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Whatlets?

Wingletts, that's what. And as it turns out, winglets don't have a thing to do with bbq or buffalo wings, so you can untuck that napkin from around your neck. No sir, we're talking about Delta's (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) decision to add blended winglets to over 60 of their aircraft. These fin-like additions to the wing will improve lift, maneuverability, and conserve fuel. That should not only bring down fares and help you save money, but it's better for the environment, so you'll be saving two greens in one. Winglets also allow flights to carry more weight, which means more cargo and more passengers.

And speaking of green, Delta launched their carbon-offset program this month. As you're surely aware, planes tend to spew quite a bit of carbon dioxide into the air, and one way to counter-balance this is by planting trees, which absorb the carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Passengers who book their travel at delta.com now have the option of adding a contribution of $5.50 for domestic round-trips and $11 for international round-trips, all of which goes towards planting trees and carbon offset education. There's been a real buzz around sustainable travel and carbon offsets recently, and though Delta is the first airline in the U.S. to offer such a program we hope others will soon follow suit. To learn more about carbon offsets, visit the Conservation Fund's website (www.conservationfund.org).

Summer Fares to Ireland

Delta (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) and US Airways (tel. 800/428-4322; www.usairways.com) are waging an aggressive fare war on flights to Shannon, Ireland, that has competitors like American, Continental and Aer Lingus running for cover. These fares are among the lowest you'll find to anywhere in Europe for peak summer travel, starting at $490 from Washington (BWI and DCA) and $513 non-stop from New York (JFK).

You should seriously consider taking advantage of these bargains, even if you're not planning to visit the Emerald Isle, by combining them with the amazingly low fares offered by Ryanair, Aer Lingus and other low-cost airlines that connect this small, busy airport to over 100 destinations in Europe and beyond. But you better buy your tickets soon, before peace breaks out again and the prices go back up! Some sample fares (all round-trip and including all taxes) are:

  • Baltimore to Shannon $491
  • Washington DC to Shannon $491
  • New York to Shannon $513
  • Miami to Shannon $657
  • Chicago to Shannon $657
  • Minneapolis to Shannon $738
  • Houston to Shannon $755
  • Dallas to Shannon $768
  • Atlanta to Shannon $781
  • Phoenix to Shannon $787
  • Las Vegas to Shannon $824
  • Los Angeles to Shannon $871
  • San Francisco to Shannon $871
  • San Diego to Shannon $907

Alaska Airlines Sale

Alaska Airlines (tel. 800/426-0333; www.alaskair.com) is offering 20% off flights between California and Southeast Alaska (Juneau, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, and Yakutat) and between Denver and Northern Alaska (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Cordova, King Salmon, Bethel, Barrow, Nome, and Kotzebue). Use e-cert code EC03607 for travel Sept. 5 to Nov. 15 2007 and buy fares before midnight June 24.

Finally, ZoomAir

Big news! For those who've been twiddling their thumbs in anticipation of ZoomAir's (tel. 866/359-9666; www.flyzoom.com) inaugural flight from JFK to London's Gatwick, you can relax. Thursday, June 21, marked the Canadian budgie-line's first flight between New York and London. You may recall the DOT doing some serious foot-dragging before giving the foreign airline their final approval, resulting in tickets being unavailable for purchase by U.S. citizens well into June. But that's all over now, and tickets are most certainly on sale now. How much? Just $99 one-way, including all taxes, for travel now until July 14! That requires no advance or round-trip purchase, so it's ideal for a little pond-crossing quickie as well as an open-ended trip around Europe this summer. And assuming you do have to eventually return home, a round-trip ticket at $437 is still a bargain for summer. So, if you have even the slightest interest in taking off to London (or connecting onward via some other low-cost budgie airline), we suggest snatching these fares up while they're still available.

Fourth of July Sale on Midwest Airlines

Can't stand the thought of not eating hotdogs back home with the fam this 4th? Midwest Airlines (tel. 800/452-2022; www.midwestairlines.com) is having a 4th of July sale, good for outbound travel from June 26 through July 6, and for returns from June 30 through July 10, with a two night minimum stay. But how are the fares? Let's have a look:

  • Pittsburgh to Kansas City, advertised as $182 round-trip. Using July 2 through July 4 as our dates of travel, we found a fare of $172 round-trip, or $201 with taxes. A second search on Orbitz lists Northwest Airlines as having a slightly lower fare of $202 round-trip, followed by Midwest.
  • Los Angeles to Omaha, advertised as $250 round-trip. For travel on June 30 through July 7, we found a fare of $345 round-trip, or $387 with taxes. That beats what we came up with on Orbitz: $444 round-trip, including taxes, on United.
  • New York to Milwaukee, advertised as $214 round-trip. We checked for travel on June 28 through July 2 and found a fare of $288 round-trip, or $329 with taxes. Seems just a tad steep, and our follow-up search on Orbitz confirmed it. We found a lower fare of $270 round-trip, including taxes, with Continental.
  • Washington D.C. to Madison, advertised as $210 round-trip. We checked for travel from July 2 through July 6 and found a fare of $218 round-trip, or $273 with taxes. These same dates on Orbitz gave us a fare of $235 round-trip, including taxes, on United.

As you can see, this sale isn't anything to get excited about. The only savings to be had are on last minute June flights and even then, the savings are slim. You can most likely find a better deal elsewhere, so we'd suggest a little shopping around.

Reading the Fine Print

It's officially summer now, and you may have spent hours (not to mention your hard-earned dollars) planning the perfect and much-deserved vacation. And, being the savvy traveler you are, you most likely purchased some sort of trip insurance, right? Before you go patting yourself on the back, be sure to read that fine print. You may be surprised at the things that aren't covered. Have a look at these common exclusions so you'll know exactly what to look for:

  • Trip Cancellation: We're not talking about when you cancel your trip; this is when your trip cancels on you. For example, if you're signed up for a Canadian rail tour, you might buy Trip Cancellation Insurance in case you can't go. But what if the rail tour itself gets cancelled? Most insurance policies won't cover that scenario.
  • Acts of War/Local Protests: Although terrorism is covered by most policies, acts of war or civil unrest are common policy exclusions. So even if ongoing protests or sporadic outbreaks in international locations might force you to change your plans, but most policies won't help with those costs.
  • Pre-existing Medical Conditions: This is a common exclusion in many insurance policies -- but what does it mean? It refers to any medical condition that has required attention prior to travel or initiation of the policy. So while traveling, if you suffer a health problem related to that condition, your treatment may not be covered.
  • Baggage Delayed for Less than 24 Hours (Outbound Flights Only): Most policies will not reimburse necessary expenditures for baggage delayed less than 24 hours. So it would be a good idea to carry on what you need for at least a day after you arrive at your destination. Note that this applies to outbound flights only, which means the coverage does not apply to baggage delays for your trip home.
  • Emergency Evacuation: Most companies will only provide emergency evacuation if it's recommended by the physician and approved by the insurance company. Under these conditions, transportation for minor injuries like fractures or sprains may be refused.
  • Loss or Damage to Keys, Money, Documents, Tickets, or Credit Cards: These items are commonly listed under the exclusions to Baggage & Personal Items Coverage. Be sure to keep these and other valuables with you at all times.
  • Sports Injuries: Many insurance policies don't cover injuries from certain adventure sports like bungee jumping, mountain climbing, or white water rafting.
  • Pregnancy and Childbirth: Insurance policies specify the conditions under which pregnancy complications or childbirth is covered (if at all). This is a common exclusion, so if you plan on traveling while pregnant, be sure to read the fine print.
  • Psychological Illness or Self Inflicted Injuries: Coverage for emotional and mental illnesses or emergencies is often excluded. So if you suffer a nervous breakdown, your insurance won't help pay for your treatment.
  • Your Spouse files for Divorce before the Trip: Increasingly, insurance companies are adding coverage for this situation. However, some policies do not include divorce or legal separation as valid reasons for canceling or interrupting a trip.

Additional Reporting by Bo Borre, Tracy William Stewart, and Grace Park

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.

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