Travel talk constitutes a language all its own Terminology: Unwary tourists can be confused by phrases like rack rate and direct flight.

August 30, 1998|By Alfred Borcover | Alfred Borcover,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

It's kind of like the new homeowner grasping the difference between soffits and fascia, or looking puzzled when a contractor talks about bullnose tile or aluminum baby tins. What is this lingo?

Infrequent travelers encounter the same thing. Terms such as rack rate, direct flight and European plan can be just as baffling.

Take the person who walked into Kelly Cruises in suburban Oak Brook, Ill., looked at myriad cruise brochures and finally asked a counselor: "What is a category?" Category is the word cruise lines use to rank staterooms and thereby establish cruise fares.

If there's a term that you don't understand, ask your travel agent or reservations agent until you have no doubts about the meaning of a word or phrase. It's better to ask than to be stunned that your flight is going to make two stops or that your tour price includes breakfast and dinner, but not lunch.

For starters, rack rate refers to the regular rate of a hotel room, one published in a brochure, for example. But remember, virtually no one pays the rack rate. Always ask about special rates or discounts - weekend rates, AAA or AARP discounts that are frequently available.

The term direct flight confuses many. Some think it means flying from Baltimore to Los Angeles, say, without a stop. Au contraire. "Direct flight" means you travel on one plane, but it makes one or more stops. "One-stop" (or "two-stop," etc.) would be more accurate if the airlines weren't obfuscating. A nonstop flight rightfully means what it says.

European plan means that your hotel or resort rate includes no meals, although in Europe it could mean that your rate includes a continental breakfast - usually juice, bread or pastry, and coffee or tea.

What follows are other common terms that airlines, car-rental companies, cruise lines and hotels use that can confuse travelers.

Airlines

* Bumping: When a flight is overbooked, an airline can voluntarily or involuntarily remove a passenger with a confirmed reservation. Domestic airlines must compensate a passenger who is bumped.

* Code sharing: A marketing practice under which two or more airlines fly a route, using one airline's planes but each using their own two-letter code. Your ticket, for example, may say "UA" (for United) even though you're flying on Lufthansa.

* Connecting flight: Requires one or more changes of planes. If you're flying from Baltimore to Los Angeles and have to change planes in Denver, you're on a connecting flight.

* Consolidator: A firm that buys bulk tickets from the airlines and sells them at a discount, usually on international flights.

* Electronic ticketing: Airlines (or travel agents) can issue a paperless ticket if you wish. Instead of mailing or handing you a ticket, you get only an itinerary and credit card receipt for your flights. At the airport check-in counter, the passenger shows the credit card used to purchase the e-ticket and photo identification to get a boarding pass.

* Passenger facility charge: A tax authorized by Congress, approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, assessed by airports and collected by airlines as a fare add-on to help pay for airport improvements. The cost will vary from airport to airport.

Car rentals

* Collision damage waiver: Coverage at a steep daily rate offered by a car-rental company. If you buy the CDW, the company waives its rights to collect from you if the car maged. In many instances, however, your own auto insurance covers you in a rental car, and sometimes your credit card does, too. (In foreign countries, however, you may be required to purchase insurance anyway.) Know what types of insurance you have to avoid costly and unnecessary coverage.

* Loss damage waiver: Coverage is similar to CDW, but involves personal injuries. Again, know what your own insurance covers.

Cruise lines

* Air/sea: A cruise package that includes round-trip transportation to and from the port, but passengers are at the mercy of the airlines as to departure times and routings.

* Dining options: It's not what you eat, but when and where you eat. Big ships have early or late seatings for dinner, and some have a variety of restaurants from which to choose.

* Government fees and taxes: Include fees, charges and taxes imposed by U.S. and/or foreign government or other authorities including customs fees, head taxes, inspection fees and immigration fees.

* Port charges: Costs incurred by cruise ships associated with their arrival and departure from ports.

* Shore excursions: A variety of sightseeing and activity packages offered at ports of call by the cruise lines. The cost of shore excursions generally is not included in the price of a cruise.

Hotels

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