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A to Z Guide to Travel Secrets You Need to Know

ORCHESTRATE AN OPERA NIGHT FOR LESS. Traveling to New York and dying to see La Traviata?Until the end of the 2007 season, 200 orchestra seats will be available for $20 a ticket (an 80 percent discount) for each Monday through Thursday performance at the Metropolitan Opera, thanks to a major donation by managing director Agnes Varis and her husband, Karl Leichtman. Head to the Met’s box office (30 Lincoln Plaza) two hours before curtain time to get them.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM PASSPORT SNAFUS. If your passport is due to expire in the next six months and you plan to travel abroad, check the passport rules of the country you’re visiting—some require your passport to be valid for three to six months beyond the date you enter the country. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Israel, for example, all mandate a six-month period of validity, starting from the day you enter the country. For information about passport requirements, call the country’s consulate directly.

QUANTIFY HOW QUIET YOUR HOTEL ROOM IS. A Sound Transmission Coefficient (STC) is a number that contractors use to rate how well partitions, doors, and windows block sound; the higher the STC, the quieter the room. Look for a score above 50, an indication that even the loudest sound from the next room will be muffled. (Ratings below 34 mean paper-thin walls and possible sleepless nights.) Kimpton Hotels leads the pack in quietness; the group recently spent $1 million to install double-paned windows and an extra layer of drywall in each of its rooms in the Hotel Palomar Washington D.C., which opened in September 2006. The Palomar now has an STC of 60.

RIDE THE RAILS FOR LESS. Eurail passes aren’t only good for slower, state-run trains. Customers also have access to privately owned, premier, high-speed trains in the countries their passes cover. For example, there’s Artesia between Italy and France; Thalys in Germany, Belgium, and France; and the Eurostar between England and France. Pass holders do need to pay for a seat reservation, a fee that’s usually less than $20.

SAVE AT THE ON-BOARD SPA. Many cruise lines offer port-day specials on spa treatments; while everyone else is cavorting on land, you can get a manicure, pedicure, or facial for up to 20 percent off.

THINK TWICE ABOUT WAITING IN LINE AT THE GATE WHEN YOUR FLIGHT IS CANCELED. If the delay is the airline’s fault (e.g., a mechanical problem or a computer glitch), and your carrier can’t get you to your destination within two hours of your scheduled arrival time, most airlines will put you on another carrier under a provision known as Rule 240. (Note: airlines are not required to adopt the pre-deregulation Rule 240; read the contract of carriage to determine if your carrier does.) If you are facing a long delay, check the electronic arrival-and-departure display in the terminal to look for other flights—even on other airlines—going to your destination. Then act fast; your chances of getting a seat on a desired flight are significantly better if you just pick up a phone to call the airline’s toll-free number.

USE AIRLINE CODE SHARES TO FIND BETTER FARES. If you’re considering a flight that is operated by two airlines, check the price with both companies before buying your ticket. Each carrier is free to set its own price, which often results in one offering a lower price for an identical flight. For instance, a search on Orbitz for a nonstop flight from Boston to Milan at press time turned up Delta Flight 8155, returning on Delta Flight 8156, for $1,427. The flights are actually operated by Alitalia (as flights 0619 and 0618, respectively), which was selling the same itinerary for $994.

VIE FOR VALUE AT SEA. If a cruise’s price is your primary concern, consider making a category-guarantee reservation rather than one in a specific cabin. You will get the best available cabin in that category (after all other rooms have been assigned), at the lowest possible cost. For example, a category-guarantee reservation on Crystal Cruises for the highest grade of room carries a savings of $1,255 for a seven-day cruise. It is a risk, however, since you won’t know exactly what you’re getting until you check in.

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