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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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Insurance for Summer Vacation

Q. My family and I are planning to visit Florence and Rome next August. I'd like to buy travel insurance so that we are all covered in the event one of us should become ill. We do have group insurance through work but overseas travel is not covered. I don't know what type to buy and I have read stories of people buying insurance only to have their claims later denied because of an honest misunderstanding of coverage. Please advise.

A. The number one reason why people make a travel insurance claim is illness or injury before the trip departs, and some credit cards have built-in insurance for this, so you might want to check your coverage (you have to buy the trip with the credit card). But travel insurance is often more convenient for covering illness that occurs abroad. Whatever policy you decide on, make sure it includes medical evacuation coverage to transport you back home to a hospital of your choice. You don't want to become ill and get stuck in a hospital abroad for several weeks. It can be very expensive to arrange a med-evac flight back home (as in $50,000 or more). You can use squaremouth.com or insuremytrip.com to compare travel insurance policies.

Short Term Sales

Q. Why is it that these sale fares are always so short term? Most end long before the time period I might even need to travel.

A. The airlines treat their tickets like inventory in a store. If there's a surplus or the consumer doesn't seem to be buying, they'll run a sale to decrease inventory. Depending on where you want to travel, they may hold off on putting the hot spot vacation destinations on sale to see if more people are willing to pay higher prices, especially during holiday periods or in warmer months.

Passport Valid, Pages Too Crowded

Q. My daughter and her husband travel overseas many times a year. She mentioned that even though their passports will remain valid for another six years, they've run out of space for the customs agents to stamp. Would this mean they have to apply and pay for a new passport?

A. Prior to January 2016, travelers running low on passport pages could simply send away for an additional 24 visa pages to be sewn in, no problem. This practice has since been discontinued. Nowadays, should you run out of pages, you'll need to complete this form and, yes, send away for a brand new passport.

Applicants can opt for a bigger 52-page passport book, or the standard 28-page book. The $110 renewal fee is the same for both passport books. Need it in a hurry? Tack on an additional $60 for expedited service.

You can find more info on passport application fees at travel.state.gov.

Go for the Gold?

Q. Any thoughts on whether it's worth it to purchase Premier Gold status at United for the rest of this year?

I was Premier Gold last year, as United decided to upgrade certain customers to the next highest level if you were near to making that level (I'd been Gold the year prior to that).

As I've fallen back to Premier Silver status for this year, United says they're making an offer for me to purchase Premier Gold status for the rest of the year (for $1300).  Others that I know with Silver status weren't given an offer, probably because they weren't close to making the Gold level.

The primary benefit is being able to choose seats in economy plus at the time of booking rather than scrambling the night before flying.  Also would have 2 free checked bags instead of 1.

I've heard you say that it's better to just search all sites for the lowest fare on any airline, but I do have status with United, albeit Silver.

A. There are some additional advantages to achieving “gold” on United, especially if you fly internationally with other Star Alliance partner airlines. I’ve always thought that free upgrades to business and first class were the most valuable perks, but those upgrades are getting harder to find. True, you might have priority over other passengers in the event of a cancelation or misconnection. But if only being able to choose premium economy seats is your goal, remember that you can buy a lot of premium econ seats with $1300. It really depends on how often you travel and what you hope to gain from the elevated status.

Departure Time Switcheroo

Q. I need to fly out early in the morning to reach my destination in time for a scheduled event, which is why I purchased a ticket for a 6 a.m. flight. Now I received an email that the airline has changed my departure time to 4 p.m. If I had wanted to leave at 4 p.m., then I would have bought my ticket for that time. Are airlines able to change your flight without your permission?

A. Airlines state in their contracts of carriage that schedules are not guaranteed, but you can ask to cancel your booking and get a refund without penalty, even on a non-refundable fare, if they won't reseat you on the original flight you booked. That's also in their contracts of carriage.

No Purchase Confirmation Email

Q. A couple of months ago, I purchased a ticket online from American Airlines for a flight from Oklahoma City to Syracuse. When I attempted to check in for my flight, I was told that the ticket had been canceled. American said that my credit card had been rejected 3 times by Amex. They also said they emailed me to inform me of the rejection, though I never received an email.   
 
I immediately called Amex and was told that American had made no effort to charge my card. Since I had to be in Syracuse for business the next day, I had no choice but to purchase another ticket, and this one did not come cheap. Do I have any recourse and if yes, what would you suggest?

A. Though it's rare, little technical goofs like this can happen from time to time. When making a ticket purchase online, you should always be on the look out for some sort of confirmation code on the page that follows and/or -more importantly- a confirmation via email. If you don't see either of the two, the next step should be to check your credit card charges. You can be sure that no charge means no ticket.

Pet Allergies and Long Flights

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).

Fare Fluctuations

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 even 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.

Fare Period and Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel valid through May 18" and I tried to book a ticket home over Easter weekend. 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

Late & Left Behind

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.

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