Stuck Away From Home? What To Do When Travel Plans Go Awry

One of the big concerns arising from the Volcanic Ash problem last year and the major snowstorms this winter was not just the delays to travellers, but the widespread confusion amongst passengers about what they should do. While the press is always full of criticism and advice after the event, it is clear many of the travelling public are not aware either of what rights and responsibilities they have or what their options are in the event of a serious delay.What have you bought?That may sound a silly question: obviously, someone who turns up at an airport has a ticket for travel. Most of the time, that is all you need but, if things go wrong, you really need to understand what you have and what risk you are running. These are some points to consider:You should always carry a copy of your travel insurance policy (some insurers actually specify that as a condition of the insurance). All policies give cover for medical emergencies but most give some form of cover for delays and cancellations. Ideally, you should know in advance what is included but, if you do not have the policy with you, you will not be able to check what your options are when a problem suddenly arises.
If you are travelling from Europe on any airline or to Europe on any European or Swiss airline, you are covered under EU261. While this allows the airlines to avoid any payment in the event of most technical delays or strikes, it now seems to be accepted that airlines have to provide accommodation for weather-related delays. You can also arrange a refund or rebooking direct with the airline should the flight be cancelled.
If you have booked the ticket through an agent, you have the same rights under EU261 but any refund, and often rebooking, will have to be through the agent. This can add to the delay.
What hotel arrangements do you have? Have you pre-paid through an agent? Is there any possibility of cancellation or altering the booking to arrive one night later? Sometimes, the difference between a fully pre-paid rate and one that allows some form of cancellation is money well-spent (it also allows you to leave the hotel early if it is not what you had hoped for). If you have some form of cancellation option, this will probably have to be triggered by 6 p.m. at the latest to avoid the first night’s payment being taken. You should have the hotel number with you. If you have booked through an agent, any cancellation or alteration will normally have to be done through them, which again causes extra delay. When you book your hotel, you should consider the ‘what if’ question and also look at what your insurance policy will cover. This means you know the risk and can work out the true value of buying a fixed, as opposed to flexible, deal.
What about flights at your destination? It is one thing your flight to Bangkok being cancelled but what about the flight to Koh Samui? Do you have the option to alter the flight – even if this involves a fee for the change?Package toursIf you have booked a package of flight and hotel protected in the ATOL scheme, you have a very different set of calculations to make. The tour operator is responsible for everything. You must have their emergency contact number with you. It is their job to make all the necessary rebooking. If the trip becomes entirely impossible, they will have to refund you but – and this is a big danger with package tours – the operator could insist on you travelling, even if the trip has to be abbreviated. Thus a one-week holiday in Greece could become a four-night holiday in Greece with three nights at the UK airport. Your travel insurance will often include cover for ‘travel abandonment’: if your outward journey is delayed by more than 24 hours, you have the right to cancel and claim the money back. The tour operator may not remind you of this possibility. You should also note that the tour operator has a duty of care from the moment you arrive at the airport. They should arrange accommodation if a flight is delayed – irrespective of what the airline offers. If the tour operator is unavailable, you should choose a hotel of a similar standard to the one you have booked at your destination and send the operator the bill. If there are no hotels available at the airport, go to the city and find somewhere appropriate there.Insurance coverageThe protection for delays and cancellations varies markedly between policies. Nearly all policies offer some small payment after a delay of 12 or 24 hours. Many will offer this only on the outward journey. A few policies will cover the cost of missed connecting flights or pre-booked hotel accommodation. You should know exactly what is covered – and be aware of it when booking. Keep all receipts and remember you will need some form of official statement from the airline that your flight was cancelled or delayed. Airlines have fairly standardised systems of sending letters which can be requested through their website.The ideal policy will provide cover for both your outward flight and your return flight, together with the cost of cancelling pre-booked hotels and connecting flights. It will also cover extra accommodation costs should you be stranded anywhere. Unfortunately, we have never found the perfect policy. HSBC has recently revised its policies to include greater cover for delays and cancellations and a number of other insurers, such as Columbus Direct, have started to sell optional add-ons to provide extra cover. Whether these offer any value depends on how much you travel and what type of holiday you take – in other words, what financial risk you are running.When you book your holiday, you should work out the financial risk involved and plan accordingly. For example, a couple flying to Miami to take an expensive cruise that has to be paid for weeks in advance are risking several thousand pounds if their flight is cancelled, while another couple, spending just as much on their holiday, may only be risking the cost of the first night in their hotel. If your existing policy does not have a sufficient limit, you may need to shop around.GeneralIt is all very well us setting out the responsibilities of airlines and travel companies but, in real life, it is unrealistic to expect any company to behave exactly as it should. If there is a sudden bomb-alert at a terminal, a wildcat strike or a sudden outbreak of bad weather, no airline or agent is going to be able to cope with the volume of work involved in looking after everyone. An airline or agent may have a duty to provide hotel accommodation and meals but be physically unable to book the hundreds or thousands of rooms that could involve.When Heathrow was closed, most airport hotels were full and charging their highest prices but we saw that many hotels in the west of London had rooms available. It is a hassle having to make a booking yourself and wait some weeks to be reimbursed but probably better than sleeping on the floor.Similarly, the queues at airport ticket counters become impossible when a flight is cancelled. You could consider joining the queue and trying to phone central reservations at the same time. If there are two of you, one could go to an Internet cafe and try to rebook there while the other stayed in the queue.You can’t expect airline staff working under great pressure to think of every possibility. If your flight to Boston is cancelled and the best they can offer you is a flight in two days, why not look at New York? Or try Rome instead of Naples or Abu Dhabi instead of Dubai. When flights are cancelled, airline booking systems will normally allow you reasonable flexibility for rebooking but you may have to do some of the thinking yourself.Finally, if you are travelling when some disruption is expected, apply some common sense – double-check all the points above and have at least a vague contingency plan. A fully charged mobile phone and a few phone numbers, including of some hotels not too far from the airport or a local hotel agency, could prove invaluable.

Solo Travel As a Business and Lifestyle Phenomenon

“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David ThoreauIf the statistics are any indicator, many travelers agree with Thoreau. In increasing numbers, individuals are traveling alone rather than just waiting for others to join them.Solo travelers in the recent past have totaled 21 million in just the US and UK combined. According to a New York Times article in Nov. 2012, Internet searches for “solo travel packages” were up 60% over the prior year. The US Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel & Tourism Industries (“OTTI”) reported that a staggering 42% of U.S. citizens/residents that went abroad in 2011 traveled alone. Of those individual travelers, 38% traveled for leisure or to visit friends & relatives (“VFR”) and 66% for business. Similarly, inbound solo travelers from abroad totaled 36.2%. Of those, 23.6% were on leisure trips and and 62.2% for work. This business and lifestyle phenomenon has been growing exponentially.Who are solo travelers?Solo travelers are a much broader group than just the single population. They may be:• Two-career couples on business travel or “DINK’S” (Dual Income No Kids).• Those with relatives or friends abroad.• Family members pursuing separate sports/hobbies overseas.Abercrombie & Kent’s Jill Fawcett has described their solo travelers as: “often… married or have partners, but the spouses don’t share the same interest… They want to travel with like-minded people and the small group gives them some interaction. Then they go back to the privacy of their own room… 25% of people who opt for our Extreme Adventure series are (also) solo travelers,” she said. “People feel a little more secure in a group if the destination is intimidating or there’s a language barrier.” Solo Travel Is Growing at a Rapid Rate | Phil Hoffman travel blog, 10/25/11.According to Grand Circle Corp chairman Alan Lewis, “Women are a growing force in the solo travel market… where the solo market has grown from about 20% to 25% of [Grand Circle's] overall bookings during the past five years.”Single travelers do still continue to play an active role in solo travel. Their growth is clear in Europe and North America where people are marrying later and may be divorced, widowed or never married. According to a March 19, 2013 article entitled “The Growing Solo Travel Market”,, average single households total as follows:• 35% of all households in developed countries• 40% in Finland and Norway (2011)• 37% in the Netherlands (2011)• 27% in the US (2010), 29% in the UK (2011) and 28% in Canada (2011).How do solos travel?Solo travel may not necessarily mean traveling as a “group of one”. Individuals may choose1. Escorted group tours2. Independent tours3. Travel alone and select their own hotels/toursWhat Issues Confront Those Traveling Alone?There are two main challenges for individual travelers.• Attractive pricing: Lodging, tours and cruises are priced routinely on double occupancy. Most cruises and tours require a single supplement for those traveling alone. Although this is not necessarily 2X, the price differential can be substantial. This is most pronounced in tour packages, particularly cruises that have “2-for-the-price of 1″ early booking promotionals. As a result, those traveling alone may pay 3-4X couples/pairs.• Top quality access and service: In a busy holiday or tourist season, the unaccompanied traveler may be given less desirable accommodations or tables in restaurants. In fact, even 5 star hotels may be unwilling to take a dinner reservation for one even when the individual traveler is a guest of the hotel. This is particularly true on Saturday nights and holidays. The alternative may be sitting at the bar for dinner notwithstanding that the dining room has vacant tables. On cruises/river cruises or other tours with “open seating”, tables are typically set up for even numbers. The result? These travelers are faced with a “standup” buffet or engaging in sleuthing to find an available seat.What is The Business Opportunity?This travel phenomenon is growing exponentially and still represents an underserved niche. The opportunity for the industry is substantial, prioritized as follows:Leisure travelers: They are the largest percentage of industry revenues. However, a smaller percentage go alone for leisure trips. The beneficiaries: airlines, hotels, tours, car and concierge services.Business travelers: Although a small portion of revenues, a greater percentage are on business. Moreover, they may have a larger budget than an individual on vacation. The same industry segments would benefit with the exception of tours except as potential additions to an international trip.VFR: Those visiting friends and relatives may be met at the airport and have access to local transportation. While staying in a private residence, meals may not be taken out as frequently as hotel guests. Accordingly, such travelers will continue to generate new revenue primarily for airlines but are unlikely to augment the existing market for other travel services.This sector represents a largely untapped market. Given the sheer numbers of affluent professionals and business executives, with the right mix of well-priced, top quality offerings, both sides benefit. The travel industry will increase their existing revenues while those traveling alone will achieve more competitive pricing and access to higher quality. It is a market whose time has come.

No Expense Spared: Health Care Costs

Health care costs are higher than they have ever been in this day and age, to the point that they are actually pushing more and more people out of reach. Decent health care is now so hard to come by if you do not have good benefits or thousand in the bank that people are really struggling to get and stay healthy. The health of the nation is declining as a result. Costs have risen to the extent that any illness has to burn itself out because people cannot afford to go to the doctor’s surgery to get a prescription, but why have health care costs escalated this far?Health Care Costs And Governmental ChangesIn recent years, the legal system and the medical system have been lumped together under the same umbrella as a result of the fact that the United States is now a suing nation. Every time someone files a lawsuit against a doctor or hospital, health care costs are guaranteed to rise, so think how much all of the lawsuits combined have contributed to the rising health care costs that we are now faced with! Of course, if an individual is suing a doctor or hospital for a legitimate reason then that is warranted, but if they are just doing it to profit or on made up accusations then those individuals are ruining health care for those of us that just want to be healthy and would be grateful to be able to afford an appointment when we are ill. Too often, individuals sue because they get the basic health care standard rather than something that they have not paid for to begin with, and the rest of us have to foot the bill.Insurance companies also contribute to the rising health care costs. Some insurance companies actually determine the costs of various procedures on their policies and will only pay that set amount out despite the fact that a bill for the medical care received actually totals more. As a result, most people would not be able to pay the bill in full so it would go to a debt collector, which costs money, or written off, which also costs money. As a result, doctors and hospitals put their health care costs up to recoup their losses and we all miss out as a result.The final reason for the rising health care costs that we have today is the standards of living. Every day living is rising in expense on a daily basis and we cannot keep up. More and more people are getting into debt as a result. When general prices go up, so do the health care costs and thus the less affluent people suffer as a result. They find themselves unable to afford anything. If there is no help available then this will have to change because health care cannot go on as it is. There has to be some sort of reform and fast, otherwise nobody will be healthy in the coming years!