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6 Common Travel Myths, Debunked
We've combed through the stereotypes to dispel some of the biggest travel misconceptions.
Don't be fooled by these common misconceptions.(Getty Images)
Maybe you once heard Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to score the lowest airfares. Or perhaps you consider cruising to be a surefire way to get sick. Maybe you thought about booking an apartment abroad but deemed vacation-rental platforms too risky. Well, here's the truth: While some of these sayings do have merit, many are widespread misconceptions. With that in mind, we spoke with industry experts to cut through the claims and get to the truth behind six common travel myths.
Myth: If you book your flight on a weekday, you'll land the best deals.
Industry fare analysts and online travel agencies used to suggest booking flights on weekdays as a smart strategy for snapping up the cheapest airfares. With historical pricing patterns showing more expensive ticket prices listed on weekends, many pros used to believe booking on Tuesdays, when fare discounts are often launched, was a great bet for snagging the lowest price. But recent airline agency data suggests that buying tickets on the weekends might actually up your chances of scoring a deal due to growing demand for unfilled seats during the start of the work week and the rising number of ticket sales promoted on social media at all hours.
So when is the best time to book your flight? "There's really no magic formula," says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. "If you listen to these magic formulas, you'll wind up paying more." Though domestic carriers tend to launch their ticket sales on Tuesdays, it's not always the case that the lowest prices are available on weekdays, he explains.
And for the best deals, research shows that purchasing your tickets between one and four months prior to your trip will likely yield the lowest rates, says Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and journalist . "Don't push the button too early or too late, because fares tend to rise, especially as you close in on your departure date," he says. "You've probably heard that you can find a better price by waiting until a particular day and time, like Wednesday at 1.am. in the airline's time zone. But the savings are minimal and probably not worth your time – not to mention the lost sleep," he explains. "My advice is to book a ticket when you need it."
Myth: If your flight is canceled or you're bumped from your flight, you'll get free vouchers and other perks.
Believe it or not, airlines are not required to reimburse you for most flight scheduling complications. The Department of Transportation's rules require airlines to provide you with compensation if you are bumped from your flight or if you're involuntarily denied boarding because your flight is overbooked, Elliott explains, adding "if your flight is canceled, an airline must either refund your fare or put you on the next available flight." And though you're entitled to inquire about getting a refund if you're flight is canceled due to mechanical issues, weather delays or other factors outside of the airline's control, there's no federally mandated rule that requires airlines to provide you with amenities like free meals or hotel stays.
As for luggage, "most airlines will cover expenses like a change of clothes and toiletries when your luggage is misplaced for more than 24 hours," Elliott says. However, the government only imposes that passengers receive reimbursement if their luggage is lost, he adds. And though the point at which a bag is considered lost is up to the individual airline, for international flights passengers must typically file a claim within 21 days to report a missing or damaged bag. So, if your bag is delayed or damaged, you may receive a voucher or compensation, but you'll have to file a claim and there are limit restrictions on compensation, which are regulated by individual carriers. It's also important to keep in mind that if you do file a claim in the U.S. for lost baggage, the DOT imposes that airlines only compensate you with a limit of $3,400 per passenger.
Myth: To get the most out of your airline miles, you should redeem points with the affiliated airline.
"Well, what is true is you almost always get the best deal using points for the type of product from the program that issues the points," explains Gary Leff, co-founder of MilePoint and author of frequent flier site View from the Wing. And while you're going to get the best value applying hotel loyalty points to hotel stays, "you often do as well or better flying the airline's partners," Leff says. Another point to consider is that you'll get the best return by enrolling in a card that gives you the flexibility to transfer points across numerous multiple programs, he adds. For example, if you're an infrequent flier seeking elite status perks like priority boarding and free checked bags, your best bet is getting an affiliated credit card tied to a specific carrier. But you'll generally get the greatest return on your money spent by collecting points that are transferable to other programs, Leff says. For instance, the Chase Sapphire card allows cardholders to transfer points to different programs, including Marriott, United and Southwest, and the American Express Everyday Preferred Card enables cardholders to earn a 50 percent bonus on everyday purchases.
Myth: You should book an award seat as soon as it's available.
And when it comes to using frequent flier miles, Leff recommends getting your award seats as soon as you know your plans are firm. However, it's a common misconception that all award seats are available as soon as airlines load their schedules, he explains. Often people think that if they're unable to book a seat on a flight as soon as the carrier's schedule is posted, typically about 11 months prior to your flight, someone else has beaten them to it, Leff says. But some airlines actually release award seats at a later date, he adds, and award availability can fluctuate based on supply and demand and if the carrier decides to sell more seats or offer more award seats. "Often the best availability is truly at the very last minute," he says, which is about two to three days before travel.
Myth: It's easy to get sick on a cruise.
In recent years, reports of norovirus and other illnesses at sea have left some would-be cruisers on the fence about whether cruising is a smart vacation option. But in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported only nine cruise ships with norovirus outbreaks so far in 2015, a small segment of the total cruising population. A 2014 CDC report estimated that approximately 20 million people contract norovirus every year, with the cruise industry accounting for just 1 percent of all reported stomach flu outbreaks. And Cruise Forward, a data source managed by the Cruise Lines International Association to provide consumers with information pertaining to cruise health and safety, highlights that people are 750 times more likely to contract norovirus while on land than on a cruise ship. There are also plenty of initiatives taken by cruise lines to promote well-being onboard, including sanitation practices put in place through the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program, and comprehensive disinfection cleaning procedures for cabins and public ship areas.
Myth: Booking a vacation rental through a home-sharing service is risky.
Despite widespread tales of vacation-rental nightmares, according to Laurel Greatrix, a spokesperson for TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, there are plenty of ways to ensure comfort and safety before booking a vacation rental. "Travelers can see extensive information on a property before they make their decision – images, traveler reviews, a detailed property description, list of amenities, etc. – so they'll know exactly what to expect and what's onsite when they arrive." And apart from the ability to comb through user reviews and ratings, Greatrix points out that there are secure payment systems and travel insurance options for home-sharing services. For example, the TripAdvisor payment system enables users to book with its Peace of Mind Protection coverage, Greatrix explains. "This means payment doesn't reach the homeowner until a day after the traveler is comfortably checked in and enjoying their stay." And another bonus: "If certain problems arise – for instance, you can't access the property – we'll step in, help and make sure you're not left out of pocket," she says. Other vacation-rental sites like HomeAway and Airbnb offer similar insurance policies. HomeAway's Carefree Rental Guarantee offers up to $10,000 in coverage for hazards such as the home being double-booked or foreclosed.
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