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Entries by Jason Ma

When Does Hawaii Go On Sale?

Q.  Aloha Watchdog! Our family is hoping to fly to either Kauai or the Big Island from SFO in August of 2010. What time of year do airlines usually have big airfare sales to Hawaii? Mahalo!

A.  And a big Aloha to you too!  One of the most predictable thing about airfare sales is that they're unpredictable.   If only we could say, "The week after the cherry trees blossom on the East Coast has always been the time of year that we've found the lowest fares for travel to..."   In fact, the airlines use the element of surprise to try to undercut and undersell each other all the time with unadvertised sales and price reductions.  Signing up for our alerts or visiting the website often is one of the best ways you can keep on top of what's going on with your route.  You'll be able to keep an eye on both prices and fare periods.  Then, when you see your period of travel coming up, you'll be coiled up and ready to pounce on a great price, like the sale fare predator we know you to be!

Conference Planning Advice Works For Vacations Too!

 Question   I'm planning a conference and am wondering if there are any typical trends about the cheapest days of the week to fly. I know the middle of the week is usually better, but what about Friday and Saturday? Which of these are cheaper? Any strategies to consider as an event planner if I'm trying to provide attendees with a good hub city for an event?

My home airport is Chicago ORD. Any good airports in California with consistently lower nationwide fares?  Thanks!

  Answer   There are generally more sale fares available for mid-week travel, but one of the key things to remember about mid-week travel vs. weekend travel is that even if a cheap sale fare applies to all seven days of the week, there will usually be much more availability for less popular travel days.  Not only will there be more seats sold for those days, but those seats will not sell-out as quickly. 

Which Days of the Week?
So what might these less popular days be?  Well, Tuesday and Wednesday are almost always a good bet for sale fares and more availability.  And although you may not have guessed it, Saturday is not a hugely popular day to travel either, as most folks like to get their weekend travel started on Friday, a very popular day (as are late-Sunday and early-Monday, which are both coveted travel days for those who are trying not to disrupt their work schedules.)

Picking A Cheaper Airport
Instead of thinking in terms of targeting a single airport with cheap fares for your attendees, what you might want to do is think of locations that can be served by multiple airports.  In California, for example, if you picked a facility such as the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort in Dana Point, your attendees would have a wider array of fares to choose from because they could easily fly into LAX, Long Beach International, John Wayne/Orange County Airport, etc. Besides giving them more choices, they would be flying into an airfare market that has a lot more competition and consequently more sale fares.  (Folks on a budget who are planning family vacations should also think about hitting airport dense areas for the very same reason.)
 

Save Money With our Handy-Dandy Fee Charts!

Question  It would be nice if you could keep track of and periodically report not only luggage fees, but also pet in cabin fees and other assorted hidden costs. The charge to bring a cat on board in a carrier that will fit under the seat in front of you can be more than the human fare.

Answer   Your wish is our command!  Actually, we've already done that and would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the links to all our handy-dandy fee and comparison charts are on the Airfare Watchblog page and right here on the Travel Q&A page. (Scroll down, look on the right hand side of the page for the list,  and then click on the link for the chart that you need.) You can pick from our Frequent Flyer Fee Chart, our Baggage Fee Chart, our Miscellaneous Fees Chart, our Shipping vs Checking Luggage Chart, our Rule 240 Chart and our Flexible Date Search Comparison Chart!

Spring Clean Your Account Settings

Q.  I no longer need to search between certain cities and am wondering how I discontinue a search between New York and Miami. I would like to change cities. Please advise how.

A.  We'd like to suggest to all of our loyal subscribers that the timing is perfect for an early "spring cleaning" of your account settings.  With all the great sales currently happening and vacations on everyone's mind, here are some tips and suggestions so that you'll get the info that you want.

To Access Your Account
Go to the homepage of our website.  You can type in your email address in the "sign up" box or click on the "Newsletter" or "Update My Account" links in the menu on the left.  There's also a "click here" link at the top of every email alert too!  Now it's time to clean-up!

Departure City Alerts
Double-check that you're not getting redundant information by looking at what other cities' fares are included with your home airport.  For example, someone who's signed up for a JFK newsletter doesn't need to sign up for the La Guardia and Newark newsletter too.  The fares are already included. 

Arrival City Alerts
We'd like to remind you that this will show you a list of many different cities for travel TO a single airport that you choose.  Lots of you signed up for this, but decided that you actually did not need this information.  Feel free to take this opportunity to hit the "Clear Airport" button!

Frequency
You can choose frequency for your Departure City Alerts and any US/Canada Arrival City Alert.  City-to-City & International Arrival City alerts get sent out whenever we have good news for you.

City-to-City Alerts
Time to eliminate old vacations and settings for fares that you've already booked.  Time to add new destinations and upcoming vacations for the warmer months!

Finally...
Hit the "Update" button to save your changes and make sure you get a confirmation message that the changes have actually taken place.  Otherwise, you'll have to do your spring cleaning again!

We're "Dreamy" and We Have More Dates!

Q.  Why is it that with most of the fares you list , you have to book thru Travelocity or Orbitz etc. and not for example on the United website.... The exception is Southwest, which you do link to.  By the way, thanks for having such a dreamy site.

A.  "Dreamy?"  Wow, now we're feeling all teen idol-ish here.  Thanks!
Now to answer your question.  You actually can book the fares we list on the airline's website if that makes you happier.  We refer you to sites such as Travelocity and Orbitz because they show you blocks of dates all at once.  It's a lot easier and quicker to find what the available dates and times are for a sale fare that way.  And it's a convenience for you not to have to enter one date at a time.   (We link to Southwest because they don't sell their fares on any other site and luckily they have a great "Shortcut to Low Fares" feature that shows you a month of fares on a single page.) 

Now This Is How You Book A Cheap Vacation!

Q.  Just a quick note to thank you for the alert in October about Atlanta to Belize City for $200. We are just returning from our trip and had an incredible time!!!!  I tell everyone about your website and review it daily - checking 5 different airports as well as the Top 50 Fares, and the Fare of the Day, plus several international locations!  Thus far, we've traveled to Anchorage, Honolulu and Belize for $200 each - including all taxes!  YOU ROCK !!!  I'm anxiously awaiting your next email alert to determine our next travel destination.  My bags are packed!

A.  We could all learn a lesson from you about using Airfarewatchdog to its best advantage.  One of George's fellow panelists at the LA Times Travel Show last week gave the following piece of advice, "Let the bargain inspire your trip."  And you are obviously Exhibit A for how well that can work.  We salute your free-spirited adventurous approach to travel, which also happens to be saving you a boatload of money on your vacations!

Freshening-Up Frequent Flyer Miles

Q.  We've been receving a lot of questions like the following three, lately:

I have over 100,000 miles in my frequent flyer account, which will disappear if I don't have any activity by the 24th of May this year.  Short of taking a flight, is there anything else I can do to save these miles?  A person at their call center said that the cheapest way to save them is to buy 1,000 miles at a cost of $52, which will take care of the problem.  Is buying the miles the best way to go?

My family lived overseas for nearly three years, and all six of us each were able to earn 25,000 frequent flyer miles.  We're now back in the states and recently tried to book a vacation with our miles.  To our dismay we found out that our kids' miles have expired. 100,000 miles just vanished!  Is there anyway to get those miles back?!?!

I lost all my miles because there was no activity on my account and they didn't even notify me that it was going to happen, although they kept sending all of their junk solicitation e-mails for buying flowers etc.  They tell me I can reinstate the miles I already earned for a service fee plus an added cost per 1000 miles that makes no financial sense for me to do.  Maybe you can warn other readers of these consumer unfriendly tactics.

A.  Apparently, there's something in the air.   And apparently, it's not our subscribers who have been racking up frequent flyer miles.  George blogged about the least painful way to keep your miles from going kaput last summer and the advice was so good that we're going to revisit it.  The airlines are not doing a very good job of keeping you all abreast of the status of your miles and their imminent expiration.  And why would they?  If you lose your miles, they don't have to ante up to fly you or upgrade you. 

Painlessly Preserving Your Miles
So before you lose your miles for good or have to pay to get them back, be a little proactive, prevent the expiration and keep them "fresh".  The easiest way that we've found to extend the life of our miles is...  to shop.  Yep, many of the frequent flyer programs have partnered with all sorts of online businesses.  Buy a stapler from Staples, some Frontline for your pooch from PetMeds, toilet paper from Drugstore.com, surprise your honey with a Martha Stewart bouquet from 1-800-Flowers.  Just think, even downloading a song to your iPod could result in another year of "shelf life" for your miles, plus you'll actually rack up additional miles for the purchases.  Charge it to a card that earns cash back, earns points or even more miles and you are really putting your money to work!  Read about it and link to some airline partner pages, right here.

Getting A Last Minute Deal

Q.  Are there REALLY any last minute deals for travel?   I have tried numerous sites and all of the costs are enormous. My wife and I were just looking for someplace warm for two days. Any suggestions would be appreciated. By the way do you always need to purchase at least 7 days in advance?

A.  Other than the airlines' weekend fares, which typically only require a one day or no advance purchase(such as United's E-Fares or the Midwest fares in the blog), your best bet for last minute travel is the "Name Your Own Price" feature on Priceline.  In our experience, their last minute fares simply can't be beat. True, you won't know your exact departure and arrival times or the airline you'll be flying, and there might be a connection involved. But the savings are typically up to 60% off what you'd pay otherwise. If you can live with a little suspense and mystery, this is the way to go. We use it quite a bit, and just last May managed to book a last minute (as in, before bed, night before) weekend from NYC to San Fran for just $160 round-trip, taxes and all. Not bad!

United Pulls A Scrooge

Q.  I have  a close friend who is 76 years old.  He used his United Frequent Flyer Miles to book two tickets to Ft. Lauderdale within 21 days of the flight.  United charged him $75.00 each to book.  No problem there...Then, just two days before the flight, he had a stroke and was rushed to the Hospital.  He spent 10 days in the hospital and another 10 days in ReHab.  Prior to the flight, His wife called United to cancel the flight and asked that the points be placed back into his Bank.  His Doctor faxed a letter to the airline as per instructions by the agent that cancelled the flight for her.   United charged them an additional $150.00 per ticket (on the credit card they held from the original $150.00 booking fee)  for placing the points back into his bank.  They are now out $450.00.   In talking with United, They claim that they do not have someone's health as an excuse for cancelling and that is why they charged the extra $150.00 per ticket.  This is an older couple who live on a fixed income.  The $300.00 charge under these circumstances is excessive and unreasonable.   Can you help?

A.  We recommend that you contact the consumer advocate reporter for your local news station, as well as the Ombudsman at Conde Nast Traveler.  The Ombudsman will advocate for consumers with travel-industry related problems such as yours and write about the process in the magazine:

Ombudsman, Conde Nast Traveler

4 Times Square

New York NY  10036

Quite often, the threat of looking heartless, greedy and unnecessarily punitive in print or on TV can resolve such problems quickly!  Good luck and please let us know how it turns out.

Also, see our blog post on this for some additional advice.

JetBlue Steps Up

Q.  I'm very upset.  My boss closed his business suddenly, and  I'm going in for unemployment on Monday.  Prior to this, I had arranged a trip and now I hold tickets for airfare and a trip that I can't afford right now.  Is there a hardship plea I could make to an airline supervisor?  I have the "pink slip" letter from my boss as documentation.

A.  First of all, let us say how sorry we are that you (and so many others) have found themselves in this unfortunate situation.  JetBlue just announced yesterday that customers who book flights with them and lose their jobs can request and receive a refund on their reservation.  You can contact JetBlue for the particulars.  We hope that the rest of the airline industry takes note and follows JetBlue's compassionate lead.

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