Q: I have a wedding to attend in March in Florida. However, I also have an ailing 90-year-old father who seems to end up in the hospital more often than I’d like. We’ve also had snowstorms in March here in D.C. which affects airports. What is the difference between buying a refundable plane ticket and buying travel insurance? The refundable plane ticket costs about $350 more than a nonrefundable one. I’m thinking about it because if it snows or Dad ends up in a hospital again, then I can either change or cancel my flight at no cost. But some of my friends think I’m nuts and said travel insurance is much cheaper than $350. Is there ever any benefit to buying a refundable ticket?
A: The benefit of a refundable ticket is that you don’t have to prove anything in order to get your money back. With travel insurance, you’ll have to provide documentation that your dad has been hospitalized. And you must read the fine print when buying travel insurance to make sure you’re covered if your dad takes ill. There is also “cancel for any reason” travel insurance, but it often has deductibles or the policy will pay only a certain percentage of the fare. Travel insurance will be much cheaper than a refundable ticket, but again, it’s not as simple to get your money back. As for snowstorms, if the airport is closed or the flight is cancelled, the airline will refund your money or reschedule you without penalty. But if the flight takes off and you don’t feel comfortable driving to the airport, even travel insurance may not cover that. Read the all-important fine print.
Q: We have tickets to Lisbon in May (reservation made through Expedia): Flights over on United, back via Lufthansa. We were able to get seat assignments on the United flights through the United website but were told there that we couldn’t get the return seats until we checked in 23 hours before the flight! Is there any way around this? It doesn’t seem fair.
A: Probably not and definitely not. You should be able to select your seats when you book your flight. But United handles seat reservations differently than Lufthansa, even though they are codesharing partners. You may want to send a brief, polite email to a customer service executive at Lufthansa. They might be able to help with this. You shouldn’t have to wait.
Q: I’ve never been on a cruise, but wonder why several days on a ship would require more luggage than for the same length of time abroad by air (in our case, one carry-on rolling bag per person that fits overhead in the plane’s passenger compartment). Is there something about cruise life that I don’t know?
A: I am amazed by the amount of luggage that accompany my fellow cruise passengers. I think people like to get dressed up for the shows and clubs.
Q: My wife and I are looking at trips to London, Dublin and Edinburgh, and we are considering looking at AirBnB, VRBO and HomeAway instead of hotels in order to save on costs. Would you have any experience with these, and is there a good place to start looking? Also, are there good neighborhoods to focus our search on to stay in the three cities?
A: All of these sites offer home and apartment rentals. They also offer secure payment systems, which I highly recommend using. (I have a Navigator coming up about travelers who failed to heed that advice, and lost their deposits.) With HomeAway (which owns VRBO) you’re more likely to find a professionally managed unit, while AirBnB tends to have rentals that are offered by their owners.
Q: I have never purchased trip insurance before. I was looking on insuremytrip.com. I’m overwhelmed! Any tips or advice would be appreciated!
A: It can be overwhelming. Insuremytrip.com is a solid operation – no reader complaints. You’ll probably want to choose between a “named exclusion” policy and a “cancel for any reason” policy. The former has exclusions for things like pre-existing medical conditions and mental illness; the latter will pay a percentage of your trip (usually 80 percent) when you cancel, and you don’t have to tell the insurance company why.
Q: We’re hoping to take our (then) 10-month-old kid to Italy this summer. Any travel tips? Or location ideas? We were thinking of Milan, but that seems to be rather expensive as current.
A: Milan would not be my first choice, especially if you’ve not been to Italy. Other cities you may enjoy include the most popular – Rome, Florence and Venice. My two favorite places in Italy are located on opposite ends of the country: Sicily and the Dolomite region (Italian Alps). Getting to Italy is going to be expensive, especially if you want convenient connections from Washington. You could likely save money by flying out of Philadelphia or New York, but I don’t think that will be all that easy with a toddler.