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Read Travel Ads Carefully

Travel advertising is designed to attract your interest while steering you toward some action leading to a sale. But ads for space as well as sales-conditions aren't structured to provide all the information you need to make an informed decision. Headlines especially, are written to draw attention, and advertisers use their best ammunition, price leaders, to appeal to your desire to get a good deal. But the supply of any specific fare, seat, cabin, or room can be severely limited, especially with the juggling that airlines, cruise lines and hotels can do with new and sophisticated computer technology.

In the case of airlines, unfortunately, the Department of Transportation permits the practice of citing a one-way fare in ad headlines as long as other parts of the ad indicate that the fare isn't really available on a one-way basis and only on a round-trip basis. The DOT reasons that as long as all the pertinent facts are available in the ad, anyone can presumably make a judgment and figure out the total cost. The non-existent fare, which can induce readers to look further into the ad, is often in giant bold face type while the explanatory material, though well placed in the ad, is still of lesser prominence and might easily be overlooked if skimmed.

Hotels present another example of a questionable headline, when they advertise a price for a hotel room with an asterisk by the price. If you read the rest of the ad, you'll discover that, for example, a $50 rate in the headline is $50 per person, double occupancy. This means that the rate is really $100. A solo traveler would not be able to get the "$50" rate, but would probably have to pay an extra charge called the single supplement.

It's always a prudent move to pay special attention to asterisks and other advisory signs (such as boldface). They indicate disclaimers and conditions often found in smaller, hard-to-read type near the bottom of ads. With flights, it is important to discover if the advertised flight is “non-stop” or “direct.” To call a flight “direct” indicates that you do, in fact, make a stop. Similarly, check whether fares are pending any government approval. If such approval doesn't come through, you will be eligible for a refund but your plans may be disrupted and you may wish to choose a higher fare rather than be forced to change your plans.

Clarify the conditions or restrictions applicable to any discount or promotional rate. You will usually find this information in the asterisk area, also. Make sure you establish the date when a fare has to be fully paid and what the advance purchase requirements are. Similarly, be on the lookout for information on taxes that are listed separately but will affect your total expenditure. Note the dates that special promotions are available. The window of opportunity for these is generally limited.

One source of confusion sometimes comes from the specific number of days of a cruise or tour. Some ads describing the same basic length of a tour might say seven days, while others say seven days, six nights, or just six nights. Still other ads might have seven days emblazoned in the headline, with the body-copy stating six nights. Compute the real duration, or time at the destination, by the number of nights rather than days, at a hotel or aboard ship, if the ad doesn't tell you. Many tour programs are arranged around airline schedules, which sometimes have late night departures. Be it ever so small a part of your trip, it may still be counted as a day.

Be sure to count the full days at sea. Once again, cruises often depart in the evening with arrivals early in the morning, but both departures and arrivals may be counted as full days. The number of ports on a cruise can also be a source of confusion. Check to see if the port of embarkation is included. You could possibly have to go right from an airport to the ship, or spend a short time just waiting for boarding. In the advertising, this port of embarkation might also be included as one of the ports you will visit.

Overall, to avoid hassles and disappointments, read ads with great care and don't ignore the small print area. Don’t be hesitant to question travel agents or suppliers if you need to fill in blanks in the ads, or clarify any point that confuses you. Pay special attention to such expressions as "subject to change,” “subject to space available,” “other restrictions may apply,” or “subject to government approval."

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