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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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What Sale?

Q. A few people have mentioned that there will be a huge airfare sale (domestic and international) on August 21.  I've been on the hunt for a cheap fare from Boston to Melbourne, Australia for Christmas (the most expensive, I know!) so I'm wondering if I should keep waiting for this supposed sale?

A. A somewhat irresponsible publicity seeking airfare pundit made this "rumor" go viral. Airfare always costs less if you travel mid August until the holidays (usually around December 15) compared to summer travel. But these fares are not going to magically appear for sale in August. They've been available for sale for months. It's just that if you travel (travel, not buy) from mid-August onward you'll pay less. Airlines lower fares for travel around then because students are back in school and there's less demand. It angers me when airfare "experts" make confusing and misleading "predictions" like this.

Keeping Your Hard-Earned Miles

Q. I have 30,000 frequent flyer miles with United that will expire in November. In order not to lose these miles do I just have to book a flight before the expiration date?  If I'm unable to plan a trip what would be the best alternative way to use these miles?

A. There's an easy way to preserve your hard-earned frequent flyer miles, without having to book a trip. All it takes is a little shopping. You'll find many companies that are affiliated with the airlines' online shopping programs. No need to buy anything expensive. Even a piddly little three-ring binder from Staples.com, or a single song from iTunes or a pair of jeans from Target.com, and your miles are active for another year to 18 months. Easy! Check out our handy article on preserving miles with online shopping.

Above image via Shutterstock

Consider This When Buying Travel Insurance

Q. When checking travel companies for trips and tours they always suggest purchasing travel insurance. The problem is that sometimes the insurance costs as much as $499.00 per person for a 14-day trip. We are retired and like to travel now, but even at 3 or 4 trips a year, this adds up considerably. What do you think of those annual travel insurance programs that some companies are offering?

A. First, let’s think about the #1 reason people end up using a travel insurance product: it’s illness or injury before taking the trip (either illness or injury to the traveling party of someone near and dear to the traveling party who is not actually traveling—you and your husband are planning a trip together, but your niece gets into a serious accident 10 days before departure and you don’t feel it’s a good idea to take off).  Many credit cards, as I’ve written before, provide quite good coverage for this scenario, as long as you charge your trip (in some cases just a portion, in other cases the whole thing) to the card. Particularly good are the Chase Sapphire Card and the United Chase Explorer Card.

The other thing that happens the most is getting sick or injured after the trip has commenced. If you’re insured by Medicaid or Medicare, your medical and hospital bills might not be covered overseas, so it’s a good idea to have emergency medical insurance, which many travel policies offer.

But the most financially devastating scenario, for which there are annual plans, is this: you’re seriously injured in the middle of nowhere overseas (for example, you’re hiking down the trail from Machu Picchu in Peru and you trip and break your leg in 12 places—this actually happened to a colleague of mine).  It’s going to cost a lot of money to safely get a) to a qualified hospital in Peru but more importantly b) get you back home safely in an air ambulance (assuming that you cannot take a commercial flight because your condition won’t allow it). Companies like MedJet Assist are designed to safely bring you back to any hospital of your choice—from the trail where you broke your leg, to the nearest quality hospital, and then back home, once you’re medically stabilized. Such trips can cost over $100,000 without insurance, so the cost can be catastrophic.

Another fairly common scenario is simply that you miss your cruise or the start of your tour because of a delayed or canceled flight. Credit cards don’t cover that sort of thing, but regular travel insurance does. It really depends on the price of your trip and how much you can afford to write off if something goes awry. I would insure a $5000 non-refundable cruise, but maybe not a $1000 trip if only the first hotel night is non-refundable.

Bottom line: the only travel insurance I buy is, in fact, emergency medical evacuation. I can’t afford to foot a $100,000 bill.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Q. My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy for the end of summer and are wondering about Air Berlin. Their flights continually pop up with fares that are $200-$400 less than others.  I looked them up online and saw that they've been having troubles. Should we avoid them and pay the higher fare with a different airline? What's the worst that could happen if we were to give them a try?

A. There’s a reason why they’re cheaper. Yes, they are having operational difficulties. I flew them recently from LA to Rome via Germany and the flight was delayed 2 hours, so I missed my connection, and had to hang around the horrible Berlin Tegel airport for 6 hours until the next flight. No explanation, no announcements even acknowledging the flight was being delayed. But all airlines can have problems, so there’s no guarantee that flying on a different airline will ensure a smooth trip. If your flight is severely delayed and you’re flying on an European airline like Air Berlin, however, you can apply for compensation of up to 600 euros, so at least there’s that.

Casting a Wide Net

Q. I'm looking for the best airfare, cruise, and hotel aggregators. Which site should I be using?

A. That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many good ones and they all have different prices at different times.

I recently saw some great airfares on Orbitz to Rome that were ONLY available on Orbitz—not on Expedia or Priceline or anywhere else.  And then I saw super low fares to South Africa on KLM that were only available on Priceline, not even on KLM’s own website, which were hundreds less than any other option.

The same applies to hotels. I booked a room in Boston at the Fairmont Copley Plaza on a site I’d never heard of, saving $200 from every single other hotel booking option. I did call the hotel directly to make sure my reservation had been made and all was in order.

I think TripAdivsor does a very good job offering a range of hotel booking options (that’s where I found the Boston hotel bargain). Plus, you can read the most extensive number of hotel reviews while you book your room.

CruiseCritic.com is a great place to look at cruise aggregators.

For airfare, take a look at BookingBuddy.com but be sure to search all the options offered (there are sometimes 25 different aggregators and they may not all have the same price depending on the airline, dates, etc)

So the answer is that there is no perfect aggregator for every trip and every travel date. But it’s often worth looking at all the options presented because you can save hundreds of dollars.

Fare Period and Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel valid through July 14" and I tried to book a ticket home over the July 4th holiday. 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.

Down Under the Weather

Q. Every time I fly from Los Angeles to Australia, I get very sick. Last time, I was sick for over six weeks when I got back home. I was told that I shouldn't fly longer then a five hour flight. Something to do with the air on the planes. Is this common?

A. Actually, it’s not uncommon, especially if one is older. Studies have shown that long flights create health problems of varying degrees, usually minor. One solution is to fly in a Boeing Dreamliner 787, which has an advanced air filtration system and also flies at a low “cabin altitude” which helps passengers breathe with less effort. These cabins are also kept at a higher humidity level, which keeps eyes, mouths, and nasal passengers hydrated.  Keeping mucous membranes moist supposedly helps prevent germs and bacteria from becoming a problem. As the Australian Business Traveller states, "If your nasal passage mucous membrane cracks in-flight — common on long-haul flights — you also open the body up to a much easier pathway for germs to get in." Qantas will launch 787 service from LA to Sydney in March 2018.

Lost Luggage, Lost Money

Q. My luggage was recently lost and I'm having a hard time convincing the airline of exactly what the contents were worth. In fact, the sum they're offering is nowhere near their $3,500 limit of liability. What can I do?

A. Although it may sound tedious, saving your receipts can really help you out in a situation like this. Losing a $50 shirt may not seem like the end of the world, but lose a bag full and that can really add up. For a record of purchases made via debit or credit, it's easy to refer back to bank or card statements as proof. For little ho-hum cash purchases, you might consider squirreling away those receipts too.

Another thing you could do to prevent something like this from happening down the road is upping the limitation of liability by purchasing Excess Valuation.

Of course, trip insurance can also save you in a bind like this, as well as some premium card services offered by American Express, that not only cover you if you're luggage is lost forever, they'll pay to replace "necessary personal articles" if your bag is delayed for six hours or longer.

Plane, Train, or Automobile?

Q. My husband and I are traveling to Germany and England to visit family and staying for a month. We're not sure how we will travel between those countries...car, train, or plane. If we rent a car do you have some "what not to do" advice? Also, will we need an International Driver's License?

A. If you don’t mind driving, your best option is to use a “buy back” program when renting a car. You’re not actually renting the car, you’re purchasing it for a short time (minimum 21 days). There are so many advantages to this, besides typically lower cost than renting. The buy back includes full insurance including all-important third-party liability, you get a brand new car, and much more. Some cars may be non-automatic shift however. For example, take a look at Renault’s programs here but there are others. You won’t need an international driver’s license. Of course, taking the train is much more relaxing and can usually be faster than driving, but can be more expensive unless you qualify for senior discounts and shop carefully, and it’s less flexible. I would probably avoid flying unless you’re traveling very long distances between countries.

Above image via Shutterstock

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