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Unadvertised Fare Sales

Q. I wanted to book a flight to Amsterdam in March and finally found one, departing from Chicago, costing $419. A spectacular fare!  Then on a whim I searched flights from Madison to Amsterdam and found various options from $370 to just above $400. This was a surprise, as I've never once found a reasonable international fare from Madison.

Some of these fares listed by Priceline jumped when I tried selecting seats. I did finally end up with a ticket on United for $390. These fares have since disappeared and these flights cost now double or even triple that amount.

Is one company starting an unadvertised sale, and then the others are try to match it? And then, after about half a day, all this collapses? Do you have any insight as to how this works? Was it a glitch?

A. These were not mistake fares. These fares were partly due to lower traffic from Europe to the US. Lower fuel prices allow for lower fares. And fuel efficient planes are burning less fuel. This was simply a tit for tat classic fare war fueled in part by lower fuel prices and lagging demand combined with more capacity.

The airlines have dedicated staff checking what other airlines are charging, as well as which routes need more passengers. And not just from the US to wherever but also from wherever to the US; if Europeans aren’t buying, they either lower the price from Europe and back, or to Europe and back.

Often for reasons I don’t understand, it’s cheaper to fly from a secondary airport like Madison. It might be because people don’t like to make connections so connecting flights are sold for less than the more desirable nonstop flights from the larger airport As for the price increasing while you were selecting seats, that sometimes happens when the fare has changed but the booking engine hasn’t caught up yet. Once in a while it’s because there were just a couple of seats available and they sold out between search and booking.

Excess Valuation & Receipts

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.

Canceled & Stranded

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 cancellations can sometimes help you get you where you want to be sooner.

Sales & Fare Inventory

Q. Why is it that these sale fares are always so short term? Most end long before the time period I might even need to travel.

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.

330-Day Travel Periods

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.

Passport Valid, Pages Too Crowded

Q. My daughter and her husband travel overseas many times a year. She mentioned that even though their passports will remain valid for another six years, they've run out of space for the customs agents to stamp. Would this mean they have to apply and pay for a new passport?

A. Prior to January 2016, travelers running low on passport pages could simply send away for an additional 24 visa pages to be sewn in, no problem. This practice has since been discontinued. Nowadays, should you run out of pages, you'll need to complete this form and, yes, send away for a brand new passport.

Applicants can opt for a bigger 52-page passport book, or the standard 28-page book. The $110 renewal fee is the same for both passport books. Need it in a hurry? Tack on an additional $60 for expedited service.

You can find more info on passport application fees at travel.state.gov.

Cancellations Just Because

Q. I booked a cruise for four, scheduled to leave in December. Now one of us cannot make the trip. I did buy trip insurance, but I was told that since this isn't due to medical reasons, a refund isn't an option. Can they do that?

A. Possibly. Travel insurance policies differ greatly in their terms of what is and isn't covered. So it all depends on the specific type of policy you purchased and its terms of coverage. Some protect you against trip cancellation/interruption due to illness, and some even allow a refund should you find you suddenly get called into work. We always recommend reading through your travel insurance policy before purchasing, so you can make an informed decision about exactly what it is you're buying.

Tipping Flight Crew

Q. Is it proper to tip flight attendants? I saw a fellow passenger slip some money (I couldn't see how much) to a flight attendant on a recent flight. This was at the beginning of the flight. I did notice that this passenger's glass was never empty. Do airlines prohibit this? Isn't it a sort of "bribe?"

A. When you think about it, all travel industry employees (hotels, cruise lines, rental car shuttle drivers) receive tips at one point or another, so I see no reason why flight attendants shouldn't receive them as well. However, some flight attendants tell me that they refuse tips while others accept them. I wouldn't call them "bribes" any more than tipping your bell hop or hotel maid is a bribe. I would draw the line, however, at handing a $100 bill to a check in agent at the airport in the hope of getting an upgrade. I've heard of passengers doing this and it seems unethical to me. I've also heard of people tipping TSA agents in order to jump the line, and that does seem like a bribe. I've also heard that this sort of thing happens all the time in foreign countries with less strict standards of conduct, but it doesn't make it right.

Stolen Photocopy of Passport

Q. Recently, my husband and I had photocopies of our passports removed from unlocked exterior pockets of our suitcases. They were put there in case of an emergency. We have traveled this way for over 20 years with no problems. This is the first time the documents have been stolen. The theft has already been reported to the managers of the hotels we stayed at while we were on tour.  We need advice on what to do now. Should we report the loss to the US passport agency?

A. There shouldn't be any real reason for concern, so long as long as it was only a photocopy and not the original. Still, it wouldn't hurt to report it anyway and, in the off chance that someone attempts to use your personal details for some nefarious purpose and you suddenly have to clear it up, at least you'll be able to refer back to having reported the theft. Again, just to be on the safe side.

While having a copy of your passport is a great idea, you might try keeping a scanned copy in Google Docs, Dropbox, or someplace similar.

Is Travel Insurance Worth It?

Q. With my domestic flights, I usually add on travel insurance since it is often inexpensive. In the coming year, I have two foreign trips planned. When I have priced travel insurance to these locations, I find the price to be very expensive but I recognize that these will cover cancellations, as well as, medical coverage. Since we are healthy travelers, I am not sure that it is worth the major expense. Any recommendations? Is there a way to compare travel insurance prices?

A. It really depends on how expensive your trip is and what the risk is. If you can afford to forfeit the value of your trip without financial hardship, then perhaps insurance isn’t necessary. Do consider emergency evacuation (Medevac) coverage however, since most people cannot afford the cost of a medical flight from abroad back to the US. Try insuremytrip.com to compare travel insurance prices.

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