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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Travel advice: refunds; hand luggage allowance; visiting Burma

I have asked for the correct recording to be sent but have heard nothing more. Can you help?

Gill Charlton replies
Expedia says that the manager of the Hampton Inn agreed to hold the room for only 24 hours and that Mrs Galeotti should have checked the full terms of her contract. These simply say that no refunds will be issued for late check-in but that rooms are guaranteed for late arrival. There is no time-limit given on how late this can be.

Expedia says that if customers don't arrive to take up their reservation on time they are considered to have broken their contract with the hotel. The hotel's own terms say: "Cancellations or changes… are subject to a hotel fee equal to 100 per cent of the total amount paid."

This means that turning up late for a prepaid stay – even after giving notice – is considered a "change" to the booking and the hotel can resell the room. This seems an unfair contract term, and I do not think Expedia should feature hotels that take this stance.

I am pleased to say that, as a gesture of goodwill, Expedia itself has agreed to refund Mrs Galeotti the £1,701 she paid for her room.

Jacob Nevitt, Liverpool, writes
In August I flew from Liverpool to Palma with Ryanair. My only luggage was a cabin bag bought at Debenhams, chosen because it was said to be the correct maximum size for Ryanair.

On my return, however, I was told by staff at Palma airport that I would have to pay €40 (£35) to put the case in the hold as it was too big. I took photographs of the bag showing that it fitted perfectly into the Ryanair sizer, and sent them to the airline's customer services department.

It responded by saying that my bag "did not fit comfortably and completely in the baggage sizer at the boarding gate". What's your view?

Gill Charlton replies
The photographs show the bag in the sizer: the wheels are within the metal frame and the handle does not stick out of the top. It does look like a pretty snug fit, though. What did Ryanair think?

"How do we know this is the bag that caused the problem?" a Ryanair spokesman responded. "We really need to see the customer in the photograph as well." So Jacob sent another photograph of himself holding the bag. This did the trick: "As our Palma handling agent was unable to confirm why this passenger's bag was placed in the hold, Ryanair will, as an act of goodwill, refund the additional charge on this occasion."

Ryanair's maximum dimensions for cabin bags are 55cm x 40cm x 20cm (22in x 16in x 8in), including wheels, and the maximum weight is 10kg (22lb).

Shelly Johnson, Peterborough, writes
We are going on our honeymoon to the Maldives and I'm worried about burning my skin as I'm a redhead. What sunscreen would you recommend?

Gill Charlton replies
You shouldn't buy on price when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun. For your face, I would recommend Clarins UV Plus/HP SPF 40, which doesn't block pores. It comes in a tiny long-lasting bottle that costs £29.50.

For your body, use a spray-on sunscreen called TECHNIblock, developed by a South African pharmaceutical company. It's sold in Britain by Safari Store (020 7193 4751, www.safari-store.co.uk), which searches out the best products on the market for tropical travellers. The company road-tested TECHNIblock on a bare-chested canoe trip in Botswana with "superb" results. A can costs from £13 and comes in 15 and 40 SPF. Although it is highly water-resistant, it lets your skin breathe and there's no oily residue.

Claire Dawson, Bristol, writes
We are planning a visit to Myanmar (Burma) on a tailor-made tour. What sights should we include – we like to get a bit off the beaten track, if we can – and is there anywhere we should avoid?

Gill Charlton replies
I would definitely include Yangon (Rangoon), the former capital, which has beautiful Buddhist temples and a largely untouched colonial core, and spend three nights on the temple-filled plain of Bagan. Avoid Mandalay, which has become a noisy, traffic-clogged, neon-lit Chinese city.

Most visitors include time at a waterside retreat on Inle Lake. But if you want to seek out something of the old Burma, I would recommend taking one of the 50-passenger Pandaw riverboats on the Upper Irrawaddy from Mandalay to Katha (which inspired George Orwell's Burmese Days), which you can book direct through www.pandaw.com. The eight-day trip costs about £1,500 full board.

Another offbeat place is Mrauk-U, a mini-Bagan rarely visited by tourists and a boat ride upstream from Sittwe on the coast. Stay at the Princess Resort.

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