Holiday travel

Ten tips to avoid booking mistakes


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

With holiday rates swelling and a constant barrage of news stories about flight delays, it’s no wonder there seems to be a continuous flow of complaining about holiday travel. But it doesn’t have to be a complete headache. With 10 easy steps, the editors and members of VirtualTourist, the resource for travelers seeking an insider’s perspective, have compiled a list of “Ten Tips to Avoid Travel Booking Mistakes.”

•  Read the fine print. The most glaring and common mistake is to not read the Terms & Conditions page thoroughly. Travelers are often upset because they booked their flight/room/tour thinking it was at a great price, only to learn later that for this “price,” the reservation is non-refundable or only partly so after a certain date. Another common mistake is a great flight deal that turns out not-so-great once the long list of extra fees are tacked onto the total.

•  Check your hotel location before booking. When booking online, make sure to map your prospective hotel to see exactly where it is before booking. Sure, it can be vaguely listed as Paris/ London/ San Francisco/ Toronto, but in actuality, it can be on the fringes of nowhere, far from frequent public transit or any of the sites you came to see. Another common mistake is numbered streets — you might assume Seventh Street is all one area, but in fact, South and North can change an address in many cities. A great deal on a hotel can be blown quickly in transportation to and from where you need to be.

•  Make sure you’re booking for the right city. One of the worst mistakes a traveler can make when booking online is not properly reading the country they are destined to. Can you image booking a trip to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and ending up in Texas? Always make sure to read, and re-read, your final destination before booking.

•  Always do your own comparisons. When comparing prices, don’t believe any Internet service or site that claims they have the lowest or best-priced packages until you have visited the competition’s sites, and when possible, the ultimate service provider’s Internet site.

•  Know your booking operator. When booking a package with a travel agency, make sure you understand the difference between an agent who does all the work personally, and an agent who farms out needed services to others. Also, read the About Us section. If an agency has a genuine history on the About Us page, it gives them credibility. If the “how long have you been in business” portion is vague and filled with “testimonials” instead of a solid history, this is not a good sign.

•  Pay attention to flight details. Before booking a flight with a budget airline, it’s a good idea to check the airport’s page about its connections, or to do a map search to find out where this airport is situated.

Be careful about flight times. Not all sites use “military time,” so sometimes 12:30 may mean just after midnight. Also, if you are flying to a different time zone, make sure you take into consideration time lost or gained in travel when booking your next leg: once you arrive in London, it may be a different day, so make sure that is reflected in your next flight to your final destination.

Another trick: low-priced flights may occur because of the potential for expensive or very inconvenient arrival times, like public service trains or buses not running at that time, or needing to spend a layover in the early morning for four hours before the next flight.

Carefully consider whether a flight that requires an airport transfer is worth the savings and hassle after you subtract the transfer costs that are not covered by the airlines. Also, be aware that if you have to re-check your bags after a long layover or break in travel you may encounter different luggage limits on local flights even if you are traveling on the same airline.

•  Look for extra fees. Pay close attention to rental car charges, especially when traveling to different countries. Required insurance, unexpected taxes and any kind of “extra” fees may appear, even if you have pre-paid.

•  Be prepared. Know what you will do if the promised services do not materialize. A great example: if you bought traveler’s insurance, know the detailed procedure you will have to follow to make a successful claim if the airlines, your travel agency, or hotel operator do not make good on their promises. This procedure will be found in the smallest print in your insurance document.

•  Know the distance. When planning your activities, make sure you understand how far everything is from each other and how you will get there. You don’t want to book something only to later learn that you can’t make it in time, a road is closed that season of the year, or you’ve scheduled many of your activities far from your home base.

•  Read the fine print. Read, read, read before you book!

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