Travel Q&A

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Fare Period vs. Fare Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel through November 18" and I tried to book a fare for Labor Day weekend, leaving on Friday, September 4, right after work, and coming back the following Monday night, Labor Day, September 7. 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

Going Once, Going Twice

Q. I've noticed that a number of discount airlines have included on their online booking search results such statements as "one ticket left at this price!" next to the fare price. While I've seen that prices actually do go up after that one ticket is bought, I'm wondering how believable is this statement? Does it necessarily mean the price won't go any lower in the future? Is this all a marketing ploy to get you to buy a ticket as soon a possible?

A. We’ve also noticed this, and we think it’s a legitimate warning. Airlines sell only a certain number of seats at their lowest fares at any given moment. However, this doesn’t mean that they won’t open up more seats at the same fare later on, or that they won’t lower the fare on a route to an even lower price the next day. Fares and seat availability at the lowest fares are in constant flux. The best way to nab a deal is to sign up for free low fare alerts from the many web sites offering this service.

Sick Travel Companion, Trip Cancelled

Q. I booked tickets for both myself and my mother for travel to India. My mother got sick two days before traveling and was admitted to the hospital. I was hit with $200 cancellation fee and denied a refund. I booked the ticket through CheapOair. Shouldn't I be entitled to a full refund?

A. I'm assuming you didn't buy travel insurance. If you booked with a credit card, there may still be hope! Some cards do offer protections for trip interruptions, delays, even lost luggage. You may find you're covered for the full cost of the trip as this explains.

Multiple Schedule Changes

Q. We booked a Delta flight online, traveling from Amsterdam to Bogota, 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?

The last change was from leaving in the afternoon to early in the morning (on the same day). This can make big difference if you had a non changeable 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 customs and immigration, if that's any silver lining.

Above image via Shutterstock

Travel Insurance for a Free Trip

Q. I have very carefully accrued frequent flier credits in order to earn a free flight and I also recently received two free round-trip vouchers for giving up my seat on an overbooked flight. I'm excited about these opportunities for free travel, but, since I'll be putting time and money into planning all the other details of these trips, I'd like to insure these tickets as I would a regular ticket, including in the event that the airline folds. I know that I shouldn't buy a policy from the airline but straight from the insurance carrier, but is it even possible to buy insurance for a flight I technically didn't pay for? Can I pay for a policy that would cover the amount of the ticket price at the time I booked? That way, even if the airline folds, I can get a ticket on another airline without paying a lot more for a last-minute fare.

A. As far as we know, insurance companies will not insure your voucher tickets or frequent flyer awards tickets (pre-9/11 there were some policies that could be purchased to cover these kinds of trips)... however, trip interruption insurance is still available for that type of travel.

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 $3,400 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.

Preserving 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, or a single song from iTunes or a pair of jeans from, 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

Domestic Travel with Minors

Q. What kind of ID is required at airports for young children ages 6 and 9? I understand they need a passport for international trips, but what about IDs for domestic flights?

A. Children and minors under the age of 18 are not required to show ID for domestic travel.

Once they hit late adolescence, it's probably a good idea to bring along something, be it a birth certificate, state-issued learner's permit, or even a passport, in the event they should be grilled by a TSA agent or airline employee, but if they are under 18, no ID is required.

If your children are traveling as unaccompanied minors, the airline will require a photo ID from the adults dropping them off and picking them up.

The airline may also require proof of age for children traveling as lap children or, in some cases, a doctor's letter for newborns.

Cancellations Just Because

Q. I booked a cruise for four, scheduled to leave in August. Now one of us cannot make the trip. I did buy trip insurance, but I was told that since this isn't due to medical reasons, a refund isn't an option. Can they do that?

A. Possibly. Travel insurance policies differ greatly in their terms of what is and isn't covered. So it all depends on the specific type of policy you purchased and its terms of coverage. Some protect you against trip cancellation/interruption due to illness, and some even allow a refund should you find you suddenly get called into work. We always recommend reading through your travel insurance policy before purchasing, so you can make an informed decision about exactly what it is you're buying.

Changes to Cabin Class

Q. I recently booked a first class flight from Norfolk to San Diego on Delta using only SkyMiles. The flight Norfolk to Atlanta was first class but when boarding for the next leg in ATL, I was told that I had been reassigned to an economy seat. I checked before leaving home and the entire flight had been confirmed by Delta. Is this legal?

A. When it comes to airline travel, all is fair in seat assignments. Flights, seats, and schedules are not guaranteed. All you can do is request a refund (or partial refund) of the SkyMiles you used to "buy" the seat. Actually, Delta should have automatically refunded the miles or a portion of them without being asked.

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