The latest travel Q & A's

Guy Pierce / 22 May 2017

Need some travel advice? Travel expert Guy Pierce sheds some light on some of the common travel questions Saga Magazine readers have.



Q.

I’m holding an anniversary party soon: how economical is a ‘booze cruise’ to Europe these days? I’ve not done one for years.

A.

Queen Mary I said she would die with Calais engraved on her heart. Many Brits felt the same when duty-free shopping in the EU ended on 30 June 1999.

But since then, there’s been a boom in drink/tobacco (and chocolate) outlets springing up in Calais and beyond, whose fortunes have fluctuated over the past couple of decades.

Pre-Brexit vote, the exchange rate made the short cross-channel trip well worthwhile, but now the pound has plummeted.

However, if you know what you’re looking for, you can still find a bargain in the alcohol warehouses just inland in northern France and Belgium.

You can still get low-end but decent plonk from the £1.99 mark but once you get to around £5 a bottle, there’s not much saving to be made, particularly since the arrival of low-cost supermarkets over here. 

You might save around £6 on the same bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne, compared with UK high-street supermarkets. 

Less well-known champers can be had for around a tenner in some drink warehouses – but you can pick up similarly priced bottles at home in Aldi and Lidl. 

Beers, too, are competitively priced in the main supermarkets, though cases of French beer can prove a good deal if you’re bulk-buying. 

Although there are no limits on goods bought in the EU, you may be stopped at Customs if they suspect you may be selling stuff on – especially if you’re bringing in more than 110 litres of beer and 90 litres of wine.

Factor in the cost of travel in your calculations. Check the outlets’ websites; some offer free Eurotunnel or ferry crossing if you pre-order online and spend over a certain amount. Book your ferry crossing through Saga and you could even save up to 10%.

Use a Saga Platinum credit card and benefit from a 0% foreign currency conversion fee on transactions.

Q.

What happens if I have an accident in Spain and I’ve left my EHIC at home?

A.

After your passport, the most important document to carry in Europe is your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

This gives you reciprocal access to state healthcare in all EU countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It’s surprising how many people don’t know of its existence or forget about it. Carrying it around could save you thousands of pounds.

If you forget or lose it and require healthcare while you’re on holiday, contact the Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 (0)191 218 1999 to request a Provisional Replacement Certificate.

Friends or family back home can do this for you and the replacement document will be emailed or faxed to where you’re receiving treatment.

It could save you serious money in medical fees, so put the number on your mobile phone – now!

An EHIC is valid for up to five years, so check the date on your card in good time. Don’t forget, it doesn’t cover all aspects of medical care. So, travel insurance is a must.

Q.

I read a lot about planes being delayed or diverted due to passengers’ bad behaviour. Would I be entitled to compensation if this happened?

A.

EU regulation 261/2004 allows for passengers to receive compensation for flight delays (within its remit) for all manner of reasons.

However, if an incident is serious enough for a plane to be diverted to an airport other than its original destination, then this would undoubtedly come under aircraft security and no compensation would be due.

To our knowledge no one has sued another (offending) passenger for delay. There’s always a first!

Related: How to claim compensation for a cancelled or delayed flight?

Q.

My husband is very sceptical of ‘Use by’ and ‘Best before’ dates in general and he’s happy to use leftover sun cream that’s more than two years’ old. I say he’s wrong.

A.

And we say you’re right. Sun creams come with a shelf life of between 12 and 18 months after opening – look on the bottle or tube for the symbol of a jar with an open lid and a number written on it.

If you can remember when you opened the sun cream, all well and good – if you can’t, then it’s best to bin it. It’s just not worth the risk

It’s advisable to store sun cream in a cool place, out of the sun (ironically enough) as direct sunlight over a period of time can damage the chemical formula.

You can tell a product is ineffective if it starts to ‘separate’, rather like off-milk (and you wouldn’t use that!), or it looks a different colour from when you last applied it. 

If your husband is generally thrifty, he may be tempted to eke suncream out while on holiday, but it’s better to ‘splash it all over’ rather than come home with a third of a bottle saved to use again next year.

Or you might consider leaving any unused cream, with a note, for the next occupants of your apartment or villa.

Q.

I’m travelling around the States by rail – what is the gratuities policy on Amtrak trains?

A.

Gratuities/service charges aren’t compulsory on Amtrak. As a rule of thumb, leave around 15% in the train bar and the same for a dining-car meal.

Tip each time rather than at journey’s end. And leave between $1 and 50c, or loose change at the snack-bar.

For sleeping car ‘room service’, tip the same as you would in the dining car. You’ll probably have the same sleeping-car attendant for the whole trip if you’re on a cross-country train.

How much you tip ($5-10pp per night is reasonable) is down to quality of service, though tipping ahead (say, a percentage as an incentive) is never a bad idea.

Got a travel question?
If you have a question you'd like us to answer, you can write to us at 'Travel Surgery, Saga Magazine, Enbrook Park, Folkestone, Kent, CT20 3SE or email us. While we can't reply to readers individually, we will respond to queries in the Saga Magazine and on this page.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.