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Sunday, April 27, 2014

7 Ridiculous Flying Fees And How To Avoid Them

by AARP, Mar 18, 2013
Rushing businesswoman pulling suitcase in airport

Avoid shocking airline fees to fully enjoy your flight.Getty Images

Remember when you bought a plane ticket and that was it — no additional airport or flight charges? Now airlines have “unbundled” services that were once included in the ticket price, and the resulting fees have made comparison shopping much trickier.
But like them or not, these fees for flying are here to stay. So instead of being broadsided by unexpected charges, do a little research beforehand and follow our tips on how to avoid the most ridiculous charges.

1. Surcharges for Human Contact

Don’t laugh, but some airlines charge a fee (anywhere from $15 to $35) if you buy your ticket over the phone and speak to a human being. The charge can go up if you buy your ticket at the counter in an airport.
How to avoid: Buy your ticket online. If your itinerary is complicated and you do prefer to speak to an airline representative, ask up front if there’s a fee. Then try to negotiate — sometimes the price of the ticket is not fixed. Also, ask about discounts for children, seniors or students when appropriate. And ask for an e-ticket to avoid surcharges sometimes associated with paper tickets. Make sure you’ll be able to check in online to save yourself time.

2. Carry-on Charges

Spirit Airlines led the pack when it started charging for carry-on bags: $26 to $35 at the time of online booking, $36 to $45 at online check-in, or $50 to $100 per bag at counter or gate check-in.

How to avoid: For now, under-the-seat carry-ons are still free on many airlines. So use one that fits below the seat in front of you. (Dimensions vary, but for most planes, a bag that is 19 inches wide by 17 inches deep by 9.5 or 10 inches tall will work.) 

3. Priority-Boarding Fees

Several airlines offer priority or early boarding for a fee ($9 and more). In some cases, this is how the airline avoids annoying customers by charging for carry-on luggage. The logic: If you pay to board earlier, you’re more likely to find overhead storage for any bag that doesn’t fit under a seat. But this prompts the question: What happens when everyone chooses priority boarding?
How to avoid: Choose an airline that allows boarding based on when you check in.

4. Checked-Baggage Fees

Most airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag and $35 to $40 for the second — and extra for bags that exceed a size or weight limit.
How to avoid: If you’re traveling in the United States, you can send your bags ahead via the U.S. Postal Service. This takes time and planning but can save you money and frustration. Shipping also allows you to insure your luggage and track its progress.

5. Fees for the Best Economy Seats

Some airlines charge up to an additional $59 per flight for bulkhead seats, which are highly sought after because there are no reclining seats in front of them and they often allow extra legroom.
How to avoid: For a chance at these seats without having to pay a fee, choose an airline that doesn’t charge extra and choose an off-time when a flight may not be so full. Some airlines make free seat assignments 24 hours before departure. So if you go online at exactly the right time, you may have a shot. Also, you can find out exactly which seats on any plane are slightly wider, allow more leg room and don’t recline by checking

6. Fees to Cash in Loyalty Reward Miles

We all thought that if we were “loyal” and flew exclusively on one airline, then our accumulated miles would give us a “free” trip. Wrong. Now on some airlines, you have to pay up to $550 to “cash in” your miles.
How to avoid: Become loyal to airlines that don’t do this, such as JetBlue and Southwest.

7. Charges for Earlier Same-Day Flights

In the old days, if you got to the airport early and the airline had an available seat on an earlier flight to your destination, the airline would put you on that flight for free. Today you pay $50 (or more) to make this happen.
How to avoid: You can’t. Stick to your confirmed flight.

Vietnam officials struggle to contain burgeoning sex trade

By Edward Barbour-Lacey Mar 31, 2014 5:54PM UTC

Pic: AP.

Prostitution is alive and well in Vietnam these days. In fact, much to the consternation of the country’s officials, it appears to be flourishing. There are currently around 32,700 sex workers in Vietnam, according to the Department for Prevention and Control of Social Ills. This number represents an increase of 9.3 percent compared to 2012, and the 2014 figures are expected to show a similar increase in the number of sex workers.

Areas reporting high levels of prostitution include Quat Lam (Nam Dinh), Do Son (Hai Phong) and Binh Thanh (HCMC). Tourist areas in particular are hot beds of illegal sex activity.

While women make up the majority of the sex workers, there are also a growing number of men who offer homosexual services.

Government officials have candidly admitted that their efforts to battle the spread of prostitution have proven to be largely ineffective.

Aiding the spread of prostitution is the proliferation of “sensitive services”. These are businesses such as karaoke bars, massage parlors, hotels, etc. that are able to act as legal fronts for prostitution activities.

Legalize it?

While there are those calling for stricter measures to be taken against sex workers, others are advocating a more liberal approach. There has been an ongoing debate in many quarters of Vietnam about the feasibility of legalizing prostitution.

Chung A, former deputy chairman of the National Committee for Prevention and Control of AIDS, has stated that he believes that Vietnam should consider creating a number of “red-light districts” as a way to help regulate prostitution.

Additionally, at the beginning of 2013, Ho Chi Minh City’s Anti-Social Ills Agency put forth a proposal suggesting that the city create certain areas for “sensitive services” in which prostitution would be allowed to take place and could be regulated. However, the city government has stated that it will not consider this as a feasible solution at this time.

Little to fear

There are few repercussions for those who are caught practicing prostitution. Fines tend to range from VND300,000 (US$14) to VND4 million ($189), amounts not high enough to discourage those engaged in the illegal trade. Many working girls report that they can easily make VND2-3 million per month, although they can make much more if they work in a hotel or karaoke bar.

Those caught paying for sex can be fined from VND500,000 to VND5 million, depending upon the circumstances involved.

Additionally, the requirement that those arrested for prostitution attend a rehabilitation center was dropped last year.

Interestingly, there appear to be few, if any, punishments for those caught committing sex acts that do not include intercourse.

A good time turned bad

Alongside the rise in prostitution has been a rise in the types of organized crime activities commonly associated with the trade. For some unfortunate patrons, a brief trip to visit a working girl can turn into a terrifying experience as they find themselves being robbed by a gang of criminals instead of the rather more pleasurable experience they had imagined. However, this sort of action does not help repeat business and wiser gangs tend to opt for overcharging unknowing foreigners.

Public health worries push search for a solution

Government officials and health workers worry that with the increase in prostitution there will be an accompanying spread of sexually transmitted diseases. In 2013, there were reportedly over 213,000 people living with HIV in Vietnam.

Many NGOs have sprung up in order to try and steer sex workers into legal forms of employment. However, the process is fraught with difficulties – many of the workers are drug addicts and are struggling to make ends meet in a life of poverty.

Do Thuy An My, founder of the Hoa Cat Tuong Group NGO, says that, “Some women over 60 years old are still working as prostitutes. We have offered them small amounts of money to start small businesses. Many of them continue as sex workers at the beginning and then gradually shift to legitimate forms of trade exclusively when their business becomes stable.”
But these and other similar efforts have hardly made a dent in the industry. It seems that as long as there are customers willing to pay for a “good time”, there will always be those willing to provide it… at a price.

Vietnam’s gay population hopeful about future | Asian Correspondent

Vietnam’s gay population hopeful about future

By Edward Barbour-Lacey Apr 15, 2014 10

Demonstrators Trang Tuyet Nga, left, and Bach Ngoc Lien attend Vietnam's first ever gay pride march in Hanoi in 2012. Pic: AP.
For many years Vietnam’s gay community has had to put up with harassment and discrimination from much of the country’s society, including even from their own families. However, attitudes appear to be shifting towards a more open and inclusive style of thinking. It is even possible that lawmakers will vote to change the country’s Marriage and Family Law to allow same-sex marriage, or at least make it no longer illegal. Read More

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

World’s Top Destinations Named In TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards

World’s Top Destinations Named In TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards


Sydney, Australia
TripAdvisor® the world’s largest travel site*, today announced the winners of its Travellers’ Choice TM awards for Destinations. The sixth annual awards honour nearly 500 destinations including the winners for the top spots in the world, and individual lists for Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia, Canada, the U.K, the U.S and more.  

Australia has much to celebrate, securing five of the top ten spots in the South Pacific list. Sydney is the star of the southern hemisphere, with the iconic harbour city taking top honours in the South Pacific (#1), in Australia (#1), and placing respectably in the World list (#22).

Melbourne and Brisbane placed #3 and #4 respectively in the South Pacific list, making it a clean sweep for the Australian Eastern Seaboard, while New Zealand’s Queenstown scooped #2 in the South Pacific, a stellar result for the resort town.

“If you’re looking for trip inspiration, look no further than the Travellers’ Choice Destinations,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “Our global travellers are the tastemakers for uncovering the best places to visit around the world.”  

Travellers’ Choice Destinations honour top travel spots worldwide based on the millions of valuable reviews and opinions from TripAdvisor travellers. Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, attractions and restaurants in destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period. 

Minister for Tourism and Major Events, George Souris, said he was delighted with the news that Sydney had won TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards for the top Australian and South Pacific destination and the only Australian city to make the top 25 best destinations in the world.

“Sydney has so much to offer, from our golden beaches for surfing and world class dining and shopping, to the diverse, scenic regional areas such as the magnificent Blue Mountains and Hunter wineries. New South Wales is blessed with a range of natural wonders and urban attractions which entices 28.5 million international and domestic overnight visitors each year,” Mr. Souris continued.

Top 10 Travellers’ Choice South Pacific Destinations:

1. Sydney, Australia
2. Queenstown, New Zealand
3. Melbourne, Australia
4. Brisbane, Australia
5. Rotorua, New Zealand
6. Port Douglas, Australia
7. Taupo, New Zealand
8. Blenheim, New Zealand
9. Nelson, New Zealand
10. Hobart, Australia
11. Port Vila, Vanuatu
12. Cessnock, Australia
13. Wanaka, New Zealand
14.Savusavu, Fiji

15. Tauranga, New Zealand

16. Christchurch, New Zealand

17. Paihia, New Zealand

18. Napier, New Zealand

19. Luganville, Vanuatu

20. Russell, New Zealand

21. Dunedin, New Zealand

22. Airlie Beach, Australia

23. Kaikoura, New Zealand

24. New Plymouth, New Zealand

25. Byron Bay, Australia
Top 10 Travellers’ Choice Australia Destinations:

1.    Sydney, NSW
2.    Melbourne, VIC
3.    Brisbane, QLD
4.    Port Douglas, QLD
5.    Hobart, TAS
6.    Cessnock, NSW
7.    Airlie Beach, QLD
8.    Byron Bay, NSW
9.    Canberra, ACT
10.    Darwin, NT   

Top 25 Travellers’ Choice World Destinations:

1. Istanbul, Turkey
2. Rome, Italy
3. London, England
4. Beijing, China
5. Prague, Czech Republic
6. Marrakech, Morocco
7. Paris, France
8. Hanoi, Vietnam (New)
9. Siem Reap, Cambodia
10. Shanghai, China
11. Berlin, Germany
12. New York City, New York
13. Florence, Italy
14. Buenos Aires, Argentina
15. Barcelona, Spain
16. St. Petersburg, Russia
17. Dubai, United Arab Emirates (New)
18. Chicago, Illinois
19. Cape Town, South Africa
20. Bangkok, Thailand
21.   Budapest, Hungary (New)
22.   Sydney, Australia
23.   Lisbon, Portugal (New)
24.   Chiang Mai, Thailand
25.   San Francisco, California
Asian Destinations Climb World List of Top Spots

Six of the top 25 world spots are from Asia and four Asian cities saw a climb of at least 10 places in the world top 25 list year-over-year. Beijing jumped 17 spots to #4 in the world, Hanoi is new to the list this year at #8, Siem Reap rose 14 spots to #9, and Shanghai climbed 12 places to #10.

*Source: comScore Media Metrix for TripAdvisor Sites, worldwide, December 2013

**Source: Google Analytics, worldwide data, July 2013

Source = TripAdvisor