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Travel suppliers should shape up or ship out

Tips and advice for the New Year from the Travel Adviser

By Chris McGinnis
CNN Headline News

Travel Adviser: Book trips on those airlines that make it easy to do business with. Avoid those that don't.

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(CNN) -- Airlines: Embrace change.

I wish all the major airlines would suck it up, take a chance, and dump their broken fare structures, and replace them with something that makes sense, provides them with a chance to make a fair profit, and allows consumers to travel affordably. Consumers should be able to do business with the major airlines without the constant fear that they are being taken advantage of.

Luckily, low fare carriers like JetBlue, AirTran and Southwest "get it" and dealing with them is usually a pretty straightforward experience. One major airline, America West, overhauled and simplified its fares last year, and has been on a profitable roll ever since.

But the other major carriers have only cleaned up their fare act in markets where they compete with the upstarts. Unfortunately, they cling to their old stick-it-to-the-customer ways in markets where they don't compete.

My advice for the New Year: Book trips on those airlines that make it easy to do business with. Avoid those that don't.

Hotels: Dump the fees.

I wish hotel companies would stop nickel and diming their customers to death with unexpected fees for things that should be included in the room rate.

Over the last year, many hotels have started to add fees for things like shuttle services, in-room coffee, gratuities for maids or bellmen, local phone calls, poolside towels or parking -- even if you don't use them. Many times you won't even know about these extras (sometimes referred to as "resort fees") until you get your bill at checkout.

A small hotel chain called Wingate Inns seems to understand this -- its all-inclusive rate covers everything from high-speed Internet access and local calls, to business center access, and breakfast.

My advice to anyone who feels overcharged for extras they did not use? Simply ask that the charges be removed from your bill at checkout. If the clerk won't do it, then ask to speak to a manager.

Car Rental: Soften the hard sell

I wish car rental companies would put an end to the practice of scaring their customers into buying insurance coverage they don't need.

I observe this practice time and again at the car rental counter, and it infuriates me. Agents know better than to try and sell unnecessary options to a frequent traveler like me. I always decline, decline, decline and am then forced to initial the contract -- a tactic designed to scare customers into accepting these bogus add-ons.

While I am declining and initialing, I frequently overhear other agents putting the hard sell on some unknowing international visitor, or infrequent traveler, convincing them to add "just $26 per day" to their rental fee, or asking them to do something stupid and dangerous like, "prepay your gas with us, and bring the car back empty."

Here's the deal folks: If you own a car and it is insured, that insurance almost always extends to cars you rent. Many credit card companies offer car rental insurance as part of their package of benefits. Check your auto policy and your credit card agreement before your next trip to be sure. The only person who should buy car rental insurance is someone who does not own a car, nor has a credit card that offers protection.

And finally, don't fall for the agent's hard sell for fueling options. The least expensive option in all cases is to stop at a gas station and fill up just before returning your car.

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