Frequently Asked Questions
WHY SHOULD I USE A TRAVEL AGENT?
There are many options available to you in booking travel. You can search the internet for deals, and go from site to site, looking for just the right hotel or cruise line. But do you have all the information? Do you know the current sales running on cruises, or the special hotel and air packages available? Probably not.
A travel professional has years of experience in putting together vacation experiences that create lifelong memories. By using a travel agent, you put someone in your corner, who will get you the best value for your travel, and will be there should anything go wrong. In short, we know things about travel that you don’t.
DOES IT COST ME MORE TO USE A TRAVEL AGENT?
The answer is simply, no. We are paid by the travel suppliers – cruise lines, tour companies, and hotels. If you book yourself, you may pay the same price that you would with us, but the supplier saves on the commission. So using a travel agent costs you nothing. In fact, if you book yourself, you may miss out on sales or amenities you were unaware of, and you might actually pay more.
Note that on occasion, often with a complicated customized travel package, we will ask for a nominal consulting fee up front. This fee is fully refundable if a booking is made.
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE SHOULD I PLAN?
The easy answer is: EARLY. Most people wait until just a few months or even weeks to start planning a trip. Yes, often you can find last minute deals. But to maximize the choices available to you with regard to hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins, rental cars, tour bus spaces, etc., you should start planning a year or more in advance. This does not mean that all details have to be finalized that early. But you should have an overall plan in mind – a framework that your travel professional can work within, to find or build you the best trip possible.
SHOULD I GET TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Yes! But before we tell you why you should buy it, let us tell you exactly what it is.
This insurance, sometimes called Trip Cancellation Insurance, is much more than that. While it does provide coverage for trip cancellation, and indeed that is why most people purchase it, it also covers trip interruption, in case you must abandon your travels before completed, as well as trip delays, delayed baggage, and lost baggage. It also provides supplemental medical insurance, emergency evacuation coverage, and sometimes accidental death insurance.
Travel Insurance is available from a variety of sources. Most travel suppliers (cruise lines, tour operators, rail lines, and others) have their own programs. But travel insurance is also available from a number of insurance companies.
You will invest a lot of money in your travel plans. Often this money will be non-refundable without insurance. If something were to happen just before your departure dates – and this happens more often than you might think – you need a way to recoup what you’ve spent.
If something were to occur while you are traveling, causing you to cut your vacation short, how would you get your money back? If you were aboard a cruise ship and needed to be evacuated to a hospital, or flown to see a specialist, would you own medical insurance cover this? The answer is, likely not.
Without good travel protection, you are gambling with your vacation dollars, and perhaps even with your life savings.
IS TRAVELING SAFE?
For the most part, yes. Of course, there are areas that are less safe, and some places in the world that we would not recommend traveling to. But with reasonable care, watchfulness, and preparation, you may travel to most places at ease. Don’t assume that a place is unsafe, just because a friend said he’d heard something, or you’ve hear about this or that on the news. Let’s face it, there is crime everywhere, and unfortunate incidents can occur pretty much anywhere on earth, including right in your own town. Don’t let fear or unease about a place you haven’t been keep you from experiencing the joy and wonder of travel.
Talk to your travel professional, who will let you know the very easy steps you can take to assure that your travels are safe, and you are able to come home with positive memories of some amazing places.
DO I NEED A PASSPORT OR A VISA?
are traveling anywhere outside the United States, including Canada or Mexico, you will need a passport. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond your return date, or you may be denied boarding on an airline or cruise ship, or denied entry into the nation of travel. For U.S. citizens, many countries do not currently require a visa. Some of these include any member countries of the European Union, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, and many others. Some countries require a visa, which is issued at the port of entry. For travel to some nations, such as Russia and mainland China, a visa must be obtained from a local embassy or consulate prior to traveling to that country. Note that if you are a passenger on a cruise ship, often these requirements are waived, provided you go ashore with an organized tour. Your travel professional can advise you, before you travel, as to the requirements for entry involved in your travel destination.
DOES STAR & COMPASS TRAVEL BOOK ALL KINDS OF TRAVEL?
Yes. We book cruises, airline tickets, packaged tours, independent travel, bus trips, trains, walking tours, and pretty much anything else you can think of. We work with individuals, families, and all types of groups. We can assist in planning events such as holding conventions or gatherings in remote locations. We will arrange conferences at sea, plan destination weddings, book honeymoons, anniversary trips, small groups, large groups, and everything in between. We are here to be your trusted resource for all travel.
WHEN SHOULD I RENEW MY PASSPORT?
A rule of thumb is that your passport should be valid for 6 months after your return date. As of July, 2017, it is taking about 6 weeks to get a passport renewed, but you should make allowances for slower periods. Plan accordingly. For example, if you are traveling on June 1 of a given year, and your passport expires in September of that same year, you will want to start the process of renewal no later than April 1. We recommend that you plan even farther ahead, and start the process in early March, just to be sure.
MY TRAVEL IS COMING UP SOON AND I JUST REALIZED THAT MY PASSPORT WILL EXPIRE BEFORE I TRAVEL. CAN STAR & COMPASS TRAVEL ASSIST ME?
Yes. For a fee, we can get your passport renewal expedited.
I'VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT RIVER CRUISES. IS RIVER CRUISING A GOOD VALUE FOR MY MONEY?
In our opinion, absolutely. While these cruises are not inexpensive, we truly believe that you get a tremendous value for your cruising dollars. The experience in unlike any other. You travel in luxurious comfort through some beautiful and often dramatic scenery. You often don’t get the same type of views from ocean cruises, as you are out at sea. Along the rivers, you get to stop in the heart of the city a good deal of the time, putting you immediately in the midst of whatever is going on. Getting on and off your vessel is a breeze – within a minute or two you are off and enjoying the port. The food is universally outstanding across the different cruise lines. The service aboard river vessels has been praised repeatedly by travel critics and consumers alike.
There are many choices when it comes to cruise lines and destinations. We invite you to talk to us about these great vacation experiences.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND ESCORTED BUS TOURS?
Our answer is a conditional yes. We at Star & Compass have taken many of these tours, and have enjoyed each and every one. We realize, however, that there are some people who would never enjoy this type of tour. But let us tell you why you might really love this type of travel, even if you think you won’t.
On an escorted bus tour, you get to see a great deal of the area / region / country of the tour – more so that you likely would even while driving, and definitely more than you would traveling by train. You have a dedicated tour manager or director, whose job it is to educate and entertain you along the way. At the stop locations, are you are treated to guided tours of fascinating venues, and learn far more than you would likely do on your own. You are introduced to local cuisines, sometimes by the folks who grew or prepared the food. The bus makes frequent stops for sightseeing and for comfort, so you really don’t need to worry about being cooped up for long periods of time.
The one big drawback to these kinds of tours, is that often you are in a location and a hotel for only one night, sometimes two, and then you are off to another. This can become tedious for some. But when weighed against the benefits of touring this way, we believe it is worthwhile, and we think everyone should try it, at least once.
Talk to us about a destination or an itinerary that might be of interest to you, and we can discuss the different ways of touring.
WHEN I BOOK A TRIP, DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR THE ENTIRE VACATION ALL AT ONCE?
In most cases, the answer is no. For example, if you book a cruise 8 months in advance, you will pay a deposit, the amount of which will vary. You will then make final payment 60-90 days prior to the date of embarkation. If you book an air/hotel/tour package well in advance, then same story. We will advise of when the provider requires payment and how much the payment is. We will send you a reminder when the payment date approaches.
If, however, you book almost anything less than 60 days prior to travel (not recommended), then you will pay the entire amount up front. If you just booking air, then of course you will pay for your entire fare at the time of booking, regardless of when that occurs.
WILL MY CREDIT CARD WORK OVERSEAS?
Most areas will accept VISA and MasterCard. A good number of places will accept American Express as well, but fewer than with the other cards. We don’t recommend relying on Discover, as that is hit and miss. You should make sure that you have a credit card with an embedded chip. Most locations around the world will no longer accept credit cards with the magnetic stripe.
Also be aware that most credit cards will charge a foreign transaction fee each time you use your card outside the U.S. Many issuers offer version of their cards with which you DO NOT incur foreign transaction fees. Check your credit card issuer.
WILL MY DEBIT CARD (ATM CARD) WORK IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
In most cases, yes, assuming you have a 4-digit PIN. In many locations, ATM machines are plentiful, and you may withdraw the local currency. Your bank may charge you a fee, and there may be a local fee associated with the specific bank or machine you use. You may wish to inquire about fees with your local bank before you travel.
DO I NEED TO GET FOREIGN CURRENCY BEFORE I GO?
We recommend that you do not. We suggest that when you arrive at your destination, you find an ATM and withdraw local currency. You will likely get a better exchange rate by directly withdrawing funds in local currency.
Many travelers choose to visit money exchange vendors when they arrive at their destination. Remember that vendors will almost never give you the most favorable exchange rate, and they charge a fee or commission on top of the less than optimal exchange rate.
Remember that your debit card should have a 4-digit PIN in order to work in most ATMs around the world.
WILL MY CELL PHONE WORK OUTSIDE THE U.S.?
These days, most smart phones have the capacity to work in most places. What you likely do not have is a usage plan that allows for phone service or data retrieval outside the U.S. Most major carriers offer temporary packages or plans for traveling internationally, which can range from reasonable to very expensive, depending on the company, the package, and your amount of usage. You will need to check with your specific carrier to find out what is available.
I DON'T WANT TO DRIVE ON MY EUROPEAN VACATION. HOW DO I GET AROUND?
There are many options available to you. If you are staying in one location or city, you can use public transportation, use taxi or ride-sharing services, book tours with hotel pick-ups, or simply see the city by foot.
If you will be moving from location to location, you have a great choice in traveling by train. The trains are efficient, comfortable, and everywhere.
You may choose to book an escorted motor coach tour. You will see a good deal of the area you are touring – often more than you would see on your own, and in essence, let someone else take care of you along the way.
River cruising is a great way to see Europe. There are scores of port cities to explore, and you get there in luxurious style, sailing along the smooth waters of the many rivers.
Need additional information? Contact us to have your questions answered.