The best low cost post-grad vacation

Q: My daughter, Sarah (18) and I would like to take a special, high school graduation celebratory trip to a warm, “tropical” location. She’s interested in “Caribbean” blue waters, though it doesn’t have to be in the Caribbean. We would love to snorkel. I would be interested in visiting some “ruins” on the trip, though not necessary. What we are really looking for is an inexpensive, safe, relaxing, clear-water ocean, beach vacation. It doesn’t need to be 5-star, 3 or 4 is fine. Four to six nights is probably what we could afford. We would travel in July. Could you help us with a recommendation on a destination?  

A: Tulum, Mexico! It’s got everything on your list: Ruins, snorkeling, affordable. You’d fly to Cancun and go from there. Everything from sleek all-inclusive resorts to rustic tent camps and bed-and-breakfasts.  I realize that Mexico has received a lot of negative media attention due to drug wars and so on, but the Cancun area has not been affected. For general travel tips and hotel recommendations, look up TripAdivsor + Tulum on your favorite browser.

Q: Many years ago I read in the newspaper that if you check-in online and then miss your flight, the airline considers your ticket as used and does not help out as much as if you had not checked in. Since then, I have almost always waited until I get to the airport before checking in.  I find the process at the airport to be easy. The only exception is when I have flown Southwest, because checking in online early gives me better chances at a seat I like. Also, on occasion airlines have offered extra miles or points for checking in online, and I am a sucker for points.  Is there a downside to checking in online, or have times have changed?

A: A ticket is only considered “used” if it’s scanned to board the flight. Merely checking in does not mean a ticket is used. However, I tweeted this question to my 314,000 followers on Twitter @airfarewatchdog and one person suggested a possible downside to checking in online. American Airlines, he says, “unchecked-in” passengers on a flight because a smaller plane was substituted for a larger one. Seats were re-assigned only at airport check-in, but those who checked in online and went straight to the gate were too late to get seats on the smaller plane. If you think you’ll miss your flight, be sure to call the airline to cancel, however, because there may be a penalty for being a no-show. Southwest Airlines, for example, recently added this policy change:

“If a Customer has booked a nonrefundable fare anywhere in his/her itinerary and that portion of the flight is not used and not canceled or changed by the Customer prior to scheduled departure, all unused funds on the full itinerary will be lost, and the remaining reservation will be canceled. The policy applies to reservations made or changed on or after Friday, May 10, 2013, for travel on or after Friday, September 13, 2013. This policy does not apply to military fares, senior fares, or travel during certain irregular operations, including severe weather conditions.”

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