Jim’s Notebook – April 18, 2012

Airfares On the Rise … When To Buy That Plane Ticket … Hidden Gems in Europe … Children-Less Flights … IRS May Seize Passports … Personal Art in the Airline Loo

Spring and summer… a time when flowers burst into bloom, bikinis and barbecues become a staple of American life, and airfares begin their perennial rise.

Airlines are jacking up their fares once again, so if you’re considering a European vacation this year you may want to buy quickly, and carefully, since the cost of tickets to Europe is quickly gaining altitude. In fact, if you haven’t purchased your tickets yet, perhaps waiting to get a good last-minute deal, you may be out of luck.

Tickets from the U.S. to Paris this summer (priced in January) were 22% higher than the same time last year, according to Kayak, which searches airlines and online travel agencies for the best prices. London was up 14%, and travel experts say prices will go much higher as we get closer to the Summer Olympics, which run July 27 to Aug. 12. It’s the same with hotels, with London hotel prices up 24% — “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” — with Munich and Stockholm also up 20+%. Read about it in The Other European Crisis.

To save money on airfares, it always helps to be an informed consumer, of course. While there are different theories about the best time to find the lowest-cost airfare, the general consensus in the industry has been that the best time to snag a good deal is six weeks out from your date of departure.

To test that theory and determine if that six-week sweet spot would hold true for international routes, The New York Times recently asked the Airlines Reporting Corporation (which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies, and has been a proponent of the six-week theory) to analyze fares for several trips, such as a summer vacation to Europe and a winter escape in the Caribbean. The findings shatter some widely held concepts.

Read When to Buy That Plane Ticket, for data-based suggestions on how to save money on tickets for a trip to Europe in summer, the Caribbean in winter, as well as Business or First Class to Europe and Asia. And, by the way, buying two one-way fares on separate airlines – a practice Kayak.com calls “hacker fares” — can be cheaper than the best round-trip price.

While many travelers to Europe feel there’s no place like Paris, Barcelona or Rome, if you want to offset those escalating airfares, or just escape escalating European prices, remember there are also untouched corners that match the big hitters on both beauty and charm, and with lower prices and far fewer tourists to boot. You can take the road less travelled with these 10 hidden gems of Europe.

If you’re flying to London from Asia and have had your fill of crying babies and unruly children in-flight, you may find solace in the fact that when Malaysia Airlines’ first Airbus A380 takes off July 1 from Kuala Lumpur to London it will feature an upper-level economy deck where no children will be allowed. Read Malaysia Airlines to Offer Child-Free Zone on Flights, then put on your eyeshades and go to sleep. No air plugs required.

Something that may keep some people awake, though, is S.1813, which passed the Senate on March 14. The bill, ostensibly written to reauthorize federal aid for the nation’s highways, now also authorizes the “denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport” for anyone with “a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000.” In other words, if the IRS has filed a lien against you for big bucks, you may be kissing your passport and that vacation on the Cote d’Azur or Bali goodbye. Read In the hole to Uncle Sam? Bill aims to strip your passport.

And finally, something that brings a bit of levity to all this news.

If you’ve ever waited in line for the lavatory on a flight and wondered why the person was taking so-o-o-o long, perhaps this is the reason. California artist Nina Katchadourian has been going to the lavatory during long flights and been adorning herself in tissue paper and toilet seat covers to create self-portrait photos in the style of Flemish Renaissance paintings. She has continued her endeavors on a number of long-haul flights for the last couple of years, which she has called Seat Assignment: Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style.

Smile…lit seems long-haul flights aren’t so terrible for all of us.

And on the subject of long-haul, I’m just back from Ecuador and the Galapagos for a few days but will be in Italy by the time you read this. I’ll be telling you about Ecuador in the weeks ahead (including How a Non-Adventurous Eater Wound Up Dining on Guinea Pig in Ecuador in today’s issue), as well as sharing some of my experiences in Venice and Ljubljana in Slovenia. I’ll also be testing a new gadget that lets you make phone calls from Europe at a greatly reduced cost.

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  1. says

    May I add … precisely because airfares are high this year, consumers do not have the time or economic luxury of taking a vacation that’s number 30 on their to-do list. Take that “dream” vacation this year to the destination you really want to visit, and knock off a day (or two) of hotel to fit it in your budget. Airfare will be the same whether you stay four days or seven. And, by all means, install YAPTA on your computer. You choose your own dates and flights and then “tag” those specific flights. YAPTA will notify you when fares change. You buy directly from the airline; YAPTA is not a seller of travel.

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