Top Travel Myths
- America's Most Mysterious Places
- Best Family-Friendly Spring Breaks
- The World's Strangest Animals
Myth: There are great deals at airport duty-free shops.
Reality: Put the liquor down. Ditto with the giant chocolate bar and the carton of cigarettes. Duty-free shops at airports make large profits because travelers assume they're getting bargains. People in transit are probably looking to unload some of their unused foreign currency, too. But The Duty-Free Price Guide, which compares duty-free prices around the world, reveals that the cost of duty-free merchandise varies widely. More of a concern is the fact that those same goods are often cheaper if bought in, say, New York or Hong Kong, rather than a duty-free shop in Zurich or Moscow.
Current Advice: Never assume prices are cheaper because they're in a store marked "duty-free."
Myth: Packages offer the best value.
Reality: The only way to truly know if a travel package is a deal is by doing the math and figuring out the total if you'd made purchases separately — and don't forget to tally up all the taxes and fees. More important, it's essential to take a close look at what's included in the package. If the hotel is in an undesirable location, or there are golf lessons, a car rental, or spa treatments included that you don't really want, the package seems like less and less of a bargain, even if the retail value of those extras is impressive.
Current Advice: Booking à la carte is often the smarter option.
Myth: Low-price guarantees actually guarantee the lowest price.
Reality: Virtually every major booking engine and hotel chain, airline, and car rental agency guarantees that its Web site has the absolute lowest price available, and typically backs up the claim by matching prices and offering additional discounts or coupons if proved wrong. First, these guarantees come with many caveats — packages, discounts for AAA membership or military personnel, opaque bookings through sites like Priceline, and prices quoted over the phone typically aren't included — so the rates often aren't the absolute lowest possible. Secondly, it's solely up to consumers to keep shopping for a better price after they've booked — which no one wants to do.
Current Advice: Continuing to shop after making a booking is the only way to hold these companies to their word. It's especially important to check on hotel and car rental rates, because they fluctuate quite a bit, and reservations can typically be changed without penalty.
Myth: Four stars are better than three diamonds.
Reality: Hotel ratings offer little more than a rough estimate of quality. Each ratings system is based on a different set of criteria, and amenities factored into the score — things like turndown service and valet parking — may not necessarily matter to you. The two main rating systems in the U.S. — AAA and Mobil — often don't match up diamonds to stars. Guidebooks, booking engines, and newspaper and magazine articles may also offer hotel ratings, and none of these systems necessarily correlate. (Hampton Inns, for example, generally receive one-star ratings from Mobil, but two or three stars at Hotels.com.) Some hotel booking sites even allow hotels to rate themselves.