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You can submit your own question to us at askgeorge@airfarewatchdog.com. We will try to answer as many as possible.

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Fare Period and Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel valid through December 12" and I tried to book an early fare for Thanksgiving, leaving Wednesday right after work, and coming back the following Sunday. My itinerary falls within the dates covered in your listing, so why didn't I get that fare?! It was hundreds more!

A. We'd like to take this opportunity to address the difference between the dates of travel period and date availability. Not all dates are going to be available within the dates of travel period, especially on any holidays, peak travel days, or weekends (not to mention any blackout dates that the airline institutes.) We also would like to point out that the airlines will set aside a limited number of tickets at a sale price for each date and some dates will sell out at the lower prices before other dates do. Flexible travel dates will increase your chances of booking a sale fare, as will traveling mid-week as opposed to weekends (although people do book weekend sale fares all the time).

Above image via Shutterstock

Delayed Arrival Times

Q. I received two emails this week alerting me to the fact that my flight times on United have been changed. My layovers en route to Boston went from about 90 minutes each to 3 hours. To me, the difference between getting into Boston at 12:05PM and 1:38PM is actually significant. Do I have any recourse here?

A. I don't think that's enough of a schedule change to request a refund or other compensation. And honestly, assuming you're connecting in Newark with chronic delays, even 90 minutes might be pushing it. If there's an earlier flight that has seats, you could call United and ask to be placed on it with no change fee. But airlines make it clear that schedules are never guaranteed.

Seat Selection: Only Premium Economy Seats Left

Q. I recently checked in for a flight I'm scheduled to take to Miami. There was a notice that my flights had been changed, and I needed to contact the airline. This was the only notification I received. My flight wouldn't land in Charlotte until after my connection to Miami had departed. Long story short, I was rebooked, but the airline rep wanted to charge me for a premium economy seat, because they were the only seats left. I argued that since they were the ones changing my flights I shouldn't have to pay. We left it that I would have to wait til I got to the airport for my seat assignment. Who is right here? Will I have to pay?

A. This seems to happen more and more, but there is no need to be coerced into buying a seat in premium economy. You've purchased a ticket and they'll have to give you a seat, be it a premium economy seat for free or, what is likely to happen, a seat in regular economy. Sure, you may end up in a middle seat at the back of the plane, but you'll still make it to your destination.

Cat Allergies + Cabin Air

Q. My sister-in-law has two long-haired cats. She always travels with them, bringing along a friend who can take the second cat. They of course are put under their seats. I am highly allergic to cats, and if I were to be seated near these cats, I would develop serious breathing problems. A long flight could become a devastating health problem. I also wonder about the re-circulated air? What is my recourse?

A. I honestly don't think you'd have a problem asking to switch seats with a passenger who isn't allergic (or maybe one who even loves cats!). You'd just ask the flight attendant to reseat you, or offer to buy the accommodating passenger a cocktail or two. I wouldn't worry too much about re-circulated air, but if you develop a problem you can ask the flight attendants to ask the captain to increase the amount of fresh air into the cabin (the cockpit can adjust the ratio of fresh to re-circulated air, which is any case is filtered).

"Weather"

Q. My flight from Chicago to Ft Lauderdale was cancelled by United for what they said was "weather."  It was cancelled 12-hours ahead of the flight. A thunderstorm was expected in Florida but did not actually happen until later in the day. Meanwhile, both Delta and United both operated flights out of Ft Lauderdale in the morning, so obviously weather was not a problem. Now I'll be sitting at O'Hare for the next 12 hours waiting for our new flights to take off later this evening. Clearly the flight was canceled for issues other than weather, right? Do i have any recourse on recouping expenses for the day, and possibly night, should they decide to cancel my flight again due to weather?

A. Even though weather didn’t affect the other airlines, it might have affected your airline’s flight because the aircraft was coming from somewhere that experienced bad weather. It’s not just the weather where you are that causes problems; it could be weather anywhere in the country depending on the original location of your aircraft. Your only recourse is to ask for a full refund of your fare, or you should ask your airline to put you on another airline whose flights are operating (at the same fare you originally paid) if there are seats available. Unfortunately, airlines are not legally required to reimburse you for expenses, although some will do this voluntarily.

Above image via Shutterstock

Planning a Scenic Rail Trip Around the U.K.

Q. This isn’t an “air” question unless you include the fact that we’ll be flying to London, but I hope you can help. We’d like to take several of the more famous U.K. “branch line” trains when we visit London the end of August. We’ve checked out websites but we’re still confused, so maybe you can map it out for us. We want to take the Settle to Carlisle train, the Glasgow to Maillaig run, the Inverness to Kyle line, and we want to get to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper overnight express, returning to London at the end of the trip. In what order should we organize this trip so that we get all the trains most efficiently?

A. I’ve actually done some of these trains and they are indeed spectacular. Start by taking the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston Station to Inverness (a recent offer online for a couple occupying a double berth was priced at 38 pounds). From Inverness take the train to the Kyle of Lochalsh. From there, take a ferry to Skye, just because it’s so pretty and the heather will be in bloom. Overnight. From Skye, take a bus or ferry to Mallaig for the famous Highland Line via Ft. William and onward to Glasgow. Overnight. Then onto the Glasgow to Carlisle train (about an hour and 20 minutes on a fast service) and then hop on the scenic Carlisle to Settle train, and onward back to London from there.

You'll find more on U.K. rail trips here.

Insurance + Tour Company Coverage

Q. My family has a very expensive international trip coming up, leaving from New York's JFK; however, it is up to us to fly to JFK airport from our home airport. Our tour company trip insurance only covers the tour company's portion of the trip, which begins with the flight from JFK. If our flight to JFK happens to be cancelled and we missed the connection, who is responsible for the expense?

A. If you don't make your flight to JFK, chances are you'd be responsible. And never buy insurance from your tour company! You'd be better off buying from a third party, such as those you'll find on Insuremytrip.com, a comparison shopping site. To be on the safe side, you should always leave a HUGE amount of connection time for JFK connections.

Online Seat Availability

Q. Do airlines block out a large section of seats to make it appear there are fewer seats remaining? When our airline cancelled the final leg of our trip, we reviewed the airline website for flights returning a day before as well as after our original return date. None of the alternate flights offered adjoining seats. Yet, when we called the airline, they immediately assigned us two seats together in a section that appeared to be completely filled on their website. How likely is it that we will be reassigned seats?

A. Yep, some airlines do block out seats, even if the plane is half-empty, and sometimes a call to the airline will sort things out. They do this in part to accommodate last minute business customers who are flying on higher-priced “walk up” fares, to cater to their preferred frequent travelers, and also, in some instances, to entice consumers to purchase “premium” seat assignments for a fee. Even if you end up not sitting together, it’s always possible to ask fellow passengers to trade seats. A good strategy is to offer to buy the accommodating passenger a couple of cocktails on board, or bring along some Starbucks gift cards ($10 should do the trick) as a thank-you.

Above image via Shutterstock

Multiple Schedule Changes

Q. We booked a Delta flight online, traveling from Phoenix to Amsterdam, well in advance. Twice now we have received notices of changes to the flight schedule. I've never experienced this before. Can airlines do this freely?

These changes can make big difference if you had an important meeting planned. What are they allowed to change without any obligations for compensation? We now have an over 8 hour layover in Atlanta. Is the airline obligated to provide anything due to the length of the layover?

A. Unfortunately, the airlines are free to do this without regulation or compensation. Their only obligation is to give you a full refund of your airfare if you ask for it. I have long thought that there needs to be some government regulation about "in-advance" schedule changes.

It is possible that your original flights are operating without a change but that for whatever reason Delta put you on different flights, so I would call Delta and ask if that's the case.

As for your long layover in Atlanta, no, unfortunately Delta is not required to provide meals or any other services. But at least you won't miss your connecting flights and have plenty of time to clear security, if that's any silver lining.

Milan in Summer

Q. I’ll be visiting Milan this summer. Any suggestions of what to do and see, and the best places to stay?

A. TripAdvisor lists 1,179 things to do in Milan, and it ranked #1 in a list of 52 Places to Visit in 2015 from the New York Times. You'll also find a useful “3-days in Milan” itinerary on TripAdvisor that hits all the tops attractions, such as the Duomo Cathedral and the Brera Picture Gallery. The city is a good jumping off point to visit Lake Como. It is an amazing place to go shopping for fashion, however, with hundreds of outlet stores. Typically, the summer sales start the first Saturday in July, so if you’re a shopaholic plan your visit for then. Milan is also a great culinary destination. TripAdvisor commenters’ number one hotel in Milan is Hotel Spadari al Duomo (closely followed by the Park Hyatt) although I was very impressed with the Four Seasons Milan on my last visit.

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