Travel Q&A

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Air Travel and Your Carbon Footprint

Q. So far, most of the fares you advertise seem to encourage air travel for short periods of time. Since air travel is so very destructive to the environment, why not list low fares that at least allow someone to stay where they are for longer, thus getting more “trip” for the exorbitant environmental cost?

A. Many of the fares listed do allow for longer stays, though the sample dates we use when listing fares are often for week-long stays. The only reason for doing this is that most Americans are given such limited vacation time, the average being just 10 days, with 2 weeks considered generous by most employers.

There are steps travelers can take to reduce their carbon footprints, such as flying during the day and booking economy seats (smaller seats, less fuel). You can also calculate your emissions per flight, and contribute an equal amount to environmental causes.

Here Today, Gone Later Today?

Q. On a recent Friday afternoon, my friend and I booked our trips together using the same computer. She was going round-trip, I was going one-way, joining her on the return leg.

She booked her ticket through the airline site. Minutes later, I tried booking my one-way ticket on her return flight...BUT the flight was no longer available. I was finally able to find the exact flight on the same airline still available on Orbitz and booked through them instead.

I also called up the airline and was told that they update their system on Friday and although they try to do it in the middle of the night, sometimes it doesn’t work out. My question is:  Do you know what day of the week the major airlines update their information? In searching for the right time and price for this trip, we found that a lot of times the airline sites did not list flights that were available on other sites.  

A. There could be two things happening here. One, it’s possible that there was just a single seat available at the lowest fare on that flight, and your friend grabbed it.

The other possibility is that a lower fare lingered on Orbitz because of different updating schedules. New fares can be entered into computer systems at any time. It used to be that fares were updated for domestic flights three times a day during the week and once a day on weekends, but that’s no longer the case. Airlines can now push through airfare updates dynamically if they need to (for example, if there’s a fare error, they can correct it more quickly than 7 or 10 years ago).

Cancel 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, InsureMyTrip, or Squaremouth.

A Summer Trip to Milan

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

A. You might start with TripAdvisor's Things to Do in Milan, as well as this suggested itinerary on how to best spend “3-days in Milan” 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 Room Mate Giulia (closely followed by the Hotel Spadari al Duomo) although I was very impressed with the Four Seasons Milan on my last visit.

A Little Wiggle Room for Trip Changes

Q. My daughter is pregnant and is due about the end of August. My wife and I live in Jacksonville and my daughter lives in San Diego. We want to fly out when the baby is due and help out for a couple of weeks. I'm wondering how to best handle the flight arrangements, and is there one airline that would be better than another if we need to change travel dates after purchasing a fare. I know non-refundable tickets are usually cheaper but we may need to change our plans based on the baby's arrival.

A. I would buy your fare from an airline with a low or non-existent change fee, which, considering your routing, means that Southwest is probably your best bet. If you have to cancel your reservation and rebook, Southwest will not charge a change penalty as such. However, if the fare has gone up between the time you purchased and the time you rebook, then you will have to pay the fare difference (if it's gone down, on the other hand, you get a credit for future use, with no "service fee" deducted). Southwest is unique in this regard.

Ticket Booked but No Confirmation Received

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.

International One-Ways

Q. Is it okay to purchase a one way ticket to a foreign country. My reason for doing so is that I'm not yet sure what day I'll return.

A. Increasingly, it is perfectly okay. It used to be that one-way fares were much higher than a round-trip fare, but because of airlines like WOW and Norwegian selling one-way tickets for about 1/2 the round-trip price, some other airlines are following suit.

If the route you’re considering doesn’t have a cheap one-way fare (the round-trip fare is higher), you won’t get into trouble not using the return flight, as long as you don’t do this too often, as some airlines don’t like it when passengers use this strategy. As a courtesy, you should cancel your seat on the return flight.

Lost Bag, Lost Money

Q. My luggage was recently lost and I'm having a hard time convincing the airline of exactly what the contents were worth. In fact, the sum they're offering is nowhere near their $3,500 limit of liability. What can I do?

A. Although it may sound tedious, saving your receipts can really help you out in a situation like this. Losing a $50 shirt may not seem like the end of the world, but lose a bag full and that can really add up. For a record of purchases made via debit or credit, it's easy to refer back to bank or card statements as proof. For little ho-hum cash purchases, you might consider squirreling away those receipts too.

Another thing you could do to prevent something like this from happening down the road is upping the limitation of liability by purchasing Excess Valuation.

Of course, trip insurance can also save you in a bind like this, as well as some premium card services offered by American Express, that not only cover you if you're luggage is lost forever, they'll pay to replace "necessary personal articles" if your bag is delayed for six hours or longer.

Gone Tomorrow

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.

EarlyBird Fares and Early Boarding

Q. My wife and I are flying Southwest and have purchased the option for EarlyBird check-in. What exactly is required to early board with Southwest?

A. Boarding positions for EarlyBird passengers are assigned in the order they are purchased, so the earlier you buy, the better your position in the queue. However, passengers who have purchased Anytime Fares and Business Select do take priority over EarlyBird buyers. That means you might not necessarily get an A boarding position, but you'll still be among the first to choose seats.

You can access your boarding passes and check-in 24-hours before your scheduled departure time, though this will have no bearing on your boarding position.

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