Thursday, December 29, 2011

CDC "The Yellow Book"

The CDC publishes The Yellow Book every two years. It is a reference book with advice for international travelers about possible health risks. While the book is meant for health care professionals, it can be a great resource for anyone. It can be purchased at online stores like Amazon. A Kindle version is even available.

For those that don't need a reference copy on their desk, the entire contents of the book is available online. Just click the link for Table of Contents under the heading Access the 2012 Yellow Book online.

And don't forget to check the CDC's Travelers' Health site if you'll be traveling soon. Take a glance at Travel Notices to see if there is something new in a country you will be visiting. Also take a look at Destinations to read medication and vaccination recommendations for the area you'll be in.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thinking About the Galapagos

The daughter of a friend of mine just returned from the Galapagos. She was amazed at how much she loved the trip. I wasn't surprised. When my husband and I went, we found it fascinating and exciting.

Today we have the coldest day we've had so far this winter. We've been lucky in that we've had only about a total of 2 inches of snow. But it is in the 20's today and the wind is howling outside and days like today make me think back to our Galapagos cruise, the warm weather and the wide variety of wildlife we saw that can't be seen anywhere else in the world.

Our Galapagos cruise ship was tiny. We had only 16 passengers. It definitely was a low end trip and I think, if we were to do it again, we would look at Galapagos cruises where the ship offered more than just the basics. We had minimal outdoor seating and when I think about the beauty of the area, it would have been nice to have more options. And our meals .... they were pretty much take it or leave it. And there was at least one time when we left it. :(

I still think back to the time the baby seal came over to my feet and tried to snack on my sandals. Then there was the time we hiked to the top of a peak on Bartholomew Island and could see the bay where Master and Commander was filmed. I still wear the fleece jacket I bought at the Darwin Center. A visit to the Galapagos is a great experience and, if you have the opportunity, experience it for yourself.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Check Holidays At Ports of Call

With Christmas, literally around the corner, I was reminded of a cruise my sister took that included Easter. The port of call for the day was Martinique. She booked a shore excursion that turned out to be 'adjusted' for the holiday....everything was closed. She was livid and expressed her strong opinion to the tour excursion desk where they did refund her money.

While it should have dawned on her that Easter would be celebrated on Martinique, the fact is there are local holidays we would know nothing about unless we did our research. Some times we would love to be there at festival time like when my friend and I went to see the annual National Day of the Ox Cart Driver in Costa Rica.

Other times though, when our time is limited, we might want to reroute ourselves so we are not in a city when all the museums. If something or someplace is important to you on your travel, check to make sure there are no special events on the day you will be there. Books like Frommer's where I linked to above, are a good place to start your research.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Pilot Work Rules - It's About Time

About three years ago there was a fatal crash of a commuter plane about 75 miles away. Blame for the crash was placed on pilot fatigue since it was later determined that neither pilot has spent the previous night in a bed.

It has taken THREE years for the government to come up with new regulations to prevent pilot fatigue. Not only did it take three years to come up with the new rules, but the airlines have two years to adapt to them. Too long in my opinion.

Although the FAA has been urged by safety advocates for over two decades to make these types of changes, it took an accident where 50 people died to finally get airlines and pilot unions to agree.

You can read the entire store here: New FAA rules to help end flying while sleepy

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keep An Eye On Your Valuables

Traveling? Don't, for a second, take your eye off your purse, briefcase, tote bag, carry on, etc., etc., etc.

Today I ran into someone who I know had just gotten home from Florida. I asked her how her trip was and got a long story. Her purse was stolen while she was having breakfast at the airport. It seems she was tired and just not thinking and hung the strap over the back of her chair. Need I say more?

The daughter of a friend lost her backpack the same way. Other friends lost their carry on, filled with medications, when they put it down on the floor while they sat at a restaurant.

The moral is to keep everything in sight at all times. If you have to put a suitcase or backpack down, put it down in front of you. Don't put it next to you or between your legs or (GASP!) behind you. If you really want to hang your purse on your chair back, hang your coat over it.

In a restaurant, if you put your tote on the floor, put your foot through the handle. If the handle isn't big enough for your foot, put a leg of the chair through it. Ditto with a backpack. Even better, if you have a spare chair at the table, put your bags on it where it will always be in your vision.

Big travel weekend coming up. Play it safe and never let your carry on bags out of your sight.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hotels in Queenstown NZ - family fun and adventure

We visited New Zealand a couple of years ago. We flew into Christchurch and did an overnight stay in a Christchurch hotel. The next day we took the train for a beautiful scenic ride to Greymouth where we picked up our rental car. We routed ourselves south towards Queenstown where we checked out Queenstown hotels and stayed for a few days.

Queenstown, situated by a beautiful lake and below majestic mountains, would make a fantastic family destination. Between boats and bikes, hiking and skiing, museums and nature, it looks like there are enough choices to keep everyone in the family happy. On the trip we made there was just the two of us. Maybe one day we'll be able to return with our grandchildren.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Trying To Use Delta SkyMiles

I have a friend who just tried to book a trip using Delta SkyMiles. According to the Delta SkyMiles Award Chart, the ticket should have 'cost' her (one way) 12,500, 20,000, or 30,000 miles. At first I thought this was nothing new.

In the past, different mileage levels typically referred to flying at peak or off peak times. My husband and I saved a bundle of miles on air for our Holy Land trip because we were flying to Europe off peak. We flew American.

On the Delta chart site I couldn't find anything that really clarified what the different mileage levels meant. Apparently my friend didn't either until she went to 'buy' her ticket and found different mileage levels FOR THE SAME DAY! Not only that, but she found the mileage levels changing from day to day.

I went to Delta's site to 'buy' a SkyMiles ticket. Picking an arbitrary date for Florida travel, going and coming in January, I found flights, for the same day, ranging in cost from 12,500 to 20,000. For instance, returning from Florida early in the morning cost 12,500 but if I wanted to fly out around noon, the cost was 20,000. This is the first time I have seen multiple mileage 'costs' on the same day for the same economy seats.

American doesn't appear to have changed from the on peak/off peak I am familiar with. I was playing around with American mileage seats for a potential future trip. As expected, all available economy seats for the same day had the same mileage cost. Interestingly though I found some seats blocked out as Premium. Since I was just playing around, at this time I have no idea what the additional cost of a Premium (aisle) seat would cost, in either dollars or miles.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Save Money on Lift Tickets

If you are waiting until the last minute to buy your lift tickets, you could be missing a good chance to save some money.

Ski hotels and resorts are now selling lower priced tickets during times that are historically slow. Typically, skiers bought their lift tickets when they arrived at their destination. Now, it is possible to save money by buying tickets ahead of time.

There are websites like Liftopia.com and Lifttickets.com that can provide significant savings. Recently it was possible to buy a ticket for January 12, 2012 at Mont Tremblant Ski Resort in Quebec for $58.99 on Liftopia. If you bought the same ticket at the resort website, you would pay $75 Canadian. The downside is that the tickets cannot be transferred and must be paid in full at time of purchase, if it rains instead of snows you could be out of luck.

Call the ski resort and ask for their best price or if they offer any type of promotion. In Park City Utah, the Quick Start program lets travelers trade their airline boarding pass for same day lift passes, allowing them to ski for free the day they arrive.

Buying tickets early is another way to save. At Liftopia.com, purchasing more than 14 days out offers possible discounts of 33 percent compared to 27 percent when buying within the 14 day window.

Check out websites like worldonskis.com and ski.com for their package deals. They negotiate room, food and lift tickets with resorts and put them together in money saving packages, compared to booking each item independently through the resort itself.

Season passes, or simply multiday passes, are another way to save on ski lift tickets. Check with your local ski resort. Ask about passes for Monday to Friday if you ski only midweek, another opportunity to save big.

Friday, December 9, 2011

First Real Snow of the Season

We had our first real snow of the season today. Woke up to find the grass covered and it snowing like crazy. I was ready to pack my bags, head to the airport, and grab the first flight heading south.

Fortunately it didn't last too long. The roadways were clear and According to the newspaper we shouldn't have any measurable snow for the next week or so.

Last year, by this time, we already had 24 inches of the white stuff. So maybe I shouldn't complain.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Find Cheap Flights – Fly During a Dead Zone

What’s a dead zone? It’s a time when no one else wants to fly, like before and after holidays and after spring break. To keep their planes full, airlines sometimes drastically lower their fares.

Typical dead zones are the beginning of November and December and the month of January, after the New Year weekend. (This is also a perfect time to get a great fare on a cruise.) February can also be good as long as you don’t want to fly to Florida, around Valentine’s Day or to the Super Bowl city.

The best time to fly to Europe is during the dead of winter but fares can also be good in October and May.

Deal zone deals are usually available at least three weeks before you plan on traveling. Best time to get online and check ticket prices is Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. Actually, this is the best time to buy any ticket because this is when airlines reshuffle and reload fares.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Are Time Share Expenses Tax Deductible?

The short answer is that it depends. For the long answer, read this post. (I had to provide a sample tax-related post for a potential client. Now, a couple of weeks later, it dawned on me this was just a sample and wasn't going to be published. So I decided to post it here, providing what I hope is helpful information for any of my readers who has a timeshare.)

Timeshare owners may incur many expenses such as interest expense, property taxes and maintenance fees. A common question is whether or not these expenses are tax deductible as some owners equate timeshare ownership with owning real estate. However, the two are quite different and the answer to whether or not the expenses are deductible often depends upon how the timeshare is used.

Any loan used to pay for a timeshare must be structured very carefully to allow the interest to be taken as a tax deduction. For tax deductible interest, the loan must be secured by the property. Not all loans available through developers meet this requirement and, therefore, the interest would not be deductible. In addition, interest may be deducted on only two homes, a primary residence and a vacation home. If you have timeshares at more than one property, no matter how the loan is structured, only the interest on one may be tax deductible.

Unlike the interest expense deduction that limits the number of properties, you may be able to deduct property taxes on any number of units that you own. Methods of assessing and billing property taxes vary by state. In some areas, the timeshare owner is billed directly. In other states, the individual weeks are assessed through the developer and the tax bill shows up on the maintenance bill. In such cases, the tax is probably deductible since it has been assessed directly against the time that you own. However, property taxes that are billed directly to the resort as one large parcel will probably not be deductible.

As with the cost of maintaining your primary residence, fees and assessments are not typically tax deductible, even if they are for a one-time tax assessment, such as public road or sewer improvement throughout the resort.

Where you claim the deductions on your federal tax return depends upon how you use your timeshare. If your use is totally personal, deduction are taken on Form 1040, Schedule A. If the use is totally rental, then Schedule E is used. If the unit is both rented and used for personal use, both forms are used with the expenses proportioned based upon the time used personally and the time used for rental. For instance, if you have a three week timeshare that is rented for one week, two-thirds of the expenses should be entered on Schedule A and one-third on schedule E.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Avoiding Liquids When Flying

Liquids in bottles over 3 oz. aren't a problem if you'll be checking your luggage. You can put the big bottles of shampoo, condition, hair gel, etc. in the big suitcase that gets checked at the counter.

But if you like to try and travel with only a carry-on as we do, the TSA 3-1-1 rule can be a challenge. Depending upon the trip (domestic or international) and how long we will be gone, there is a large variety of items I try and fit into our 1-quart zip bags. I usually bring at least a travel size toothpaste and shampoo to get us started. When we get to our destination, I'll sometimes go into a local supermarket or pharmacy (yes, even overseas) and buy what we need in its larger container.

But there are a bunch of creams and ointments I like to take along, "in case of emergency", and I really don't want to buy large sizes at our destination. Some items I might even have trouble finding, such as insect repellent. And I still laugh when I think about trying to locate sunblock in a South American supermarket.

Therefore, when I read about items that I can purchase as a solid, I sit up and take notice. Cutter Outdoorsman insect repellent is available as a solid that is 30% DEET. It can be found in drug stores and in outdoor gear stores. Sunblock is also available as a solid. Neutrogena has an Oil-Free Sunblock Stick. Seen at CVS, if it is not available in your local store, it can be purchased online.

Saving On Airport Parking

Airport parking can be very expensive. We live in upstate New York and our closest airport is ROC. Fortunately we are close enough to usually manage to get a ride from friends or family and do not need to leave our car in a parking lot. However, are airfares are not particularly cheap and there are times they are cheaper if we can fly out of BUF. But them we have to add in the cost of airport parking and maybe a hotel night. Sometimes it still works but most of the time it doesn’t.

Our son, who lives near Philadelphia, often flies out of Baltimore. Even with the cost of travel to the airport (gas, tolls), the airfares are often cheaper and the airport parking at BWI is a LOT less than PHL.

Some airports, like Miami airport parking, are very busy and even if you were willing to pay the parking costs you can't even find a spot. So I thought it was pretty neat when I found a web site that lets you reserve a spot and save money while doing it.