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Misplaced Belongings, Vacation Ruined

Q. I left my wallet in the seatback pocket of a Delta flight to Amsterdam. I contacted Delta through its lost and found website. Fortunately, the wallet was found in Amsterdam but Delta would not send it to me unless I could give them a FedEx account, which I didn’t have and which I wasn’t able to sign up for because the FedEx website in Europe wouldn’t let me sign up with a U.S.-based address and credit card. Finally, Delta agreed to sent my wallet back to my home address, where it arrived two days after I returned home. My trip was ruined by not having my own credit card and cash (I ended up using my daughter’s credit card to get by). What should I have done differently to prevent all this from happening?

A. Soooo many things. First, I truly sympathize with you because the same thing has happened to me. I put my passport in a seatback pocket on a Virgin Atlantic flight and although I knew it was in there somewhere and I searched for 20 minutes before the flight landed, I couldn’t find it to save my life. It must have fallen into a black hole. I had to talk my way into the U.K. without a passport. Not fun. Luckily, Virgin found my passport (in Miami!) and delivered it to my London hotel in time for my return home. And without charge. It would have been nice if Delta had done the same for you.

So what should you have done differently? First, pretend that the seatback pocket isn’t there. Never, ever put anything in the seatback pocket. It’s filthy for one thing, and for another it’s a recipe for disaster.

Second, I can’t imagine why you couldn’t have accessed the U.S. FedEx website even in Europe (rather than the European website). Or have called FedEx by phone and established an account. Although if you didn’t have your credit card, I’m not sure how this would have been possible anyway.

Third, never put all your credit cards and cash in one place. I always put one credit card and some cash in my passport holder along with my passport, and the rest in my wallet.

Fourth, you know the old advertising slogan American Express used? “Never leave home without it?” I never leave home without my Amex card because on more than one occasion I’ve either lost or misplaced my wallet and Amex either issued me a credit card at one of their offices on the spot, or delivered a replacement card within 24 hours and covered my hotel expenses with just a phone call while waiting for the card to arrive. Credit cards issued by banks typically can’t issue replacement cards immediately or they can’t overnight them to you.

More Trip for Less Money

Q. I have a question about something that I feel is quite dishonest of Delta and any other airlines who may do this same thing. Delta is asking almost $600 for a non-stop flight from Portland, Maine to Atlanta.

But if I book the same flight but going from Portland to Nashville connecting via Atlanta (and just getting out right there), then the flight only costs $276. Why is the non-stop to Atlanta so high for only half of the trip? And what's to stop people from paying less and just not taking the connecting flight to Nashville?

For some reason, this pricing seems really dishonest and even illegal!

A. This is called Hidden City Ticketing, and though it may be annoying to the consumer, it's pretty standard. You're paying for the convenience of a nonstop trip. Connecting fares typically cost less because they are more time consuming for the passenger and less convenient.

Technically, there's nothing to really stop you from booking the connecting fare and using what you need, but there's plenty to dissuade you from doing so. First of all, this would only work one-way. The airline is hip to this scheme and would promptly cancel the return leg of your ticket. And you'd only be able to travel with carry-on baggage, otherwise your luggage would travel all the way through to Nashville.

You'll find more on Hidden City Ticketing here.

330-Day Travel Periods

Q. In checking the rules and restrictions on some of the fares you post, I notice that many include a 330-day travel period. What exactly does that mean?

A. Legacy carriers sell fares for travel up to 330 days into the future, whereas the newbie low cost ("low cost") carriers do not. For example, the current 330-day period allows for bookings through August of 2016.

This is especially helpful for those who plan to book using frequent flier miles, when booking early means better availability of award seats.

Above image via Shutterstock

Is This Seat Taken?

Q. My husband, son, daughter-in-law and I recently flew from Milwaukee to Ft. Lauderdale on Southwest. We paid the extra fee on each of our tickets to board early. We checked in exactly 24 hours in advance and received a boarding number of 32 & 33, our son and his wife got numbers 30 & 31. When we boarded, there was ONE woman in the middle of three seats with the row in front of her empty. When we tried to sit in the row, she said no, she was saving those seats – and put a small carry on suitcase in the middle seat in front of her so no one sat there. When general boarding started, some of the last people on the plane were her travel companions – they strolled in and got seats all together and didn’t have to pay a cent for it. We got seats together a few rows behind this person, so it wasn’t a big deal at the time. But the more I think about it the madder I get. Is this a way to get around those fees? Should I have told a flight attendant?

A. This is not at all allowed. Yes, you should have contacted a flight attendant immediately. Or politely returned that small suitcase to her and sat down with your family. I’ve heard of this thing happening on cruise lines (people saving deck shares) and around resort pools, but never on a plane. Carnival Cruise Lines has begun cracking down on this practice, by placing stickers with the current time on chairs that been “claimed” by passengers with books, towels, etc. After 40 minutes, if the chaise is unoccupied, staff remove the items and leave a note where to claim them.


Shades Up

Q. I thoroughly enjoyed your article titled “What they don't tell you in the plane safety demo.” However, there was one question I have always wondered, but wasn’t covered in your article. Why do you have to put up the shades on the windows for take-off and landing?

A. It's so that you can quickly scan the outside of the plane in an there a fire? Is it safe to deplane? Every second counts, even those used to think about opening the shades.

For those who may have missed it, you'll find more on the mysteries of airline safety revealed here.

Late and Stuck in Line

Q. After already running late to the airport, I was further held up by a ridiculously long security line. By the time I made it through, my gate was closed and the plane was pulling away. I had to catch a much later flight, and lost a full day of my trip. Isn't there something to be done about these lengthy waits?

A. Aside from applying for TSA PreCheck, there's always just good old-fashioned showing up early. You may try checking the wait times in advance. Also, if flying from an airport you've never used before, leave yourself extra time in case of unexpected obstacles. Getting your boarding pass online or using an automated check-in kiosk will save you time as well. If all else fails, it certainly doesn't hurt to let security know that you're late for your flight. You may be allowed to skip to the front of the line.

Trip Insurance Worth the Price?

Q. With my domestic flights, I usually add on travel insurance since it is often inexpensive. In the coming year, I have two foreign trips planned. When I have priced travel insurance to these locations, I find the price to be very expensive but I recognize that these will cover cancellations, as well as, medical coverage. Since we are healthy travelers, I am not sure that it is worth the major expense. Any recommendations? Is there a way to compare travel insurance prices?

A. It really depends on how expensive your trip is and what the risk is. If you can afford to forfeit the value of your trip without financial hardship, then perhaps insurance isn’t necessary. Do consider emergency evacuation (Medevac) coverage however, since most people cannot afford the cost of a medical flight from abroad back to the US. Try to compare travel insurance prices.

Autumn in Ireland

Q. We are flying to Dublin this fall, traveling through Ireland from November 7th through the 28th. Do you suppose we can get by without making advance reservations and just decide on hotels and B&Bs as we go day by day?

A. November is not a particularly peak travel time for Ireland, though I think you'd do well to make reservations at least a day ahead. And you can usually cancel reservations 6-24 hours ahead. Just make sure you know the lodging's cancel policies.

Above image vis Shutterstock

Last Minute & Walk-Up Fares

Q. Is it possible to find an inexpensive walk-up price for any airlines these days? I'd like to fly to San Antonio in the next few days to visit a sick family member and flights are over $500.

A. Walk up fares are far from cheap, so you might give Priceline's Name-Your-Own-Price a shot. We've managed to score some pretty terrific fares for last minute trips, even when booking the day before departure. Before placing your bid, Priceline provides the current going rate along with recent winning bids from other users, which is pretty helpful. If your bid isn't accepted, you'll be asked to change your search parameters - such as the number of connections you're willing to make, or choosing nearby airports, before eventually raising your bid. Chances are you'll find something for much less than $500.

Fare Fluctuations in a Flash

Q. How do the airlines set their prices? After seeing airfare for a particular schedule jump 100% from the time I started my search to when I actually tried to book it 3 minutes later, I was given the old "supply and demand...someone somewhere must have booked a seat in that span, and that caused the jump." How is that legal or possible? 

A. We've heard this story time and again. Airlines only sell a certain small number of seats at their lowest fares. A flight might have a dozen different economy class fares, with a certain number of seats available at each fare. The price of each fare class can be set throughout the day, plus the airlines employ dozens of airfare analysts who do nothing all day but adjust the number of seats available in each fare class. That's why it's so important to check fares many times throughout the day and over a number of days if you can't find what you believe to be a reasonable fare. A fare might be $300 one minute, and the next it could be $200. Since airlines were deregulated in 1978, they are free to set whatever prices they wish.

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