Renter's who don't read the fine print when booking a rental car in Germany with Thrifty or Dollar may get a nasty surprise at the rental car counter. The text below is just one important clause in both companies' terms and conditions. (LDW/loss damage waiver refers to collision and theft insurance.)

To decline LDW, customer must have US issued Gold/Platinum MasterCard or Canadian issued Gold/Platinum Visa Card and provide WRITTEN PROOF issued BY CREDIT CARD INSURANCE COMPANY that the card has FULL COVERAGE for GERMANY or WORLDWIDE at time of rental. Only US issued Gold/Platinum MasterCard or Canadian issued Gold/Platinum Visa can be used to waive LDW coverage. These cards will only be accepted for coverage for rental periods of less than 28 days in any calendar year. For 9-seaters, Credit Card Coverage is NOT accepted. If relevant card AND cover letter are not produced at time of commencement of rental then Dollar LDW must be purchased. In the event of an accident, any damage or theft, whatever the cause or who is to blame (even if the car was unattended), the driver must obtain the relevant report from the German police. Failure to provide a correctly completed police report to the rental agent on return of the vehicle will void the Loss Damage Waiver (LDW). The driver will then be liable for the total cost of the damage up to and including the total cost of the vehicle. Location does NOT accept insurances purchased on third party websites.

So, if you have a Visa or an American Express card (even Amex's Premier Car Rental Protection plan), you are out of luck if you had planned to rely on their free LDW. Instead, you will have to purchase the insurance at the rental counter, adding anywhere from about $13 to $25 per day to the rental cost. Renters should also know that most MasterCards do not cover collision or theft insurance on rentals longer than 15 days.

MasterCard rental car coverage terms and conditions.

Visa rental car terms and conditions.

Best Coverage: American Express rental car coverage terms and conditions.

Rescue in the Urals

Orphanage in Orenburg, Russia

Thirteen years ago I wrote a piece for our subscriptions travel newsletter, Gemütlichkeit, about an adoption trip to Russia. It was a fascinating, heart-warming story but since it didn't really fit our newsletter content, it never saw the light of day. Today, December 21, 2012, for complicated, political reasons, Russian president Vladimir Putin is in the process of pushing through a law that would prohibit Americans from adopting Russian babies. Given that context, perhaps you'll be interested in this quasi travel story.

Summer, 1999—A few weeks ago, Nancy Bestor, wife of son Bob, and mother of our two terrific granddaughters, agreed to accompany her good friend Sally (not her real name) on a trip to Russia. A single woman bent on adopting a Russian baby, Sally needed help and moral support. What with Russian politics and bureaucracy, the adoption was on and off at least half a dozen times. In late May it seemed definitely off. Vladimir Putin, the new Russian President, was scrapping the program. Sally, who had known the name of her baby for months and had pictures and videotapes of her, was running on emotional empty and seemed ready to look elsewhere for a baby.

Then came an early morning phone call that changed everything. A Russian court date had been scheduled and Sally and Nancy needed to be in Moscow within 72 hours.

Lufthanza Video Screen, Biz-Class Seat, 747-8
Video Screen, Biz-Class Seat, 747-8

We flew back to the U.S. from Frankfurt in the upper-deck business-class cabin of Lufthansa's newest airplane, a less than one-month-old Boeing 747-8. More than 40 years ago, a reporter friend was invited to take a short ride around Northern California on a 747 just prior to that very first, and long-awaited "jumbo" jet being put into passenger service. His response to the inevitable "what was it like?" questions was, "very much like flying." I've flown the 747 many times and that's pretty much my reaction to this latest version, EXCEPT for LH's new lie-flat business class seats.

I prefer not to be encumbered by having to return a rental car on the day of a flight home from Europe, so our initial—but flawed—plan was to go online a few days before departure, book a hotel near the Frankfurt Airport, and return the car the night before our flight. That meant dropping the car at the airport and taking a taxi or a shuttle to the hotel. When I finally got around to make the booking, three days before departure, I realized our scheme had holes.