Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
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United Airlines continues its post-holiday blitz on last-minute airfares out of the Twin Cities. This week United is offering more than a dozen U.S. cities on sale. Roundtrip fares out of MSP drop as low as $88 (Chicago, next weekend) to $228 (to San Luis Obispo).
For the past several months especially, United has been consistently offering some of the best last-minute fares out of the Twin Cities. Granted, the destinations aren't always the marquis locations -- Allentown for $178, anyone? -- but they offer us flatlanders a chance to hit quite a few off-the-radar locations.
Not to mention Canada. The sale also includes several Canada destinations, including Halifax ($508) and Victoria, BC ($508).
The usual terms and conditions apply (purchase by Friday; depart Saturday, return the following Monday-Tuesday, etc.).
All the details can be found here:
Meanwhile, Delta Airlines is offering a last-minute deal out of MSP to Cincinnati for just $138, same drill. Details can be found here:
And U.S. Airways is offering an international fare this week to Amsterdam, Netherlands, for $770. And you know what they say about Amsterdam these days: Whatever you do, just don't joke about your underwear.
Those details can be found here:
Those aren't the only travel deals for the Twin Cities this week.
This week's Travelzoo is touting a Fly.com sale out of MSP to New York, with tickets as low as $177 roundtrip -- and that includes tax.
Details of that fare sale can be found here:
And for those who may want to stick closer to home, Travelzoo is also promoting a discount deal on Minnesota Timberwolves tickets for as much as 70 percent off. Details of that sale can be found here:
The recent closing of Hobbit Travel last month stunned a lot of travelers -- most notably those who learned their confirmed future getaways weren't so confirmed after all.
Take, for example, Robin and George Heller of Lake Elmo, who wrote to us just last week. Back in July of last year, the couple booked a Caribbean cruise on Holland America for last month through Hobbit, only to find out their airfare on Sun Country had never actually been purchased for them. (They paid Hobbit for the airfare, the Hellers said, but Hobbit never actually followed through to buy the tickets in their name).
The Hellers found out at the airport, the morning of their flight.
Fortunately for the Hellers, diligent Sun Country reps were able to land them a last-minute seat at the counter that morning (for a charge, of course), and the Hellers' actual cruise costs had been paid. But the Hellers are still stuck disputing some of the original charges for airfare from Hobbit, as well as stuck with numerous incidental costs that arose on their trip because of the trouble.
"This was a travel nightmare and none of it was our fault," Robin Heller wrote.
It sounds like, based on comments in our original story, the Hellers' Hobbit nightmare was hardly unique.
Fortunately, for those who paid for their trips with credit cards, many will likely, eventually, see their money back.
Teri Charest, spokeswoman for the Flexperks Visa of U.S. Bank -- you may remember them originally as WorldPerks Visa, before the Delta merger -- said while credit cards generally require that customers contest disputable charges within 60 days of purchase, "we are always the advocate for the customer and try to help the customer get their money back if they have some kind of dispute."
When the gloves come off, the credit card companies can just take the money back from the merchant -- if the merchant, of course, is still in business. If not though, banks -- especially banks -- are good at following the money, and they're in this fight with you to get it back. Because your loss is their loss.
Still, the whole Hobbit situation raises significant questions beyond this particular fallout, namely: What more could consumers have done to protect themselves?
"I've been asking myself the same question: What could people have done?" Twin Cities travel expert Terry Trippler told me last week. As in, most of Hobbit's customers did exactly what Trippler would have advised:
-- Use an established travel agency with a good reputation? Check.
-- Pay for your trip using a reputable credit card? Check.
-- Purchase travel insurance? Check.
These are many of the same tips Kermit Fruechte of the Minnesota Attorney General's office told me he would have suggested as well.
So what else can a savvy traveler do to ensure they're getting everything they're paying for? Some of Fruechte's additional tips:
-- Don't just put your blind faith in your travel agent; follow up with airlines as soon as the confirmations are made. (In many cruise packages, for example, the airfares are purchased separate from the cruise. But follow up directly with the airlines and cruise lines to confirm your reservations. And if you have issues with them, get the names/extensions of the reps to whom you speak.)
It's probably a good rule of thumb, as well, to call and confirm your flights again before heading to the airport. If for no other reason than flight times can often change last-minute.
-- If possible, use a credit card and not a debit card. Debit cards take the money directly out of your personal accounts, versus giving you a credit card balance. While debit card charges may eventually get reversed as well, you're without your money until that happens.
For that matter, check with your credit card for package travel deals as well. A surprising number of credit card companies, from American Express and beyond, have diversified and may operate travel agencies themselves -- with package deals for their cardholders.
-- Purchase reputable travel insurance. While Fruechte said he's heard of instances where some travel insurance companies have reneged on their coverage, most travel insurance policies are written to cover these very kinds of problems. In fact, some will refund your entire trip for ANY reason should you choose to cancel. These policies can run in the neighborhood of about $25 per person or so -- not bad for piece of mind on a $2,000 cruise. But again, read the fine print. Some specifically will not cover if a travel agency closes its doors.
-- And, of course, again: go with an established, reputable travel agency when booking. Which, admittedly, by all outward appearances Hobbit was.
But that's where the Attorney General's Office consumer protection division can also play a role.
If you do have problems as a consumer, don't hesitate to contact them here:
They're remarkably responsive to consumer needs and will get business' attention quick. They are, in fact, already working on several complaints on Hobbit.
So stay tuned.
The Internet never sleeps, nor does it take a holiday.
So it should come as no surprise then, during this holiday, that the deals are still churning out there online.
That said, most airlines already have their quotas filled during this holiday rush -- so it's not like a slow weekend when you'll maybe see a dozen or so cities on sale.
In fact, the only big last-minute deal I could find this week was on U.S. Airways, where they were offering tickets to Tel Aviv, Israel, for $544 one-way.
But while it's a last-minute deal, fortunately it's not a last-minute flight.
Tickets must be purchased by Monday, Dec. 28; however, the travel window is through Jan. 24.
You can find all the deals and details here at U.S. Airways' website:
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If staying on this side of the world is more your thing -- and if you're already clawing your way out of the winter doldrums -- then take a look at this fare from Minneapolis to San Jose del Cabo for as low as $296 roundtrip.
That fare can be found on fly.com -- a site I've really grown to like over the past couple of months when it comes to airfare hunting. You can view fares a month-at-a-glance by price, which can really help steer your decisions when there's a pricepoint.
The link can be found here:
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Of course, if I were going to book a trip to Mexico, my first stop would actually be WorryFreeVacations.com, where I regularly see airfare-only deals often well below that price. The WorryFree site also offers weekly last-minute getaway specials out of Minneapolis to a number of locations throughout the Caribbean. This week, I saw airfares to Mexico in the $280 range for specific dates -- which seems to be about as low as I've seen them in the past few weeks.
Now, I haven't traveled on WorryFree for a while -- and I'm sure like with any travel agency you'll probably find at least one grouser -- but my last experience with them was very solid. If I were looking to hit some sun on a getaway, I'd sniff around their site. (As well as their competitor Funjet Vacations -- though I usually don't see quite the breadth of deals there).
Here's the link to WorryFree:
And here's the link to Funjet:
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And, remembering that not everyone wants to necessarily LEAVE the Twin Cities and would maybe want to either stay or visit here, Travelzoo this week was touting rates at downtown Minneapolis upscale botique hotel, the Hotel Ivy, for as low as $89 per night. Fine print: Book by Dec. 31.
Here's the link:
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Likewise, if hockey is your thing -- and you want to see the U.S. women's hockey team play in one of their last games before the Olympics in February -- check out this deal for ice level seats at the Xcel Energy Center, for just $12.50:
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And, finally, the sad news of course many readers know, but in case you hadn't seen, it's certainly worth a read.
My colleague Suzanne Ziegler's report on the closing of Hobbit Travel:
While it's understandable that these are tough economic times, it's beyond disappointing to hear stories that several customers who had already paid Hobbit for their trips are now learning that their itineraries were never actually booked after payment.
And customers are suddenly being told to deal with everything themselves.
Unfortunately, that's not just a reflection on the Hobbit company, but a reflection on the travel agents who did the booking as well -- whether or not they're responsible for the mess Hobbit's in.
The travel columnist Christopher Elliot was quoted in the article about the intermediary role that travel agents play for customers when those customers have issues while dealing with their trips. That's the no. 1 reason to use a travel agent: You pay them because they can navigate the system and help you get things done that you can't do yourself.
So now, if we don't feel we can trust them, then who can you trust (beyond yourself) for booking your travel?
The good news -- or, at least, if there's a silver lining -- it's that many customers had paid for their trips with their credit cards. And while we consumers can find plenty to grouse about with credit card companies and interest rates, etc., etc., most credit card companies at least offer a small token of consumer protection for their travels.
In other words, for those customers who purchased their trips on credit cards, they stand a strong chance of getting their money back. (Note to self: Always pay with credit card that will protect my purchase.)
Now let's just hope that Hobbit follows through and does right by its customers.
It might not be Forks, Wash., but for you vampire fans, Bellingham could be just a ferry ride away.
Forks, of course, is the setting for the popular "Twilight" movies, about the family of vampires who have settled in the Olympic Peninsula. Just north of the peninsula -- and effectively a stone's throw from the Canadian border and Vancouver -- is Bellingham, Washington.
And Bellingham is most noteworthy this week to Twin Cities residents, since Alaska Airlines is offering a last-minute airfare flight to Bellingham for $318 roundtrip.
I found the deal here:
And from what I can tell, there's no set deadline (which, of course, means the special could disappear at any time). But the other fine print: Travel is valid only between Jan. 29-Feb. 12.
This is particularly noteworthy for those with that itch to see Vancouver (or sample its winter sports activities), as the 2010 Winter Olympics are set to begin Feb. 12 in Vancouver.
If you're interested in those details, you can find those here:
Of course, if you're just interested in hanging out with vampires, then you probably don't need to worry about the winter sports. But you probably should read this piece I recently saw in London's Guardian, before you go, because you won't be alone:
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Now Bellingham isn't the only deal out there.
This week US Airways is again offering some last-minute international specials for the Twin Cities, including tickets to Madrid for $620 and tickets to Dublin for $698. Tickets must be purchased by Monday, Dec. 21.
Those deals can be found here:
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Some other deals out there this week:
-- Fly.com is touting a $176 roundtrip airfare to New York City out of MSP. Details here:
-- Travelzoo is promoting lower-level seats to see the Timberwolves, over the next few days, knocking prices down from $50 to $20 per seat. Details here:
-- Worryfreevacations.com is heating up the winter this week, with airfares as low as $300 roundtrip to Mexico. Those deals can be found under the "Hot Deals" tab at their website here:
Funjet.com is also offering similar fares here:
I've been writing an online travel column at the Star Tribune for nearly 10 years now, helping readers find last-minute online-only deals out of the Twin Cities.
In all of that time, I have never seen this deal. (And I'm not necessarily saying it's a deal. I'm just saying that in all my time here, I've never seen a flight like this advertised as a last-minute getaway.)
This week, US Airways is offering a last-minute deal out of MSP to Tel Aviv, Israel, for $872 round trip. US Airways is also offering a last-minute deal to Nassau, Bahamas for $406 roundtrip.
Those are two pretty high profile destinations that may cause a few double takes: It's not like they're the usual routine destinations like those offered by United Airlines this week, such as Chicago ($80), Birmingham, Ala. ($198), or London, Ontario ($288).
(Those details can be found here: http://travel.united.com/ube/efares/us/eFares.do )
Tickets to Tel Aviv must be purchased by Nov. 23, with various stipulations on travel times. Travel is valid to Tel Aviv from Nov. 21-Dec. 16, and a 3-day advance purchase is required.
All the details can all be found here:
Beyond those deals, Travelzoo this week is boasting a special offer from fly.com with prices as low as $74 one-way from Minneapolis to destinations including New York City, Boston, Orlando and Tampa.
That deal can be found here:
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