door for 15 minutes before someone came to help with the wheelchair. And during the trip, one of the wheelchair attendants told him that they were paid at less than minimum wage in an employment category, along with restaurant waiters, of workers dependent on tips for a majority of their income.

  • Winter storm cancellations: your 'rights'

    December 3, 2013

    Although the big Thanksgiving storm didn't disrupt air travel as much as many expected, a lot of travelers were still inconvenienced -- some seriously, some only slightly. And although that storm is history, winter is just beginning, and you may well face similar situations, somewhere in the country, over the next three to four months. So in advance of any immediate threats, you may well want to consider what happens -- and what rights you have -- when an airline announces massive pre-emptive cancellations in advance of a storm.

  • Seniors on the Go: More holiday travel suggestions

    November 26, 2013

    Kayak published some additional holiday travel guidance, again based on mining its extensive airfare and hotel cost data:

  • Frequent flyer awards: The new standards

    November 26, 2013

    Delta and United have recently devalued their frequent flyer programs for travel starting next spring. United's changes are effective February. Delta, for some reason, decided to make two changes, one effective February 1 and another effective June 1. Cutting off the puppy dog's tail an inch at a time rather than all at once? American and US Airways, presumably preoccupied with the merger, haven't responded yet, but you can almost certainly expect some changes.

  • The big merger: Business wins; consumers lose

    November 19, 2013

    Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice essentially caved on its attempt to block the merger between American Airlines and US Airways. It extracted a few face-saving concessions, declared victory and then folded its tent. The merger will now almost certainly proceed. Corporate arrangements will be complete by the end of the year, but real integration into a single airline will take months or even years. Although it's still early, you can pretty well identify the winners and losers.

  • Seniors on the Go: Finding the winter deals

    November 19, 2013

    Whether you're an active skier, snowboarder, or skater, or just enjoy the great mountain sightseeing and ski-lodge atmosphere, many of you will be heading for winter sports centers over the coming months. And several online sources are eager to help you find some of the better deals.

  • Sell or buy a nonrefundable hotel room

    November 12, 2013

    If you're stuck with a nonrefundable hotel reservation you find you can't use, a new startup, Roomer (roomertravel.com), will let you recover at least some of the money. And if you're looking for a good hotel deal, you can buy the seller's reservation at a discount. That's an interesting new business model, now up and running. Here's how it works:

  • Seniors on the Go: What's new in accommodations on the web?

    November 12, 2013

    HomeAway, the world's largest vacation rental marketplace, recently launched a new site, Luxury Rentals from HomeAway (http://luxury.homeaway.com/), featuring "top tier" properties. The inventory is limited to rentals "curated" by Andrew Harper, the pen name for the publisher of Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report, a newsletter focused on luxury hotels and rentals throughout the world. The site lists 343 properties in the United States, 283 in the Caribbean, 191 in Europe, 97 in Mexico and a smattering in other parts of the world.

  • Seniors on the Go: United devalues miles

    November 5, 2013

    "Loyalty, schmoyalty" is the airline view of frequent flyer miles these days. The programs are cash cows, and if the line's bean counters say to squeeze you a little bit more, they squeeze. In case you need any more evidence, United just devalued its program — again. The new award charts, effective February 1, make several important awards more expensive, with no offsetting benefits whatsoever.

  • Where to find those 18-inch-wide seats

    November 5, 2013

    Last week Airbus released a study showing that economy-class seats measuring 18 inches wide are a lot more comfortable than seats measuring 17 inches wide. My first reaction was, "For this they needed a study?" But the purpose of this study isn't to inform consumers, it's to sell Airbus planes. And Airbus planes can accommodate 18-inch-wide seats more efficiently than competitive Boeing planes:

  • Travel insurance: The two big complaints

    October 29, 2013

    When you start to look at the subject of travel insurance, you find a bimodal distribution among both consumers and travel mavens: Some say it's a scam; others say it's indispensible, at least for some trips. Count me in the second group. My overall take for decades is that trip-cancellation insurance is a valuable protection any time you face lots of cancellation penalties and that travel medical insurance is a good idea for many travelers.

  • Seniors on the Go: Avoiding travel parking gouges

    October 29, 2013

    In my earlier story on travel rip-offs, I asked readers for their nominations for worst travel gouges and some responded with "airport parking." Airport parking can certainly be a gouge; at some big hubs, even "economy long-term rates" can go as high as $30 a day. And even independent off-airport lots typically charge just enough less than the airport to generate business. Unless you can leave your car at home and get a taxi, shuttle or lift from your home, you could face a stiff parking bill when you return to your home airport. And if you fly to/from an airport that isn't close, you may not have a convenient alternative to driving and parking.

  • Seniors on the Go: American Airlines balks at use of their logo in travel scams

    October 22, 2013

    Say you get a brochure or postcard from some travel promotion that shows the logos of an industry giant such as American Airlines, Carnival Cruise Lines or Hilton Hotels. You might think that the use of these and similar logos means that the promoter is actually selling the travel services these suppliers provide. If so, you'd be wrong: For years — decades, even — promoters have been displaying respected logos on dubious offerings that have nothing to do with the well-known companies. Genuine logos are easy to steal: Many company PR departments post them online for publications to use in their stories. Most of the time, the logo owners ignore these deceptions, but early this month, one big airline said, "enough, already." American Airlines filed a lawsuit asking a group of vacation club promoters to "cease and desist" from using its logo on their promotional materials.

  • Airline 'bundling': What you need to know

    October 22, 2013

    Industry mavens these days are talking a lot about airlines' "bundling" of fares and fees. So far, there's more talk than action, but you can expect the practice to grow. For now, here's what you need to know.

  • Four-Star hotels less than $100 — Opaque helps; fees hurt

    October 15, 2013

    You can still find four-star hotel accommodations for less than $100 a night in many big U.S. cities. Opaque buying helps cut costs; fees add to costs. That's the overall take-away from a recent report from Hotwire, the big online travel agency (OTA) and Expedia's player in the opaque buying marketplace.

  • Seniors on the Go: Next year's good news: Cheaper overseas phones; easier visa for India

    October 15, 2013

    T-Mobile, the number four wireless carrier in the United States, announced that users of its primary consumer service, the "Simple Choice Plan," will soon be getting global coverage at no extra charge. The base plan, at $50 a month for one line, $80 for two and $100 for four, includes unlimited data coverage, no-cost texting, and voice calls for 20 cents a minute from more than 100 countries around the world, including most countries that you're likely to visit. Within the U.S., the plans provide unlimited calling with no per-call charge, texting and data. As usual with international roaming, you need a phone that uses the GSM system, which many newer phones do. The plan goes on sale sometime this month.

  • Fall rail round-up

    October 8, 2013

    Although Amtrak is relatively quiet, the Canadians and Europeans are offering some good deals on rail travel.

  • Seniors on the Go: Worst ripoffs in travel?

    October 8, 2013

    Last month, the folks at BudgetTravel published their list of the 10 Biggest Travel Ripoffs. While it is with some considerable trepidation that I disagree with anything connected to the redoubtable Frommer clan, or with Terry Trippler, the source of many of the story's entries, I take exception to at least some of the list.

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