Welcome to the August 2007 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
Passports in Paradise
need a passport to fly nearly anywhere outside the U.S., but even if
you haven't gotten around to getting one, there are still ways to
escape to a tropical paradise.
are ways to enjoy a winter escape to a sunny tropical retreat—no
passport required. You just have to be a little selective.Royal
Caribbean Cruise Lines Goes Smokeless
What's the trick? Visit the
State Department website and look for "Traveling to the
Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico or Canada." Yes, it says that as
of Jan. 23 you need a passport to go to those places. But if you
look down the page you'll find that the requirement does not apply
to U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands,
Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Marianas.
Tropical enough for you? And, they all take U.S. dollars.
The intro to the Virgin Islands tourism agency—http://www.usvitourism.vi/
—welcomes you with the sound of gentle surf and a "Multimedia
Gallery" full of photos, videos and panoramas. The three islands
offer a little bit of everything, from beaches for swimming and
reefs for diving, to music and great food. They're also a duty-free
shoppers paradise. You can get there on a half-dozen airlines or on
cruise ships; click on "Travel & Transportation" for details. And if
you don't want to stay in the usual posh resorts, hotels, inns or
guest houses, you can even go camping on St. John; look for
information on Cinnamon Bay—http://www.cinnamonbay.com/.
The USVI Hotel & Tourism Association—http://www.virgin-islands-hotels.com/—offers
more details on places to stay, plus guides to scuba diving,
nightlife and spas. And click on "Shopping" for more information on
places to spend your money without paying duty.
Puerto Rico—is less than a 3-hour flight from Miami, or less than
five hours from Chicago. Explore historic Old San Juan and the
city's huge Fort San Felipe del Morro, or take in the lush tropical
greenery of El Yunque Rainforest. Look under "Attractions" for
details on these and other unique places, and for directions for
your own walking tour of Old San Juan. Next, go to "Beaches &
Activities" for descriptions of sunny shoreline spots including
Luquillo on the eastern end of the island, or Flamenco on the nearby
island of Culebra.
You might not have thought about the Northern Marianas—http://www.mymarianas.com/—but
the diving is spectacular, with everything from coral reefs to World
War II wrecks to explore. And you don't dive, there are acres of
sandy beach to relax on and golf courses. Consult "Trip Essentials"
for airlines to the islands, plus other essentials like the type of
food available (more than 200 restaurants on the islands).
At the southern end of the Marianas chain, Guam—http://visitguam.org/—also
has a wide variety of diving spots, including coral reefs and
shipwrecks from both world wars. Click on "Activities" for guides to
local attractions, tours, water sports and "Boonie Stomps" or hikes.
The American Samoa visitors' Web site—http://www.amsamoa.com/—is
up one day and "down for reconstruction" the next, but give it a
a look at what you're missing. And see what there is to see and do
at National Park of American Samoa—http://www.nps.gov/archive/npsa/visiting.htm—including
tropical jungles and coral reefs. The Park Service also has more
Wait. Don't forget Hawaii—a whole state full of islands where
you can do everything from watching whales and surfers to exploring
volcanoes, lush jungles and fabulous beaches.
And if you want to stay a little closer to home, remember that the
Florida Keys are islands, too, with their own selection of diving,
fishing, sailing and generally taking it easy. And unlike these
other islands, you can drive to the Keys.
SMOKING WILL BE PROHIBITED in all cabins and one lounge on each
ship in the Royal Caribbean International fleet beginning in
January. The new smoking policy will go into effect on 18 of the
line's 21 ships initially, and then be added to the Legend of the
Seas, the Rhapsody of the Seas and the Splendour of the Seas in
summer 2008. Smoking will still be permitted on cabin balconies. The
company said that the changes reflect a more contemporary approach
to healthier lifestyles
in Europe? Checked Bags May Not Make It
the summer of lost luggage for anyone traveling in Europe.
So serious is the problem
that travelers have been advised by the Association of European
Airlines, which includes the major national carriers, to avoid
checking bags altogether if possible and to take carry-on luggage
The association released
figures showing that an average of 10 passengers per flight lost
bags between April and June. British Airways was cited as the worst
among Europe's major airlines, and is on track to lose a record 1.3
million bags this year.
Compounding the problem
is a shortage of baggage handlers at London's Heathrow, the world's
third-busiest airport, where dozens of workers are being taken off
duty each day to be trained on a new baggage system that will be
used at a terminal scheduled to open next year.
Italian travelers faced
similar luggage horrors this month at Rome's main Fiumicino Airport.
And in the United States, reports of lost luggage soared by about 26
percent in June compared with a year earlier.
Several factors are contributing to the
baggage breakdown. A spike in delayed
flights means there is less time to correctly transfer baggage to
connecting flights. Increased security screening of baggage and
restrictions on carry-on bags also play a part
the situation is unlikely to improve soon.
The simple fact is that there are more people traveling by air. And the growth of budget airlines, most of which don't
transfer bags between airlines, requires passengers to check and
Absurd Travel Rules That Should Be Jettisoned
From airlines to hotels to car rental companies, no industry is
You don’t have to be a card-carrying frequent flier to know that the
travel business is littered with silly little rules that make no
sense whatsoever. Actually, it helps that you’re not a grizzled
veteran of the skies, because most hard-core business travelers have
come to accept these absurd policies, even though they know how
wrong, wrong, wrong they are.
From time to time, you might even catch one of these old road
warriors in the act of defending the rules when a less experienced
leisure traveler has the impertinence to wonder why things are the
way they are.
“Don’t you know?” they’ll sniff, “You can’t transfer your airline
ticket to a friend.”
Oh, but why not?
Start asking questions like that, and you’re bound to make folks in
the travel industry squirm. That’s because there are no valid
reasons for having these policies. Here, then, are five things the
travel industry won’t let you do — but should:
Change the name on your airline ticket
Let’s say you buy a set of plane tickets to vacation somewhere with
your sweetie. But just before your trip, the relationship turns
sour. Your airline may sympathize, but it won’t let you transfer the
ticket to another friend — even if you paid for it. The reason?
Well, air carriers disingenuously claim that they prohibit name
changes because they’re worried about security and potential fraud.
But what they won’t tell you is they’re also worried about their
earnings. Making airline tickets transferable could cost the
domestic airline industry more than $1 billion in monthly revenues,
according to an estimate by San Diego, Calif.-based Innovation
OK, that may be a tall order, even for an industry that’s currently
wallowing in profits. But perhaps a good start would be to allow
people who have made honest mistakes — like making a reservation
under their nickname or maiden name — to fix their tickets. Those
passengers now pay hefty change fees, and in many cases, have to buy
brand-new tickets. How about giving those passengers a little break?
Carry a bottle of water through a TSA screening area
The Transportation Security Administration’s prohibition of carry-on
liquids and gels should have been stricken from the books months
ago, when the government agency decided to replace its outright ban
on liquids with one that’s difficult to understand — and enforce.
(If you’re still a little confused about what “toiletries of three
ounces or less that fit comfortably in one quart-size, clear
plastic, zip-top bag” are, you’re not alone.)
Now, instead of looking for terrorist hijackers, our federalized
airport screeners are busy confiscating toothpaste, perfume and
bottled water. I haven’t seen any conclusive evidence that the
liquid and gel ban is protecting us from the bad guys. What I have
seen are a lot of needless confrontations between TSA agents and
frustrated air travelers, including the highly publicized sippy-cup
incident that got Monica Emmerson and her toddler in hot water
Maybe the government needs to buy a clue and realize that the
villains have moved on to some other way of blowing up a plane. It’s
time for them to move on, too.
Use any part of an airline ticket you want
Here’s another ill-conceived airline rule: Most carriers require
their passengers to use every segment of their ticket. If you don’t,
they could cancel the remaining portion of your ticket or, in
extreme cases, bill you or your travel agent for the fare
These tariff rules make perfect sense for airlines. They use a
complex and counterintuitive pricing system called “yield
management” that often churns out some truly bizarre fares. A
one-way ticket, for example, can cost more than a round-trip fare. A
cross-country flight is sometimes cheaper than a short commuter
flight. In order to make sure everyone pays these crazy prices,
airlines say you must use every flight segment on your ticket
exactly as you booked it. (One of my favorite examples is Northwest
Airlines — check out Rule 70, part C of its General Rules — which
warns that circumventing its tariff rules could result having your
frequent flier miles confiscated or being denied boarding. Ouch!)
But the rule makes absolutely no sense for passengers. I can think
of no other business that tries to control how its product is used
the way that airlines do. It’s about time to jettison this
Return your rental car early without being charged more
Common sense tells you that if you return a rental car early, you
should get a partial refund on your bill. But common sense doesn’t
necessarily apply to the travel industry. For example, Alamo Rent A
Car, not only charges a $15-per-day early-return fee, but it also
recalculates your rate, charging you the same price that walk-up
customers pay to rent a car without prior reservation. (In one case,
that added $361 to one customer’s bill).
Now, I can understand charging a nominal early-return fee and
likening it to a restocking fee charged by stores. But asking for
more money for less of a product? That’s travel industry logic, but
it doesn’t fly with travelers. Time to junk that rule.
Not pay a hotel’s resort fee
I’ve never met a hotel guest who likes paying a mandatory resort
fee, which is a surcharge that covers little extras like beach
towels, in-room coffeemakers and exercise equipment. The fees can
add anywhere from 10 to 20 percent to the cost of your room. Hotels
are not always up-front about the surcharges. Instead of quoting
them as part of the room rate, they wait until after you’ve asked
for a price, and then say, “Oh, by the way ... there’s a $15 a day
resort fee. Here’s the real room rate.” In some cases, they wait
until you’ve checked in to tell you about it. Not very sporting of
Charging extra for amenities that should be included in the hotel
room is ludicrous. But not nearly as ludicrous as forcing every
guest to pay for these amenities, whether they use them or not. The
most-forward looking hotels have already either scrapped their
resort fees or made them optional. Call me old-fashioned, but I
think resort fees should take a permanent vacation.
Next time you run into a rule that doesn’t make sense, don’t be
afraid to ask “why”? If enough people do, the travel industry might
actually start listening.
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