Ask Away: Should you wrap your bag for extra protection?

Eli Orzessek answers your travel questions.

In my travels, I’ve noticed a lot of kiosks at airports offering a service where they wrap your luggage in plastic. Does this actually do anything to protect your bags?
Belinda

Getting your bags spun in several layers of plastic wrap does offer an extra level of protection when your bags are getting thrown around by handlers. It usually costs around $10 to $30, depending on the size of your luggage. If you’ve got a nice Louis Vuitton piece, it might be something you’d consider.

Wrapping shields your bags against scrapes, bumps and bad weather — and if you’ve packed to the brim or have a dodgy zip, it will prevent your bag bursting open. It could also deter thieves from getting to your stuff, since it’s a bit of an ordeal to unwrap. On the other hand, it can also signal that you’re travelling with something of value.

Whether it’s worthwhile also depends on where you’re travelling — some airports are known for theft or rough treatment. If you see local travellers lining up to have their bags wrapped, it might signal that it’s a good idea to do so.

However, if you’re flying through the United States and the TSA decide they want to look at something in your bag, they’ll unwrap the plastic — and it won’t be rewrapped.

There’s also another factor to weigh up when considering the service — it’s not the best for the environment. But a lot of companies do use plastic that is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, suggesting that you remove the wrap at the airport after baggage claim and recycle it.

We’re off to the UK later this year. We’ve been hearing from friends that it’s now quite common for restaurants to add service fees to the bill. We are unsure whether, like tips, they are optional, or are they mandatory?
Andrew

The service fee added to the bills at many restaurants in the UK is technically “discretionary” or “voluntary” — it’s basically a tip, but some people doubt whether it goes to staff, or to the restaurant. In the past, it was customary for restaurants to add a 10 per cent fee on to the bill for large groups, but now a lot of places will add 12 to 15 per cent to any bill. This often leads to “double tipping”, as card machines will sometimes ask customers if they’d like to add an extra tip, even when a service fee has already been added.

Writing for the Financial Times, Paul Lewis said they are “effectively charging customers for paying their VAT. And by calling it “voluntary”, they are avoiding VAT on the amount of service charge itself.”

He said he preferred to pay the charge in cash, as it’s more likely to end up in the waiter’s pocket.

In 2016, bills were put forward in the UK Parliament to end the practice, as restaurants were often not transparent about who received the tips. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the move was a success, as service charges remain.

As it is voluntary, you technically can refuse to pay it — especially if you’ve had bad service — but in general, it would probably be a bad look. I’d do what Paul Lewis does — consider it a tip and pay it directly to staff in cash.

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