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Ask T+L: Restaurant Reservations, Photography Classes, Airline Seats

Q: Do you have any tips for booking hard-to-get restaurant reservations in Europe? —Suzanne Mead, Greenwich, Conn.

A: “Call at least one month in advance, but if the answer is ‘no,’ start negotiating: Offer alternative time slots and ask to be put on a waiting list. If you’re looking for a last-minute table in a big city, show up the moment they open for dinner and ask for a seat that night or the next—there are always cancellations. The strategy changes slightly for legendary Michelin three-starred spots: Reach out as far as three months ahead and, if you’re turned down, develop a personal rapport with the reservationist. Keep checking in, or ask your concierge to follow up. Persistence pays off.” —T+L contributing editor Anya von Bremzen

Q: I recently bought an advanced DSLR camera and want advice on how to best use its features. Can you suggest any photography workshops in the U.S.? —Aaron Wallace, Pinecrest, Fla.

A: T+L photo editor Whitney Lawson recommends the hands-on approach of several weekend courses offered by New York’s International Center of Photography (212/857-0001; icp.org; $860; January 4–8 and 18–22); “Photography 1: Digital” teaches the ins and outs of using this type of camera, from shutter speed to balance and composition. For the more experienced shutterbug, Maine Media Workshops, in Rockport (877/577-7700; theworkshops.com; $995; February 14–20), runs intensive weeklong sessions such as “Documentary Camera” that focus on the storytelling power of images. Once you’ve mastered shooting techniques, the software-based courses from Santa Fe Photographic Workshops (505/983-1400; santafeworkshops.com; $1,175; January 25–29) are excellent—check out the five-day “Creative Adobe Photoshop,” which covers lighting and color manipulation.

Q: With airlines consolidating and fewer planes in the air, it seems that more passengers are getting bumped from flights lately. How can I reduce my chances? —Helen Ladd, Greer, S.C.

A: Be sure to get to the airport early—the first passengers involuntarily cut are those who checked in last. When possible, book your flight well in advance (two to six months), choose your seat online, and print your boarding pass at home; airlines are less likely to bump you if your reservations are long-established. If you haven’t already joined frequent-flier programs on the airlines you fly the most, do so—you’ll almost certainly get preferential treatment. And steer clear of peak travel times (such as Monday mornings), when flights are more likely to be overbooked.

Q: We’re planning a trip to China this spring. Which outfitters offer packages with classic itineraries? —Michael Gates, Bellevue, Wash.

A: Imperial Tours (888/888-1970; imperialtours.net; $9,670) operates a 14-day journey from Beijing to Shanghai; you’ll visit such iconic sites as the Great Wall, and take an exclusive tour of the Qianlong emperor’s private chambers, filled with ceramics and jades. Meanwhile, the 17-day China’s Silk Road excursion from Asia Transpacific Journeys (from $6,495) retraces parts of the 5,000-mile trading route—from Beijing to Urumqui—with a detour at the carved temple grottoes at Mogao. And the eco-minded WildChina (888/902-8808; wildchina.com; from $2,600) leads a 10-day trek through the southwestern Sichuan province, which includes a tai chi lesson and a trip to observe the giant panda in its natural habitat.

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