Category Archives: Travel Tips

How do you know if you have a good travel deal?

Have you booked the right vacation?

Have you booked the right vacation?

Is this a good travel deal? How to decide, lucky you still have a travel agent to help you through the minefield of choices.

A bargain basement deal on a beach vacation may not be such a good price if you like activities or sightseeing.

It all depends on what you like to do, don’t just go with rock-bottom prices, use a travel agent’s vast experience and resources.

1. Do a bit of in-depth thinking (both personal and trip-oriented) before planning to visit the travel agent and book your vacation, it will save both you and the agent a huge amount of time if you have a good idea of what you want before the booking process begins.

2. How active of a vacation do you want to have? Are you the type who wants to just tan on a beach, or do you want to enjoy a variety of different activities such as sightseeing, mixing with the locals or some sort of happy medium of the two?

3. Who is going with you? Consider you’re traveling companions. What are their interests, preferences, and energy levels? Do their vacation expectations match up with yours?

4. How much do you want to spend? In what areas do you want to splash out, and which areas are you willing to cut back on?

5. Will you be spending most of your time outdoors? How important is it to you to have perfect weather for sunbathing or doesn’t the weather matter since you will be pre occupied exploring museums and art galleries inside?

6. How long do you want to be away? Are you able to tailor your budget and interests to fit your time requirement?

Once you have answers to these questions, you should have a good idea of what type of vacation you’re planning, from which accommodations type is right for you to how lazy or active your itinerary should be. Let your answers inform how you plan the rest of your trip, particularly in determining the best value for each travel component.

7. Airfare is the most rigid travel area, as far as measuring value goes. You’ll be subject to factors beyond your control, such as seasonality, supply and demand, and airline fees; but there are a few areas your travel agent can tweak to get the best value for your travel dollars. The best advice is to start early to get the best sense of prices, number of daily flights, and airlines that offer routes to your destination. If your travel dates aren’t set in stone, you may take advantage of the many flexible-date search tools travel agents have to see when prices are lowest. You can decide if you want a direct flight (if available) or are willing to connect. Oftentimes connecting flights are cheaper, although you will add more time to your journey and risk the chance of getting waylaid if there are any delays or cancellations. There are other factors a travel agent will help in the decision process by calculating all applicable baggage, meal, and other fees that airlines charge to figure out what your final ticket cost will be, as well as compare true costs across competitor airlines to find the best value for your trip.

8. Accommodation choices, there are so many choices here—all-inclusive resorts, no-frills motels, multi-star hotel properties, bed and breakfasts, inns, vacation rentals, home exchanges—which is right for you? Accommodations tend to take up a big chunk of your budget, so your travel agent will focus first on the style of property you’d like. If you like solitude, you may gravitate more toward hotels or vacation rentals. If you like a social atmosphere, an all-inclusive resort (particularly those with group activities and entertainment options) or a B&B might be a good fit.

Once you’ve narrowed down your accommodation type and started researching properties, the per-night price can be calculated and what exactly is included. Does the property have daily breakfast, parking, and Internet paid for with the nightly rate? Does it have amenities you’ll take advantage of, such as a pool, a fitness center, laundry facilities, and the like? Is it located close to the action (e.g., a downtown city hotel) or is it more secluded? Do the check-in and check-out times work with your schedule? Don’t necessarily jump at the lowest price—for just a few dollars more, there may be something that includes a host of extras that match your tastes.

9. Rental cars, like airfares, are a bit more rigid. Your price will be subject to which models of cars are available, the demand for the model you want to book, and local taxes and fees.

When renting a car, consideration is dependent on whether it makes more sense to rent from an airport or off-airport location. Oftentimes you can snag a better price by going off-airport, but what you save in dollars may get spent in time, by foregoing the convenience of the airport pickup and drop-off. Factors such as fuel efficiency, vehicle inside space and add-on possibilities (e.g., GPS devices, roadside assistance services, and more).

10. Vacation packages, similar benchmarks can be used to those suggested in the airfare and hotel sections when researching vacation package bundles. Airfare-and-hotel packages can be a great way to save, but your travel agent will always make sure the properties included fit what you’re looking for. They will do a cost-analysis breakdown, checking the vacation package price and offerings to the same components (airfare, hotel, car, etc.) a la carte to see if you’ll get a better deal by bundling or by purchasing each trip item separately.

11. Cruising even for the veteran cruiser or the newbie contemplating taking a cruise for the first time, means there’s a lot to consider before booking your next vacation. Beyond price, there are the ports of call, trip duration, cabin styles, on-ship atmosphere, food options, and more to think about. This is an area where an experienced travel agent will advise you on best cruise line for your personality and budget.

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Rainbow Travel Blog 20May10

EST 06h00: BA Strike shock for travellers.

 BritishAirways

THE UK’s Unite Union has won their appeal against a High Court injunction prohibiting British Airways cabin crew members from participating in planned walkouts.

The decision by the High Court means that strikes can go ahead as soon as next week.

Walkouts by cabin crew members were originally planned for May 18-22 , May 24-28, May 30-June 3 and June 5-9.

In response to the announcement British Airways said in a statement: “We are very disappointed that Unite’s appeal has been upheld, reintroducing the threat of strike action. Our key concern now is to keep as many of you flying as possible and we will be proceeding with our contingency plans.”

Unite did not release an official statement by the time of going to press.

Canadian embassy in Thailand closes amid protests.

canada_flag_wavy2

THE Canadian Embassy in Bangkok has been forced to close its doors due to unrest in the capital. The embassy will be closed until further notice along with the US, British, Belgium, German, Japanese, New Zealand, Swedish and Australian embassies.

LUFTHANSA took delivery of its first A380, ‘Frankfurt am Main’, on May 19.

lufthansa-a380

The aircraft offers a total of 526 seats in a three class configuration. The entirely new first class cabin offers eight seats on the upper deck, 98 seats in business class also on the upper level and 420 seats in economy class.

The German national football team will also soon get the opportunity to experience the A380, when they depart on a special flight to Johannesburg for the World Cup.

The A380 will enter scheduled service with Lufthansa on June 11 on the Frankfurt-Tokyo route. By autumn, Lufthansa expects to have taken delivery of four A380s, which will be operated on routes to Beijing and Johannesburg.

Let’s hope that we might see the aircraft on the Vancouver to Frankfurt route one day.

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Rainbow Travel Blog 7thMay10

Important Air Canada Information.

Air Canada

Air Canada

Air Canada’s check-in for flights within Canada at Vancouver International Airport has temporarily been moved to the international terminal due to maintenance of the baggage system in the domestic terminal. This change will be in effect until May 22, 2010.

Visa introduces World Cup Visitors Guide.

 

WorldCupSA

Visa has created an easy-reference travel guide that aims to give visitors the insight they need into South Africa to ensure that they are as well informed as possible.

Developed with the help of local experts from South Africa, the Visitors Guide: South Africa contains information on must-see heritage sites, museums, safari parks and other attractions as well as insight on local shopping and dining hot spots.

The guide offers information such as a football glossary and World Cup schedule, a list of qualified teams and helpful money and payment card tips.

Special merchant offers for Visa cardholders such as discounts at heritage sites, museums, parks and other attractions throughout South Africa are also included – designated by a small blue Visa card throughout the guide.

“We want to make sure people attending the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ have a memorable experience, so for fans travelling to South Africa we created this easy reference travel guide to help answer questions about the area and help them prepare for their trip,” said Antonio Lucio, Chief Marketing Officer of Visa Inc.

“To ensure any trip is a success, travellers must prepare in advance, especially when it comes to their money. When travelling internationally, it’s important to know what payment cards are accepted, the best way to exchange your money for local currency and what to do in an emergency.”

To view an interactive version of the Visa Visitor Guide, visit www.visa.com/fifavisitortravelguide

China: Update to the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Shanghai Expo 2010
Enhanced security measures have been implemented in Shanghai for the World Expo 2010 which is taking place from May 1, to October 31, 2010. Travellers should expect an increased police presence and numerous check points which are likely to cause severe traffic disruptions.

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Today’s Travel News

Thai PM to dissolve parliament in September

Thailand

Thai Festival

THAILAND’s Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has announced that he is ready to dissolve parliament in September, paving the way for elections in and effort to end the political crisis. Vejjajiva outlined a five-point national reconciliation plan to end the crisis, including holding early elections on November 14. The set election date comes about a year before the end of his term and was offered on condition that all parties accept it and drop demands of an immediate poll. Vejjajiva further said that the ‘Red Shirt’ protestors should stop all protest or he would not dissolve the parliament. Although the announcement was welcomed by many, some anti-government protestors demanded more talks before agreeing to end protests. Media are reporting that several thousands of protestors remained in Bangkok saying that they still have problems.

Philippines Warning level: Exercise a high degree of caution

philippines_logo

Update to the risk of election related violence. The Philippines will hold national elections on May 10, 2010 and the Presidential Inauguration will take place on June 30, 2010. The security situation remains uncertain and there is a risk of election related violence throughout the country. Canadians should maintain a high level of personal security awareness at all times and avoid any protests, demonstrations and large gatherings, as the situation could deteriorate rapidly. Political parties’ headquarters and political rallies should also be avoided, as they could be the target of attacks.

Fuel surcharges take to the seas again

FuelSurcharge

Fuel Surcharge

CUNARD line and P & O Cruises have decided to reintroduce fuel surcharges. A fuel surcharge of US$3.85 will be charged per person per day or a maximum of US$154 per person per voyage. Children will also not escape this fee as the two brands will apply the supplement onto any third and fourth berth passengers as well as children’s fare bookings.

Fuel surcharges were removed in 2008 when oil prices stabilised. The decision to reintroduce these charges was made by the cruise company itself and it is not yet known if other cruise lines will do the same.

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To Tip Or Not To Tip?

Going out for dinner tonight, are you going to leave a tip?

Of course you are, it’s just a known thing, unless of course you receive such bad service that you feel you want to make it known by not leaving a tip. Sometimes though even after receiving the worst service a tip has already been included in your bill, it was mandatory at that restaurant.

When travelling on vacation or business though tipping is not so obviously as clear as a restaurant experience. How about the hotel you are staying at and enjoying all the facilities that it offers?

There are no set rules for hotels, you don’t want to under tip, but you also don’t want to throw your hard earned money around and insulting workers who might be above the tipping chain, or in whose culture tipping is not expected or even seen as an insult.

What do you do when you pull up in your car and the valet swiftly whisks you out of the car and tells you not to worry the car parking is taken care of. Whilst that is being done someone else grabs your bags to take inside, whilst that was being done someone else takes you up to your room in the elevator and shows you around your room.

The stress hits immediately, how much do you tip the butler and also shouldn’t you be tipping the other two guys, even if you didn’t know who they were. Then the butler politely informs you to put your wallet away and wait until check out when one gratuity would be split between everyone involved.

Now that’s a relief  isn’t it, for the rest of the stay you can enjoy free shuttle rides, help with your bags without having to worry about keeping bundles of Dollar bills. Still it’s hard to know if that rule applies at every hotel with butler service, especially in developing countries where every dollar counts to take home to their family.

For the All Inclusive resorts in places like Mexico and the Caribbean it’s hard not to be tempted to tip when butlers bring you coffee and muffins in the morning, setting up your sun bed with towels and tables by the pool, bringing fresh towels and delivering bottles of cold water even when the resort has made it clear that service is included. Imagine the stress when you notice other guests tipping on every occasion, do you then start to think that maybe you should be tipping everyone now instead of at the end of your stay.

So we decided to take the advice of a travel expert who inspects hotel’s for a living, the answer is simpler than you think.

To be safe whenever a service is performed you need to tip, break a $20 or two at the front desk on check in for $1 and $5 bills. When you pull up in front of the hotel and the man takes your bags, that’s the first thing you do, give $1-2 per bag. It’s not required for the doorman as that’s his job, but every time someone gets your car, anytime someone helps, you need to tip, that’s part of the cost of travel.

Tipping per bag applies to both the bellman who takes the bag from your car to the front desk and  whoever brings your bags to the room. If that person shows you around the room, you should up the tip  $5-10. To ensure the best service you should tip the housekeeper and anytime someone brings you something to your room have a few dollars handy to give,the same rule applies to a butler.

If you are still not sure, don’t stress out just ask the front desk or question the concierge and even when a service charge is included it is recommended that at the end of the stay to do one tip that is distributed internally.

So don’t let the worry of tipping ruin your hard-earned holiday, just go with the flow and have a wonderful vacation.

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Travel Industry Jargon

Rainbow Travel Blog - Commonly Used Travel Jargon

I was meeting a friend for coffee and he was planning a vacation.  I was providing some suggestions when he asked me for clarification when he didn’t understand some of the terms / acronyms I used.  I thought I would take this opportunity to explain some commonly used jargon in the travel industry.

Charter Flight – A non scheduled flight.  A single flight that is chartered by a company for a specific trip in order to transport a group, usually as part of a vacation package.

Direct Flight – A flight with one or more intermediary stops but passengers remain on the air craft during the stop.

Fuel Surcharge – A fee added to the ticket by the airline to recover the increased fuel cost.

Lowest Available Fare – The lowest price available at a specific point in time.  Availability is limited and is sold out quickly.

Open Jaw – A term for the sitatuion where a person flies into one airport but departs from another.   

Pax – An abbreviation for passengers.

Rack Rate – The official rate offered by a hotel to the public before any discounts.

If there are others you have seen but don’t understand, leave a comment below.

In my next post I’ll describe some commonly used acronyms.

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Coping with the Middle Seat

Airplane Seat

Rainbow Travel Inc - Sitting in the middle?

Today’s post ends our series about the dreaded Middle Seat, how to cope if you get stuck with it.

* Get to the seat early and politely assume the armrests to assert your personal space.  Your seatmates by the window and aisle already have their own space on their respective sides.

* Store as much of your personal belongings in your checked luggage or the overhead bins instead of under the seat in front of you. This maximizes the space you can stretch out.

* Be considerate of your seatmates.  Get up from your seat early in the flight to use the lavatory or stretch your legs before your seatmates settle in to the onboard movie, starts reading their book/newspaper/magazine, etc, or takes a nap.

* Make yourself comfortable. Listen to music with your earphones, slip on your eye mask, take a nap, or read a book. This also serves to discourage interaction with a chatty and/or nosy seatmate, unless that’s what you want.

* Just resign yourself to the situation, it’s not worth getting angry and frustrated.  You know it won’t be fun or comfortable so just make the best of it.  Try to practice the relaxation or meditation techniques you’ve read about.

I’ve listed a few helpful links below:

Here are a couple of useful links for details about airplane seating charts:

* SeatGuru by TripAdivsor

* SeatExpert

Next week, I’ll post the first article in this series about the Middle Seat that was published in last month’s newsletter, “What you can do if you get stuck with the middle seat”.

How to Avoid the Middle Seat

Rainbow Travel Blog - Don't want to get stuck with the middle seat?

Rainbow Travel Blog - Don't want to get stuck with the middle seat?

I started a 3 part series in my travel agency’s October  newsletter with suggestions on what you can do if you get stuck with the middle seat. Today’s blog post is about how to avoid the middle seat on a flight. 

– Provide your travel consultant with your seating preference. Most travel agencies will ask clients to fill out a Customer Information / Preferences form. This is your opportunity to list the frequent flier programs you are enrolled in, your seating preferences, etc.

– Whether you book with your travel consultant or online, find out the seating plan on the flight before making the reservation.

– Book your flight as early as possible.

– Double check your e-ticket for a seating assignment. Take a moment to refer to a plane seating chart just for peace of mind.

– Reconfirm all details with the service agent if booking over the phone.

– If you book online, most websites allow passengers to select their seats.

– At the airport, before you leave the check-in desk, make sure your boarding pass lists the seating assignment.

– Don’t check-in too late because you already have your preferred seating assignment. Reserved seats are released at a predefined time prior to departure in the event of no shows.

– If only middle seats are available for your flight, ask the agent at the check-in counter for the middle seat between 2 people with the same surname. They are usually family members hoping to claim the row to themselves. Usually, if you split them up, they will offer to trade for either the window or the aisle seat.

If you have any suggestions on how to avoid the middle seat, please share them. I’m going to end the series with how to make the best of being stuck in the middle seat.

Cruising – FAQ’s

Rainbow Travel Inc - Your Source for Cruising

Rainbow Travel Inc - Your Source for Cruising

Here are responses to common questions about cruising that we often encounter at our travel agency:

Q. Can cruise lines accommodate my special dietary requirements?

A. Cruise lines can accommodate most special dietary requirement, like low sodium, Kosher, low carbohydrates, etc. Make your request in advance with your Travel Consultant at the time of booking.

Q. Will I get seasick?

A. This has becomes an infrequent occurence with the new technological advances in cruise ships today. Their sheer size, the use of stabilizers, and the advanced weather tracking systems enable ships to avoid choppier waters.  If you have any concerns about motion sickness, please consult your doctor prior to sailing.

Q. I booked a Cabin Guarantee, not a specific cabin. When do I find out my cabin assignment ?
 
A. A “Cabin Guarantee” entitles you to a cabin in the category that you booked.  You will find out your cabin assignment when you check-in for your cruise.  If the cabin category category happens to be full at this time, you will receive a complimentary upgrade to a higher cabin category.

Q. How much luggage can I bring onboard the ship?

A. There is no limit on how much luggage you can bring on your cruise. However, if you are flying to your embarkation city, airlines do have limits and may charge fees for check-in luggage.  Ask your Travel Consultant at the time of booking your cruise. 

Q. Should I purchase the Air/Sea package through the cruise line?
 
A. Once you’ve booked your cruise through your own Travel Consultant, you will be referred to a Cruise Line representative who will take care of the air/sea arrangements . The main benefit of booking the cruise lines’ air/sea package is worry free convenience.  The Cruise Lines is responsible for arranging your flights and the  ground transportation from the airport to the ship and back from the ship to the airport on your return.  

Q. If I book my own airfare with my Travel Consultant, what time should my flights arrive and depart?

A. We recommend arriving at least 1 day before the cruise to minimize any concerns about delayed or cancelled flights.  This becomes especially important during the winter months when bad weather often affects flights.

Return flights can be booked for the late afternoon or evening on the day your cruise returns. We strongly recommend investigating the transportation options between the cruise terminal and the airport before booking your airfare.

Q. Should I splurge on a stateroom with a balcony?

A. It depends. Balconies are great, you have your own private floor to ceiling view of the water and your journey to your next destination.  Plus, it’s nice to be able to getaway from the crowds and enjoy the relaxing ocean breeze in the cabin with a beverage in your hand.  

However, if you like meeting new people, getting involved in the many shipboard activities , taking advantge of the amenities onboard (spa,  swimming pool, basketball, bowling, etc), signing up for the excursions at each port, then a balcony may not be a priority for you.

Talk to your Travel Consultant and let them know what you’re looking for, your budget, and your availability to travel. There may be a sale / promotion available to get a stateroom with a balcony at a discount price.

How To Save Money During Your Cruise

Now that you’ve booked yourself a cruise, I’d like to share some ideas to help you save money during your cruise. Remember, you are on vacation so you should enjoy yourself, it’s just a matter of finding a good balance between  a little indulgence and watching your pennies.

When you begin your cruise, each adult is given an electronic card to access their cabin but it also serves as their ID for reboarding the ship and as a “charge card” for onboard services (including the casino) and purchases.  At the end of your cruise, you will receive a statement summarizing all your transactions.  The electronic card is very convenient since you don’t have to worry about carrying your wallet/purse with you.

Check Your Cabin Statement During The Cruise – As you can imagine, the convenience of the “charge card” can become too convenient since it’s not difficult to lose track of all your small transactions. We suggest checking the statement at least once if not twice before the end of the cruise. This can be done through the Pursers Desk or possibly using the interactive television in your cabin (depending on the cruise ship).

Beverages – Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are traditionally not included in your cruise fare. Some Cruise Lines offer a sticker or a card that allows you unlimited soda pop and sometimes other non-alcoholic drinks. If you’re a coffee drinker, find out if your cruise offers a “coffee card” which entitles you to a set number of coffee beverages for one price. Before investing in one of these beverage options, realistically think about how much you will actually drink during your cruise.

If you order a bottle of wine with your meal, check with your server to find out if they can cork and store your bottle for the next night if you can’t finish it. Cruise Lines don’t allow passengers to bring their own alcohol onboard.  All luggage is X-Rayed as part of their security procedures.  I heard from a client that they discreetly packed wine in a tetra carton in their luggage/carry-on to enjoy in the privacy of their cabin.

Telephone and Internet – Ship-to-Shore phone calls are possible but expensive. If you don’t need to make a call but want to call someone, consider waiting until you reach the next port of call and use a pre-paid calling card.

Internet cafes and wi-fi hot spots are common on most cruise ships but their accessibility does come at a cost per minute (or a bit less if purchase a package). We all love our tech gadgets like Blackberries, iPhones, etc but don’t forget…you are away on vacation to relax and escape from your day to day hustle and bustle. Similar with the previous suggestion for phone calls, there is likely to be an internet cafe at your next port-of-call.

Bring Your Own Camera – Cruise ships have onboard photographers who can be seen taking photos everywhere.  They offer to sell you photos they’ve taken or offer to take photos of you and your travel companions for a price. You can save money using your own camera to take pictures or offering your camera to a fellow passenger to take a picture of you and your friends. If the onboard photographer has captured a special moment, buy a photo or two but restrain yourself from too many.

Medical Expense – Purchase travel medical insurance before your cruise for peace of mind if your current medical insurance does not cover you. While medical emergencies are rare, they are very expensive, e.g. air transport from the cruise ship or being taken to the hospital in an emergency vehicle from the pier.  I’ve heard that there’s even a cost to see the onboard medical staff.

Booking Your Next Cruise During Your Cruise – All Cruise Lines have a staff onboard who can help you book your next cruise. Find out what incentives they are offering you for a deposit on your future booking. Also their base prices for cruises are typically lower than what you’d find back on shore, some offers allow you to book at a discount with your travel consultant.

Minimize Your Alternative Dining – Eat in the regular dining rooms; they offer a wide variety of options to suit everyone’s tastes. The alternative (aka premium) restaurants will cost you extra so consider these a treat rather than a regular dining option.

Airfare To Your Departure Point – You are you not required to book your airfare with the Cruise Line.  The benefit of booking with them is that if your plane is late or delayed, the Cruise Line will try their best to join you with the next Port-of-Call (check with your Cruise Line for specific details). If you find a better airfare deal with your travel consultant, we strongly recommend arriving at your port of embarkation AT LEAST one day in advance.

If you have any suggestions on how to save money during a cruise, please share them here.