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Fare of the Day: Erie to Los Angeles

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Friday, March 19, 2010

Erie to Los Angeles $220 round-trip, incl. all taxes

This fare is available for travel between April 12 and May 27, and requires a 14-day advance purchase.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Categories: Airfare Tips


Fare of the Day: Los Angeles to San Jose, Costa Rica

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Thursday, March 18, 2010

Los Angeles to San Jose, Costa Rica $249 round-trip, incl. all taxes

This fare is available on select dates in April and May. And from New York, we've found fares for this route at $275 round-trip, incl. all taxes.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Categories: Airfare Tips

Fare of the Day: New York to Barcelona

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New York to Barcelona, Spain $637 round-trip, nonstop, incl. all taxes

Nonstop? Mid-June? And only $637? Yes, please. We'll take it.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Categories: Airfare Tips

Fare of the Day: Charlotte to San Francisco

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Charlotte to San Francisco $191 round-trip, incl. all taxes

This fare is available for travel on select days between April 12 and May 27.

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Categories: Airfare Tips

Say what? Sun Country's Seasonal Service to London?

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What's this? Minneapolis based budget carrier Sun Country is offering seasonal summer flights to London?! As in, England? Well, apparently so! As of June 11, Sun Country will begin weekly service between Minneapolis and London-Stansted, departing MSP on Fridays and returning from STN on Sundays, through August 15. Be warned though, at $936 round-trip including taxes (or $399 one-way, before taxes), fares do not come cheap. Still, for peak summer travel, their fare beats out the lowest peak summer fare offer from Orbitz, which is $1,398 on Delta. Neither quite as budget as we'd hoped. But stay tuned! It's early yet, and who knows where summer fares will go!

To learn more, visit Tracy Stewart's profile on Google+

Categories: Europe/Africa/Middle East Airfares

Business travelers are staying home. But they're probably losing out.

Posted by George Hobica on Tuesday, March 16, 2010

By George Hobica

Business travelers are flying less. Teleconferencing is on the rise, as is the use of Web conferencing services such as GoToMeeting and WebEx as companies attempt to save money.

Newell Rubbermaid, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, cut its travel budget by 28% last year, and encourages employees to use videoconferencing instead of flying somewhere, and other US companies have cut travel 30-40%, estimates American Express Business Travel.

But as Ryan Bingham's boss discovers in the 2009 hit movie Up in the Air, some business missions are better accomplished in person (if you haven't seen the film, Bingham's job is to fire people for companies too chicken to do it themselves, and his boss decides that this can best be done via teleconferencing but later discovers that this isn't such a hot idea).

I, too, have found that if you really want to get something done, you have to do it in person. For example, I've been trying for years to gain the attention of an influential journalist who hadn't written about I had emailed this person, and sent media kits, and left messages, all to no avail. So I tried visiting in person and having a lunch. Yes, it cost money and time, but it was well worth the effort. A week later, the visit had accomplished its purpose.

How many careers have been launched at trade shows? What's the value of taking the measure of a potential business partner face-to-face rather than over the phone?


At Airfarewatchdog, we used to deal with our software programmers by email, instant message, and phone, in order to save costs. But I'm convinced that we wasted a lot of money, because our requests were often misunderstood, and it took more time doing it this way than sitting down with the programmers and literally drawing them a picture to get the enhancements done quickly and coherently. (Our programmers were based in Boise, and we are in New York, so travel would have been costly and time consuming, but given the chance to do it all over again, I would make the effort.)

When I was a freelance travel writer living in Boston, I tried in vain, by phone and email, to get assignments from magazines such as Travel and Leisure, based in New York. But once I started making desk appointments and meeting editors face to face, I never left without an article to write. Face to face works better than the alternatives.

My sincere belief is that although some business trips are unnecessary and some are fruitless, more revenue is being left on the table by ill-advised cuts in corporate travel budgets than is being saved by bean counters who encourage workers to stay home. This is a point made by British Airways, in their Face-to-Face campaign, which awarded 10 business class tickets to 100 companies in a recent contest, so that they could see first hand the benefits of a handshake.

If you make the effort to meet someone face to face, it speaks volumes, especially if, as is more and more the case, your competition is staying home.

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

Categories: Air Travel

"Members only" airfare deals yours for the asking

By George Hobica

You've probably clipped cents-off coupons from your Sunday newspaper to buy stuff like toothpaste, but did you know that you can also use "coupon" deals to cut the cost of your next vacation?

Time to get on the promo code and "members only" bandwagon, frugal flyers. Recently, United Vacations offered a coupon code deal with $700 off vacation packages from the US to Canada, for two people traveling together. Turns out there was some kind of glitch, and it also worked for one person traveling alone. So you could have flown from San Francisco to Vancouver and stayed three nights in a four-star hotel, including air fare and all taxes, for about $98.

A similar deal on packages to the Bahamas from Florida recently worked out to--sit down for this--$0, including tax. And staffers have been able to combine those crazy 9 cent or $1 fares on Spirit Airlines with their frequent "50FF" and "35OFF" promo codes to get $50 or $35 off the total fare, again eliminating not just the airfare but also the taxes. Nothing beats flying for nothing.

So how do you get these deals? It's pretty easy, actually, but you're going to be getting a lot for email in your in box. When you sign up for the airlines' email newsletters and frequent flyer programs, they reward you by sending out special deals that only members can use. Often, they're in the form of a promo code that you plug into the airline's web site booking engine. Sometimes these deals are generic, such as Spirit's 50OFF deals, but in other instances they're individually generated so that only you can use them.

Oddly, airlines don't always make it easy to find their newsletter and frequent flyer sign up links. So that's why airfarewatchdog has put them all in two handy places: one for international airlines and one for domestic carriers.

As we said, yes, you'll get more email. But the savings will be well worth it.

Do you fly "large"? If so, you might have to buy two seats

By David Landsel

You’re paying to check your belongings, so why should other people’s excess baggage get a free ride?

That’s the question being asked by a growing number of travelers. As airlines look for new ways to boost revenue, fees for checked bags are on the rise; so is scrutiny of overweight customers whose baggage is built in.

It’s a touchy subject, has found, and one that airlines have been happy to avoid discussing, where possible. As late as 2008, United Airlines wouldn’t even address the matter with us.

But an outcry among passengers, tired of their seatmates taking up more than their fair share of jealously-guarded seat space, is said to have played a role in the airlines’ new rules for transporting “customers of size.” Where a terse “we have no policy” was once the standard response, United adopted new regulations in 2009. Customers who were unable to confine themselves to one seat would be required to buy a second, should the crew be unable to reseat them.

It’s a policy that’s becoming increasingly commonplace.

To many, the idea seems simple enough – if you can’t fit into one seat, you should probably consider buying two.

It’s not simple at all. Canada’s government takes a dim view of the matter. In late 2008, the country’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling that prohibited airlines from charging the disabled or “obese” for a second seat, affecting Canadian flyers Air Canada and WestJet.  

Here in the United States, some airlines with upfront policies have spent their fair share of time in the courts. Southwest has long been famously transparent about its second seat rule, the one that United and many other airlines have emulated. The company has been sued more than once by disgruntled passengers.

“On the lawsuits, all have ruled on the side of Southwest,” spokesperson Whitney Eichinger points out.

Southwest’s policy is that those who cannot fit in one seat must buy two.  

“If the flight goes out with empty seats, Southwest will refund the cost of the additional seat,” Eichinger said.

Other airlines have had their share of legal trouble in this area.  

In the past, Air France warned passengers with what they referred to as “high body mass” not to expect to be seated if they have not purchased an extra seat. This is a warning that many airlines, even those who officially have tried to downplay any official policy, have long given to travelers.

Some travelers, however, don’t see the need. That, or the airline and the passenger disagree over what constitutes “need.” An Air France passenger traveling from New Delhi to Paris in 2006 sitting in a single seat was stopped by employees, who wrapped packing tape around him in public to prove that he was too fat. Citing humiliation, he sued, and won.

At the time, the airline had a program in place that offered passengers a second seat at a 25 percent discount, tax-free. It was a move that the airline had hoped would encourage customers to make arrangements in advance.

Recently, Air France made an update to the policy, bringing it more in line with Southwest’s policy, which has been around for decades. According to Air France spokesperson Karen Gillo, the second seat purchase is still optional. Now, however, the cost will be reimbursed if the flight is not fully booked.  

“It’s a way to encourage individuals to pre-plan to ensure their own comfort and safety; it allows them to travel with less stress,” she said.

Gillo stated that “for the mass majority of the cases, the flights aren’t fully booked” and passengers will be reimbursed.

Air France isn’t the only one making tweaks these days. JetBlue spokesman Mateo Lleras said the airline is currently working to refine its policy. And Spirit Airlines requires “customers of size” to buy two seats, period.

Currently, Lleras said, the airline does its best to accommodate customers free of charge. It will charge if it has to, but says that it approaches the matter on a “case by case basis.”

“We understand this is a sensitive issue,” he said. “Every time we can accommodate a customer we will.”

No more free, non-confirmed same day standby on American?

By George Hobica

In what may be a sign of things to come, American Airlines has quietly announced "easier" same day standby policies, but what they fail to mention is that it appears you will no longer be able to do a non-confirmed same day standby.

Most US airlines have offered two same day standby options: if you want to take an earlier or later flight on the same day of your original flight, you can either pay for a confirmed seat (typically for a fee of $25 to $50), or you can take your chances and hope that there's a seat available without asking for a confirmed seat (the free option). But it appears that for fares bought after Feb. 22, 2010, only confirmed seats are available on American Airlines, for a fee of $50.

The alternate flights must be for your same itinerary and your flight change can only be confirmed within 12 hours of departure of the desired flight. This option is subject to availability of eligible seats. Also, American continues to offer the same-day option of standing by for an earlier or later domestic flight for certain customers (see below) at no charge. The new policy applies only to travel within and between the US and Canada.

So basically what's happened here is yet another fee "upgrade" and Airfarewatchdog wouldn't be surprised if other airlines will take note and change their policies as well, eliminating free same day standby where it exists.

The following American Airlines passengers may standby at no charge based on seat availability:

  • Customers traveling within and between the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Canada with tickets purchased before February 22, 2010
  • Customers who purchase unrestricted Economy Class fares (Y, B, H class of service)
  • Customers who purchase Business or First Class tickets
  • Active U.S. Military personnel traveling on orders or personal travel
  • Active U.S. Military dependents traveling on orders
  • American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum® or AAdvantage Gold® members
  • oneworld® Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby members
  • Customers flying on the same reservation as an American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum or AAdvantage Gold member or oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby member regardless of frequent flier status or fare type
  • AAirpass® members
  • First and Business Class MileSAAver® Awards
  • First, Business and Economy Class AAnytime® Awards

Airline policies differ

Some airlines still offer free same day flight changes on a standby basis. JetBlue, for example, makes a distinction between a same day flight change, for which it currently charges a fee of $40 to travel on a later or earlier flight in a confirmed seat, and same day standby travel; you may travel on an earlier flight only, at no charge, on a standby basis; if you want to get a confirmed seat on an earlier or later flight on the same day as your original reservation, then the charge kicks in. However, Southwest Airlines' official policy, which is sometimes waived by kindly personnel, is to charge the difference between what you originally paid for your discount fare and the then current last minute (walk up) fare when you request a same day flight change.

Currently, United, Continental, US Air and Delta allow both same day confirmed flight changes and no-fee same day standby. United charges $75 for confirmed same day changes.

And whatever the airlines' official policy, fees are sometimes waived, even for passengers without special status. For example, if your flight is overbooked and you've shown up for an earlier flight, airlines have an incentive to book you on the earlier flight with no fee.

New fees make frequent flyer flights even less "free"

Posted by George Hobica on Saturday, March 13, 2010

By George Hobica


Is upgrading with miles a wild fare chase?

Thanks to new co-pays and rules, using your frequent flier miles to upgrade can be really confusing, impossible or not worthwhile. Confusing because the airlines have different rules, which seem to change at a whim; impossible because often there are no seats available for upgrading on popular routes, even if you plan months ahead; and not worthwhile because the major airlines often require that you buy one of their more expensive fares to be eligible and, to add to the insult, now levy expensive co-pays of up to $1000 round- trip, plus miles, to sit up front (that's in addition to the other frequent flyer fees they charge).

Even so, sometimes the effort is worthwhile. Last year, I flew from New York to Los Angeles, and thought it would be pleasant to fly business class on one of United’s PS (as in Premium Service) nonstop flights. Searching on, I discovered that these flights carry a premium price: at the time, about $2050 round-trip compared to Delta's $1500 business class fares. But I also discovered that I had 30,000 miles in my MileagePlus account, just enough for a round-trip upgrade, and, using a site called, identified which United flights were eligible for upgrade.

ExpertFlyer (membership starts at $4.99/month) works with several major airlines (regrettably, of the larger US carriers, only American and Delta, and no longer with United), which make their real-time upgrade inventory available to subscribers. The service allows you to figure out the lowest priced fare class eligible for upgrade, and shows which flights have upgradeable seats at that fare.

The cheapest economy fare on my dates of travel was an economy fare of about $230, but only a fare starting at $450 was upgradeable. Still, I preferred spending 30,000 miles for $1600 of value rather than 25,000 miles for $230 of value (the price of the cheapest economy fare).

But it’s not always that easy to snag an upgradeable seat at a reasonable fare. Over the last year or two, the major US-based airlines have been tinkering with their upgrade policies, changing mileage requirements, the eligible fare classes, and adding fees. Worse, they’ve been eliminating flights, reducing seat availability. Here’s an update of what to expect.


American levies a $100 round-trip co-pay plus 30,000 miles for non- Hawaiian domestic upgrades (half these amounts for one-way; all mileage requirements and co-pays in this article are based on round- trips); there is a $300 co-pay on Hawaiian routes. But virtually all American fare classes are eligible for upgrades. On international flights, most destinations require 50,000 miles plus $700 to upgrade from discounted economy fares (there are no co-pays from full fare economy fares). Fares booked in I, O and Q fare classes aren’t upgradeable for travel to Asia, Europe, India or South America; and those booked in I or O are ineligible for travel elsewhere as well.


Continental also requires co-pays, but allows all discounted fare classes to be upgraded, subject to inventory controls. Co-pays on flights offering BusinessFirst business class cabins (international flights and nonstops between Houston or Newark and Hawaii) range from $200 to $1000 round-trip; on flights where BusinessFirst isn’t offered, co-pays range from $100 to $300, although B, M, H, and K fare classes are exempt (as are Elite frequent flyer members).


Delta used to allow upgrades only on more expensive economy class fares, but they recently added less-expensive H, Q and K fare classes. However, other airlines generally offer more fare class choices, a situation mitigated only slightly by Delta’s 25,000 mile upgrades on non-Hawaiian domestic routes (compared to the 30,000 required by other airlines). The good thing about upgrading with miles on Delta is that there are no co-pays. But for international travel, only the more expensive, slightly discounted, B and M fares are available for upgrades.


Effective for award requests made on or after January 12, 2010, the good news is that upgrades on many routes required fewer miles and more fare classes will be eligible; the bad news is that you’ll have to fork over a co-pay of between $100 and $1000 (United had originally scheduled co-pays to kick in this past July, but had a change of heart). In the current (pre-Jan 12) scheme, on a flight from North America to international destinations you could only upgrade to business class from a fairly expensive M or H economy class fare for 60,000 miles, but with no co-pay. After January 12, that same trip can be upgraded from a much wider range of fare classes for just 40,000 miles, but with a co-pay of $500-$1000, depending on the fare class and destination. Prior to January 12 , fares booked in G class aren't upgradeable; for travel from North America, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Central America to all other destinations United serves, E, U, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K, and G fares are non-upgradeable.

On domestic US flights, starting in January, co-pays range from $100- $200 round-trip (when first announced, there was up to a $1000 co-pay for upgrading the cheapest fares to or from Hawaii, but United has backtracked on that ("we heard your feedback," they state on their web site) and now the co-pay is the same as for other domestic flights). But all fare classes will be upgradeable. So, while there’s greater flexibility, the co-pays may make upgrading an expensive proposition, assuming that seats, which are inventory controlled, are even available. And keep in mind that those name your own price fares you bought from Priceline are also ineligible.

US Airways

As of August 15, 2009, US Airways no longer required their Dividend Miles members to purchase a minimum fare (it had been $1400) to upgrade to business class. There’s currently no co-pay for domestic flights, even to Hawaii. For international travel, you pay 60,000 miles plus $600 ($800 to the Middle East). All fare classes are eligible for upgrade, but that doesn’t mean that all seats and flights have seats available.

Maybe you should just buy an upgrade?

So which airline should you earn miles on if you’re hoping to upgrade? Let’s not bring your frequent flyer status into the discussion, because that would complicate things beyond the scope of this article. The truth is, it’s a complicated question, because all the miles and co-pay cash in the world amount to nothing if there are no seats available for upgrades when and where you want to fly, or if the only fares eligible are so expensive that when you add a co-pay, you might as well just buy a discounted business class ticket. Which airlines have the most seats available for upgrades at the lowest possible fares? No one really knows (if the aforementioned worked with all airlines, we might have a fighting chance at stabbing a guess). But that’s the crux of the matter: what difference does it make how many miles you need, or what fare classes are eligible, or what the co-pays are, if the airlines, which are cutting flights and capacity in their premium cabins, really just want to sell you a business or first class seat and aren’t making enough available for upgrades? Basically, the only way to make sure you sit up front is to buy your way in.

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

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