On the Spot
7:30 AM PDT, April 14, 2014
Question: On March 7, I flew to Sacramento from L.A. for an overnight trip. I packed light — just a dress, belt, shoes, sweats, nightshirt, a bag of toiletries and my iPad. When I arrived at my hotel and opened my bag, there was a notice that the Transportation Security Administration had gone through my luggage. When I was getting dressed, I noticed my belt was missing. I had carefully packed it in the see-through zipper compartment of my suitcase, as I didn't want it to fall out. It was my favorite belt, old, vintage, worn and funky. I guess someone at TSA liked it because they just took it. You can imagine how infuriated and violated I felt. If someone took my iPad it would have been more understandable, but an old favorite belt?
7:30 AM PDT, April 7, 2014
Question: A reader writes that she and her husband are retired, older than 70 and want to travel. They can leave at a moment's notice, so they want to know whether they can take advantage of last-minute deals and, if so, where. (For security reasons, we are not using their names, which are unusual and could make them a target of thieves.)
7:30 AM PDT, March 24, 2014
Question: A client who was traveling for the holidays stayed at a luxury hotel in Miami. She used the hotel's VIP butler services. As she prepared to leave, the butler packed the trunk. She locked it in the presence of several other persons and did not unlock it until she arrived, by private jet, at her next location, where she discovered expensive clothing and jewelry were missing, about $35,000 worth. She began to wonder: Is this the only luxury hotel where something like this can happen to its guest? Or should one consider this a regular risk?
7:30 AM PDT, March 17, 2014
In the March 9 On the Spot, reader Kurt Sipolski of Palm Desert asked whether it was legal for airlines to charge a maintenance fee for frequent-flier miles. (It is.) Sipolski's question raised several issues that affect leisure travelers, who are price-sensitive and may be more loyal to savings than to one airline. We might accumulate miles with credit cards, but it's really the business traveler who is the airlines' BFF, not us. Will we always be outside of the tent?
7:30 AM PST, March 3, 2014
Question: Now I'm really confused. I thought the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck meant that program participants would not be subject to the normal TSA checking procedure. My wife and I used the program for the first time on a recent flight to Miami. We were granted the much shorter PreCheck line but were subjected to the normal TSA check, including the metal detector and carry-on baggage belt. The only benefit I could see was that we didn't have to take our liquids out of the carry-on, although we remained subject to the 3-ounce rule. I had assumed that, upon completion of the program and the payment, we would no longer be subject to the normal screening. That assumption proved incorrect. Can you comment on this or explain why my assumption was incorrect?
7:30 AM PDT, March 10, 2014
Question: US Airways informed me I have to pay $9 to keep my miles or they will disappear. I question the legality of this in California. Gift cards aren't allowed to expire (at least, in California). Aren't these the same thing? It really is just a cheesy, cheap way to get more money flowing in, as most customers who honestly earned their miles will slam the receiver down in frustration because the number to call is perpetually busy and then disconnects you. Those customers will chalk it up to another experience in the business of America today — and lose their miles.
7:30 AM PST, February 24, 2014
Question: I flew with Delta from L.A. to India twice just for the mileage. When I earned enough to go to the country I wanted to visit, they told me that they are sorry, but they doubled the mileage required for the particular flight. I was so angry and stopped flying with Delta. What's a person to do in a situation like this?
February 9, 2014
Question: As you know, most of us develop some degree of lumbar disc degeneration as we age. My recollection is that a few years back there was a significant movement among all major hotel chains to offer upgraded bedding. Thicker, firmer mattresses with plush tops became common. Although many properties maintain these, some properties are using thinner, softer mattresses with considerably less back support. What's best?
7:30 AM PST, February 3, 2014
Question: When we were in Britain a couple of years ago, we got a great spiral-bound map book, about 12 by 14 inches, that was large scale. It was easy to find back roads. We will be in Italy for our 25th wedding anniversary, and I cannot find a large-scale map. Any suggestions?
7:30 AM PST, January 27, 2014
Question: Recently I stayed at a luxury hotel. My stay was pleasant enough, but one day I was in the room when I heard a knock on the door. It was the hotel maid who had come to clean the room. I told her that I just had to grab my coat, that I was leaving, so she started to clean up. Then I noticed a pillow lying on the carpet. Instead of replacing the pillowcase with a new one, she simply moved the pillow back onto my bed. Too shocked to say anything, I wonder now if this a common practice, or am I in error to assume that a pillowcase should be replaced with a new one if it is on the ground?
January 19, 2014
Given the number of people you see on the street, head down, eyes focused on their phones, it's no surprise that more than half of American adults have a smartphone. We love to call, we love to text, we love to post to Facebook. But what we don't love, if we are traveling abroad, is an enormous post-vacation bill or, worse, being disconnected. Andy Abramson, whose role as chief executive of Comunicano, a marketing agency, keeps him on the road about two-thirds of the year, and Sebastian Harrison, president of Cellular Abroad, offer these 14 tips for staying tethered while you're away.
7:30 AM PST, January 13, 2014
Question: I recently flew back to Los Angeles from New York on American Airlines. About two hours into the flight there was an announcement that all the onboard toilets, except for one in coach class, had stopped working, and so more than 150 passengers had to share one bathroom. How does this happen? Are there guidelines or regulations that airlines should follow in this situation? There was no mention of compensation of any kind, although I won't be flying AA again in this lifetime, so I'm not looking for that. There seemed to be no accidents, and the bathroom at the back coped amazingly well. After we landed, there was a stampede to the toilets in Terminal 4.
7:30 AM PST, December 23, 2013
Question: I took my family on a trip to Seattle on Alaska Airlines in August. While unpacking my luggage in my hotel room, I found a nasty surprise: a filthy latex glove. Obviously, someone had gone through my belongings and left it behind. Besides the ick factor, there was no form in my suitcase saying it had been inspected. I didn't notice any items missing, but I had to launder all my underwear just to feel comfortable wearing them. My baggage has been searched before; in one case, a form was left; in another, items were stolen and no form was left. Could you please tell me what the Transportation Security Administration policy is supposed to be regarding searching passengers' luggage?
7:30 AM PST, December 16, 2013
Question: In looking recently at Enterprise's car rental rates in the Los Angeles area, I notice that it stipulates that the car must remain in California, Arizona and Nevada. I chose another agency that did not have such a restriction. Do they have a tracking device in the vehicle? What are the consequences if I travel to other areas? Also, when I returned a different rental car, this one in Portland, Ore., the agency told me to bring a gas receipt from a station within five miles of the airport to show that the tank was filled. How do they enforce that rule, and how do they know how far I might have driven after refilling the tank? They did not check the receipt when I returned the rental car.
8:00 AM PST, January 5, 2014
Question: Each year half a million knee replacements are done in this country, and almost as many hip replacements. These metal implants almost always set off the alarm in the screenings (I know). But the screening of a traveler with an implant is quite variable. Why doesn't the Transportation Security Administration have a standard exam for us "bionic" travelers?
7:30 AM PST, December 9, 2013
Question: At the L.A. Times Travel show in February, I won a round-trip ticket on EVA Air for travel to Taiwan. I lost the award letter, and EVA tells me it can't be replaced. I'd like to use it. Can anyone help?
1:40 PM PST, November 27, 2013
If you're getting ready to take a flight during the holidays, be prepared for more than the usual confusion at airport screenings. The combination of infrequent fliers and the Transportation Security Administration's new initiative that allows randomly selected passengers to receive expedited screening — an initiative that will continue during the holidays — has the potential to create passenger pileup.
7:30 AM PST, November 18, 2013
A woman who wants to travel but doesn't have a travel mate asked what she might do to avoid paying the singles supplement. She doesn't especially want to room with a stranger, but she doesn't want to pay the surcharge that solo travelers often are assessed either. What can she do?
7:30 AM PST, November 11, 2013
Question: I am a single woman, and none of my single friends has the money to take a vacation. And my married friends want to travel with their spouses. Yet everything I see is geared for two. I don't want to have a stranger as my roommate at a resort, on a cruise or on a singles trip. Do you have any suggestions so I don't have to pay the huge premium to have my own room?
7:30 AM PST, November 4, 2013
Question: We applied for and received Global Entry status about two years ago. We lost our Global Entry cards on our recent trip to France. We reapplied for new cards, paid our $25 and are now being told we need another interview. Is this really the case? Can we use our passport, fingerprint, etc. upon re-entry without having the card in our possession?
8:00 AM PDT, October 20, 2013
Here's the most amazing thing that happened the first time I used Global Entry for getting back into the country and speeding through security: nothing. In these days of governmental shutdowns and bipartisan squabbling, this Trusted Traveler program worked exactly right. It saved me time and significantly reduced my going-on-a-trip stress.
October 13, 2013
Question: I recently had to fly to Northern Ireland after my brother's death and had my travel agency make the reservation. I was booked on British Airways, arriving at 10 a.m. in one terminal and connecting to a flight at 11:15 a.m. in another. I made it with seconds to spare. On the return trip, the flight was 30 minutes late leaving, ran into air traffic upon arrival, and I missed the connection. The travel agency said the airlines set the times, and I've contacted British Airways and am awaiting a reply. Meanwhile, I'll avoid Heathrow in the future. Is there anything that could have been done about this?
8:00 AM PDT, October 6, 2013
You're getting down to booking your airline ticket. Because you checked ahead of time — you did, didn't you? — you know how much you will have to pay if you make a change to your nonrefundable ticket. Then you see a glimmer of hope. The airline or the online travel agency is offering you a chance to buy insurance. Maybe that's a hedge against having to pay a change fee that could cost you $200. Is this the answer to your prayers?
September 29, 2013
In the Sept. 22 On the Spot column ("Change Can Cost You"), reader Randy Smith of Cathedral City, Calif., asked about airline change fees and wondered what I thought about why they are so — how can I put this gently? — inexplicably and atrociously exorbitant. These fees hit the leisure traveler where it hurts most because he, not his boss or his company, ends up paying them or losing the ticket. Surely, there must be another way to deal with this. Indeed, there is.
September 22, 2013
Question: I recently received a second notification of a change in my flight for a trip next year. I wanted to change my ticket as a result; I was told there was a $200 change fee plus any fare increase. No waiver, even though the airline was the one that started it. As I pointed out to the agent, I didn't charge the airline a change fee. The agent laughed. In the end, I didn't change my ticket. What's your opinion about the airlines making changes and passengers getting nothing from them as a result?
8:00 AM PDT, September 8, 2013
Question: My husband flew to Denver to participate in a bicycle trip around Yellowstone Park. The round-trip airfare was $422. He suffered a fracture of the pelvis. To get him home from Cody, Wyo., the airline charged us a total of $1,362. I am so stunned that I don't quite know what to say. To me this is a total rip-off, and I really need someone to explain to me why this is OK.
8:00 AM PDT, September 1, 2013
On the Spot has been exploring what happens if you have a problem with a ticket booked through an entity other than the airline, including online travel agencies (see latimes.com/ota) or if booked as part of a package, often called bulk tickets, or with a consolidator, both unpublished fares (see latimes.com/unpublishedfares). The big gray area is consolidator tickets, which offer much lower prices and, sometimes, commensurate risks. Are they worth it? What if you have a problem with yours?
8:00 AM PDT, August 3, 2013
When I was at the interview for my Global Entry card — a program that allows faster passage through Customs upon return to the U.S. — one of the last things the Customs and Border Protection officer said before I left was this, "Don't get arrested." After recent reader letters, I am convinced that this was more than just a throwaway line designed to elicit a smile. If you've been arrested or CBP thinks you have been, your return to this country may be anything but a cakewalk.
8:00 AM PDT, August 18, 2013
Horrendous storms. Political unrest. Sleep deprivation. Those are some of the issues that have tripped up travelers this summer. The firstname.lastname@example.org inbox overflows with readers' complaints about various airlines, of course, but this year we've seen another theme that involves trouble when that traveler has booked through a third party — that is, not directly with the airline. Taking a deep breath, we'll plunge in and try to explain how to deal with troubles that might befall you if you've booked through an online travel agency, then entice you with an upcoming tale of the low-cost-but-riskier consolidator ticket.
8:00 AM PDT, July 28, 2013
Question: My daughter and I would like to take a tour of Scandinavia next year. We have narrowed our choices to two escorted companies, one of which is based in Washington state and the other in Sweden. The one in Sweden has returned email inquiries quickly, but it has no U.S. phone number to ask questions. That makes me uncomfortable.
8:00 AM PDT, July 21, 2013
Question: I have a perplexing travel problem that is unique and interesting. In 1970, I was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana, which was then a felony. I was acquitted and have no criminal record. In the last 25 years, I have made perhaps 15 trips abroad, reentered the U.S. and gone through immigration with no problems. On my most recent trip abroad, immigration in Miami took me into a holding area and held me for about 60 minutes before talking to me. It turns out my felony arrest from 43 years earlier showed up on the computer screen. I was told I should get my record expunged and was released. I checked the jurisdiction where I was arrested and the arrest is so long ago that they have no record of it. Why did it take 43 years for the arrest to show up (or did 14 immigration officers ignore it)? How can I prevent this from happening again when there is no record to expunge?
8:00 AM PDT, July 14, 2013
On the Spot | Catharine Hamm
As much as I'd like to believe it — especially in these cases — the customer is not always right. In fact, sometimes the customer is downright dunderheaded, as I was in a couple of recent instances involving rental cars. Rookie mistakes both, and they cost me — in one case time, in another money.
8:00 AM PDT, June 30, 2013
On the Spot
Finally, I am a card-carrying member of the Global Entry program. After months of procrastination, I may now be able to enter the country more quickly. But that wasn't my primary goal. So why bother?
8:00 AM PDT, May 5, 2013
ON THE SPOT
Question: As a human resources consultant, I sometimes receive travel inquiries from one of my clients. Here is one: An employee, using a company credit card, purchased a $1,200 airline ticket for a business trip. The ticket is in her name and is nontransferable. She then resigned from the company, and the company (which is paying for the ticket) contacted the airline. The airline initially told them there was no problem but later said no changes (regardless of fees paid) could be made to the ticket and even added the comment "Guess you just gave your former employee a nice trip." While my client understands that advance tickets have restrictions, it seems impossible that the change of employee name (with change fee) cannot be implemented and that the ticket, paid for by the company, remains in the possession of, and for exclusive use by, the former employee. Can you help?
8:00 AM PDT, April 21, 2013
In the April 14 On the Spot column ["She Can't Wait for Her Next Passport"], reader Lisa Kim Davis of West Los Angeles expressed her concern about having her passport at the ready. Called away for business travel, often at a moment's notice, she couldn't risk having that document out of her control for the four to six weeks that regular passport processing would take. Further, a passport with less than six months until its expiration could present a problem in some countries that insist on a document that has at least three and sometimes six months until it's out of date. The solution: an expedited passport.
8:00 AM PDT, June 9, 2013
Question: As an employee of a hotel, I wonder what is the proper way to offer an accessible room to someone I think might need something other than a standard room. I don't want to offend that person if he or she doesn't want that kind of room. Is it rude to offer alternative accommodations when they have not been requested?
8:00 AM PDT, April 14, 2013
Question: My passport will expire at the end of August. Because I travel for my job frequently and sometimes with little advance notice, I cannot be without a passport for the four to six weeks it will take to get a new one. Also, many visas I will be applying for require a passport with at least six months left of validity, meaning I need to get a new one sooner rather than at the last minute. Is there any good way for people like me to transition to their next passport?
8:00 AM PDT, April 7, 2013
Question: A company I was working with booked me on flights using Travelocity. When I was emailed the ticket I noticed I was booked as "Steven," though my legal first name is "Stephen." Knowing Transportation Security Administration regulations and procedures, I attempted to correct the first name — not change any of the flights — by calling all parties involved. After much time on the phone with the airlines and Travelocity, all threw their hands up and advised me that nothing could be done. Fortunately, the company canceled the initial ticketed travel and re-booked me on another airline. Is there a procedure that could have assisted me or others with the same issue?
March 31, 2013
Question: What are the travel requirements for going to Cuba? Is it possible to fly out of Tijuana, Mexico, to Cuba with a U.S. passport? Are there any other ID or passport cards required?
8:00 AM PDT, March 17, 2013
Question: Two years ago, I traveled to Tibet, including Lhasa at 11,975 feet above sea level. I started having mild headaches. Two weeks later, as the plane was landing in San Francisco, I became non-responsive. I underwent a craniotomy to relieve pressure from a clot next to my brain. I've had other altitude issues, including passing out while snowshoeing near Mammoth and experiencing altitude sickness after leaving Cuzco, Peru. I know commercial flights are pressurized above sea level, and I have taken some domestic flights. Is a long flight safe for me?
1:40 PM PST, March 4, 2013
Question: My girlfriend lost her passport on March 17 on a United Airlines flight. Someone in United's customer service team called on April 10 and left me a voicemail saying they had it. I accidentally deleted the voicemail. Since then she has called multiple times and sent emails to the customer service team. Is there any way you can help?
8:00 AM PDT, March 24, 2013
Question: My husband had a stroke two years ago. He can walk short distances and maneuver some stairs, but we always take a wheelchair. I have just retired and would love to do some traveling, and a riverboat cruise in Europe is at the top of my bucket list. Are there trips that could accommodate this situation? Would shore excursions be a problem, or are we restricted to drive-bys?
8:00 AM PST, February 24, 2013
Question: My husband and I will be traveling abroad for several weeks. We plan to pack lightly so that we do not have to check luggage. However, we will need more toiletries than we can carry on our planes so we are thinking about shipping them ahead. Can you give us any advice?
8:00 AM PST, February 17, 2013
Question: I'm planning to take my first cruise — a seven-day Alaska voyage. I'm an Auto Club member and am wondering whether there are advantages to booking the cruise through the Auto Club instead of directly through the cruise line.
8:00 AM PST, February 10, 2013
Consumers continue to get dinged and, worse, surprised by "resort" fees that often aren't quoted upfront in the hotel booking process. This one lump-sum fee often covers such items as phone calls, bottled water, Internet access, access to the pool or spa or other services that guests may or may not use. In September, two On the Spot columns dealt with those fees. When I contacted three consumer advocates who were active about the issue, they had just received a reply to a letter of complaint that they had sent to the Federal Trade Commission. In November, the FTC took more action, which is good news for consumers. But does it solve the problem?
8:00 AM PST, January 27, 2013
Question: My wife and I dined at a restaurant in Los Angeles where the menu noted that it pays a living wage — about a 15% surcharge. But I was unsure how much to tip. Without the living wage, I would have tipped my usual amount. I favor the custom in most countries we visit, where there is no tipping but the staff is adequately paid and has benefits such as health insurance.
8:00 AM PST, February 3, 2013
Question: My wife and I travel to Israel at least twice a year to visit children and grandchildren. There is a 10-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Because of time constraints, we can stay only about seven days. Even though we take Ambien on the plane, we are hit with heavy jet lag for the entire time we are in Israel, which affects the enjoyment of our trip. Is there anything we can do to reduce the jet lag?
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