5 tips for buying luggage

I always recommend checking your suitcase well in advance of travelling, just in case it’s looking past its sell by date and needs replacing.

Check your suitcase about a month before flying and if the stitching is looking frayed, or any part looks a bit too worn to cope with another round of battering, being transported to and from your holiday destination, then replace it. It’s just not worth the risk of it giving up and breaking mid holiday or spilling your clothes in the baggage transport system of the airport. How embarrassing and costly would that be?

When looking for a new suitcase or set of luggage shop around and consider the following tips:

1 Check dimensions before purchasing
Check the checked-in baggage size restrictions of your airline before you go shopping and take the dimensions and a tape measure with you.

2 Not too big
Don’t buy suitcases that are too large. Airlines are reducing the weight limits of checked-in baggage, and having a suitcase that is very big will only encourage you to pack too much and could lead to you paying expensive excess luggage charges.

3 Avoid expensive looking luggage
Buy sturdy cases, but don’t go for anything too flashy and expensive looking. Expensive luggage implies expensive contents, and could make it a target for thieves.

4 Wheels
Make sure you go for cases with wheels, I think they all have wheels now, but my favourite type is the wheel-anywhere ones that you don’t even have to tilt, they’ll roll in any direction when upright.

5 Buy quality

It is much better, and more cost-efficient, to spend a little extra on a sturdier case with a long guarantee than to go for the cheaper option that may require replacing in a couple of years.

Hand luggage liquid restrictions

It has been more than three years since the liquid in hand luggage restrictions were introduced and, even after all this time, there is still some confusion over what is and isn’t allowed. To clarify, the restrictions are listed below:

All liquids, that includes gels, aerosols, toothpaste, liquid foundation, hair gel, shower gel, mascara and sun creams, can only be carried in individual 100ml containers, no larger, and must fit comfortably in a transparent, re-sealable plastic bag which measures no more than 20cm by 20cm and has a maximum capacity of one litre. Any liquids that are in larger quantities, or in larger containers, even if they are only partly full, will be confiscated.

To be sure, it is recommended that all liquids are carried in checked-in luggage. However, if you do plan to carry some liquids on board, it’s advisable to put your liquids in a re-sealable plastic bag before you leave for the airport. Some airports give out plastic bags free of charge, however, some charge, so it is best to be organised and get your own.

If you need to take water, drinks or other liquids on the plane buy them air side, after security screening. Don’t buy drinks at the airport to take through security as these will be confiscated.

Further information:

If you have any questions concerning your hand luggage check your airport’s or airline’s website.

The risks of DIY holidays

How did you plan and book your holiday last year? Did you book a package holiday, booking all the components of your holiday with a travel agent? Or, did you take total control and book everything: accommodation, flights, car hire etc. yourself? Increasing numbers of families are taking control over their holidays and opting to book trips in holiday parks in the UK. Whilst there is no guarantee of the weather, these type of holidays have many advantages.

If you are one of the estimated 11 million people in Britain that creates their own DIY holiday – booking individual components from different sources, you could be putting your holiday at risk.

Did you know that if your airline or accommodation provider were to go bankrupt, your holiday may be in jeopardy? Flights, accommodation, car hire, attraction tickets when booked separately as part of a DIY holiday are unconnected and, in the event of the collapse of your airline or hotel provider you may be forced to make alternative arrangements, often at significant expense. If you are in the unfortunate situation that you cannot make different arrangements you may be forced to cancel your holiday. Imagine having a holiday booked but being unable to get there to enjoy it. Without cover, you could even be stranded on holiday if your airline fails while you are away.

So how do you protect your holiday from the risks?

Booking your holiday and all its components together with a single, ATOL bonded travel agent/company will offer you protection.

ATOL is the UK’s only licensing scheme for travel companies selling air holiday packages, protecting around 27 million people each year from losing money or being stranded abroad if their travel company goes bankrupt. You also have the benefit that your travel company is also responsible for making alternative arrangements should anything go wrong.

When using a travel agent to book your holiday, look for the ATOL logo on the company’s website, in its brochure, or call and ask for it.

When booking, ask if your whole holiday is covered by ATOL.

Check the ATOL website, www.atol.org.uk to confirm that the company’s ATOL number is valid.

If you do decide to book your own DIY holiday, remember you do not have the same protection offered by ATOL, so make your booking by credit card – although this will not offer full protection it may give you some cover, but you must spend at least £100 on each component.

Make sure your travel insurance covers you against insolvency, however, most travel insurance policies will only offer the cost of the lost component, not consequential costs such as non-use of accommodation, car rental etc if your airline fails. Some policies now offer scheduled airline failure, but check prior to purchase.

Cruise holidays: check your travel insurance

A cruise is just another type of holiday and provided you have travel insurance you should be covered no matter what, or are you?

According to the AA travel insurance, many customers may be unaware that cruise travel insurance is not always included in their standard travel cover. A spokesperson for the AA said ‘Cruise ship customers often overlook the fact that cruises may not be included as standard on cheaper travel insurance policies, which are designed to cover land-based holidays. As a result, they may not be properly covered and could end up footing the bill for expensive medical treatment.’

Cruise ship holidays are seen as a bigger risk than land based holidays by many insurers, due to the higher risk of being at sea, as well as the cost involved in airlifting someone to shore following an accident. Many insurers have a dedicated cruise policy which can be significantly more expensive.

UK reciprocal health agreement with Isle of Man ends 31 March 2010

Many British holiday makers believe that when they are holidaying in the UK the do not require travel insurance to cover medical bills, after all, they’re covered by the NHS, or are they?

There’s lots of confusion. Many people believe that the UK covers England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Even some insurance companies, when asked, include the Isle of Man as part of the UK, so it’s not surprising lots of us get confused.

However, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not part of the UK and, while it seems just a bit pedantic to highlight this, it’s very important when it comes to travel and travel insurance.

The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are crown dependencies and are self-governing with their own laws and, more importantly, their own health services.

In the past, a reciprocal health agreement between the UK and the crown dependencies meant that residents of the UK visiting the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, and Channel Island and Isle of Man residents visiting the UK could receive free NHS treatment should they require hospitalisation.

On 1 April 2009 the UK government ended its reciprocal health agreement with the Channel Islands meaning that travellers between the two destinations now require travel insurance to cover medical bills.

Not content with just axing the Channel Islands’ agreement, the UK government has switched its focus to the Isle of Man and will axe its reciprocal health agreement with the Isle of Man at the end of March 2010.

From 1 April 2010, all travellers between the Isle of Man and the UK will require full travel insurance to cover medical bills in the event of an accident or illness.

Up until and including 31 March, visitors will be covered by the existing reciprocal health agreement, residents in the UK visiting the Isle of Man and Isle of Man residents visiting the UK are entitled to free NHS treatment should they be taken ill and require hospitalisation during their stay.

After 31 March 2010, if a visitor between the two countries falls ill, or has an accident, free treatment will only be available in Accident and Emergency departments or ‘walk in’ centres, any subsequent treatments or operations must be paid for by the patient.

While the ending of the reciprocal health agreement should not prevent travel between the UK and the crown dependencies, travel insurance that covers medical bills should be regarded as essential!

Travel to the USA – ESTA mandatory from today

Anyone travelling to the USA from today, 20 January 2010, should be aware that it is now mandatory to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) at least 72 hours before you travel if you are travelling under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).

The application process takes around 15-20 minutes with authorisation generally granted immediately, however, it can take up to 72 hours, so passengers are advised to apply for their ESTA when they book their travel or at least 72 hours prior to travel.

The ESTA replaces the green cards that passengers used to be required to fill in on the plane before landing. ESTA was introduced last year but became compulsory today. Under the new regulations airlines will be unable to accept passengers for travel to the USA unless they hold ESTA approval, or a valid visa or Green Card.

Once approved, the travel authorisation is valid for multiple entries in to the US for two years.

You can apply for an ESTA here https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov – it’s free, well at the moment – a charge may be brought in later in the year.

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Car hire: take care to check terms and conditions when you book

Watch out when you book car hire online. That’s the warning from Which? Holiday that found some companies are using potentially unfair terms in their contracts while others are providing little or no information about their terms and conditions on their website.

Which? Holiday went through the online car hire booking process for eight major UK car hire companies to hire a car at London Heathrow Airport and Paris Charles De Gaulle, checking if the full terms and conditions were available prior to booking. It also checked to see if customers were informed of all the waivers and additional insurance policies available so that they could compare the car hire cost of different companies.

On three car hire websites Which? Holiday found a clause that could be viewed as potentially unfair – stating that if customers could not produce the keys in the event of the car being stolen then they would be liable for the full value of the vehicle. This means that even if the keys were stolen at the same time, or the vehicle was involved in a car-jacking, the customer would still be liable for the full cost of the car.

Which? Holiday also found that two car hire companies had no information about the terms and conditions of hire on their websites prior to booking.

Rochelle Turner, Head of Research for Which? Holiday, says: “Hiring a car for your holiday may seem like a great idea, but our rigorous research shows that it can be a minefield.

“Trying to work out the real price you’ll pay, the insurance you need and what is or isn’t included can be so confusing that most of us just sign the contract, pay for the car and hope for the best.

“But it is really important that you read and understand everything before you sign on the dotted line. Failing to do so could leave you with a hefty excess, or seriously out of pocket if the car is stolen.”

Snow affected flights – tips for airline passengers concerned about flight cancellations

With all this bad weather about at the moment, it’s a worrying time for air travellers. All you want to do is get away from the snow, ice and freezing temperatures to somewhere warm, but you can’t.

Faced with iced-up roads, or heavy snow, you probably can’t even get your car off your drive, let alone drive to the airport to get your flight and, if you do get there, what are your chances of your flight taking off?

What do you do first?
It is a stressful situation, one I had firsthand experience of last week, faced with an airport that was operational and a booked flight, yet unable to get to the airport due to the road to the airport being blocked by snow. I resolved the issue by contacting the airline and rebooking the flight to later in the day, giving the authorities chance to clear the road.

At present, it appears that all the major UK airports are open, however, with the weather problems of this past week there are cancellations and delays, and with the threat of more snow most airports and airlines are advising passengers to check whether their flight is operational before they leave home.

So how do you find out whether your flight is going to operate or not?

Check your airport website, or the website of your airline – some airlines have begun to list details of flights they have cancelled for the current day, or even the next day.

Your airline’s website should have a link to a weather-update page or have a section where you can check the status of your flight.

Your departure airport will also have a list of flight arrivals and departures, so you could check there.

Another possible way to check the flight status – usually if you are on a short or domestic flight – is to check the arrivals section on the website of your destination airport – this isn’t guaranteed to offer any information, but it could be worth checking. You could also try calling your airline, but with all the problems and the number of flights they handle, you could find yourself in a seemingly endless queue to get an answer.

Getting to the airport
Obviously, if you live some distance away from the airport, you may find you need to leave your house the day before, or extremely early in the morning, in order to get to the airport. No matter how far you have to travel, it’s advisable to check the Highways Agency website for details of accidents, road closures etc that may affect your journey, alternatively check the BBC website’s road travel section. And it goes without saying that you need to leave plenty of extra time for your journey to the airport.

What if you can’t get to the airport because of the roads?
If roads are impassable due to the snow, contact your airline before your flight is due to depart, if you get stuck and don’t call them until after your check-in closes you run the risk of losing your flight.

Some airlines are offering the option to rebook flights free of charge, or cancel flights if you cannot travel to the airport. Policies vary from airline to airline, so check with your airline.

How do I contact my airline?
You may be able to obtain your airline’s contact number from their website, or check on their website as some now offer ‘live chat’ or links to cancelling or rescheduling your flights.

Many airport sites have a list of contact numbers for all the airlines that operate from their airport.

Good luck
If you are trying to get away during the snow, good luck, and remember that ultimately it is you airline that is responsible for your flight, so they are the one to turn to for accurate information on the status of your flight.