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Entries by Jason
Q. I'm planning a multi-city trip. How do I sign up for a fare alert for my trip?
A. When the airlines announce fare sales, they apply to round-trip routes. So finding a listed sale fare specifically for your multi-city route really isn't going to happen. That's why we don't have a place on our Newsletter page to sign up for alerts for multi-city itineraries.
Domestic Multi-City Trips
In order for you to find sale fares for your trip, the stars are really going to have to align for you. Three things will have to happen. First, each leg of your trip has to be discounted as a roundtrip fare. Next, each of those discounted fares will also have to be available as a one-way trip for half the roundtrip price. And finally, the fare periods for all the routes have to coincide with your travel dates! In other words, a "perfect storm" of sale fares has to occur. Not impossible, but it could be tough.
International Multi-City Trips
Believe it or not you might have a better chance to travel on the cheap with an international itinerary to multiple cities than a domestic one. The strategy is to get a great sale fare for a round-trip ticket to a city that has good sales often, such as London, Dublin, Paris and the like. Once you're there, use the cheaper local carriers for your trips around that part of the world. Return to the orlginal arrival city and use the return portion of the roundtrip ticket to get home to the US. You could really save a bundle this way. Leave plenty of time for your connections, because whenever you book travel as separately transacted itineraries in this manner, the airlines are not responsible to rebook or accommodate you in any way when you miss a flight because of another airline's lateness. It could a very expensive missed flight if it happens, wiping out all your previous savings and then some!
Q. Wonderful information generally, and just what I am looking for!
I do have one request: would it be possible to mention/list the actual fees, taxes, etc that will be added on to a so-called low fare? They often amount to many times the stated ticket price, especially for international travel!
A. The fees and taxes for international travel can be pretty daunting. We quite often include taxes and fees for our international fares because the information is more readily available to us than for the domestic fares that we find (and of course, we note it right after the price that taxes and fees are included and in case you missed that, we note it on the Fare Details page for you too!) If we don't note that taxes and fees are included, you can safely assume that they are not.
The main reason why it's difficult to include taxes and fees is that they are so variable. It's much less time consuming to list the base price, which is common practice. (After all, even when you go to a retail store, a restaurant or shop online, the taxes and delivery fees are added in when you make your purchase.)
Some of the variables include:
A federal segment fee for each takeoff. So depending on whether you choose a non-stop or a connecting flight, the fee will change. The number of connections changes this fee as well.
Facility fees charged by the airports. These vary depending on the specific airports that are included in your itinerary. And again, the more connections, the more fees.
The TSA charges a security fee and that varies depending on the airport.
The airline itself can charge fees, including a fuel surcharge. Theoretically, you're supposed to see this in the base price, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this not always the case.
For international travel, there are additional US government taxes, and you can be sure that immigration, customs and the government of your destination country will be sure to take a cut too. This can result in the "sticker shock" of seeing your ticket double in price (sometimes even more!) when all the extras are added up.
Finally, if we attempted to find the "final total" for each and every permutation of each and every fare that we list, you would notice a big drop in the number of routes that we'd be able to cover. And we're pretty sure that would make for a lot of unhappy campers!
Q. Initially, earlier today I was able to schedule my flight from DTW to LAX, but when I checked again later all the dates were "x"-ed out. What happened? Was this one of those "unadvertised" sales that you say can "disappear" at any moment? How does this work anyway? Why do they come and go like this?
A. We have likened the unadvertised sales that we list to the stock market on our FAQ page (a great place to visit any time you need info or answers!). The prices can be volatile, changing up to three times a day and inventory can sell out quickly, so acting sooner than later is always recommended.
Advertised vs. Unadvertised
That said, we do understand that it can be confusing as to what's really going on. When the airlines have an advertised sale, the rules seem pretty clear: They set a price. They set a fare period, usually denoted by the phrase, "Good for travel until..." and they set an end date for the sale, usually with something like "Must be purchased by..." easy to understand, yes? The unadvertised sale fare is a little more, shall we say, lawless. It is hardcore unfettered free-market capitalism in its raw state! Sounds like the "wild, wild west" of yore, doesn't it? Let's expound upon this analogy, shall we?
Imagine, if you will, a darkened saloon, empty of life but for a shadowy trio sitting at a small corner table, playing poker. It is silent as a tomb except for the melancholy, out-of-tune strains coming from the old dusty player-piano. Each of the trio is holding cards closely to their person, deep in thought and studying their hand and their table-mates with ferocious intensity. The cards are marked, "DFW to LAX." These are the regulars at "The Red Asterisk Saloon" and they are playing The Game...
The first to speak is the old guy - Conrad "Continental" LeGacy. He's been around forever and knows how the game is played. "I'll lower it by $75 RT and extend the fare period by 30 days." The man on his right startles, but quickly regains his composure and speaks, " I'll see that price and the fare period." The man - Ted "Hub" O'Hare- pauses, then adds casually, "And I'll make it good for weekends too." Continental narrows his eyes, exhales the smoke from the nub of his cigar and grunts, " I'm in." The lilting, mocking laughter of the third breaks the mood. "Oh boys, that's the best y'all got?!" It's Delta Hartsfield-Jackson. She's a woman, but she ain't no lady. "I will see your weekends, lower it another $25 RT and there will be absolutely no advance purchase requirement nor a minimum stay, y'all!"
Suddenly, a door bangs open and Kelly the "Southwest Kid" shouts, "That's it ?! Ha! I'll lower it by another $25, make it good for another month and they can buy it as a one-way ticket for half the price every single day!" The others fold... they know they've been beat by the pipsqueak... yet again.
How This Affects You and Us
Okay, story time is over. These hands of "airfare poker" as we imagine them, are played three times a day during the week and even on weekends, though not quite as often. These folks are trying to bluff, undercut and undermine each other every time a new hand is "dealt." They could suddenly raise their prices during the last fare change of the day, hoping that someone gets left out and is stuck with being the only one at the lower price over night. They could lower the price, but only make a few seats available for each travel day, hoping to lure a competitor into likewise lowering their prices, but selling more seats. They engage in tactics which can affect the price you pay and the availability of the tickets you want, creating disappearing fares or "x"-ed out dates on the fare calendars.
We always note with our little red asterisk when a fare is part of an unadvertised sale, so you'll know that it may not be around for a long time. We try to keep up with the changes as best we can, but we recommend being vigilant, opening your emails promptly and hopefully, being nicer to us when a fare is no longer available (now that you understand a bit better why these fares are so time-sensitive.) If it was up to us, these fares would stay put until everyone who wanted one was able to purchase to their hearts content. But that's just a nice story, right?!
Q. Your site is great. I'm a huge fan. I was wondering if you knew exactly which airlines currently offer in-flight high speed wireless service? I had this on a recent Virgin America flight, and it was amazing. Which airlines offer this nationally might be of interest to all of your readers.
A. Funny you should ask! Our favorite USA Today blogger just got the scoop that Southwest is introducing WiFi access on some of their flights. The NY Times just named Delta and American as being in the early stages of installation and testing of this service on their aircraft, and of course as you discovered, Virgin America is also aiming to get service to their fleet as well. As things stand currently, no domestic carrier has all their flights equipped with WiFi, so it's going to be catch as catch can for awhile. So, we definitely have mixed feelings about whether this is a good or bad thing. What do you think? (Post your comments below.)
Q. I'll be traveling to Reno next weekend and am terrified that I'll get stuck on the tarmac for hours. I heard recently about a 10 hour situation with one of the airlines. Is there a policy regarding holding passengers hostage like this?
A. Tarmac Terror! Yes we've all heard the horror stories... no water, no food, over-flowing toilets in restrooms with no more toilet paper and soap, and worst of all, no escape.
We've found the best way to deal with any anxiety concerning this unpleasant possibility is preparation. With just a few items in your carry on and some strategic behavior on your part, you'll be ready for a long stay in your seat on the ground.
Yes, many airlines have contingency plans and policies posted on their websites, but we must point out that the language gives many of them a lot of wiggle room. For example, one of them promises you a Nutri-Grain bar (gee willikers...thanks!) in case of a tarmac delay, with no mention of a maximum time limit spent on your non-moving plane! Some suggested strategies:
1. Pack an extra meal. If it's a snack flight in the afternoon, pack dinner. If it's an early morning breakfast flight, pack lunch. You get the idea. Non-perishable extra snacks are good. You may want to share with your starving, unprepared seatmates. Fork over for a bottle of water post-security to bring with you on the plane. If you're feeling really stingy, bring an empty and fill it up in the terminal (again, post-security!).
2. Monitor the weather. Check out the forecasts for your departure city, your arrival city and what the heck, for the entire country. Nowadays, a snowstorm at JFK can cause delays all over the country.
3. Fully charge your cell phone and other electronics. You may need to make some calls and let folks know where you are, but keep the conversations brief as a courtesy to your fellow passengers. (Long conversations about nothing are sure to make everyone around you even crankier during a delay.) As for your other electronics, if they're fully-charged, they'll provide hours of much appreciated distraction and entertainment.
4. Pack your headphones. Do we really even need explain why you'll want these?! (The noise-canceling kind are our personal favorites.)
5. Bring something to do or read. As we said before, distractions will be crucial!
6. Time your restroom visits. Right before you get on the plane is a must, as well as shortly before you land. It could be your last chance for quite awhile. Also, if you are stuck on the tarmac and the crew has allowed movement about the cabin, go before things get too gross in there! After that, curtail liquids and cross your legs.
7. Print out the following and have it in your carryon: the airline's tarmac delay policy, its missed connection policy, its reservation number in case you miss a connection and need to re-book and finally, its Rule 240 policy.
Okay, now you're prepared, don't you feel better?! (Anyone with their own tips for coping is welcome to add their "two-cents" in the comments section below)
Q. I hate the fact that you've included nearby airports in my newsletter. Scrolling past all those fares that I'll never use is such a pain. My airport is so much closer and I never use the other ones. Why would I want to fight traffic and drive another forty-five minutes for a lower fare? I'd rather pay more for the convenience. Can't I just have my airport in the newsletter?
A. We've included additional airports in our newsletters, because most of our subscribers are primarily interested in saving money. One of the best ways to do that is to keep an eye on fares from more than one airport. Also, we might point out that not everyone lives on your block. A lot of folks actually live in areas that are very convenient for travel to any number of airports and we've tried to accommodate them... and as we pointed out in today's newsletter and blog, the good folks of Cincinnati have actually caused prices to drop at their airport because so many of them were opting to fly from Columbus, Dayton, Lexington and Louisville, all airports that we include in the Cincinnati newsletters! As for scrolling past fares being a pain... c'mon, does it really hurt?!
Q. Well, we did it! With your help we got one of your incredible fares and we have cheap airfare for our long awaited and well-deserved vacation. The excitement lasted until we started checking out the prices of hotels. Even for some horrible dump they're asking for an arm and a leg. And that's about two limbs more than we can afford!
Short of not going, what's a budget-minded vacationer to do?
A. A low-cost alternative for the thrifty traveler is to exchange homes with another traveler who lives at your vacation destination. You stay at this person's home for a week or two and they stay at yours. It takes some planning, but the savings can be huge. You can do this with friends or family, as well as consult the multitude of agencies and websites that help match up home-swappers. One of our favorite writers at Smarter Travel, Mr. Ed Perkins, has written a great "Home Exchange 101" article which you might want to read.
Q. My wife and I just booked a cruise out of Miami for late November, and we still need to purchase airfare to be there in time to set sail. How far in advance should we purchase our airfare for this cruise? Any suggestions on when we can get the lowest prices? We're sure that you can predict exactly when the best time to buy would be.
A. Oh how we wish we had a crystal ball to tell all of you exactly when the fare for your route and travel dates will hit rock bottom! The truth is we can only make an educated guess when it might be at its lower end... and really, you can do it too. If you keep track of the fare periods for your route's sale fares (which we handily note for you on the "fare details" page of each of our listed fares), you can watch as your dates get closer and closer. When the fare sales include your dates, you must pounce!
As for predicting the future, well, we would never have guessed when fuel prices were sky-rocketing last summer and airfare was going up and up and up, that by this summer the economy would be in its current precarious state and that there'd be travel bargains galore. This is why we can never predict with certainty what's going to happen to the price of airfare. We'll only say that we promise to let you know whenever we find good deals, sale fares and price reductions. And any of our more well-financed competitors who claim that they can predict the future regarding fares? Well, let's just say that their crystal ball is not even worth the plastic that it's made of!
Q. I booked a flight only a few weeks ago thinking that prices would soon being going up. I'm bringing my boyfriend home with me to Ireland to introduce him to my family for the first time and we wanted to get a good deal for an expensive trip in hard times.
We paid $460 per ticket on Delta.
Well, I just searched on Delta again and saw that the exact same flight is now costing $305 total per ticket!! That's insane!!
How are they allowed to charge you one price one week and not reimburse you for the price difference? If I bought an item in a store before a sale I would be entitled to return it for whatever reason and then if I so chose, could buy it at the reduced sale price. How come airlines don't allow this?
Could I ask for a refund and repurchase the flights at the reduced cost saving a whopping load of bucks?
A. Some airlines, like Delta, will issue vouchers for the difference in fare if there is a price drop, but there is a catch... the dreaded change fee. In your case, the change fees are a whopping $200 each for an international fare. So much for your "refund." Southwest, Alaska, and JetBlue also issue refund vouchers for the full fare drop amount, without extracting a fee.
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