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CARIBBEAN TRAVEL INFORMATION:
Getting to the Islands

Once the two of you have decided where you'd like to go, here's your second hurdle: getting there. Fortunately, you have several options because most islands are served by multiple air carriers; many are also served by cruise ships.

Caribbean Air Carriers

Just as you would with accommodations, shop around for an airline. Start early, be patient, and do some research. Check with several carriers, even those that aren't the primary airlines in your region. The chances are, unless you are starting from an East Coast hub, that you'll be making connections along the way, so sometimes it's cheaper to do some creative routing ­ although you will pay for it in travel time.

Travel to Caribbean destinations is easier than ever with ample airlifts to even the smallest islands. Most connections from major mainland US cities are made through either Miami or San Juan, Puerto Rico's Luis Muñoz Marin Airport, the American Airlines hub for many Caribbean flights. From San Juan, American Eagle serves many neighboring islands.

Frequent Flyer Programs

When you purchase your airline ticket, sign up for the frequent flyer program. Also, check to see if the resort you are visiting is part of the program.

Today you can earn mileage in many ways other than flying. Long distance companies, credit card companies, dining programs, and others offer miles, sometimes as many as five for every dollar spent.

Some Internet sites where you can buy tickets include: www.priceline.com; www.cheaptickets.com; www.travelocity.com; and www.etravelplans.com.

The following carriers offer flights to at least one Caribbean destination. You'll find that the flight schedule varies by season (the most flights, and for some airlines, the only flights, are offered during peak season from mid-December to mid-April).

 AIR CARRIERS

 Carrier

Reservations

Website

Air Canada

Air Jamaica

ALM

American

Bahamasair

BWIA

Cayman

Continental

Delta

Northwest

United

US Airways

888-247-2262

800-523-5585

800-327-7230

800-433-7300

800-222-4262

800-JET-BWIA

800-422-9626

800-525-0280

800-221-1212

800-447-4747

800-538-2929

800-622-1015

www.aircanada.ca

www.airjamaica.com

www.airalm.com

www.aa.com

www.bahamasair.com

www.bwee.com

www.caymanairways.com

www.continental.com

www.delta.com

www.nwa.com

www.ual.com

www.usair.com



Air-Land Packages

Several airlines offer package deals that provide a complete vacation: room, transfers, air, and, for all-inclusives, meals, drinks, and tips. Is this cheaper than putting a package together on your own? Usually. Check it out for yourself by calling the hotel reservation numbers, asking for their room rate and adding it to the cost of an airline ticket. You'll usually see a substantial savings since the airlines buy rooms in bulk and therefore have much more purchasing power than an ordinary consumer.

Some travelers worry about the term "package," imagining a trip where they'll be herded on a bus full of tourists and have no choices of what to do. Have no fear. Some packages include the services of a greeter at the airport who will welcome you and show you the way to the transfer bus to your hotel, but beyond that you're on your own. If you want to rent a car and explore, go to it.

Packages are also offered by charter airlines, carriers that offer service at lower cost, usually with few frills. (Often, only one class of service is available, seat assignments are given only at check-in, and carry-on allowances may be only one bag per passenger due to an increased number of seats onboard.) Some charter companies offering Caribbean service include Adventure Tours, FunJet, Apple Vacations, GoGo, among others. Talk to a travel agent for details on these tours.

If you don't want the package vacation, some of these charters also sell "air-only," just the airline tickets themselves.

Island-Hopping

Want to island-hop? It's fun and, if you're visiting small islands, a necessary part of a Caribbean vacation.

Two carriers offer special passes designed for island-hopping. LIAT, 800-468-0482, and BWIA, 800-JET-BWIA, each offer a special pass that permits you to hop from island to island ­ with certain restrictions. Check with the airlines for special rules and more information on these passes.

Island-hopping passes must be purchased and ticketed (a very important detail) within the continental US. They cannot be purchased in the Caribbean. Check with other carriers about other multi-island passes.

When traveling on small carriers, be prepared to carry on only one small bag. You'll be able to check other luggage at the ticket counter or right at the airplane door as you board (our choice so we can make sure the bags board the same plane as we do).

Service may be limited on some flights. A few times we have flown on prop planes when the only staff members were the pilot and co-pilot, seated just a couple of rows ahead of us. The flights are generally short, though, and really give you a bird's-eye view of the islands that can't be beat.

Check-in requirements are not flexible with the small carriers. Requirements vary from carrier to carrier, but make sure you arrive at the airport by the requested check-in time. Some flights have been known to leave early, so make sure that you check in ahead of schedule. Call the night before and reconfirm your seats, then arrive at the airport at the stated check-in time.

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