The Travel Adviser: 5 easy rules for hassle-free travel

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May 30, 2010 05:34

When it comes to navigating your travel plans, five easy rules can easily avoid “being taken for a ride.”

4 minute read.



The Travel Adviser: 5 easy rules for hassle-free travel

airplane 248.88. (photo credit: AP )

‘There ’s a sucker born every minute ” is a phrase most often attributed to P.T. Barnum, the consummate American showman. When it comes to navigating your travel plans, five easy rules can easily avoid “being taken for a ride.”

With advertisements touting a myriad of deals, the most common enquiry we receive is whether to take advantage of these early bird specials.

1. To buy or not to buy, that is the question

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When it comes to making your travel plans, the issue at hand is whether you can purchase and make a commitment. In the cases of high season, be it peak summer travel, holidays or sporting events, the answer is most likely no. It’s simply a question of supply and demand. The higher the demand, the earlier you purchase the better. However for off season travel, for example flights to North America from mid-January to mid-March, the answer is no. For weekend getaways, closing your plans way in advance may cost you a pretty penny. It does require you to invest some time and research potential fares. After a short while, you’ll get an approximate sense of what your trip will cost and once you see a fare that you like, feel free to lock in the purchase.

2. Last minute deals

Over the years, the deciding factor is the level of flexibility you have. For those with little commitments, waiting until a week before you wish to depart can result in huge savings. The key though is being able to stay at home if the fare to your desired destination is simply absurdly high. Airlines and hotels strive to prevent low occupancy. Airlines especially realize once a flight has taken off with empty seats, that revenue is lost forever.

Computer generated software is designed to open up empty seats and hotel rooms at the last minute and, in addition, knowing when the low season is can result in huge savings. Conversely though trying to make your upcoming summer plans in this way is a fool’s paradise. You will end up paying a premium to simply find a decent price and most likely be forced to take a far less desirable option.

Keep in mind that airlines have dramatically cut capacity, leading to an overall shortage of available seats.

Flying to London this spring is a glaring example. Only one charter airline, Easy Jet, flies between London and Tel Aviv. Only two other airlines, El Al and British Airways, fly the route nonstop. But with the constant threat of strike action at British Airways, El Al has seen fit to expunge the cheap fares from most booking systems, resulting in air fares far beyond their normal range for this time of year. Those fortunate passengers who booked well in advance on Easy Jet or El Al can be spotted at the airports with wide grins on their faces. BA customers, on the other hand, are experiencing deep pangs waiting to see if their scheduled flights will actually operate.

3. Compare and contrast

This may be one of the most important rules when booking your trip.

Always get your travel consultant to offer more than one option. He or she still has access to the largest global distribution system.

Being married to an airline’s frequent flier program may leave you with a warm feeling in your tummy, but not checking out the competition may not be financially sound. This is one of the reasons why checking only the Internet site of an airline is not the best course.

A simple enquiry, for example, on Air Canada’s site for an air fare to Vancouver will never offer flights on KLM, nor even its partner in its airline alliance, Continental. Far wiser to check out more neutral sites like www.travelocity.com or www.kayak.com.

4. Understand the difference between direct and nonstop

Airlines are loathe to explain in great detail that while they may list their flight as direct, the fact that it may entail a switch of planes does not disguise the reality that it is not a nonstop flight. El Al, for example, gave up flying nonstop to Miami several years ago but a cursory check of its site gives the appearance it is one flight all the way to Florida.

Only a far more in-depth reading shows not only does El Al not fly to Miami, the innocent passenger must clear US customs upon arrival in New York, and transfer to another airline on the flight down to Miami. In principle a nonstop flight between any two cities will be faster and more efficient.

The main advantage of not flying nonstop is price. Staying with El Al, the only airline presently flying nonstop to Los Angeles, the fare reflects this benefit. Opting to stop along the way in Europe or another North American city can result in savings of hundreds of dollars.

5. Read the fine print

It is incumbent upon the consumer not just to read the fine print but to understand it. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your travel consultant what a non-refundable ticket means. Can it be exchanged with a penalty? Can it be transferred to another family member? What are the fees for checking bags? Are meals included on your flights? Is the use of the rest rooms on the plane still free? When a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is.

Follow these five rules and you can feel confident that while there is always someone who will smugly inform you he got a better deal than you, you did just fine.

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
For questions and comments, e-mail him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il.


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