Travel Q&A

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Schedule Change & Refund

Q. I have a flight booked with US Airways for late October and they moved my departure two hours later without any notice to me. Upon finding out, I called and had the flight moved to an earlier time and the new tickets were cheaper, but when I asked about the refund of about $170.00 for the 4 of us traveling, they told me they don't do refunds! I threatened to sue in small claims court and they still didn't seem to care. So much for customer service. Isn't there anything to be done?

A. They actually do refund, but each ticket change requires a $200 fee (which is also charged by Delta, United, and American--it's slightly less on some other airlines) which wipes out the refund if the fare difference is $200 or less. They really should have notified you of the schedule change. By the way, usually when there's a major schedule change like that you're entitled to cancel your reservation without a penalty and get a refund, but that's usually only if they can't find you a suitable replacement flight.

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Mileage Upgrades

Q. I am ashamed to admit that in all of my years of mostly international travel that I have never once used my miles to upgrade, which I think is a mistake. I am very tired of economy class although economy plus is okay. My question is can I purchase a ticket to Bangkok from anyone & upgrade it with United or do I need to specifically purchase it from United? What to do?

A. You definitely need to purchase the fare from United or a United partner airline. The number of miles needed will depend on the date of travel and perhaps the routing, and also the fare you pay. It's sometimes a good idea to call the United MileagePlus helpline (1-800-421-4655) and consult a reservation agent to determine which fares and flights are eligible or available for upgrades.

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Schedule Changes: What's Allowed?

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.

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330 Day Travel Period

Q. Every once in awhile, I get an alert for a fare that states "330 day travel period". What exactly does this mean?

A.  Legacy carriers sell fares for travel up to 330 days into the future, whereas the newbie "low cost" carriers do not. It doesn't necesarrily mean that the fare is available every single month and/or day of the year, but when we notice a fare we post has some availability for this long 330 day travel period, we pass the information along.

The lowest fares available on legacy carriers are not always available for a 330 day travel window, and even when they are, peak travel times such as December holidays and summer months mid-June through late August are often not included or are extremely scarce.

Not to say these months are never available at those low fares though. We've been finding many routes lately (this is posted August 2014) go on sale for a 330-day travel window, which do have availablity for next summer, July 2015. So, it's never too early to be on the lookout for a great summer airfare. Sometimes the best deals can be found well in advance. 

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Schedule Changes Eat Into Vacation

Q. I booked a flight several weeks ago with American Airlines for a flight in September. Since my initial booking, American Airlines has changed my flight times so drastically (for both my departing and returning flights) that I now have lost 2 days of my vacation. So, for example, my departing flight is now leaving 8 hours later than originally booked, and my return flight is leaving 6 hours earlier than originally booked. I am entitled to some sort of compensation, or new flight, from American Airlines? I have tried calling their customer service department to ask; however, there's only so long I can sit on hold for.

A. You can ask for a full refund and rebook on another airline, but other than that there’s not much they will do for you sadly. Are your original flights still available or are there other AA flights available? If so, you can insist that they rebook you. It may take several tries and escalation but if seats are still available on your original or early flights, fight for it!

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Missed Connection

Q. My niece and nephew were flying from Dubuque to Atlanta via Chicago on American Airlines. Deboarding was delayed by about 15 minutes or so in Chicago, causing them to miss their connecting flight to Dubuque by only a few minutes. That flight to Dubuque was the last one of the day, so obviously this meant either stay overnight and fly out the next day (which was not an option due to work the next day) or rent a car and drive the 3 hours back to Dubuque .... which is what they chose to do.

So, my question is: really, American Airlines?! Could they not see via computer that my niece and nephew were recently landed and on their way? Personally, I've been on flight before where we have waited for other passengers who were making a connecting flight. Why is this situation
any different?

Is there anyway to get compensated for this? And if so, would they contact American or CheapOAir, the site where they purchased the tickets? Does purchasing tickets from a third party website make a difference in such situations?

A. Unfortunately, the only recourse in situations like this is to either file a complaint with the airline or see if there’s any insurance available. If their trip was paid with through some credit card issuers, it’s possible that the card has built-in travel insurance that would help out.

It’s precisely for this and other travel mishaps that a company called Aircare was recently launched. Had the two passengers paid $25 extra, they would have been paid $500 in this missed-connection scenario.

I have no idea why a last flight of the day from Chicago to Dubuque could not have waited a few extra minutes, even if it meant missing its take-off slot at O’Hare, which admittedly is a busy airport, but I see this sort of thing frequently and I assume that there are operational reasons for sticking to schedules. I wouldn’t bother contacting CheapOAir, but it might help to complain directly to American.

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Late to Gate, Missed Flight

Q. While on a group trip, half of our party missed the flight and had to pay a fee of $100.00 per person ($1100.00 total) to reschedule for the next flight. Our flight was scheduled to leave from Orlando at 10:37pm, we were at the ticket kiosk at 9:50pm due to a delay at the rental car location. Someone at Spirit Airlines advised us to get out of the kiosk line we were already waiting in and into another line. After about 5 to 10 minutes standing in the second line, another Spirit employee who advised us we needed to be in the line we were originally in. We were furious because it caused us to miss the final boarding call and they would not call ahead to the boarding area to advise we were on our way.

What recourse do we have in recouping money lost in fees and hotel stays?

A. Spirit is notorious for fees and for difficult customer service. People fly them because their fares are sometimes 90% less than competing flights, although lately we’ve seen the major airlines match them on many routes.

But arriving at the check in kiosk 47 minutes before take off put you in a difficult position. You’d still need to check in, check bags, go through security, and walk to the gate. Your flight probably “closed” (meaning  that you were supposed to be on board in your seat) 15 minutes before scheduled take off (some airlines close flights 20 minute before take off, allowing them to leave the gate earlier than scheduled), so you probably wouldn’t have made your flight anyway, especially with a large group and little kids in tow. I realize that there was a delay at the rental car counter, but I always advise people to arrive at the airport, even for a domestic flight, two hours ahead. You just never know what might happen. A flat tire, traffic, unusually long TSA lines—a hundred different delays could affect your plans. And these days, missing a check in deadline, as you discovered, can be a huge inconvenience if there are no seats until the next day or you need to pay a fee.

Many people hate arriving at the airport early, but airports these days have all kinds of amenities to distract you. Plan to have a meal (airport food outlets have improved enormously of late); some airports have museums and play areas for the little ones, mini-spas, and other diversions

I doubt you’ll get anywhere with Spirit.

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Cruise Cancelled, Money Lost?

Q. My husband and I were booked to go on a cruise earlier this month, which we had to cancel due to my husband having an accident four days before we were meant to depart. His doctors would not clear him to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle, and then onward to Vancouver for a cruise.
Unfortunately, we did not have travel insurance. Upon speaking to our rep with Holland cruises, she said there is no refund and no rescheduling allowed 30 days or less from departure. To add insult to injury (literally!) they would not refund the hotels we had booked for our stay in Seattle. Nothing apart from the taxes and port fees has been refunded.

Other than sucking it up, do we have any recourse? We have asked our Holland rep to put us in contact with their corporate department who deals with concerns/complaints. We have medical verification for the injury. Can we do anything else? I know most hotels will allow a 24 hour cancellation without charge. We gave Holland four days notice. Surely, they will be getting a refund from the hotels, and possibly other excursions/bookings, but we are not.

 A. There still may be hope if you charged the cruise to one of the many credit cards that offer free, built-in cancellation coverage for scenarios just like yours. Many people don't read the fine print, but a number of credit card issuers actually provide a wide range of travel insurance whenever you use their cards to buy a trip. More about that here.

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Preserving a Child's Miles

Q. My 14 year old daughter has 45,000 miles in the American Airlines frequent flyer program but she just got a letter saying that because there's been no activity in the account her miles will expire in December. She's not planning to fly anytime soon, and she is too young to get a credit card as a way to earn miles (I use my American Airlines Visa card to buy everything, and that's how I extend my miles). So how can we protect her miles?

A. There are several easy ways, even without a credit card or taking a flight.

Join the American Aadvantage dining program, using her frequent flyer number. Then register your credit cards on her dining account. Then just have a meal at a participating restaurant and you're all set. (American is currently have a bonus deal where you get 10,000 miles for 10 "dines" of $40 or more; you must register for this promotion).

Buy a few miles from your account to her account. There's a per-mile fee but this is an easy solution.

Or just buy something on the Aadvantage shopping portal (this applies to any airline's shopping portal by the way). Register at the portal with her frequent flyer number. Then go to a participating retailer (there are over 250 of them) and from there sign into the retailer's website in your name. Buy something using your credit card. Your daughter will get the miles even if it's bought with your card.

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Exit Row Responsibilities

Q. Without asking for it, my wife and I were seated in an overwing emergency exit row. We're both 57 years old, but I have a bad back and my wife has arthritis. When asked by the flight attendant if we were "capable" of operating the overwing exit door, we said "no." The flight attendant said "You look capable to me." After some back and forth, we were reseated. Isn't it stupid to assign these seats at random, rather than making sure passengers are willing and able to work the doors in an emergency?

A. As I discovered when I took the British Aiways safety course in London the overwing doors on a Boeing 737 are heavy! Forty pounds to be exact, and I was surprised how difficult they are to operate (tip: if you ever have to open one, sit well back in your seat because the door will hit you as it opens into the cabin, and it will hurt!).  And while the chances of ever having to operate one are miniscule, you were right to ask to be reseated. Overwing exit rows are considered to be a "perk" and some airlines only assign them to their best customers for free or charge extra for them. Next time you fly, look at a seat map at to see if you're sitting in one of these rows (they're clearly marked). Most airlines ask you if you're capable of sitting in these rows when you request these seats, but there is a chance that you'll be assigned one at random at the last minute if no other passengers grab one.

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