Welcome to the November 2008 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
Questions to Ask Before You Book a Cruise
Everything you need to know before you hit the high seas.
1. Are there discounts for groups?
Bottom line: Groups do have purchasing power. The standard
discount is one free cruise fare for every 10 to 15
travelers, but sometimes cruise lines are willing to throw
in perks such as a complimentary cocktail party or onboard
2. Does the ship have traditional cruise
dining, in which the passengers are told when, where, and
with whom they'll be eating?
If so, request your time slot when you book your cruise and
specify that your group must dine together.
3. Are there specialty restaurants?
If you would like to have a nice meal together one night,
make a reservation as early as possible. Alternative
restaurants are growing in popularity and tend to fill up
quickly. Also: Find out in advance if a surcharge will be
applied to the meal.
4. Do we need to worry about a dress code?
Some cruise lines have a relaxed dress code during the day,
some call for "country-club casual" throughout the cruise,
and others have formal nights, when proper attire can range
from fun cocktail dresses to full-length formal gowns.
5. What types of official ID should we bring?
In addition to your passport, some destinations require
visas. Find out what you'll need early, so you have time to
apply for the proper documentation.
6. What organized tours does the cruise line
offer at each port?
Ships give passengers a range of onshore tour options, from
leisurely bus tours to thrilling zip-line excursions. If
your group wants to go on any of these, book early while
there's still space for all of you. You can also book tours
independently or explore on your own. Either of those
options is usually cheaper, but know that getting back to
the ship on time is your responsibility. The captain will
almost always wait if you're on one of the tours the cruise
line has arranged, but not necessarily if you're on your
7. Does the cruise line offer special rates for
pre- and post-cruise hotel stays? Do these deals include
transfers to and from the ship?
Always find out the hotel's rates on your own to make sure
you're actually getting a deal. Also, some hotels will let
you park your car in their lots for the duration of the
cruise, saving you the fees for parking at the port.
8. Can we book transportation to and from the
departure port through the cruise line?
Some cruise lines offer package fares that include airline
tickets. Lines also have air/sea departments that will offer
to book your tickets for you. The service is convenient, but
the price isn't always the best; compare what it would cost
if you bought the tickets on your own.
9. What's the policy on deposits and refunds?
Policies depend on the cruise line and the trip length. A
seven-night cruise usually requires a deposit of about $250;
the full amount is usually due 70 to 90 days before
departure. Refund rules vary, too, but most lines allow you
to cancel with no penalty up to the time when your final
payment is due.
10. What's a fuel surcharge, and
how much will I pay?
In response to the rising cost of fuel, cruise lines now
tack on a fuel surcharge. It's usually per person, up to a
certain number of people per cabin, and per day (with a
maximum amount). You pay it on top of your cruise fare—and
the cruise lines do reserve the right to increase it at any
airline adds $15 first-bag fee
Delta Air Lines Inc., the world's biggest airline,
will impose a $15 fee to check a first bag, becoming the last of the
six legacy airlines to impose such a fee. The airline also said it
is cutting certain other fees as it aligns its policies with those
of Northwest Airlines, which it acquired last week.
Atlanta-based Delta said that effective immediately, for traffic on
or after Dec. 5, customers flying within the U.S. will be charged
$15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second checked bag
when traveling domestically, consistent with Northwest's existing
Customers who purchased Delta tickets on or before Wednesday, and
who are traveling on or after Dec. 5, will be charged $50 for a
second bag, but will be permitted to check their first bag without
charge based on Delta's previous policy. Customers flying in first
or business class, including SkyMiles Medallion members and
WorldPerks Elite members, will be able to check up to three bags, up
to 70 pounds each, for free.
Delta also said it is eliminating SkyMiles and WorldPerks award
ticket surcharges, reducing reservation sales direct ticketing
charges and eliminating curbside check-in administrative fees.
Effective immediately, Delta will eliminate the $25 to $100 fuel
surcharges assessed for SkyMiles and WorldPerks award ticket travel
originating from the U.S. and Canada.
The surcharges were instituted earlier this year by
both airlines due to high fuel prices, which have declined
significantly since their record level in July.
As of Thursday, Delta will reduce the fee assessed for tickets
purchased over the phone from a reservations sales representative
from $25 to $20, consistent with Northwest's policy. Delta will also
reduce the fee collected when customers redeem either SkyMiles or
WorldPerks award travel over the phone with a reservations sales
representative from $25 to $20. There is no charge for customers who
book tickets and redeem award travel online at Delta's Web site or
Northwest's Web site.
As for curbside check-in, Delta said that, effective Dec. 5, it will
drop the $3 fee it has been charging.
Phones Replacing Boarding Passes
A stress-free airport experience is becoming less of a wishful
fantasy and more of a reality thanks to paperless check-in with many
smart-phones and PDAs.
It started first with Continental Airlines. But now, others like
British Airways, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, Alaska Airlines, and
Air Canada are slowly rolling out a way for customers to check-in
for a flight, via Web-enabled devices like iPhones and Blackberries.
How to do it is all relatively similar between airlines, but not
uniform. Delta allows the boarding pass to be scanned directly from
your mobile device. Register your cell phone number to receive a
text message with a boarding pass bar code. Then hold up the screen
of your cell phone under the airport security scanner, rather than
show a paper boarding pass. (As always, you have to present a
government-issued photo I.D. too.) Delta is testing the service at
Similarly, passengers on American airlines on nonstop domestic
flights from Chicago O'Hare, LAX, and Orange County John Wayne
Airport can now check-in at AA.com and choose to receive an
electronic boarding pass via e-mail, in the form of a
two-dimensional bar code. (For details and photos, visit aa.com/mobileboarding.)
In contrast, British Airways offers to fax the boarding pass, send
it directly to an airport kiosk or check-in desk, or send it in an
e-mail to be printed later.
How to Deal with Getting Bumped
It's not unusual for flights to be overbooked. We
offers the following advice to help you avoid being involuntarily
bumped from a full flight:
Get a seat assignment when you book the flight. Arrive
early and confirm your seat.
Get priority treatment by joining the airline's elite
member club or frequent flyer program.
Avoid the last flight of the day, when fewer people
will volunteer to get bumped. Also, the earlier you fly in the day,
the more options you'll have for completing your trip if you do get
If you are being involuntarily bumped, make sure the
airline has first asked for volunteers who might be happy to skip
the flight in exchange for compensation.
Those who volunteer to be bumped are typically compensated
with a free flight or travel voucher in addition to being rebooked.
For travelers with flexible schedules, this may be a good deal. If
you want to volunteer, call the airline the evening before to ask if
the flight is overbooked. If it is, arrive 75 minutes before
departure and volunteer to be bumped. But ask questions before you
accept any deals.
If your rebooked flight for the original route is hours away or the
next day, will the airline pay for your meals while you wait or a
hotel? If you've already checked your luggage, what will happen to
it? As for your compensation, are you getting a free ticket or a
money-off voucher? Does the ticket or voucher expire? Does it have
Involuntarily bumped passengers are not entitled to compensation if
the airline can arrange alternative transportation that is scheduled
to get them to their destination within an hour of the original
arrival time. And if your flight was canceled due to weather or
mechanical difficulties, or because the airline had to use a smaller
plane than originally planned, the airline is not required to
But you are entitled to compensation under certain circumstances if
you're involuntarily bumped due to overbooking.
If your substitute transportation gets to your destination between
one and two hours after the original arrival time (or between one
and four hours on international flights), the airline is required to
pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare, up to $200. If the
substitute flight gets you there two hours after your original
arrival time (four hours international), compensation is equal to
twice your paid fare, up to $400.
These rules only apply to flights departing from U.S. airports for
either domestic or international destinations. They do not cover
inbound international flights to the U.S. or other international
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