Your flight got canceled… The airline lost your luggage… A pickpocket stole your passport. What to do when travel meets trouble. By Brad Tuttle.
Which brings me to an important point: Putting anything remotely fragile or valuable in a checked bag is just asking for trouble. Stick that stuff in a carry-on. For that matter, it's best to travel with a carry-on only; that way, your luggage won't disappear, and you won't have to pay to check it. Travelers are getting the message: U.S. carriers lost 1.3 million fewer bags in 2008 than 2007, at least in part because new airline fees resulted in fewer checked bags. If my flight is canceled while I'm at the airport, is there anything I can do other than wait around with the other passengers for the airline to rebook us? Yes. Whip out your cell phone and call the airline—because while the two agents at the counter will be overwhelmed trying to rebook an entire plane's worth of passengers, a telephone rep may be able to help you in minutes. Put the carrier's phone number into your cell phone right after you buy your ticket. If you have an iPhone, download the free Kayak app, which has a built-in directory of carrier hotlines.
Will my health insurance cover me overseas? As with most insurance issues, the answer's not so simple. The first step is to call your provider before your trip and ask what coverage you have in your destination. Many health plans pay for care abroad only in emergency situations. Mild cases—your basic cold, a little poison ivy, a scraped knee—probably won't be covered. But chest pains or a possibly broken wrist? Insurers should pay for you to get checked out, even if it winds up that you only had indigestion or a slight sprain. You'll most likely have to pay out of pocket for all hospital and doctors' visits overseas and then submit claims back in the U.S., so you absolutely need to keep receipts. I get a lot of sales pitches for travel insurance. Is it ever worth the money? If this tells you anything, I've been covering the travel industry for a decade, and I've never bought travel insurance. But I also know that there are situations in which insurance makes a lot of sense. If all you're booking is a flight and a hotel (which can usually be changed for a $100 fee or less), then insurance isn't worth it. But if you're looking at a pricey trip with strict change policies—safari, cruise, villa rental—you'd basically have to eat the money you paid up front if you canceled at the last minute. Compared to that, travel insurance, which generally adds less than 10 percent to your total vacation cost, can be a bargain. Insurance is also sensible if you're leaving the country and your only health coverage is via Medicare or Medicaid, which pay no health costs incurred by Americans beyond our borders. If you do purchase insurance, shop around with policy-comparison sites like insuremytrip.com and squaremouth.com. Pay special attention to the plans' trip-cancellation and trip-interruption policies; they state the specific situations in which you are covered—things like illness or injury, death of a family member, and even getting laid off from your job. Every policy is a little different, and if a potential situation is not spelled out, you're probably not covered. Finally, be wary of a travel agent pushing one brand of insurance: The agent may be giving you the hard sell because that insurer pays a big commission.Besides running for my life, what should I do if I'm caught in a natural disaster or a terrorist attack?
let's back up. The scariest thing about disasters—at least to me—is that they're out of your control. But there are a few steps you can take to set up safeguards. First, before planning a trip to a foreign country—any foreign country—check out the State Department's warnings and advisories at travel.state.gov. Warnings tend to be about places far down on leisure travelers' agendas—Gabon, Yemen, Afghanistan—but if there is a warning, take it seriously and be ready to cancel. Of course, even if you're just going to London (or Madrid, or Mumbai, etc.), there's a chance things could go really wrong, so e-mail your itinerary to friends and family, and text or e-mail updates to them regularly. Also, register your trip with the State Department at travel.state.gov. That way, someone can find you in an emergency. And if the you-know-what really does hit the fan? Do the obvious and get out of harm's way pronto. Then contact a U.S. embassy, which will help supply safe harbor and evacuations, if necessary. Often they're not—in which case I suggest making a few friends at the hotel bar and waiting it out. BEAWARE Protect Against Pickpockets.Confessions Of... A Travel Agent
'I know agents who rarely ever travel at all' September 2005.
Valerie Schneider has worked in the travel industry since 1995 as a travel agent, marketing manager, and corporate travel consultant.
Opening up: The best agents ask a lot of questions. You, in turn, need to answer honestly concerning your personality and interests. If you're not into museums, say so. If you live for adventure, speak up! We're not mind readers, and there's nothing worse than a client who expects us to coordinate the perfect getaway without any input as to what, in his thinking, constitutes perfection.
Airline tickets: Most airlines don't pay commissions, so agents have little incentive to issue tickets unless it's part of a package or tour. Besides--let's be honest--if you're flying a simple round trip, you'll do just as well booking online. But if you're going off the beaten path or are booking a complicated itinerary, it's smart to use an agent. You'll usually pay a service fee (anywhere from $15 to $40), but that's money well spent. Remember, we have access to international consolidator airfares that aren't available online.
Agents' self-interest: Agencies sometimes pay staffers incentives of $5 or $10 for each booking made with preferred companies (ones that give the biggest commissions). Cash rewards work as a motivator--but do they serve the customer well? Not if the client winds up booking a more expensive, less convenient, and less enjoyable trip. So, if an agent recommends a cruise or tour, ask why it's right for you. If the response is just "Because this is a good company," take your business elsewhere. On the other hand, agencies receiving above-average commission percentages from certain suppliers are sometimes willing to give special discounts to customers. An agency receiving a 20 percent payout from a cruise line--12 or 13 percent is more typical--might hand a portion of that right back to you. Many cruise lines have cracked down on rebates--as these backdoor discounts are called--but agencies can always find some way to reward your business, including onboard credits, free transfers, free champagne, and cabin upgrades.