Q: Someone told me that if you check over and over for a route on Expedia, Travelocity and the like that the site will hike up the fare. It’s almost like the more you check on prices, the more the site knows that you really want to go there and they hike up the price. Is this true or is it urban legend? Thanks!
Ah, the cookie conspiracy! I wrote about that in 2010, and the problem is still with us. The problem, of course, is proving this is going on in any systematic way. Personally, I believe it is, but it’s exceedingly difficult to prove.
Q: I’d like to book a Southwest flight from BWI to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) in late May. On the booking confirmation page, an alert pops up saying “Subject to government approval. Southwest is currently awaiting government approval for this route. We expect approval to be granted shortly with no delays to your travel.” I know that Southwest has already started flying this route, so does that mean that I should be OK to go ahead and book? I called Southwest and the person I spoke to just said that they were still awaiting approval, but it shouldn’t affect my flight. Again, not sure how they are already flying if they’re still awaiting approval, but as long as my flight isn’t at risk, hopefully I’m good to go. Do you think this could be an issue? Don’t want to have to deal with a canceled flight because my accommodations will be nonrefundable.
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That shouldn’t be an issue. If for some reason Southwest Airlines can’t operate the flight, it will issue a complete refund, even if your ticket is nonrefundable. It wouldn’t be in a position to refund any related hotel expenses. You might — and I emphasize might — be able to persuade it to fly you to San Jose on another carrier. But it would be a long shot.
Q: My wife and I will be visiting China, her to sing with a choir, me for new experiences and photography opportunities. The group will be visiting the big-name stops (Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc.) but I’ll also have a lot of free time to explore on my own.
How difficult will it be for someone who doesn’t speak the language to navigate public transportation in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong? What should I know about personal security, other than the usual pickpockets?
I had no problem getting around Beijing and Shanghai by myself, and I don’t speak a lick of the local language.
In Shanghai, I walked everywhere and took a cab only a few times. In Beijing, I used the public train and had no problems finding my way. (I have not been to Hong Kong, but my impression is that many people speak English there.)
You might want to ask your hotel to help you map out train/bus routes, so you know what you are looking for in advance. Also, always bring cards with the hotel address that you can hand to the cab driver.
Asia is very safe, and China has some of the world’s lowest crime rates. Follow standard procedures: dress down, secure your wallet and don’t flash your money. Keep smaller bills within easy reach. For me, the biggest adjustment was the crowds. You will be mashed and jostled: Just hang on!
Q: I am fortunate in that my family will be spending spring break in a friend’s coastal Florida house gratis. It sounds odd, but I actually don’t know this person well — he is a long-distance work colleague I have known for years and see generally twice a year. He just happened to mention having the property and much to my surprise offered it up in the context of a general travel conversation. I fully expected to rent it and almost would prefer to, but he won’t accept payment. So, any suggestions for a nice thank-you beyond a bottle of wine?
First, be the best guest ever! Clean up your room and ask if you can help around the house. One night, take the host out for dinner.
For gifts, wine is always great, or bring something that represents your hometown or is a personal favorite, such as home-crafted food items from your neighborhood bakery. You can also wait till you are there and have a better sense of his or her style.
Q: We’re traveling to Iceland in July during peak season. Any tips on saving money while we’re there? The plan is to rent a car and do a self-guided tour of the island.
Food can be very expensive, so if possible bring some light snacks from home or instant noodle soups (I carry ramen-style soups from Whole Foods). Or purchase supplies from a market in Iceland (try Bonus and Kronan). For lodging, consider youth hostels, farm stays, guesthouses with shared bath or “sleeping-bag accommodations” (no linens, just your bag on a bed). If you like the outdoors, buy the Camping Card (valid for two adults and up to four children to the age of 16; no limits to how often each visitor can visit each camp site within the 28 nights/units).
Remember to budget for gas. When you are in the capital, take public transportation. For discounts on attractions, shopping and restaurants, look into a discount card, such as the Norden Voyager Card or the Reykjavik Welcome Card.
Excerpted from a weekly online live chat hosted by The Washington Post Travel section editors and writers.