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You can submit your own question to us at askgeorge@airfarewatchdog.com. We will try to answer as many as possible.

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Departure Time Switcheroo

Q. I need to fly out early in the morning to reach my destination in time for a scheduled event, which is why I purchased a ticket for a 6 a.m. flight. Now I received an email that the airline has changed my departure time to 4 p.m. If I had wanted to leave at 4 p.m., then I would have bought my ticket for that time. Are airlines able to change your flight without your permission?

A. Airlines state in their contracts of carriage that schedules are not guaranteed, but you can ask to cancel your booking and get a refund without penalty, even on a non-refundable fare, if they won't reseat you on the original flight you booked. That's also in their contracts of carriage.

No Purchase Confirmation Email

Q. A couple of months ago, I purchased a ticket online from American Airlines for a flight from Oklahoma City to Syracuse. When I attempted to check in for my flight, I was told that the ticket had been canceled. American said that my credit card had been rejected 3 times by Amex. They also said they emailed me to inform me of the rejection, though I never received an email.   
 
I immediately called Amex and was told that American had made no effort to charge my card. Since I had to be in Syracuse for business the next day, I had no choice but to purchase another ticket, and this one did not come cheap. Do I have any recourse and if yes, what would you suggest?

A. Though it's rare, little technical goofs like this can happen from time to time. When making a ticket purchase online, you should always be on the look out for some sort of confirmation code on the page that follows and/or -more importantly- a confirmation via email. If you don't see either of the two, the next step should be to check your credit card charges. You can be sure that no charge means no ticket.

Pet Allergies and Long Flights

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).

Fare Fluctuations

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 even 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.

Fare Period and Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel valid through May 18" and I tried to book a ticket home over Easter weekend. 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

Late & Left Behind

Q. After already running late to the airport, I was further held up by a ridiculously long security line. By the time I made it through, my gate was closed and the plane was pulling away. I had to catch a much later flight, and lost a full day of my trip. 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.

The Airlines Gave Away Our Seats

Q. We were scheduled to fly from Chicago to Orlando via Atlanta for my brother-in-law’s wedding. Our flight from Chicago to Atlanta was delayed due to weather so we ended up arriving at the gate for our connecting flight to Orlando (the last flight of the day) with just five minutes to spare, only to learn that Delta had given our seats away to standby passengers. As a result, we couldn’t get to Orlando in time for the wedding, which was scheduled for the following morning. Under what circumstances are airlines allowed to give away your seat to standby passengers? Why do they do this?

A. You really put yourself on the last flight of the day flying through Atlanta? Whenever you’re flying for a “can’t-miss” event (wedding, funeral, cruise departure, important business meeting), it’s a bad idea to take a connecting flight and a worse one to schedule your arrival at the last minute on the last flight of the day. To answer your question, Delta probably gave away your seat because they figured you wouldn’t make the connection and a standby passenger is the proverbial bird in hand. This has happened to me as well, and it’s very annoying, but apparently it works for the airlines’ bottom lines otherwise they wouldn’t keep annoying passengers like this.

People Always Ask...

Q. Can you tell me again the best day/night to look to purchase airfare? Thanks so much! I know I can always rely on Watchdog to help me when it comes to navigating the airlines!

A. We don't really subscribe to the theory that there's a single day or night that you should be looking for airfare. True, a lot of airlines release sale fares on Tuesdays, and other carriers match on Wednesday, BUT a really great fare can come along anytime. We ourselves look seven days/nights a week and have found amazing sales. If there was a regular time when airfare was always at its lowest, we wouldn't have to work so hard 7 days a week and there would be far fewer fare analysts working here at AFWD.

More Trip for Less Money

Q. I have a question about something that I feel is quite dishonest of Delta and any other airlines who may do this same thing. Delta is asking almost $600 for a non-stop flight from Portland, Maine to Atlanta.

But if I book the same flight but going from Portland to Nashville connecting via Atlanta (and just getting out right there), then the flight only costs $276. Why is the non-stop to Atlanta so high for only half of the trip? And what's to stop people from paying less and just not taking the connecting flight to Nashville?

For some reason, this pricing seems really dishonest and even illegal!

A. This is called Hidden City Ticketing, and though it may be annoying to the consumer, it's pretty standard. You're paying for the convenience of a nonstop trip. Connecting fares typically cost less because they are more time consuming for the passenger and less convenient.

Technically, there's nothing to really stop you from booking the connecting fare and using what you need, but there's plenty to dissuade you from doing so. First of all, this would only work one-way. The airline is hip to this scheme and would promptly cancel the return leg of your ticket. And you'd only be able to travel with carry-on baggage, otherwise your luggage would travel all the way through to Nashville.

You'll find more on Hidden City Ticketing here.

Advance Seat Selection: to Buy or Not to Buy?

Q. While booking two different flights on American many weeks in advance, I noticed that when I got to the phase of selecting seats that virtually all seats shown to me were the so-called “preferred” seats.

Is American purposely hiding or holding back normal economy seats in an attempt to force customers to buy higher priced but not necessarily better seats? I don't mind paying for cabin extra, but really, am I being baited and up-sold for a normal seat in row 12?

A. Yes, they are trying to persuade consumers to pay for the extra legroom seats. I advise people to buy the fare without choosing a seat and then recheck frequently, either by phone or online, to see if basic economy seats become available. If none become available, they’ll get one of the extra legroom seats for free or they’ll be assigned a seat in basic economy eventually. As frequent fliers with status get upgraded to extra legroom seats more basic economy seats will open up, usually starting at 72 hours before flight time. Bottom line: as long as you can buy the regular economy airfare you will get a seat, unless you’re bumped from the flight in which case you’ll get cash compensation for denied boarding.

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