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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 Tingo.com, a hotel booking site similar to Hotels.com 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 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.

Making Sense of Seat Inventory

Q. Do airlines decrease and increase the number of seats available at advertised sale prices? I ask because last week I saw a sale advertised on an airline web site and went to find seats for my dates of travel but was unsuccessful. However, the next day my friend, who was making the same trip to attend a baby shower, found seats at the sale fare on the exact same flights I searched the day before.

A. There are many reasons why a sale fare might be unavailable one day but available the next. Airlines not only adjust fares, but also the number of seats available at those fares. And if someone has a sale fare on "hold" but doesn't buy it, the sale seat will go back into inventory. So it pays to be diligent and persistent.

Fare Period and Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel valid through December 12" and I tried to book an early fare for Thanksgiving, leaving Wednesday right after work, and coming back the following Sunday. My itinerary falls within the dates covered in your listing, so why didn't I get that fare?! It was hundreds more!

A. We'd like to take this opportunity to address the difference between the dates of travel period and date availability. Not all dates are going to be available within the dates of travel period, especially on any holidays, peak travel days, or weekends (not to mention any blackout dates that the airline institutes.) We also would like to point out that the airlines will set aside a limited number of tickets at a sale price for each date and some dates will sell out at the lower prices before other dates do. Flexible travel dates will increase your chances of booking a sale fare, as will traveling mid-week as opposed to weekends (although people do book weekend sale fares all the time).

Above image via Shutterstock

Delayed Arrival Times

Q. I received two emails this week alerting me to the fact that my flight times on United have been changed. My layovers en route to Boston went from about 90 minutes each to 3 hours. To me, the difference between getting into Boston at 12:05PM and 1:38PM is actually significant. Do I have any recourse here?

A. I don't think that's enough of a schedule change to request a refund or other compensation. And honestly, assuming you're connecting in Newark with chronic delays, even 90 minutes might be pushing it. If there's an earlier flight that has seats, you could call United and ask to be placed on it with no change fee. But airlines make it clear that schedules are never guaranteed.

Seat Selection: Only Premium Economy Seats Left

Q. I recently checked in for a flight I'm scheduled to take to Miami. There was a notice that my flights had been changed, and I needed to contact the airline. This was the only notification I received. My flight wouldn't land in Charlotte until after my connection to Miami had departed. Long story short, I was rebooked, but the airline rep wanted to charge me for a premium economy seat, because they were the only seats left. I argued that since they were the ones changing my flights I shouldn't have to pay. We left it that I would have to wait til I got to the airport for my seat assignment. Who is right here? Will I have to pay?

A. This seems to happen more and more, but there is no need to be coerced into buying a seat in premium economy. You've purchased a ticket and they'll have to give you a seat, be it a premium economy seat for free or, what is likely to happen, a seat in regular economy. Sure, you may end up in a middle seat at the back of the plane, but you'll still make it to your destination.

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