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Travel columnist Ed Perkins is a nationally recognized reporter and consumer advocate. His weekly columns focus on how travelers can find ...

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Ed Perkins

Ed Perkins

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Seniors on the Go: Some attractive splurges

May 19, 2015

Now that you're about to make final arrangements for your summer trip, consider one or two splurges that might add a lot of enjoyment -- or avoid a lot of hassle -- for a reasonable price. Yes, I know that I'm supposed to concentrate on helping you keep your costs to a minimum, but an occasional extravagance is often rewarding.

  • Frequent flyer seats: Better than last year, but...

    May 19, 2015

    Your chance of scoring a "free" frequent flyer domestic seat in economy class on Southwest is 100 percent, 91 percent on Air Canada, and 87 percent on JetBlue. Those are really good numbers that should encourage you to keep working on your miles or points. Overall, average percentages for all 25 large lines worldwide are up for 2015. These data are from the recently released sixth annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey, produced by IdeaWorks. Delta regained its traditional last-place finish, at 58 percent, when US Airways merged into American.

  • The 'best' frequent flyer program

    May 12, 2015

    What's the "best" frequent flyer program? Is there even an all-around "best" program at all? Two new reports help shed some light on a very complicated question. And as so often is the case, "best" depends as much on your personal travel style as it does on the details of each program. And today, my take is from the perspective of a regular but not ultra-frequent leisure traveler living in the United States or Canada -- those "road warriors" have probably long since determined where their loyalties lie.

  • Seniors on the Go: Avoiding airline voucher gotchas

    May 12, 2015

    A traveler I know recently had a flight canceled, and the airline not only failed to re-accommodate him on another flight but also had the chutzpah to deduct a cancellation penalty from his refund. That, of course, violated not only general legal principles but also the airline's own contract of carriage. In response to a vigorous complaint, the airline realized its mistake, issued a full refund, and, as a "sorry about that" apology, also issued a voucher good for $200 toward a future flight. But that voucher included a severe gotcha: To use it, he had to rebook a flight within two months, something he was very unlikely to do. The airline didn't owe him the voucher; it was pure lagniappe, so he couldn't logically raise too much of a fuss. But this story does illustrate one of the big problems with vouchers.

  • Some new ideas to make traveling easier

    May 5, 2015

    Every day I receive at least one email touting some "new" or "improved" website, app, or travel service. For the most part they're either obvious or frivolous -- often both. But a few sneak through that might actually make your travels a little easier, less risky, or less expensive:

  • Seniors on the Go: Toronto to open airport rail link

    May 5, 2015

    Add Toronto to the list of major North American airports that offer fast rail service directly from the terminal to downtown. Starting June 5, the Union Pearson Express will link the airport's Terminal 1 with the downtown Union Station in 25 minutes, including two intermediate suburban stops. Trains will operate every 15 minutes, every day, during the 19 hours the airport is open. The three-car diesel units are designed specifically for airport service, with baggage racks, onboard Wi-Fi, and other convenience features. Also, travelers will be able to check in for their flights and print baggage tags at automated kiosks in the downtown terminal.

  • Seniors on the Go: Customer satisfaction: Hotels hold steady, internet travel improves

    April 28, 2015

    Whenever big travel survey reports come out, everyone focuses on airlines. Maybe that's because most of you find airlines, however measured, to rate pretty low in quality and satisfaction. In a way, however, that's a bit strange, in that you experience a much greater spread in "product" quality among hotels than among airlines, which tend to be uniformly bad in the economy class. Whatever the reason, the recently published American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) data for 2015 indicate that hotels and online Internet travel providers are doing pretty well, and better than airlines.

  • Rate parity: The battle to determine how you buy hotel rooms

    April 28, 2015

    Did you ever wonder why a hotel room search returns identical or near-identical results from all the online travel agencies (OTAs) and metasearch engines? One major reason is that hotels and hotel chains typically have "rate parity" agreements with OTAs: Simply put, hotels agree to give the same price to everyone who asks for a given booking. In some ways, rate parity benefits you; in others, it doesn't. Either way, however, rate parity is under challenge and most industry observers believe it will soon either loosen up or disappear entirely. And that, in turn, will have a big impact on how you shop for hotel accommodations. Currently, the center of the challenge is in Europe, but whatever happens in Europe will almost certainly cross the Atlantic, and vice versa.

  • Seniors on the Go: Paying for travel when you can't use credit cards

    April 21, 2015

    Sending money to a travel supplier is usually straightforward: That's why you have credit and debit cards and why so many suppliers accept them. But there are times when you can't use conventional plastic, when it's too expensive, or when it's unnecessarily risky. Fortunately, you have options.

  • Airlines are getting worse -- no, wait; they're getting better

    April 21, 2015

    Better or worse depends on which recent report you read. One says airlines were worse in 2014 than 2013; the other says they were 2.9 percent better. Which is right? The answer is, "Both," because the reports used different measures.

  • Seniors on the Go: 'Want the Insurance?'

    April 14, 2015

    Airlines, tour operators, cruise lines and travel agencies almost always offer to sell you insurance somewhere along the line when you're arranging a trip. And as to the associated question, "Is travel insurance a good deal?" my answer is an unequivocal "maybe." The main uncertainty is about what risks you need the insurance to cover. Typically, you may face either or both of two big-dollar risks:

  • What's new: Using plastic in foreign countries

    April 14, 2015

    If you're heading outside of the United States this summer, get your plastic ready. And if you haven't been out of the country recently, you'll find some changes -- some to your benefit, some not so good.

  • Seniors on the Go: Tune-up your plastic for summer

    April 7, 2015

    If you're traveling anywhere this summer, you'll almost surely use plastic -- credit and debit cards -- to pay for a lot of your trip. You'll likely use a credit card to buy airline tickets, rail tickets, hotel or resort accommodations, a cruise, a tour package, and restaurant meals, and a debit card for whatever cash you need while you're away from home. One of your important pre-departure preparations is to make sure your plastic is ready for your trip. Some are obvious "any idiot" suggestions that you need to review:

  • New airlines this year? Not likely

    April 7, 2015

    Don't look for any big new start-up airlines this summer. Ironically, now that the airline business is finally profitable, the number of new entrants seems to be at an all-time low. This year's innovations are coming from established players, not wannabes.

  • Seniors on the Go: Don't ignore 'travel overhead'

    March 31, 2015

    A lot of travelers don't seem to realize how much they pay just to be somewhere other than home. I call that cost "travel overhead," the daily or hourly cost of just being in a destination. Here are two examples:

  • Can anyone prevent future Germanwings tragedies?

    March 31, 2015

    At this writing, the evidence clearly points to a finding that the co-pilot of the Germanwings flight deliberately flew it into a mountain. Sadly, this isn't the first deliberate airliner crash: We know of six other "probable" or "possible" instances:

  • $15 airline tickets to Europe? Probably not, but...

    March 24, 2015

    Monday: "I'm going to start selling tickets between Europe and the United States for one pound (about $15)." Thursday: "No, I didn't mean it." Friday: "I still plan to do it." Ryanair's Michael O'Leary had an up-and-down press week. But the question he raised -- about future low-fare transatlantic flights -- remains a good one. Two players are currently in the game, both face barriers.

  • Seniors on the Go: One-Way road trip from Florida

    March 24, 2015

    When the snowbirds return from Florida to their northern homes, many rental cars do the same. As often in previous years, Avis/Budget, Hertz and National are offering special one-way promotional rates, with no drop-off charge, for travelers who rent in Florida and return cars in the north.

  • Frequent flyer programs: More change coming

    March 17, 2015

    Just because Delta, United and Southwest have announced their 2015 frequent flyer program details doesn't mean you won't see any more changes. You will -- and soon. Here's my take on what's coming:

  • Seniors on the Go: Cashing in on the strong dollar

    March 17, 2015

    By now you've probably seen several reports about how a sagging euro and dropping "Loonie" are making travel to Europe or Canada look good this year. And they're right, but that's just part of the story. Compared with July 2014, currencies in a bunch of important visitor destinations have dropped a lot.

  • What to do if you're planning a summer trip

    March 10, 2015

    If you're planning a summer trip, you'll need to take care of some arrangements and purchases well in advance of your departure day. Here are some suggestions.

  • Seniors on the Go: Consumer issues in travel: Status report

    March 10, 2015

    Several consumer initiatives from late last year and early 2015 are wending their way through the system. So far, I've seen no results; these issues always take longer than they should. But the bigger problem is that all of the pending issues deal with airlines, one way or another; cruisers and hotel guests are still hanging out to dry.

  • Seniors on the Go: Air travel in 2015: Focus on the passenger experience

    March 3, 2015

    "The passenger experience was a hot topic in 2014 as airlines and airports worked to make the travel process better" -- so said the lead of a recent report in the trade press. And it is typical of others that covered the same topic. The industry threw a big conference on the passenger experience, giving lots of talks and presenting lots of papers. But if you really think that your experience will actually get better this year, I've got a couple of bridges I'd like to sell you. Two themes pervade the output of all this flurry of activity.

  • Avoiding travel insurance gotchas

    March 3, 2015

    If you're planning a big summer trip, chances are you're at least considering travel insurance. Travel insurance can either be a great idea -- or a waste of money if you encounter a gotcha or two. Fortunately, you can avoid most gotchas if you buy and act carefully.

  • Seniors on the Go: When spending a little more is a good idea

    February 24, 2015

    You can obsess so much about finding the "cheapest" air ticket that you may overlook cases when you'd be better off spending a little more.

  • New niche hotel searchers

    February 24, 2015

    Despite the dominance of a few giant online hotel booking and search systems, a few niche operators can sometimes steer you to deals you might miss if you rely only on the big guys.

  • Hotel resort fees: The real story

    February 10, 2015

    Q: When is a $40 hotel room not a $40 hotel room?

  • Seniors on the Go: Latest premium-class airline news

    February 10, 2015

    As noted a few weeks ago, ordinary economy class is a really bad product, with its seats designed to the dimensions of jockeys and minimal cabin service. And an overnight red-eye in a crowded economy cabin qualifies, in my book, as "cruel and unusual punishment." But it's cheap, and the many of you who value cheap over all else will wind up toughing it out in the cattle car. If you want to avoid the worst of that experience, however, you have a fair number of options.

  • Seniors on the Go: Going to the airport? Take a train!

    February 3, 2015

  • How British Airways will affect you

    February 3, 2015

    Within the last three weeks, British Airways has made two moves that will have a big impact on you U.S. travelers -- even if you don't ever visit Britain.

  • Consumer issues coming up in 2015

    January 27, 2015

    You can expect some resolution of five big consumer issues in travel this year. You may not like the results, but at least you'll get results. Last week I joined a group of consumer advocate colleagues in Washington, where we covered a list of some two dozen issues and identified those most likely to be resolved before the end of the year.

  • Seniors On The Go: Skiplagged "unethical," or just 'gaming the system'?

    January 27, 2015

    United Airlines and Orbitz have sued a small startup website, Skiplagged.com, for displaying opportunities for travelers to cut costs by using "hidden city" or "point beyond" ticketing. This ploy violates almost all airlines' contracts of carriage, the legal documents that bind travelers and airlines when they buy tickets. And -- unusual in the airline ticket marketplace -- the publicity about this website and the countering lawsuit has generated a considerable amount of debate about the "ethics" of violating airline rules. Specifically it raises the question of whether violating airline rules is really unethical of just gaming the system?

  • Rental cars: Third-party insurance works

    January 13, 2015

  • Seniors on the Go: Cutting foreign travel hassles in 2015

    January 13, 2015

    International travelers this year can expect to see some reductions in the usual red tape and general hassles. Some important gains are already in place, and others are coming.

  • What's new: Airfare searches, hotel Wi-Fi, collision insurance

    January 6, 2015

    Major suppliers and third-party agencies continue to escalate the tug-of-war to "own" you as a customer. The prize in the tug-of-war is, of course, money.

  • Seniors on the Go: Avoiding problems -- when you can

    January 6, 2015

    No matter how well you plan, my recent trip showed me that you still encounter gotchas and snags -- some general, some specific to seniors. On the other hand, if you need assistance, regardless of age, you can usually find it.

  • Seniors on the Go: What's new for 2015?

    December 30, 2014

    Overall, seniors will fare about as well in 2015 as they did in 2014, which is to say not a lot better than travelers of any age. Most travel suppliers think they've figured out better ways to fine-tune their price yields than by giving across-the-board deals to senior travelers.

  • What's new for airlines in 2015?

    December 30, 2014

    The quick answer is "not much." These days, hype supersedes real change; you'll get "lifestyle" this and "trendy" that without much actual difference from the familiar stuff you got last year -- and several years before that. And much of the real change will be focused on new ways of using current technology.

  • Seniors on the Go: Cuba: Big Cuba: Big destination for 2015? Where else?

    December 23, 2014

    President Obama's opening to Cuba last week will soon make visiting easier for many more U.S. visitors. But it's far from wide-open tourism. You still have to go through some official red tape.

  • Fees: You hate 'em, but you asked for 'em

    December 23, 2014

    "Ancillary fees" collected by airlines this year, worldwide, amount to some $15 per passenger, says IdeaWorks. Airlines obviously lead the fee parade, but other segments of the travel industry are starting to pick up on the idea. And, for the foreseeable future, you can expect more fees, not fewer.

  • Seniors on the Go: Premium economy: Is it for you?

    December 16, 2014

    You all know why today's economy-class air travel is so lousy: Most travelers will put up with the worst comfort levels and service to knock a few bucks off the price. "You want cheap, we'll give you cheap" is the airlines' response. And the majority of travelers buy into it. Traditionally, if you wanted something better, you moved up to first class (domestic) or business class (intercontinental). But that next step up in comfort and service is a very big step: Domestic first class usually costs at least double the least expensive economy ticket, and intercontinental business class, with its flat-bed seats and elaborate cabin service, can easily top 10 times the economy price.

  • Flying in Europe: EasyJet, Ryanair, or someone else?

    December 16, 2014

    If you're heading to Europe next year, and if you plan to move around a bit, you may consider some intra-European flights. You quickly find that Europe hosts more than 100 low-cost airlines, some huge, some tiny. On my recent trip to England and Italy, I tested Europe's two largest low-fare lines, and came away with some impressions that may be helpful to you.

  • Cash on arrival: New game plan for airport ATMs

    December 10, 2014

    "You don't need to buy foreign currency in advance. The big banks all have ATMs at important gateway airports, so just use your ATM card when you arrive. You won't lose more than about 3 percent in the exchange, and cards from some U.S. issuers impose no foreign exchange fee or ATM fee at all." That's the mantra most travel writers and I have been repeating for years, but now it has to change. You have to revise your on-arrival strategy.

  • Seniors on the Go: Holiday giving, travel style

    December 9, 2014

    Presumably, some folks on your holiday gift list are travelers. Equally likely, you want to come up with a gift that they would really like.

  • Seniors on the Go: Some thoughts on off-season travel

    December 2, 2014

    I'm writing this from a hotel in Matera, Italy, where I've stopped during a week-long driving trip of Apulia -- the only part of Italy I hadn't seen before. And wow, it's really off-season, at least at some of my stops. Italy's Adriatic coast, from Venice down, is dotted with resorts that cater to northern Europeans seeking summer beach holidays. And with temperatures in the 60s, you don't see anybody swimming or lounging on the beaches. So this trip is a good example of visiting destinations off-peak.

  • Dynamic pricing: The coming challenge

    December 2, 2014

    Say you eat at a certain "trendy" restaurant once a year. Last year, you had to wait 45 minutes in line for a table. But this year, you see no lineup at the door, and the headwaiter escorts you right to the one unoccupied table. And when the waiter hands you a tablet instead of the traditional paper menu, the prices are double what they were last year. Welcome to the emerging world of dynamic pricing.

  • Seniors on the Go: Recent travel changes that may affect you

    November 25, 2014

    No long report this week; instead, let's look at some interesting developments that might affect your travels.

  • Primary sellers v. online travel agencies, a game of tug-o-war

    November 25, 2014

    Don't be surprised if you feel you're in a tug-of-war, playing the part of the rope; you are. Primary sellers -- airlines, hotel chains, cruise lines, and such -- are pulling you one way, online agencies and information providers are pulling in the opposite direction. The basic struggle is to "own" you as a buyer of travel: Each side wants to be your go-to source of information and especially your go-to place to buy tickets and arrange travel services. What's at stake, of course, is big money -- both to minimize the costs of paying someone else to do something you can do and also to maximize revenues by selling all of your travel, not just part of it. This is going to be a long, drawn-out struggle, and as the party in the middle you need to know how it will affect you. A few interesting skirmishes just arose.

  • Consumer travel issues: Where we stand

    November 18, 2014

    Whether you're red or blue, you probably realize that last week's election is likely to change the outlook for consumer protection over the next few years. And -- this is strictly a personal opinion -- the outlook is less favorable than in the previous Congress.

  • Seniors on the Go: The art of the complaint, part 2

    November 18, 2014

    Say that an airline refuses to give you a refund you're due. Say you've already done your preliminaries, which are, as I noted last week:

  • Seniors on the Go: Make your complaint work for you

    November 11, 2014

    Overcharged? Misinformed? Didn't get what you paid for? Travelers with a gripe against an airline, hotel, online travel agency, credit card issuer, or some other travel seller often copy me on their complaints. And I never cease to be surprised at how many of those complaints are rambling, unfocused and weak. Certainly, there's no "sure thing" way to have a complaint resolved in your favor, but you can improve your odds of success fairly simply.

  • "Non-disparagement" clauses: the latest fine print outrage

    November 11, 2014

    If you posted a bad review of the Bates Motel on TripAdvisor because you found a dismembered corpse in the bathtub, wouldn't you be outraged to find a letter from a lawyer demanding that you either retract the review or pay $3500? That prospect arises out of "non-disparagement" clauses, the newest "contract of adhesion" terms that plague travelers around the world.

  • Will Apple Pay change your travel?

    November 4, 2014

    The definitive answer to that question is "not right now, but maybe later." Apple's widely heralded move will certainly shake up the world of payment, but it's by no means a game-changer.

  • Seniors on the Go: New hotel booking options

    November 4, 2014

    Looking for the best hotel deals? Every few months some new online hotel booking agency claims it has the best system. Unfortunately, some are "me, too," rather than genuinely innovative, but truly new ideas crop up from time to time.

  • Seniors on the Go: High-end vacation rental -- sometimes a good value

    October 28, 2014

    Cheapest isn't always the best choice: Look at the lousy product you get on a cheap airline ticket. That's why I never talk about "saving" money: After all, the best way to save money on travel is to stay home. What I really focus on is good value, not necessarily the lowest price. And although high-end travel often seems to be a waste of money, a top-of-the-line vacation rental is sometimes a good value.

  • Low-fare airlines to Europe next Summer: Early look

    October 28, 2014

    "Fly to London for $99!" You probably saw those excited press reports about spectacularly low fares WOW Air hyped for its new flights starting next March. By now, those ultra-low fare seats have probably sold out, but the line will still have some pretty good deals. In any event, if you're thinking about a trip to Europe next summer, it's not too early to start checking out the prospects for low-fare alternatives to the giant lines.

  • Seniors on the Go: Avoiding airport parking gouges

    October 21, 2014

    On a recent three-week trip from my home airport, I chose to stay the night before departure at an airport-area motel. Why? Even though the airport is only 25 minutes from my home, the motel's stay-park-fly package was the best deal. The room rate was $80 for one night, with shuttles to/from the airport and up to 30 days of parking included. The airport's long-term parking lot charge would have been $180 and the round-trip taxi fare from my home would have been close to $100.

  • Global survey of passengers gives glimpse of air travel in 10 years

    October 21, 2014

    The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), "a network of leading airlines, suppliers and related companies committed to elevating the level of the airline passenger experience," released its latest "global survey of passengers," and the primary conclusion is that passengers want to be thoroughly connected and wired. That theme also pervades the association's 10-year travel forecast: No matter how bad the rest of your travel experience may be, you'll be connected.

  • Seniors on the Go: Wall Street's formula will ruin the best airlines

    October 14, 2014

    "JetBlue must reduce legroom and add baggage fees." "Virgin America must increase its fees." "Southwest has to start charging baggage fees." Both the financial and the aviation media are full of stories highlighting Wall Street's dicta for these airlines. And Wall Street apparently doesn't care if its formula will effectively destroy these three lines as you know them. As one respected airlines writer put it, "That nice-guy approach to air travel wins awards and attracts a cult following, but may not fly with Wall Street."

  • Premium economy: What's new in airline seating classification?

    October 14, 2014

    Lufthansa is the latest major holdout to join the group of giant airlines offering premium-economy class. All newly-delivered 747-8s incorporate the new cabin, with initial routes linking Frankfurt with Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington. The airline will start offering premium economy on its A380s and A340s next spring, with installation completed by the end of next year. Lufthansa's product will closely resemble that of Air France.

  • Seniors on the Go: Frequent flyer programs for infrequent flyers

    October 7, 2014

    Mighty Travels says American has the most generous frequent flyer program among the three giant lines and Delta has the worst. IdeaWorks says Southwest and JetBlue are best among lines in the United States, followed by United, Alaska, American and Delta. Some insiders like Alaska's program because it has good award deals on partner lines. Consumer Reports found Spirit was pretty bad, but didn't find any clear winners. Given the range of opinion, what should an occasional traveler do? Here are some considerations.

  • What's new in credit card technology

    October 7, 2014

    Diners Club, the original Travel and Entertainment" (T-and-E) card, is re-opening in the United States. That's the biggest news in the always-turbulent credit card world. For some reason, the pioneering card has been dormant in the U.S. for several years, servicing prior holders but not adding new ones. Now, it is again accepting applications, and it offers four key advantages over most other cards:

  • Seniors on the Go: Hotel customer service: Who's best?

    September 30, 2014

    The hotel chain with the highest ratings for customer satisfaction is Park Hyatt, with a 94 percent "positive" rating. That's according to a report published by Medallia, a prominent customer experience specialist, covering the second quarter of this year. Scores are based on combining traveler ratings posted on "some of the world's most visited and used travel and hospitality review sites" including TripAdvisor, Hotels.com and Booking.com. The report covers only multi-property brands in the United States.

  • What's new in travel industry news?

    September 30, 2014

    A lot of innovations and announcements either appeared recently or just recently came to my attention. Although none is a game-changer, many provide useful features.

  • Seniors on the Go: Look for advance-purchase ski deals

    September 23, 2014

    Maybe the leaves haven't turned yet, but this is a good time to start thinking about locking in some good-deal prices on your ski lift tickets for the coming winter. Lots of ski areas and passes offer "early bird" discounts and promotions, but they're available to buy only through late September or mid-October.

  • Last week's cheers and jeers

    September 23, 2014

    Cheers to the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General, which started an "audit" of airline frequent flyer programs. The primary focus, apparently at the urging of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), is whether airlines are providing adequate disclosure of costs associated with supposedly "free" award travel, specifically including fuel surcharges. Those fuel and other "airline mandated" surcharges added to award trips aren't just a minor annoyance; they're a big scam: On a recent quote for a trip to London, they amounted to almost $1,000.

  • Unaccompanied minors: What's new?

    September 16, 2014

    Children traveling alone: That's an uncomfortable consequence of today's split families, remote retirement centers and extended offsite job assignments. And that means you sometimes need to arrange flights for kids traveling by themselves. Most airlines have "unaccompanied minor" provisions to take care of the problem; they're included in contracts of carriage, as augmented by various rules. But they're not free. And the recent announcement from American that it upped its charge presents an opportunity to revisit a question I last covered more than a year ago.

  • Seniors on the Go: Oktoberfest, anybody?

    September 16, 2014

    You don't have to be German to enjoy hot sausage and cold beer, do you? And what's more German than Oktoberfest? Because some 20 percent of the American population can claim some sort of roots to Germany, you can find Oktoberfests in dozens of U.S. cities and towns, from late September through October. And if you're a stickler for authenticity, you can still catch a flight to the genuine article in Munich.

  • Where to ski this winter

    September 8, 2014

    Yes, it's likely still hot where you live, but it's not too early to start thinking about your winter vacation plans. Presumably, you'll find acceptable snow and facilities in most developed ski centers. So you obviously want to select your destination on the basis of some combination of the total destination experience, the extent of ski and other winter activity options, accessibility and the cost at options available to you.

  • Seniors on the Go: New flights coming to an airport near you

    September 8, 2014

    Allegiant Air will be a big factor in air travel the rest of this year and next. It will add new routes, and even if it won't fly to your home airport, some other line might, following Allegiant's business model. Although next summer is a long way off, some of the developments already announced may have a big impact on your travel plans for 2015.

  • Seniors on the Go: Coming soon to a cruise ship near you: Big tech

    September 2, 2014

    If you're one of the growing number of seniors -- or anyone else, for that matter -- with a pronounced geek streak, think about a fall cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ship, the Quantum of the Seas. It will carry more tech capability than anything outside of the Navy.

  • Ride-sharing in the air: Down but not out

    September 2, 2014

    The FAA recently determined that the two pioneering share-the-plane ride websites were not operating legally. As a result, the two pioneering outfits, Airpooler.com and Flytenow.com, are in some sort of limbo. Although the FAA has had nothing additional to say, however, my take is that, over the next few months, the government and the operators will come to some sort of accommodation.

  • Seniors on the Go: Fall travel: Where, when, and how

    August 26, 2014

    If it's Labor Day, it's time to think about fall foliage travel. Although New England grabs a lot of the publicity, you actually find good fall foliage throughout much of the U.S. and Canada. Peak times for viewing depend on where you go; they move from North to South over a period between mid-September and mid-November. And you can view them on your own, on bus tours, or on trains.

  • Hotel Wi-Fi: How fast, how costly?

    August 26, 2014

    In-room Wi-Fi is the new near-essential hotel requirement these days, along with air-conditioning and flat-screen TV. Surveys repeatedly show that Wi-Fi ranks near the top of special features and amenities that business and leisure travelers crave. Unlike air and TV, however, Wi-Fi is not yet universal, and many hotels -- especially higher-priced ones -- charge extra. Moreover, the Wi-Fi available in hotels varies substantially from hotel to hotel. And the newest hotel-semi scam is to hype "free Wi-Fi" but offer only very slow connections "free," and ask for a premium payment for full-speed connections. Although the marketplace is fluid, you have some useful resources.

  • New train to DFW Airport

    August 19, 2014

    You can now travel to/from Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) by train. Last week, DART, the Dallas area rapid transit system, opened the long-awaited extension of the Orange light rail line directly to Terminal A. From the airport, it runs to the central district, then turns northward again toward Richardson. Trains run frequently from 3:50 a.m. to 1:12 a.m. (12:12 on weekends). DART says that typical running time between the airport and downtown is about 50 minutes. You ride modern three-section light rail vehicles, with easy-boarding, low-level floors in the central section, but they do not provide racks or other special provisions for travelers' baggage.

  • Seniors on the Go: Traveling by bus a viable option ... yes, really!

    August 19, 2014

    Take a Bus. Really? Yes, Really

  • Airline gripe? Make it work -- or at least make it count

    August 12, 2014

    In case you were wondering how big airlines respond to complaints personally and specifically, consider a United Airlines message actually sent to a dissatisfied customer. The letter, widely circulating online, literally, starts out this way:

  • Seniors on the Go: Last-minute vacation rentals

    August 12, 2014

    With all the travel writers urging "rent early," you might think that "last-minute vacation rentals" is an oxymoron. Fortunately, it isn't. A newly launched British website, snaptrip.com, focuses on last-minute vacation rentals, and the industry giants HomeAway and Flipkey allow you to locate various special deals, including last-minute offers.

  • Seniors on the Go: Anti-consumer Airfare Display Bill sneaks through House

    August 5, 2014

    The ironically named "Transparent Airfares Act of 2014" passed the House of Representatives on July 28. This misbegotten bill, which would actually make the costs of air travel less transparent, passed by voice vote, presumably in part to avoid embarrassing the self-proclaimed pro-consumer representatives who supported it.

  • 8 car rental gotchas your credit card insurance may not cover

    August 5, 2014

    Say you're renting a car and you plan to rely on your credit card's built-in collision coverage. Or maybe you're even prepared to buy the rental company's wildly overpriced collision damage waiver (CDW). Either way, you think you're covered. But are you fully covered? MileCards just released a report on eight rental car gotchas that at least some credit card collision benefits won't cover.

  • Seniors on the Go: 40 Tourist scams? Well, sort of

    July 29, 2014

    A recent posting on Justtheflight.com warned travelers of 40 tourist scams prevalent around the world. Wow -- that's a long checklist. Fortunately, many of the 40 are "variations on a theme," and a comparable posting of 10 scams from Cheapflights.com is more realistic. Yes, none of the 10 or even the 40 is really new or innovative, but they bear repeating, anyhow.

  • World troubles: Would travel insurance help?

    July 29, 2014

    The current headlines -- the downing of Malaysia flight 17 and the Israeli-Gaza hostilities -- focus a spotlight on today's travel uncertainties. And that, in turn, raises the question of how travel insurance would help you in coping with the fallout from these problems. The short answer is that trip-interruption/trip cancellation (TCI) might not help as much as you might hope, or think.

  • Seniors on the Go: Will U.S. railroad service ever get better?

    July 22, 2014

    "I just returned from a trip to Europe, and really enjoyed riding the high-speed Eurostar and TGV. Why can't we have something like that here in the U.S.?" So asked a reader, and the fundamental answer is simple: The United States, as a nation, does not and will not enjoy a robust passenger rail system because, as a nation, it doesn't have the will to develop and operate one.

  • 'Best' airlines? Really?

    July 22, 2014

    To nobody's surprise, Cathay Pacific came in as the number one "airline of the year" on the latest Skytrax ratings of the world's major airlines. This survey, which Skytrax modestly claims to be "a most respected global airline passenger study," always generates a lot of ink and pixels, along with some controversy, but you can hardly escape it. And if you judge on the basis of the awards for North America, you may rethink your trust in the results.

  • Deceptions du jour for the summer

    July 15, 2014

    Ten years ago, I compiled a list of some of the travel industry's false and misleading pricing techniques, using the metaphor of a man who observed various promotions as he walked along a city street.

  • Seniors on the Go: Long flight? Take a mid-course break

    July 15, 2014

    If you're planning a long-distance overseas trip -- one of those 18-hour marathon nonstops, or even worse, two 12-hour flights with a connection, you might want to take a stopover at an intermediate point, especially when the normal itinerary is back-to-back red-eyes. Or maybe you really want to visit two countries. Either way, you can sometimes arrange a stopover between your home airport and most distant destination with little or no extra cost.

  • Norwegian flies to London -- for now

    July 8, 2014

    Despite some opposition, Norwegian launched its new low-fare nonstops to London/Gatwick from three U.S. airports last week: twice a week from Ft. Lauderdale, twice a week from Los Angeles and three times a week from New York/JFK. Schedules are the standard transatlantic pattern: overnight to London, day flight returning. Norwegian touts "affordable" fares, and its prices, as posted, are generally lower than comparable nonstop fares on the giant lines. Norwegian's fares vary from flight to flight, but I sampled typical round-trip summer (mid-August) and winter (mid-January) round-trip fares to London/Gatwick:

  • Seniors on the Go: Summer senior summary

    July 8, 2014

    If you're a senior about to shove off on your vacation, here are a few notes on the current state of senior travel.

  • Seniors on the Go: Great cruise deals: Go sooner rather than later

    July 1, 2014

    If you're looking for a good deal on a cruise, think about the rest of this year. Even cruise line execs admit that the industry is currently doing a lot of discounting, while, at the same time, they tout efforts to "discipline" the marketplace next year. Even though those execs routinely promise to end discounting, however, their track record has been notoriously poor. Still, as with so many travel services, when you see some really great prices, buy; don't wait for even more price drops.

  • Consumer travel issues: Midyear status report

    July 1, 2014

    What's the current status of the major consumer issues in travel? Here's a quick overview:

  • Google upgrades air and hotel search -- but not enough

    June 24, 2014

    Google has added and improved some features that make it one of the important contenders for a go-to airfare and hotel search engine (google.com/flights). Among its current features:

  • Seniors on the Go: Unloading excess miles

    June 24, 2014

    "Can you tell me how I can sell my frequent flyer miles," asked a reader. "My wife and I are in our mid-80s and we don't fly any more. I have a combined 230,000 miles divided between two airlines and I don't want to lose any. Airline websites aren't much help." You might well be in the same situation. Airline limits on the number of miles you can transfer to other people are restrictive and the fees can be more than the miles are worth. So transferring miles through airline programs is a nonstarter.

  • United's new frequent flyer deal: Bad news for most of you

    June 17, 2014

    To nobody's surprise, United announced a mostly "me too" makeover of its frequent flyer program in the Delta pattern. And, also to nobody's surprise, the new program is likely to make award travel worse for leisure travelers who use inexpensive tickets:

  • Seniors on the Go: The European Rail Timetable lives!

    June 17, 2014

    Despite all the digital travel resources that are now readily available, I'm still a fan of printed references. Although a senior, I'm not a luddite; when I travel, I carry the usual Wi-Fi notebook and smartphone, use Wi-Fi everywhere I stay and I'm enough of a geek that I recently upgraded my primary hard drive to an SSD. (If you want your programs to load like lightning, get an SSD.) But when I'm planning a tour of Europe, I still want the paper: printed rail schedules and detailed road maps. And you should, too.

  • Seniors on the Go: VIA Rail Canada raises the bar on rail accommodations

    June 10, 2014

    VIA Rail Canada's new "Prestige Class" sleeping cars will top all previous cars -- and anything on Amtrak, as well -- in providing the most comfortable and livable long-haul overnight rail accommodations. And the refurbished business-class cars for the busy Quebec to Windsor corridor will equal the best anywhere. That's the overall take-away from last week's press preview in Vancouver and a strong indication that, at least in Canada, rail retains an important niche in the overall transportation scheme.

  • New 'flight glitch' insurance

    June 10, 2014

    Flight delayed on the tarmac more than two hours? Collect $1,000. Baggage lost or stolen? Collect $1,000. Miss your connecting flight? Collect $500. More than 12 hours to reunite you with your misdirected baggage? Collect $500. Flight arrives more than two hours late? Collect $50. Those are the top payouts from AirCare, a new breed of travel protection, covering some of the more annoying air travel glitches. In addition to the money payouts, AirCare includes MyAssist trip monitoring: If you miss a connection, the service can rebook you and pay ticket change fees up to the policy limit. In a tarmac delay, you don't even need to file a claim: MyAssist tracks flights and automatically deposits the money in your bank account. And the cost is a reasonable $25 per person per trip.

  • Seniors on the Go: PEOPLExpress flies again -- but will it fly?

    June 3, 2014

    A new airline, recycling the PEOPLExpress brand name, announced it will start flying June 30. Initial service from its base at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport -- or, if you prefer, Patrick Henry Field -- will be two daily round-trips to Newark and one each to Boston and Pittsburgh. By the end of August, the airline expects to add round-trips to Atlanta, New Orleans, St Petersburg, and West Palm Beach.

  • Top-level airline credit cards: Are they worth the price tag?

    June 3, 2014

    The three giant U.S. legacy airlines sponsor premium cards that feature additional benefits over their base cards. All charge yearly fees several times the fees for lower-level cards; all include the same lower-level cards' basic benefits, including one no-charge checked bag, no fees for foreign transactions, and some additional benefits. But their unique extra is access to airport lounge club programs.

  • Seniors on the Go: What could go wrong? Let me count the ways

    May 27, 2014

    Consider these headlines: Rampant crime in destination areas. Lax safety standards. Sloppy management. Faulty equipment. Untrained operators. Deliberate targeting of visitors for scams. Or these reports: Cruise line passengers murdered in Antigua. Visitor drowns when caught in hot tub's underwater suction. Resort visitor killed when palm tree fell on his lounge chair. Six tourists disappear from a boat in the Caribbean. Four-day gun battle in Kingston leaves dozens dead. Elephant rampages in Phuket Province kill several visitors. Visitor impaled on a fencepost after bus crash in New Zealand. An airline tossed a frequent flyer out of its program and voided his miles. Tourist dies in rented car due to faulty safety belt. Air bags failed to deploy. Foreign tourists shot in Miami while driving rental car. That's just a sampling of the many mishaps Judge Thomas Dickerson, author of "Travel Law," recounts in recent travel law articles. But you get the drift: Lots of bad stuff can happen when you're traveling.

  • Dept. of Transportation: 'More protection, not less'

    May 27, 2014

    Apparently unfazed by the current congressional proposal to undo its earlier airline passenger protection rules, the Department of Transportation proposed a set of new, additional consumer protections. The most important deals with fees: DoT proposes that airlines and ticket sellers be required to disclose fees for four "basic airline services" at all points of sale: one checked bag, a second checked bag, a carry-on bag, and an advance seat assignment. DoT certainly knows that these specific fees are truly optional: You can fly without checking a bag, taking a carry-on bag, or getting your seat in advance. But the apparent idea is that these options are so widely used that consumers should be notified of their costs throughout the search and purchase processes.

  • Frequent flyer seats: Getting better -- sort of

    May 20, 2014

    Your best chances of scoring a "free" frequent flyer domestic seat are on Southwest and JetBlue, a repeat of last year's performance. That's from the latest Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey, produced by IdeaWorks. US Airways replaced perennial loser Delta at the bottom of the list.

  • Seniors on the Go: Summer travel, hotwire version

    May 20, 2014

    This summer, you can look for hotel rates in the U.S. to be up some 7 percent over last year, airfares to be up only 2 percent, and car rental rates to be down 8 percent, if you buy now. That's the current finding from Hotwire, the big online agency that does an outstanding job of mining its own database of online transactions. But those figures are nationwide averages, and you remember the old saying "a statistician is someone who drowns wading in a river that averages three feet deep." So Hotwire pulled some detailed conclusions from its data -- presented with a few of my own interpolations.

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