Travel Q&A

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Expenses During Delays

Q. I was recently traveling for work, flying from San Diego to Bahrain with connecting flights in both Washington Dulles and London Heathrow. My departure from San Diego was delayed for more than 2 hours due to mechanical problem. I accepted a rerouted flight to San Francisco and then to Dulles. I was stuck in San Francisco for over 2 hours. I missed my flight from Heathrow to Bahrain and was stuck in Heathrow for over 6 hours. Can I still submit a claim for phone expenses and for the inconveniences as a result of those delays?

A. If you have records of these expenses, I’m sure Delta would at least give you a travel voucher. I was on a flight from JFK to LAX on American recently and the plane had a technical problem. Then the crew “timed out” (meaning the pilots couldn’t work any longer per FAA regulations), so American gave me a $300 voucher for future travel when I asked. It does depend on your status in the frequent flier program, how long the delay was (in my case the flight was canceled around 1 a.m. and then rescheduled for 6 a.m. that morning).

Flying Without ID

Q. Help! I l flew to visit family yesterday and seemed to have misplaced my license somewhere along the way. I tried calling the airport lost and found, but  it looks like I may have really lost it forever. So here I am, stranded, with no license. Do I stand a chance of clearing security on the way home without it?

A. D'oh, sorry to hear! If you happen to have any other forms of ID handy, of course that will help. If not, the TSA does accept other forms of identification, such as:

  • Driver's licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent)
  • U.S. passport
  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
  • Permanent resident card
  • Border crossing card
  • DHS-designated enhanced driver's license
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver's license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

Says the TSA, "If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone’s identity, like using publicly available databases." You can peruse the TSA's Identity Matters page for more info. All hope is not lost!

Save the Best for Last?

Q. I feel like I am travel fairly often, and I try to stick to the same airline when possible. Still, I am never included in the first few zones called to board the plane. Usually, I'm among the last to be called! How is this stuff even determined?

A. Procedures will vary slightly by airline, but generally, the airlines board passengers who need help and families with young children earlier. First and Business Class next. After that, frequent flyers with elite status and those who've paid extra for early boarding and premium economy seats. Passengers who are holders of the airline's issued credit cards are also often given earlier boarding privileges. After that, depending on the aircraft and the airline's policy they will board back to front, but this can also vary.

Injured Without Trip Insurance

Q. My husband and I were booked to go on a cruise earlier this winter, 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.

No Confirmation Email, No Charge

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.

Airplane Lost & Found

Q. I somehow managed to forget my iPad on my last flight. Is it a total lost cause to attempt to retrieve it or even entertain any thoughts of it ever being returned?

A. Although it may seem that most items left on planes do not get reunited with the rightful owner, there are a few steps you can take to increase your chances of getting your lost item back. First and foremost, we suggest to never put anything of value in the seatback pocket. Those are the blackholes of airplanes. It is just too easy to forget something in there during the rush to exit the aircraft. Another good idea is to label your valuables with contact information allowing the good samaratain who finds your item to contact you.

After realizing you have forgotten something, it is best to contact someone in person at the airport baggage office as soon as possible. If you have already left the airport far behind, we have compiled a list of links to report lost items on airline websites. Check out how to get your items back here.

Long Flights and Pet Allergies

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).

When to Fly vs. When to Buy

Q. What day of the week and days during a month would be the least expensive to fly within United States. Is there any way to get last minute cheap fares without having to sleep at an airport or fly stand by?

A. Tuesday and Wednesday are generally the cheapest days to fly, but not necessarily the cheapest days to buy (amazing unadvertised sales can pop up at any minute of the week, which is why I advise consumers to sign up for airfare alerts). There’s no such thing as cheap stand-by airfares any longer. One option, if it suits your travel dates, is to take advantage of the airlines’ last-minute weekend specials, which have no advance purchase requirement but require that you leave on the coming Saturday and return on the following Monday or Tuesday.

When the Airline Cancels Your Mistake Fare

Q. I recently booked a $329 flight from Atlanta to Auckland, New Zealand, which was canceled only two days later. The tickets were on Air New Zealand but I purchased them via a third-party site. They emailed to say the fare was issued by mistake and was invalid. They did offer a refund, at least.

I've booked these types of mistake fares in the past and the airlines always honored them. Why didn't Air New Zealand honor this one?

A. The Department of Transportation has recently changed its approach to mistake fare, allowing airlines a little more wriggle room to cancel in the event of an error like this one. If you had gone on to purchase a non-refundable hotel in Auckland before being alerted that the tickets were invalid, the DOT does require the carrier to reimburse you for that along with any other non-refundable purchases you may have made as a result of your ticket.

Still, it's always a good idea to hold off on making additional hotel or tour arrangements until you're absolutely sure the airline plans to honor the ticket. If you haven't heard anything after 72-hours, you're probably in the clear.

Fare Jumps While Booking

Q. For a couple of weeks we've been eyeing a one-way fare from Miami to Paris. We were in the middle of finally booking this fare but there was a delay having to do with our credit card, then access to the airline site expired. When I started all over again and the fare had changed jumped by several hundred dollars. We then tried again, erasing all our cookies, but this didn't work. What's going on?

A. This could simply be because the airline changed the airfare, or the number of seats at the lowest fare has changed. Airfares change all the time on any given route, and there’s no magic to finding the cheapest seats other than searching constantly and signing up for airfare alerts and pouncing immediately when a fare looks cheap. And while there’s no solid evidence that clearing cookies changes the game, it never hurts to try.

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