How can I book a sane vacation?
January 20, 2009 1:41 PM   Subscribe

What's the safest/best way to book airline tickets?


I'm planning on flying from New York to Melbourne. I don't have a credit card. What is the best way to make sure my trip is hassle-free?

I've flown many times in the past and have never had a problem with lost baggage. But I figure I'll get screwed sometime, and with the multiple connections (and chances for things to go wrong) I'm seriously debating the extra $60 or so that the booking website charges for insurance. So as far as insurance is concerned:

- Is it worth it?

- What do these things usually cover? I'm landing in Australia a day before my friend's wedding – what exactly happens if Gaffubid my stuff gets lost?

- Is it possible to get a third-party insurer after booking my tickets, with a better cost/benefit ratio? If yes, please provide a link.

- Is there a credit card that helps? I vaguely recall something about AmEx guaranteeing something – does it only work for the cardholder? How about someone in the cardholder's household? How about a companion? If so, does the companion ticket need to have been bought together? Are there any other credit cards that would offer this?

- I'm going to start and end in Melbourne, but I will be in Sydney and possibly other cities as well. Is there a better traveler's insurance which will cover all flights and incidentals during my trip?

slightly offtopic
- I will probably be flying Virgin Blue (MEL-SYD-MEL), and I can't seem to figure out from their website if there's a 1 bag limit (using the super cheap fares) or not. I know there's an $8 charge – I just don't know if I can take two bags.

I've flown between the US and Australia multiple times, so I think I've got everything covered, but if there's anything else that may help…

If it helps at all as far as getting insurance things are concerned, I'm 22, male, US and Australian citizen.

Thank you very much
posted by mhz to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The American Express Blue Cash card has really good benefits:

Global Assist Hotline
Car Rental Loss & Damage Insurance
Guaranteed Room Reservations
Optional Premium Baggage Protection for $9.95
Optional Travel Delay Protection for $9.95

Those are some of the travel benefits, which I haven't really used; the other benefits have saved me hundreds of dollars:

Purchase Protection
Return Protection
Extended Warranty

Plus, of course, you get 1.5% - 5% cash back on all your purchases. I use it for pretty much any major purchase, and pay it off the same month.
posted by designbot at 2:23 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

(You might also want to make sure you haven't already been charged for insurance by Virgin Blue.) Insurance probably isn't really necessary, unless you're carrying something valuable. I imagine they'd be liable to reimburse you if they lose your luggage, even if you don't have insurance.

If your luggage is lost, whether you have insurance or not, what will happen is that you'll be asked to contact the Baggage Blues department, and they'll try to find it for you. When I had a bag misplaced on another airline, they tracked it down and shipped it overnight to my home.
posted by designbot at 2:33 PM on January 20, 2009

On Virgin Blue if you are flying on a cheap fare (Go! or Blue Saver), you can check more than one bag, as long as the combined weight is under 23 kilograms for the $8 fee. You need to pre-book this allowance (ie when you book your fare, or possibly afterwards). If you turn up at the airport, they will charge you a $20 fee for the 23 kilograms.

You generally should buy travel insurance to cover cancellation costs, lost luggage (and having to buy things eg something to wear to wedding when it doesn't show up on time), some will pay you compensation if you miss an event (such as a wedding) due to delays, cover a camera when you accidently drop yours off the side of a Sydney ferry, also coverage for any medical emergencies you may have (eg if you break your leg, the insurance may cover getting a business class seat so you can actually fly home - since you are an Australian citizen, you don't really need the medical coverage itself).

I don't have a specific recommendation as most travel insurance requires you to purchase in your home country (except for World Nomads, but this is more limited). You do need to really read the fine print to see if it covers what you need - that goes for any insurance provided by a credit card company as well.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:52 PM on January 20, 2009

I recommend travel insurance. I get mine through World Nomads. They'll cover flight cancellation, missed reservations, lost luggage, plus medical and other problems. For US residents, it's $55 per week and goes up in tiny increments thereafter. I use them every time I leave the country.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:35 PM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I personally don't see the value in travel insurance for things other than medical emergencies, you should really only insure for losses you can't absorb. If you are delayed 24 hours and miss the wedding, a couple of hundred bucks is not much compensation (and I think 24 hours is cutting it fine. I have been delayed 24 hours on an international flight before, and that wasn't even in the US where they routinely overbook).
Similarly, if your stuff gets lost you can usually claim $100-$200 for an interim set of clothes/toiletries. For the $USD55 in insurance premium you could rent a suit in Melbourne, and keep the money if your bags don't get lost.
Many gold credit cards give free travel insurance if you purchase the tickets with the card. Amex has the product disclosure statement/policy available to read on their website, but basically, it will make an overseas medical disaster merely a severe trauma.
If you pay more for third party coverage that might make the trauma only a major hassle, but if you travel frequently, and would be looking at $100+ for each two week trip, the free coverage might be enough to justify getting a card.
Disclosure - I have seen the hassle for a relative to get medivaced from the UK to AU when they had paid for insurance, I can't imagine the free Amex coverage would be any worse.
I note you state you are an AU citizen. You may be eligible for Medicare coverage if you are prepared to claim you are returning as a resident:
People who reside in Australia - excluding Norfolk Island - are eligible if they:
* hold Australian citizenship
...You will need to provide documents to support your residency in Australia or your severing of ties with the previous country of residence if:
* you are an Australian citizen returning to Australia to reside after living overseas for more than five years

Although I wouldn't bother with the paperwork/visit to the Medicare office to get the interim card unless there was some reason to believe you will require medical treatment.
posted by bystander at 9:18 PM on January 20, 2009

You're flying from NY to Melbourne, yet you later state you're "starting and ending in Melbourne". Confused.

Just read the product disclosure statement of the policy on the ticket purchase website, and compare that to any others you can find using Google. The policy statements are surprisingly brief and easy reading. Generally a higher excess = lower policy. Only you can decide what is best for you and how much risk you're willing to take.

Travel insurance is definitely worth it, even if they medical component is redundant as you're an Australian citizen - though, I assume that you don't have a Medicare card, which may add a slight layer of complexity if you were to run into medical trouble.
posted by ryanbryan at 11:37 PM on January 20, 2009

Response by poster: designbot, I thought that sounded familiar. Reading the terms, apparently it doesn't work for companions. Are there any other cards that offer something similar?
Also, about the opt-out baggage: it's pretty common. Low-cost airlines like Spirit Air do it here as well. I'll look out for it, thanks.

AnnaRat, based on what you've said, I've reread the wording, and it appears that if I have two bags that weigh 23kg it's $8. 24kg appears to be $16, with an $8 increment for each kilo after that. Ouch.

Peter, thanks, that's the kind of recommendation I was looking for.

bystander, I wouldn't want to mess around with claiming I'm back as a resident when I'm clearly not, so I guess that Medicare isn't a real insurance option for me. I actually had never checked that out – I've never so much as had a prescription filled, let alone visited a doctor, in Australia – so I guess that's good to know.

ryanbryan, I'm flying JFK-LAX-MEL, and flying back MEL-LAX-JFK. I'm pretty sure this is a new option from Qantas with the A380. I've flown in and out of Sydney in the past. I meant that I'll be starting and ending in Melbourne within Australia, with other trips, likely on other airlines, in the interim.
posted by mhz at 4:27 AM on January 21, 2009

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