It never fails. Someone will find cheap airfare they just can’t pass up. But there are some pitfalls that you need to be aware of before booking the “too good to be true” airfare that you found.
Typically nonstop flights will cost more than a flight that requires stops and/or plane changes. You might think that a slightly longer flight or the inconvenience of having to change planes is worth it. But be careful. Winter flights are a great example. With plane changes in one of many northern airports, you might find yourself stuck half way to your final destination. A flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta might not be a big deal during the winter, except when you change planes in Chicago and ultimately get snowed in and stuck there. Another issue is short plane changes. The airlines will offer you short connections, as short as 30 minutes. If your incoming flight is late by just 10-20 minutes you may miss your connection. And there’s no saying how soon the airline can get you on another flight to your final destination. If that was the last outgoing flight of the day, you won’t get an outbound flight until the next day.
Forget changing planes, how about changing AIRPORTS?
This is an issue in large cities with more than one airport. Two prime examples are New York City and London. You may fly into La Guardia ariport in New York but your departing flight in 2 hours is out of JFK. And you have to get yourself to the next airport, it’s not the airline’s responsibility. A late flight combined with gnarly traffic, and you might miss your connection (but your luggage will probably make it). In London your flight may come into Heathrow airport, but your next flight might depart out of Gatwick. Again, you are responsible for getting yourself to the next airport. And if you aren’t familiar with the city you are in, that can be challenging and/or expensive.
It may look cheap, until you factor in taxes and fuel surcharges.
Recently there have been incredibly cheap flights advertised by some of the airlines. But they are not required to include the taxes or fuel surcharges in the initial price they advertise. So you see a great deal – fly to Europe for $259 per person! Who could pass that up? But once you add in the fuel surcharges and taxes the true per person total is closer to $540 per person. Always ask about taxes and fuel surcharges in order to get the true price, before you provide anyone with your credit card information.
This is a question we get asked a lot when planning Disney World dream trips for our clients. So we decided to do a little experiment on our own recent trip to Disney World this past weekend. We were there for only two nights, so we decided to splurge this time and got the Deluxe Dining Plan, versus the standard dining plan that we typically purchase (be patient with me, I’ll explain the differences between the three dining plans a bit later).
With the Deluxe Dining Plan we got 3 table service meals and 2 snacks per night of stay and a refillable souvenir mug, per person. So for 2 of us staying 2 nights, that was a total of 12 table service meal credits and 8 snack credits on our account. We made dining reservations as follows:
Sunday lunch at Yak & Yeti in Disney’s Animal Kingdom (1 table service credit per person)
Sunday dinner at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Monday lunch at the Rose & Crown Pub in EPCOT (1 table service credit per person)
Monday dinner at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Sunday breakfast was procured before we even arrived at Disney World, and Monday breakfast was paid for with cash (total $19.36 total for the 2 of us) at the quick service restaurant at our resort.
The cost of the Deluxe Dining Plan for 2 adults for 2 nights came to $440.92. When we first booked it, it seemed like a lot to pay for food for 2 days for only 2 people. All the same, we bit the bullet for the sake of research. As for the four table service restaurants where we ate, here is what the meals would have cost if we had paid for them individually:
Yak & Yeti lunch = $91.08 (works out to $45.54 per person)
California Grill dinner = $170.38 (works out to $85.19 per person, or $42.60 per table service credit)
Rose & Crown lunch = $77.99 (works out to $39 per person)
Yachtsman Steakhouse = $184.23 (works out to $92.12 per person, or $46.06 per table service credit)
Our 8 snacks (a pineapple soft serve, and several bottled sodas & water) total value was $23.06, and the value of the refillable mugs was $25.54 total for a 2 night stay. So our grand total “spend” would have been $572.28. By using the Deluxe Dining Plan we actually saved $131.36. So was it worth it? For us, yes. But the bigger question is: would it be worth it for YOU? It truly depends, and this is one of many aspects of planning that we help our clients navigate.
The three dining plan options
I promised I would explain the three different dining plans, so here it is (please note that prices may change at any time):
QUICK SERVE DINING – this includes 2 quick service meal credits and 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug The cost of this plan is $41.99 per night per adult (ages 10 and up) and $16.03 per night per child (ages 3-9).
REGULAR DINING – this includes 1 quick service meal credit, 1 table service meal credit, 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $60.04 per night per adult and $19.23 per night per child
DELUXE DINING – this includes 3 table service meal credits and 2 snack credits per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $110.23 per night per adult and $29.86 per night per child
None of the dining plans include gratuities.
What qualifies as a quick service meal? It is valid in any quick service restaurant (think fast food style) and includes an entrée (or combo meal, if offered at the restaurant where you’re eating) and non-alcoholic beverage. If you’re eating lunch or dinner, you also get a dessert.
What qualifies as a table service meal? It is valid at any table service restaurant (like going to Outback Steakhouse at home) and includes an entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage per guest. On the Deluxe Dining Plan it also includes an appetizer.
What qualifies as a snack? A lot of things qualify as snacks, including a 20 ounce bottle of soda, a piece of a fruit, an ice cream bar, etc. You can always ask before making a purchase, or check the menu board to see if the dining plan symbol is next to the item in question (designating that it qualifies as a snack credit). Piece of advice: use your snack credits for the more expensive items (like a $4 pineapple soft serve) and pay cash for the lower priced items (like a $2.50 bottle of soda).
What is the refillable mug? Each resort has a self-service soda fountain. Without a dining plan, you can pay for a 12 ounce, insulated mug (cost varies based on your length of stay). You can then have as many complimentary refills of that mug at your resort as you’d like. You can refill it with coke products, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. But it does not work in the parks, only at your resort (not even other resorts).
Questions to ask yourself
Do you enjoy sit down meal services? Or do you prefer grabbing a quick fast-food or cafeteria style meal on the fly? If you don’t want to take time out of your schedule to sit down and be waited on, then the quick serve plan might be your best bet. Also if you don’t want to plan ahead and decide what park you will be in for any particular meal, table service meals may not be a good fit for you either. All table service restaurants take reservations, and for some of the more popular restaurants reservations are a necessity. If you resist planning ahead, or being tied to any kind of schedule, you may chafe under a plan that requires you to plan meals and make reservations.
Are you a “foodie”? Do you like to splurge on great food and get your money’s worth? If money were no object, would you order the 32 ounce Porterhouse for Two? Or the 18 ounce Kansas City Strip Steak? (By the way, that strip steak costs $58, and the Porterhouse for Two is $120). It is vacation after all, you might want to eat out like you wouldn’t normally do at home. If this is the case either the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit for your vacation.
And finally, are character dining meals a must? Many of these qualify as “signature” experiences and require 2 table service credits per person. If you want to maximize your food budget, getting the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit, providing the necessary credits to cover character dining (keeping in mind, you need reservations, so some planning is required).
If you need help assessing which dining plan would best fit your vacation plans, give us a call!
1. Myth: All Travel Agents and Agencies are the Same
Fact: Every travel agent is different and has a different area that they specialize in. So, depending on what type of trip you are looking to take one travel agent will suit you better than another. That’s why it is important when planning a trip to find a travel agent that specializes in where you want to go.
2. Myth: No One Uses Travel Agents Anymore
Fact: Travel agents still sell 51 percent of all airline tickets, 87 percent of all cruises, 81 percent of all tours and packages, 45 percent of all car rentals and about 47 percent of all hotels.*
3. Myth: Travel Agents are Trying to Cheat Me if They Don’t Quote Me the Cheapest Price
Fact: Travel agents know the ins and outs of different itineraries. While you might find one that is a little bit cheaper, that cheaper itinerary might involve a whole slew of headaches. For example, longer waits at the airport, odd travel times, or missed connections. A travel agent will be looking to get you the best value for you money spent which should include the most direct and time friendly itinerary they can find. – Unless you have told them you would prefer to have the cheaper options presented as well, expect value to be a factor included in the trip they plan.
4. Myth: It is Expensive to Use a Travel Agent
Fact: The fee a travel agent charges really depends upon the agent. While some of the more luxury agencies have higher fees, the average fee is quite marginal. Plus, you can always ask an agent upfront what their fees are, what you receive for the fee, and decide for yourself if it’s worth it. Many travel agents provide services beyond simply booking your trip, services you would not receive from an online booking website. Also, it is important to remember that a lot of online booking sites, such as Orbitz and Expedia, charge booking fees.
5. Myth: I Can Easily Book the Same Trip on My Own Without Using A Travel Agent
Fact: Although travel agents have access to all of the same outlets you would use when looking to book travel, they also have access to exclusive pricing and package deals that are most times not available to the public. Your travel agent also has more leverage in helping out in situations such as hotels claiming to be booked, when in fact they may still have rooms available that are on hold for travel agent reservations. So when everyone else is telling you “No” your travel agent can help turn that to a “Yes.”
6. Myth: Travel Agents Don’t Have Information as Updated as the Internet
Fact: Travel agents obtain some of their information from the same sources as online booking sites such as Orbitz and Travelocity. They also receive daily emails and faxes with new specials from resorts and hotels that may not be published on the internet. Travel agents can also call a place directly to see if they can work out other kinds of special deals for you, something an online site can’t do.
7. Myth: Travel Agents Are a Waste of Time
Fact: Although you can find much of the same information that the travel agent provides for you on your own, you are going to spend a lot of valuable time doing so. A travel agent can actually save you from hours of painful research and price comparison shopping. They have up to date prices, hotel conditions, and interesting new activities. Their prior knowledge and experience gives them the upper hand in trip planning.
8. Myth: Travel Agents Have Lost Their Clout
Fact: Travel agents book hotels, cruises, and activities every day. The companies that provide these services know that and want their business and will work to keep that business coming back. So while a place might be telling you “Sorry we are booked,” for your one time trip, they are more likely to make an exception for the travel agent to insure that the agent sends them more business in the future.
9. Myth: Travel Agents Can Only Book My Flight and Hotel
Fact: Travel agents can arrange car service, personalized tours and activities, in addition to all the basic travel services they provide. They are also excellent sources of information concerning good restaurants, good sites to see, and tips on what to pack.
*Source: American Society of Travel Agents
Once again tourists (this time from the USA) have been arrested for vandalism at Rome’s Colosseum (read the story here). It seems sad to have to advise clients about this, but before traveling, you should familiarize yourself with the laws of your destination (domestic or international).
From the State Department website: If you break local laws while abroad, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution, and the U.S. Embassy cannot get you out of jail.
Besides defacing ancient ruins, here are some other examples of what you should be aware of before travelling (this is by NO means an exhaustive list; do your own research before leaving home).
In Singapore? Don’t chew gum. It may not lead to your arrest, but it will lead to hefty fines. “In terms of Singaporean law, the ban on chewing gum in Singapore can be considered an extension of the littering law. Therefore, the act of chewing gum in Singapore is associated with similar penalties to those imposed for littering. The littering law requires a fine of $500 to $1,000 US Dollars (USD) for first time offenders. Repeat offenders may be fined up to $2,000 USD and assigned a Corrective Work Order (CWO).”
Marijuana – leave home without it. If you live in a state that has recently legalized recreational marijuana … or even if you have a prescription for medical marijuana … leave home without it! It is still illegal to carry marijuana (prescription or no) across state lines, on airplanes, on cruise ships, and it’s definitely illegal to take it into other countries. And of course, buying it where it is legal (like Amsterdam) does not mean you can transport it to other countries, or bring it home.
Prescription and over the counter medications are not created equal. Besides the murky issues that surround prescription marijuana, other prescription medications can cause problems, even when travelling within the USA. Yes, even within the USA. In the state of Maine it can be unlawful to possess your own prescription medications, and it has been successfully prosecuted (read about it here).
Internationally, Australia prohibits the importation of certain medications like Ritalin, Adderall, and other drugs that are prescribed for ADHD. For other prescription medications like human growth hormone, DHEA and all anabolic and androgenic steroids, opioid analgesics, and narcotic based medications, Australia requires that they be declared upon entry into the country.
There are medications that require a prescription in the USA, but can be purchased over the counter in other countries (like Canada or Mexico); it is illegal to bring them back into the USA even if their initial purchase was legal in that foreign country.
And some countries do not allow the import of certain over the counter medications.
Bare shoulders and knees – you won’t be arrested, but women will be turned away at the Vatican and other religious buildings if they do not cover their knees and shoulders.
Moral of the story – do your research before you travel so that your travels are enjoyable!
At Ships 'N' Trips Travel we have been providing memorable travel experiences for our clients since 2005.