Q: My sisters and I would like to fly our parents to Australia as a 50th anniversary present. They used to travel there frequently, spending up to six months at a time (even a full year, once), but due to financial and family concerns, they have not been able to go back in ten years. We want it to be a surprise, and a "done deal" so that they can't refuse it, but we don't want to lock them into specific travel dates, or even time of year or length of stay. What's the best way to give an airfare gift like that?
A: The best way to "gift" a trip like this, without worrying about when, or if, it's used, is to buy a fully-refundable fare, but these fares can be very expensive. Another way to go is to buy a non-refundable fare and pay a change fee. Air New Zealand, for example, has very reasonable economy class fares available on its Web site, and the lowest fares come with a $150 change fee (the change fee is just $100 for their roomier premium economy fares, which are refundable minus a $300 fee). So you could book a trip with set dates and then pay the change fee later. Air New Zealand is a good choice for flying to Australia (or New Zealand of course) because they don't charge a higher fare if you stay over 30 days, as many airlines do. And their change fees are less than you'd pay on other airlines. And here's another tip: if you're flying from somewhere other than an Air New Zealand gateway, such as Los Angeles or San Francisco, and want to stay over 30 days (as it appears your parents would prefer) you may be better off buying a fare from one of those gateways to Australia, and then a second fare from their home airport to those gateways, perhaps overnight in the gateway city to break up the long trip. If you try booking as one through fare, you may run into 30 day maximum stay restrictions on the entire fare, since the most restrictive fare rules will apply to the entire trip.