When you can and cannot pay for fuel surcharges with air miles. Galápagos visitors' rules. Serbia and Kosovo crossings.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the April 2012 issue.
Close-up of a leg of a giant tortoise — Galápagos Islands. Photo: Tykol

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 434th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. We’re still excited that, as of January, almost all of the editorial content of current issues of ITN also can be read online. Previously, and as still set up on our website for nonsubscribers, only selected items have been posted from issues published within the last 12 months.

To set up your free online-edition account, note your seven-digit subscriber number on the address label on your delivered copy and read more details about the online edition.

If you’re not yet a subscriber, this is a free sample copy that you’re reading. To continue receiving the magazine and access the latest issues online, you are invited to subscribe. If you want to cut back on paper magazines and just subscribe to the online edition, you can do that instead.

Enough shop talk. Here are some travel news items.

Prompted by an inquiry from ITN columnist Lew Toulmin about an apparent recent rise in taxes for international flights, ITN staff did a bit of research on the subject.

It was discovered that, while it appears that some airlines are charging taxes that, in many a case, exceed the relatively low base fare of the flight, itself, it is actually a difference in the way the fare is displayed rather than an actual increase in or an addition to government-imposed taxes that accounts for the discrepancy.

For instance, when checking a flight from San Francisco to Paris on a randomly selected date using one of the many online booking sites, a fare of $1,106.30 was found for a flight with Lufthansa. The base fare was shown as $943 and the extra taxes and fees totaled $163.30.

Displayed on Lufthansa’s website, this same flight was similarly priced at $1,106.41, but the base fare was shown as only $447 while the “taxes, fees and charges” totaled $659.41, making it appear as if there were a huge increase in international airline taxes.

However, when examining those “taxes, fees and charges,” it could be seen that the bulk of the cost was for a “fuel surcharge,” in this case one amounting to $496.

While this pricing strategy does not affect those of you paying hard money for your flights, it DOES affect those who use frequent-flyer miles to purchase tickets, as any taxes and fees must be paid separately.

This means that this flight, if booked with Lufthansa using your frequent-flyer miles, would have ended up costing you $659.41 up front.

So how do you get around the higher cost when booking a mileage-awards ticket?

The answer is try to find a similar flight on an American carrier. Most non-US carriers are using the same pricing format as the example I just gave (we don’t mean to single out Lufthansa), but US carriers, so far, do not charge fuel surcharges separately. Instead, any fluctuation in pricing is reflected in the base fare.

This same itinerary, offered by US Airways, cost $1,177, displayed on the company’s website as having a base fare of $1,038 and taxes and fees of $139. So, if you had booked this flight using your miles, your out-of-pocket expense would have been $139 instead of the $659 charged by the non-US carrier.

One caveat — if you book a flight with a US carrier that is OPERATED by a foreign carrier, you might end up paying the additional fuel surcharges imposed by that airline.

A bright spot — Air France is now allowing the taxes and fees on award tickets to be covered by using additional award-miles, but certain restrictions apply.

Galápagos National Park, in Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, has implemented new regulations to manage the number of visitors in order to minimize ecological damage to some of the more sensitive areas.

In a revised quota system introduced in February, ships now are restricted to no more than one visit to each marine or land site every 14 days. Having tourist ships visit a wider variety of locations will, hopefully, decrease overuse of and crowding at more popular sites.

Seventy locations around the archipelago were ranked into four divisions of protection. Three “Restricted” areas are used primarily for research. Sixteen “Cultural-Educational” and “Recreational” areas are those with buildings and museums for general public use and educational visits.

The remaining approximately 51 areas are designated “Intensive” and used for guided tourist visits. In these, the previously existing limitations on the numbers of people allowed during shore or dive area visits are still in effect: two to seven tourist groups total at any one time, with a maximum of 16 members per group.

To adjust, some travel companies are offering several different seven-, 10- and 12-day routes and rotating the locations visited. Other companies have added more 14-day trips. Ships on seven-day itineraries will visit different groups of shore and dive locations each week.

To check how many groups are allowed access at the same time at specific sightseeing locations, go to this page at www.galapagospark.org.

In my October 2011 column, I mentioned that Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a legitimate nation and that travelers cannot cross from Kosovo into Serbia without each having in their passports a Serbian Immigration stamp indicating that they had entered Serbia first.

I printed portions of a letter from a couple who were denied entry back into Serbia from Kosovo until the Serbian Immigration agent finally found their Serbian entry stamps in their passports (which had many stamps in them, including Kosovo-entry stamps).

Albert Podell of New York, New York, wrote, “That couple’s experience was contrary to that of my traveling companion and me in April 2011.

“When crossing from Serbia to Kosovo on a public bus, my companion handed her passport to the Kosovo Immigration official and received an entry stamp. I, on the other hand, told the Kosovar that I did not want any such stamp in my passport. He fully understood and gave me a separate slip of paper called an ‘Arrival Form.’

“On the return bus trip from (near) Pristina to Belgrade, I was allowed into Serbia, but once the Serbian border guard saw the Kosovo stamp in my companion’s passport, she was denied entry and forced to return to Kosovo, even though her passport had the Serbian entry stamp.”

“In fact, just finding a bus to take in each direction was an ordeal. At the station in Niš, Serbia, we were told that no bus went to Pristina, Kosovo, so I asked, ‘What about a bus to any part of Kosovo?’ We ended up, the next day, on a bus full of ethnic Serbs who lived in Kosovo and were heading to Serbian enclaves there. Our tickets did not say ‘Pristina,’ and my companion and I were let off (unofficially) on the street a couple hundred yards past the bus station in Pristina.

“It took us a couple of days to even find a bus that went from Kosovo back to Serbia. No Kosovars wanted to give us any information. Finally, someone admitted that we could catch one from a Serbian enclave about eight miles out of Pristina, but he warned us that my companion, with the Kosovo stamp in her passport, would be denied entry into Serbia… until she got a new passport.

“And, as I mentioned, they did turn her away. But we had planned to split up, anyway, so from Kosovo she went to Macedonia and home to Bulgaria (we each were carrying all our luggage), while I continued traveling from Serbia.”

Lastly, we at ITN appreciate the many e-mails and notes we’ve received expressing condolences on our loss of this magazine’s founder and publisher, Armond Noble, in February. Thank you.

One person wrote, “He was clearly a very creative, smart, interesting and active man. All of those qualities were clearly shown in his publications and will live on long after his passing.”

Another wrote, “I consider myself a big-time traveler, and as I have traveled the world I cannot begin to tell you the number of fellow travelers I’ve met who consider ITN to be their bible of travel, myself included. I also cannot begin to list all the places I have traveled to courtesy of the inspiration provided by Armond and ITN. His life needs to be celebrated, not mourned.”

Few people leave behind such a positive legacy that can continue to grow. We certainly will carry it forward.