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Ask Peter: White Christmas, Ticket Changes and Spirit Airlines

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Snowy pine conesWrite to us with your travel questions at Peter@PeterGreenberg.com, or call Peter LIVE every Saturday from 10 a.m. – noon at 888-88-PETER.

I am a 46-year-old recent widow and I have a 6-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter and we want to go away for Christmas.

We also want to go somewhere that has snow, because we are from the South and we want to see a white Christmas.

What is going on in a snowy place over Christmas and even on Christmas Day?

If you want to go for an organized tour, look into companies like Globus, Gate 1 and Collette, which offer trips over the holidays. If you want to go on your own, it’s still worth taking a look at what they offer to get ideas for your own itinerary.

First, you might want to consider Quebec City as your holiday destination. It will feel like you’re in a foreign country, but will cost much less than a European vacation. The city is filled with the holiday spirit during the Fête Noël during the month of December.

If price isn’t a major concern, you can remain in the States and visit the Big Apple. New York City is humming over the holidays, and this is the time to indulge in quintessential New York events: view the Rockefeller Christmas tree, take a winter carriage ride in Central Park, and check out the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular (there are three shows on Christmas Day). For some more alternative New York traditions, a tour of the East Side’s Jewish history with Big Onion Tours followed by dinner in Chinatown.

And, if you want to get out of North America altogether, consider Central Europe as a destination. You’re guaranteed snow, lots of Christmas spirit, and prices are generally affordable in this part of Europe.

fishing boats on the seaI bought tickets early in August for a trip to Key West for my family of four because I thought the fares were going up. I am looking on Expedia now and most of the fares are actually lower than what I paid for my ticket originally. Is there anything I can do?

First of all, there are the dreaded change fees, which might just make changing your flight not worth it the hassle. These days change fees run anywhere from $100 to $150 dollars, each way, per person. If the fare is down more than $160 then it’s worth it, but otherwise it’s not recommended.

Next time, start by searching Farecast.com, which is a Web site that uses historical models to predict where fares are going go. The site will advise you whether you should buy tickets now or wait until later when fares are likely to drop. Another site called Yapta.com can actually track when prices drop, and refund you the difference!

I was on vacation and I was flying Spirit from Santo Domingo. We were the first to get on the plane and our seats were not there. The plane had been refurbished and those numbers were not available anymore. The flight attendant told us that because we had to wait, we would get our flight home free and that he would credit our travel agent. That has been about four months ago now and we haven’t seen any of that money back or any credits at all. What should we do?

The bad news is the airline actually fulfilled their contract of carriage, meaning they flew you home on the flight you were supposed to be on. Since you didn’t get the first and last name of the attendant, and since you didn’t get any paperwork saying you were promised a credit, there is really nothing you can do.

Spirit is notoriously bad at offering any type of customer services, but you can certainly send an email to Spirit and copy peter@petergreenberg.com. (Check out this Consumerist link for a list of higher-up contacts).

But on the bright side, you did get home, right?

florence skylineWe’re going to Florence, Italy and we are planning to rent a car and drive from Italy to Croatia. When I go to the car-rental sites there are restrictions that say you can’t drive into Croatia. What can I do?

While there aren’t any official restrictions about driving into Croatia from Italy, specific car-rental companies do have rules about this for insurance purposes. Though there are no guarantees, if you rent from the Trieste airport, which is near the border, the car-rental agencies are aware of this issue and can specify exactly what is and isn’t allowed. Definitely disclose your travel plans to the agency so you don’t get dinged in case of an accident on the other side of the border!

If you’re set on driving through this region, you may want to look into hiring your own driver, although that can be prohibitively expensive. Another, more affordable option, is to take a ferry across the Adriatic from Venice, or fly on a budget carrier (just make sure you’re not carrying a lot of luggage!).

My wife and I want to adopt a child. We have to go to a country in Central Asia. What airline should we take and where can we get a hotel?

Most likely the cheapest way is to use an overseas carrier like British Airways or Air France because once you get to their hub, the smaller cities should only be a stop away. Also, look into which domestic airlines are connected to which international airlines because United and Delta offer “adoption fares” (since your child will only need a one-way ticket). Adoption fares usually can only be obtained by calling the airline directly, as opposed to booking online, and require information such as your adoption agency’s contact information and proof of U.S. residency.

As far as the hotel, your best bet will be to contact the adoption agency as they deal with questions like that all day long.

I am taking my wife to Antigua and St. Thomas on an eight-day cruise and the shore excursions through Carnival are very expensive. Do you know any place I could look before I go there?

Those Caribbean shore excursions are the biggest rip off, because it is so easy to just walk around there yourself. Check out companies such as Shore Trips (www.shoretrips.com) and Caribbean Shore Tours (www.caribbeanshoretours.com) which offer independent excursions that are usually far cheaper than what the cruise lines offer. But one important tip: Remember to get back to the boat on time; since you aren’t with the cruise company on an excursion, they have no obligation to wait for you or let you back on after hours.

I want to attend an Olympics and I am thinking about attending the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. What can I do to prepare?

If history is any guide, Olympic cities always overbuild so, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to book your room right away. However, the first phase of tickets go on sale on October 3, 2008, so start planning your schedule and grab the cheaper tickets now. Note that international visitors (i.e. non-Canadians) have to purchase their tickets through CoSport (www.cosport.com) and not through official organizers. Click here for more information on travel planning for the 2010 Olympics.

From Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio

Check out Peter’s Travel Detective Blog for more travel news and analysis.

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