TOO MUCH CHOICE
Be careful booking business class flights with Qatar at the moment. They have three different prices, sometimes they include choice of seat, sometimes include business class lounge access, sometimes the fare includes neither of these things, usually a given in business class fares. And also be careful with their supposed full refund with no fees because they do not refund the $70 charge they place on the use of a credit card for each ticket. We paid extra for seat selection and that was only refunded after I complained, still no Visa fees. To be fair, Singapore Airlines did not refund their $70 credit card fee on unusable COVID tickets booked last year either, but their airfare was refunded within 48 hours. I have queried Qatar as to why this credit card charge was not refunded as I am told by my bank that they refund the credit card fees to Qatar if the charge is not processed. I've had no response on that yet so I don't think I'll hold my breath for $70 from either airline.
Terry Fletcher, Colac, VIC
LETTER OF THE WEEK
ALL IN THE MIND
Even just reading the experiences of Japanese travel so evocatively described by Michelle Mackintosh and Steve Wide in your story was enriching and calming (Traveller, April 30). Amid our busy lives, most of us are enticed by silence, simple rituals, and connection with nature. In addition to dreaming of absorbing the beautiful experiences of mindful travel in Japan, the bonus lesson here is in seeking to capture the Japanese philosophy of "ma" in our everyday lives. That is to live with simplicity and in harmony with our natural world.
Amy Hiller, Kew, VIC
MONUMENTAL AS ANYTHING
Sicily, a place of monuments and mosaics, (Traveller, April 21), a place where over the centuries civilisations have collided and settled, a place of the Mafia and Montalbano and now a destination for African refugees. A place to drink Marsala in its namesake city, or to have a glass of nero d'avola with dinner before watching a puppet show telling of a legendary battle between a Crusader knight and an infidel (probably not politically correct nowadays). Nowhere else in Europe has a history like this Mediterranean crossroads island.
Lee Palmer, Albert Park, VIC
STATES OF FRUSTRATION
My wife and I took a two-week Intrepid Travel tour of Iran in 2011 so now we must get a special visa to visit the US (Traveller Letters, April 30). We had planned to meet friends in Hawaii in September. We completed the tortuous paperwork, paid $448 and then applied for an interview spot to get our visas. None were available. The whole thing seems ridiculous, especially since we visited New York two years after our trip to Iran on an ESTA visa-waiver and airfares have been bought. Since then the Trump administration changed the rules.
Russell & Mitty O'Shea, Brucknell, VIC
EDITOR'S NOTE: These rules were actually introduced by US Congress during the Obama administration.
Further to Ben Adamson's letter regarding lengthy wait times for US visa interviews in Melbourne, a few years ago I was also faced with impossibly long wait times for a US visa and interview. However, I suggest that Ben do as I did and continually check online for the next available interview time at the US Consulate in Melbourne. I found that there were many cancellations and the lengthy wait time could be circumvented relatively easily
Garry Meller, Bentleigh, VIC
I first visited Sri Lanka in 2007 at the height of the civil war, not long after the 2004 tsunami. I have since returned 10 times, including during the 2019 Easter bombings. Like Deb Riedel (Traveller Letters, April 30), I have always found the people friendly and welcoming. This is a beautiful tropical island with so much to see, and such great food. I elaborated on this in my book Only In Sri Lanka, published in 2015. The current economic crisis will pass and won't deter me from my 11th visit this year.
Gloria Meltzer, Chewton, VIC
GIVE ME A (COFFEE) BREAK
During the course of my day as a Sydney tram driver, getting a quick coffee between runs at Central Station was a welcome break. I was horrified to discover that now there are no cafes open in the Central concourse. The Switchman kiosk, and the two larger cafes, are now also closed. What sort of look is it for our international visitors, commuters (and, for that matter, tram drivers) to have a concourse devoid of cafes? Many closed because of COVID but is there someone out there who could revive at least one of these Central institutions? Surely a decent cafe should be part of the landscape of any busy Central Station.
Margot Pope, Lewisham, NSW
EDITOR'S NOTE A spokesman for Transport for NSW tells Traveller that several outlets at Central, including those on the concourse level where regional and interstate trains depart, have indeed been closed or "only partially operational since COVID lockdowns". This has been due to reduced public transport patronage.
NO CALL CENTRE
I'm writing this as a warning to anyone who plans to book a flight online with Flight Centre. Go into a store instead. All we're trying to do is redeem credits to go to Western Australia. The average time on hold is one hour. After five attempts, here is a summary: someone answers, looks up our details, says they need to check with a supervisor or the airline, takes my mobile number and says they will call back. That hasn't happened and I'm not silly enough to expect it. A couple of times the call has dropped out. I have called a few times during their normal working hours only to get a message that says the office is closed and will re-open at "7 am tomorrow". Ours is only interstate travel. I feel terrible for those who are trying to use credits for overseas bookings or have lost money completely. Who is using this money? In any other industry wouldn't someone be sacked for poor service and holding on to money that isn't theirs?
Cheryl Luther, Baulkham Hills, NSW
I am not sure how many times Kevin Hunt (Traveller Letters, April 30) has travelled but when we do any travelling these days (and not much plane travelling in the last two years), we dress and carry only what we need to, as we know what it is like to go through security at the airport. Most people travel in casual clothes these days, so no belts need to be used and casual shoes can be worn and just put all those extras (watches, phones and loose change) in a handbag, manbag, or small carry-on. I would have thought that most people know that one does not take an aerosol on a plane. This can all be done before even going through customs. That saves time at the security checkpoint and doesn't hold other travellers up.
Lynn Bock, Carlingford, NSW
Kevin Hunt, great idea for explanatory signs at screening points which could be further simplified if all the major airports in Australia had the same screening rules.
Jeremy West, Woollahra, NSW
READER TIP OF THE WEEK
Yes, many tourists get caught for not having a road-usage sticker for Austria (Traveller Letters, April 30). You need it if you want to drive on the Autobahn motorways. They are readily available at any gas station, tobacconist and motorway restaurant well before you cross the border from any neighbouring country. The need for this sticker, called "Autobahn vignette" (asfinag.at) was well and clearly advertised along the way, as is the need for headlights on during the day. For Austria, it is possible to get a "digital vignette" online. The system will register the licence plates and work as soon as it is downloaded and paid for. Great for use on rental cars. Incidentally, Austria is not the only country requiring a toll sticker as Switzerland and Slovenia also make tourists pay up, though Austria seems to be the cheapest. And don't forget that many scenic roads and motorway tunnels cost extra but, again, this will be clearly signposted.
Gerhard Engleitner, Hurstvile, NSW
A UK friend introduced me to Revolut (revolut.com), a banking service app, which we recently used widely in France. When you register you are allocated an Australian account with BSB and account number. Transfer Australian dollars into that account then use your phone to pay at any credit terminal that allows tap and pay. Bank transfers take around 30-minutes to arrive in your Revolut account. We used it widely in France and only a couple of times where the vendor's terminal couldn't accept tap and pay and we reverted to inserting a credit card. It is great for French motorways and any purchase. Plus you get an instant message confirming the amount paid in the currency of the country you're in and an updated balance. You can use Revolut in most countries.
Greg Twemlow, Manly, NSW
ALL IN THE TIMING
The recent comments concerning renewing an Australian Passport seem to indicate a lack of understanding when the renewal needs to occur. If a passport was issued on or after January 1, 2006, for instance, it can generally be renewed at any time online after it expires. If you are not travelling in the foreseeable future there is no need to start the renewal process until the recommended lead time. The present recommended lead time by the Passport Office is six weeks.
Paul Foley, Caringbah South, NSW
WIN A SET OF THREE HARDIE GRANT TRAVEL BOOKS
The Letter of the Week writer wins Hardie Grant travel books worth more than $100, including Mindfulness Travel Japan by Steve Wide and Michelle Mackintosh; Paon, Real Balinese Cooking, by Tjok Maya Kerthyasa and I Wayan Kresna; and Plume by Tania McCartney.
SHARE YOUR TIPS AND WIN THREE LONELY PLANET TRAVEL BOOKS WORTH $100
The Tip of the Week writer wins a set of three great Lonely Planet travel books, including Australia's Best Trips, Best Day Walks Australia and Gourmet Trails Australia and NZ.
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