Travel as a second language

A glossary of key terms for bewildered travellers

Bruce Parkinson,

The world of travel is a complex one, and so is the lingo. It’s filled with acronyms, jargon and the odd exaggerated or completely misleading definition (see Direct Flight). The staff and contributors to work to make sense of this world for Canadian travellers, with an editorial policy of ‘non-stop travel intelligence.’ The following glossary of key travel terms should help you be a better travel shopper, next time you’re planning a trip. 
Add-On: An option added to travel arrangements, usually at extra cost.
Advertised Price: A very attractive fare posted in large, bold type followed by a series of asterisks and words written in small type that make it a much less attractive fare.
Airport Codes: A two or three-letter code assigned to all airports. Examples: Toronto is YYZ, Montreal YUL, Vancouver YVR. If you find a tag on your bag reading ‘FAT’ don’t be insulted. It just means you’re going to Fresno. Hope that’s where you wanted to go.
Air Rage: When passengers become violent towards crew members or other passengers. Variations include airport rage, airport restaurant rage, airport security line rage, airport check-in rage and airport parking lot rage.
All-Inclusive: A hotel plan that usually includes all meals, drinks, tips, service charges, accommodations and some water sports. A Canadian favourite.
Bricks & Mortar: The quaint term referring to a traditional travel agency with real people in it who actually know about travel and won’t put you on hold.
Carry-On: Luggage that is permitted to be carried on the plane by a passenger. Also known as ‘everything you own jammed into a bag’ or ‘the luggage they can’t lose.’
Charter Flight: A flight that has been chartered for a specific journey, often as part of a holiday package. Charter flights are very common in Canada, for travel to sun destinations in fall, winter and spring, and within Canada and to Europe in spring, summer and fall.
Consolidator: A company that buys blocks of seats from airlines and sells them through travel agents, usually at a discount.
Cruising: A vacation mode in which a ship of some kind acts both as transportation mode and accommodation. Variations include river cruising, barge cruising, expedition cruising, themed cruises, luxury cruises, small-ship cruises etc.
Direct Flight: A flight that stops at another airport enroute to the final destination. Passengers remain on the plane during the stop. Where does the direct part come in? Ask an airline.
Double Occupancy: The way most hotel packages, tours and cruises are priced, based on two people staying together. Solo travellers usually pay a surcharge of up to 100%, referred to as a ‘single supplement.’
E-Ticket: The only kind you’re likely to ever see. Essentially an electronic receipt that proves you paid for an airline ticket. Paper airline tickets have gone the way of the free hot meal in economy.
Eco-Tourism: There is no universally accepted definition of eco-tourism, and the term is frequently stretched by marketers. Here’s one simple option: Tourism intended to promote ecological awareness and to limit damage to the environment.
Escorted Tour:  A prepaid, structured program of sightseeing, meals, and accommodations for a group of people traveling together accompanied by an escort from the beginning to the end of the trip. Motorcoach tours are an example.
FIT: Originally stood for ‘Foreign Independent Tour.’ Now used generically for any customized package assembled from individual components.
Fuel Surcharge: A fee added to the cost of an airline ticket to cover the increased cost of fuel. Air Canada has recently rolled its surcharges into published fares, while WestJet says it has eliminated them altogether.
GDS: A massive computerized reservations system that accesses international databases of airlines, hotel chains and car rental companies. Used by traditional travel agents and is now the backbone of major online travel agencies.
Land-Only: A pricing plan that does not include airfare.
Lead-In Price: That impossibly low advertised price that refers to a few seats on a specific date or a cruise cabin somewhere deep within the bowels of a ship. It’s also the price consumers demand when they contact a travel agent.
Lowest Available Fare: Usually referring to airfares, this refers to the lowest price available at the current point in time. If you like it, buy it – it may not be there in five minutes.
Meal Plan: Usually an acronym that tells you what meals are included with your package. AP (American Plan) means all meals are included. EP (European Plan) means no meals are included. (No wonder they’re skinnier). AI means all-inclusive (drinks too!). There are many variations, including BP (Breakfast Plan), MAP (Modified American Plan = no lunch).
Non-Stop Flight: A flight that actually goes from departure point to destination without stopping. It’s like a direct flight but without the surprise.
Off-Peak: A period during which less travel occurs. February in Winnipeg is off-peak.
Open Jaw: Airline lingo for flying into one place and flying home from another. Alternate definition: The look on your face when you realize what that $99 advertised fare actually adds up to when taxes and surcharges are included.
OTA: Online Travel Agency: A website linked to computerized reservation systems that allows consumers to purchase travel directly over the web. Prominent examples include Travelocity and Expedia.
Overland: Across land, not by sea or air. In travel lingo, often refers to adventure or soft-adventure tours or safaris in places like Africa and India.
PAX: The abbreviation used by airlines to refer to their customers. It may not be a coincidence that ‘Paxil’ is one of the world’s top-selling anxiety/depression medications.
Plus Taxes: Two little words listed under a fabulous advertised price. Example: “Hey, I saw a flight to Orlando for $99 plus taxes.” “Great, how much is it with taxes?” “Umm, $407.” “Oh.”
Rack Rate: That hilarious price on the back of a hotel room door that you can’t imagine anyone paying. Someone just might, however, if every room in town is booked.
Saturday Night Stay: An airline requirement that passengers must stay over a Saturday night during a trip in order to obtain the lowest fare. It looked like this requirement was disappearing, but many airlines have brought it back.
Scheduled Flight: A flight that takes place in accordance with an airline’s published regular timetable, as opposed to a charter flight or special flight.
Tour Operator: A company that organizes packaged tours. At one time tour operators mostly sold through travel agent intermediaries. Now, many sell direct as well.
Supplier Site: A website offered by an airline, hotel chain, car rental company or other travel supplier that sells directly to consumers. They often claim to have the lowest prices. Sometimes it’s true.
Trip Advisor: A website featuring over 25 million consumer-generated reviews of hotels, attractions, restaurants and other travel products. The most successful of the many social networking sites that are changing the way people shop for travel.