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Q) When do I get my travel documents?
A) Travel document management can vary considerably depending on the type of travel your vacation plans include.
For land-based tours, most of our travel partners prepare documents at about 14-21 days prior to their program’s departure. When sent directly to you, these documents usually arrive about 4-5 days later. For those suppliers who send documents to our offices for transshipment add another 5-7 days to the delivery time. If your plans involve an early departure or a combination of programs that may create difficulties for you in receiving documents, simply ask your tour consultant to request early document delivery or an alternative delivery system, such as the PDF file format. There may be a fee involved for early documents or express delivery services. Your consultant will be able to find this information for you. And for those customers who reside outside the continental states of the US, most of our travel partners provide a PDF as a standard form of travel documentation. Rest assured that we and our travel partners will do everything necessary to ensure you receive your required documentation in advance of your departure.
For river cruise customers, the documents are typically prepared at 21 days prior to departure, in some cases a bit earlier. The same general guidelines apply for river cruising guests as for our land tour guests.Q) What is my final payment date?
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR LAND TOUR AND RIVER CRUISE CUSTOMERS: There are many programs offered by the tour or river cruising travel partner in which travel is included on ocean going vessels, ferry services or internal flying. Most of these programs require either passport details, copies of passports, completed visa pages, international air ticket numbers or combinations of all of these. You should be made aware of these requirements by your consultant early in the process and the information should be provided as early as it is reasonably available. The tour and river cruise companies will not issue tour documents or provide services when this information has not been made available by the guest.
For our ocean cruise guests the document management system has evolved so that the traditional ticket booklets that contained contracts of carriage, excursion details, ticket coupons, etc., are almost exclusively produced in a PDF format. Typically the ticket booklets are produced after two conditions are met: first, that the online registration, which is required for most mainstream cruise lines, must be completed; second, the final payment must have been completed. The cruise tickets and associated documents are then available for customers to manage directly within the cruise line systems. Your cruise counselor will be able to help you navigate this portion of your cruise experience.
A) Your final payment date is presented on the email you received confirming the booking of your trip. If you are unable to locate that email (or other emails that may have that information) but have your AffordableTours.Com booking number, you can easily find the information on our website. Simply log on to the booking access section of our system at My.AffordableTours.Com. You will need to have a valid six-digit AffordableTours.Com booking number and the last name of one of the guests in order to access any booking.
NOTE: Each tour, river cruise or ocean cruise will always have at least two booking numbers – one provided for your AffordableTours.Com booking (always six digits) and the other referencing the travel partner’s confirmation or reservation reference number. Once you have access to the booking, you can easily display any section of the booking including the important travel and payment dates, package details, flights, payment history and much more.
Q) Can you arrange seat assignments on the airline?
A) We always strive to offer you the most complete array of services available and that includes, whenever possible, assisting with your requests for advance seats on the airline(s) booked by us (or our travel partners) on your behalf. There are some very important considerations, so to best answer that question, please take note of these conditions and caveats.
Airlines may or may not offer advance seats as a courtesy any longer. We can no longer assume that all carriers will do so. Even some of our traditional service hold-outs in international flying will only offer seats on a fee basis. Those fees can range from $49 to hundreds of dollars for long haul seating. The seat location and type will affect the segment price. Frequently, short-haul flights within Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and Australia do not offer advance seats or offer them only on a paid basis. However, in every case, when complimentary seat assignment options are offered and available, we will be happy to make requests for you.
We are unable to guarantee specific seat types or locations at any time and under any circumstance. Simply put: neither AffordableTours.Com nor the tour or cruise partner with whom you are booked can exercise control over the air carrier operations. Any number of things may inhibit the carrier’s ability to honor seat requests (change of aircraft type or configuration, internal preference for seating families on day of flight, failure of computer equipment to manage check-in functions, etc.)
We want to give you the best service possible and we don’t feel we can do that by not disclosing the ways in which we can do that effectively and, most importantly, with complete integrity. Yes, we will be happy to assist with your seat requests but we hope you understand the limitations within which we can offer that service.
Q) Can you give me the airline record number and let me call to confirm my seats?
A) Yes. In most cases, the airline confirmation, or record locator as it is commonly called, is provided in the flight details section of your Booking Summary email or in a separate display area of your booking at “My.AffordableTours.Com”. When the air carrier information is presented on your booking, we automatically provide you with the telephone numbers and web addresses for the carriers indicated as the “booked” airlines. If you do not have flight details present but you do have air booked through AffordableTours.Com, check with your travel consultant for availability. Sometimes the confirmation details are not immediately available at the time of initial payment. Please note also this will apply only to the flight details used to join the tour or cruise and not to any internal flight segments that may be a part of the tour or cruise program.
Q) Is there a dress code?
A) Dress codes per se have become less visible in the planning literature. However, there are still some general guidelines and some that are quite specific. Your tour or cruise company documents and planning information will be your starting guide but their information will be limited, for the most part, to their service provisions and requirements. Many of the reasons for selecting and taking along specific types of clothing are driven more by the itinerary and sightseeing/entertainment options. Gentlemen are still required to wear a tie and jacket in the Monte Carlo Casino “proper” and ladies should be prepared to wear longer sleeves when visiting the Vatican. The best advice is to let guidebooks for the region give you clues about how to dress for your trip and not for your trip provider. Ocean cruise customers may find it advantageous to think ahead to the dining venues aboard ship. The options on board can range from the ultra-casual to jackets recommended. The cruise line may not deny you a meal for wearing shorts but may well have strict conditions about where you might enjoy that meal while wearing them. If there are specific dress codes, they will be very clearly spelled out. And, should you have trouble navigating this information, your agent is only a phone call or email away. Remember also that seasons and regional norms may also dictate what you consider the “code” particularly when comparing a week’s skiing in Kitzbuehl vs. a week on the French Riviera in June.
Q) Can I use my personal electrical items?
A) Electrical plugs and outlets differ throughout the world so you’ll need a universal travel adaptor suitable for the countries you are traveling to in order to use any mobile devices. Electrical currents also vary throughout the world and we suggest you carry a converter for any electronics that are not dual voltage in order to prevent them being damaged.
Q) What about laundry and dry cleaning services during my vacation?
A) Now that airlines have changed the rules for packing, it can become expensive to pack enough for vacations lasting longer than a week. Even that can be difficult when the itinerary or main attraction requires several types of clothing. Even so, there are some standard considerations that may help in your planning:
On tour itineraries that offer at least a 2 night stay in one or more of the hotels, you may wish to take advantage of the hotel cleaning services. Although not all hotels will offer these services, most 4 star and higher will offer some version of the service in order to keep their star ratings. The fees can vary greatly so it’s a good idea to check the websites of the hotels to see how the services are managed.
For river cruise customers, the prevailing wisdom it to use the services offered by the ship for dry cleaning. On a few lines, there are ships that offer self-service laundry facilities for a small fee. Most websites for the cruise line have details about the facilities aboard each of the vessels, including the type of laundry facilities available onboard.
Ocean cruise customers will generally have access to the full range of laundry services. Some lines that specialize in longer itineraries will have both ship services and self-service laundry facilities. Depending on the stateroom category or loyalty program level, some of these services will be offered free of charge. A visit to the cruise line website should answer any of those questions and, as always, your cruise consultant is happy to help.
Q) Can I keep in touch with friends and family?
A) On a tour, a cell phone is often the easiest way to communicate both locally and with others back home. ‘Bill shock’ is becoming increasingly common for international travelers who are arriving home from their trip to a hefty cell phone bill that can be as much as the actual trip! Before leaving on your trip, consider these options to avoid returning home to an expensive phone bill:
Check international calling and text rates, disable data roaming and consider a prepaid service designed for international travelers. An international cell phone and prepaid SIM card lets you stay connected and in touch with family and friends, and control your costs at the same time.
Wi-Fi services are becoming increasingly available on tour coaches, river boats and in public areas of hotels (sometimes even in-room) without additional charges. When these are available, regular email or “face-time” conversations can be a real cost saver.
On ocean cruises, telephone service can be quite expensive and the service may be spotty. However, as with river cruise and land tour vacations, Wi-Fi services are also becoming the standard though access may come with a fee. The cruise line website will provide specifics on the fee, normally expressed in minutes. Like with laundry services, some stateroom categories and loyalty program benefit levels will offer a generous amount of “Wi-Fi Time”, access to the ship’s internet café or both.
Q) Will my tour or cruise provider meet me at the airport?
A) Transfer services, getting from and to airports, ship terminals or train stations, is an important part of the planning process and, left until the last minute, can be an expensive proposition. Where you are and how you travel can make a big difference. Sometimes, the decision to spend more on the actual product inclusions may save money because of very high transportation costs otherwise associated. Again, the nature of transfer services and assumptions differ by product type. Here are some standard that might clarify the best approach to answering the question and help you plan your own options. Keep in mind that we can, almost without exception, set up a service with a private company even when the primary provider does not offer the service.
Our land tour partners are fairly evenly split on whether airport transfer services are included. A standard, even among those that do offer the services on a complimentary basis, is that the services are assumed to be valid only on the first arrival day scheduled for the tour program and the last day of the tour. Some will offer the services on a complimentary basis, even when airfare is purchased independently and some will include the service only when the airfare is purchased in conjunction with their programs. Additional days, even when purchased through the primary travel partner, are usually not included in the complimentary transfer consideration. In addition, some “included” transfers may only operate within very specific time windows so the complimentary service may no longer be applicable due to your flight arrival or departure schedule. While there are some notable exceptions to these standards, they should be considered the “nice surprise” rather than the expectation. Your travel consultant should let you know during the confirmation stages what your date considerations and timing parameters should be in making your plans.
River cruise programs, again with a few notable exceptions, do not include airport transfer services unless airfare is purchased as part of the package and, even then, may carry specific restrictions for day of arrival and place of arrival. Some river cruise lines may offer transfer services only if an entire program is taken that includes land-based options. Again, even in these circumstances, your AffordableTours.Com cruise consultant may be able to offer auxiliary services to meet the needs of getting you from an airport to the ship or hotel required.
Ocean cruises very rarely include transfer services on a complimentary basis. The distances from many ports to the nearest city with air services can be longer and more expensive that can be effectively included in cruise fares. However, all major cruise lines do offer the service, sometimes with limited inventory, for guests arriving and departing by air. As with all our products, you may also rely on your AffordableTours.Com cruise consultant to offer you this option and to assist with third party services if it might be a better fit with your travel plans.
What about arrivals by ship? By train? It is extremely rare for a travel partner to offer services for transport other than the airport. However, your AfordableTours.Com consultant may be able to offer you very good private or shared services that match your needs. This can be especially helpful when combining differing programs to create a dream vacation. Your consultant, whether a specialist in cruises, tours or river cruises can help you connect the dots to create a seamless travel experience.
Q) If I am at the airport and my flight is canceled, who is responsible for getting me to my destination if the tour company or cruise line booked my flights?
A) Unless you have a very clear statement, without ambiguity, that the tour or cruise company has a service that guarantees rerouting and/or catch-up accommodation in the case of cancelled or delayed flights, the standard rules of air travel will prevail. What that means is this:
On the day of flight, the airline on whom you are ticketed and the carrier who is actually operating your flight, are in control of your journey. This is called “control of the passenger” and is a very important concept in answering this question. If the airline calls you the day before departure –or- if the airline calls your agent or tour provider and says there is a cancellation, then your consultant, in association with the primary provider(s), will work on getting you to where you need to be if it is possible to do so. This does not mean that the situation is necessarily guaranteed to be fixed. It means that these are the people who are charged with the responsibility of helping to work through the situation. Here are some standards that you should understand and rules that airlines have to follow that might be helpful to know:
In the case of a carrier’s mechanical issue, the carrier in control should be taking responsibility for any routing changes required to get you to your destination. The carrier should also offer compensation in the way of meals and hotel vouchers based on the time delay for the next departure on which you are rebooked.
In the case of weather related delays and cancellations, the carrier has very little in the way of obligation. You read this correctly. In all likelihood, the carrier will move heaven and earth to get you on a flight (on its services exclusively) to your destination through a different routing if possible. It is in their interest to do so. But it is important to note that, without much in the way of exception, it is through their policy of passenger care and not through legislation. When the weather prohibits safe operation and your flight is impacted, it is not considered a fault of the carrier and they are not obligated to do much of anything except fly when they can. These situations are never pleasant but it can help to remember that there may be a big difference between what an airline MUST do and what an airline CAN do.
The carrier has no obligation to get you to your cruise ship, to your tour or to your river cruise. Their obligation is only to get you to Brussels, Bangkok or Baltimore. You may still incur expenses in arranging additional transportation to catch up to you tour or cruise. This is an important reason that we suggest leaving a day early and having backup plans so that the unexpected doesn’t ruin your vacation or get it off to a dismal start. It’s also why we strongly recommend the purchase of travel protection so that some of these expenses and/or losses of vacation experience might be offset by the claim with the travel protection provider.
You may hear your consultant encourage you to spend $100 more to fly with a carrier that operates multiple departures from an airport instead of one that only has two flights per day. This is not mentioned to get more money out of you but rather to look ahead to “what happens if…” Your best hope for getting to where you need to be, when you need to be there, is to be traveling on a carrier that has multiple routing options on its own routes or those of its partner carriers (e.g., consider Oneworld, SkyTeam, Star Alliance, etc.) More options usually means more ways to get you to where you need to be with the least amount of upset. Larger carriers may also have in place more “ticketing and baggage agreements” that give them the ability to move you and your baggage easily to another airline if they are unable to get you where you need to be. Some smaller carriers may have limitations in those areas.
Q) Will the hotels that are listed for my tour be the hotels that I am guaranteed when I travel?
A) Generally the hotels will be the same but it is important to know how this process works for the bulk of our tour travel partners. The hotels are planned 2-3 years in advance and contracts for space allocation and room utilization are worked out. Because both the hotel and the tour operator know that a lot can happen, there is some latitude for things changing. For that reason, most tour operators call for final payment 45-60 days prior to departure. At that time, they begin to release unused inventory and the hotels begin to be finalized. At 30 days prior to departure, the hotels are considered “locked” so that tour documents can be prepared, etc. These are the hotels that will be included in your travel documents and from which you can make contact lists for friends and relatives at home. However, even inside the 30 day countdown to departure, hotels can change due to construction problems, booking system errors, government intervention (such as what happened in Amsterdam during the Crown Prince’s ascension to the throne) or any unforeseen circumstances. These are kept to a minimum but they can happen. We usually recommend booking additional hotel nights through the tour company because, if a hotel does have to be changed, the highest likelihood is that the additional hotel nights will also be retained at the new hotel. That is not the case when you as a customer book those nights independently.
Q) I have special dietary needs. Can these be accommodated?
A) We are happy to submit your request / needs to the appropriate travel partner. In some cases, this takes the form of an easily managed request that is standard for the operator. Ocean cruise lines are particularly adept at managing these requests and can manage many different types of requests. River cruise companies are also happy to assist as much as possible and will even allow for a direct discussion with the chef once onboard. Historically, they have had virtually no problem in managing meal choices that satisfy the greatest range of requests. Tour companies have a more difficult time managing these requests because the delivery of food services is in the control of other parties. They are happy to take those requests and forward them to the local Tour Directors who will work with guests and restaurants to reach the best possible accommodation. But it is important to remember that, even in the case of the largest cruise lines, we cannot guarantee dietary needs will be met for each case. We also recommend that you communicate directly with your waiter at each meal about your dietary needs or restrictions.
Q) Can I travel with my pet?
A) Travel with pets is essentially not allowed with any of our tour, river cruise or ocean cruise partners. Cunard does offer spaces for 8-12 kennels on trans-Atlantic crossings but that is an exception unique to their cruise offerings. There are also very strict controls with taking pets of any kind on trans-border itineraries and many places still require quarantine. If the pet in question is traveling as a medical assistance animal for hearing, sight or emotional support, we can make requests on a per-case basis. However, outside the US, the rules governing ADA-type accommodation may not exist at all or may exist very differently. For guests who are traveling on independent touring itineraries or using hotel-only services, there may be some accommodation but each component of the program will need to be checked for restrictions and the most restrictive rule would govern the itinerary.