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A to Z Guide to Travel Secrets You Need to Know

GET THE MOST OUT OF BEING BUMPED. Some carriers initially offer a coupon for a free domestic ticket to volunteers who give up their seats on an oversold flight. If you agree to be bumped, ask for a travel credit voucher instead—a dollar amount that can be used toward the purchase of a future flight. (About $300 is the going rate, though gate agents often up the ante if they’re having a tough time finding volunteers.) Vouchers that are good for a round-trip ticket (as opposed to ones with a dollar amount attached to them) are subject to the same restrictions as frequent-flier awards—blackout dates and increasingly tighter capacity controls—making them much more difficult to use. The monetary voucher, however, is good for any flight and doesn’t carry any restrictions. Also, tickets you purchase with a monetary travel voucher qualify for frequent-flier miles, while those from travel credit vouchers don’t.

HEAR A HUMAN VOICE. After losing far too much time on hold when he called for customer-service help, Paul English, chief technology officer at Kayak.com, began a quest to guide people out of frustrating automated-phone loops. The results of his research across 500 companies are now available to the public at Gethuman.com, a database of information and advice on reaching a real person. Some examples: punch the pound key (#) four times when calling Orbitz; dial 1 and then 7 to bypass the automated system at Starwood’s Four Points by Sheraton; select your language and then press 1 and 0 to get to an operator at the U.S. State Department’s passport office.

INSURE YOUR TRIP EARLY IF YOU’RE GOING TO THE CARIBBEAN DURING HURRICANE SEASON. Many insurance policies have a little-known loophole called the "named-event clause," which states that once a tropical storm has received a name from the National Weather Service, insurance companies are no longer required to pay policy-holders who cancel their trips. If you have plans to travel to an island from June to November, buy your travel insurance when you book the trip, or soon after.

JUMP AMUSEMENT-PARK TICKET QUEUES. "If you do nothing else right when visiting a theme park, buy your tickets online in advance," says Robert Niles, editor of Themeparkinsider.com. "Tickets have grown almost as complicated as airline fares." A quick lesson: "park hoppers" are tickets that allow customers to visit multiple parks in one day; "flex plans" give buyers more à la carte options (including food and passes to cut lines); and "VIP experiences" offer special access, such as reserved seats to shows. Navigating the many choices takes time, so it’s best to sort it all out before arriving, which will also give you a head start on the long lines.

KNOW WHO EMPLOYS YOUR CONCIERGE. A surprising number of hotels now outsource their concierge services to third-party companies, a trend that Jack Nargil, of the Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, D.C., and spokesman for concierge association Les Clefs D’Or, says can work against the consumer and in favor of tour outfitters that benefit from increased business. For example, Expedia now operates 84 concierge desks across North America, and hotels managed by Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood are among those that have farmed out their concierge services. This is a problem, Nargil says, because with concierges who are not operating independently, "consumers won’t necessarily get advice or reservations that are tailored to their needs." If you’re going to a destination where you will be relying on the concierge, Nargil suggests that before you book a room, ask if the concierge is employed directly by the hotel or by an outside company.

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