Some Travel Puzzlements.

Trying to figure out airline fares—specifically, when to book in order to get the best prices—will drive you nuts. To us amateurs, much of it makes no sense. For instance, how can Hawaiian Airlines charge $299 for a flight from Maui to Los Angeles and on the very same day a ticket on United costs $755? Can it be that people don’t compare prices … that they just pay whatever their favorite airline is charging on that particular day?
Even Amtrak’s pricing is getting confusing. For instance, I’m starting to plan for two trips next year: the April NARP meeting in Washington DC and, later next summer, another visit to France, coming back through Scotland. Both trips will involve Amtrak travel in the U.S. and I’m planning to use Guest Rewards points for one or two of the segments, paying cash for the others.
Normally, I would prefer to pay cash for the least expensive ticket and use AGR points for the more expensive segments, but there’s another consideration: regardless of the cost, I’m better off paying cash for my transportation to and from the NARP meetings because those expenses are tax deductible.
I’m often asked how far in advance should Amtrak tickets be purchased. Prices do fluctuate, sometimes dramatically, but I guess I take a cautious approach: I buy well ahead of time, especially sleeping car accommodations, because there are a limited number of rooms available and they can sell out many weeks in advance, especially on the more popular trains—the California Zephyr, the Capitol Limited or the Coast Starlight.
When it comes to rail travel in Europe, I don’t even try to book a rail itinerary myself. There are just too many alternatives. Instead, I have Railbookers handle the details for me. They have offices in London, Los Angeles and Sydney and they are the real experts, recommending specific routings and preferred hotels. And their attention to detail is remarkable. They booked me into a delightful hotel in St. Petersburg that was within walking distance of the railway station and their packet of information included specific directions on how to get there on foot.
By the way, I’ve noticed over and over again during my foreign travels–and it was especially true in Russia–that when you walk up to a hotel’s front desk, before you can say a word, the person behind the counter greets you in English. How the hell do they do that?