Q: My husband and I overheard a couple at a party bragging that they found an airfare-included one-week luxury cruise in Europe for $2,200 per person last year. Since airfares to Europe are so expensive right now (about $1,500 for summer travel from where we live), I can't imagine how this would be possible. Do you know of any airfare-inclusive luxury cruises in Europe this summer?
A: Unfortunately, no. Cruises continue to be one of the best bargains in travel, but as you've found, airfares to Europe can be quite high for peak summer travel dates. However, I have seen some amazing airfare-included cruise deals in past months. Last year, the ultra-luxurious Seabourn Cruise Lines (www.seabourn.com) had some seven-day, shoulder-season (late summer, early fall) airfare-included cruises in Europe for $2,000 per person, double occupancy, plus port taxes -- close to what your fellow partygoers were discussing. The cruise industry has built a lot of new ships in the past few years, and they're not all filling up. So huge price reductions can be found. The best way to learn about them is to sign up for e-mails from various cruise lines or to contact a travel agent specializing in cruising.
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Q: We flew to the Bahamas, and our bag was lost for a few days. Although we were reunited with it, we were surprised to learn that, if it had been lost forever, a different set of rules would apply for compensation because it was an international flight. For domestic flights, the maximum liability would have been $3,300, but it would just be pennies for international flights. Does this apply to all airlines and international travel?
A: A lot depends on the originating country of the flight, since certain jurisdictions, such as the European Community, might have different compensation rules than others.
Many countries and thus airlines follow a set of rules that limit liability for loss or damage to luggage at $9.07 per pound (or about $20 per kilo) for checked baggage and $400 per passenger for unchecked baggage, unless a higher value is declared in advance and additional charges are paid. That's why it's so important to buy excess valuation coverage when checking bags on an international flight. Ask about this coverage when you hand over your luggage at the airport and do a Web search for the term "excess valuation chart" to learn more.
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Q: I see that British Airways and Chase Visa Card are again offering 100,000 bonus miles for signing up for the credit card. In the past, however, I've found that it's hard to "spend" miles on British Airways for the dates I want to travel. Also, when I am able to get seats, the taxes are quite high, so the ticket isn't really free. The annual fee is $95, so is it worth signing up or should I pass on this offer?
A: I recently attempted to spend miles on a summer trip to Europe on British Airways using my miles, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the dates I wanted were readily available. Although I've never done this, you can also spend miles earned on BA with American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and many other airlines in the OneWorld alliance. If you charge a certain amount on this BA/Chase card, you can also get a free companion frequent flier ticket on British Airways (you spend miles for one ticket, and just pay the taxes on the other). I agree that the taxes are rather onerous, but some other OneWorld airlines have lower taxes, and the taxes do vary depending on the route (they seem especially high for travel to and from the United Kingdom). So yes, I'd grab the card while this deal is still on offer. You can do some serious traveling with 100,000 miles!
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Q: Recently, my ticket got changed by the airline so that I now have a four-hour layover between the two legs of my outbound flight. I've heard that it is most common for luggage to be lost when you have long layovers. I would think too quick a layover would mean the luggage may not make the plane, but is too long a layover a problem, too?
A: These days you should thank your lucky stars for such a layover, considering how often flights are delayed. You'll probably arrive with just enough time to grab a quick snack and make your connection. If you're concerned about your bag making the flight, you might want to consider using Fed Ex ground instead. They tend not to lose things so much and, with all those newly invented airline baggage fees, you might even save some cash.
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Q: I recently booked a flight on Southwest Airlines and almost immediately discovered, through an e-mailed alert from Airfarewatchdog.com, that the fare had gone down. Can I take advantage of the cheaper fare and get a refund?
A: You may be in luck. Southwest Airlines is one of the three U.S.-based airlines that will give you a full refund in the form of a travel voucher, good for up to a year, when a fare drops between the time you buy and the time you fly. (The other airlines are JetBlue and Alaska; other airlines will give you a refund but deduct up to $150 on a domestic fare or up to $250 on an international one, which often wipes out any value).
More from George Hobica at www.airfarewatchdog.com.