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Ask T+L: Bargaining at Bazaars, Refunds for Unused Tickets, and More

Q: I love to shop at markets and bazaars when I travel. Any tips on how to bargain more effectively? —Anne Courey, Denver, Colo.

A: “Pose specific questions about the item you want to buy: Is it signed? Dated? How does the dealer know it’s authentic? If the answers are vague, the price may tumble. In a place where you don’t speak the language, make sure you have paper and a pen with you, so you can write down what you’d like to pay and the dealer can scrawl his or her counteroffer. And remember, no matter where you are in the world, the rules remain the same: If you say, ‘Can you do a little better?’ and you don’t like what you hear, you can still walk away, but if you make a specific offer and it’s accepted, you are honorbound to pay up.” —T+L contributing editor and shopping guru Lynn Yaeger.

Q: Can you suggest a three-day driving itinerary along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway? —Thomas McMahon, Avalon, N.J.

A: The 469-mile-long route celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, and the 280-mile stretch from Shenandoah National Park to Galax is ideal for an easy, low-cost weekend. Fly into Dulles airport, rent a car (from $15 a day), and follow Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive 105 miles south through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the historic Hotel Roanoke (doubles from $129). It’s just a five-minute walk downtown to Alexander’s (dinner for two $104) for locally sourced dishes (quail with vanilla-bean sauce). The next day, head farther south to Floyd and catch a bluegrass performance at the 100-year-old Floyd Country Store before checking into the five-room Mountain Rose Inn (doubles from $129). Finally, cross into Galax to hike the city’s wooded New River Trail, then loop back to the Roanoke Regional airport.

Q: Is there any way to ensure I can get reimbursed for an unused airline ticket? —Carrie Reynolds, St. James, N.Y.

A: While refundable tickets are available, Air Transport Association spokesperson Victoria Day warns that policies vary widely between carriers, and you should be sure to read the fine print before making a purchase. Most airlines offer a refund option (for a fee), which consumers can select when buying their tickets. Because airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, they are under no federal obligation to compensate for canceled flights, though they will usually rebook passengers for free. If you can’t make your plane but don’t have a refundable ticket, many carriers, including Continental and Delta, allow you to transfer the value of your fare to another ticket on the same airline for up to a year if you cancel in advance. For more flying tips, see “Improving American Airports.”

Q: I’ve heard that the number of cruise ships allowed to visit Antarctica may soon be limited. What are my best options for exploring this continent? —Adam Brant, Elgin, S.C.

A: According to Steve Wellmeier, executive director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will soon ban vessels using high-polluting “heavy fuels” from entering Antarctic waters. Large-cruise-ship operators may be forced out of the market when the regulations take effect in mid-2011, but they will not affect the majority of South Pole outfitters, whose smaller boats have long burned IMO-approved gas. Consider the Antarctic Explorer trip from Quark Expeditions (12 days from $5,890 per person, double), or book with Abercrombie & Kent, whose 199-person Le Boreal will make its inaugural 14-day Classic Antarctica journey this December (from $7,995 per person, double).

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