Monday, August 24, 2009

Travel Guard - Real Life Experience

Trying to decide if purchasing Travel Guard Trip Insurance is a good idea or not? A client brought us the following letter today:

Dear World Travel Center Client:
Are you getting ready to book a cruise or the trip of a lifetime? Last year, we were in your shoes too. Twice in two years we were fortunate to book & take two cruises - one to the Bahamas and then our dream cruise to Alaska, both booked through World Travel Center.

As you get ready to book, and start paying on your trip, can you say you're prepared to pay any up front charges that might be incurred if you or a family member in your party takes sick? If the answer is YES, then stop reading. If the answer is NO, or maybe, then read my story.

In May 2009, we were sailing the quiet waters of the Inside Passage on the second night of our cruise aboard the Star Princess cruise ship. We had two cabins, my husband & son in an inside cabin while my daughter & I were in the balcony cabin across the hall. Around 2:00 am, my phone rang & it was my husband telling me he was in the ship's medical center & had been there for over an hour. He was having chest pains! I immediately got dress, moved my daughter over to the inside cabin with our son & went to check on him. The doctor & nurse said all of his heart readings were fine, but he was in significant pain. They thought he might have an ulcer or some other undiagnosed condition. They would have to disembark us at our first port-of-call in Ketchikan & take him to the hospital. I had to break this terrible news to our children & pack up the cabins. We were terrified!

At the hospital, my husband was feeling much better. The doctor there ran a couple more tests & diagnosed him with a Gastro Esophageal Reflux attack. His esophagus had been in spasms, probably due to the change in eating habits, sleep & so on. We loaded up on Maalox & he was instructed to double up his prescription GERD medication & we returned to the ship to finish an incredible trip.

In the end, I had to pay off the ship of their just over $2,000.00 bill from the medical center & the Ketchikan hospital billed our major medical insurance company. We paid nearly $3,5000.00 out-of-pocket for this "minor" medical emergency. What if he had needed surgery? What if we had needed to fly home from Ketchikan after completely cancelling our trip? Travel Guard would have paid for all of this. They also paid for the 1/2 day motel bill & trip interruption in Ketchikan.

The bottom line, as you book your trip, think about that couple of hundred dollars you are being asked to pay for travel insurance. Ask yourself if you could afford buying plane tickets to get home, several days motel bills & medical bills raked up in a foreign hospital that your major medical doesn't cover. This is just our story. Think about it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Savvy Traveler Tip

Last Tuesday I returned from escorting a group to New York City. Some of us were shopping in Chinatown on Saturday and then took the subway back to our hotel. While getting ready for dinner, my roommate realized that she didn’t have her billfold. It had either been stolen while we were in Chinatown or on the subway! But, savvy traveler that she is, she knew exactly what to do.

First she called her credit card company and cancelled her card. Then she called a friend of hers who worked at the bank and asked her to close her account on Monday morning (she knew as soon as she got home she’d have to contact those companies who were authorized to make automatic withdrawals from her account; i.e. water department, etc. and give them new account information). Next she reached one of the following 3 credit report bureaus (you only need to reach one and it will relay the information to the other two) and reported her wallet stolen:

1) Equifax: 800-525-6285

2) Experian (formerly TRW): 888-397-3742

3) Trans Union: 800-680-7289

Then she contacted the Social Security Administration (fraud line): 800-269-0271 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

For more information on identify theft, go to

http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/
and http://www.equifax.com/cs/Satellite/EFX_Content_C1/1159835156870/5-1/5-1_Layout.htm?packedargs=Locale%3Den_US

The reason my roommate was so quick to react and knew what to do is because someone had sent her an email with this information and she had printed it off and keeps it in each suitcase, so the information it at her fingertips! Feel free to make a copy of this information and carry it in your suitcase when you travel.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Top five bargain destinations for summer 2009

By Christine Sarkis, SmarterTravel.com

Recession, the swine flu, and airline capacity cuts: On the one hand, it seems like the odds are stacked against travelers. On the other, there are a lot of great travel deals and a whole world out there. So if you're looking for bargain travel this summer, you're in luck. In fact, I found so many good deals that, in addition to the top five, I added a roundup of more destinations that should be on the radar of anyone looking for an affordable vacation.
I've monitored trends, industry news, and sale patterns to point you in the direction of places that offer the best bargain value for the coming season. Below you'll find examples of deals presently available for summer trips. Like all deals, these are sure to expire; however, a little research on your part can yield similar results when you're ready to book.

Los Angeles

The winning combination of new air service, solid deals, and fewer visitors make the greater Los Angeles area a bargain hotspot this summer. L.A. airports have seen a drop in passenger traffic this year, but airlines are still adding new service, which means more choice and less competition for travelers. Need more convincing? The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) just named Los Angeles a top budget-friendly destination. And, Disneyland is offering free admission to visitors on their birthday.

So about those new routes. Virgin America just started service between San Francisco and John Wayne Airport in Orange County. Meanwhile, Delta has expanded service between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. There are so many sales on domestic air travel this summer, it's hard to keep track of them all. AirTran (book by May 12), Alaska (book by May 14), Delta (book by May 18), Southwest (book by May 14), United (book by May 14), and Virgin America all have flights on sale to Los Angeles airports. No matter when you book, you can always check the latest domestic airfare deals for your dates.

On the ground, there are more ways to save. Santa Monica has a Sun, Sea, Save promotion that offers travelers a third night free and a variety of free attraction passes when booking at participating Santa Monica hotels. The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau lists current L.A. discounts on restaurants, tours, and more. And, Disneyland deals are available directly through the park or via providers such as Expedia and JetBlue.

Dominican Republic

With this many deals and discounts, the Dominican Republic could convincingly rename itself the Deals Republic this summer. But deals aren't the only reason to consider the DR: Two low-cost airlines are starting new service to the island, and industry publication Travel Weekly named the Dominican Republic the number one Caribbean destination late last year, a testament to its broad travel appeal. However, bear in mind that summer is hurricane season, so if you do plan a Caribbean vacation, be sure to get trip insurance and consider traveling outside of the late August and early September peak storm season.

New service from low-cost carriers puts the Dominican Republic within reach for more travelers. Starting on June 18, Spirit will begin service between Ft. Lauderdale and Santiago, and on June 19, JetBlue kicks off service between Boston and Santo Domingo.

Options abound on the vacation package front. CheapCaribbean.com is offering discounted air-and-hotel packages such as four-nights and airfare from $560 per person (at press time, this deal was set to expire on May 11, but may be extended or replaced by a similar offer). JetBlue had an air-and-three-night package at the Riu Mambo all-inclusive resort in Puerto Plata for $405 per person. These are just a few of the vacation deals you should be able to find to the Dominican Republic this summer from online travel agencies and airlines.

At resorts around the island, discounts are the norm this summer. Club Med Punta Cana is offering 50% off the second person on stays of three nights or longer, or free stays for kids 15 and younger for seven-night stays. The Excellence Punta Cana Resort has 15 to 25% off summer rates, and the Puntacana Hotel has 40% off rates to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

National Parks

If you're within driving distance, on a budget, and enjoy the outdoors, a national park (or state or regional park) can be an ideal summer bargain destination. Accommodations are as cheap as you'll find them (though you'll have to pack your own bed ... or sleeping bag) and you'll be surrounded by free activities like hiking, bird watching, and swimming. If everything but the sleeping on the ground sounds good, you can forgo the camping in favor of an in- or out-of-park hotel or motel. However, unless you're planning on staying at one of the no-reservations campgrounds in a park, don't wait until the last minute to book your accommodations; this bargain option is one many summer travelers will likely take advantage of this season.

Not sold yet? Here are some numbers that illustrate the sorts of vacation costs you can expect at national parks. At Yellowstone, for example, the entrance fee (good for up to six people) is just $25. Campsites for up to four people range between $12 and $25 per night. And early summer room rates near the park start at $59 per night. If you're not within road-trip distance of the park, you might consider flying into Salt Lake City, where you'll be able to take advantage of U.S. summer airfare sales from many major airlines. For more tips, Priceline.com blogger Brian Ek has a detailed and money-saving post on the best way to visit Yellowstone on a budget.

Other parks offer similarly good value. In Yosemite, you'll pay $20 per car and $14 to $20 for a campsite. And at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, entrance is free and campsites cost between $14 and $23 per night.

Australia

This summer is a particularly good time to save money on an Australia vacation. The U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) is reporting that travel to Australia is 20% cheaper now than it was a year ago. Plus, competitive pricing from airlines and other promotions such as discounted vacation packages and air passes make Australia an intriguing choice for travelers who can spend a little more but are still on a budget this summer.

The flight time from Los Angeles to Sydney is about the same as between L.A. and Rome. And this summer, it may actually be cheaper to fly to Australia than to Europe. A spot-check of flights from San Francisco in July puts a round-trip flight to Sydney at $763 versus $1,040 to Rome. Even from the East Coast, Australia flights are competitive with airfare to Europe.

Sale fares and vacation packages bring Australia's affordability into better focus. Qantas is running a sale with round-trip flights between L.A. or San Francisco and Brisbane, Melbourne, or Sydney from about $620, or from New York starting at $820. V Australia recently ended a similar deal, and may offer more sale fares to stay competitive. Qantas also has a four-city Australia air pass from $999, which allows travelers to visit multiple cities on a single airfare. For $999, the airline has an air-and-hotel package with six nights' accommodations as well.

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville earns top-five status by being an already affordable destination with new low-cost airline service. AirTran will begin flying between Orlando and Asheville starting June 11, with introductory fares of $69 one-way. You might also check flights into Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (about an hour and thirty minutes away) and Charlotte Douglas International Airport (about two hours away) to compare fares if the lowest price is a priority.

In the Specials and Deals section of ExploreAsheville.com, you'll find savings such as 50-percent off a second night at the Four Points by Sheraton, $25 per night gas rebate card from the Crowne Plaza, and discounts at museums around town. You can also take advantage of the site's Asheville budget travel planner, with free activity ideas and more savings opportunities. Plus, Asheville is an ideal jumping-off point for a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway, known as "America's Favorite Drive" and a can't-miss (and free) activity. For more information, the Asheville Travel Blog offers a current look at events and activities in town.

Bonus destinations

Want more budget destination ideas for travel this summer? How about:

• Virginia: To mark the 40th anniversary of the Virginia is for Lovers promotional campaign, Virginia has launched a 40 Off Travel Deals program. Look for $40 off, 40% off, or buy three get the fourth free at participating lodgings and attractions around the state.

• Bermuda: In honor of its 400th birthday, Bermuda is offering visitors staying four nights or more $400 back this summer.

• Scotland: Summer airfare sales and an exchange rate that will save Americans hundreds of dollars compared to years past are just part of the value equation. This year marks Scotland's Homecoming 2009, a year-long collection of festivals celebrating golf, whisky, Robert Burns, and other Scottish cultural cornerstones. Many events are cheap or free.

• Jamaica: Additional Air Jamaica service from Ft Lauderdale, Orlando, and New York make the Caribbean favorite more accessible this summer. Low-season rates at resorts offer extra affordability.

• U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI): The Sizzlin' Sampler Package includes a free fourth night, $300 off your vacation, and $100 in gift certificates for stays through October.

• Branson, Missouri: A new airport and service from Sun Country and AirTran make this music and leisure destination easier to get to than ever before.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

5 New Car Rental Fees to Avoid

Look out for cancellation penalties. Beware of energy surcharges. And watch for facilities fees. No, not on your airline ticket. Not on your hotel folio. You may find these new extras on your next car rental bill. Beleaguered auto rental firms are quietly adding new surcharges designed to lift revenues in a recessionary economy.

To get an idea of how absurd it's becoming meet Jim Swofford. He found a mysterious $5 fee on his Hertz bill recently, which a representative described as a cancellation fee. Car rental companies typically don't charge their customers for cancellations, so Swofford, who frequently rents from Hertz, said he didn't want another car he'd reserved for later.

"That'll be $25," the agent told him.

"So I jokingly said I would not cancel but just be a no-show," he remembers. "She said that would result in a $50 fee."

Or talk to Eric Hegwer, a photographer from Austin, Texas, who spotted a $1 "energy surcharge" on his Hertz car rental bill recently. "My previous rentals didn't have one," he says. I asked Hertz about the two new surcharges. Company spokeswoman Paula Rivera told me the cancellation fee, which was added in December, applied only to prepaid reservations and is meant to "reimburse Hertz for the paperwork and billing involved with a prepaid reservation." The fee also covers part of the company's cost of holding vehicles for prepaid reservations. The energy surcharge, which was added in October, bills all rentals in most states an additional $1 a day "to offset the increasing costs of utilities, bus fuel, oil and grease," she said.

It's easy to see why car rental companies are taking these steps. The industry is hemorrhaging money faster than oil leaking from a cracked gasket. Hertz lost $73 million the fourth quarter, and competitor Avis lost $121 million in the same period. They fared much better than Advantage Rent A Car, which filed for bankruptcy protection in December and whose assets were sold to Hertz for a reported $33 million.

Every penny counts for the car rental companies. Then again, in this dreadful economy, who isn't counting every cent? Shocking anecdotes aside, there's a pattern here, and you don't have to be an investigative reporter or a conspiracy theory-obsessed columnist to see it.

A representative of the American Car Rental Association, a trade group for the car rental business, says these fees are essential to the industry's survival. But that doesn't give companies a license to surprise their customers. "The car rental company has an obligation to clearly and concisely explain all fees and charges at the time of rental, " says Robert Barton, the association's president and chief operating officer for U-Save Car & Truck Rental.

How to stay ahead of these extras? Knowing is half the battle. Here are five of the newer charges that could sideswipe you on your next trip.

1. A Fee For Something You've Already Paid For
This is one of the more creative new ways of separating you from your money: charging you twice for the same thing. "Three times now, with three different companies, they have tried to charge me for gas when I've returned the car with a full tank and claimed it was an honest mistake," says Sid Savara, a software engineer in Oahu, Hawaii. "It leads me to suspect they are just tacking the fee on and most people aren't noticing or complaining about it."

Boston-based author John DiPietro brought his own E-ZPass toll transponder when he rented a car in Massachusetts recently, but Budget billed him for the toll roads anyway. "We're still trying to resolve it," he told me. Now more than ever, it's important to be on the lookout for duplicate charges on your rental bill.

2. A Fee For Something That Should Come with the Car
Such as tires. Enterprise recently charged one of Edgar Dworsky's readers a $2 "tire fee." What's a tire fee? Enterprise told Dworsky it was required by the state of Florida. "I guess the consumer advice is to order a car without tires next time," he joked.

But other fees can't be blamed on the state, including surcharges that cover the cost of oil and grease. It might be interesting to show up at a car rental counter with four tires and a can of Pennzoil, and ask to have those fees waived. You think they would do it? Yeah, neither do I.

3. Surcharge on Surcharges
Scott Lerman found a "privilege fee" on his last car rental in Florida, which applied to rentals picked up within 48 hours of flight arrival. "Never seen anything like it," says the Livingston, N.J.-based freelance publicist. (The fee covers the costs of operating an off-airport location.)

Other renters have reported seeing a similar surcharge combined with what's often called a concession recovery fee, which amounts to a surcharge on top of a surcharge. At best, car rental companies are coming up with new and confusing names for their fees. At worst, they're charging us a fee on top of another fee. Next thing you know, there'll be a surcharge on a surcharge on top of a surcharge. Don't laugh -- I'm sure they've already thought of it.

4. The Stadium Tax
Fees for new stadiums and concert halls are technically not new, and technically they're not even controlled by car rental companies. Except that municipalities keep coming up with new ones and car rental companies don't lobby hard enough to have the fees removed. So rental firms are not completely blameless.

Seth Mendelsohn, the president of a food store in Boulder, Colo., found a $4 "downtown arena" fee on his bill when he visited Kansas City recently. "Apparently the city is trying to pay for part of the Sprint Center through car rental fees," he told me.

There are dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of these so-called stadium taxes across the country. And new ones keep popping up. One of the latest is a car rental tax in Gwinnett County, Ga., to build a stadium for the Atlanta Braves. And just last week, legislators proposed a $2 tax to fund commuter rail service in South Florida.

5. Extra Driver Fees
These aren't brand new, but the way in which they're being enforced has changed recently. When Carol Stevenson and her sister rented a car from Payless in Phoenix, they were asked to pay $9 a day more if Stevenson's sister wanted to drive. "And that didn't include their insurance waiver," she remembers.

Why charge for an extra driver? The simple answer: because they can.
In the past, car rental agents looked the other way when two drivers showed up to rent the same car. But now, with money tight, they're applying more pressure to authorize a second driver. If you don't fork over the money and happen to get into an accident, they warn, you won't be covered by their insurance. Of course, that assumes you buy their overpriced collision-damage waiver in the first place. Odds are, your credit card or car insurance offers comparable coverage.

Monday, February 23, 2009

New passport rules could bring confusion in June

If you're traveling outside the U.S. this year, here are two pieces of advice: Get or renew your passport now, and think twice before planning a car trip to Mexico or Canada in June.

That's when we may see the biggest change ever for Western Hemisphere travel. Starting June 1, Americans will need to show a passport, a passport card or other document to return to the U.S. by land or sea from Mexico and Canada.

Despite assurances from agencies involved, there may be glitches and delays. Two years ago, the last big change in entry rules - requiring a passport for air passengers returning from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda - inspired a stampede of passport applications and created confusion at airports. Some travelers waited months for their passports, and others just stayed home.

Although passport demand and wait times have recently fallen, and the State Department has ramped up staffing and facilities, the new change will affect far more Americans than the 2007 rules change. What to do to be prepared? First, study up. Second, do some planning. Third, contact World Travel Center for all your travel needs.

In January 2007, the U.S. government began requiring a passport to fly back to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. In January 2008, it said it would stop accepting oral declarations at sea and land checkpoints. And on June 1, it plans to fully implement the new document requirements for land and sea crossings.

What you need now:
Generally, you need a passport to enter the U.S. by air from any foreign country. If you enter by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, you may not need a passport, but you do need at least a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, plus a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license. Children 18 or younger need only a birth certificate for land and sea entry from these areas.

What you'll need starting June 1:
If you're arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda by land or sea, you'll generally have several choices: a passport; a passport card, a new type of ID that the U.S. government began issuing in 2008; an enhanced driver's license, a new high-tech version offered by a few states; or a "Trusted Traveler" card such as SENTRI and NEXUS for frequent border crossers.

There will be various exceptions. U.S. and Canadian children younger than 16, for example, will need only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate; in organized groups, the cutoff will be age 18.

Passengers on cruise ships that sail round-trip from a U.S. port may need only a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID (although the cruise line or foreign countries they visit may require a passport.)

You'll find a summary of the current and new rules at a Web site maintained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, getyouhome.gov.
How to get the right stuff:
The State Department's travel Web site, travel.state.gov, is one-stop shopping for information. If you're renewing a passport, you can download the form from the Web site and mail it in. If it's your first time, you can visit any one of thousands of "passport acceptance facilities," such as post offices, to get what you need.

Go to a passport agency only if you need your passport in less than two weeks for travel or less than four weeks in order to obtain a foreign visa. You'll need to make an appointment.

A passport costs $100 for adults and $85 for children younger than 16 (renewals are less); a passport card costs $45 for adults and $35 for children younger than 16. It's recently been taking about three weeks to process applications, the State Department says, but allow more time to make sure you get your passport.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fake Hotel Websites

Travel site E-Turbo News (www.eturbonews.com) has a frightening report out today about fake hotel websites that have been popping up, mostly targeting customers of large hotel chains in the USA. A staggering 71,000 people a month have been a victim of redirects to these fake hotel sites. The largest hotel chains affected include many of those in the Wyndham hotel family (Super 8, Days Inn, Ramada, Travelodge, and Wyndham hotels) and the Choice hotel family (Comfort Inn and EconoLodge), as well as the Red Roof Inn, Hyatt, and Clarion chains. According to E-Turbo,

... the Internet scam combines advanced online advertising, bogus hotel locators, third-party reservation systems, and an Internet browser virus to redirect hotel guest traffic to fake versions of well-known hotel chain websites.

The moral of the story: When booking a hotel through a website, always be sure it’s a reputable one. Better still, you can always be extra-safe by contacting us to book a hotel room for you.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

FAN MAIL

We love our “Fan Mail” – more good reasons to book with a knowledgeable and reputable travel agency.

Hi Jan,

Sean and I just wanted to say thank you so much for planning our Disney World trip. It went perfectly and we are so pleased we chose you to plan it for us. We had thought about doing it ourselves on the internet but after we called you we felt more confident booking through a professional. We were right. You did a great job. Thank you for looking out for the promotions you saved us $500 on a free night and a gift certificate. My sister in law booked through an agent in Topeka and was so mad with her service. They didn't get the promotion or the gift certificate and to top it off they got seated on the airplane all 3 in different areas that included my 5 year old niece who was supposed to sit alone. They had to talk to the agent at the airport and rearrange their seating each flight. So not only were we happy they were very jealous of the service we got from you. So thanks again for your help. When we decide to travel again we'll call you.


Heather and Sean P.