Is there any way to know when Southwest Airlines is going to run its $99 fare to San Francisco from the East Coast? My friend moved out there and I would like to visit her sometime this year. I live within four hours of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is where I understand Southwest flies from. I live closer to Washington, but don't know if it flies from there.
The $99 cross-country fare is about as good as air-fare deals get, but there's no way to precisely say when Southwest or other airlines will offer such travel gems. If you keep track of air-fare patterns you can make some predictions -- low fares after the December holidays, quick-trip discounts for Independence Day -- but there's no way of knowing for sure until the airline advertises or posts the fares in the reservation systems. Airline spokespeople say that revealing forthcoming fares would violate antitrust laws, but the more basic truth is that, from a marketing perspective, it doesn't make sense to give advance notice of such deals. Otherwise passengers would delay their trips until they know they'll get a better deal. That flies in the face of the airlines' No. 1 imperative: Fill as many seats as possible at all times.
For most airlines, the best deals come during periods of lower ridership. But Southwest, champion of the no-frill low fare, offers outstanding deals even during peak periods. Still, you'll usually get your best price and biggest selection of flight times (including nonstops as opposed to connecting flights) if you book a month or more in advance. As for where Southwest flies, BWI was the first of the Northeast airports served by the airline. Others are Manchester, N.H., Providence, R.I., and Islip, N.Y. (Long Island). Southwest plans to begin flying from Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Conn., starting Oct. 31.
Southwest adds about two cities to its network each year, and is unlikely to set up shop at two cities that are close together. In other words, don't look for the airline to start flying from Washington National or Dulles any time soon. You can view a map of the network at the Southwest Airlines Web site, where there's also a schedule and pricing links. Since using the network often requires calculating connecting flights and the online system is occasionally slow, you may be better off calling the toll-free number, (800) 435-9792 and letting a booking agent do the calculating.
I travel internationally on business, but always try to find a little time to spend on a personal level. I plan to return to Australia in mid- to late September. Can you suggest some sites with info about Queensland and the Brisbane area? Both to reduce my ignorance about the community on a business visitor level, and to plan some brief personal side excursions.
Queensland, one of the six Australian states, has some stunning attractions, whatever your interests. Especially Far North Queensland offers great outdoor areas such as the Daintree Rainforest and the Atherton Tablelands, and the Great Barrier Reef is always worth a visit. If you have the time, coastal resort areas such as Cairns are among the best places in the world to take a five-day scuba course, culminating with a Great Barrier Reef dive. And numerous offshore spots such as Dunk Island or the Whitsundays are good for memorable getaways, however brief.
Queensland is also known for its beaches, some of them secluded, many of them long and spacious, and some downright rowdy. Among the best known are Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Beach on the Sunshine Coast and Mission Beach near Cairns. You'll be arriving in Queensland about the same time as summer -- a period that includes jelly fish warnings in the far north. So inquire about those before leaping into the surf. If you go inland you can find plenty of Outback in Queensland, too. Check out the Tourism Queensland site as well as Aussie.net and the Australian Tourist Commission site. In the United States, the Australian Tourist Commission phone number is (805) 775-2000.
I like the idea of seeing the world by working on a cruise ship -- and getting paid for it. Where can I find out about such employment?
Get a copy of the book "How to Get a Job With a Cruise Line: How to Sail Around the World on Luxury Cruise Ships and Get Paid for It," by Mary Fallon Miller (Ticket to Adventure Inc., 4th edition 1997). Besides describing the main cruise lines and how to contact them, it tells you which job vacancies are filled directly by the line and which are filled by concessionaires. The book steers you in the right direction for each. The manual also profiles the crew makeup, programs and facilities, and passenger demographics of each ship, making it easier for job-hunters to determine whether they would fit in. The book is in bookstores, or can be ordered by sending a check or money order for $18.95, postage paid, to Ticket to Adventure, Box 41005, St. Petersburg, FL 33743, or by credit card at (800) 929-7447.
Among other guides are:
* "How to Get a Job on a Cruise Ship," by Don Kennedy (Careersource Publications, 1995).
* "Working on Cruise Ships" (Vacation Work, 1997).
* "Jobs for People Who Love Hotels, Resorts, and Cruise Ships," by Ronald L. Krannich and Caryl Rae Krannich (Impact Publications, 1996).
You can also find cruise line descriptions and contact numbers in any of the annually updated cruise guides published by Fielding's, Frommer's, Fodor's, Berlitz or Stern (Pelican). Internet users can also check out the Web sites of each cruise line. Some of them have job links. For instance, RiverBarge Excursion Lines has a button called "employment opportunities." Links to most of the big cruise lines can be found at the Cruise Lines International Association.
Revisiting a previous Travel Advisor column: A recent discussion of the value of traveler's checks drew several responses from readers, including this one from P.L. in Medford, Mass.:
We just got back from a month in southern France, exchanging houses with a couple in Perpignan. We brought with us about $2,000 worth of American Express traveler's checks, in francs, and found out they were almost totally useless. Not a single store, from little shops to huge "hypermarkets," would accept them; car-repair shops would not accept them; restaurants didn't take them; and hotels, by and large, no longer took them (although we found a small hotel in Paris, where we stayed at the end of the trip, that did). Banks charged a 5 percent cashing fee, except for the French bank the checks are drawn on, Societe Generale, but that's only true at its main downtown branch -- the suburban branches of the same bank charge 5 percent. Even the post office gets into the act: Branch post offices didn't take them, even though traveler's check exchange is included on its list of services, and the main post offices charge 5 percent.
Travelers to France are much better off making sure their stateside bank account is full, and using ATMs. They are everywhere, they are always open and the exchange rate is quite a bit better than you get buying traveler's checks, even from AAA, which doesn't charge up front -- AAA gave us francs for about 16.3 cents, while when we used an ATM, each franc was worth 15.8 cents. Even with the $5 withdrawal charge our U.S. bank laid on us, this was a much better deal.