When was the last time you studied your tour brochure? Or the airline schedule? Or the explanation of hotel meal plans? Or the cruise ship catalogue?
I'm not just talking about the fine print, but the bold print as well.
Many Americans are still confused by the popular terms. For example, a direct flight doesn't mean nonstop; it means that you will make one or two stops en route. If it's a connecting flight, you must change planes.
Having said that, you now know what it means when Alitalia boasts the only direct service from Los Angeles to Italy. It means that if you want to take the plane from Los Angeles to Rome, be prepared to make a stop in Milan.
Then there's confusing guided-tour lingo.
"You'll see the Pyramids," reads one brochure. Yes, but will you stop long enough to experience them? Will you have the time to explore them on your own?
Duty-free is one of the most misunderstood terms. If you buy something that is promoted as duty-free it does not mean that you aren't liable to pay duty on the items if you exceed your $400 duty-free limit upon your return to the United States.
Also, in some countries, items sold as duty-free may be bargains for citizens of those countries, but may in fact be more expensive than if you bought them in the United States.
Then come the inevitable language problems associated with tour packages. "Includes superior room." If anyone can give me the absolute definition of superior, I'll send them a matching set of luggage.
The same often applies to the words ocean front and ocean view. Does ocean front mean that the hotel room is fronting the ocean? Or does it just face a distant sea? What's worse is the abuse of the words ocean view. At some hotels the rooms indeed have an ocean view, but that's providing you take your own binoculars.
How many times have you seen a very attractive hotel room rate quoted, followed by the disclaimer "double occupancy"?
Double occupancy is the price per person , based on two people sharing one room.
At Their Mercy
Ever hear of something called run of house rooms? You'll often see this term in Hawaii tour packages. It means, quite simply, that you'll be given whatever room the hotel feels like giving you. If you agree to a "run of house" room, you're putting yourself at the mercy of the hotel gods, and your odds of getting a large room, a room with a view or one with a king-size bed, are greatly reduced.
Hungry? Check various meal packages carefully. In some Caribbean destinations, hotels offer something called exchange dining. What this means is that you can eat at specially selected hotels and restaurants as part of a pre-set meal plan. Caution: Many of these restaurants and hotels look upon that meal plan as non-exclusive--some of the menu items feature surcharges.
Many hotel meal plans are also confusing. A European Plan (EP) means that no meals are included in the room rate. The American Plan (AP) includes all meals. And the Modified American Plan (MAP) includes two meals, usually breakfast and dinner, as part of your hotel room rate.
However, some hotels and resorts allow you to choose either lunch or dinner as your second meal. And to further confuse things, some hotels market the Continental Plan, which usually means bed and breakfast. But does that mean a continental breakfast? Not necessarily.
In Europe, chances are that it does mean a continental breakfast. In Scandinavia it usually means a full buffet breakfast. Then there are the hotels that offer something called the Bermuda Plan, which includes a full breakfast.
But sometimes the meal rate is even more confusing. At many hotels and resorts the American Plan and Modified American Plan rates are quoted "per person."
It's important--some might even argue crucial--for you to determine before you go what these terms mean.
But sometimes it's what a hotel doesn't say that can hurt you. When ordering food, especially room service, be prepared for some surprising surcharges.
Not long ago I stayed at the Hotel Parker Meridien in New York. One evening I ordered dinner from room service. When it came I signed the check and added a 20% tip. But when I checked out of the hotel, I found that another tip had been added to the bill.
When I asked, the clerk told me that the hotel automatically adds 15% to each room-service charge as a tip. Clearly, this hotel policy had not been explained to me. But just as clearly, I had forgotten to ask.
It was an expensive lesson, but one I've learned. It is not simply whether or not a hotel, tour company, airline or rental-car agency discloses all of its terms, but whether or not you understand and mutually define them before you travel.