Q: My husband and I are planning a two-week trip to Rome, Florence, Venice and Tuscany in early May. Are there any ongoing millennium celebrations? Is there a small pensione in the Tuscan countryside where we could stay? When is the best time to pin down an air fare?
A: The Tuscany countryside is awash in reasonably priced villas, pensiones, farmhouses and inns.
Choices include Tenuta Torciano (fax 011-39-0577-950-161, www.torciano.com), a working winery outside San Gimignano that was founded in 1720, with several apartments starting at about $50 a night; Villa La Castellaccia (fax 011-39-0575-741-693, www.geocities .com/Baja/5371) in Sansepolero, a bed-and-breakfast inn with a tower that dates to A.D. 1000 and rates starting at about $71 a night per room; Villa il Poggio (fax 011-39-0577-630-461, www.villailpoggio.ware.it) in Sinalunga with stables and a swimming pool and rates starting at $54 a night.
For more choices and other information, contact the Italian Government Tourist Office (212-245-5618, www.italiantourism.com). Unless you speak Italian, your best bet when trying to contact local agencies in Italy is to use the Internet. Useful sites include Tuscany Tourism at www.turismo.toscana.it and Agriturist Toscana at www.agriturismo.regione.toscana.it.
The Italian millennium celebration is called Jubilee 2000, and many associated events will have a religious theme. Tuscany has established a group called Tuscan Jubilee 2000 and has invested a considerable sum in lighting the major basilicas, restoring architectural treasures and building a network of signs, all in anticipation of an influx of tourists. The group has an Internet site (www.giubileo.toscana.it), but it loses a lot in the translation.
For the lowest air fares, buy your tickets at least 90 days in advance. Check fares for all the cities you mention; I did a quick search and discovered that it would cost $100 less to land in Venice instead of Rome. Also, get quotes from air-fare consolidators (for a list of consolidators, see "Saving Yourself," a story in the May 23 Travel section, listed in the Travel index at www.washingtonpost.com). For travel in May, you're getting a good deal if you find a fare for around $600.
Q: I booked five round-trip tickets on United Airlines going from BWI to San Jose over the Christmas holiday. The flight connects at Dulles. The same flights originating at Dulles would have cost a total of $500 more. Since we live 10 minutes from Dulles, could we expect any repercussions from United if we departed from and returned to Dulles, not BWI?
A: Don't do it! If you don't board the plane in Baltimore, when you show up at Dulles the ticket agent will most likely tell you that a) your reservations have been canceled and your seats have been given to standby passengers, or b) yes, you can get on the plane, but you'll have to pay full fare since you've changed the original flight contract. And you won't have a leg to stand on because the airlines have written this rule into the fine print, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has backed their right to enforce it. The drive to Baltimore sounds a lot better than a ruined vacation.
The reason you got a much cheaper fare out of BWI than Dulles, even though you're connecting through Dulles, is because of a sale that was initially offered by Southwest and then matched by US Airways, United and other major carriers. Those cheap fares were never offered out of either Dulles or Reagan National because Southwest does not fly out of those airports.
I'm not telling you to do anything illegal, but if you wanted to get off the plane at Dulles on the way home, the airline at that point has no power over you. Remember, however, that you would have to take carry-on luggage only, which would be quite a feat for a family of five.
Q: My dream is to find a nice hotel that provides snowmobile rentals not too far from Washington. I have absolutely no interest in skiing or snowboarding.
A: Head for Snowshoe in West Virginia, where a guided snowmobile tour program has just been introduced. Joe Stevens, Snowshoe's director of public relations, said the ski resort is the only one in the mid-Atlantic or Southeast offering a snowmobiling program.
The resort has purchased 10 new two-seater snowmobiles and opened 20 miles of trails. Rates range from $50 per hour for a single rider to $105 for two hours for a rider and passenger. If you want to experience the back country, you can combine your snowmobile tour with a stay at Snowshoe's new Sunrise Backcountry Hut, a rustic cabin on the Cheat Mountain Ridge trail. Both private and shared rooms are available at the hut, which sleeps up to 14 and offers sunrise views off its large deck. Breakfast and dinner are included in the overnight lodging price, which starts at $78 per person a night. Information: 304-572-5477, www.snowshoemtn .com.
Several ski resorts in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains offer snowmobiling, including the sister resorts of Jack Frost Mountain and Big Boulder (1-800-468-2442, big2resorts.com). And if you don't want to be anywhere near skiers, there are hotels in the Poconos that offer snowmobiles for rent; contact the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau (1-800-762-6667, www.poconos.org) for information.
Gary Goldberg of Silver Spring says the owner, not the cat, is to blame for the in-flight crate mess (Travel Q&A, Nov. 7). "I suspect the owner fed the cat too close to boarding time," he said. "Since animals have short intestines, they process food fairly quickly."
Jim Holway of Washington said I neglected to mention the airline that offers the best deals for senior travelers (Travel Q&A, Oct. 31). "How could you omit Southwest?" Holway asked. "Recently I had to make an emergency trip to Seattle. I called on Tuesday, left on Thursday, came back on Saturday, for $268. Where else can a senior do this without paying an arm and a leg? And you don't have to pay an annual fee or buy a coupon book." Judy Melamed of Washington wants to know at what age airlines grant senior status. With most it's 62, but it's 65 on Southwest and just 55 on United.