When was the last time you changed the password and user name for your frequent flyer account? If you’re like most people, it was probably on the 12th of never.
Miles are like money, and that’s why, as this report explains, thieves and scam artists are stealing miles from unwary consumers’ accounts, spending them on flights, selling them, or using them for other nefarious purposes.
Whether you have 25,000 miles or 250,000 or 2.5 million, you need to protect them.
What’s amazing is that some people, for example those signed up for United’s MileagePlus program, only use an account number and a four-digit pin code to get into their accounts. If someone gets hold of your boarding pass with your frequent flyer account number on it, how hard is it for an experienced hacker to work through the possible four-digit combinations to get into your account? It’s probably the easiest password combination to figure out. So be sure never to leave a boarding pass where someone else can find it. Shred them just like you would any sensitive document.
In addition to hacking into accounts the old fashioned way, thieves are using phishing techniques, as this alert from Delta explains.
It’s easy to change your user name, PIN and password on some airlines’ sites. On United.com, for example, go to MileagePlus>My Account>Profile>Username>edit. It’s a good idea to change your password every so often, just as you would with any important account.
And airlines need to do their part too. Frequent flyer account security is woefully inadequate. They should start requiring members to set up challenge questions (“What color was your first car?”) and remind them to change passwords regularly. But consumers need to be alert, as well. Check your accounts as often as you check other assets, such as bank balances, to make sure nothing is amiss. If miles are missing, contact your airline immediately and ask for restitution, although this may not be a simple task.
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.
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 5230 Clipper Dr. Ste. 200 GC 4RC Atlanta, GA 30349-8127
Most economy class airline seats are pretty cramped, but not those coveted exit row seats. Here, in chart form, we tell you how to nab these extra legroom seats.
At the airport
Good to know
First come, first served – can reserve exit row at time of booking.
Whatever’s left is sold at the same price as advance.
Whatever’s left is sold at the same price as advance.
Elite MileagePlan members and customers who purchase FullFlex tickets or redeem FullFlex awards. Everyone else You wish.
Have a look when you check-in, either online 24 hours before departure or via kiosk. If there’s anything left (and we’ve never, ever seen this happen), it could be yours.
Flying Alaska without status is the worst. Really.
Elites (AAdvantage Alaska and oneworld) and active-duty military get access to exit row free of charge; AAdvantage Gold members qualify as well through 12/13. Everyone else has access to the seats for a fee.
Varies based on length of flight – a recent flight from LAX to JFK was going for $39.
First come, first served up until check-in cut-off time – same rules apply as for advance purchase.
American long held exit row seats nearly exclusively for its best customers; with the democratization of the process, don’t wait too long to book if you want one.
Available at time of booking to Medallion members and Y or B Economy ticket holders; M Economy ticket holders may reserve at check-in. Non-Medallion SkyMiles members may purchase 24 hours prior to departure.
No charge to qualifying passengers, otherwise expect to pay $9-$29 for domestic flights and $39-$59 for international.
You can try your luck, but better to log on 24 hours ahead like most others will to see what’s left.
With every SkyMiles member qualifying for access ahead of time, commoners ought not to hold out hope for last-minute availability.
EarlyReturns Summit members can reserve free at time of purchase, Ascent members can request for free at check in if pre-assignment not available. Everyone else can upgrade at time of purchase.
These seats now fall under the "STRETCH Seating" designation; from $15 on up each segment for economy fares, from $5 for "Classic" or free for "Classic Plus", each way depending on length of flight.
Yes, but with seats going free to many and cheap to everyone else, don’t wait.
Exit row seats are open to everyone, at all times – just a question of how much you’ll pay.
Seats are sold as part of the airline's "Even More Space" priority seating program; there’s no such thing as a free exit row seat.
From $10-$65, depending on the length of the flight.
Can be purchased at time of booking, or on day of travel or at online check-in if any seats remain.
Passengers buying these seats have priority boarding privileges as well.
After all this time, nothing’s changed – still no seating assignments.
First boarded, first served
Southwest doesn't assign seats, but if you buy a higher-priced "Business Select" fare you get to board the plane in the first portion of the 'A' boarding group, so your chances of grabbing an exit row are greatly enhanced. Those who purchase the $12.50 “Early Bird Check In” often have a good chance of ending up in the ‘A’ boarding group as well, but no promises.
Available for purchase any time, but like all Spirit seats, don’t get crazy – these aren’t all that spacious.
First come, first served
If you’re bothering to upgrade, look into the airline’s Big Front Seats, which are often quite reasonably priced, at which point they offer a better value.
Part of the airline’s “Economy Plus” scheme, anyone can buy a seat at any time from booking onwards. MileagePlus Premier Platinum and Gold have anytime, complimentary access; Silver members wait until check-in.
No fee for elites. For everyone else, fee charged is based on distance traveled; the average is around $40; some international flights are much higher.
Economy Plus is sold until it’s full — you may buy all the way up to the gate.
After the merger with Continental, competition for the exit row and other priority coach seats can be tough.
Held back for Dividend Miles Preferred members, even though the airline’s ChoiceSeats program, which sells off the better seats for a small upcharge, ostensibly does include “in some cases” exit row seats. We’ve never gotten lucky.
ChoiceSeats are sold based on length of flight -- $15 from LAX to PHX, $45 from JFK to PHX and so forth.
Try your hand at the airport on the day of travel.
Why the airline would state that exit row seats are sometimes available when they really aren’t is beyond us. Oh well – they’ll be gone soon enough.
Exit rows are part of the "Main Cabin Select" section; fares are significantly higher than economy.
Often ridiculously expensive – sometimes double the original ticket price. Though you do get free food, booze and other perks.
Can upgrade at airport based on availability.
Not worth the extra money, unless you need lots of leg room on a transcontinental run. VA lays on the bells and whistles, but the fact is you're overpaying for an economy seat. No amount of free movies and sandwiches can take the sting away.
I don’t play video games, and probably I never will now that I’ve landed an Airbus A380 at airports all over the world in a flight simulator. Because really, what video game could ever compare with manning the joystick in a multi-million dollar sim?
I knew that my first flight “sim” experience would be exciting, which is why I flew all the way to London’s Heathrow Airport and the British Airways training center, but it wasn’t prepared for how thrilling it would be. BA will be launching its A380 service between Los Angeles and London and London and Hong Kong later this year, and I was one of the lucky few to grab a slot for a couple of hours in their new A380 sims.
For those of you who have never taken the controls of a sim, these sophisticated machines are enclosed cockpits resting on moveable mechanical legs that, as the name implies, simulate flight and are used for flight crew training purposes. The controls, video displays, seats and other features are identical to a real cockpit, and the windows are actually video screens that can be programmed to show airport terminals, taxiways, runways, topographical features, and weather conditions. The sim pods tilt, lurch and even rumble to recreate real-life take off and flight conditions, and speakers broadcast sounds (jet and wind noise, landing gear and flap movement, even the sound and movement of the tires bumping along the taxiway.).
Under the guidance of an experienced BA captain, I took my sheepskin-upholstered seat and got a tour of the controls. At my left hand was a joystick; at my right the four levers that controlled the mighty jet’s engines; at my feet, pedals used to slow down or brake the plane on the ground. Other controls worked the flaps and landing gear and switched the auto pilot off and on. I was surprised to see that this plane has no “steering wheel.” The joystick controls all directional movement on the ground.
After watching a typical take off and landing performed by my instructor, it was my turn. Where would I like to go? Tokyo? Manhattan? Hong Kong? I released the brakes, and we were “towed” out to the taxi way. It was now my job to slowly position the aircraft for take off. After giving the engines a bit of thrust I placed my left hand on the joystick, which is used to steer the plane while on the ground, and was surprised at how sensitive it was. Only minute movements are necessary, and had this been an actual take off someone on the ground would have assumed I was inebriated as I swerved back and forth. The simulator’s speakers broadcast engine noises and the simulator pod rumbled a bit as we passed over “imperfections” in the taxiway. Once at the head of the runway, I applied the brakes and then placed my right hand on the four throttle levers, pushing them forward in unison. And away we flew. As we ascended, the simulator tilted and banked. (In fact, the motion was so real that after a few such take offs one member of our party became a bit airsick.)
Outside the “windows” we could see a computer-generated view of greater London. The computer was programmed for a bright sunny day, but with a quick adjustment the “weather” could be switched to turbulent, cloudy, or rainy. And yes, simulated windshield wipers switched on when the rain started “pelting” our craft.
In minutes, we were descending into Hong Kong, my first port of call. I didn’t crash the plane, thankfully, but it was exactly a smooth landing. I was more successful upon subsequent landings at New York’s JFK and LAX.
One thing I learned was that there’s no such thing as a completely automated take off or landing, even when using the autopilot. Planes do not actually take off and land by themselves, much less position themselves for take off, or bring themselves to the gate.
Does this all sound like fun? That doesn’t begin to describe it. I was giddy, as in joyfully elated. The two hours passed in a flash and all too soon we were back on the ground, literally and figuratively, in London. I’d do it again and again, given the chance.
The British Airways Flight Training website describes the airline’s flight simulator experiences as “the thrill of a lifetime” and that’s no exaggeration. Currently, simulator flights are available in Boeing 737-400, Boeing 757-200, and Boeing 767-300 aircraft (training on the Airbus A380 and other models in the fleet may become available in the future). A one-hour “flight” costs £399 (about $465) or £1197 (about $1800) for a three-hour flight. Gift certificates are available as well. I can’t think of a better present for anyone who ever dreamed of being a pilot. Or for the video game geek on your holiday shopping list. Or for anyone, for that matter.
For years now, profitable foreign-based airlines have offered newer, more luxurious aircraft than their poorer U.S.-based competitors. British Airways has had sophisticated entertainment systems in all classes and lie flat seats in their premium cabins for years now. But if you flew on American, Delta, or United, it was probably in an aging 757 or 767, maybe with one of those 1980’s-era T.V. monitors hanging from the ceiling. Lie flat seats? Good luck.
But finally, the remaining legacy U.S. airlines are stepping up their game to compete with foreign-based carriers. And it can’t come too soon. We have suffered long enough with those embarrassing, elderly planes. Now that they’ve merged and capacity-cut they’re buying new planes, refurbishing older models from top to bottom, and adding amenities that used to be found only on British Airways, Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and other aviation icons.
While we wait for the 787’s to fly again, you can experience this new world of air travel on American Airlines’ new Boeing 777-300ER, and on some of United’s refurbished Boeing 757-200’s flying between New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco, which have been retrofitted with fully lie-flat beds in the front cabin.
Delta, too, has reconfigured many of its trans-continental 767’s and 757’s with lie-flat business class seats and in-seat video in economy class, but again, these aren’t new planes, just new interiors.
Oddly, it’s beleaguered American Airlines, still in bankruptcy court, that is actually adding completely new planes. American is also taking delivery of new Airbus A321 models (first deliveries in November) to replace those aging 767’s on transcontinental routes, with fully lie-flat seats in business and first, part of 460 new planes the airline has on order. Economy class cabins will have in-seat touch-screen monitors.
But the really cool ride is on the 777-300ER, which currently flies or will fly soon from New York and Dallas to London, New York and Dallas to Sao Paulo, and Los Angeles to London. And lest you think that the goodies are confined to business and first class only, a ride on AA’s 777-300ER (for extended range) will dispel that quickly. All cabins have new in flight entertainment and WiFi. But not just any entertainment or WiFi. The programming is amazingly extensive and hip (I spent my entire flight flipping channels and watching new releases and Hollywood classics), and the WiFi works domestically as well as internationally.
I flew in business class from New York to London and back, a route that I normally fly on British Airways. How did AA compare to its OneWorld alliance partner?
Food: better on AA. This was a surprise. In addition to meals served at seat, the crew lays out a buffet of delightful edibles (sandwiches, canapés, puddings, fruit) in the walk-up kitchen in business class.
Cabin décor: AA. Not that BA is shabby, far from it, but the lighting, colors, fabrics and other design elements are just a bit more pleasing on AA. The cabin has touches of wood that makes it look a bit like a cabin cruiser, plus red and blue mood lighting.
Cabin service: about the same.
Business class seats: a toss up. AA wins for no climbing over your neighbor (full aisle access for all seats), but the AA seats are not quite as cushy as BA’s recently upgraded Club World seats (IMHO).
Premium class lounges: hands down, BA.
In flight entertainment: AA blows all other airlines away (I know, sounds hard to believe), even before you add the Bose noise-cancelling headphones and the international Internet. It’s not just the quantity of selections, it’s the quality. Lots of clever, unexpected choices in both audio and video.
But watch out, U.S. airlines. Don’t think for a minute that the foreign competition will be resting on its laurels. We hear that Singapore Airlines has some new cabin enhancements up its corporate sleeve, and we doubt that British Airways will stand still either when it introduces Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 service later this year.
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.