Welcome to the December 2007 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
Ways To Survive A Holiday Flight
'Tis the season ... for long
lines and frayed nerves. Santa may not have to fly
commercial, but you do. Here's how to cope.
The days on either side of Christmas are like
something out of Halloween, consider flying home
on December 25. Airports and planes are much less
It's worth paying more to fly nonstop. The
combination of crowds and bad weather is a
tinderbox: One big storm and the system explodes.
the in crowd
Join all loyalty clubs, even if you don't care
about the points/miles. You'll get treated better,
particularly if the hotel or car rental agency is
A spot of
Airport parking lots are more likely to be
full around Christmas and New Year's. Look into
private parking lots located off airport premises
They'll often guarantee a spot, they have free
shuttles to and from the terminal, and they're
This is when airports get more people than
they were built to handle. You can -- and should
-- check in online up to 24 hours in advance. Just
go to the carrier's Web site; you'll be walked
through checking in and printing your boarding
pass. If you're not checking bags, you'll be able
to go straight to the gate. But it's a good idea
even if you are checking bags, because many
airlines have bag drops where, if you've checked
in, you can hand over bags without waiting in the
Ship gifts ahead so that you don't have to check
bags. Airlines and airports aren't handling bags
as quickly or as reliably as they used to.
Go to the airport earlier than normal. Airport
security is a nightmare around the holidays
because of the sheer number of people and the fact
that many of them are infrequent, inexperienced
Wrap any gifts after you arrive. The TSA reserves
the right to open anything.
of the TSA ...
The rules for carrying on liquids and gels are
confusing and not uniformly enforced. You can
bring as many containers as you want, provided
they all hold three ounces or less and fit in a
single one-quart Ziploc bag. Containers do not
need to have the manufacturer's label.
If you want to bring water or other drinks,
buy them once you've passed through airport
I wish we lived in a world where you were
guaranteed overhead space near your seat. Until we
do, I refuse to store my bag behind me, because
I'll never get off the plane. Look ahead while you
board: If the space above your seat is full, put
your stuff as close to it as possible, and don't
be afraid to take someone else's space. After all,
someone took yours.
The days of circling the arrivals area are
thankfully coming to an end. More and more
airports have "cell phone lots" where drivers can
park for free and then wait for arriving
passengers to call. Use them!
Bill Would Delay Canada Passport Rule
be necessary for Americans and Canadians entering the United
States by land until mid-2009 — a year later than planned — if a
budget bill passed Thursday by Congress gets the approval of
A provision of
a budget bill passed Thursday pushes back by a year the plan by
the Department of Homeland Security to require passports from
border crossers from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean as a way
of strengthening national security.
Hemisphere Travel Iniative, as the plan is known, is designed to
close a major security vulnerability on the nation's borders,
said Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa."We've always been
committed to moving forward deliberately to implement the land
and sea portion of WHTI just as we did with the air portion,"
said Kudwa. "We anticipate a final rule in the coming weeks and
phasing in elements of the plan in the summer of '08."
She said full
implementation would follow "as soon as possible consistent with
Even though the
passport requirement is likely to be postponed, You will still
need birth certificates or similar identification to enter the
United States by land beginning Jan. 31.The passport requirement
is part of efforts by Homeland Security to tighten security at
the nation's borders.
ABC’s Of ATM’s Abroad
It used to be automatic. Along with passports and airline tickets,
travelers would not leave home without their travelers' checks.
These days, with fewer merchants accepting traveler's checks and the
relatively high fees for buying and cashing them, many travelers
have moved to credit, debit, and ATM cards as their source of funds
while on the road. Here are some tips for international
Exchange rates and commission fees can be very expensive when
converting foreign currency back to US funds, so try to limit your
cash withdrawals to just what you need. Use your remaining currency
for a last lunch or souvenir, or tuck it away for your next trip.
Mastercard charge a one percent fee for foreign transactions, and
most banks tack on an additional two percent to convert the
transactions to US dollars. Check with your credit, debit and ATM
card providers to determine which of your cards are most
travel-friendly, or sign up for a new card with a provider that
waives or reduces the fees (for example, Capital One adds no fee,
and absorbs the one percent Visa and Mastercard charge, and
Wachovia charges just the one percent.)
Make sure you have
ample available credit and/or funds deposited, and check
expiration dates on the cards you have chosen. Remember, many
foreign ATM's accept four-digit PINs only, and typically don't
display letters on the keyboards. If you use a word to remember
your PIN, memorize the numeric equivalent before leaving home.
transactions may be flagged as fraudulent, so let your credit,
debit and ATM card providers know of your travel plans to avoid a
freeze on your account. Take more than one card with you to ensure
that you have an alternative should your account be frozen.
Make a list of
convenient ATM locations in your destination cities before you go.
Mastercard have on-line worldwide ATM locators covering more
than 210 countries. Make sure that your ATM card displays a Visa,
Mastercard, Cirrus or Plus logo for worldwide acceptance.
cards are a safe, albeit more expensive, alternative to a
traditional debit or ATM card. You simply purchase the value
needed ahead of time and use in ATM machines while traveling.
Since the card is not connected to your checking account, there is
no danger of being wiped out should it be stolen or lost, but
there are usually extra fees involved.
Make all of your
purchases in local currency, and beware of merchants offering to
convert your purchases into US dollars. These merchants typically
inflate the exchange rates by as much as five percent.
machines are common, especially in Europe. They look like ATM's -
the difference being that you feed in currency rather than a card.
While they seem very convenient, they are best avoided as they
charge inflated exchange rates. The same is true for the currency
exchange booths at many international airports.
Three Destination Travel Scams
Travel Scams --
Here, There and Everywhere
What do you think
of when you hear the words "travel scam"? Maybe you think of the
faxes advertising amazingly low fares for a vacation that expires
that evening. (If you call, you'd find out that your travel is
free but your hotel stay is charged at an incredibly high rate.)
Or maybe you think about the mail that comes in express
mail-looking envelopes announcing you won a fabulous free cruise
in a lottery you don't remember entering. (If you call, you'd find
out that in order to collect your prize, you'd have to attend
seminars at your expense, or make purchases for things at highly
But what about travel scams that happen once you arrive at your
Thieves and tricksters are forever coming up with new ways to scam
travelers, so it's important to find out about these scams before
We'll discuss three of the most common -- and sneaky -- travel
scams today; these scams can absolutely ruin an otherwise
delightful travel experience.
1. Front Desk Credit Card Confusion Scam
Anyone who has tried to see a city in a day and a half or cram 2
days of work into a 12-hour business trip knows what that kind of
marathon activity can entail.
Imagine that it's the end of your long day of frenzy, and you're
settling in for the evening in your hotel room. You're drifting
off to sleep when the phone rings. It's the front desk clerk
asking for your help in verifying some information.
The "front desk clerk" (aka scammer) apologizes for the late hour,
but explains that at shift change some forms were left unfinished.
She needs to confirm that the form she has is yours, and that the
information is correct.
She asks if the last four digits of your credit card are 5678. You
groggily reach for your wallet and pull out the card. No, you say,
those aren't the last four digits.
Hmmm, she responds, seeming perplexed. She then asks if you could
just read the card number to her. You're sleepy so you don't pause
before responding when she asks for the expiration date as well.
With a joyous Aha, she tells you that she has found your form. She
thanks you profusely, apologizes again and assures you that all
the information is now straightened out.
You hang up and drift back to sleep, not realizing that you have
just been scammed by a con artist.
It might only be when your credit card is declined the next time
you use it that you realize you've been scammed.
Action: Never give your card number out over the phone at a hotel.
Ask for the name of someone to speak to and tell the caller that
you'll come down in the morning to straighten it out. Don't offer
to call the desk from your room and then feel safe giving the card
number. For all you know, the thief is calling from a temporarily
abandoned front-desk station.
2. Taxi Cabs or Scam Mobiles?
Once when leaving the main train station in Rome, Italy, a
traveler was heading for the Taxi Stand when she looked up to see an
incredible line. She estimated that it would be at least a
30-minute wait. Our friend probably sighed, visibly. She was
immediately approached by a nicely dressed man who offered her a
ride and a bypass of the line by saying, "taxi?"
She could have taken the offer. But fortunately, she had heard
about this scam beforehand.
Never take a taxi ride from someone who is not in an official,
metered taxi cab. Doing so risks not just your wallet -- but your
Scam artists have been known to pose as taxi drivers and take off
with your luggage. They have also taken unsuspecting tourists to a
deserted area and then robbed and/or assaulted them.
At the very least, even if you're lucky and avoid violence or
theft, you'll still be charged at least 4 or 5 times what the rate
should be for the taxi ride.
Any taxi cab should have the car number and company marked on the
outside, a registration and driver information card displayed on
or near the dashboard, and should either have on display or offer
on request a list of charges.
Make yourself familiar with the rate list when you first get into
the cab. If possible, make your examination of the rate list
obvious. Both these actions will help prevent the driver from
getting any "bright" ideas.
If you're not sure about where to catch a taxi or whether or not
you were properly charged, ask at your hotel. If you think you
were scammed, try to record identifying information about the
driver and/or the vehicle so you can report it to the police.
Action: Never accept rides from individuals who don't have
licensed, metered taxis.
3. Hotel "Representatives"
This scam is similar to the Taxi scam.
The voices will start as soon as you disembark from the plane,
train, boat or bus: "Hotel?" or "Room? You need a room?" will
begin floating towards you any time you arrive in a major tourist
destination transportation hub.
Much like the taxi cab scam above, be wary of those who approach
you offering hotel rooms. These scammers may wear a laminated
badge, carry a notebook or even have brochures about their hotels.
(Very likely, they made these on their home computer.)
They'll offer you a great rate, showing you the colorful pictures
in the brochures, and then offer to take you to the hotel.
Once again, you're in danger of losing your luggage or your
wallet, and violence can occur with this scam as well.
Alternatively, once you arrive at the hotel (tired and ready to go
to sleep), the hotel clerk will apologetically inform you that the
rate promised is magically all filled for the evening -- but they
have rooms ready for you at twice the promised rate.
Once you wearily agree and head to the room, your "representative"
will be handed a hefty tip by the clerk.
You're best off making your own reservations by phone and
confirming rates with a credit card. Make sure you get a
confirmation number that you can show upon checking in.
Action: If you arrive in a city without a reservation, avoid these
lone representatives. Look for the nearest tourist information
office or hit the nearest phone booth with your travel guidebook
Now that you know about them, you can avoid these three
destination travel scams. Have a great -- and safe -- Christmas
and a happy New Year.
Remember: Without a travel agent you're on
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