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Timing extended trip Down Under tricky

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IT may be sun destination season but this week's questions wander further afield.

QUESTION: We are planning a trip to New Zealand & Australia in the fall -- probably three months in NZ and four months in Australia. When is the best time to book our flights, as far as price goes, and what is our best option to get there regarding airlines, etc.? Also, when would be the best time to start our trip as far as weather is concerned. We do not want to be in Australia when it is very hot, and apparently has a lot of flies.

ANSWER: Because you will be gone for a period of seven months, it is difficult to pinpoint the very best time to travel since you will be in those countries through at least two seasons.

Certainly the warmest months for both countries are around our coldest during January and February. Like Canada, Australia is a big country with different weather patterns dominant depending upon the region you may be visiting.

The wettest periods, depending upon country, are from August through October.

The irritating bush flies are also more predominant during the hottest months and especially around humid areas. During my last visit, the flies in the Ayers Rock area drove us crazy. Apparently the Melbourne region can be bad during the hottest months as well.

Because of the duration of your visit I would still suggest you time your visits to each country based on the warmest months and avoid the rainy season as much as you can.

It's hard to guess when the lowest airline prices may emerge but three to five months ahead you should start talking with travel agents about what are referred to as consolidator fares. They are fixed, non-changeable fares that are not a regular part of the scheduled air carrier's pricing. They are sold to travel agencies through separate distribution channels.

I've visited regions of both countries and applaud your decision to go to both. They really are exceptional places to visit.

QUESTION: We are travelling to Australia. I know traveller's cheques are almost a thing of the past but think this is the safest option. If so, are we better off taking them in Canadian or U.S. currency? Are there other options?

ANSWER: While it is correct traveller's cheques are not as easily cashed at restaurants and retail outlets as they once were, I still find them easy to convert at major hotel properties around the world for local currency or even U.S. dollars.

Most financial transactions seem to have a penalty attached to them these days, whether you use debit machines, traveller's cheques or credit cards.

Most credit cards have a 2-21/2 per cent charge added for the service, in addition to the normal conversion price.

You will likely be paying the service fee for two banks when you use debit cards at foreign destinations. And the margin the hotel or currency exchange booths charge may also appear unattractive.

Therefore, using a combination of all three is your best bet as you simply accept the consequences of extra charges for the service provided.

In terms of Australia and most of the far-off destinations we visit, notwithstanding the current strength of the Canadian dollar, I still recommend using United States greenbacks because of their easy acceptance no matter where you travel.

QUESTION: Are there any plans, either voluntary or government-regulatory, to bring travel-package sellers into line with airlines in having to provide an all-inclusive price?

With the airlines now having to do this, it's increasingly annoying to encounter package holidays being advertised at one price with small print saying "Taxes and SAC not included."

Surely these companies see the writing on the wall. How annoying and insulting their potential customers must find this. And, of course, it raises the question -- if they can't be up front with the price -- what else aren't they being up front about?

ANSWER: Readers may not be aware the Canadian government just recently officially forced the airlines to do what they had been doing voluntarily in anticipation of the announced legislation.

It's frustrating that in creating this legislation they specifically excluded package holidays from it, especially during this time of the year. As people are looking to grab last-minute specials there is a disheartening sense of being taken in on a kind of bait and switch sale.

The advertised price for a packaged vacation will look so attractive on paper until the final price is revealed during the booking process.

I can assure you travel agents hate this practice because they take the brunt of the client's displeasure.

The travel agent has no choice but to follow in this path in advertising because the biggest promotions are most often instituted by the tour operators themselves, with budgets that are far and away larger than any others in the marketplace.

Service charges have become both a promotion and pricing vehicle, confusing the public by both its lack of logic and inherent deceptive overtones.

It's the consumer who must begin adding more pressure to their elected officials that will help lead the change.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 D2

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