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Q. How are the boarding zones determined? I always seem to end in the very last zone to board.
A. Procedures will vary slightly by airline, but generally, the airlines board passengers who need help and families with young children earlier. First and Business Class next. After that, frequent flyers with elite status and those who've paid extra for early boarding and premium economy seats. Passengers who are holders of the airline's issued credit cards are also often given earlier boarding privileges. After that, depending on the aircraft and the airline's policy they will board back to front, but this can also vary.
Q. In all of my prepping for a trip to Spain next week, I forget to check the validity of my passport. And apparently it expires exactly one week after I leave Barcelona and return home to the US. Should I be worried?
A. Spain is included in the Schengen nations, which require that your passport be valid for up to 3 months beyond your intended stay. And elsewhere in the world, you're required to have at least 6 months! So, yes, be worried. You might find it worth the expense to apply for an expedited passport. Better safe than sorry.
Q. What's up with annoying single supplements imposed on solo travelers? While poking around online, I have found just one company -- GAP Adventures -- that doesn't penalize the solo traveler with these fees (which can be substantial). Can you direct me to any other companies that welcome (instead of penalize) us single folks?
A. As more and more travelers go solo, single supplements are a growing problem. A great article offering some solutions is this New York Times article on the topic. I've inspected the Norwegian Cruise Lines "studio" cabins mentioned in the article, and I think they're a great solution to this problem. The article mentions Grand Circle Cruise Line, but Grand Circle also offers land tours with very low or non-existent single supplements on many departures.
Q. Due to an unexpected illness, a person in my party cannot take the trip. We're only two weeks out from the travel date and did purchase travel insurance when we initially booked. How do we go about putting that insurance to use?
A. First, congrats 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.
Q. On a recent Friday afternoon, my friend and I booked our trips together using the same computer. She was going round-trip, I was going one-way, joining her on the return leg.
She booked her ticket through the airline site. Minutes later, I tried booking my one-way ticket on her return flight...BUT the flight was no longer available. I was finally able to find the exact flight on the same airline still available on Orbitz and booked through them instead.
I also called up the airline and was told that they update their system on Friday and although they try to do it in the middle of the night, sometimes it doesn’t work out. My question is: Do you know what day of the week the major airlines update their information? In searching for the right time and price for this trip, we found that a lot of times the airline sites did not list flights that were available on other sites.
A. There could be two things happening here. One, it’s possible that there was just a single seat available at the lowest fare on that flight, and your friend grabbed it.
The other possibility is that a lower fare lingered on Orbitz because of different updating schedules. New fares can be entered into computer systems at any time. It used to be that fares were updated for domestic flights three times a day during the week and once a day on weekends, but that’s no longer the case. Airlines can now push through airfare updates dynamically if they need to (for example, if there’s a fare error, they can correct it more quickly than 7 or 10 years ago).
Q. My family has a very expensive international trip coming up, leaving from New York's JFK; however, it is up to us to fly to JFK airport from our home airport. Our tour company trip insurance only covers the tour company's portion of the trip, which begins with the flight from JFK. If our flight to JFK happens to be cancelled and we missed the connection, who is responsible for the expense?
A. If you don't make your flight to JFK, chances are you'd be responsible. And never buy insurance from your tour company! You'd be better off buying from a third party, such as those you'll find on Insuremytrip.com, a comparison shopping site. To be on the safe side, you should always leave a HUGE amount of connection time for JFK connections, especially in winter.
Q. If you purchase the excess valuation insurance for your trip, do you still have to produce receipts? It seems unreasonable to have to keep receipts for every item that you pack.
A. Most likely you'd be asked to produce receipts and when you check in you'll need to describe the contents of your bag. It's always a good idea to have receipts for things you purchase for insurance purposes in case you need to make a claim with your home or renters insurance, your credit card company, your airline or whatever. For those who don't know what excess valuation is and why you might need it, we'll gladly explain.
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.
Q. I left my tablet on my last flight. I was right in the middle of a very intriguing book. Is it a total lost cause to attempt to retrieve it or even entertain any thoughts of it ever being returned?
A. Although it may seem that most items left on planes do not get reunited with the rightful owner, there are a few steps you can take to increase your chances of getting your lost item back. First and foremost, we suggest to never put anything of value in the seatback pocket. Those are the blackholes of airplanes. It is just too easy to forget something in there during the rush to exit the aircraft. Another good idea is to label your valuables with contact information allowing the good samaratain who finds your item to contact you.
After realizing you have forgotten something, it is best to contact someone in person at the airport baggage office as soon as possible. If you have already left the airport far behind, we have compiled a list of links to report lost items on airline websites. Check out how to get your items back here.
Q. Do airlines decrease and increase the number of seats available at advertised sale prices? I ask because last week I saw a sale advertised on an airline web site and went to find seats for my dates of travel but was unsuccessful. However, the next day my friend, who was making the same trip to attend a wedding, found seats at the sale fare on the exact same flights I searched the day before.
A. There are many reasons why a sale fare might be unavailable one day but available the next. Airlines not only adjust fares, but also the number of seats available at those fares. And if someone has a sale fare on "hold" but doesn't buy it, the sale seat will go back into inventory. So it pays to be diligent and persistent.
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