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Do You Still Believe in These 15 Travel Myths?

Poster23 Like old wives’ tales, the great travel myths seem to have a life of their own. Changing times and technology have rendered them obsolete, but still, they endure. So once and for all, let’s put 15 of the most stubborn myths to rest.

1. YOU CAN NEVER FIND AN AIRFARE DEAL TO HAWAII

Unless, of course, you fly between late September and early December. That’s low season, and Hawaii tends to be a bit cloudier, but it’s also the sweet spot for airfare deals. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that while summer airfares from LAX to Hawaii were rarely less than $500, they dipped to as low as $317 come the fall months. The price of package deals is lower then as well.

2. DUTY-FREE SHOPPING IS A STEAL 156

Yes, except the theft is usually from your wallet. With rare exceptions, most duty-free goods are overpriced to begin with. True, there’s no tax, but that can’t make up for the fact that clothing and food usually cost more than they do in a local city shop. Alcohol is often no bargain either. The real benefit of duty-free shopping is for those who live in places where alcohol and tobacco are heavily taxed, such as Scandinavian countries, allowing them to get a deal when they’re abroad. But for Americans it rarely makes sense.

3. MEXICO IS CHEAP

Well, compared to what? To the Caribbean, yes. And you can often get a better fly/hotel deal to Mexico than you can to Florida. But you can spend $400 a155  night as easily in Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Zihuatanejo as anywhere else. Are there cheaper places to stay? Yes. Do you really want to stay in them? Do a little research and I’ll leave that decision up to you.

4. YOU HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF GETTING AN UPGRADE IF YOU DRESS WELL

About two decades ago, when upgrades were handed out like Terra Blues chips on a JetBlue flight, people who dressed smartly or in business attire had a chance of being upgraded. But now that upgrades are so difficult to get, merely dressing well won’t do much. Flier status and ticket price matter most. The exception is the increasingly rare operational upgrade at the gate, which is at an agent’s discretion. In that case, dressing down could cost you a better seat.

5. YOU NEED A MILEAGE CREDIT CARD TO RACK UP FREQUENT FLIER MILES

It’s true that credit cards affiliated with an airline’s frequent flier program help you earn miles faster, since they translate to one mile or more for every dollar spent. But they work only for those who can afford to pay off the balance each month. These cards have some of the highest double-digit interest rates around, so if you’re carrying a balance, you’re actually paying a fortune for your "free" travel.

6. IT’S SMART TO SPEND MILES BEFORE YOU SPEND CASH

Now that the airlines place expiration dates on frequent flier miles, you have to use them or lose them. So the question is, what’s the smartest way to use them? Pundits like Randy Petersen of Inside Flyer speculate that one frequent flier mile is worth one U.S. cent. Spend 25,000 miles, which is what most airlines require for a round-trip domestic flight, and you’re spending $250. But there are round-trip tickets that cost less than that. Remember, too, that the 25,000-mile award is restricted and limited. To go for a higher award level, a so-called anytime award, you have to pony up 50,000 miles, the equivalent of $500. There are certainly many domestic flights priced lower than that. Do the math before you spend your miles, and take the no-brainer approach: Consider your travel plans over the next six months, and then spend your miles on the ticket that costs the most.

152 7. CRUISE FARES ARE ALL-INCLUSIVE

Not by a long shot. Alcohol, laundry and shore excursions have always cost extra. But cruise lines are now very adept at getting you to open your wallet more often. On all but luxury cruises, you’ll pay for soft drinks. Photographers continually snap pictures to sell. There are specialty restaurants that charge a premium, Internet access at high per-minute charges, costly spa treatments and tips. So don’t think you’re not going to spend.

8. ALL CRUISE SHIPS ARE "FUN SHIPS"

People who have never taken a cruise routinely give me this as their reason for not going to sea. They imagine a nonstop frat party that island-hops – well, that’s rarely true. While you might not like the atmosphere of a party-hearty Carnival ship, you might well enjoy the tranquillity of a transatlantic crossing on the QM2, or an Alaska expedition-style cruise on a 100-passenger Cruise West ship or a Baltic cruise that allows you to sample ports in Scandinavia. Cruise lines, itineraries and individual ships vary widely. I’m not saying everyone would like a cruise, but I am saying that there are many different experiences to be had on the water.

154 9. RAIL TICKETS ARE CHEAPER THAN A CAR RENTAL IN EUROPE

Not necessarily. If just two of you are traveling, then a rail ticket may be a better deal. But once there are three or four people traveling together, a car might well be the cheaper option. Weigh the cost of a train ticket against the cost of a rental, tolls and gas, and you might well be surprised. Let’s say you plan to take an eight-day gastronomic jaunt, going first to Paris and then to Dijon, Lyon and Avignon, before returning to Paris. Second-class rail tickets will cost 221 euros, or about $335 per person. If there are just two of you, your train fare would be $670. Three people would pay $1,005, four, $1,340. But a full-size car for four from Avis International, such as a Volkswagen Passat, rents for $704. Even when you factor in gas and tolls, that’s a better deal by far if there are more than two of you. And that’s still true when you want to rent a more comfortable car with extra space and increased power. A Mercedes-Benz C-Class goes for $862.

10. RAIL PASSES ARE A GOOD DEAL

Sometimes. But rail passes only make sense if you plan to travel with some frequency during your vacation or if you’re visiting two or more countries. Point-to-point rail tickets are better options if you plan to travel only once or twice during your trip. Rail passes are like off-the-rack suits — one size does not fit all. The classic France Rail pass, for example, offers only three days of travel in a one-month period. You’d need a four-day pass to do the French gastronomic trip mentioned above.

11. SAVVY TRAVELERS GO OFF-SEASON

Really? Have you been to Edinburgh in February, when the damp soaks into your bones? Or traveled in August to the Bahamas, which gets my vote for the most humid place on earth? The fact is that low season is usually dubbed "low season" for a reason, and that reason is usually weather. I’ve been to Rio in June, when temps are in the 50s and the girls of Ipanema are nowhere to be seen. To Vermont in April, which is correctly called "mud season" by locals. And to Amalfi in late October, when most hotels, shops and restaurants are shuttered and getting a glass of limoncello takes work. Not every place is miserable or shut down in off-season, of course. Orlando in October offers no crowds and tolerable weather (unless there’s a hurricane). And Nice is nice in March, when it’s balmy. But before you decide that saving money is all-important, do a little research on where you’re going.

12. IT COSTS A LOT TO FLY WITHIN EUROPE

It used to, but that’s not true anymore. Not since Ryanair, easyJet and countless clones made an inter-European flight as cheap as a crosstown taxi ride. When Ryanair routinely sells one-way trips from London to Mallorca for 5 pounds ($10) or to Rome for 10 pounds ($20), you know the skies have changed.

13. EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH

No, they don’t, and not even in places where you might think they would, such as Tuscany, which is often overrun with Brits and Yanks. On a recent trip, I had to constantly muster my feeble Italian in order to communicate in shops and restaurants. And in places where fewer Americans travel, such as Chile or Japan or Morocco, knowing some rudimentary phrases will make your life much easier.

151 14. TOURS ARE FOR YOUR GRANDPARENTS

Some may be, but not all tours are alike. I enjoy nothing better than a hop on/hop off city bus tour the day I arrive in an unfamiliar place. It orients me and shows me sites that I’ll go back to and visit in depth. A tour of the Sistine Chapel with a guide, a walking tour of Sherlock Holmes haunts in London or an architectural tour of Gaudi buildings in Barcelona are a few of my favorite things. Simply put, a good tour can open your eyes to the local culture.

15. YOUR HOTEL KEY CARD CONTAINS ID AND ACCOUNT INFORMATION

No, there’s no personal data on the card. Hotels encode room number and activation date only. So feel free to toss it after you check out.

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2 Comments

  1. bocabossman@yahoo.com
    November 11, 2009 at 6:13 am — Reply

    Friends always look surprised when I tell them I find some tours useful, particularly city orientation tours. Surprised to learn that you take some tours. Your comments confirm that my friends should think again. Good!

  2. martha chapman
    November 17, 2009 at 3:37 pm — Reply

    What a great story! Wonderful tips, and all, in my opinion, TRUE. If I could add one, which I was surprised not to see on the list: “Everyone who goes to Mexico gets sick.” So untrue, so unfair to a country which has some of the most delicious, and diverse cuisine in the world.
    And though I’ve been in the business 30 years and work as a “travel expert” I do go on orientation tours. Tons of info, efficiently delivered, and a great way to get your feet wet whether it’s Hong Kong or Dublin.
    Thanks again!
    Martha Chapman (mchapman@tourismmarketing.ca)

  3. May 13, 2011 at 10:49 am — Reply

    Great job, Everett!

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