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Rule 240 and other travel myths

Want the truth about whether reciting Rule 240 will help if your flight is delayed? What about weekend stays — are they actually more expensive? Sure you know whether cruises really do make you fat? Read on.
/ Source: Independent Traveler

Although we can't tell for certain whether the Loch Ness monster lurks in the waters of Scotland, there are some myths about which our team of travel experts is suitably enlightened. A number of prevalent tall tales, which relate to everything from transportation expenses to health to hotels, have confused thousands of travelers as they circulate like stale cabin air on blogs and boards. Want the truth? We've created a list of common travel yarns and broken down which "facts" are really fictions.

If your flight is delayed, mention rule 240 and the airline will compensate you.
It's one of the greatest urban travel myths: mention rule 240 and you will get immediate compensation if your flight is delayed or canceled. Rule 240 was created years ago by Civil Aeronautics as a way to protect passengers. Although the rule did state that ticketholders would get placed on the next available plane if their flights were delayed or canceled, it is no longer in existence. Today, airlines are deregulated — which means that there is no law that says all airlines must compensate inconvenienced passengers.

However, citing rule 240 at the airline counter when your scheduled flight is canceled or delayed may help you. Why? Some airlines still have a "rule 240" in their contracts that offers a form of passenger protection in case of cancellations or delays.

The bottom line: A government-issued rule 240 that applies to all airlines does not exist, but your airline may have its own rule 240 (or a similar condition with a different name). Read your airline's conditions of carriage to see whether or not you will receive compensation if your flight arrives late or is canceled.

Weekend stays are more expensive than weekday stays.
Most travelers are working stiffs with jobs during the week, which makes weekend travel precious — and pricey, thanks to a universal surge of travelers on Saturdays and Sundays. But, contrary to popular belief, weekend lodging is not always more expensive than a weekday stay. Although B&B's and hotels that see a lot of leisure travelers may have higher weekend rates, hotels that cater largely to business travelers often offer good weekend discounts, as business travel guests proliferate during the week and weekends are less busy at these hotels.

The proof is in the pudding: on a recent search we found weekend specials for Best Western, Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton that were actually cheaper than full-price weekday stays. Google "weekend hotel deals" or check out our hotel deals page to plan a budget hotel stay over the weekend.

The bottom line: Book your weekend stay at a business hotel and you may find a rate that is cheaper than weekday prices.

Train travel is cheaper than air travel.
It's a common myth that flights are more expensive than train tickets. But the truth is that air travel quite frequently trumps train travel as the cheapest way to get around. Discount airlines both domestic and international — like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, RyanAir and easyJet — offer flights that can be significantly less expensive than the price of train travel for the same itinerary.

For example, we found a one-way flight from New York to Richmond, Virginia for $69.50 including taxes and fees on Delta. The same trip on Amtrak came to $77 each way. In Europe, discount airlines often offer rock-bottom sales on flights — for travel between two major European cities, you may pay as little as 5 GBP (about $7.40) plus taxes and fees each way. That price beats typical rail ticket fees, which run roughly $50 to $200 each way, depending on where you're traveling. But keep in mind that pricing transportation is tricky. If you're going to be doing a lot of traveling within foreign country, a rail pass will probably be cheaper than purchasing a series of flights. Also, rail passes tend to give travelers more flexibility than traveling by air, as you can just show up at the station when you want to travel, as opposed to booking a set date with a flight. And we can't forget about baggage fees — which can really run up if you're trying to lug too much luggage on your flight. For more information on plane and train travel in Europe, read Europe — By Plane or By Train?

The bottom line: It all depends on your itinerary — but it isn't unusual for a flight to be cheaper than a train ticket, especially when you're booking with a domestic discount airline. Always check airline pricing and compare it to the price of train travel for your specific itinerary before you book.

Cruises will make you fat.
Many active travelers think of cruises as floating fat machines — they assume that cruising involves huge buffets and hours of sedentary activity on beaches and lounge chairs. While this may be true on some ships, a recent trend in the industry has brought healthy eating and exercise to the forefront of the cruising lifestyle.

Slimming innovations in the cruise world include low-calorie menu options, sushi bars, upgraded gyms and ultra-active excursions. Celebrity Cruises has introduced free-standing Spa Cafes that dish up delicious low-cal treats like crunchy raw veggies and sushi. Disney Cruise Line offers outdoor dance parties to get the whole family up and moving. And Costa Cruises has special spa cabins that include unlimited access to gym and spa facilities (at a price, of course). Plus, smaller cruise lines like easyCruise and French Country Waterways have continuously ducked the all-you-can-eat-buffet bandwagon and offered regional cuisine and unique active excursions — French Country Waterways has no Internet access or TV's onboard and the line provides passengers with bicycles to use on land.

The bottom line: The cruise industry has moved toward health and wellness in recent years. Cruising won't make you fat — that is, unless you choose to actually eat all you can eat at the buffet.

Bottled water is always safe.
Bottled water is not always safe, whether you're at home or abroad. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, at least 25 percent of bottled water is just tap water. This means that if you're in a location where the tap water disagrees with your system, certain bottled waters may affect your health as well.

So how do you quench your thirst? Your bottle of water may list its source on the label. If your water is provided by a hotel or restaurant, ask the concierge or waitstaff if the bottled water is filtered water or spring water. The former — filtered water — is just a fancy name for tap water that may or may not have been run through some kind of a filtration system. If you want to be extra careful, buy a portable water filter from a reputable travel supply store and run all of your drinking water through it — regardless of whether it's from a bottle or not.

The bottom line: Not all bottled drinking water is safe. Take precautions such as learning about the source of your bottled water or using a portable water filter. Read Drinking Water Safety for more information on obtaining clean water overseas.

You can't carry-on scissors, lighters or nail clippers.
This one isn't so much a myth as just one more confusing rule in the labyrinthine list of ever-changing TSA regulations. We get dozens of e-mails from readers who want to know whether or not they can pack their nail clippers or if they have to pay a hefty checked bag fee just to keep their fingernails nice and trimmed on vacation. The TSA has confiscated carry-on scissors, lighters or nail clippers in the past — but the rules have since changed. The Transportation Security Administration has a complete list of what you can and can't bring on a plane on their Web site. Nail clippers and most common lighters are presently allowed in carry-on luggage, as are scissors with blades shorter than four inches. No, you still can't bring your pool chlorine and cattle prods on the flight, so don't even try (these are on the TSA list of prohibited items —take a look).

The bottom line: Yes, most nail clippers, scissors and lighters can be carried on a plane.

Recirculated cabin air on planes will make you sick.
Some planes recirculate cabin air through a ventilation system instead of pumping in fresh air (the former is cheaper than the latter), and many travelers fear that recirculated air will make them sick. However, a study conducted by the University of California, which involved over 1,000 passengers, revealed that recirculated cabin air does not increase passengers' risk of catching colds.

However, the study also showed that air travelers do catch more colds than the average person — 19 percent of passengers who flew on the planes with recirculated air caught colds and 21 percent of passengers on planes that use fresh air got sick, compared with three percent of non-travelers. Dry air and a proliferation of germs in a small space are probably what cause passengers to get sick, so using a hand sanitizer, taking vitamins and drinking plenty of fluids while onboard is a good idea.

The bottom line: Recirculated cabin air does not make passengers sick, although those who fly are more likely to catch a cold than those who don't.