Travel Q&A

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Fare Period vs. Fare Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel through May 31" and I tried to book a fare leaving on Friday, April 3, right after work, and coming back the following Sunday night, Easter, April 5. 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

When to Buy?

Q. Is there a certain day that's better than others for finding the cheapest airfare? Also, is further in advance better than trying to book a few weeks prior to departure?

A. Actually, Airfarewatchdog doesn’t believe that there’s just one single day to find a low airfare. Yes, it’s true that at least for now, Southwest and Airtran usually launch their sales on late Monday night/Tuesday morning, so by Tuesday other airlines have matched. Tuesday is definitely a good day to search for domestic airfares, at least on routes served by Southwest and Airtran. And on Tuesday or Wednesday, most airlines have also posted their last minute weekend deals. As the week progresses, seats at the lowest fare may be grabbed by other travelers. But we've seen amazing deals pop up on Fridays, Saturdays, or even Thursdays. Sooo, we strongly urge readers not to look for airfares only on Tuesday.

A huge price drop on a route you want to fly could happen at any second, be it six months or even six days from your ideal departure date. Not only do the airlines constantly adjust airfares themselves, but they tweak the number of seats offered at the lowest fare. Someone could be holding the last seat at the cheapest fare and decide to cancel. Voila, the fare is yours if you were persistent enough to look.

The real key to finding a low airfare is to sign up for free airfare alerts-- from us, of course! Check several times a day every day of the week and you’ll be amazed at how often fares change on any given route.

Just One Ticket Left

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.

Onboard Allergies

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).

Group Travel Discounts

Q. We are having a family reunion of over 25 people all flying from Newark to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Do the airlines give any type of discount for groups? Our trip is July 2015. Should we book now?

A. As to your first question, yes indeed, airlines have group travel desks that arrange travel and give discounts. Call your airline's toll-free number to see if your group qualifies. As to when to buy, fares to Puerto Vallarta rarely go on sale but you'll save money if you fly midweek. If you see a fare under $450 round-trip from Newark, you might want to jump on it.

Transportation Options from Heathrow

Q. My family and I (4 people in total) are traveling to London in early April and while planning our itinerary. After reading numerous books and blogs about how to get to central London from Heathrow, I am still confused about my options. Can you please clearly list my options for getting to the city? I did read taking a taxi into is quite expensive, and they charge by person? Hope this is not true.

Also, we are also planning day trips to Oxford and Cambridge and decided to travel by train. I noticed during my search for tickets that the fare to Cambridge is far more expensive than Oxford. Is there any reason why?

A. The cheapest way to get to London from Heathrow is the Tube. It takes about 45-60 minutes. Get an Oyster Card (a stored value card) if you’re going to be using the Tube or buses a lot while in London. You’ll save money that way. The fast trains to London Paddington Station will be almost as expensive for a party of four as a taxi would be, since you’ll still probably have to take the Tube to your final destination unless your hotel is within walking distance of Paddington. I’m not aware that black cabs charge for each passenger. But the Tube will definitely be cheaper than a taxi and almost as fast if there’s traffic.

As for Oxford, you might consider a coach instead. It’s not quite as fast or comfortable but often cheaper. If you buy an advance purchase non-refundable fare (either train or bus), it’s going to be quite cheap and train and coach fares vary depending on time of day and date.

Above image via Shutterstock

Cancel for Any Reason

Q. Should anything arise before our upcoming vacation, is it possible to get travel insurance that would cover cancellations for any reason?

A. There is such a thing as cancel for any reason insurance, however the premiums are considerably higher than for regular travel insurance; plus cancellation typically must be made at least 48 hours before departure and you won’t get 100% of your expenses refunded.

You might try comparing policies on sites like TravelGuard or InsureMyTrip.

Above image via Shutterstock

Rebooking Canceled Flight

Q. My flight was canceled and I was told that the airline could not get me on another flight to my destination until tomorrow, because all the flights were full. How do I get home?

A. Flights are more full these days due to the capacity cuts over the past few years. It can be a major hassle to rebook a flight after it has been canceled, especially at peak travel times when most flights are at or near full capacity. Acting fast is essential and being proactive to change routing in advance of a major storm can help you get to your destination as planned.

One suggestion is to call the airline while waiting in line at the airport to try and get ahead of the line for rebooking. Also, if you are flying out of a hub or there are flights going out to other destinations from where you are, look into other routings. We have a handy list of links to airlines' route maps here. Sometimes you may be able to piece together an odd routing that the airlines' system won't come up with by simply inputing A to B. Have a look at the departure board at the airport and see what flights are actually leaving and see if you can work out a connection. It may mean an extra stop, but it may get you home the quickest.

Also, look into nearby alternate airports and taking ground transportation. A little creativity during flight cancelations can sometimes help you get you where you want to be sooner.

Allergies & Service Animals

Q. I flew recently and there were two "service animal" pets in the cabin and they were not in their cages. I seriously doubt they were service animals. Anyone can now buy a service animal "vest" online, and in fact I have a friend who has done this (actually, an ex-friend) even though she has no "disability" other than being a nervious wreck who should probably just take Xanax instead. I am severely allergic to pet dander and had a horrible asthma attack. Delta tried to buy me off with a form letter and a $50 credit. What are my rights?

A. Unfortunately, there's no federal or other certification process to prove that people have disabilities that would prevent people from scamming the service animal policies of the airlines (or indeed, of any common carrier--the same thing applies to trains, subways, and buses). And yes, people do scam the system. You basically have no rights at all, other than to ask the airline to put you on a pet-free flight, but that's often unworkable or inconvenient. You should certainly ask the airline to note in your record that you're allergic to pet dander and hope that they will alert you to any pets that have been confirmed on your flight.

Travel Insurance Claims

Q. What is the best way to activate the travel insurance I purchased? Due to an unexpected illness, a person in my party cannot take the trip. We are two weeks out from the travel date.

A. First, congratulations for purchasing travel insurance. The most common reason for making claims on such insurance is indeed sudden illness, either experienced by the person buying the insurance or by someone in the traveling party. In order to file a claim, under the fine print of most policies the person who is ill must seek medical attention before the date of travel. You cannot simply tell the insurer that you or your traveling companion is ill and leave it at that. Create a paper trail showing a diagnosis and that medical treatment was sought.

Above image via Shutterstock

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