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Entries during 2014-03

Planning for a Hawaiian Cruise

Q. My family (group of 11) and I would like to take a Hawaiian cruise for 7 days in early December 2015.  We are interested in the cruise because it is all-inclusive (meals, room and activities, etc).  I could not find an all-inclusive resort on the island. Now, as we prepare for the trip, we cannot seem to find any affordable flights from the east coast to Hawaii. They are so expensive. How do I find affordable airline tickets for my family? When should I purchase the tickets? Do you think the cruise is cost effective? Please help! We really would like to travel to Hawaii!

A. Well the good news is that you're planning your trip for early December, which is one of the cheapest times to fly in general (before December 14 or so).  It also means that you have plenty of time to search for a fare. Fares from major hub airports (such as New York JFK, Newark, Philadelphia, Charlotte and Washington) to Hawaii go on sale at least a couple of times a year. The best sales will be fare war, unadvertised sales that may only last a few hours or no more than a day, so when you see a fare drop of $300 or so you should grab seats immediately.

Sign up for free, emailed airfare alerts from third-party sites like, of course, Airfarewatchdog.com but also Kayak.com and other sites.

Since you have a large group, you may also qualify for a group rate from the airlines. Call the airlines' group travel desks to find out what they can do for you

As for cruising the Hawaiian Islands, yes that is a great way to go since you don't have to pay for inter-island flights and your meals and lodging are taken care of.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has a 7-day sailing round-trip from Honolulu December 6-13 for $1399 per person in an inside cabin. They also offer cruise plus air packages from the East Coast, so check with them or your travel agent to see if air plus cruise would save you money. You might also be able to get a group rate on your cruise.

Above image via Shutterstock

Advice on Cards & Points

Q. We travel to Asia periodically, specifically Hong Kong to visit family. I am writing for advice on options to accumulate airfare points/miles. Any specific credit cards or airline companies you recommend using to get more miles for our travel? And is there one that I can utilize for hotel and airfare?

A. You might want to look into the Starwood American Express Card. Yes, you can use your points for both flights and hotels, and you get a 25% bonus when you transfer points to an airline (you need to transfer 20,000 point increments and you get 25,000 airline miles). Plus, there's no annual fee for the first year.

Inexpensive Caribbean Trip

Q. My daughter, Sarah (18) and I would like to take a special, high school graduation celebratory trip to a warm, “tropical” location. She’s interested in “Caribbean” blue waters, though it doesn’t have to be in the Caribbean. We would love to snorkel. I would be interested in visiting some “ruins” on the trip, though not necessary. What we are really looking for is an inexpensive, safe, relaxing, clear-water ocean, beach vacation. It doesn’t need to be 5-star, 3 or 4 is fine. Four to six nights is probably what we could afford. We would travel in July. Could you help us with a recommendation on a destination?

A. Tulum, Mexico! It’s got everything on your list: Ruins, snorkeling, affordable. You’d fly to Cancun and go from there. Everything from sleek all-inclusive resorts to rustic tent camps and bed-and-breakfasts. I realize that Mexico has received a lot of negative media attention due to drug wars and so on, but the Cancun area has not been affected. Have a look here for general travel tips and hotel recommendations.

Above image via Shutterstock

No Name Changes

Q. I booked a flight to Berlin with my friends for May, It’s April and I've found out I can’t go. I want to change the name on my ticket and gift it to a friend. Why won’t my airline allow this?

A. Very few airlines allow name changes. Among the ones that do are Air Canada, WestJet and Frontier Airlines, sometimes for free, other times for a fee, depending on the fare you paid.

Part of the reason is that if name changes were universally allowed, some enterprising person would buy up dozens or perhaps hundreds of seats at the lowest fares and then resell them (with a name change) to other passengers when the fares are higher, such as for last minute travel. This would make for chaos in the airlines’ booking procedures and result in a loss of revenue.

It would create a “ticket tout” marketplace similar to what concert or sports event attendees experience.

Above Image via Shutterstock

Refund on Ukraine Trip?

Q. I'm concerned about an upcoming trip to Ukraine. Our tickets were purchased separately in two itineraries. The first portion of our trip (Dayton to Zurich round-trip) was booked via Delta and we intend to complete that portion as it will allow us to visit our son in Austria which should be safe. What we are worried about and trying to get a refund for is our next leg, the round-trip flights from Zurich to Kiev, booked on SWISS. Thoughts?

A. As stated by SWISS, "We are continually monitoring the situation in the Ukraine as it pertains to passengers who hold SWISS tickets (ZRH-IEV-ZRH). We are offering opportunities for passengers to rebook or obtain refunds for travel now through March 18, 2014. The passenger in question is traveling in April. The situation in the Ukraine is fluid and as a result, this policy is subject to change.
 
To stay updated, our suggestions would be for passengers to check www.swiss.com, check with their travel agent or their insurance broker who would contact us for the latest information."

If the situation is still dangerous in April you should ask for a refund then, since they are offering refunds for those traveling through March 18, so far.

Above image via Shutterstock

Canned Pasta in a Carry On

Q. I had packed a Chef Boyardee pasta in my carry on and it triggered a search. I didn't mind the search but they ended up taking my pasta. Is it allowed or not, even if it's sealed? In hind thought, I should have opened it right then and there and ate it. :)

A. Canned foodstuffs should be packed in your checked luggage. Actually, if you had carried it in a container that could be opened, inspected and resealed, it might have made it through the screening process. An unopened can should definitely be checked to avoid having it taken from you.

Mile Transfers & Codeshares

Q. Last year, I flew round-trip to Italy. From New York to Rome, I flew Alitalia instead of Delta as there were no Delta seats for that leg of the flight. On the return, I flew Delta. I contacted Delta to inquire about the Alitalia miles being added/transferred to my Delta Skymiles account. I'm told that I'm not able to do that. I'm a bit confused that these 2 airlines are codeshare partner airlines and I'm not able to move my Alitalia miles to my Delta account. Delta would have been my preferred airline for the entire trip but it wasn't an option on that leg of the trip.

Can you give me some clarity and/or advice on how I might be able to have these miles transferred to my Delta account?

A. Unfortunately, you cannot transfer the miles. Next time, give Alitalia your Delta frequent flyer number when booking or at check in. This holds true for any codeshare flights where the airlines are partners in a frequent flyer program.

Above image via Shutterstock

Best Business Class Seat from LA to the UK

Q. Which airline has the most comfortable business class seats to the UK? I have a bad back and first class costs too much but I would like to recline as much as possible. I’ll be flying from Los Angeles.

A. As long as the plane you’re flying has fully-lie-flat seats as opposed to those that merely recline, you should be in good shape. But even all lie-flat seats are not created equal in business class. Currently, all airlines flying nonstop between LA and London offer fully lie-flat seats in business class.

There are basically two types: one type reclines from fully upright to lie-flat while you’re in the seat; these seats offer an infinite number of positions between sitting up and lying flat. The other kind requires that you get up from your seat, flip the seat cushion over or down, and then provides a different (usually cushier) surface for sleeping on. Many people find this type more comfortable (one side is an upholstered sitting surface, the other is more like a mattress).

In the first category, American Airlines flies LA to London nonstop on its new Boeing 777-300ER planes, and I find their business class seats to be Goldilocks-approved: not too firm, not too soft (the entertainment system is also excellent); all seats have aisle access, so no climbing over your neighbor.

In the “flip-over” category, Virgin Atlantic has a very comfy business class (it’s called Upper Class) that has recently been re-imagined on some routes (not from LA yet, however). All seats have aisle access, which isn’t true of all business classes. If I had to choose, I’d go with either Virgin Atlantic or American.

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