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Hidden City Airfares Can Save Money, But Sometimes at Great Cost

By George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog.com

For years, savvy airfare consumers have used a trick called "hidden city" ticketing to reduce the cost of air travel.

Here's how it works. Let's say, as a recent example, that the one-way fare between New York's LaGuardia Airport and Houston is $785. But the fare from New York to Austin, TX with a connection in Houston is just $101. If Houston is your destination, then why not just buy the Austin fare and get off in Houston?

There are a couple of problems with this. For one, it doesn't work with round-trip itineraries. If you book a New York-Houston-Austin-Houston-New York round-trip in the above scenario at $202 (twice the one-way fare), get off in Houston, and don't show up for the Austin-Houston-Austin-New York legs of the trip, then the airline will cancel all your remaining flights.

And no, you cannot get around this by buying two separate one-way fares. In other words, you can't buy a return Austin-Houston-New York fare for $101 because when you don't show up at the Austin airport your Houston-New York portion will be canceled.

The other problem is that most airlines prohibit this ticketing trick.

Only Southwest, of the major carriers, has no language in its contract of carriage prohibiting hidden city ticketing. (Southwest used to specifically state in its contract that it had no problem with hidden cities, but a recent perusal of the rules merely reveals no mention of the practice).

No, the airlines will not throw you in jail. But if you do it too often they might kick you out of their frequent flyer program, confiscating your miles. And if you buy a fare through a travel agent, they might go after the agent with a "debit memo," charging her for the fare difference. So don't buy hidden city fares through travel agents and don't hand over your frequent flyer number, travel hackers advise. 

More worrisome, sometimes the best laid plans of fare hackers can go seriously awry. What happens if some portion of your New York-Houston-Austin flight is canceled or delayed and Continental decides to re-route you through Cleveland and then onward to Austin? Sorry, pal, you're going to Austin after all, or, at the very least, Cleveland (that, or you can just kiss your fare goodbye). But hey, we hear Austin is a fun place to visit.

Follow us on Twitter @airfarewatchdog for late-breaking unadvertised airfare sales and air travel advice.

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Ask a Flight Attendant

Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, October 27, 2011

Airfarewatchdog.com staff

We've been flying around the world asking flight attendants about their jobs. Here's our latest installment...

 

What complaints do you hear from passengers about annoying things other passengers do?

Oh we hear it all! From smelly people to talkative passengers who think everyone wants to hear every word they say. In fact, our nonstop flight to Delhi is known amongst crew as the Smelly Delhi route as the plane is quite malodorous. Our schedulers even try to keep the same aircraft flying that route back and forth if possible so as not to inconvenience passengers on other routes. While the route is worth a lot of hours, it often ends up being a rather junior crew due to the special fragrance.

We often hear from passengers asking to move seats because their seatmate is overly talkative. While we truly try to find them another seat, sometimes the plane is full. Almost every flight has some passenger that thinks everyone on board is there to be a part of their personal talk show. Some people just cannot take a hint! Inevitably, that same annoying seatmate of yours will end up in the galley trying to chat the crew up for hours too. I guess we can all take pleasure in knowing we don't have to spend our whole lives with these people. Surely, someone does!

Is there a passenger request that irritates you the most?

Oh yeah. On short flights, when someone asks for a complicated drink. It amazes me how passengers have no comprehension or even respect at how when we have 10 minutes to serve 16 people in first class that a complicated mixed drink with three special requests really complicates our ability to serve the rest of the passengers. We are more than happy to serve fancy drinks, but on short flights, have some respect for your fellow passengers! Sometimes our carts only have certain things in them, and we have to go to the back to get mixers. A Bloody Mary with a lime, extra pepper, no ice, and a splash of tomato juice and olive juice is just not feasible within a short window of time in a cramped galley.

Returning a meal in business or first class that is not to your liking is understandable. However, passengers sometimes do not realize that we have a limited availability of certain items on board. Once we set a tray down in front of you, we cannot serve it to someone else. So, that meal goes wasted. It's not like we have an endless supply of food up there. Traveling in a premium cabin is expensive, but some people do not realize that returning meals three times is disrespectful to other passengers on board who may want to try that dish when the cart eventually reaches them.

What's with the surly attitude of many flight attendants?

While most of us try our best to be friendly to our customers, there are a few bad apples in the bunch. Believe me, we can tell when we are working with a sour puss on our flights. While it's not acceptable to be rude, many people fail to realize we may have been flying all day. Some crews may fly three or four short flights in a day. The hardest part of the flight for us is boarding the aircraft. We will happily schlep a beverage cart up and down the aisle all day, but boarding passengers with oversized carryon bags and smelly containers of fast food is tiring. It's really one of the most frustrating parts of the job.

Our airline does not pay us enough to be extra nice to each person. If management wants us to treat passengers like customers, then they should treat us like valued employees.

In Asia, our competition includes major airlines like Singapore and Thai so we have to truly go above and beyond to impress our passengers. We, as flight attendants, know that people have many choices these days, and low-fare carriers are on our tail. It's very important that we go above and beyond especially in specific markets (but, ideally on all flights) to please customers.

Part of the problem these days is that major U.S. carriers have contracted out much of the domestic flying to regional carriers. These are independent airlines that operate under the major airline's brand. The customer perceives this as a flight by the major airline despite the smaller airline's crews operating the flight. They are supposed to follow the larger airline's service standards and procedures, but the crews are often very young or not as experienced. It translates negatively towards our brand image and leaves a bad impression with customers.

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

Fare of the Day: New York to Fayetteville $116 RT including all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fly from New York to Fayetteville for $116 round-trip, including all taxes, on Delta Airlines.

This fare is valid for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, with a 330-day travel window. May not be available around peak travel periods/holidays.

For booking info, see our Fare Details.

 

Question? Comment? Follow us @Airfarewatchdog on Twitter! And find us on Facebook.

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

Fare of the Day: Providence to Ft Lauderdale $146 RT including all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fly from Providence to Ft Lauderdale for $146 round-trip, including all taxes.

This fare is valid for travel every day of the week except Sunday, through March 7. Tickets require a 10-day advance purchase. No minimum stay.

For booking info, see our Fare Details.

Question? Comment? Follow us @Airfarewatchdog on Twitter! And find us on Facebook.

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

Everything you ever wanted to ask an airline gate agent

By George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog.com

We asked airline gate agents to tell us about their jobs—what they love about it, what they hate about it, and whether, in fact, you have a better chance of sitting in first class if you're dressed well. We learned a lot and hope you will too.

Q: What are you typing on your computer so ferociously when I ask to change my seat?

"Our computer systems are so archaic that everything we do requires a cumbersome series of codes. It isn't just a point and click system. Even a seat change is a long, drawn out process."

Q: Why can’t you hold the plane for late connecting passengers?

"It's not really up to us. We have to get the flight out on time. If it's more than 15 minutes late, we're held accountable unless there is a weather or mechanical delay. Our computer system shows us all of the connecting passengers including those who have a chance to make the flight. As much as we want to, delaying the flight for a few connecting passengers has a trickle-down effect. Your aircraft will connect with or become another flight, and your crew is mandated by the FAA to only work a maximum amount of hours before taking a rest break. If we delay the flight, they could time out and we would have to cancel. It's like a series of dominoes so we have to be very careful the whole operation stays on time."

Q: What do you hate most about your job?

"Cost cutting has reduced the level of staffing at the airport, and I am typically working the gate by myself. This means that I have to meet the inbound aircraft, assist with unaccompanied minors and wheelchairs, work the counter to answer passenger questions for the new flight, board families and wheelchair passengers for the new flight, clear standbys and upgrades, and board the plane alone. All within 30-45 minutes sometimes. It is very stressful!"

Q: What do you love most about your job?

"The airport environment is a very hectic place, and the job is fast-paced and intense. There is literally no time even to take a bathroom break. But, I love the challenge that each flight poses. There are so many variables involved, but at the end of the day, it is an exciting process. I love meeting so many different people. You really learn a lot about humanity!"

Q: Do you know who the federal air marshals are?

"Yes, we call them FAMs. We typically board them first and they are almost always sitting in an aisle seat in first class. They are not on every flight though. The flight crew's typically informed who the FAM is, but passengers can easily spot them since they're usually sitting on the plane already when everyone else boards. Kind of defeats the purpose in my opinion, but that is the procedure."

Q: Is it true that you can upgrade people at your own whim? Is it important to dress nicely if we want a free upgrade?

"On an oversold flight,we can definitely move someone up to first class, and yes, the better dressed you are, the more likely you are to nab that seat. I am not going to put someone wearing flip flops up front with our best customers. It also pays to be courteous, to smile, and to be patient. I would rather give the better seat to someone who makes my life easier. If the flight isn't oversold, it's a different matter. In the old days, we had a lot more leeway on who we could upgrade. These days, the process is entirely automated, and the computer dictates who gets upgraded based on elite status, fare paid, and if there have been other travel disruptions during your journey. We just assign the seats once we clear upgrades off of the standby list. Even if we did manipulate the system, we are constantly audited so would have to explain why we upgraded someone for no reason."

Q: Do you know how much each person paid for their ticket?

"Yes, we can see everything about your ticket. How much you paid for it, where you bought it, and when you bought it. It's funny because sometimes travelers will say how expensive their ticket was when they bought it or how they had originally booked first class in an effort to snag an upgrade, but we can see all the details. If we click through enough screens, we can see how many miles you have, when your birthday is, and even your address."

Q: Is there something you wished travelers would do better?

"Definitely! Please, please, please do not crowd around the gate 30 minutes before boarding. People will just stand there and stare at me waiting to board. It's not like this is the day after Thanksgiving at some incredible sale. Yes, overhead space is at a premium, but you are just slowing down the boarding process for everyone by blocking the pathway. Stand to the side so that people can board when their row number is called. Until then, stay seated or out of the way. Your fellow passengers will appreciate your kindness."

What would you have asked an airline gate agent? Tell us and we'll ask them next time.

Further reading: Dress for success when you fly

'Tis the season to get bonus frequent flyer miles for online shopping

Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, October 26, 2011

By George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog.com

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:

Delta Airlines

  • 2 miles/$1 at Crate and Barrel
  • 2 miles/$1 at iTunes.com
  • 4 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com 
  • 2 miles/$1 at Overstock.com
  • 3000 miles at ADT Home Security
  • 300 miles at T-Mobile

United (Continental) Airlines

  • 12 miles/$1 at 1-800-BASKETS.com
  • 3 miles/$1 at Nordstrom
  • 3 miles/$1 at Sephora
  • 1 mile/$1 at Apple
  • 2 miles/$1 at Avon
  • 3000 miles at ADT Home Security (conditions apply)
  • 3 miles/$1 at Bluefly.com

American Airlines

  • 4 miles/$1 at Old Navy
  • 2 miles/$1 at Walmart
  • 5 miles/$1 at Nordstrom
  • 11 miles/$1 at Teleflora
  • 4 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com
  • 6 miles/$1 at The Body Shop

US Airways

  • 4 miles/$1 at Drugstore.com
  • 4 miles/$1 at Jos. A. Bank
  • 2 miles/$1 at Old Navy

JetBlue

  • 2 points/$1 at Nordstrom
  • 1 point/$3 at Apple
  • 1 point/$1 at Godiva
  • 200 points/new or renewed pre-paid service at Verizon Wireless

 

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.

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

Categories: Airline Industry News

Fare of the Day: Seattle to Orlando $250 RT including all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fly from Seattle to Orlando for $250 round-trip, including all taxes, on Delta Airlines and other carriers.

This fare is valid for travel 7 days a week, when available, through June. No minimum stay required.

For booking info, see our Fare Details.

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

Tips to save on sky high holiday airfares

 

By George Hobica

Airfarewatchodg.com 

 

Just before Christmas 2008, the lowest tax-included round-trip airfare between New York and LA leaving just before the holiday and returning the Sunday after was about $900 round-trip. But as this Dec. 11, 2008 NPR radio interview revealed (listen to the broadcast for some other tips), had you waited and shopped around, a couple of weeks before the holiday the same route would have cost just $391 round-trip, on nonstop flights no less.

Will the same thing happen this year? Will the sky-high peak holiday airfares that the airlines are hoping you'll cave in to suddenly go begging? It's impossible—and too early—to tell. But if past years are any indications, it's certainly a possibility.

One thing's for certain: thanks to airline consolidation and the elimination of thousands of seats, current airfares this year on average are higher than they were last year. But the keyword is "current."

How bad are peak holiday airfares as I write?

Some flights are just through the roof right now, and I cannot imagine anyone paying them.

Here are some tax-included round-trip examples leaving Nov. 24 returning Nov. 27 (in other words, peak Thanksgiving travel), researched on Oct. 25, 2011.

New York to Charlestown, SC $960.

Chicago-Los Angeles is much more reasonable $363

Miami - Philadelphia  $363 on American but $473 on US Air, which shows that all airlines are NOT selling at the same price which is why your best bet is to use online travel agencies such as Expedia and Orbitz, which compare multiple airlines at a glance. (OTAs will tell you if it's cheaper to fly out on one airline and back on another. Southwest.com, Delta.com and AA.com will not).

LA to Vegas however is relatively cheap at $182 on Spirit Airlines.  And not so cheap at $772 on United!

Boston-Dallas is almost $700, even on connecting flights!

So what to do? Here are some tips to navigate exorbitant holiday fares.

One bit of advice is to fly on Thanksgiving Day and return the Friday or Saturday after the holiday.  

That outrageous $960 New York-Charleston fare leaving the day before Thanksgiving and returning the Sunday after suddenly becomes $482 if you depart on Thanksgiving day at 6.30 a.m. (arriving in plenty of time for turkey) and returning the Saturday after the holiday. That's a 50% savings.

So by not returning on the Sunday after the holiday you can save money.

Another tip is to shop alternate airports.

Although the peak Thanksgiving (Nov. 24-27) airfare currently from Nashville to New York isn't a screaming bargain at $403 round-trip, it's a lot better than the fare from Chattanooga ($549), and just a two-hour drive separates the two airports. If there are four of you flying, that's almost $600 in savings. Similar savings can be had by voting with your gas pedal and avoiding high-priced airports.

And it's still possible that these Thanksgiving fares, and peak Christmas fares, will go down.

A lot of airfare pundits are warning you to "buy now or cry later." I'm not so sure. True, if you're flying no matter what the cost, you don't want to wait if you're hoping to book your ideal flight times, leave from your preferred departure airport, and get your favorite (i.e., no middle) seats. However, perhaps a better piece of advice, especially if you're not going fly if the fare is too high, is to shop shop shop. Maybe 2011 will be a replay of 2008. If the airlines have priced too high, many people will not travel.  And thus the airlines might blink. So consumers should not just search once, get discouraged, and fail to recheck closer to the holiday.  Sign up for airfare alerts (http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/fare-alerts/), do your homework, keep looking, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Fare of the Day: Columbus to Las Vegas $177 RT including all taxes

Posted by Tracy Stewart on Monday, October 24, 2011

Fly from Columbus to Las Vegas for $177 round-trip, including all taxes on Frontier.

This fare is valid for travel 7 days a week, through February 13. Tickets require a 10-day advance purchase.

For booking info, see our Fare Details.

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

Frequent flyer miles expired? Here's help

By Ramsey Qubein

Airfarewatchdog.com

 

There's really no good excuse for letting your hard earned frequent flyer miles expire due to account inactivity (in case you didn't realize, most airlines will expire miles after 18 or 24 months if you don't have some "qualifying activity" with them--such as taking a flight, but also such as buying something through their online shopping malls or renting a car, staying in an affiliated hotel, etc.). As we've pointed out in the past, if you buy stuff online the easiest and most rewarding way is to get bonus miles by purchasing through the airlines' shopping malls.

Other easy ways to keep miles active include redeeming magazine subscriptions from your rewards account. They are as cheap as 400 miles with most airlines at www.magsformiles.com. Or join your airline's dining for miles program if they have one. Some people we know just buy a slice of pizza or a cocktail at a participating restaurant and their miles are good for another 12 or 18 months. It's easy and rewarding. And of course, if you have an airline-affiliated credit card, you're golden.

If your miles have already expired, here is some information on how to reactivate your miles. Yes, it will cost you money, but it may be worth it depending on how many miles you have. It is always smart to know what you want to redeem your miles for before reactivating them to insure there is availability first. This chart will show you how and what it costs. AirfareWatchdog is always here to help answer your questions if you need help.

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