Photograph by Trinette Reed, Getty Images
1. Holding out for lower airfare? Airfares change quickly, and even an airline can’t predict whether prices will go up or down (it’s all handled by sophisticated programs). So relax. If you see a price you can afford, buy the ticket and don’t look back. But if you must, use a service like Yapta (www.yapta.com) to track your fare difference.
2. Booking for miles/points? Ads and popular online discussion groups encourage selecting a destination, hotel, or airline with an eye toward collecting the most points and miles. But it rarely benefits you, the traveler, as much as it does the airline or hotel. Don’t get drawn in. Cut up those affinity cards and instead participate in a bank rewards program, such as the Capital One credit card, that allots points or miles for every dollar spent.
3. Double booking? Double trouble: You’re booking online, and your browser freezes—or so you think. The booking can still go through, and if you hit “submit” again, you’ll end up with two tickets or rooms. The good news: You often have 24 hours to cancel. The bad? You might not realize you’ve double booked until it’s too late. If your screen freezes during a booking, call your online agent to see if it went through, wait 24 hours, then rebook.
4. Overwhelmed by options? “Low fare guarantees” have too much fine print to bother. Same goes with “bidding” for your trip (most folks end up overpaying). And always shop around: Like any store, online travel agencies (Orbitz, Expedia) don’t show every airline, hotel, or service.
5. Missing reservation? Don’t make a new booking, at least not yet. Call your agent or the hotel. If they can’t find it, they should be able to replace your reservation at no additional cost. If you’re still charged for the first room—say, by a third party like a travel agency—dispute the amount immediately (within 60 days) on your credit card.
6. Hotel pool closed? You may have grounds for a room credit. Ask nicely at the front desk about receiving compensation for amenities that were promised but not delivered, but be realistic; a resort won’t tear up your bill because the pool wasn’t open. It might, however, throw in a free breakfast.
7. Noisy neighbors? Call the hotel operator to complain about the decibel levels, or go to the front desk in person. If they can’t fix it, ask to be moved. If necessary, appeal to the manager. Worst-case scenario: Check out of the hotel and demand a refund.
8. Room without a view? If your room isn’t the one you paid for, ask to be moved. If the hotel is out of rooms, you can ask for an upgrade or to have your reservation transferred to a comparable hotel (it’s called “walking”), at no extra charge.
9. Missing ticket or ticket segment? Call your travel agent immediately, or, if it’s a direct booking, your airline. You shouldn’t have to pay to get rerouted. Don’t buy a new ticket—odds are, you won’t get your money back.
10. Canceled flight? Get in line at the gate counter, but also pull out your smartphone to call the airline and, at the same time, try to rebook yourself online. You can often fix the problem before you get to the desk. Remember: Airlines won’t cover expenses for weather cancellations, but if it’s a mechanical or operational delay, you’ll likely stay at a hotel on their dime.
11. Lost seat assignment? If the gate agent can’t sort out the issue, appeal to a flight attendant after you’ve boarded. Politely. The sooner you’re in the system with a request, the likelier you’ll get a seat. In the unlikely event you’re bumped from the flight, be aware that you’re due cash compensation under federal law (up to $1,300 for more than a two-hour delay on domestic flights or more than a four-hour delay on international flights).
12. Overbooked flight? Don’t volunteer (unless you want to). Wait to be bumped, when the compensation is richer—up to $1,300 to cover meals and overnight accommodations. Keep in mind that volunteers can negotiate perks but are not entitled to anything until the airline has no choice but to deny a seat.
13. Lost luggage? Don’t assume your suitcase is gone forever just because it doesn’t show up on the conveyor belt. Airlines claim most misplaced baggage is eventually reunited with customers; the industry line is that just 2 percent of bags fail to find their way home. Make a beeline to the airline office to fill out a lost-luggage form (you might have as few as four hours to file a claim). There you should also receive a phone number for tracking your bag as well as an amount you can spend on replacement clothes and toiletries (ask if this isn’t offered). If your luggage is found, the airlines must deliver it at your convenience—not theirs. If the bag doesn’t resurface, be prepared to show receipts to support claims, and review the Montreal Convention to make sure you aren’t being shortchanged (www.dot.gov).
14. Sick of long lines? The Transportation Security Administration’s new PreCheck program fast-tracks travelers in exchange for undergoing a voluntary prescreening. (Bonus: Shoes stay tied and your laptop stays in its case.) PreCheck is currently available for certain frequent fliers at more than a dozen U.S. airports; find the growing list at www.tsa.gov.
15. Didn’t pack a passport? Some cruises stop in international ports but don’t require a passport; however, such “closed loop” cruises are the exception. You should always pack this essential document (you’d be surprised how many would-be cruisers don’t). Getting an emergency passport isn’t much of an option. Even if you have a bit of time and are near a passport agency, you would have to prove that it’s a “life or death” emergency—a serious illness, injury, or death in your immediate family that requires travel within 24 to 48 hours.
16. Sinking in fees? Onboard extras add up, from eating in specialty restaurants to playing arcade games. Eliminate your kids’ spending power: Ask the check-in desk to disable their key cards, which double as credit cards.
17. No compact cars available? The industry-wide policy is to offer a free upgrade if the company runs out of cars in the class you reserved. A rental agent may try to pressure you to buy an upgrade or warn of a lengthy wait time. Don’t fall for it. Insist on the car you asked for, or a free upgrade.
18. Charged for extras? Read your bill carefully. If there’s something on it you don’t recognize, talk to a manager. Once you leave the lot, fixing your bill gets much harder. Among the “gotchas”: fuel purchase options and collision-damage waiver or loss-waiver policies. Watch what you circle and initial.
19. Mechanical difficulties? If you pop a tire on a rental car, call the rental company, not AAA. The company is responsible for transporting you and your broken-down car back to the rental location and providing you with a working set of wheels. Document the breakdown in writing so you aren’t blamed.
20. Stopped at the border? Produce can slow you down in and out of California or Hawaii (leave the pineapple at the plantation). Keep IDs handy; children traveling with only one parent should bring a note from the other. And behave—the place to note displeasure is in a letter to Congress or at the ballot box.
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