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Three mistakes for travelers to avoid

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012

Those last-minute Southwest fares aren't always great deals. A new study from the University of California, Irvine, finds that "last-minute airfares are more expensive on Southwest, on average, than on other airlines when consumers use online searches like Orbitz or Travelocity." In other words, if you're shopping for last-minute tickets, don't just visit Southwest.com and pick the lowest fare you see. Be sure to comparison shop by using an online meta-search engine, such as Kayak.com. You may find a lower 11th-hour fare on another airline. (hat tip, the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth/Dallas)

Ignore news stories about fare hikes. These stories are over-hyped in most cases. For example, on Monday, Reuters reported that Southwest Airlines was raising many of its fares by up to $2 each way. But such information can be misleading. Southwest raised its fares seven times from January 2006 to March 2007, and the major airlines raised their domestic fares 11 times. These price hikes meant that the prices of all the tickets that airlines put up for sale rose on average. But people don't buy all the tickets that are put up for sale, of course. And when you consider how much travelers actually shelled out for fares, you see a brighter picture. Purchased fares were slightly lower on average in the first few months of this year than they were on average during the first few months of 2006. In other words, we travelers are paying slightly less now for tickets than we were a year ago on average, according to JP Morgan Analyst Jamie Baker's explanation in this Travel Weekly story. More to the point, who cares about these fare hikes? They represent merely a small portion of the tens of thousands of fares for sale overall. What you truly need is a helpful strategy for finding a cheap airfare for your next trip. You'll find a collection of Budget Travel's strategies for hunting airfares by clicking here.

Don't expect the Diners Club card to have the same benefits today as it did just a couple of years ago. As travel deal expert Gary Leff points out in this post, Diners Club has gone from winning the "best loyalty credit card" award for nine years running in an annual survey of hundreds of thousands of travelers, called the Freddie Awards, to not even being nominated by travelers for an award in this year's competition. Travelers began rejecting Diners Club after it became a Mastercard and watered down its benefits. Diners Club no longer has partnerships with restaurants, which is rather silly, given its name. It has also made it more costly and difficult to transfer points you earn on purchases to your preferred frequent flier rewards program, too. For details, click here.

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Little-known ways to fly to Italy and Germany

Discount airline Eurofly is worth considering for your next trip to Italy. Eurofly is a low-cost carrier based in Milan that provides nonstop service between New York City and Bologna, Bari, Catania, Lamezia Terme, Naples, Palermo, Pescara, and Rome. These cities make convenient jumping-off points, whether for exploring less-touristed regions like Apulia (fly into Bari) and Calabria (choose Lamezia Terme) or Italy's best-loved destinations. Bologna, for instance, grants easy access to Tuscany to the south and Venice to the north while Rome and Naples put the Amalfi Coast within a short drive. All flights are nonstop on Airbus 330-200 planes. Even if you plan to visit Italy this summer and don't live in the Big Apple, you may save by flying a U.S. discount carrier to New York City and then catching a non-stop flight on Eurofly. You can only find its fares at Eurofly.com--not through Web travel agencies, such as Orbitz, or meta-search websites, such as Kayak. As a fun side note, Eurofly is the official airline of the FC Inter and AC Milan soccer teams and the Ferrari racing team.--Kate Appleton Discount airline Condor is worth considering for your next trip to Germany. For several years now and with almost no marketing, Condor Airlines has been flying from Anchorage, Las Vegas, Fort Myers, and Orlando to Frankfurt, Germany, with connecting flights to other cities. The airline is owned by Thomas Cook and uses Boeing 767-300, Boeing 757-300 and Airbus A320 aircraft. You won't find its fares at Web travel agencies, such as Orbitz, or meta-search websites, such as Kayak. Instead, you'll find Condor's fares at its website. If you're flying to Germany this summer, consider hopping a U.S. discount airline to Las Vegas (assuming you don't already live in Sin City), and then jumping on Condor, which flies to Frankfurt from Las Vegas four times a week.

Today's travel intel

It's Budget Travel's credo that you don't need most travel products. Our official reason is that we think they're almost always a waste of money. Our unofficial reason is that you'll look like a total geek if you carry around some of this stuff. In fact, nothing says "geek" like a pair of bottle-opener sandals. Well, on second thought, maybe an 84-tool Swiss Army knife screams "geek.' Here's a full round-up of travel gear for geeks. (I would like to add another product to this round-up: Vibram's new aquasocks with toes. As a very wise man -- who happens to be my boss -- once said, just because you can make toes out of neoprene doesn't mean you should.) America has been rated the world's most unfriendly destination for foreign travelers in a new global poll. Only Canadians still like us, or at least, they are the only nationality that continues to visit our country in the same numbers as in 2000. The drop-off in European and Japanese visitors is all the more astonishing because today's exchange rates with the euro, the pound, and the yen make the U.S. relatively cheap. Details on the global poll can be found in this article in the New Zealand Herald (via BoingBoing) What's the world's most treacherous road? This blogger and the Washington Post both say they have found the answer: Bolivia's Road of Death. This road has a 40-mile, unpaved section that is a lane "hacked out of the mountainside, bordered by 3,000-foot cliffs." (See images at the Dark Roasted Blend blog.) I recently told you about the slide show "How to Take Better Pictures of Your Friends," put together by Budget Travel's photo department. You may also be interested in some expert scrapbooking tips and some time-saving tricks for making photo books.

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