Q What's the best way to find cheap fares for flights that are not the standard round trip? For instance: flights with layovers or stopovers, open-jaw flights and open-ended flights.
A Travel agents and airline reservationists are the experts when it comes to complicated itineraries. Plus, you have a safety net, in case something goes amiss. However, if you're determined to book an involved itinerary yourself, or you just wish to comparison shop, you can do it yourself. "It's not a big deal. It's not like it's brain surgery," says Tom Parsons, travel specialist of BestFares.com. But, he warns, "when you're not getting the price you think you should be getting, then you better bring in the pros." Some suggestions:
Most travel booking and airline Web sites let you book an itinerary that flies into one airport and departs from another -- also called open-jaw tickets. These flights are easy to reserve as long as the return leg is more than half the distance of the original leg, such as D.C. to London, with a return from Paris. When booking online, look for the "Multi-City" option. Often you can find flights that let you hop around various airports, such as D.C. to Paris, then Rome to London, then Dublin to Washington. Another option is to book a round-trip international flight, then rely on low-fare airlines to skip around countries.
Airline industry rules dictate that layovers or connections cannot exceed 12 hours internationally and four hours domestically. However, if you want a longer break, many airlines allow passengers to tack on a stopover for free or an additional charge of $40 to $100. Icelandair pitches complimentary Iceland breaks (up to a week) on flights to/from Scandinavia, Britain and other European locales. If, however, you're only looking for an overnight stop, you can book a "last plane in/first plane out" flight: You'll overnight in the layover city, then be on the early-bird flight out.
For a truly open-ended ticket (no set return date), buy a one-way flight and book the return leg later. If you prefer to buy a round-trip with an open return, you can purchase a seat in a higher price range and change the return date without paying a penalty fee (some airlines like Southwest do not have change fees, but you may have to pay the difference in ticket prices). However, if you have an idea of your return date, you can book the cheapest flight at the farthest point out (333 days for standard tickets, more rigid terms for sale fares), then pay the $50 to $100 change fee -- which won't seem so expensive if you've scored a low fare. Check with the airline about its policies; you don't want to be stuck paying double the fare.
My fiance and I are getting married in July and we'd love to take a spa vacation for our honeymoon. Any advice on locations that offer spa amenities, sightseeing and good prices? We prefer stateside but will consider Mexico and the Caribbean.
Dianne T. Lewis
Nearly every state, Caribbean island and below-the-border tourist spot boasts a spa these days.
If you're on a budget, consider staying at a hotel near a resort spa, which tend to be pricier than accommodations-only places. For example, the Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf (800-272-6935, www.cranwell.com; summer rates from $275 per night per room) in Western Massachusetts allows non-guests to use its spa facilities. The Berkshires area has loads of smaller properties and is a thriving arts community. If you prefer an on-site spa, consider an all-inclusive resort, such as Jamaica's Sans Souci (800-448-7702, www.sanssoucijamaica.com; from $232 per person double), where stays of more than four nights include a complimentary spa package.
You also can pick an urban retreat and divide your time between day spas and city attractions. One idea: San Diego, where you can indulge at a new spa each day in between museum visits, surfing, hiking, exploring the zoo and cocktails at the Hotel Del Coronado (which, surprise, also has a spa). For a list of spa vacations, resorts and day facilities: Spa Finder, 212-924-6800, www.spafinder.com.
Lois Kavanagh of Gaithersburg has another suggestion for a Spanish immersion course (March 13): the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca in Mexico, where she gained a new understanding of the language -- and the country.
"The month in Oaxaca living with a family, classes during the week, living with the serious environmental issues, the poverty, the humbling experience of trying to communicate beyond tourist Spanish . . . left me forever questioning my own role in the tourist-abroad experience," she said in an e-mail. "That month, filled with quality instruction, occasional conversations with the instructors about their life in Oaxaca and the trips to see archaeological sites formed, for me, a standard for travel. "
For information: 011-52-951-515-3404, www.instculturaloax.com.mx.
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