Q: My son will start college this fall in Pasadena, Calif. He will make at least two round trips between Maryland and California each year, and our family plans to visit him. What's the best way to get the lowest fares--follow the deals or pursue frequent-flier miles?
A: I'd go for the deals first, because frequent-flier miles are not easy to use during spring break, Christmas holidays, the summer high season or other times you're most likely to want to fly. Plus, you can't accumulate miles as a family, only as individuals (though some plans let you redeem an award in a family member's name).
Happily, when major sales occur, most airlines will fall in line with similar discounts, usually allowing you to get a deal and stay with your preferred airline. When Southwest offers $99 one-way fares from BWI to the West Coast, the majors almost always match the deal (at least on flights out of Baltimore). So, if you are a United frequent flier, you may be able to get the deal, plus the miles.
To maximize travel dollars, answer a few questions: How much do you need to save to make it worth driving to Dulles? Are you stuck on the idea of flying into Burbank, which is very convenient to Pasadena, or are you willing to go to LAX or Ontario? Are you willing to connect, or do you insist on a nonstop flight?
Assuming you want the best deal with some convenience, your best bets are Southwest, America West, American and United. All offer service between BWI, which consistently has the cheapest fares to the West Coast, and Burbank and Los Angeles. All but Southwest also offer convenient service from BWI to Ontario. And, to make sure you're not missing great sales, scour newspaper ads daily and religiously check the airlines' Web sites (www.southwest.com; www.americawest.com; www.aa.com; and www.ual.com).
Q: I am going to South Africa and would like to go on a camping safari. I'm looking for reputable companies that provide high-quality, though not necessarily luxurious, accommodations and excellent guides.
Linda A. Hildreth
A: For adventurous types who don't require luxury, a mobile safari may be a good choice: A guide takes you across the countryside and you establish bush camp each night. A more upscale, costly choice is to take day trips into the bush from a comfortable lodge. Most established lodges offer such niceties as flush toilets and showers.
Hundreds of companies offer custom or packaged trips. You can also book with the lodges, many of which are in national parks throughout Southern Africa. Zambia and Zimbabwe have good U.S. tourism offices that can supply information about Africa-based tour companies and lodge contacts. Info: Zambia National Tourist Board, 212-972-7200, www.africa-insites.com/zambia; Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, 1-800-621-2381, www.icon.co.zw/zta. The Namibia Ministry of Environment and Tourism maintains a useful Web site, www.iwwn.com.na/namtour.
A few names of U.S. packagers: Journeys International (1-800-255-8735, www.journeysinternational.com) offers reasonably priced no-frills safaris throughout Africa. Ultimate Africa Safaris (1-800-461-0682, www.ultimateafrica.com) offers a range of safaris in Southern Africa, from no-frills camping safaris to luxury lodge safaris. African Travel Centre (1-800-361-8024, www.africatvl.com) offers a well-priced Southern Africa safari package. Next Adventure (1-800-562-7298, www.nextadventure.com) will help organize and arrange your trip with tour operators in Africa.
Q: My longtime traveling companion is about to turn 91. She has traveled the world but somehow missed Las Vegas. We are afraid there may be too much walking involved, and using a wheelchair is not an option. What prices should we expect for semi-luxurious quarters, good food and, of course, great shows? Are there tours we can take to visit other sites?
A: I recommend a mega-resort that offers everything on site, mimimizing the need to walk. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I'd choose one of the new luxury hotels. Several have opened recently, including the Venetian (1-888-283-6423, www.venetian.com); the Four Seasons (1-800-819-5053, www.fourseasons.com); and Mandalay Bay (1-877-632-7000, www.mandalaybay.com). Another, the 2,916-room Paris Las Vegas (1-888-BONJOUR or 1-888-266-5687), complete with a 50-story replica of the Eiffel Tower, will open later this year.
But I'd opt for Bellagio (1-888-987-6667, www.bellagiolasvegas .com), an adult-oriented, centrally located resort that opened last fall. The 3,000-room hotel features the Gallery of Fine Art, a $300 million collection of masterpieces by such artists as Renoir, van Gogh, Matisse and Monet; 1,000 fountains synchronized to music and lights; a Cirque du Soleil production called "O," performed above and in a 1.5-million-gallon pool; 14 restaurants, including the much-heralded Picasso; and shopping at the upscale Via Bellagio. Room rates during the week are as low as $159. A meal at Picasso will cost $65 each without wine, but you can dine for much less at the hotel's other restaurants. "O" costs $90 to $100 a ticket, and admission to the art gallery costs $12. Concierges can assist with other activities, including runs to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Quality Tours of Las Vegas (702-631-2292, www.qualitytoursoflasvegas.com) offers a four-hour, $14 mini-tour of the dam and a $33 full-day tour of the dam and cruise on Lake Mead.
Q: My family is interested in a pilgrimage to Israel. Where might I find a comprehensive list of tour companies running religious-themed tours to the Holy Land?
A: Start with the Israel Ministry of Tourism (1-888-77-ISRAEL or 1-888-774-7723, www.goisrael.com); the agency maintains lists of guides and will match providers with your religious inclination. An interesting link included on its Web site is for the Israel Tour Guides Association (www.israelguides.com), a 30-year-old organization of licensed guides that offer tours of Israel from various perspectives.
If you prefer a package deal from the United States, dozens of groups specialize in pilgrimage tours. Roman Catholic travel companies include the Catholic Travel Center (1-800-553-5233, www.catholic-travel-centre.com); ITS International Tours (1-800-892-7729, www.itstours.com); and Unitours (1-800-777-7432, www.unitours.com).
Jewish travel groups include the Israel Tour Connection (1-800-727-1404, www.israeltour.com), Keshet Educational Tours (011-972-2-561-2045, www.keshetisrael.co.il), and Synagogue Travel (1-800-448-0399, www.synagoguetravel .com). If you prefer a nondenominational tour that visits Jewish, Christian and Moslem sites, consider Voyageur (1-800-767-7667, www.govoyageur.com) or Mirabel Travel (1-800-890-4590, www.holylandpilgrimage.com).
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