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Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

Q. With my domestic flights, I usually add on travel insurance since it is often inexpensive. In the coming year, I have two foreign trips planned. When I have priced travel insurance to these locations, I find the price to be very expensive but I recognize that these will cover cancellations, as well as, medical coverage. Since we are healthy travelers, I am not sure that it is worth the major expense. Any recommendations? Is there a way to compare travel insurance prices?

A. It really depends on how expensive your trip is and what the risk is. If you can afford to forfeit the value of your trip without financial hardship, then perhaps insurance isn’t necessary. Do consider emergency evacuation (Medevac) coverage however, since most people cannot afford the cost of a medical flight from abroad back to the US. Try to compare travel insurance prices.

Best Time for Death Valley

Q. We are planning a trip to Death Valley National Park. When is the optimal time of year to visit and what’s the nearest airport?

A. If you’d like to avoid the extreme heat that this area of the country is famous for, experts (i.e., park rangers I spoke to) suggest visiting between mid October and mid March. You’ll also avoid the rainy season that way, and in mid March you might also be treated to a profusion of wild flowers. Although it’s located in California, I’d suggest flying into Las Vegas for the cheapest airfares. It’s about 130 miles from the park’s entrance.

Baggage Compensation and Depreciated Values

Q. At the end of last June, I flew with Norwegian from Boston to Berlin. My outbound flight was absolutely great and without issue. I scaled down my luggage to just a backpack and a small carry-on, which I easily stored on board during my flight from Boston to Oslo, and onward from Oslo to Berlin. On my return flight home, I arrived at the airport super early, and was told by the check-in agent that my carry-on was too large and must be checked. This came as a shock to me, as I had only just purchased the bag based on the fact that it was standard carry-on size. As I pleaded my case, the agent informed me that not only was my bag too big, but there was suddenly no room for it on the plane. This seemed odd to me as I had arrived so early and was one of the first to check in for the flight.

Ultimately, my bag never made it to Boston. While the Norwegian staff in Boston were very helpful in filing a report, my bag has yet to be found and I'm wondering what my options are in terms of compensation for my lost items which I estimate to be around $1,025.

A. Sorry to hear about your bag! Every traveler is bound to suffer a lost bag at least once, probably more than once, no matter who we fly or where we go. As far as compensation goes, airlines will typically depreciate the contents value, unless the passenger can provide proof that the missing items were very recent purchases. Of course, these rules tend to be more favorable for passengers traveling international rather than domestic. And according to international regulations, liability is limited to 1131 SDR (Special Drawing Rights).

We reached out to Norwegian who, as mentioned above, depreciates the claimed value by 30% unless there is documentation showing that the contents are less than a year old, in which case they cover the amount claimed. Given the misunderstanding surrounding your baggage size, Norwegian has offered to compensate the full $1,025 listed in your claim.

Cruise Cancelled, No Insurance

Q. My husband and I were booked to go on a cruise earlier this month, which we had to cancel due to my husband having an accident four days before we were meant to depart. His doctors would not clear him to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle, and then onward to Vancouver for a cruise.

Unfortunately, we did not have travel insurance. Upon speaking to our rep with Holland cruises, she said there is no refund and no rescheduling allowed 30 days or less from departure. To add insult to injury (literally!) they would not refund the hotels we had booked for our stay in Seattle. Nothing apart from the taxes and port fees has been refunded.

Other than sucking it up, do we have any recourse? We have asked our Holland rep to put us in contact with their corporate department who deals with concerns/complaints. We have medical verification for the injury. Can we do anything else? I know most hotels will allow a 24 hour cancellation without charge. We gave Holland four days notice. Surely, they will be getting a refund from the hotels, and possibly other excursions/bookings, but we are not.

 A. There still may be hope if you charged the cruise to one of the many credit cards that offer free, built-in cancellation coverage for scenarios just like yours. Many people don't read the fine print, but a number of credit card issuers actually provide a wide range of travel insurance whenever you use their cards to buy a trip. More about that here.

Round-the-World Booking Options

Q. I remember years ago one could buy a "round the world" ticket at a reasonable price. You could stop anywhere as long as it was in one direction, and you had a year to use it. With tickets being bought online these days I dont know how to figure out the least expensive round the world ticket.

We would like to buy one for our daughter who is graduating from college at the end of the semester, though she might not be using it until next spring. Any comments or thoughts on this subject would be greatly appreciated!

A. You can search online through your preferred airline alliance (OneWorld, SkyTeam, Star Alliance...) but rules and restrictions are awfully complicated for RTW ticketing. Generally, the passenger must travel in the same direction, no backtracking allowed. Some plans go by miles, others by segments, stops, continents. You might find it easier to give your choice of airline a call or, better still, drop by the nearest ticketing office to plan it out in person. Another option (and most likely the least expensive) is to book through a company that specializes in planning such trips. AirTreks is an excellent place to begin, and offers more varied itineraries with fewer restrictions.

Holiday Connections: Allow Time for Delays

Q. I am flying from Los Angeles to London Heathrow on December 24th. My flight arrives at 3:20pm. My friend and I have decided to spend Christmas in Amsterdam and plan on flying there out of London Heathrow the same day. How much time do you think I should allow for between flights at LHR? I understand there may be delays as it is a busy day to fly, and I'm not sure if I will have to go through customs upon arrival. I would like to take a 6pm flight to Amsterdam, allowing 2 hours and 40 minutes between flights. Any insight?

A. I would say this probably not enough connecting time, especially if there's a terminal change. Better pad it with 5 hours (or even 6!), building in time for any possible delays and those long security lines, just to be safe. It may sound extreme but it sure beats missing your flight.

Planning for Europe in Spring 2017

Q. We are planning ahead for a trip to four major European cities (Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Rome), leaving in late April and returning in late May.

We have yet to decide if we will start the trip in Paris or start in Rome, or some other configuration, whatever works out to be the most inexpensive option. Which days are cheapest to fly abroad?

And should we book one way tickets or can one get a round trip to one city and then fly home from a different city? We are in our seventies and also would like to book 3-4 star hotel rooms. Is it possible to book from the rail stations as I did in my younger days? This would allow us to stay longer if we have more to do and perhaps even skip a city. Wondering if the Eurail pass is the way to go or just get train tickets when we need them.

A. You should probably book an “open jaw” round-trip ticket rather than two one-ways. It doesn’t much matter what arrival and departure cities you choose since the fares will be similar, but typically flying Monday to Thursday will be cheaper than weekend travel. As for hotels, since you’re not traveling during the peak summer season you can probably book “on the fly” but I do recommend looking into, a hotel booking site similar to but with the difference that if the hotel lowers your rate between the time you book and your arrival Tingo will refund the difference to your credit card. You can always cancel if you change your mind (just be sure to book a refundable rate). Seniors can often get discounted rail tickets in Europe and I would just buy point-to-point rail fares since you won’t be taking very many train trips during your stay. However, the train from either Paris or Amsterdam to either Venice or Rome can take quite a while. Paris to Rome can take 11 hours, Paris to Venice 13 hours, and Amsterdam to Venice 18-19 hours, so you might consider flying unless you’re die-hard rail fans.

Long Lines, Missed Flights

Q. After already running late to the airport, I was further held up by a ridiculously long security line. By the time I made it through, my gate was closed and the plane was pulling away. I had to catch a much later flight, and lost a full day of my trip. Isn't there something to be done about these lengthy waits?

A. Aside from applying for TSA PreCheck, there's always just good old-fashioned showing up early. You may try checking the wait times in advance. Also, if flying from an airport you've never used before, leave yourself extra time in case of unexpected obstacles. Getting your boarding pass online or using an automated check-in kiosk will save you time as well. If all else fails, it certainly doesn't hurt to let security know that you're late for your flight. You may be allowed to skip to the front of the line.

Plugged In & Charged Up

Q. I should have thought about this sooner, but didn't. I'm traveling to Europe for the first time this fall. We'll be traveling first to London, then Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Hamburg and, of course, back to London via rail. We will be staying in hotels in the cities. Do you think I need to buy/bring a device to convert to alternating electrical current to charge my iPad and iPhone?

A. You don’t need a converter (i-devices have them built in) but you'll definitely need an outlet adapter, although most hotels these days have “shaver” outlets in bathrooms that accept US-style plugs. I recently misplaced my adapter on a trip to London, and the front desk of the hotel was able to loan me one for a £10 deposit. Of course, you can find universal adapters available online or even for last minute purchase in the shops of any international terminal.

Lengthy Layover in Hong Kong

Q. We have a 23-hour layover in Hong Kong on our way back from Bali to Vancouver. What would you recommend seeing and doing in this amount of time? We love to walk, swim, see beaches, hike, bike, eat Chinese food, see museums, and shop.

A. I've always felt that Hong Kong has the best Chinese food in the world, especially seafood dishes and dim sum, so eating is a must. I had some of the best dim sum ever at the Hotel Icon's Above and Beyond restaurant in Kowloon. To get oriented, you might consider taking a hop on/hop off bus tour with the Big Bus Company. Day and night tours are available (there have been a few route changes due to the recent street demonstrations, but chances are they'll be over by the time you visit). Splendid Tours also offers a variety of sightseeing options, including an airport transit tour (leaving from the airport) that lasts 8 hours. The city has managed to retain a lot of green space, and hiking is a popular activity with locals and visitors. The Peak Circle Walk affords some great views of the city, and the Dragon's Back trail is also very popular. As for museums, the Hong Kong Museum of History is the number 3 rated attraction on For more suggestions, check out TripAdvisor's list of top things to do in the city. If you're interested in art at all, the city now has a huge number of galleries showcasing established and emerging local artists, and gallery hopping is one of my favorite ways to spend time while visiting.

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