Very well done article on Santa Catalina ["Beyond Avalon," by Rosemary McClure, May 25]. Savvy visitors can also visit free of charge on Catalina Express on their birthday, which is a significant savings off the $74.50 fare. The only caveat is that you must actually travel there on your birthday.
If you're staying overnight in Avalon, take advantage of the happy hour that occurs nightly when the last ferry leaves. The locals come out, and the atmosphere is more relaxed. The suddenly uncrowded island, the muted sunset, the boats rocking in the waves are soon yours. It's truly an enchanting time to be in Avalon. You never even had to leave L.A. County!
Playa del Rey
I rarely read Catharine Hamm's "On the Spot" columns without learning something, but frequently I want to add something as well
• The April 20 column on tipping ["Some Helpful Tips Regarding Gratuities"] suggested always tipping in the local currency. Argentina would be one exception to this. The currency is in such flux that many people want dollars.
• My experiences with Chip and PIN credit cards [" 'Smart Card' Wise to PIN Thieves Too," June 13, 2013] have been interesting. In Alberta, Canada, in September, those cards were new, and each bank seemed to have different rules for the establishments that used their services. Sometimes I could just enter my PIN number as one does in Europe. At other times they wanted more information plus signature. Most gas stations accepted the card, and I entered the PIN. One Shell station required that I come inside. Another local brand did not require the PIN. In Chile, they would ask if I wanted to leave a tip and then plugged in 10% without asking how much. In Argentina, the PIN was often not asked for, and my card worked without it.
• Car rentals ["Four Rules for Reducing Rental Car Cost," May 11]: I often rent because my car has 160,000 miles and I do not want to drive it out of state. I have learned two things. First, if you are driving one way and flying (or taking the train) in the other the direction, the difference in price can be huge, and drop-off fees can be large or small. In July, for a week's drive to Albuquerque from Placentia, a Hertz economy car can be rented for $41 a day (on Kayak, less with discounts on their site). From the other direction, Albuquerque to Placentia, it would be $137 with Hertz, $92 with Alamo. To pick up and return in Placentia is $26. All of these are Kayak listings. (And train prices are different in different directions as well: In this case for a small sleeping compartment, heading west is cheaper than heading east.)
A second lesson in car rentals: Kayak is useful to find prices at different Hertz offices. There are several within 10 miles of where I live, and the prices vary greatly. The car for $41 in Placentia is $62 in Fullerton. The Hertz website does not make it easy to find those differences.
In New York, car rentals are cheaper in suburban New York City than in the city. There is a Hertz office near the Metro North Station in North White Plains that is convenient for that purpose if you are headed upstate. In general, I find that the charges for renting cars in New York are constantly changing. I have family throughout the state and often want to drop a car off at opposite ends. Sometimes the charges are reasonable, sometimes not.
Another problem: The Henry Hudson Bridge coming into Manhattan from the north will no longer take money, and if you use the transponder in the car (or if they take a picture of your license plate) the rental company may charge you for use of the transponder for every day of your trip, even if you use it only once.
• Another car rental issue: If you're driving from Boston to, say, Rochester, N.Y., I find it is best to change cars after you cross the state line or when you get to your destination, and then renting another car for the duration.