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Posted by George Hobica on Saturday, May 4, 2013
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.
Posted by Peter Thornton on Monday, January 16, 2012
It’s been nearly nine months since the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that airlines and travel agents, including online travel agencies, would be required to advertise and display airfares with all mandatory taxes and fees included. After a few extensions, that rule will finally go into effect. On January 26, 2012 all airfares must be shown with taxes and fees included. That means the price we report for domestic flights will appear to have suddenly gone up by $20 to $40. Here's the background.
On international flights, this is a big win for consumers, because international taxes can sometimes be more than the base fare and this can be quite the sticker shock when the final price is displayed.
As you can see in the example below, flights from Boston to London are being advertised on American’s main page at $250 each way. On the next few pages, you see a fare of $41 from BOS to LHR and $458 returning from LHR to BOS for a total round-trip fare of $499. However, on the final page, your total trip cost after the taxes are added is $697, which is almost $200 higher than what is initially shown. You'll also see on Orbitz the difference is even greater, with the screen showing an $81 round-trip airfare in bold print with $616 in taxes and fees making up the rest of the actual $697 total price.
This is why we at Airfarewatchdog have always displayed international fares with taxes included. For domestic flights, these mandatory taxes and fees usually add up to about $21 round-trip for nonstop flights and typically range within a few dollars of $40 for connecting flights (depending on which airport you are connecting through). For flights that have a stop, but keep the same flight number and don't change planes, taxes tend to be around $30 round-trip. Since we currently post most of our domestic fares as just the base fare, we want to give you a heads up that although fares will appear to go up $20 to $40 later this month, they will now include taxes and fees.
For example, below are two Airfarewatchdog-verified fares for nonstop flights from Detroit to Chicago-Midway. These fares are both the same price, with the Southwest fare showing $98 RT pre-tax and the Delta fare showing $119 RT including taxes. We found the Delta fare on Orbitz, which shows tax-included fares on its flexible search, and the Southwest fare on Southwest.com, which shows only the base fare initially. So, even though it looks like the Southwest flight is cheaper, remember that after taxes they are the exact same price.
Another example on a connecting flight from Minneapolis to Ontario shows the Southwest fare at $268 RT pre-tax and the United fare at $309 including taxes. Once again, these are basically the same price in the end, with Southwest.com giving us the base fare initially and Orbitz giving us the tax-included fare initially. Also, please note that the outbound flight on Southwest has no plane change, which results in a lower tax total, and on Orbitz the taxes differ slightly depending on the airline due to different connecting cities. Starting Jan. 26, 2012, all sites will be including taxes for all fares.
So, why haven’t we done this all along? Based on the way airlines release fares, our methodology includes searching over a 330-day travel period to find the lowest fare we could recommend on a specific route. Our searches typically brought back only base fares. As long as the airlines listed fares the same way, we were able to give an apples-to-apples comparison on the base price. At the same time, we provided as much guidance as possible on what to expect for additional taxes and fees. In an effort to search as many routes as possible and include all airlines selling a particular fare, we opted for displaying the base fare only for domestic airfares. It would be significantly more time consuming, and reduce the number of fares we could find and share, to find the taxes for each airfare on each airline since the taxes would differ slightly between airlines depending on connecting airport and how many connections. Though the displayed fares may appear to be higher, the upside to the new rule is you will know right away exactly what you’ll be paying for your flight.
As for baggage fees, that’s a different story. Since checking baggage is not technically required for air transportation, the rule doesn’t require baggage fees to be included in the advertised airfare. However, there will also be a new requirement for airlines and travel agencies to display the specific baggage fees for all potential classifications in the confirmation email after booking. This means that they can’t just give a range of fees, but must include the specific fee for the customer purchasing the ticket or a list of every possible baggage fee that could pertain to the customer (online purchase, at airport, elite status, etc.). This info can be displayed with a hyperlink directly to a specific location on the airline website listing all baggage fees. Most airlines have already provided such pages listing optional fees and we’ve compiled all the links for you here. Of course, finding out the baggage fees after your purchase may make you decide you don’t want to purchase that ticket anymore. Along with these new regulations, there will be a 24-hour grace period for all airline ticket purchases so you can cancel your reservation and get your money back within 24-hours of purchasing.
We will continue to pass along the best fares we find and link you to where we find that price. With the new rule beginning January 26, all sites should be initially advertising all their fares including taxes and that will be the price that we pass along to you.
Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, October 26, 2011
By George Hobica
With holiday shopping around the corner, it’s time to address one of the recurring tragedies of the season. (No, not your Aunt Sadie’s annual fruit cake). Today I’d like to address the calamity of those millions of bonus frequent flyer miles that people forgo each year because they forget to buy from their favorite online merchants via links at the airlines’ shopping mall web sites.
Note that I said bonus frequent flyer miles. No, I am not talking about the paltry one mile per dollar that many people earn by using their airline-affiliated credit cards. (I only emphasize this because when I talk about this to friends and sometimes total strangers, most of whom have no idea this is even possible, their eyes glaze over and they stop listening because their interior monologue is saying "Yeah, yeah, I already get miles with my credit card.")
No. We're talking four miles per dollar here. We're talking ten miles per dollar. Even more with some merchants.
I’m one of those sad cases. Before I got wise, I would simply go to Apple.com to buy a new $3000 iMac or a $1000 piece of furniture from Crate and Barrel's website. Not a smart move. Now I get bonus miles for virtually everything I buy.
And through 11/11/11, United/Continental is offering 1500 extra bonus miles for any purchase of $125 and 500 more if you also download the use the site's Shopping Assistant tool (Windows only at this writing, Mac OS coming "soon"). And some merchants even let you earn miles by shopping in store or by phone rather than online. You just have to register your credit cards with the store via United's site.
Is there a catch? No. The price you pay for a new iMac via Apple’s web site is exactly the same as the price via the airlines’ sites.
Literally hundreds of online merchants participate in these mileage offers. Here are some current deals from various merchants and airlines, all of which are subject to change:
United (Continental) Airlines
Everyday purchases, not just holiday gifts, qualify for miles, too. Do you regularly buy your contacts from 1800Contacts.com? Why not get extra miles for every dollar spent? Are you a frequent buyer at Drugstore.com? Petmeds? If you buy via their site directly, you get no miles; get there via an airline shopping mall page and you might get as many as 10 miles per $1 spent when there's an extra bonus offer. And keep in mind that airline mall shopping is a painless way to keep your frequent flyer miles from going stale, since each purchase, even a 99-cent song at iTunes.com, extends your miles’ expiration date.
It's important to shop around, however, because one airline might offer more miles with the same merchant than another airline. For example, United might be offering 3 miles for every 2 dollars charged at XYZ.com whereas Delta might be offering 4 miles for every dollar. And offers can change from time to time, so if your purchase can wait, jump when your favorite airline is offering a double miles deal or better.
And if you’ve been visiting an online merchant’s site directly through their URL recently, it’s a good idea to clear your cookies and then enter the site through the airlines’ links to avoid any potential confusion as to where you came from.
For your shopping convenience, you can find links to the airlines’ mall sites all in one place here.
Bookmark these sites and before you buy anything online, see if miles are being offered for your purchase.
Have a great time shopping this holiday season, and please be sure to gift yourself a gift, too, in the form of extra frequent flyer miles.
Posted by George Hobica on Tuesday, August 16, 2011
By George Hobica
With fares and fees skyrocketing lately, you’re excused for feeling that someone's picking your pocket every time you fly. But every year thousands of airline passengers have items stolen from security check points, overhead bins, and bags both checked and unchecked. Some even have entire bags swiped. And some do indeed get their pockets picked, if not by the airline, then by the guy sitting next to them.
Just ask William Zoffinger. Two hours into his flight to Honolulu, the Miami-based financial planner took his wallet out to buy some peanuts (remember when they were free?), slipped it into his new wife's oversized purse under the seat in front of her, and fell asleep.
It wasn't until the cab ride after the plane landed that they realized the wallet was gone — along with his credit cards, driver's license, and more than $600 in cash.
"That really helped make it the honeymoon from hell," the 25-year-old said ruefully.
They're all at it
It even happens to Airfarewatchdog.com contributors. Rushing to make a plane at Miami, I sent my PDA-phone through the x-ray machine but in my haste, ran for the gate without retrieving it. I immediately returned to the checkpoint, but my beloved Nokia was gone without a trace.
Flying these days isn't just hectic and discombobulating, but also is rife with felonious fellow passengers, bandito baggage handlers and shady security screeners.
The TSA certainly isn't immune, either. Although all TSA agents are supposedly background-checked, more than 400 have been fired over the past five years for stealing, including two who helped themselves to thousands in cash from checked bags (what that much in cash was doing in checked luggage is another story). For the record, the TSA says the worst airports for theft are Newark, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and Seattle-Tacoma.
Steps to help prevent your items being stolen
Jewelry is the single biggest category of stolen valuables, followed by cameras and electronics. Still, carelessness and blind faith make the situation needlessly worse. So keep the following in mind:
1. Don't stash anything in your checked bags that you'd be devastated to lose, and buy one small but solid lock per bag (the TSA suggests Travel Sentry or Safe Skies brands, both of which screeners can open and relock should they decide to go into your bag). Locks occasionally do get cut off by screeners if a bag seems suspicious, but they seem to discourage casual pilfering. Airlines will not cover you for anything lost or damaged in your checked luggage that might be considered "valuable"--that includes cash, electronics, jewelry, and even important business papers or antiques.
2. In security lines, consolidate loose items (such as phones or iPods) into one bag before putting it through the machine, and keep an eagle eye when it emerges out the other end — even if you're detained for wanding or frisking. If the security screeners bring you out of sight of your stuff, politely but firmly ask to have it brought to you immediately. Don’t pass through the metal detector until your items are well inside the x-ray machine. And don't put your valuables on the conveyor belt unless you're the next person to go through the body scanner.
3. In-flight, put the carry-on with all your "must-not-lose" belongings under the seat in front of you and lock it, because the passenger seated ahead of you can reach under his seat and delve into your bag. But keep wallets on your person, especially if it's a long-haul flight. That goes for double if it's overnight and you plan to sleep. Consider locks for any bags in overhead bins, as well; it's not unheard of for a thief to run his or her mitts through bags while their owners are snoozing. It's also not a bad idea to put your bag(s) in the bin across from you, the better to keep an eye on things. If you're sitting in business or first class and the flight attendant offers to hang your coat or jacket, make sure that there's nothing valuable in the pockets. Even flight attendants have been known to steal valuables from coats and jackets.
4. Don't pack valuables near the tops of your carry-on bags; that makes it easier for someone casually to scoop them out, with minimal effort.
5. If you're traveling within the U.S. and you absolutely must have use of valuable items when you arrive at your destination, and they will not fit in your carry on bags, then ship them 5 days ahead using FedEx ground (which is much more economical than next day service). You can insure these items with FedEx, but you cannot insure them if they're in checked bags. Read more about this.
Getting your items, or money, back
If something disappears at an airport, first try the Lost and Found office. If your stuff is well and truly gone, in certain cases you've got a prayer of recovery thanks to modern technology. For laptops (very popular items to nick), products like LoJack for Laptops from Computrace send out a signal when a stolen computer logs onto the Internet — and call the cops.
Laptop Cop from Awareness Technology does the same and even lets you log on remotely to copy and delete sensitive files. Zoombak's Advanced GPS Universal Locator lets you track a waylaid bag via Internet or phone. If all else fails, try checking for a particularly distinctive stolen item on eBay, or your local Craigslist site.
Depending on where you think your stuff was taken, you can try filing a claim with the airline. Good luck with that — most airlines will reimburse you if they lose your checked luggage (up to $3200), but most valuables such as cash, business materials, electronics, and jewelry are excluded, as is all cabin luggage. Also, you’ll need to show receipts and take a deduction for depreciation, so you won’t get full replacement value.
The TSA isn't much better: If you file a claim (here, on the TSA's Web site), expect a long, drawn-out process that is likely to end in minimal compensation or a denial.
So what about insurance? Your home owner's or renter's policy might cover you. If not, consider travel insurance (often a good idea anyway), available from more than a dozen companies; you can compare and get quotes at the excellent site InsureMyTrip.com.
Some credit cards also provide protection. In order to help establish the loss, be sure to file all the claims you can, along with a police report. But do yourself a favor: As with many of life's problems, when it comes to security, prevention is always best.
Add your advice
Have you been the victim of airport or airline theft? Any tips on preventing larcency in the air? Please share your advice.
You might also like The Baggage "Insurance" You've Probably Never Heard Of
Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, September 9, 2010
>By George Hobica
Have you noticed that padding on airline seats is getting thinner? Back in the days of the Lockheed Constellation and the DC-6, seats used to be less punishing -- they were more like La-Z-Boys. But don't expect to find cushy swivel chairs on your next economy-class flight. Today, in order to save fuel and squeeze in more passengers, the padding has been minimized -- and, as we all know, the rows of seats have been placed closer together. And seats may get even thinner.
Now, more than ever, upgrading can be a trip-saver. Here are eight ways to help make your next flight more comfortable:
1. Buy a seat with extra legroom. JetBlue, Delta, United and other airlines will sell you a few extra inches of legroom at the front of the economy cabin or at exit rows for a reasonable upgrade fee. We think this is money well spent. JetBlue charges as little as $10 extra for seats with 38 inches between rows, and has more leg room (34 inches between rows, rather than the 31-32 inches typical on some airlines) even if you don't pay more.
2. Buy a cheap business class seat on a discounter. Airtran and Spirit sell roomier business class seats for far less than most other airlines. Airtran will let you upgrade to business from any fare at the airport on a first-come, first served basis for $49-$99 per flight segment (that's one take off and one landing), or from higher economy fares in advance; Spirit calls their business class "the Big Front Seat" and fares are often less than other airlines' economy fares, especially if you're a member of their $9 Fare Club.
Virgin America offers last minute upgrades (4 hours before flight time) to its luxe first class cabin for between $70 and $270 each way depending on the length of the flight, and US Airways has a similar program called "GoUpgrades" allowing passengers to upgrade from economy class to first for $50 to $500 each way, depending on flight length, 24 hours or fewer before flight time. You can upgrade by phone or at the airport, and international flights are included. See this chart for more details about these and other programs. And United has long had its Economy Plus option, offering "up to 5 extra inches of legroom" in coach, starting at $9 per flight for shorter hops and going up to, say, $109 each way on a LA to Tokyo flight. There's also a $425 per year "annual option" giving you unlimited upgrades to the roomier seats, subject to availability of course. Other airlines may offer spontaneous upgrades at the airport, so be sure to ask about them at check in. You never know what you might snag.
3. Look for Y-UP and Q-UP fares. These economy class fares, for domestic travel only, can be upgraded for free to business or first class, but they're not dirt cheap, aren't fully refundable and come with other restrictions. Buy them online (e.g., search for "all types" of business class fares on Travelocity), by phone from your airline, or through travel agents.
4. Choose planes with more legroom. Not all aircraft are created equal. Check out the "seat pitch" data at Seatguru.com and book on an aircraft on which seat rows are spaced further apart. Doing so can earn you as much as two inches of extra legroom.
5. Buy international business and first class from consolidators. Ticket sellers such as 1stair.net and planetamex.com sell premium cabin fares at considerable discounts.
6. Use miles to upgrade. This is one of the highest-value ways you can spend your miles. Upgrading a $400 fare on United from New York to LA to a $2000 business class fare for 30,000 miles is a better deal than spending those miles on a $400 fare. Unfortunately, many airlines now charge miles plus cash to upgrade ( see chart.)
7. Be loyal. Upper-tier frequent flyer program members get free upgrades, priority access to exit row seating at no charge, and other perks on many airlines, so stick with one airline, fly frequently, and attain "premier" status.
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Not a fan of mob scenes at the gate? Then you're probably not all that fond of the long wait to deplane either. Sure, a seat in Business Class would remedy both, but...meh...too much money. American Airlines now offers a compromise by way of their new Express Seats option, allowing passengers to purchase seats in the first few rows of Coach, including bulkhead. Passengers booked in Express Seats are also boarded in Group 1 of general boarding, meaning less time spent waiting in a crowded gate, less time spent waiting to deplane.
Express Seats are available exclusively for sale at the self-service kiosks upon check-in at the airport, anytime from 24 hours to 50 minutes prior to departure, only for domestic travel.
Pricing will vary by destination and length of flight, though AA.com lists the following "introductory" examples:
$19 for St. Louis to Chicago O'Hare
Not entirely unreasonable we suppose. What do you think? Would you fork up $78 for a round-trip flight for the privilege of sitting in "upper" Coach?
Posted by Tracy Stewart on Monday, August 2, 2010
If you're the sort of flyer who avoids checked baggage fees by stuffing a carry-on to capacity, you may want to rethink your packing strategy. At least if you're flying Spirit Airlines that is. As of yesterday, the budget carrier began charging a fee for carry-on baggage. Passengers are allowed one free personal item/bag which must fit underneath a seat (16 x 14 x 12"). Items such as umbrellas, cameras , infant diaper bags, assistive devices, outer garments, car seat/strollers, reading material, and snacks do not count towards the carry-on baggage allowance. Any carry-on baggage beyond this must be stored in the overhead bin (22 x 18 x 10"), 1 item per purchased seat, with fees ranging from:
$20 for $9 Fare Club members (online check-in)
Now it's entirely possible to shell out more for the transport of your carry-on than for the actual seat. But before you go clutching your pearls in outrage, try and see the silver lining here. With fewer folks dilly dallying in the aisles as they struggle with bags in the overhead, boarding and take off should be a tad quicker. Or that's the idea, anyhow.
Will other carriers soon follow? Stay tuned.
In the meantime, you can review Spirit's new baggage policy here.
Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, July 15, 2010
Since this was blog post was published last year, No. 7 on our "wish list" has been put into effect. Now what about the other seven items? Feel free to add your favorite new regulation in the comments.
What else should we add to the list? Now be reasonable! And add your comments below.
By George Hobica
Much has been written about something called Rule 240. Some pundits claim it’s an “urban travel legend” and no longer exists. Others disagree.
We've noted whether, near as we can tell, the airline will put you in first class on its own (or another carrier's) next flight out.
Rule 240 (or something like it) by airline
Links to contracts of carriage
And if you're traveling within or from any member country of the European Union, you're protected by an additional set of rights that are even stronger than those in the airlines' domestic contracts of carriage or those issued by the US government:
See: Passenger Rights in the European Union.
Read our other useful charts
In case you missed them, these consumer-oriented charts have a lot of useful information:
The NY Times and Wall St. Journal and other media outlets are reporting that Continental and United have become more serious about a merger, now that the US Airways/United talks have ended. So would yet another mega merger result in higher airfares?
The stock market seems to think so. Had you you invested your nest egg in Delta Airlines' stock at its 52 week low, right now you'd be three times richer.
And if CO/UA merge, doesn't that mean that American, which would suddenly become just the third largest US carrier, would want to find a partner as well, perhaps in US Airways or, who knows, JetBlue?
So imagine a world with United, Delta, American and Southwest as the main domestic airlines. We'd still have AirTran, which could move into markets that the majors might have to abandon owing to overlapping routes, plus JetBlue, Frontier/Midwest, and Alaska. (Oh, and tiny Virgin America.) That's still a lot of airlines, and airlines have been notorious for being incredibly competitive price-wise, often to their own detriment. Plus, it's really not all that hard to start a new airline, especially now that credit is beginning to thaw. There are plenty of planes in the Mohave waiting for a new home. So we could see another David Neeleman jump into the fray and create a new airline to give the majors some competition.
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