The unauthorized guide to fine print, holiday edition


When Ben Blout invoked a big-box store’s “low price promise” after discovering a lower price on his merchandise, he learned something customers rediscover every holiday shopping season: some restrictions apply.

Make that lots of restrictions.

“They told me they won’t match any printed advertisement that is not valid for at least one week,” says Blout. “Specifically, their price match excludes timed events like early bird specials and door busters.”

Fine print is a problem any time of the year, of course. But most consumers get foiled by it around the holidays, in part because more people are shopping, and in part because of the extra offers with the extra restrictions.
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Happy holidays? JetBlue slams grieving grandson with booking fee, walk-up fare

Micha Klootwijk /
Micha Klootwijk /
If an airline tells you it offers a more humane way to travel, should you hold it to that promise?

That’s the question raised by David Seltzer’s case on JetBlue Airways, a case that comes to us at an appropriate time of year.

Seltzer’s grandfather died unexpectedly a few months ago, and he immediately paid JetBlue a walk-up fare of $1,258 to fly from Long Beach, Calif., to New York, so he could be with his family. JetBlue then piled on the fees, charging him $20 for a phone booking and then hitting him with a $104 fare differential when he had to change his return flight again.

Seltzer then did what many distraught passengers do after the funeral. He politely asked the airline to adjust the price to a so-called “bereavement” fare. After all, Seltzer wasn’t just a random passenger requesting a fare adjustment, but a loyal, card-carrying JetBlue frequent flier, according to his mother, who contacted me for help.
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Bad holiday travel advice – and the bad pundits who give it

I’m done with offering the same dry travel advice every year at about this time. Finished!

You’ve seen the tips: book your tickets early, travel on the holiday, spread your legs for the TSA and you’re guaranteed to have a good trip.

But the travel advice you’re likely to read around the holidays is growing mold, and not once in all of my years of offering it to my good readers has anyone written to say “thank you for recycling.”

You deserve better.
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Driving home for the holidays? You’ll get there — eventually

There’s good news and bad news for motorists this holiday season.

America’s roads have never been safer, statistics show. But, depending where you live, they may never be slower.

“The big new trend this year is the construction,” said Carol White, co-author of “Live Your Road Trip Dream.” “With all the TARP funds rolling out on highway projects, last summer was a mess, and I think it is going to continue into the winter months in areas where weather permits.”

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal government has spent $27 billion for highway and bridge construction in the last two years.
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The most congested national park in America is …

… Yosemite National Park in California. That’s according to a new survey by TomTom, which aggregated the average speeds of vehicles traveling through the parks, based on anonymous user-shared data using its navigation devices.

Of the top 10 most visited National Parks, Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have the longest individual traffic jams, with 3.5 and 2.8 miles respectively, it found.
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Post-holiday travel bargains abound, but are they worth it?

Everything you’ve heard about Dead Week may be dead wrong.

Dead Week, for those of you who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool bargain hunters, takes place the first week of every year. After the New Year’s holiday, travel falls off the map, figuratively speaking, as occupancy rates and prices plunge to their lowest levels in months.

So why ignore the conventional wisdom and stay home during the first week of the year?
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A holiday travel survival guide: 5 things you absolutely must know

Ask Suzy Bennett how she’s approaching the 2009 holiday travel season, and she’ll tell you she isn’t.

“We’re staying home,” says Bennett, who works for a water treatment company in Linwood, Kan. “Or we’re driving.”

Why? Like many other travelers, Bennett is tired of the nonexistent customer service that seems to be the standard these days, and which only gets worse as the inevitable crush of passengers descends on every airport, bus station and train terminal between now and New Year’s Day.
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It’s holiday travel time! You heard it here first!

snowy roadTake your car in for a tuneup. Give yourself extra time if you’re flying. Oh, and it’s going to be one for the record books.

You’ve read that before, haven’t you?

When it comes to the travel tips you see just before every major holiday, you can count on paint-by-numbers reporting: a AAA prediction followed by a sound bite from one of three travel “experts” (always the same three) followed by that familiar advice, dispensed in easy-to-read bullet points.

But which tips are cliches that should be ignored, and which are bona fide, you-must-do-this advice? If you’ve been reading these stories as long as I have, you must be wondering.
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Can’t-miss holiday gifts for the traveler in your life

Like a tie for dad, a kitchen appliance for mom, or socks for the kids, there’s no shortage of holiday gift clichés for travelers. Wheeled luggage, ticket holders and inflatable pillows come to mind.

Shopping for someone who’s on the go isn’t easy. Travelers — especially frequent travelers — can be particular about their likes and dislikes. They wouldn’t be caught dead with a certain headset, phone, or piece of luggage.

I can’t read your loved one’s mind for you (if I could, do you think I’d be writing travel columns for a living?) but I can give you options the traveler in your life might like.
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Holiday travel forecasts: “Cautious optimism” — or billion-dollar bloodbath?

snowyThere are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Maybe Mark Twain, or Benjamin Disraeli, or whoever first said that, worked in the travel industry. Because this week, as we look ahead to the busy holiday season, we are presented with two conflicting views of the future. One of them is probably wrong.

(And don’t even get me started on yesterday’s AAA Thanksgiving forecast, which basically said nothing was going to happen.)
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