THREE WAYS TO THE BAY
We’re taking a tour of national parks and canyons in the United States in August. The tour ends in Las Vegas and we would love to take a train to San Francisco. Can this be done reasonably easily or would it be better to fly? Also, what area of San Francisco do you recommend to stay?
It can be done, but the trip will take about 13 hours. Generally you would travel via Bakersfield and Richmond, or Los Angeles, with a change of service at each stop. Amtrak (amtrak.com) provides the service.
Alternatively, you could hire a car and drive – with no stops it takes about nine hours, but allow a day or two and you will enjoy exploring along the way. The drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco is incredibly scenic if you stay off the freeway and follow the coast – it’s rated one of the best in the world.
Head to the Pacific Coast Highway and make your way up through Santa Barbara where you could stop and take a wander around Downtown, the Waterfront and the market.
There are many small towns to stop into as you head further north, including San Simeon where you can visit the Hearst Castle, and Monterey where you might like to stop for the night. Along the drive you will find numerous scenic vantage points to admire the views.
Santa Cruz is an hour up the road from Monterey and shortly after that you will hit San Francisco.
If you’re short on time, a direct flight takes 1½ hours. For a classic San Francisco experience, stay in the Nob Hill area, for shopping Union Square and for views of the Golden Gate Bridge the Marina neighbourhood would suit.
HOLD FEE HURTS
I am going to Europe next September and have booked 15 different hotels. Most of them have €150 (about $240) damage fee which is refundable back into your credit card. This puts a big strain on our finances as well as we lose money with reverse currency exchange rate. How can we avoid this cost and loss of the conversion back into our credit card?
This is definitely one of the most annoying pitfalls of a journey that includes multiple stays at different hotels. Having your precious spending money held by hotels can certainly put a dint in your ability to enjoy and explore each destination.
The practice of hotels charging a credit card pre-authorisation is standard across the world. Simply put, it safeguards the hotel and enables them to recoup any costs for damage or incidentals that may not be paid for. As a general rule, it is the cost of the room with tax, plus a set per day charge. Usually the more expensive the room, the more it will be. When using a debit card for this pre-auth, the funds are instantly taken from your account. With a credit card, your available-to-spend amount is reduced until it is refunded. This can add up to large amounts very quickly.
The hotel is not able to do anything with your funds, they just sit in limbo and how long they linger there is up to the merchant. Around five days is standard but the longer the financial institution can hang on to your funds the more it can do with them. There’s a couple of ways to avoid this and having cash is probably the easiest. About $500 in $100 notes, or a €500 note, should be enough to cover most DOC’S TIP OF THE WEEK Take a reusable water bottle on your travels. hotels. When you check in, tell the clerk you are paying the pre-auth in cash. They should then seal it in an envelope with your signature across the seal and put it in their safe until you check out.
If there is a charge on your account for incidentals you can then use your credit or debit card to cover that. Or, you could carry a spare credit card just for this charge, or an American Express card without a limit.
If you’re stuck with just one card, use it to settle your bill or charge something small to your room. The authorisation amount will then be added to the charged amount, apparently generating the balance to be released sooner.
My wife and I will spend about six weeks in Britain after a river cruise in Portugal. As dual passport holders of Australia and the UK, my question is, are we entitled to a senior’s pass for bus and trains during our stay in the UK?
To be eligible for a UK Senior’s Railcard, you must be over 60 years and hold either a valid UK passport or driving licence. You can buy the pass online at senior-railcard.co.uk or at a staffed rail station. There are free local bus rides for seniors.
When travelling to Bali on Jetstar from Perth, can I take one litre of non duty-free alcohol from a local bottle shop, rather than from the duty-free shop? DOC ® Yes. It should be in your checked-in baggage and wrapped well. The dutyfree alcohol allowance into Bali is maximum one litre per person. I do question why you wish to do this as the airport duty-free shop prices will be better than your local bottle shop, particularly for spirits.
A SLING AT RAFFLES
We are planning a trip to Singapore in early July and my sister has on her bucket list a Singapore sling drink from the Raffles Hotel. They are closed for renovations until mid-year. Is there any indication when they will reopen?
The date for reopening has not been announced. But your sister can still enjoy sipping her way through the famous drink, or perhaps two. The entire experience, along with the peanuts, is being served at a pop- up Long Bar located at 3 Seah St, next to the Raffles Gift Shop, which remains open throughout the renovation.
Check out the Marina neighbourhood in San Francisco for views of the Golden Gate Bridge.