As we've said many times, the best airfare deals are only sometimes available on the airlines' own web sites, and many of them come in the form of promo code deals and special offers. You can only get these, in some cases, if you sign up for alerts and emails directly from the airlines. However, we've noticed that many airlines make it a bit challenging to find where to sign up for alerts! So we've gathered links to most US airlines all in one handy dandy place. So sign up and save! (Enough email already? Airfarewatchdog lists any and all promo code and special fare sales on the AirfarewatchdogBlog).
Click on any airline below to sign up for newsletters and fare alerts
Frequent flyer tickets are supposed to be free, right? Well, not exactly. Airlines are socking it to passengers with all kinds of fees and penalties that take some of the joy out of redeeming an award ticket.
For example, American can kill customers with fees. Imagine this scenario: you book a frequent flyer ticket at the last minute using a reservations phone agent ($75+$25), then have to change the date of travel ($150), but ultimately can't make the trip (illness, death in the family, whatever $150): your total fees (assuming you want to redeposit the miles for future use) will be $400 without even leaving the ground!
In this same scenario, Delta won't charge you a last-minute booking fee, but if you want to change or cancel that ticket within 72 hours of travel you forfeit the miles altogether. No chance to use them again.
Note that since the four remaining "legacy" airlines (US, DL, AA, and UA) have recently upped their domestic fare change fee from $150 to $200, we wouldn't be surprised to see frequent flyer change fees to be increased as well. As of this writing, that hasn't happened (it's still $150).
Remember agents all seem to have different interpretations of the rules and fees so it never hurts to hang up and call back to see if another agent has a cheaper fee or allows you to change something for free. But, one thing is for sure, traveling for free these days ain't what it used to be!
One popular workaround is that if there is a schedule change to your flight (with Delta, they seem to jigger their timetable almost every other month), you may be able to change your ticket without a fee. Typically, if the airline changes the times of your flight (even by a few minutes), it can put connections in jeopardy or make it less likely for checked bags to make it to the final destination. So it pays to keep checking your reservation to see if you may be able to get a change for free.
Keep in mind, too, that depending on your frequent flyer membership level, some of these fees may not apply to you, or they may be lower than shown. Updated May 4, 2013.
"Last minute" ticketing
Ticket issued by phone or in person
Same day change fee (confirmed travel)
one free change allowed, additional changes cost $75
International travel can be harsh on the body and a quick freshening up during a connection or even upon arrival can do wonders. While many airports offer first and business class lounges with showers, these are not always open to the general public. Some do allow day passes for a fee, and other lounges that are independently operated sell their own passes. But, for those not interested in paying for lounge access or venturing to an airport hotel to pay for a day room or health club access, we have compiled a list of free shower facilities in airports across the globe. Some airports like Tokyo Narita and Zurich have shower facilities for a fee. However, to be included in this list, the shower must be free although towels and toiletries may cost extra. It is wise to know which facilities have towels before soaping up so you are not left high and dry…er, cold and wet. If you know of any others, be sure to let us know!
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AUH)
Near gates 32 and 37
Towels, shampoo, and other toiletries are not provided.
Transit passengers can access these facilities, but arriving passengers can also use them before passing immigration and exiting the airport.
Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS)
Non-Schengen side (second floor), near British Airways Lounge
Towels, shampoo, and other toiletries are available for a charge.
Transit passengers can access these facilities, but arriving passengers can also use them before passing through immigration and exiting the airport.
Auckland, New Zealand (AKL)
In the corridor where airline lounges are located (transit area)
Towels, shampoo, and other toiletries are available for a charge.
Arriving passengers can also use free showers on the ground floor of the arrivals area after immigration. Amenities are available for sale.
Brisbane, Australia (BNE)
In the international terminal, free showers are available on the second, third, and fourth floors. In the domestic terminal, free showers are on the first and second floors.
Toiletries and towels are not provided.
These are available to arriving, departing, and transit passengers.
Christchurch, New Zealand (CHC)
Showers are free of charge in the international arrivals hall of the male and female bathrooms.
Toiletries and towels are available for a small fee.
These are available to arriving passengers.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB)
In terminal 3 (the main Emirates facility) near gates 201 and 231.
No towels, shampoo, or toiletries are available so visit an airport store before using them.
These can be used by transit passengers. If traveling on an Emirates ticket, transit passengers with a connection over eight hours are eligible for hotel and meal vouchers.
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
In terminal 1 (Concourse B) in public area; in terminal 1 (transit area of Concourse B) near the Lufthansa Senator Lounge by Kuffler store; in terminal 2 (concourse D, level 3) behind passport control
Towels and toiletries are included in the 6 Euro entry price.
Frankfurt offers showers for both transit and arriving passengers.
London, UK (LHR)
In terminal 4, after security, near the stairs leading to the mezzanine level. Also, in the arrivals area of terminal 4 near the Heathrow Express train station.
Towels and toiletries are not provided, but are available for a fee.
Getting access to terminal 4 can be difficult to access for passengers not departing from there. The showers in the arrivals area are a great alternative.
Male, Maldives (MLE)
Near the Mariyaad coffee shop.
Towels are not provided.
Perfect for departing passengers who must check out of their resorts early, but need a place to freshen up before long flights home.
Melbourne, Australia (MEL)
In the departure area of terminal 2, near Nando's.
Toiletries and towels can be purchased in the Virgin bookstore nearby.
Transit passengers can use these by heading to the departures level.
Munich, Germany (MUC)
In the central area (level 3) and in terminal 2.
Towels and toiletries may be purchased from a vending machine.
These can be used by departing, arriving, and transit passengers.
Perth, Australia (PER)
On the first and second floors of terminal 1, in the departures area.
Towels and toiletries are not provided.
These can be used by departing and arriving passengers.
Seoul, South Korea (ICN)
Three locations: Up the escalator on level 4 near the Asiana lounge and HUB lounge in the west wing, and near the Korean Air lounge in the east wing, as well as past the cafeteria on the 4th floor of the passenger terminal.
Small towels and toiletries are complimentary. Larger towels are available for a fee.
A great video tour can be found here, along with additional info here.
In terminal 1 near the transit hotel. The airport swimming pool is on level 3. It is open from 7am to 11pm daily.
By paying the small fee to use the swimming pool, you gain access to full shower facilities with toiletries and towels, the pool deck, and even a complimentary drink.
There is a modest entry fee to use the pool area.
Sydney, Australia (SYD)
In the departures area after customs, near gate 24.
The showers are free, but no towels or toiletries are provided.
These are only available to departing passengers.
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
In the service center for arriving passengers (multi-story parking garage 2, level 1) and in transit area D for passengers continuing onward.
15 Swiss Francs covers showers, soap, shampoo, body lotion, and towels.
For what it's worth, even visitors to the airport can even freshen up before the arrival of their special passenger.
Keith Pape was not in a good mood on a recent Tuesday. Who could blame him – the Los Angeles-based ad agency exec needed a fast flight out of Austin, Texas, but when he showed up at the airport early looking to fly standby on an earlier flight on American Airlines, gate agents stopped him cold.
Told that the ticket he'd purchased didn't allow him a slot on the standby list for his flight to Dallas-Fort Worth and that he'd just have to sit and wait, Parks did what many travelers do these days when finding themselves in airports or on airplanes with too much free time on their hands. He logged on to Twitter to express his frustration.
"Just told my ticket doesn't allow me to sign up standby for earlier flight," he complained to @AmericanAir. "That is stupid."
Just six minutes later, one of the staffers that manage American Airlines' busy Twitter account addressed Pape directly, explaining that most fares do not allow for free standby, but that if Pape would like to follow the airline on Twitter and direct-message his details, they'd be happy to take a look at his ticket and see what the deal was.
"I will," Pape replied. "But I've never been turned down for standby on any other airline…this sucks."
"We're sorry for your disappointment," the American staffer tweeted quickly, before turning their attention to his case.
Half an hour later, not only was Pape onboard an outbound flight, his tune had completely changed -- not only was he happy, he was defending the airline to his own followers, one of whom had some choice words of his own for American.
From Pape's initial complaint to "#grateful"? Barely an hour.
Pape's experience is not uncommon. Customers displeased with unhelpful airline representatives behind desks in airports, or long waits on customer service phone lines are finding Twitter a far more effective forum in which to air grievances, an accessible panic button in times of trouble, or at least serious frustration.
In the time it took you to get through to a customer service representative, you could have tweeted your question or comment. And, depending on the airline, you might have already received your answer.
More than 200 airlines now tweet, so give it a try
According to aviation industry consulting firm SimpliFlying, 213 airlines were on Twitter as of this month. With millions of followers, many of them have discovered that the faster they stop negativity in its tracks, the better.
Still, having a Twitter account isn't the same as actually using it; according to SimpliFlying's research, just 24 of the airlines generate the majority – or 80 percent – of the content, meaning that many simply just aren't competitive. According to brand social media research firm Unmetric, American's average reply time, or ART, is currently the best in the business, at less than fifteen minutes on average.
Other airlines are improving their presence as time goes on; they've perhaps learned that there is a certain risk involved in letting online reputations go unmanaged. Sometimes, there are legitimate but small issues that can spiral out of control if not checked immediately.
Take, for example, the high-profile incident in 2010 when director Kevin Smith went to war with Southwest over the airline's policies regarding customers of size. Within minutes of being booted from his flight for not fitting into one seat, an angry Smith took directly to Twitter, followed by his fans, who all-too-eagerly rallied to his side.
In this case, the airline representative assured everyone that the matter was being investigated and that it would be resolved, later following up with an explanation both of the policy and of how they handled Smith's situation. The speed with which the situation was handled was both instructive and impressive.
You may already know some of these tips and strategies for stretching your travel dollar. Or maybe you don't. Even if you do, it's good to get a refresher now and then.
Getting money back when the airfare or hotel room drops in price
If your hotel lowers the your room rate between the time you buy and check in, which happens about 20% of the time, you can usually rebook at the lower rate, or get a refund automatically. Tingo checks and re-checks your hotel rate almost until the hour of check in and automatically refunds a price drop to your credit card. It also alerts you if there's a room upgrade available at the original price you paid.
Orbitz will give you 110% of the price difference if another Orbitz customer rebooks the exact same dates and room type (big difference with Tingo, someone else doesn't have to book your room and dates). Orbitz also works with airfares and packages. But you no longer get cash back; now you get Orbucks, which can be spent on future travel on Orbitz. Orbucks expire a year from issue however. I'd rather get the cash back from Tingo.
Yapta will alert you to airfare price drops but it only works with a relatively small number of airlines, and all but three airlines will charge a change fee (typically $150 on a domestic fare). The three domestic US airlines that will refund a price drop in the form of a future travel voucher without charging a fee: Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue.
Bottom line: airfares and hotel rates are not static, and you can get money back.
Airline frequent flyer credit cards with perks
A number of fairly new airline-affiliated credit cards offer unusual perks formerly reserved for uber-flyers. The United Explorer Card, for instance, has no annual fee for the first year; 30,000 bonus miles with a modest $1000 spend; and then the perks kick in: First checked bag free, Priority boarding privileges so you get first crack at the overhead bins, Two lounge passes per year (50 each were you to buy them)
The American Airlines Platinum Select Signature Card is similar. First checked bag free, priority boarding...
Many airlines, travel agencies such as Expedia, and other travel vendors offer coupon code discounts, on flights or packages, which can be substantial. You can find these coupon codes by signing up for the airlines' email lists, or just googling "vendor (American Airlines etc) + coupon codes". Or just troll the Airfarewatchdog blog. We recently posted and tweeted a $200 coupon code on Air New Zealand, which we initially saw through their email stream. Southwest has had 50% off coupon codes in the past. Rental car agencies and hotels have these too.
Bottom line: before making any travel purchase, check to see if there's a coupon code offering discounts, upgrades, or extra perks.
It's always wise to sign up for every hotel's frequent stay program, even if you're staying just once. Kimpton Hotels gives you a $10 mini bar credit for each stay plus free WiFi, just for signing up. Fairmont gives you free internet access. And the hotels offer upgrades, promos, and other perks, even at the lowest membership levels.
It still pays to ask for a room upgrade when checking in. You just never know... It works for me about 50% of the time even without "status" in the frequent stay program. I recently requested a "quiet room at the end of the hall" at the very luxe Sofitel Heathrow,and got an upgrade because the only rooms at the end of the hall were more expensive than what I booked. On another occasion in Palm Springs, there was a lengthy delay checking in due to a computer glitch, so I asked for an upgrade to a suite "in compensation" for my inconvenience. Voila, granted. You only get what you ask for.
Again, sign up for the frequent user programs, such as Hertz Gold Plus. It's free to join, and there are discounts, upgrades and extra perks.
A site called Autoslash.com will check your car rental reservation and alert you if the price has gone down since the time you originally booked.
Frequent flyer program "hacks"
One real insider secret is how to get "Gold" status on the Star Alliance airline group, which has 27 member airlines. Gold status gives you a lot of perks, such as lounge access, even when flying on cheap fares, and priority boarding. Aegean Airlines has the easiest path to Gold status with a low threshold of 20,000 status miles. (Most other programs require 50,000 miles to be flown before earning this top-tier). This article explains more.
It's a little known short cut to this important benefit.
Any savvy traveler knows that low airfare is only the beginning. The real work? That starts when you touch down in your destination. In some cities, the cost of getting in and out of town can rival what you paid for the flight that brought you there. In other destinations, simply navigating the airport can take enough time, you’d spend any amount of money to not have to deal with the hassle.
Welcome to paradise! Enjoy the traffic. The worst in the United States, actually, according to a recent survey. It’s estimated that Honolulu commuters spent an average of 58 hours sitting in their cars going nowhere this past year – that’s more than New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Hardly surprising, when you look at the woeful state of public transportation on this crowded little island. Those who require modern conveniences such as speedy, efficient transit from the airport’s front door to their destination should perhaps not come here at all. Anyone who wants a cheap ride and has time to kill can hop on the bus; routes 19 & 20 of TheBus network, to be specific. Both routes serve Waikiki via Downtown and the Ala Moana Mall area from bus shelters at the arrivals area. The ten-mile trip to Waikiki can take anywhere from fifty minutes or so on up, depending on time of day and where you’re jumping off. The fare is $2.50 for adults, $1.25 for children ages 6-17. Exact change is required; anyone with large amounts of luggage that won’t fit on their laps or under their seats shouldn’t bother – drivers will likely not allow you to board (www.thebus.org).
An easier option for those in need of affordable transit, shared van rides to the various visitor hotspots – and any address on the island, actually – are available with SpeediShuttle; fares begin at $14.55 each way to Waikiki; there are discounts for round-trip and multiple ticket purchases. You can book in advance online (www.speedishuttle.com). Tour operator Roberts Hawaii offers an Airport Express service, featuring an escort from your arrival gate, through baggage claim and out to the shuttle for just $13 each way; they guarantee no more than five stops to your hotel; you can book online or through their mobile site (www.airportwaikikishuttle.com).
All of the island’s taxi companies are allowed to pick up passengers from the airport, but they all operate on a meter-only system, eliminating any confusion. Fares to Waikiki start at around $35 and climb from there; there’s a charge of 35 cents per piece of luggage, too. Look for the dispatchers in green shirts outside of baggage claim on the center median.
When renting a car in Honolulu, you should always know ahead of time where exactly you’re going to park it – and how much it’s going to cost. If the answer to question number one is “somewhere in Waikiki, I don’t really know?” then the answer to number two, will be – invariably – “a great deal more than the average human being feels they should have to pay for parking.” No, seriously – we’re taking $35 a night, sometimes more. And that’s not just in Waikiki, either – at Disney’s popular Aulani resort, for example, you’ll pay $35 for both self and valet parking. Frankly, your best bet is to just get a shuttle to your hotel and then rent a car later on an as-needed basis. (At Aulani, for example, there’s an Alamo rental desk on premises; Waikiki is littered with options.) Should you decide that the only way you’re leaving the airport is with a car, head down to the baggage claim area and grab the shuttle bus or van to your favorite agency counter. (NOTE: If you’re renting from Hertz or Avis, they’re just across the street from baggage claim, a couple minutes’ walk.) BEST FOOD
You can do better everywhere else on the island – seriously, the food here isn’t great – but if you must, head to the lively Kona Brewing Company – at the center of the main terminal -- for frosty local pints and not-too-shabby Hawaii-style eats. For grab-and-go beyond the gut-bomb options in the food courts, check out the little Samurai Sushi & Bento shop near Gate 24; their spicy tuna poke is pretty darned tasty – they’re open round-the-clock. WHERE TO GO DRINKING
Kick it old-school with a mai tai (or something else island-y) at the old-school Stinger Ray’s Tropical Bar & Grill, located at the Interisland Terminal. (You can walk over here without exiting security, so no worries -- you’ll just have to complete an agricultural check on your way back.) BEST SOUVENIRS
The sleek Hawaii Market En Route is a great one-stop for 100% Kona coffee, local sea salt, macadamia nuts and other island treats; it’s expensive but it’s a great one-stop for presents that’ll make you a hero back home. The store is near Gate 12. WIRELESS INTERNET
Yes, available past security. Service is provided by Shaka Net. It’s not free, sadly: You’ll pay $6.95 for two hours, $8.95 for 24 hours. GET AWAY FROM IT ALL
Three beautiful open-air gardens – in Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese style – are the perfect place to hang out during those long layovers. With sculptures, water features and contemplative pathways, it’s about as relaxing – and beautiful – as an airport can get. THE LONG LAYOVER
Hanging around a while? Grab a cab to Nico’s Pier 38, a popular casual restaurant trafficking in boatloads of ridiculously fresh and delicious seafood. From delicious fresh poke to pan-seared ahi, opah (great local fish) cakes with mushroom truffle cream sauce to Hawaiian lunch plate staples like loco moco, nobody goes hungry. The food comes out quickly and the restaurant – nicely located on the harbor – isn’t even four miles away from the terminals. If you’ve got even just two hours to kill, this is where you go (113 N. Nimitz Hwy.). BEST AIRPORT HOTEL
You aren’t going to fall in love or anything – and you may flat out hate it – but the Best Western The Plaza Hotel located by the airport exit and literally on top of the H1 Freeway is the best of a limited array of options. There’s a free, 24-hour shuttle to the terminals; just a block away is the Airport Trade Center, a shopping plaza with local favorite Big Kahuna’s Pizza, a Starbucks, a Jamba Juice and other conveniences. Rates hover far too closely to $200 a night than they have any right to, but this is Oahu, after all. Make sure they put you in the tower, not the low-slung, dated motel blocks (www.bestwestern.com).
It begins with the simple fact that the weather is probably a good deal warmer than where you are right now. Then there’s the fact that unlike other U.S. destinations with mild winter weather, Tampa can be surprisingly affordable. Is it on the beach? No. Neither it is Orlando – that’s about an hour and change up the road. Not that you’ll have too much time for beaches or Orlando, what with all there is to do right here. Here, ten great reasons to fly down right now. Click here for the best available fares to Tampa!
1. Hang with the Yankees. Through the end of March, you’ll find the New York Yankees in residence at Tampa’s Steinbrenner Field, which brings a fun energy to the city as the team conducts annual warm-up exercises. Tickets to the show are reasonably priced, but popular match-ups can sell out fairly quickly (newyork.yankees.mlb.com).
2. Because it wasn’t born yesterday. Tampa’s rich history isn’t as widely-known as that of some other American cities. But when you get here, you’ll see some mighty impressive historic architecture, from the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel with its extravagant minarets – it now belongs to a local university – to the handsome Craftsman homes in the appealing Hyde Park district. Yep – Tampa’s kind of old. No section of the city recalls its past quite as effectively as Ybor City, where the architecture reflects the area’s old school Spanish-Cuban roots, featuring buildings whose often-frivolous design calls to mind New Orleans’ French Quarter. The first Saturday of each month (next one’s March 2nd) is when to be here – hit up the weekly farmers market in the morning; noon marks the kickoff of the monthly Ybor ArtWalk, showcasing area galleries and artist studios in a fun, street party-style atmosphere (centroybor.com).
3. Sandwiches. And coffee. Its days as the cigar-rolling capital may be in the past – Ybor City, at one time, outproduced Havana, can you imagine – but Tampa’s still all about two other famous Cuban things: Strong coffee and satisfying pressed sandwiches. (The Cuban, it should be mentioned, is the official sandwich of Tampa.) Where do you find the best of both? Sandwich-wise, that depends on who you ask, but the family-run Brocato’s is a great start. They’re known for their delectable roast pork (5021 E. Columbus Dr.). There’s also the West Tampa Sandwich Shop, a homey diner-style joint closer to the center of town (3904 N. Armenia Ave.). For coffee, kick it old school at El Molino, a simple café attached to Ybor City’s Naviera Coffee Mills, in business for nearly a century (2012 E. 7th Ave.).
4 There’s art. Resting on the banks of the Hillsborough River downtown, the ultra-modern Tampa Museum of Art is perhaps most notable as a piece of architecture – an award-winning jewelbox designed by Stanley Saitowitz and completed in 2010. Then again, there is a very good collection housed within, an interesting mix that includes a notable number of Greek and Roman antiquities (tampamuseum.org). Nearby, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts has a fittingly photogenic home of its own in the architecturally-curious Cube building, which lights up at night like a Christmas tree (fmopa.org).
5. You can drink some amazing beer. Seriously. Cigar City Brewing honors its hometown by brewing up some very Tampa beers – for instance, a bright, fruity Guava saison (the city’s nickname is the Big Guava). Try everything, but their rich Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout is what makes Cigar City super-famous: The 4th annual release event on March 9 will attract beer lovers from all over to the brewery, housed in a nondescript industrial park near the airport that’s absolutely worth seeking out (3924 W. Spruce St.). For more of the local good stuff, head across the bay and down to Peg’s Cantina, known far and wide for its own very rare stout, as well as many other unusual and interesting beers you won’t find in every brewpub on earth (3038 Beach Blvd. S., Gulfport).
6. They have manatees, the cutest animals on the planet. (Well, almost.) A giant power plant may not seem like the first place you’d want to go on your vacation, but don’t tell the adorable critters who winter in the warm waters adjacent to the gargantuan Tampa Electric facility in Apollo Beach. The utility company has constructed the very popular Manatee Viewing Center, which includes exhibits that teach visitors more about the friendly beasts, plus some other bells and whistles, including butterfly gardens. Hurry – the manatees tend to shove off around mid-April, once the weather gets warmer (6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach).
7. There’s a there, there. Tampa may seem largely same-same suburban to visitors, but some interesting neighborhoods can be found hiding out right at the center of things. Just north of downtown, historic Seminole Heights is definitely a work in progress, but it’s got some great shops and hangouts, not to mention plenty of solid residential architecture. (Come by on April 7 for the neighborhood’s popular Historic Home Tour, to see some of its best addresses up close.) On any other day, make tracks for the neighborhood’s Taco Bus, a hipster-junkyard set-up with a very good food truck and and outdoor seating; it’s open 24/7 (913 E. Hillsborough Ave.). For something more sit-down-ish, dine at the The Refinery with the local cool crowd (5137 N. Florida Ave.). Make sure to hit up Ella’s Folk Art Cafe on Sundays (in here, they’re known as “Soul Food Sunday”) for chicken, waffles, live music and fun cocktails like the Po-mosa, combining Narragansett beer and Tang. It’s only $2 – have one (5119 N. Nebraska Ave.).
9. It has the world’s longest continuous sidewalk! No, really. Bayshore Boulevard, which runs along the water through the city’s pleasant Hyde Park neighborhood and on to points south, isn’t just the city’s most scenic street, it’s also a 4.5 mile linear bay-front park favored by local joggers and walkers. Not that you have to do the whole thing, but what better way to work up an appetite for lunch? If it’s Sunday, make like in-the-know local foodies and beeline to lunch at the Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (a.k.a. the local Thai Buddhist temple). Here, food vendors set up mid-morning every Sunday, dishing out authentic Thai eats (cash only) to a hungry audience. Stick around to enjoy the riverfront grounds (5306 Palm River Rd.).
10. The kids will totally dig it. With exhibits that combine the educational with the awesome, the Glazer Children’s Museum – which opened its doors in 2010 – has been a hit with the younger set from day one, featuring climbing structures that teach about water, a firehouse with a working pole (and a “fire truck” you can “drive”), plus lots more stops that make learning fun packed in a 53,000 square-foot space (glazermuseum.org). Nearby, The Florida Aquarium offers exhibits that range to the dramatic (anyone want to swim with the sharks?) to the educational (flaquarium.org). Still got energy? There’s always Busch Gardens, Tampa’s most famous family attraction. You may have forgotten, but your kids probably didn’t (buschgardens.com).
Are frequent flyer miles still worth collecting? How much are they actually worth? It all depends on how you spend them. Many people blow 50,000 miles on an economy class ticket that they could have bought for $200, $300, or $400. But that's not the way to go. Instead, use them on a splurge. We did some research and found some "high value" ways to cash in your miles. And yes, we made sure that seats were actually bookable (accurate as of Mar. 1, 2013) at these point levels. Airfares were found using various sources includng airline websites and third-party sites such as BookingBuddy.com.
Value in cents per mile
Taxes/Fees on your miles
Denver (DEN) to Beijing (PEK)
Air China & United (w/ United miles)
Pricey ticket makes this a good use of points.
Charlotte (CLT) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG)
Christmas in Rio for half the usual point spend.
Chicago (ORD) to Tokyo (NRT)
Japan Airlines (w/American miles)
Round-trip on a busy route in First for half of what it can run you, miles-wise
Houston (IAH) to London (LHR)
British Airways nonstops, using American miles
Great, but those brutal fees charged by the Brits kind of queer the deal.
New York (JFK) to Honolulu (HNL)
American & Hawaiian (w/American miles)
$3,830 (JFK-LAX) + $1,959 (LAX-HNL) = $5,789
Christmas in Hawaii for less than you might expect.
Philadelphia (PHL) to Frankfurt (FRA)
Dec. 24-Jan. 7
A decent Christmas option, but shorter flights like this aren’t always the best use of miles.
Washington (IAD) to Sao Paulo (GRU)
A little on the high side, but United is like that.
New York (JFK) to Buenos Aires (EZE)
Avianca and Copa, with United points.
Coach on the same dates can run you as much as 110,000 points.
Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD)
Aug 24-Sep. 14
American & Hawaiian
$2,699 (LAX-HNL) + $3,750 (HNL-SYD) = $6,449
Australia with a pit stop in Hawaii? Not a bad Labor Day deal.
Although much smaller than its Star Alliance competitor, the oneworld airline alliance includes many award-winning partners, such as British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific. However, finding award travel on partner airlines can be a challenge for American AAdvantage members because American's web site aa.com will not show partner award availability for Cathay Pacific, Royal Jordanian and many other oneworld partners.
And now with US Airways, American's recently announced merger partner, switching to oneworld later in 2013, there will be more partner award options although it is still unclear when current US Airways flights will be available to book on aa.com. All of this depends on government regulatory approval of the merger, joint operating certificates, and the speed of the merged airline's website/technical team.
For now, one thing is certain if the merger is approved: US Airways and American mileage balances will be combined leading to a bigger pile of miles for redemption opportunities. Let's take a look on the present-day award booking process on aa.com as we await news on the new AAdvantage program.
Recently, American's website experienced a total revamp and displays more partner award availability than before. This includes flights on Air Berlin, Alaska, British Airways, Finnair, Hawaiian, and Qantas. The best way to search for awards is to begin by searching each leg independently. Once you find all of the individual flights that fit in your itinerary, you can piece it together via aa.com using the multi-city search function or call American directly.
Search less common routes that many travelers may not now about such as Air Berlin's Fort Myers-Dusseldorf nonstop, Royal Jordanian's Montreal-Amman nonstop, and newly started routes like American's Chicago-Dusseldorf and Dallas/Fort Worth-Seoul flights where award space may be opened to encourage new bookings. This is another tip that frequent travelers may often overlook on their quest to find free award tickets.
But here's a tip that savvy frequent flyers already know: there are two oneworld alliance member airlines that do a good job of showing flights with available award seats on their web sites. This is important because it allows you to research available flights, make a note of their dates/flight numbers/routes, and then call up your airline program (the one with which you have collected the miles) to make the reservation. Airline telephone service center agents are not as likely to search all oneworld's award booking possibilities. So it's time to take matters into your own hands, at least until American's website shows all oneworld partners.
First, get a frequent flyer number with British Airways and Qantas Airways (if you don't already have one); it's free when you sign up on their websites. Once signed up with British Airways, you can scour their award booking engine for the seats you want on their own flights. The web site shows BA availability first, but by then going through its partner search option you can uncover Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines award seats. This is the only place where you can search for Japan Air Lines, Royal Jordanian, or S7 availability making it an important tool for those with travel to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. One caveat with the BA search tool is that if the route is served by American, British Airways or Iberia, it only shows those flights and not those of partners. That’s where the Qantas web site comes into play.
Qantas is equally helpful in showing award availability on its own flights and that of several partner carriers including American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, LAN, and others that American's website won't show. Simply log in to the site, and search your city pairs to see which partners are available. It also helps to know the route networks of your partners. One popular feature of Qantas' website is that it shows an entire month of availability whereas British Airways is more restrictive in the availability dates it shows (except for flights on its own metal). Occasionally there are times where Qantas shows availability, but it cannot be booked using AA miles, but this is a hiccup particular to Qantas flights using American miles.
These two partner award sites are useful research tools and will allow you to explain to American's AAdvantage agents which flights have open award inventory. While it may seem odd to put so much effort into searching for flights via various websites, this added time can help you to avoid paying more miles than necessary and to travel on your desired dates.
Unfortunately there are some partners that still do not display on any of these sites including American's non-alliance South Pacific partners Air Tahiti Nui and Air Pacific (soon to be rebranded as Fiji Airways).
Once US Airways is fully integrated, there will be even more options to use your miles, and new oneworld partners Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways will add new countries to the destination choices. Let's hope American makes it a priority to put that flight availability on its website so travelers can more easily redeem their miles.
Can’t be, won’t be cramped when flying? If you’re tired of squeezing into what seems like that ever-shrinking bit of real estate the airlines call an economy class seat, you’re not alone.
In an era where it’s often necessary to shell out extra bucks to get the kind of seat you used to be able to get as part of your base ticket price, we have to wonder: How long before they start charging us to even sit down at all?
But even now, in this time of downsized seats and rising fares, it’s important to remember that not all coach class accommodations are created equally terrible.
Sure, there are the dreaded seats that don’t recline on Spirit Airlines and have an excruciating 28 inches between seats (they call them “pre-reclined,” and for doing so, Spirit ought to get an award for the best /worst public relations spin, ever), or the brutally stingy sizing that we must take for granted on too much of the Delta fleet (that airline’s 737-800 models, to cite one example, have as few as 30 inches of “seat pitch” according to SeatGuru whereas Southwest’s 737-800 models have as much as 33 inches (and yes, two inches makes all the difference).
Some airlines (we’re talking to you, JetBlue) prefer to leave customers with intact knees at the end of their flight. Which is very kind of them, indeed. Some have seats so wide, you might even call them roomy. Others supply still more bells and whistles, such as killer entertainment systems, leather seats and more. Sound plush? It can be, actually, if you book correctly. Best of all, you won’t have to pay a penny extra.
For ten planes where being a cattle class passenger isn’t nearly as humiliating as you might think, check out Airfare Watchdog’s handy chart, here.
Note: Seat pitch, if you’re unfamiliar, is the industry term denoting the distance between any one point on a seat and the same point on the seat in front or in back. Most experts say that 32” is the minimum before things start to get ugly, for anyone above average height. Width is important, as well – 17.5” inches or more is best, but in some cases, we’ve made an exception – and given an explanation.