Insider tips on booking travel

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Whether you're booking your vacation online, directly with the airlines, hotels and cruise lines or through travel agents, knowing the jargon of the travel industry can help you save a bunch of money (and sometimes avoid some unpleasant surprises).

For example, you probably wouldn't expect there'd be much of a difference in booking what’s billed as an “ocean front” room versus one with an “ocean view.” Ah, but there is. In hotel talk, “front” means your room looks right out on the ocean. “View” means you might have to crane your neck (anywhere from a bit to a lot) to see those gorgeous blue-green ocean waters.

And never ask for a “direct” flight when you want a flight that doesn't make stops on the way to your destination. In airline lingo, that’s a “nonstop” flight. Chances are, your “direct” flight won’t stop en route – but it could. “Direct” simply means the whole flight is on the same plane.

Rating the airlines: Don't pay too much attention to government reports showing how often each carrier flew on time, how many times they bumped passengers, how many bags they lost and so on. Why? Because the monthly stats don't factor in the weather. Take away hurricanes, snowstorms, heavy rains, fog and the like, and an airline that scored low on the list might otherwise have been a top performer. Or vice versa.

Gone to bag heaven: Talking about bags, you should know that some published figures show “mishandled” bags while others show “lost” bags. There's a big difference. In airline lingo, a bag that went to Canton instead of Cancun but eventually made it to back to Cancun was just “mishandled.” Much fewer bags are actually “lost” (that is, they never show up again, or as airline employees say, they went to “bag heaven”).

Good seat, bad seat: Some airlines let you pick your seat online before the flight. Before making a selection, you can find out which seats are good and which are bummers (limited legroom, non-reclining backs, located next to a restroom, etc.) by entering your airline, flight number and travel date on easy-to-use sites like www.seatguru.com.

Points on getting points: If you rack up frequent flyer points, it’s helpful to know which airlines belong to which of the carriers’ three international marketing alliances (you can typically swap points from one member airline to another in the same alliance). You’ll find the latest line-ups on a number of sites such as Wikitravel’s www.wikitravel.org/en/Airline_alliances.

World airport codes: Sometimes it’s a lot easier to enter the three-letter code for an airport than to spell it out on the booking sites. Let’s say you’re zipping off to do a little business in Shanghai. What, you don’t know the code for the city’s main airport at Pudong? No problem. Worldwide airport codes (Pudong is PVG) are listed on a website of The International Air Transport Association.

(www.iata.org/publications/Pages/code-search.aspx), IATA for short.

Rules of the road: Another IATA site (www.iatatravelcentre.com) offers country-by-country info on customs rules, currency, airport taxes and lots of other helpful stuff.

Rules of the sea: Cruise industry info on everything from security and safety to links to 31 global lines plus 20 European and Australasian regional lines are listed by the Cruise Lines International Association (aka CLIA) at www.cruising.org.

Disclosure: The writer is a retired airline executive having handled public relations for six carriers during his 35-year airline career.

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