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You can submit your own question to us at askgeorge@airfarewatchdog.com. We will try to answer as many as possible.

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Cancel for Any Reason

Q. Should anything arise before our upcoming vacation, is it possible to get travel insurance that would cover cancellations for any reason?

A. There is such a thing as cancel for any reason insurance, however the premiums are considerably higher than for regular travel insurance; plus cancellation typically must be made at least 48 hours before departure and you won’t get 100% of your expenses refunded.

You might try comparing policies on sites like TravelGuard or InsureMyTrip.

Above image via Shutterstock

Differences in Flight Availability

Q. On a recent Friday afternoon, my friend and I booked our trips together using the same computer. She was going round-trip, I was going one-way, joining her on the return leg. 

She booked her ticket through the US Airways site.  Minutes later, I tried booking my one-way ticket on her return flight...BUT the flight was no longer available. I was finally able to find the exact US Airways flight still available on Orbitz and booked through them instead.

I also called up US Airways and was told that they update their system on Friday and although they try to do it in the middle of the night, sometimes it doesn’t work out. My question is:  Do you know what day of the week the major airlines update their information? In searching for the right time and price for this trip, we found that a lot of times the airline sites did not list flights that were available on other sites.  

A. There could be two things happening here. One, it’s possible that there was just a single seat available at the lowest fare on that flight, and your friend grabbed it.

The other possibility is that a lower fare lingered on Orbitz because of different updating schedules. New fares can be entered into computer systems at any time. It used to be that fares were updated for domestic flights three times a day during the week and once a day on weekends, but that’s no longer the case. Airlines can now push through airfare updates dynamically if they need to (for example, if there’s a fare error, they can correct it more quickly than 7 or 10 years ago).

Above image via Shutterstock

23-Hour Layover in Hong Kong

Q. We have a 23-hour layover in Hong Kong on our way back from Bali to Vancouver in February 2015. 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, and February is a good month to hike since the weather is cooler. 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 TripAdvisor.com. 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.

Above image via Shutterstock

One Ticket Left

Q. I've noticed that a number of discount airlines have included on their online booking search results such statements as "one ticket left at this price!" next to the fare price. While I've seen that prices actually do go up after that one ticket is bought, I'm wondering how believable is this statement? Does it necessarily mean the price won't go any lower in the future? Is this all a marketing ploy to get you to buy a ticket as soon a possible?

A. We’ve also noticed this, and we think it’s a legitimate warning. Airlines sell only a certain number of seats at their lowest fares at any given moment. However, this doesn’t mean that they won’t open up more seats at the same fare later on, or that they won’t lower the fare on a route to an even lower price the next day. Fares and seat availability at the lowest fares are in constant flux. The best way to nab a deal is to sign up for free low fare alerts from the many web sites offering this service.

Above image via Shutterstock

Vouchers & Expirations

Q. I have a voucher on Southwest Airlines that’s about to expire. Can I book a flight before expiration and fly the flight later?

A. Unfortunately, Southwest vouchers require that you complete travel before the expiration date. You can sometimes get an extension of up to six months, however. Contact customer service to see if you qualify. Other airlines, such as Frontier, allow you to book your flight during the voucher’s validity period and fly anytime you can book a fare. Some United vouchers require flying during the validity period, others allow you to book during the validity period and fly later. These rules are subject to change and vary from airline to airline.

Above image via Shutterstock

Trip Insurance: Cancellations in Perfect Health?

Q. I booked a vacation for 4, leaving in November on a cruise. Now one of the 4 cannot make the trip. I did purchase trip insurance, but I'm told that since this isn't due to medical reasons, a refund isn't an option. Can they do that?

A. Possibly. Travel insurance policies differ greatly in their terms of what is and isn't covered. So it all depends on the specific type of policy you purchased and its terms of coverage. Some protect you against trip cancellation/interruption due to illness, and some even allow a refund should you find you suddenly get called into work. We always recommend reading through your travel insurance policy before purchasing, so you can make an informed decision about exactly what it is you're buying.

Above image via Shutterstock

Travel Insurance Considerations

Q. When checking travel companies for trips and tours they always suggest purchasing travel insurance. The problem is that sometimes the insurance costs as much as $499.00 per person for a 14-day trip. We are retired and like to travel now, but even at 3 or 4 trips a year, this adds up considerably. What do you think of those annual travel insurance programs that some companies are offering?

A. First, let’s think about the #1 reason people end up using a travel insurance product: it’s illness or injury before taking the trip (either illness or injury to the traveling party of someone near and dear to the traveling party who is not actually traveling—you and your husband are planning a trip together, but your niece gets into a serious accident 10 days before departure and you don’t feel it’s a good idea to take off).  Many credit cards, as I’ve written before, provide quite good coverage for this scenario, as long as you charge your trip (in some cases just a portion, in other cases the whole thing) to the card. Particularly good are the Chase Sapphire Card and the United Chase Explorer Card.

The other thing that happens the most is getting sick or injured after the trip has commenced. If you’re insured by Medicaid or Medicare, your medical and hospital bills might not be covered overseas, so it’s a good idea to have emergency medical insurance, which many travel policies offer.

But the most financially devastating scenario, for which there are annual plans, is this: you’re seriously injured in the middle of nowhere overseas (for example, you’re hiking down the trail from Machu Picchu in Peru and you trip and break your leg in 12 places—this actually happened to a colleague of mine).  It’s going to cost a lot of money to safely get a) to a qualified hospital in Peru but more importantly b) get you back home safely in an air ambulance (assuming that you cannot take a commercial flight because your condition won’t allow it). Companies like MedJet Assist are designed to safely bring you back to any hospital of your choice—from the trail where you broke your leg, to the nearest quality hospital, and then back home, once you’re medically stabilized. Such trips can cost over $100,000 without insurance, so the cost can be catastrophic.

Another fairly common scenario is simply that you miss your cruise or the start of your tour because of a delayed or canceled flight. Credit cards don’t cover that sort of thing, but regular travel insurance does. It really depends on the price of your trip and how much you can afford to write off if something goes awry. I would insure a $5000 non-refundable cruise, but maybe not a $1000 trip if only the first hotel night is non-refundable.

Bottom line: the only travel insurance I buy is, in fact, emergency medical evacuation. I can’t afford to foot a $100,000 bill.

Above image via Shutterstock

Return Fare from Beijing

Q. I was fortunate enough to get a low fare one-way from Prague to Hong Kong. I am now searching for a return fare, probably from Beijing to Toronto and it appears that it is cheaper to buy a return fare from Toronto than it is a one-way from China. Even one-way fares from Toronto to Beijing are half the cost of a one-way from Beijing to Toronto. Do you have any advice on this?

A. You may find that it's cheaper to buy a round-trip fare from Beijing to Toronto and not use the return portion. Or it may work out better to fly from either Hong Kong or Beijing to some other North American city, either one-way or round-trip (scrapping the return, of  course) and finding a cheap ticket onward to Toronto.

If possible, you could also use miles towards your return flight home, which is what many people did for those crazy low Milan/Prague/Hong Kong/Tokyo one-way fares that sprung up a few months back.

Beijing image via Shutterstock

Sneaky Seat Blocking

Q. Do airlines block out a large section of seats to make it appear there are fewer seats remaining? When Alaska Airlines cancelled the final leg of our trip, we reviewed the airline website for flights returning a day before and after our original return date. None of the alternate flights offered adjoining seats. Yet, when we called Alaska, they immediately assigned us two seats together in a section that appeared to be completely filled on their website. How likely is it that we will be reassigned seats?

A. Yes, some airlines do block out seats, even if the plane is half-empty, and sometimes a call to the airline will sort things out. They do this in part to accommodate last minute business customers who are flying on higher-priced “walk up” fares, to cater to their preferred frequent travelers, and also, in some instances, to entice consumers to purchase “premium” seat assignments for a fee. Even if you end up not sitting together, it’s always possible to ask fellow passengers to trade seats. A good strategy is to offer to buy the accommodating passenger a couple of cocktails on board, or bring along some Starbucks gift cards ($10 should do the trick) as a thank-you.

Above image via Shutterstock

Last Minute Fare Hunt

Q. Is it possible to find an inexpensive walk-up price for any airlines these days? I'd like to fly to San Antonio in the next few days to visit a sick family member and flights are over $500.

A. Walk up fares are far from cheap, so you might give Priceline's Name-Your-Own-Price a shot. We've managed to score some pretty terrific fares for last minute trips, even when booking the day before departure. Before placing your bid, Priceline provides the current going rate along with recent winning bids from other users, which is pretty helpful. If your bid isn't accepted, you'll be asked to change your search parameters - such as the number of connections you're willing to make, or choosing nearby airports, before eventually raising your bid. Chances are you'll find something for much less than $500.

Above image via Shutterstock

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