Don't Flunk Spring Break

TRAVEL SMARTS

February 17, 2002

It's spring-break time again, and, while parents may worry about their kids taking part in wild beach parties, they need not worry about the kids falling victim to travel scams. The Institute of Certified Travel Agents, a nonprofit agency that educates and trains travel agents, suggests taking the following precautions before booking trips:

Do a company background check -- Be sure the people you're dealing with are pros. Ask about the company's history, time in business and how many times the contact person has been to the destination, and get references. You can also check with your local Consumer Affairs Department or Better Business Bureau.

Get everything in writing -- Even before you pay a deposit, get all the details in writing, including the names of your air carrier and hotel and all restrictions and cancellation policies. Make sure the total cost is listed, including any add-ons or last-minute charges that the company anticipates.

Pay by credit card -- If something goes wrong, credit-card laws can help protect you against fraud.

Know the facts about charter flights -- Popular spring-break transportation, charter flights often operate under different rules from traditional commercial airlines. Charters can cancel up to 10 days before departure and change schedules at the last minute. They're also allowed to delay flights for up to 48 hours with no mandated compensation or alternative transportation. Check the contract to see if the charter will cover any costs incurred because of delays.

-- Tricia Bishop

YOU'RE CLEARED FOR LANDING AN AIRLINE UPGRADE

Travelsmart newsletter offers airline passengers a 10-step plan to winning an upgrade from coach to first-class:

1. Dress well -- Sharp dressers get more respect.

2. Leave the kids at home -- First-class fliers want peace and quiet.

3. Strut your stuff -- Flash your business- and frequent flier-cards.

4. Be polite -- Don't lie, and don't annoy the airline agents. They're in charge.

5. Give compliments -- It butters agents up for the big question.

6. Mention your special occasion -- Are you on your honeymoon? Tell the agent. You might get a free drink if nothing else.

7. Negotiate -- If the flight is overbooked and your seat is taken, ask for an upgrade as compensation.

8. Call your travel agent -- He or she can put in a good word for you or your business.

9. Speak up -- Ask for an upgrade if you're seated next to someone who's had too much to drink, smells or is unruly or sick.

10. Go to the top -- Ask to speak to the senior flight attendant, who has authority to grant upgrades after you're in the air. -- T.B.

English, Welsh charm for rent

If "quaint" is what you desire for lodgings, check out the new English Country Cottages 2002. Compiled by Virginia travel company British Travel International, the $5 guide lists hundreds of historic homes in England and Wales available for weekly rental -- from 750-year-old Broad Marston Manor in the Cotswolds to Derbyshire's Hopton Hall, which had among its guests Mary, Queen of Scots, and revolutionary leader Oliver Cromwell. The cottages, most of which run $515 to $1,365 per week, come with modern amenities regardless of age. To order a directory, call 800-327-6097.

-- T.B.

Enjoying the northern glow

Canadian touring company International Wildlife Adventures takes a look at the heavens during its Northern Lights tour in Churchill, northern Manitoba, through March. The five-day trips feature three nights of checking out the natural light show known as aurora borealis, which is viewed from observation domes far from the lights of civilization.

When sights aren't set on the skies, travelers can take guided tours of the area; attend lectures about wildlife, ecology and regional cultures; and take in a dog-sledding race or day at the Eskimo Museum. The trip costs $1,554-$1,779 and includes airfare from Winnipeg, lodging and excursions. For information, call 800-593-8881, or see www.wildlifeadventures.com.

-- T.B.

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