Boarding Pass

By David Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 365th issue of your monthly overseas travel magazine.

The airlines are feeling the pinch and passing along the burden.

This year, Northwest Airlines began charging $15 more for some emergency exit row seats and a few aisle seats. These less-claustrophia-causing seats are up for grabs 24 hours before check-in. WorldPerks and SkyTeam Elite members can reserve them at no charge.

Also a few months ago, the budget airline Ryanair, based in Dublin, Ireland, began charging passengers £2.50 for each piece of checked luggage (£5 for each if you don’t let them know in advance). By “encouraging” people to take only carry-on luggage, the airline hopes to reduce airport handling costs and to speed up the boarding procedure.

And the ultimate money-saving plan, which, luckily, no airlines have signed up for yet, comes from Airbus. The manufacturer is pitching to Asian carriers an aircraft cabin design with a standing-room-only section in which passengers each would be harnessed to an upright padded backboard. Not only could more people then fit on a plane, but the backboards are 15 pounds lighter than a typical economy-class seat (74 to 82 pounds), which would help reduce fuel consumption. Such planes would only be used for short hops.

In response to my report on the world’s “most expensive” cities in this space last month, ITN received the following letter:

“The surveys that measure costs of living in cities throughout the world are essential tools for human resource departments trying to decide expat salaries, but they can be somewhat misleading, and the concept of how ‘expensive’ a city is is hazy at best.

“For instance, the average person in Shanghai or Beijing earns just over $100 per month and manages to live on that much, yet both of these cities have been ranked as more expensive than Los Angeles. The reason is that these surveys are based on expat spending habits, which have little to do with how expensive a place can be for a local or, more importantly in this case, a traveler.

“Japan can be quite an affordable destination for travelers, with airfare to Tokyo plus four nights’ accommodation starting at $899 in the low season, not to mention the availability of a discounted railpass for foreign tourists, budget hotel options and cheap yet delicious restaurants, such as noodle shops and coffee shops.

“The reason I am writing is that we are currently trying to dispel the image of Japan as a prohibitively expensive travel destination, since this is a barrier that keeps many people away from visiting who would otherwise go. I wish ITN readers to know of the affordability of Japan as a travel destination. Please help us dispel some of the prevailing myths.”

That came from Christopher Bishop, Assistant Director, Japan National Tourist Organization, Los Angeles office, and a valid point he makes.

Two couples who subscribe to ITN learned a lesson about round-trip air tickets the hard way. The first involves a domestic trip exclusively, but the example is valuable.

Donald Ulring purchased for his wife and himself round-trip tickets for American Airlines flights from their hometown, San Antonio, Texas, to Sacramento, California, for the dates Nov. 22 and Dec. 6, ’05. Family events then forced a change in their departure date. The air tickets were nonrefundable, so Ulring bought new one-way tickets to get to Sacramento, figuring on using the return portions of the original round-trip tickets to get home.

When the Ulrings showed up at the airport in Sacramento to fly back to Texas, they were informed that because they had not shown up for the outgoing leg of the flight (even though Ulring had called the airline to explain they would not make it), the entire round-trip tickets were canceled.

ITN wrote to American Airlines, whose Stefania Meyer sent a letter explaining, “It is standard practice that round-trip tickets are to be used in sequence and in their entirety. This is the usual stipulation for all discounted round-trip tickets.”

She added, “. . . we are unable to accept round-trip tickets for travel one way. . .” and “Because our procedures, as well as those of other carriers, dictate that when customers do not travel on flights for which they have confirmed reservations, their remaining flight segments are automatically canceled. . .”

As “a gesture of goodwill,” the airline did offer the Ulrings transportation vouchers for $200 each, for which Mr. Ulring was “surprised” and “grateful.”

A similar thing happened to Curt and Janet Carr of East Wakefield, New Hampshire, though they found out before arriving at the airport.

The Carrs booked a New Zealand tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) for December ’05. The arrangements included domestic airfare from Boston to the international gateway, Los Angeles, and the Carrs added an optional hotel stay in Los Angeles so they could rest before their transpacific flight.

Not enough people signed up for the pre-tour overnight stay, however, so in August OAT canceled it and gave the Carrs a refund for those arrangements. Of the options they were given by OAT, the Carrs decided to make their own domestic air and hotel reservations for the pre-tour stay in L.A. and, online, they subsequently purchased one-way tickets from Boston to Los Angeles.

In mid-November when the Carrs received their tickets from OAT, they realized that their return flight from Los Angeles to Boston had also been canceled. They hadn’t noticed that the new invoice they had been sent by OAT indicated a full refund for the round-trip domestic airfare.

ITN sent a copy of the Carrs’ letter to Overseas Adventure Travel, and Priscilla O’Reilly, Vice President, Public Relations, replied, “We did not do a good job in making sure the Carrs understood that they would need to make new arrangements for both legs of their domestic flight.”

O’Reilly went on to say, “Because we bore some responsibility for the poor communication, and because we value the Carrs’ business, we gave them a $400 voucher as a goodwill gesture. Between the voucher and the refund, we felt that our response was fair.”

Curt Carr stated that he would consider traveling with OAT again but with great reservation. He added, “The New Zealand trip was worthwhile because of our guide, Yvonne Lendrum. She was fabulous.”

In any case, remember the rule about round-trip tickets.

Harold F. Wilkins of Baldwin, Wisconsin, saw in ITN the news item “Austrian Airlines’ ‘City Steals’” (Nov. ’05, pg.121). He made reservations, took the trip and sent the following comments.

“First, Austrian Air was an A+ experience (hot rolls with meals). I extended my stays in Vienna and Venice to four days each, versus the three days each in the basic package, at very little extra cost. The hotels were more than adequate.

“I also found that Austrian Air was the cheapest way to get to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, so off I went on a separate ticket for eight days.

“Thanks for the tip.”

Myrt Jacobs of Goodyear, Arizona, wrote, “I wanted to say ‘Thank you again’ for your excellent travel magazine that you produce each month. My husband, Cliff, and I have been subscribers for at least nine years, and it is still a great joy to see it in our mailbox, race to the house, sit down and start reading. Sometimes I hide it so that my husband doesn’t get it first.”

Myrt continued, “Back issues of ITN are always so helpful. We used them to research a voyage through the Panama Canal last December, on Celebrity’s Summit. I am enclosing the addresses of our dinner partners. We explained to them how much we depend on the information in ITN, and I know they will be tickled pink to each receive a sample copy. We appreciate the newspaper texture and that there is not a lot of ‘glitz.’ ITN is perfect just the way it is.”

Phyllis Raulerson of Leonia, New Jersey, wrote, “I’ve been traveling tribal/Third World since 1981, and almost all of the trips have been generated from ITN.”

Write for some ITN Report Cards to take on your next trip and send off timely travel tips and recommendations. You can also report by e-mail; see page 116. Remember, on the line that says “Date,” we want the date you visited the shop or ate at the restaurant overseas, not the date you’re writing the card (if later). Thanks.

It’s cards and letters from readers like you that make ITN valuable to others. Share your travel finds. — David Tykol, Editor.