Travel Q&A

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Sale Fares & Inventory

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.

Above image via Shutterstock

Lost Wallet

Q. I left my wallet in the seatback pocket of a Delta flight to Amsterdam. I contacted Delta through its lost and found website. Fortunately, the wallet was found in Amsterdam but Delta would not send it to me unless I could give them a FedEx account, which I didn’t have and which I wasn’t able to sign up for because the FedEx website in Europe wouldn’t let me sign up with a U.S.-based address and credit card. Finally, Delta agreed to sent my wallet back to my home address, where it arrived two days after I returned home. My trip was ruined by not having my own credit card and cash (I ended up using my daughter’s credit card to get by). What should I have done differently to prevent all this from happening?

A. Oh, so many things. First, I truly sympathize with you because the same thing has happened to me. I put my passport in a seatback pocket on a Virgin Atlantic flight and although I knew it was in there somewhere and I searched for 20 minutes before the flight landed, I couldn’t find it to save my life. It must have fallen into a black hole. I had to talk my way into the U.K. without a passport. Not fun. Luckily, Virgin found my passport (in Miami!) and delivered it to my London hotel in time for my return home. And without charge. It would have been nice if Delta had done the same for you.

So what should you have done differently? First, pretend that the seatback pocket isn’t there. Never, ever put anything in the seatback pocket. It’s filthy for one thing, and for another it’s a recipe for disaster.

Second, I can’t imagine why you couldn’t have accessed the U.S. FedEx website even in Europe (rather than the European website). Or have called FedEx by phone and established an account. Although if you didn’t have your credit card, I’m not sure how this would have been possible anyway.

Third, never put all your credit cards and cash in one place. I always put one credit card and some cash in my passport holder along with my passport, and the rest in my wallet.

Fourth, you know the old advertising slogan American Express used? “Never leave home without it?” I never leave home without my Amex card because on more than one occasion I’ve either lost or misplaced my wallet and Amex either issued me a credit card at one of their offices on the spot, or delivered a replacement card within 24 hours and covered my hotel expenses with just a phone call while waiting for the card to arrive. Credit cards issued by banks typically can’t issue replacement cards immediately or they can’t overnight them to you in 24 hours.

Flight Times and Schedule Changes

Q. I received two emails this week alerting me to the fact that my flight times on United have been changed. My layovers en route to Boston went from about 90 minutes each to 3 hours. To me, the difference between getting into Boston at 12:05PM and 1:38PM is actually significant. Do I have any recourse here?

A. I don't think that's enough of a schedule change to request a refund or other compensation. And honestly, assuming you're connecting in Newark with chronic delays, even 90 minutes might be pushing it. If there's an earlier flight that has seats, you could call United and ask to be placed on it with no change fee. But airlines make it clear that schedules are never guaranteed.

Above image via Shutterstock

Always in Zone 5

Q. I always seem to end up in the last group called to board the plane. And I've actually seen plenty of people who board before their group is called or before their rows are called, and yet they are allowed to board whenever they approach the podium. Why do almost all airlines not actually enforce their boarding procedures? I'm okay boarding a little later but I don't like being edged even further back in the process because some people are lying and the people in charge don't call them on it! In the interest of fairness, what can I do? And why does this always happen?

A. I have seen airline personnel enforce these rules, but they don’t make passengers remain seated until their boarding group or row is called. So eager passengers crowd the boarding area, making it difficult for passengers who need to board. I suspect that employees just don’t want to make a scene and the airline doesn’t have the personnel to enforce common courtesy at the boarding area. And you’re right, more and more people have priority boarding, now that you can buy your way to the front of the line with various credit card perks and extra fees.

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.

Summer in Milan

Q. I’ll be visiting Milan this summer. Any suggestions of what to do and see, and the best places to stay?

A. TripAdvisor lists 1,179 things to do in Milan, and it ranked #1 in a list of 52 Places to Visit in 2015 from the New York Times. You'll also find a useful “3-days in Milan” itinerary on TripAdvisor that hits all the tops attractions, such as the Duomo Cathedral and the Brera Picture Gallery. The city is a good jumping off point to visit Lake Como. It is an amazing place to go shopping for fashion, however, with hundreds of outlet stores. Typically, the summer sales start the first Saturday in July, so if you’re a shopaholic plan your visit for then. Milan is also a great culinary destination. TripAdvisor commenters’ number one hotel in Milan is the Park Hyatt, although I was very impressed with the Four Seasons Milan on my last visit.

Above image via Shutterstock

West Coast or Inter-Island

Q. Is it better to fly directly from New York to Honolulu and connect to take an inter-island plane to Maui, or should I fly to the West Coast (LAX or SFO) and connect to Maui?

A. The best reason for flying direct to Honolulu is that inter-island flights leave almost every 30 minutes, so if there's a delay in your inbound flight to HNL it won't matter. Should you somehow misconnect in SFO or LAX it might not be as easy to get on another flight to Maui.

Jumping Security Waits

Q. My wife and I were on our way to Jamaica when, after checking in, we were held up in a ridiculously long security line. By the time we were cleared, our gate was closed and the plane was pulling away. We had to catch a much later flight, and lost a full day at the beach. 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.

Proof of Credit Card Used to Purchase Ticket?!

Q. We bought an airline ticket for our teenage son using a credit card and sent him off to the airport. Even though he had a boarding pass printed at home and checked in online, when he got to the airport the airline asked him to show the credit card used to purchase the ticket. Luckily, my husband was available to rush to the airport to provide the card. Otherwise, he would have had to buy a new ticket or not fly. Why did the airline do this, and do all airlines require a credit card to be shown?

A. The only reason I can think of is to prevent fraud, but as you say, your son checked in online and had a boarding pass. I asked my twitter followers if they had ever had this happen to them, and quite a few said yes. It’s fairly rare, but the worst that usually happens is the passenger must buy a new fare and get reimbursed when the original credit card is produced. Anyone who buys a ticket for a third party should be prepared to show the credit card used to purchase it.

Cancellations 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.

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