Welcome to the April 2010 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
Stay safe while traveling in Mexico
Most people who travel to Mexico have a wonderful time and don't
encounter any problems. However, as in other tourist destinations
throughout the world, crime is a fact of life, and as a tourist you
may be targeted for theft. In order to increase your chances of
having a safe and pleasant vacation, follow these tips for Mexico
Before you leave:
•Research your destination. The US State Department's Web site has
information about Mexico as well as current warnings and public
announcements regarding safety issues for travelers. World Travel
Watch also offers frequently updated reports.
•As you're packing, think twice about taking valuables with you. If
they're not essential, they're probably better off left at home.
This will also make for lighter bags, allowing you greater ease of
movement which can deter potential thieves.
•Scan your passport and travel documents and e-mail them to
yourself. That way, if your documents are lost or stolen you can
easily access copies from your e-mail.
•Take your bank or credit card's international telephone number with
you (the 1-800 numbers used in the United States don't work in
•Leave a copy of your itinerary with someone at home, but don't
share details of your travel plans with others you meet while
•Buy a money belt (not a fanny pack) to carry your money and
passport underneath your clothing.
•Credit or debit cards are the most convenient way to access your
money while traveling, but losing your card (or having it swallowed
by a cash machine) can be a great inconvenience, so have a back-up
plan. Take some travelers cheques (or a small amount of cash) just
While you're there:
•Blend in as much as possible. Walking around with a camera around
your neck and a guidebook in your hand advertises your tourist
status and may make you a mark for thieves. Try to be discreet.
•Choose ATMs in malls or stores if possible. Avoid using ATMs at
night or in deserted places. When you withdraw money from an ATM put
it away immediately.
•Carry only the cash you need for the moment in your pocket or
purse. Carry your passport, credit card and extra money inside your
clothes in a money-belt, or leave them in your hotel's safe. When
you need to get something out of your money belt do it in a private
•Exercise particular caution when in crowds, markets or on public
transportation. Pickpockets can be very crafty and sometimes work in
pairs - one person will distract you while another takes your
•Ask your hotel manager or another knowledgeable person if there are
some areas of the city you should avoid.
In Mexico City you should avoid hailing cabs in the street. Ask your
hotel to call a cab for you. They will take note of the number of
the taxi and the driver's name. At the airport and bus stations in
Mexico City and other major cities there are official taxis (Taxis
Autorizados) that you should take.
New Rule May Add More
Misery to Air Travel
The upside is that new government rules may make it less likely
you’ll be stranded for hours inside an airplane this summer. The
down side is that you might be grounded for days.
The new rule that goes into effect next week says passengers will
have the right to get off a plane if its stuck on a tarmac for three
hours (unless de-planning would be a safety hazard).
“Two airlines — Continental and US Airways — are already telling
pilots to return planes to the gate in time to beat the deadline,”
reports the AP.
Airline officials say hundreds of flights are likely to be canceled
at the hint of bad weather as carriers try to avoid potential fines
in the millions of dollars for violating the three-hour rule. If
planes are full this summer, as expected, bumped travelers may have
trouble finding empty seats on later flights.
The nation's airlines, which adamantly oppose the rule, say it is
going to cause passengers more hardship because it will lead to even
more flights being canceled. That isn't a threat, says David
Castelveter, vice president of the Air Transport Association of
America, "but rather reality."
"Some will err on the side of caution and pre-emptively cancel
flights, stranding passengers,” predicts Castelveter.
Airlines are particularly concerned about airports in New York and
Philadelphia, where delays from construction projects and ongoing
air-traffic congestion are expected to back up flights.
Delays longer than three hours are generally rare. In 2009, the
government counted 903 out of more than 6.4 million flights — one
for every 7,143, leading some experts to say the new law is not
"The misery index for airline passengers is definitely going to go
up," said David Stempler, an aviation lawyer and president of the
Air Travelers Association.
There are also two sides predicting the summer outcome. Some experts
-- including the airlines -- predict days-long delays may not be
unusual. But others say cancellations aren't likely because
financially strapped carriers won't risk losing revenue and
passenger loyalty at a time they desperately need both.
The new rules mean airlines now have a powerful financial incentive
to cancel flights early. The maximum penalty for violating the new
rules is $27,500 per passenger per day. For a fully loaded
medium-sized jetliner such as a Boeing 737, that adds up to more
than $3.5 million. However, government officials say they rarely
impose the maximum penalties.
Who’s right? More lengthy and possibly costly delays or not?
Travelers won't know until the first big summer thunderstorm
paralyzes a major hub. Weather is recognized as the biggest cause of
long tarmac delays.
Rental Car Fees Loom
While U.S. corporate car rental rates remain fairly stable, buyers
are facing a tougher negotiating environment than they've seen in
several years and soon may have to examine policies to brace for a
new type of cost: the no-show fee.
Car rental companies—outside of Europe, at least—are among the few
travel suppliers that do not charge a penalty for canceling bookings
within a certain timeframe. However, at least one major supplier,
Avis Budget Group, already has begun testing such fees on a small
scale.It's been standard across the rest of the industry, with
hotels and airlines with nonrefundable tickets, so it's just a
matter of time.
Avis Budget Group last year reported that it had begun working with
global distribution systems to allow them to procure credit card
information upon booking. Senior vice president of commercial sales
Bob Lambert said the company already is testing the fees, labeled as
non-cancellation fees, in "small city markets for Web-only,
Further expansion would be done slowly, You won't see them just flip
a switch and say, Here's the non-cancellation fee, The soonest you
would see them in that situation would be the fourth quarter of
So far, no other major car rental company has publicly made motions
toward such fees. "We still don't intend to introduce anything like
that in the foreseeable future," said Brad Carr, vice president of
business rental development for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which also
owns the National and Alamo brands.
Other companies either will see the fees as a positive source of
revenue and follow suit, or they will determine a benefit from being
an outlier in not charging the fees, as Southwest Airlines has done
with checked-bag fees.
Avis Budget's gradual rollout is a good strategy to gauge a
competitive response. The question is, if they get some pushback or
resistance, will they hold their resolve?
Though a potential budget headache for corporate travel programs,
car rental no-show fees are not without merit. Car rental suppliers
incur a GDS fee for a booking even if the traveler never shows up.
Those can add up to a significant cost, he said. As the fees become
more common, companies should be able to avoid incurring them with
The fees are the latest sign that the car rental industry is
becoming increasingly focused on cost controls and yield management
strategies. Companies have significantly trimmed fleets and cut
costs, making the industry stronger than it's been in years.
Bumped From Your
Flight? You've Got Rights
Overbooking is a common practice by the airlines. If you are bumped
or asked to take a later flight, it pays to know your rights and the
airline's responsibilities. airlines are operating fewer flights
this summer, meaning that planes are packed even with the slump in
Often the airlines sell more tickets than there are seats on the
plane. Last year, more than 63,000 passengers were bumped, according
to government figures, and this year is shaping up as more of the
same. So what should you do if you get bumped? What if your flight
is delayed so long that you miss your niece's wedding?
Before bargaining with the gate agent over travel vouchers and
upgrades, it pays to know your rights and the airline's
The federal government sets rules on bumping and occasionally fines
airlines for breaking them. This month, the Transportation
Department fined Delta Air Lines $375,000, although it may waive
about half if Delta improves its procedures for handling oversold
Airlines must ask for volunteers first, and pay passengers who are
bumped against their will.
If you are bumped from a domestic flight, the airline must pay you
the price of a one-way ticket up to $400 cash if you are rescheduled
to reach your destination between one and two hours of the original
arrival time. The maximum doubles to $800 if it takes longer. Some
passengers with time to kill don't mind getting bumped. They hope to
get cash, travel vouchers or an upgrade to first-class in exchange
for taking a slightly later flight.
The best flights to haggle over are late-afternoon or evening ones
popular with business travelers who can't afford to be stranded
overnight. Airlines are likely to offer more for passengers who give
up a seat on a New York-Chicago run than on a flight full of
vacationers from Atlanta to Orlando.
Gate agents may put out a sign or simply tell passengers that
they're looking for volunteers to skip the flight. It's often best
to ignore their first offer and wait until departure time nears, and
the bidding gets stronger, That's when it goes from $100 off your
next flight to maybe $300 and a business-class seat on the next
Be careful about accepting travel vouchers. They might be hard to
redeem, especially at peak travel periods. Make sure you understand
Travelers are often baffled why airlines can sell more tickets than
they have seats. Airlines oversell flights because some passengers
buy costly fully refundable tickets on more than one flight and then
only use one. Other flights are overbooked because the airline had
to substitute a smaller plane with fewer seats.
While there are federal rules on bumping, there is no sweeping
requirement for airlines to provide hotel rooms and meals for
passengers who are stranded overnight, even if it's the carrier's
fault, according to the Transportation Department. But you can
It's up to the discretion of the carrier and the (gate) agent. Some
airlines will do their best if you ask nicely and you ask privately
you'll do better than if you make a scene. When a long delay appears
obvious, you should ask to be rebooked on another airline.
Veteran travelers say if a long delay will cause you to miss the
reason for your trip a wedding or business meeting, for example ask
for a refund. However, there is no law requiring the airline to give
you a refund.
Since airline travel is often stressful, and summer always brings
many delays, have a Plan B. Know what flights are available if yours
is canceled. If your flight is pushed back or scrubbed, hop on your
laptop or phone to see if you can rebook.
Remember: Without a travel agent you're on
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