Wellington Society of Madrid: Join one of the dozen walks offered by Stephen Drake-Jones, a history professor and longtime resident. You’ll get his lively perspective on topics including Hemingway’s Madrid (past clients include the writer’s niece, Hilary), the Hapsburgs, the Prado and Modern Arts museums, and the curiosities and anecdotes of old Madrid, with stops at historic taverns. From $76.
Here’s the official rule: you and your luggage must be checked in at least an hour before departure, and you’ve got to be at the gate 30 to 45 minutes early. (There are a handful of exceptions; check with your carrier.) If you check in online and only have a carry-on, you’re free to play it closer—just don’t forget about the security lines.
Cruise lines negotiate set fares based on volume, so their flights are often more affordable than what you’ll find on your own—especially for business-class tickets. Perhaps more important, cruise fares protect you if you literally miss the boat because of flight delays; you’ll be flown to the next port of call without any change fees, says Dwain Wall, senior vice president of CruiseOne & Cruises, a network of 1,400 cruise agents.
Still, while you’ve got that cruise airfare on hold (you often have a full 10 days to cancel without penalty), you’ll want to shop around. Sale fares and tickets on low-cost carriers are sometimes a better deal than the cruise rates, which are restricted to specific airlines. And because the number of cruise-fare seats is limited on each flight, your itinerary might include an inconvenient overnight stay. If you do book on your own, be sure to purchase travel insurance in case your flight is delayed.
Coming attractions on the arts calendar: reinvigorated classics and celebrated traditions. Here, some of the highlights.
New York City: The two-month-long Season of Cambodia festival is a collaboration between the Phnom Penh–based nonprofit Cambodian Living Arts (a T+L Global Vision Award winner) and dozens of cultural institutions citywide. Dancers, sculptors, puppeteers, and others will showcase Khmer heritage, both traditional (Royal Ballet of Cambodia) and contemporary (rock band Dengue Fever). April 9–May 25.
Amsterdam: It’s an artistic double Dutch: both theRijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum reopen this spring after major makeovers. The former, closed for 10 years, has added an Asian pavilion; Rembrandt’s Night Watch now takes pride of place among Vermeer’s pensive maidens and Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress. At the latter, van Gogh’s sunflowers and self-portraits come home again to Gerrit Rietveld’s Modernist building.
Q: Is there such a thing as an affordable European flight this summer? If so, how can I find one? —Catherine Mills, Westport, Conn.
A: Remember when flying to Europe was, at most, a $600 commitment? These days, that’s often just the baseline cost of a transatlantic ticket. According to Rick Seaney, cofounder and CEO of Farecompare, the average airfare to Europe includes about $450 in surcharges (including fuel) and $160 in taxes and fees. Tack on what the carrier itself charges, and it’s no wonder you can find yourself paying more than $1,000 for an economy-class ticket. But you can still fly for less. You just need to know the tricks.
Pay attention to shoulder seasons. Summer flights, hands down, are the most expensive. But if you look around the edges of summer—early June; the last week of August—you’ll find better fares. They’re even more affordable in early May and mid-October. Of course, winter fares are still lowest, and they stay that way from mid-November until mid-March (excluding the winter holidays).
Major domestic carriers have put premiums on an increasing number of main-cabin aisle and window seats, making them available only to high-ranking frequent fliers or people willing to add $20 to $60 per trip leg. Though these seats sometimes open up to regular travelers as the flight date approaches, this policy in effect forces families to pay up or risk sitting apart. New York Senator Charles Schumer and others have decried the practice, but their efforts will have little impact in the short term. If you can’t (or won’t) pay the premium, your best bet is to log on to your airline’s website 24 hours before your flight—when carriers begin releasing premium seats to the public.
Find out if your bank has an affiliate abroad: it will offer the best exchange rates and may waive ATM fees for withdrawals. Stay away from airport and hotel exchange counters, which typically have poor rates and high commission fees. Keep tabs on the current exchange rate, so you’ll know whether you are getting your money’s worth.
The U.S. Embassy in Lima has issued an official security message for American citizens warning about travel to the Cusco area of Peru, including Machu Picchu. The message, issued Thursday, says that the embassy received information that a criminal organization may be planning to kidnap American tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area. The report adds, “possible targets and methods are not known and the threat is credible at least through the end of February 2013.”
The embassy is currently prohibiting personnel from visiting the area on personal travel, and is restricting official visits. Though the embassy urges non-consular U.S. citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security” if traveling to the region, at this point the threat has not been elevated to an official Department of State travel alert or warning. (The embassy says it “remains confident of the Peruvian government’s efforts to ensure the safety of all tourists in the region.”) That, however, could change in the coming days.