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Essential Trip Tips for Sydney, Australia

Posted by George Hobica on Friday, October 10, 2014

Australia's largest city is also the jumping off point for exploring Australia, and the city with the most inbound flights from North America. Here are some essential tips to plan and enjoy your visit.

Airfare tips

October to March is Sydney's busiest tourism period, when the weather is most pleasant. Airfares are cheaper for travel during Australia's winter months (the North American summer), and higher for the Australian summer, with the southern hemisphere's spring and fall being shoulder season. Qantas offers the most non-stop flights, including some on Airbus A380 aircraft from Dallas and LA. Air New Zealand also flies to Sydney (sign up for both airlines' email alerts since they often send out promo codes with discounts of $200-$300) as does United and Virgin Australia. Expect to pay anywhere from $1,200 to $1,600 or more round-trip in economy class from the U.S. west coast depending on the season, along with whatever discounts you can find. Hotel plus air package deals can sometimes provide extra value, but always be sure to compare. Qantas also sells Walkabout Air Passes with discounted fares throughout Australia.

Getting through the airport

At least two weeks prior to your trip, U.S. citizens must apply online for an Electronic Travel Authority visa ($20AUS). And if you have an "electronic passport" with a microchip, look for the kiosks at immigration for a quicker entry upon arrival. You need to fill out an immigration card on entry, as well upon leaving the country. The train from the airport costs $21, round-trip.



Getting around the city

Sydney is very walkable—it's basically flat, with no hills to climb, and the streets are well marked. (Warning: pedestrians do not jaywalk, and police are not hesitant to fine you for doing so.)  Newsstands sell the recently introduced Opal Card, a stored-value transit card similar to London's Oyster Card and the cheapest and most convenient way to access public transportation. The daily maximum you'll pay for travel is capped at $15 for adults, $7.50 for children, or $60/$30 for a weeks' worth of travel, which includes buses, trains and ferries. As for taxis, they are metered and in egalitarian Sydney, where everyone is a "mate," people still ride in the front seat with the driver. Uber has come to town, and is gaining popularity.

Recommended hotels

As with airfares, hotel rates go down in winter (the North American summer). The highest rated lodgings with the most reviews, according to TripAdvisor.com, are two serviced apartments rather than hotels: Merton Serviced Apartments Campbell Street and its sister property Merton Serviced Apartments World Tower. Accommodations include full kitchens and washer/dryers. In the luxury category, the 155-room Sydney Park Hyatt gets top marks, but the prices are a splurge (in the $700 per night range). But perhaps the best value, say TripAdvisor groupies, is the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbor, which recently advertised rates at $160 per night.



Top eats

October is food and wine month. There's no traditional Australian or Sydney dish or cuisine other than, perhaps, "shrimp on the barbie," made famous by actor Paul Hogan's appearances in those tourism television ads. But Sydney now has a considerable food culture, even though it's only been in existence for about 30 years. Australian beef is an especially tasty option, and you'll find lamb dishes on many menus. For fine dining, two highly recommended options are Nomad, 16 Foster Street in Surry Hills, with its Mediterranean-inspired menu sourced with local Australian ingredients, and long-running Rockpool, now in a new location at 11 Bridge Street in the Central Business District, where chef Neal Perry also provides tasty menus for Qantas. Whatever you end up choosing for dinner, be sure to save room for Gelato Messina, with locations in Darlinghurst and Surry Hills.

Top attractions

Tours of the Sydney Opera House, which, amazingly, took 17 years to build, are extremely popular and a great photo opportunity. The standard tour takes one hour, while the backstage option lasts two hours. For many who do it, climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge is a highlight of their trip. Do it at sunrise or twilight and, of course, bring a camera. Even jaded locals are amazed by the experience.

Annual festivals

Every January the Sydney Festival brings stages around 400 contemporary cultural performances: around 140 events performed by more than 1000 artists in more than 30 venues. In October, the annual Good Food Month brings street food festivals and other culinary events to Sydney.



Off the beaten track

Don't be confused when Sydneysiders talk about "suburbs"—these are what you and I call "neighborhoods," inner-city enclaves similar to Sunnyside, Queens in New York City and there are hundreds of them; they include virtually anything outside the Central Business District. For an unusual insider's tour of "emerging" 'hoods such as Redfern and Darlington and hidden scenic spots that few tourists see, in a beautifully restored 1964 Holden sedan, sign up with My Sydney Detour, a unique private tour run by native son Richard Graham. A half-day tour costs $299 for up to three people and includes lunch.

Exchange rate

The U.S. dollar currently fetches 1.14 Australian dollars.

Tipping

Tips are not customary nor are they expected, perhaps because the minimum wage is $17 an hour.

Electricity

Voltage is 220, and you will need both an outlet adaptor and a voltage converter if you're using appliances without built-in converters (you don't want to fry your curling iron or WaterPik). Even many top hotels, airport lounges and other venues lack 110-volt outlets, although they usually provide adaptors on request or you can get them from housekeeping, but it's best to bring your own.

Sending a postcard home

You'll pay a rather pricey $2.60 to send that cute koala bear card to the U.S. and Europe.

Useful apps

Locals give high marks to the TimeOut Sydney and Australia Good Food Guide apps. The Sydney Official Guide app from Destination New South Wales is also highly rated. Arrivo Sydney (Android) and NextThere (iTunes) are useful public transit apps.

Useful websites

Destination New South Wales

Airfare listings to Sydney

Qantas

Air New Zealand

Virgin Australia

TripAdvisor Things to Do in Sydney

TripAdvisor Sydney Hotel Reviews

Above images: Sydney Harbour, Monorail via Shutterstock, gelato via Messina, Holden sedan via George Hobica

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

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Ways to Prevent (and Fix) Travel Fails

Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, October 8, 2014



Everyone likes to complain about air travel these days and all the things that can go wrong—canceled flights, missed connections, overbooking, lost bags, and bad customer service. Here are some common air travel woes, and how to prevent (and fix) them.

I was bumped from my flight

How to prevent: Bumping (involuntary boarding) is relatively rare, but some airlines are worse than others, so avoid them (you can see recent bumping statistics, along with lost bag and airline on-time performance here). JetBlue is the least likely to bump you (they don't overbook flights). Avoiding peak travel days (Tuesday and Wednesday are the slowest) and peak holiday periods also helps. Don't be the last person to check in for your flight, get to the airport as early as possible, and if you have status in the airline's frequent flyer program that helps too.

How to fix: Ask to be put on another airline's flight if that will get you to where you're going faster than your original airline (some airlines still offer this option if there are seats available). If you'll be delayed more than an hour, you're entitled to cash compensation (refuse to accept an airline travel voucher). To lessen the pain, ask for a free pass to the airline's airport lounge if you're not already a member. If you're on Twitter, many airlines try to fix bumping issues there. You'll find useful Twitter "handles" listed here.

My checked bags (or contents) were stolen

How to prevent: Other than not checking bags in the first place, there's no sure way to prevent theft. Bags and their contents can be pilfered by baggage handlers, TSA agents, and even by thieves who hang around the luggage carousels. Some bags are taken from carousels by accident because they all look alike, so choose one in a bright color rather than black. Locks help, but only so far. Never pack valuables or electronics in checked bags, because airlines won't compensate for these if lost or stolen. If traveling internationally, consider buying "excess valuation" coverage from your airline (it's inexpensive), since airlines offer paltry compensation for international travel. Make sure you have receipts for any expensive items in your bag. And make sure you don't lose your checked bag receipt. It's also not a bad idea to lock your carry on bag while in the overhead compartment.

How to fix: Even if your bag arrives at the bag claim safely, it's a good idea to open the bag and check the contents. If there's a problem, file a claim with the airline before leaving the airport. Airlines are required to cover up to $3,400 for domestic travel, but much less for international flights, and they will depreciate the value of the contents. If the airline denies your claim or only pays part of the bag's value, check your credit card: most cards offer lost or damaged bag insurance for free, even for carry-on bags, and some even cover electronics such as cameras and computers, as long as you paid for the trip with the card.

My flight was cancelled or delayed

How to prevent: Every U.S. domestic flight is required to have an on-time performance score assigned to it and some flights are more prone to cancellations or delays than others. For example, in August, United flight 5714 from New York JFK to Washington Dulles was cancelled 6 percent of the time and on-time (defined as within 15 minutes of schedule) just 45 percent of the time—not very reassuring if you're making a connection. Some airlines, such as United, post this information online or you can call the airline and ask for its on-time and cancellation numbers. Avoid flights with dismal performance statistics, and naturally you up your chances of success by avoiding connecting flights. If you must connect, avoid doing so in winter through cold weather airports that are prone to snow storms such as Chicago and Minneapolis, opting for Phoenix or Houston instead.

How to fix: Have a plan B. Keep a list of alternate flights, even if on a competing airline, and ask to be rebooked. It's often faster to use Twitter (@AmericanAir is especially responsive) rather than waiting in line at the airport. If all else fails and you have to overnight, ask, nicely, for hotel accommodations (airlines are not required to provide rooms or meals, but many do). Again, your credit card may include free compensation (usually $100 per day) if you incur expenses due to a delay or cancellation.

I couldn't find seats next to my traveling companion(s)

How to prevent: Book seats as early as possible. If you're traveling with a child 12 years of age or younger, be sure to indicate that when you make your reservation since airlines do attempt to sit children together with companions if they know the child's age. Or call the airline's reservation number and request adjacent seats.

How to fix: If all else fails, get to the airport super early and ask for seat re-assignment. And if that doesn't work, bring along some Starbucks gift certificates of movie passes to bribe passengers to switch seats with you.

I can't find frequent flyer seats for the dates I want

How to prevent: The best strategy is to look for seats way ahead, or at the last minute. Airlines open up frequent flyer seats close in to departure if it looks like they won't be able to sell them.

How to fix: If all else fails, don't hesitate to call the airline's frequent flyer service number rather than just looking online. And check for seats often, since inventory changes frequently as people holding seats release them or change their plans. And check for seats on partner or alliance airlines.

Other stories you might like:

The Free Credit Card Travel Insurance You Might Not Know You Have

Flying With Someone? You May Have to Pay Extra to Sit Together

Best Airports to Get Stuck In

Above image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Citibank AAdvantage Card's Free Travel Insurance, Now Improved

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, October 6, 2014

Many people don't realize it, but their credit cards include free travel insurance for common scenarios such as needing to cancel a trip due to illness or injury, lost or delayed luggage, or trip delays.

Citibank recently upped its maximum payouts on its cards affiliated with the American Airlines AAdvantage program. Maximum coverage per year for trip cancellation or interruption is now $5,000 as long as the trip, including all taxes and fees, is paid for with the card and the trip is less than 60 days. Covered reasons include sickness or injury, confirmed by a doctor in writing, that is severe enough to interrupt or cancel a trip; sickness or injury of a family member who requires your care; severe weather or natural disaster that cancels air travel to or from your destination for at least 24 hours; and several others. Trip delay protection is covered up to $500 and basically covers hotel and meals and includes delays caused by overbooking, weather delays, and strikes. Lost baggage coverage is up to $3,000 per person ($2,000 for New York State residents) and includes both checked and carryon bags and doesn't appear to exclude electronics which is very unusual; however coverage is over and above whatever the airline pays you (airlines do not cover lost or damaged valuables or electronics in checked bags). Caveat: Citi's definition of "who's covered" only includes you, spouse and domestic partner, and dependents under 19 or 24 if a full time student. Some other cards will cover a cancellation if grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and stepchildren become ill or injured before a trip departs and causes you to cancel.

To compare what your credit card offers, visit here.

Other stories you might like:

The Power of Social Media to Fix Air Travel Problems

Whatever Happened to Those Folks Who Checked Bag Tags?

10 Tips for Buying Holiday Airfares

American Airlines Image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

The Power of Social Media to Fix Air Travel Problems

Posted by George Hobica on Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When Irene Liu, PR manager for Seabourn Cruise Lines (our fave cruise line, by the way) planned a trip from her home base in Seattle to Miami, she used Alaska Airlines miles to fly on American Airlines.

There was a miscommunication between the two airlines, and when she tried to check in for her flight online 24 hours before departure, she was told to do so at the airport. Red flag! Of course, then and there she should have called either or both AA and Alaska ("lesson learned," says Liu in retrospect). At the airport, there was no seat for her. Trip aborted.

But the good news is that Alaska Airlines took responsibility, in part thanks to the power of Twitter, using Alaska's Twitter account. Alaska deposited 40,000 miles into her frequent flyer account, and reimbursed her for non-refundable ground expenses in Miami.

So two lessons: if you can't check in online before your flight, something's amiss. Don't deal with it when you get to the airport. And second, use Twitter to rectify problems after they occur.

Related: How 10 airlines work with Twitter and how we'd grade them

Above image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Whatever Happened to Those Folks Who Checked Bag Tags?

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, September 15, 2014


When I was a kid, back when everyone checked bags because there were no overhead bins at all (just racks for the coats and pillows, if you recall), there'd be someone at bag claim whose sole job it seemed was so compare your bag check tag with the claim check issued by the airline. This prevented honest mistakes, since, as we know, all bags do tend to look alike, especially after a long red-eye flight. It also prevented simple theft. And yes, people do steal bags from airport bag claim carousels.

You only have to do a web search for "theft at bag claim" to see how prevalent the problem is. Just ask Anthony Hargrove, who has been arrested at least 12 times, and convicted five, for stealing bags at Chicago's Midway and O'Hare Airports.

Of course, there are surveillance cameras everywhere in airports, and anyone who does this often, as Hargrove did, will eventually be caught. Eventually. Keith King, 61, and his wife Stacy, 38, were found with almost 1000 pieces of other peoples' luggage in their Waddell, Arizona home, all of them stolen from bag claim areas at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. So apparently security cameras aren't always the answer.

But now it seems that many airports and airlines have done away with these bag check checkers, as a cost cutting measure—which is ironic since they now charge a fee for checking a bag.

True, some airports and airlines around the world still check, if only at random. Recently, I tweeted "dear airlines: please bring back those people who compared bag tags with your bag receipt before you leave baggage claim" and it got nearly 100 "favorites" so I'm guessing I'm not alone in being paranoid about people walking away with my own or someone else's bag, whether intentionally or not. Several people tweeted back, "The best solution is do what I do, don't check bags" but this person forgets that the only reason there's room in the bins for his bag is precisely because some people check their bags.  (By the way, I, too, rarely check bags, but sometimes there's no option, like when the airlines send you back to the check in desk because your bag is one inch over the size limit).

Someone else suggested that bringing back tag checkers would be a "nightmare" and cause jams at the exits, but probably not since bags don't all come out at once. More than one person tweeted back that airlines would start to charge extra for bag tag checking service, but I think they already charge enough to check bags (how typical that after they started charging, they reduced the level of service.) But one person had a good idea: with the advent of electronic bag tags (British Airways and other airlines are experimenting with this idea), people will be able to scan the tag before leaving the carousel area, perhaps going through a turnstile to exit, like on the NYC subway. After all, they'll soon be tagging their own bags at home and scanning their own boarding passes to get on the plane. So why not this, too?

Other stories you might like:

Why the skycap might be your best friend at the airport

12 Tips For Finding Low Airfares, 2014 Edition

9 Ways Air Travel Is Better Than It's Ever Been

Above image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

10 Tips for Buying Holiday Airfares

Posted by George Hobica on Friday, September 12, 2014

As we say so long to summer, it's time to talk holidays. Who's hosting this year? Does your cousin eat gluten? How does one safely pack 12 jars of homemade jalapeno pepper jelly? More importantly, what should you expect to spend on a flight home? Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you shop around for holiday fares. 

1. The more flexible you are with travel times, the more luck you'll have landing a deal. You'l find it cheaper to fly on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day than on peak holiday dates. I know, I know, you were hoping to leave after 5pm on Wednesday. So was everyone else!

2. In previous years, we've noticed that many routes were quite high for peak holiday travel, but a couple of weeks before the holidays airlines reduced fares on less popular flight times, such as early morning departures (those dreaded 6 a.m. flights) and red eye flights. As such, people who bought far ahead ended up overpaying. But it's impossible to generalize if and when airlines will decide to adjust holiday fares if seats are going begging on certain routes.

3. Due to airline consolidation and capacity cuts, be warned that fares along certain routes may be nowhere near what you paid a few seasons ago.

4. On the flip side, in markets where service has been recently boosted (as is the case here), you may even be pleasantly surprised to find fares lower than five years ago. So don't be discouraged by years past!

5. Although you might pay a bit less by grabbing the last seat on an inconvenient flight time closer to the holidays, if you want to choose your favorite seat or preferred flight times, you're probably better off booking now. This is especially true if there are several of you flying together and you don't want to all end up sitting far apart from each other.

6. In general, you can save money on peak holiday travel by taking connecting flights rather than nonstop flights. But since winter weather can foul up connections, you're better off splurging for the nonstop. Unless you're okay with the possibility of celebrating Thanksgiving alone on the floor of O'Hare with a $12 slice of pizza.

7. If you're worried about overpaying and are the kind of person who second guesses your buying decisions, remember that some carriers will give you a voucher towards for future travel, without extracting a rebooking fee, if the fare goes down between the time you buy and the time you fly. More on fare drop policies here.

8. While fares to grandma's house may look ridiculously expensive, international fares are often quite reasonable. Sometimes even in Business Class. So gently break the news to the fam, you're skipping turkey for Turkey this year, or use the holiday to check out some other far-flung place you've been meaning to visit.

9. With peak holiday fares so high, holiday travel is generally a good time to cash in frequent flyer miles, assuming that award seats are available for the route you're flying.

10. And as always, sign up for airfare alerts.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Does Every Nation Need Its Very Own Airline?

Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, August 21, 2014



In light of Malaysia's recent re-nationalisation of its flag carrier, that's a question posed this week by The Economist and the answer seems to be no. It's a question I've often asked myself, and I've come to the same conclusion, along with a larger question: why can't the airline industry be treated like any other?

Specifically, why are there still laws that prohibit an airline like Singapore from buying 100 percent of, say, Delta, if it so wished. Under current regulations, that sort of thing is impossible. And more broadly, will we someday see completely trans-national airlines—a SkyTeam Airways, for example, or One World Airlines.

I put those questions recently to Ishan Baytan, Turkish Airlines' general manager in the U.S. Turkish used to be 100% government owned (today that figure is about 50%), and it's expanding with one of the youngest international fleets at 1.5 years on average on its routes from the U.S.

Restrictions on 100% trans-national mergers "have to go away, not just in the airline industry but all industries," Baytan said. "It's preventing airlines from competing on an even playing field and it may happen in 25 years or fewer."

Which is not to say that Baytan sees no need for flag carriers. They are an engine for economic growth and trade, and for implementing government objectives. If Turkey wants to increase trade with Africa, for example, one way to do that is to add routes to that continent. Leaving decisions up to another country's airlines might not achieve the desired results.

However, as The Economist points out, Belgium has survived without Sabena, as has Greece without Olympic, so why can't Malaysia let, say, Air Asia or Singapore serve its commercial aviation needs and achieve its trade objectives based on market forces?

Part of it is jobs. "The political cost of turfing out thousands of state employees makes liquidation unpalatable," The Economist notes, plus there are unfounded "fears that vital connections to the world will be lost forever."

What is seldom mentioned, however, is the simple matter of national pride. Perhaps the key term in "national flag carrier" is, simply, "flag." And in the past, national carriers have been pressed into service for military purposes, such as the ferrying of troops to global hotspots (an argument that has been used in the past for preventing total foreign ownership).

But as Turkish's Baytan told me, "having too many airlines isn't a solution." As flag carriers like Alitalia, LOT, and Malaysia continue to lose money and market share to leaner operations such as Air Asia and Ryanair, one wonders how long national pride will take precedence over economic reason.

Other stories you might like:

Now Even First Class Is Being Nickel-and-Dimed

No More Fee-Free Fare Drop Refunds on JetBlue, for Most Customers

How to File an Airline Complaint

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Above image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

No more fee-free fare drop refunds on JetBlue, for most customers

Posted by George Hobica on Saturday, August 16, 2014


JetBlue has one of the best (maybe the best) customer protection programs in the airline business. Most people don't even know it exists.

Compensation is automatic if you book on Jetblue.com, but if you book through a third-party you must call JetBlue to activate.

As do most airlines, if JetBlue cancels your flight you can apply for a full refund, even on non-refundable fares. That's nothing special. But if there's a flight delay, JetBlue is unique in offering flight credits (valid for spending on future JetBlue flights within one year of issue) of between $25 for a delay starting at 90 minutes up to the full value of your fare for delays 6 hours or longer. Only caveat: the delay must have been within JetBlue's reasonable control, so a weather delay doesn't qualify.

They also offer onboard ground delays (i.e., "tarmac" delays) compensation starting at 3 hours, although D.O.T. regulations state that you must be allowed to deplane if a tarmac delay lasts 3 hours or more. If for some reason you're stuck on the ground upon arrival for between one and two hours, you'll get a $50 credit. Over two hours, you'll get a credit in the full amount of your fare.

So that's the good news.

The bad news is that JetBlue was one of the few airlines, along with Southwest and Alaska, that would give you a flight credit, with no rebooking fee, if a fare dropped between the time you buy and the time you fly. (Many airlines charge a $200 fee for rebooking at the lower fare on domestic tickets, and more for international fares). But as of August 14, 2014, JetBlue no longer issues fee-free fare drop refunds on most fares.

If you're a Mosaic frequent flyer on JetBlue, you still get a full refund (you can qualify for TrueBlue Mosaic by flying 30 segments plus 12,000 base flight points within a calendar year by or earning 15,000 base flight points within a calendar year). But for all other passengers, on most fares you'll pay a $75 fee to have your flight credit issued, which could wipe out a lot of the fare drop's value. It's still better than the $200 or more that United, Delta and American charge, but it's an unwelcome change, indeed.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

How to file an airline complaint

Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Everyone will end up complaining about an airline sooner or later. For some reason, I've never had to write a scathing letter. The only time recently that something went amiss on a flight I’ve taken was Los Angeles to New York on American Airlines. I had used miles to fly in first class, and although I had booked my seat months in advance when I attempted to check in online 24 hours ahead I was told to do so at the airport, which is always a bad sign. Sure enough, there was no seat for me. I asked what happened, but the ticket agent could offer no explanation.

Instead of ranting and raving, I remained calm, went to the lounge, and asked the front desk what they could do for me. And sure enough, I was put on a flight departing exactly 59 minutes after my original flight, same seat. Because the delay was under an hour, American didn’t owe me denied boarding compensation. But because I was polite and pleasant about the situation, the lounge agent found me and handed me a $400 travel voucher anyway. Maybe I would have gotten the voucher even if I had ranted and raved, who knows. Somehow, I suspect not.

So if you have an airline complaint, whether lost bags, a delayed flight, or poor service, always try to resolve it politely at the airport. If that doesn't work, send a letter or email to the airline.

  • Be polite, specific, and as brief as possible, citing flight numbers, seat location, employee names if known, cost of fare, etc.
  • Include your frequent flyer number.
  • It's always a good idea to "sit" on your letter for a few days after writing it in order to cool down and rephrase things.
  • Never say, "I will never fly your airline again!" since that gives the airline no incentive to help.
  • Ask for a specific remedy, whether it is extra frequent flyer miles, a refund, or a voucher, and be reasonable.
  • And remember, even airlines with stellar reputations screw up from time to time, as happened in this snafu involving Emirates and JetBlue that I attempted to fix with limited success. 

Perhaps the best advice, though, is to avoid setting yourself up for air travel #fail to begin with.

Here are the email/website and corporate mailing address contacts for U.S.-based airlines. Although most people like to email these days, I find that a well-written snail mail letter can be more effective since so few people send them and they tend to stand out (plus you can include photocopies of relevant documents if applicable). And you can also pay the post office for a confirmation that the mail has been received.

Oh, and by the way, you can also use these methods for saying something nice about your flight or an employee's extra care.

Airtran
Southwest Airlines
P.O. Box 36647-1CR
Dallas, Texas 75235

Alaska
P.O. Box 68900
Seattle, WA 98168

American
4333 Amon Carter Boulevard
Fort Worth TX 76155

Delta
Customer Relations
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001

Frontier
Customer Relations
7001 Tower Rd.
Denver CO 80249

Jetblue
27-01 Queens Plaza North,
Long Island City, NY 11101

Hawaiian
3375 Koapaka Street
Suite G350
Honolulu HI 96819

Southwest
2702 Love Field Drive
Dallas TX 75235

United
P.O Box 66100
Chicago IL 60666

US Airways
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Virgin America
555 Airport Blvd., Fl. 2
Burlingame, CA 94010

Airlines are also using Twitter to resolve complaints, but some are better than this than others.

@AlaskaAir

@AmericanAir

@DeltaAssist

@HawaiianAir

@JetBlue


@SouthwestAir

@United

@USAirways

@VirginAmerica

image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Now Even First Class is Being Nickel-and-Dimed

Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, August 7, 2014


Maybe it's true or maybe it's apocryphal but back back in the 1980's, when airlines still served food to economy class passengers, American Airlines' CEO Robert Crandall proposed that by removing one olive from the salads the airline could save $100,000 a year (another estimate puts it at $40,000, but whatever).

But now the penny pinching is hitting the elite. American has announced that starting Sept. 1 it will offer snacks instead of full meals in first and business class on flights less than 2 hours and 45 minutes long. Currently, full meals are offered on flights lasting two hours or longer. US Airways, now part of American, will follow the same procedure.

If you fly on 17 popular (and presumably higher-value) routes such as Dallas-Chicago, the old rules will still apply.

So it has come to this. Even elite flyers are being dinged, just when airlines are announcing record profits. I'd understand this move if the airlines were still bleeding cash, but they're not.

Over at Delta, meals are served based on mileage flown. On flights up to 250 miles all you get is a cookie or bag of pretzels in first or business, or "heartier" snacks on trips of 251 to 899 miles. Most of these snacks (muffins, granola bars, cookies), I've found, are full of sugar and empty calories, so I'll pass thanks. United, too, now offers first and business class passengers a meal on flights only longer than 2.5 hours, but only "during meal times" which I guess is subject to United's interpretation.

Yes, of course, airplane food isn't all that great, even in first class, and no one is going to starve by not being fed for 2 hours 45 minutes, but sometimes when you take two connecting flights of, say, 2 hours 30 minutes and there's only 30 minutes between connections, it's possible to travel for a good part of the day without eating something. Maybe they'll let first class passengers get "take out" from the food-for-sale in economy.

Don't the legacy carriers love their first and business class passengers anymore? True, very few of them actually pay cash to sit up front. Most of them (including me) are freeloaders. They get free "status" upgrades (I'm an American "platinum" flyer so I can upgrade from almost any cheap fare) or they pay with miles. So maybe the airlines are thinking, hey let them eat cookies. But for those who sometimes actually pay $400 or $500 one-way for short flights in first class, these new meal rules seem as petty as ditching an olive.

What's next? Cash bars in first and business on flights under three hours? Or will they sacrifice the lemon twist from the martinis?

Follow us on Twitter @airfarewatchdog

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

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