Translating travel speak

Rack rate, direct flight, confirmed reservations, Modified American Plan — all are part of the confusing language used by travel agents and airline reservations clerks that befuddles travellers.

If you ever hear such terminology uttered, be wary. Not knowing what these travel buzzwords really mean can cost you both time and money.

Direct flights:
For example, when you book on a ‘direct flight,’ you could be forgiven for thinking you’d be flying straight to your destination without a stop. In fact, a ‘direct flight’ means little more than you’ll remain on the same plane.

You could face one or two stops along the way. If possible, what you really want is a direct, non-stop flight. When making reservations, ask questions, ask for explanations, and there’s a good chance you’ll find what you’re after.

Flight times:
You’ll find there are differences between scheduled flights, such as those offered by Air Canada, and the charter lines.

By a scheduled flight, all the airline means is the plane will leave at the time stated — sometimes. The major airlines try their best to remain on schedule or face being penalizedy government regulators. But weather and mechanical problems can cause unexpected delays — so take a good book to the airport, just in case.

Charter flights, on the other hand, are not required by regulation to adhere to their stated times.

Meal plans:
Meal plans are another confusing aspect of travel.

  • If you’re scheduled for the American Plan, that means you’ll get breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Modified American Plan will get you only breakfast and dinner.
  • A European Plan is different again: it consists of only a continental breakfast, usually coffee and a roll.

On the other hand, when they say breakfast included at a B&B, it can mean a satisfying and tasty feast of bacon and eggs, sausages, home fries — even kippers or blood pudding if you’re in Britain or Ireland.

Room reservations:
Another word to watch out for is ‘reservation’. A confirmed reservation is never a guarantee — it just means the hotel ‘may’ have a room available if you arrive by a stipulated time.

But at busy times in the high season, that room could vanish even if you quote a confirmation number to the room clerk. Keep cool and ask to speak to the manager, and demand a comparable room at a nearby hotel.

The safest bet when making a hotel reservation is to give a credit card number as a guarantee you will show up. Many years ago, while a writer for The Toronto Star, my office booked me into a hotel in Texas. Arriving late one night in Dallas and making my way to the hotel, not only was there no room for me but they’d never even heard of me.

On investigation, it seemed my office had booked me into a hotel with the same name in Houston. The Dallas hotel was jammed due to a convention, but the manager called a nearby hotel and managed to get me an excellent room at a discounted rate.

Room rates:
Be leery of the term ‘rack rate’. It’s the regular room rate published in a hotel’s brochure, and the seasoned traveller would never dream of paying it.

All hotels offer discounts of some sort, particularly on weekends when the sales and business people have gone home.

And don’t forget to show your CARP membership card to the hotel clerk. Many hotels in North America give discounts to seniors but insist you prove your age. In most cases, your CARP card can be worth a discount of 10 per cent or more.