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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Travel advice: a Travelodge dispute; finding a Manhattan apartment; and seeing the Northern Lights

Gill Charlton replies
I thought this very poor behaviour by Travelodge. The company should have sent a letter directly to Mr Russell with the claim that he smoked in the room and not handed it straight to CRS to pursue in this aggressive way.

I suspect that CRS did not contact Travelodge to argue his case. I spoke to a customer-services team leader who confirmed that the Norwich Travelodge had made an error: it was room 208 that smelled of smoke. CRS has now closed the claim and Travelodge is paying Mr Russell £50 by way of apology.

The best way to see the Northerb Lights

We would like to see the Northern Lights at the end of January next year.

What’s the best way of doing this without joining an organised tour?
Belinda Wright, London

Gill Charlton replies

Nasa is predicting the brightest light display for 50 years, but there’s a great deal of debate over the best place to see the Northern Lights. Experts say there’s a higher chance of clear nights in northern Sweden, rather than in Norway. The best location is considered to be the Abisko National Park, where the large lodge has twin rooms from £75 per night; for information see abisko.nu/vinter.

Iceland is also well worth considering. Icelandair (icelandair.co.uk) has three-night Northern Lights packages from £299 per person including return flight, two-star hotel and coach trips in search of the lights. Alternatively, you can hire a car.

It would be best to travel just after the new moon on January 23 because it’s important to avoid moonlit nights.

Manhattan apartments
We would like to rent an apartment on Manhattan for a week next May.

Where should we start looking?
Adrian Pilling, Isle of Man

Gill Charlton replies
There’s a plethora of choice on the internet, but I would start by consulting Homeaway.co.uk, a long-established London-based online rental agent. Its site features more than 1,000 apartments in New York, from compact studio suites from about £120 per night to a four-bedroom Harlem town house for £400 per night. The minimum stay is usually three nights.

You book direct with the owner. To avoid being conned, telephone to ask questions and establish the exact address, and never transfer funds to a Western Union office instead of a bank account.

If you prefer the security of using an agent, try Susan Freschel’s Affordable New York City (affordablenewyorkcity.com), which offers 120 apartments and b? &?bs on Manhattan. A studio costs from about £100, a one-bedroom apartment from £130.

Visa for Australia
My travel agent says I should obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visa for entry into Australia which will cost £13. I thought there were now free electronic visas for tourists?
Dorothy Clarke, Woking, Surrey

Gill Charlton replies
If you are staying in Australia for less than three months you can take advantage of the online eVisitor visa. You must apply online, so go to immi.gov.au to download the application form.

The eVisitor visa is offered only to British Citizens (and citizens of other EU states). The service is not available to anyone living in Britain who has a British Subject or British Overseas Citizen passport.

Changing a cancelled flight

Back in August, I booked a small hotel on Gran Canaria as a base for a walking holiday next month. I also booked a flight with Thomson Airways from Birmingham to Las Palmas departing at noon on December 7.

We have just received a letter from Thomson to say that this flight has been cancelled. Instead we are being offered a dawn flight from Birmingham two days earlier.

We may not be able to rearrange our hotel reservation without attracting cancellation charges. What alternatives can we reasonably request from Thomson? Is compensation due?
Brian Armstrong, Birmingham

Gill Charlton replies

Holidaymakers heading for winter sun destinations from regional airports may well find their flights being “consolidated” if bookings don’t perk up as the departure date nears.

As long as the airline informs you of the cancellation more than 14 days before departure, no compensation is due. However, you must be offered a full refund if there is no reasonable alternative flight.

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