Book a ticket when you need it. And no, there isn’t. But it’s a qualified “no.” Research suggests that if you buy your ticket when most people do — between one and four months before you fly — you’re likely to find the lowest price. Don’t push the button too early or too late, because fares tend to rise, especially as you close in on your departure date. Some airfare soothsayers claim you can find a bargain by waiting until a particular day and time, like Wednesday at 1 a.m. in the airline’s time zone. But the savings are minimal and probably not worth your time, not to mention the lost sleep.
Yes: Joe and Lorraine have three school-age children. They want to know exactly how much that Caribbean vacation is going to cost before the credit card bill arrives. The couple like their margaritas, and the kids feel all grown up ordering an endless stream of burgers and virgin frozen drinks from the snack bar. They all love snorkeling and banana-boat rides, which is why they chose an all-inclusive that includes watersports. And when the social director yells “Limbo,” they’re first in line. No one is a foodie. A buffet with lots of choices is good enough. Bonus: Their package included airfare.No: Mary and Edward spend their weekends exploring wineries and hitting the newest restaurants. They don’t like crowds and still talk about that trip they took hiking the Alaskan backcountry. Neither can remember ever having eaten from a buffet. They like an occasional cocktail but don’t drink very much. Their idea of a vacation is meeting the locals and getting to know places tourists don’t typically visit. They work hard, so they aren’t worried about paying more than expected. — CS
Since 2006, the Transportation Security Administration has limited “wet” substances to 3.4 ounces in one quart-size plastic zip-top bag. The restriction covers liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes, with an exception for travelers needing larger quantities of medications, baby formula/food and breast milk for the flight. (Be sure to inform the security officer of your extras.) However, many items, such as nail polish pens and coconut cream pie, fall into a blurry area. For these objects, plus thousands more, the agency has designed an app and online tool called “Can I Bring My . . . ?” For example, plug in tapioca pudding, gummy worms and denture glue, and the Oracle responds with “check only,” “check or carry on” and “special instructions” (3-1-1 applies). Also, remember that TSA restricts objects that look or behave like weapons, such as baseball bats and water guns. The best advice: If you have any doubt, pack it in your checked bag or leave it at home. — AS
The ideal time and place to resolve a travel-related problem is now. So if you’re experiencing substandard service, say something as soon as possible. Whether you’re staying at a hotel, renting a car or flying, chances are an employee is empowered to help you fix the problem by offering you a different room, a more convenient flight or another vehicle. If that doesn’t work, then a brief, polite e-mail sent to the company after you return is the best course of action. A paper trail is important, because you might have to forward it to a supervisor, or to a consumer advocate like me. If the e-mails don’t work, try escalating it to a manager.
Planning a trip with a specific purpose will need fine-tuning, but general rules apply no matter what the occasion. First, ask lots of questions of the participants. What’s the goal of the trip? What’s the budget? What are their interests? What mode of travel is preferred? Is alone time necessary or is everyone group-oriented? How many days can they get away?For groups comprised of individuals traveling from far-flung destinations, choosing the right spot is key. Start by looking at Web sites of the participants’ home airports for common destinations. Concentrate on nonstop flights. If connections are mandatory, choose flights that depart early in the day, which will afford more options if a flight is missed.For groups in which each person has a different idea of fun, compromise is necessary. If it’s an annual or biennial event, take turns choosing. If it’s a one-off, choose a trip that everyone can at least grudgingly accept: A cruise, an all-inclusive or renting a big house in the Outer Banks may fit the multigenerational bill.