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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.

Planning Dream Trip to Europe

Q. I finally have the time to take my dream trip to hop around Europe. When is the cheapest time to fly to England and what is the best way to get good fares for bouncing throughout Europe? I'm pretty flexible with dates.

A. Economy class fares to Europe generally start to go down after mid August, and continue downward from there until mid December. They are also cheaper from just after the New Year to March 31. Dublin and Shannon are often the cheapest European destinations, and they are good places to land since Ryanair offers onward flights at rock-bottom prices to many European destinations. Just be careful if you check a bag on Ryanair, because their bag fees can add up, especially if purchased last minute at check-in. You might also consider Norwegian Air Shuttle (currently operating from Baltimore, Boston, Ft Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, and Oakland) to Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, or London Gatwick. Or from Boston and Baltimore, WOW air to Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, or London Gatwick. Though again, those bargain fares come with strict limitations on baggage allowance, so pack light or pay up!

Another relatively inexpensive entry point lately has been Istanbul via Turkish Airlines. Turkish also regularly has great sales to other cities in Europe, even during peak travel months, usually involving an overnight stay in Istanbul.

Be sure you've signed up for plenty of deal alerts (ahem!) and keep an eye on @Airfarewatchdog.

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.

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