US Airways seems to be trying to crash the Delta-Northwest engagement party by offering good-to-great summer fares to London (mostly Gatwick) from the soon-to-be honeymooners' coveted hubs and getting at least Delta riled up enough amidst all the wedding planning to respond in kind.
The acrimony has fueled a transatlantic fare war of sorts from airports that don't usually get a whole lot of international pricing action, such as Cincinnati, Charlotte, Memphis, and Tampa, and the list goes on, so check out all the fares we've found to London Gatwick and London Heathrow.
Airline passengers, whether traveling for business or pleasure, might want to think twice about how much they bring along for the ride starting next month.
Five of the seven major US airlines (Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Air) plan to start charging most customers $25 each way to check a second bag starting May 5. Only American and Southwest, of the largest carriers, have decided not to go along—for now. Airtran is adding a $10 second bag fee for travel on or after May 15. Spirit Airlines already had a $10 fee if paid online, or $20 at the airport. But why let the airlines overcharge you for a service they provide so poorly? After all, lost, damaged and stolen luggage is a bad situation getting worse. If you're traveling domestically, read on for a better solution.
Q: Do you have to pay these fees even if you’ve spent $3000 on a first class ticket?
A: No. The new fees do not apply to all passengers. Those buying first class or business class tickets, or flying on frequent flyer awards in those classes, will typically be exempt, as will frequent flyer program members who have achieved upper tiers with their airlines (such as United Mileage Plus Premier customers). Military personnel flying “with orders” are also exempt.
Q: Why are the airlines adding these fees?
A: The cost of jet fuel is skyrocketing, yet the airlines have not been able to raise fares to compensate. So they’re adding and increasing “ancillary” fees. All sorts of fees are going up, such as those for pets carried in the cabin and re-depositing unused frequent flyer miles.
Q: What if you’re carrying more than two bags? Are those $25 extra each as well?
A: We could only wish. These fees are in addition to existing ones for excess, oversized and overweight bags, which have also been increased recently. So a passenger traveling on United with three checked bags weighing 50 pounds or less will be charged $25 for the second but $100 for the third. If any of the three bags tips the scale at 51 pounds more, however, overweight charges of an additional $100 per bag, each way, kick in. So unless otherwise exempt, a passenger flying roundtrip on United with three bags weighing just a pound over the 50 pound limit would be charged $200 for the first ($100 overweight fee each way), $250 for the second (second bag fee of $25 times two plus overweight fee of $100 times two), and $400 for the third (a $100 third bag fee times two plus a $100 overweight fee times two), for a total—fasten your seat belts—of $850.
Keep in mind that these are domestic fees, and international charges may be higher, depending on destination.
Q: $850? ! That’s more than most fares. So what’s a traveler to do?
A: There must be a better way, and there is: UPS, US Postal Service, or FedEx. Flying from your home in Manhattan to a convention in Long Beach? UPS will send your 51 pounds of trade show samples each way for $59.34, when last checked at ups.com, with four-day service. Or ship that 60 pound suitcase from Miami to San Francisco for $63.78 each way. Not only will you avoid having to lug your luggage through endless airport concourses, but chances are that UPS will do a better job of not losing your shipment than your airline will (and if they do misplace it, they’ll at least feel bad about it).
Q: And speaking of lost luggage, airlines don’t take responsibility for many types of items lost or damaged in checked luggage, or for carryon luggage. What’s excluded?
Read the fine print in your airline’s lost and damaged luggage policy: those items are not covered if something goes amiss. They’re in the same category as cash, valuables, jewelry, and electronics. At least when you ship FedEx or UPS, you can declare a higher value and insure your business items. In fact, before you pack for your next flight, it’s a good idea to have a look at what your airline will not take responsibility for should your checked bags be lost or damaged. Here’s American’s list, for example, which is pretty standard for the industry:
“ Antiques, artifacts, artwork, books and documents, china, computers and other electronic equipment, computer software, fragile items (including child/infant restraint devices such as strollers and car seats), eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, non-prescription sunglasses and all other eyewear and eye/vision devices whether lenses are glass, plastic, or some other material, furs, heirlooms, items carried in the passenger compartment of the aircraft, liquids, medicines, money, perishable items, photographic, video and optical equipment, precious metals, stones or jewelry, securities and negotiable papers, silverware, samples, unique or irreplaceable items or any other similar valuable items.” (Note the “samples” bit, all you road warriors). United excludes these items as well, and also mentions “business effects” in its disclaimer -- which probably includes your press kits and all those fridge magnets you were going to give away at the trade show.
So tell your airline no thanks next time they try to hit you with baggage fees. Plan ahead, tell your hotel (or branch office or family) that you’re expecting a shipment and to hold it until your arrival, and save yourself some money and a backache.
The friendliest emirate this side of the Persian Gulf, Dubai is also a booming financial center, happening cosmopolitan hotspot, sprawling shopping mecca and the only tropical beach resort offering year-round skiing on an indoor slope.
Everybody's invited and seems to be going, so getting there often isn't cheap, but we've found a bunch of great fares for May travel that won't cost you a whole lot more than yet another trip to Hawaii or a jump across the pond to Europe.
Starting at just under $800 from New York or $850 from Chicago and Los Angeles, these deals are too good to be easy to get, but if you poke around long enough you will find them, just like we did. Check out our Dubai page for the whole list and the individual fares for more details.
Abu Dhabi might be considered the runner-up for much of the above except the more outlandish amusement park aspects, but it currently ranks only a distant second when it comes to the price of admission, which starts at $950 from New York and $1012 from Chicago.
Virgin America announced a "summer travel fare sale" which requires ticket purchase by April 25 and allows travel between April 26 and June 11, 2008. Sale prices pertain to Virgin America's service between San Francisco and San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Seattle. Additionally, Los Angeles to Seattle is included. Washington, D.C. (Dulles) or New York (JFK) to Los Angeles or San Francisco are on the roster as well. Fares are non-refundable, can be booked for one-way travel and of course seats are limited. We have seen similar fares before and in many cases other carriers offer the same or similar fares as well. Still, for what is actually spring and/or early summer travel, these fares are largely very reasonable. When we checked, they seemed to be fairly easy to find as well. At present, these fares must be grabbed before the week is out, but sometimes Virgin America just seems to extend the fare level and change the restrictions when the sale expiration date arrives. You can use Virgin America's website but these fares are also bookable on Travelocity as well, where using the flexible date search is sometimes a handy tool.
The US DOT has increased the mandatory compensation for bumped passengers ("denied boarding" in airline speak) from the previous, woefully low $200-$400. The new compensation range is $400-$800 (still not enough in our humble opinion). Plus, flights operated by planes with 60 or fewer seats were previously exempt; now only those with 30 or fewer are exempt. Read about this and other steps that the DOT is finally taking to address the airline mess. The new regulations go into effect in May. Says the DOT in their media release: "The amount of these payments are determined by the price of the ticket and the length of the delay, and are in addition to the value of the passenger’s ticket, which the flyer can use for alternate transportation or have refunded if not used."
Start counting your blessings and your beans, Beantown! Iberia is having an unadvertised summer sale with great deals from Boston to Europe that should have the whole Northeast jumping for joy and getting out the vacation planner. While not quite as spectacular as the all too brief Air France sale earlier in the week, the savings here are solid and should be easier to cash in.
Prices start at $650 for non-stop flights to Madrid, but almost all destinations are included at up to half off otherwise high summer fares, with all of Italy and most of Western Europe within reach for less than $700 and the rest going for up to $150 more, even places as far-flung as Istanbul, Moscow, Cairo and Tel Aviv, all for around $780. Availability is very limited, but in most cases we found seats for mid-to-late July departures with mid-to-late August returns, and other scenarios may be possible.
With the proposed merger of Delta and Northwest, what’s in the cards for airfares? Many consumers are worried that consolidation will bring higher fares, especially if Continental, American, US Air and United also hear wedding bells ringing.
But that ain’t necessarily so.
Several factors could keep fares low.
For one thing, to quote former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune speaking at a recent travel industry conference, with apologies to P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.
There’s always some misguided soul who will want to start a new airline (ask any little boy what he wants to be when he grows up and he’ll tell you a policeman, fireman, or pilot. And if he can’t be a pilot, he’ll probably want to run an airline).
This is especially true after periods of airline consolidation. When Pan Am disappeared and after American bought TWA, fares increased for a while on certain routes, but then we saw the creation and expansion of discount carriers, some sadly no longer with us or on the danger list, such as AirTran, Skybus, ATA, JetBlue, Spirit, Allegiant, Sun Country, USA3000, Frontier, Virgin America, and Southwest. The same thing probably will happen again.
So if consolidation leaves us with three or four major airlines and a handful of surviving low cost carriers, another David Neeleman will emerge to launch another JetBlue (actually Mr. Neeleman has left JetBlue and is building a new South American discount carrier).
The fact is that the airline industry, from the first scheduled flight on January 1, 1914 to the present has never been particularly rational when it comes to the bottom line. Ask anyone who’s been foolish enough to buy airline stocks.
Another factor to consider is that consolidation of the major airlines may not, in the end, ensure their survival. They all have higher cost structures (ageing fleets, expensive labor) than the low cost carriers. If we end up with Delta-Northwest, United-Continental, and American-US Air as the remaining “Big Three,” these airlines may become aviation dinosaurs, prey to existing and new low cost carriers. This Darwinian survival of the fittest scenario could keep airfares reasonably low.
Additionally, the new “Open Skies” agreements, which allow foreign and US airlines to fly new routes between the US and foreign airports, may help to keep international fares affordable.
And then there’s the oil factor. Some industry analysts believe that $112 oil is a fluke, and that prices will eventually plummet, as they have in the past. That would encourage (or enable if you’re into psychotherapy) the next generation of discount airline entrepreneurs.
Even so, chances are we won’t see many more of those crazy retaliatory, tit-for-tat, unadvertised hub-airport fare wars. That’s when Delta would lower fares out of Northwest’s hubs to ridiculously low levels and then Northwest would return the favor out of Delta’s hubs a few hours later. One Saturday morning a few years ago as Airfarewatchdog.com aficionados will recall, Delta lowered fares between all of their US airports and Continental Airlines’ hubs to $88 round-trip; and later that day Continental returned the favor by targeting Delta’s hubs at the same $88 fare.) This sort of irrational behavior may be history, and for the sake of all flight attendants surviving on food stamps, perhaps it should be.
What we will see, however, is all those maddening extra fees going up and up. Pet in cabin fees, redeposit frequent flyer mile fees, advance seat assignment fees, and all the others. Already, most major airlines now charge $25 for a second checked bag. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next move is a fee for every checked bag. Some airlines (United among them) will still refund the difference if a fare you’ve purchased goes down between the time you buy and the time you fly, without extracting a $100 ticket re-issue fee. But don’t expect that to last either. In fact, don’t be surprised if airlines eliminate price drop refunds altogether (as was the policy at now-defunct, you buy it you fly it SkyBus).
What about international fares? There might be some good news here. The new “open skies” agreements, which allow foreign airlines more leeway to fly between the U.S. and foreign airports, may keep fares from spiking too terribly, and may also keep service levels from plunging.
And in any event, let’s face it: even if airfares increase moderately, they’ll still be an amazing bargain. Twenty years ago, you would have paid far more for an airline ticket, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than you do now. According to the Air Transport Association, admittedly an industry trade group, the inflation-adjusted cost of domestic air travel has dropped by 50 percent since deregulation in 1978, from 8 cents per mile to 4 cents per mile today.
Silverjet, the all-business class airline flying from Newark to London's Luton Airport is offering $919 one-way (plus tax) fares to London for travel in May and June. This sale ends at midnight on April 18, and it's (obviously) a very good deal.
If you've flown all business class, you know how uncrowded the planes are. And there's something nice about everyone being in the same "boat"--no class warfare (I always feel a little sheepish when deplaning in London on British Airways when flying business class and they make the poor economy passengers wait standing in the aisles while we business class passengers shuffle off into the Jetway).
Little Allegiant Air just announced new service to/from San Franciso and San Diego to/from Bellingham. Flights to/from San Fran begin June 6 and to/from San Diego on June 12, both 3 times weekly. As always, all flights are nonstops in both directions. Introductory fares begin at $59.00 in the case of San Fran and $69.00 for San Diego. Purchases must be made by May 10, 2008 only on Allegiant Air's site. Seats are limited, fares non-refundable and travel is permitted through August 31, 2008. We even found some of Allegiant's ever famous single digit fares ($8.00) heading TO Bellingham from each of these new destinations. These come and go and are only isolated, found in June at this printing. Remember, the above fares are one-ways, as Allegiant permits one- way travel at half the round trip fare we list. Grab 'em while they're hot. Probably won't last long!