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Entries during 2008-01

Cruise Advice

Q: We're planning on taking a cruise soon. Should we buy airfare from the cruise line or do it ourselves? And although this isn't really an air travel question, how does one go about figuring out which cruise will suit us best? There are so many choices.

A: Airfares bought from the cruise line directly may be more expensive than what you can find through other means. However, cruise line airfares tend to be more flexible, and should your flight be delayed, causing you to miss the ship, the cruise line will fly you to the next possible embarkation port at their expense. Of course, it's always a good idea to arrive at your embarkation port a day early just in case.

As for other cruise tips, read this useful info from past articles I've written on the subject.

 

Ch-Ch-Changes

Q. I made a reservation through Travelocity and had to change the travel dates. Travelocity charged me a fee, on top of what the airline charged. Plus, of course, I paid a $6 booking fee. Do all online travel agencies charge these fees? Why should I even use them?

A. Most online agencies do charge booking fees, although Priceline currently does not. However, they are the most restrictive when it comes to making changes to your ticket, whereas most other sites do allow changes/cancelations for a price. For ex., Travelocity customer care charges $30 for such changes, but you may be able to skirt that fee by calling the airline directly.

As for the advantage of using sites like Travelocity, Orbitz, and Cheapair, if your dates are flexible they have excellent flexible date search options, and they compare fares on many different airlines at a glance. And sometimes they have lower fares than the airline sites (Sometimes not). Most airline sites have limited flexible date search functionality if they have it at all.

When a non-refundable fare goes down after purchase

Q:  I purchased 5 tickets from Detroit to Orlando on nwa.com 5 days ago.  When I checked Northwest site yesterday the tickets have gone down in price for the same flight number, same times and everything.  I printed a copy of their website showing the new price and submitted a claim.  Are they supposed to give me the difference or a voucher since the travel dates are not until May and the ticket prices have already dropped?

A: As far as we know, Northwest will issue you a voucher good for future travel for up to a year in the amount of the price drop, minus a $50 fee. This fee used to be $25 on domestic fares, and airlines change these price drop refund policies often.

Until a few months ago, US Air offered price drop refunds without a fee, but now they, as do many larger airlines, charge $100. Only United, Alaska, and Southwest, as far as we know, do not deduct a fee in these situations, but that too could change. We're talking here only about non-refundable tickets. If you buy full fare tickets, you always get a refund with no change fee. And the above is always assuming that there is no change in flights or days of travel. Only the fare may have changed.

When oh when will summer fares to Europe come down?

Q: We are looking to go to Europe (Barcelona) for the month of July (from
JFK / EWR).  The fares are quite expensive, but it's still several
months ahead.  So my question to you is:  will airlines start offering
lower fares closer to the summer?  or are there no deals for summer
travel?  are we better off buying something now, or waiting for a
little while?

A: Even last summer, we saw a few scattered sales to Europe for summer travel.

We saw New York to Paris for $298 RT on Air France including all taxes for July travel for instance, which was amazing. We saw Seattle to Germany for $450 RT for summer travel. Both of these unadvertised sales only lasted a few days. Miracles do happen.

With the recession looming, I'm guessing that traffic will be off and airlines may lower fares a bit. Fares have been kept high by Europeans visiting the US in record numbers thanks to the weak dollar. I'd just keep checking for the next few months. I seriously doubt fares are going to go a lot higher than they are now, and they are indeed high. Also, oil will probably come down thanks to weak economic activity and that will give the airlines some breathing room. Be sure to use a flexible date search on Orbitz.com, and also check Lessno.com.

Consolidator fares

Q: What are the advantages and risks involved in buying a consolidator fare?

A: Consolidator fares (wholesale fares not listed on the major booking engines) are often cheaper than "published" fares, but there are risks involved in buying them. Consolidators have been known to go out of business, leaving consumers stranded. Plus, you may not get advance seat assignments or frequent flyer miles.

More importantly, often you must use a consolidator ticket on the exact dates and flights you originally purchased, with no changes allowed even if you wish to pay a penalty. It's use it or lose it. And if the fare goes down between the time you buy and the day of your flight, you may not be able to apply for a refund as you would, say, with an international fare bought directly from United Airlines (which refunds fare drops without extracting a fee).

Whatchamacallit?

Q. In the last month or so, one of your emails mentioned something along the lines of: 'We're hearing from airfarewatchdog users that the_______.com website is offering some great fares.' It wasn't an airline website, nor was it one of the standard search websites like sidestep or kayak. Any recollection which website was mentioned? Thank you!

A. Sounds like you're talking about lessno.com. Our readers seem to like 'em and we do too.

Baggage fees for sporting equipment

Q: I plan to do a lot of travel this year and to bring various sporting equipment along, a bike on one trip, a fishing rod on another, etc. Is this stuff subject to extra baggage fees, and if so, can you give me a rundown on which airlines might charge less than others?

A: Sporting equipment is subject to overweight and oversize fees, and many airlines also charge fees for certain types of sporting equipment. Typically, charges are $50 to $80 per item. Here's a partial list of the fees. As you can see, Southwest may be your best bet if they fly where you're going.

Alaska Airlines imposes an excess charge on sporting equipment that’s checked in addition to the free baggage allowance, and the airline won’t accept items over 115 linear inches or 100 pounds as checked baggage. In addition, the carrier charges a $50 fee for bicycles, pole vaulting equipment, and windsurfing equipment.

On AirTran, sporting equipment costs $65 per item if it is in excess of the free baggage allowance, and certain items—bicycles, scuba gear, surfboards—are not included in free baggage allowance.  Each of these pieces of equipment will be assessed a $65 fee. Allegiant charges $50 each way for bicycles, surfboards, windsurfing boards, fishing rods, vaulting poles and gun boxes.

Air Canada passengers should register certain sporting equipment, such as skis and hockey sticks, to avoid oversize fees, and sporting equipment items are counted as pieces of luggage.  Air Canada also charges extra handling fees for certain items. A bicycle or surfboard runs you $50 on one-way flights as well as each-way on round-trip and multi-segment flights, firearms are $50, and antlers cost $150 one way. American Airlines charges $80 for checking antlers, bicycles, hang gliders, javelins, scuba gear, surfboards, and windsurf/kitesurf boards.

ATA charges $50 for bicycles, kayaks, rafts, pole vaults, surfboard, and windsurfing equipment. Continental also charges special fees for sporting equipment and other items.  Antlers, for example, will set you back $95. If you’re flying Delta, empty scuba dive tanks and windsurfing equipment are both subject to a $100 charge, and checking surf boards between Maui and Honolulu costs $20 each way.

On Frontier, antlers cost $75, and a surfboard, kiteboard or wave skis will run you $50.  Bicycles are also $50 each, except for children’s bicycles not exceeding 62 linear inches or 50 pounds, which may be checked in place of one free bag.

JetBlue charges fees for some sporting equipment. Bicycles cost $50 each way per bike on domestic flights and $80 each way per bike on international flights. Surfboards, which can be checked on domestic flights only, cost $25 per board each way. Windsurfing equipment costs $50 in each direction.

If you’re flying Midwest, bicycles are $80 each way per bike.

On Northwest, bicycles will run you $80 each for bikes number 1-6 in the U.S. and Canada, and $180 each for 7 or more bicycles.  Transatlantic bike fees are $150 per bicycle each way, and if you’re heading across the Pacific the fee is generally $130 each way per bicycle.  On Transatlantic flights, golf bags as an additional piece of luggage are a flat fee of $75. Scuba equipment that includes an empty dive tank and surfing equipment is $80 each way in the U.S., more internationally. Vaulting poles can only be checked in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Island and Canada, and there’s an $80 fee each way for each pole. Surfing equipment is $80 in each direction on domestic flights, more on international ones.

If you’re flying Skybus, oversize sports equipment such as bicycles, snowboards, surfboards, skis and fishing rods cost $25 each for each trip segment.

On Southwest, windsurfing boards, surfboards, vaulting poles, bicycles and life rafts may be transported for $50 in each direction.

On Spirit, special handing charges apply for surfboards, scuba tanks and bikes, which are $50 each way. United says it has special handing fees for antlers, bicycles, cellos, surfboards, sailboards, and scuba gear.

US Airways charges $80 in each direction for antlers, bicycles, kayaks and canoes, and windsurfing equipment.  Virgin America charges $50 for bicycles, surf boards, windsurfing equipment and antlers/horns.

Desperate Times: When to Buy for Summer?

Q. What is the summer Europe airfare outlook? With the low dollar, might
there be reduced numbers going, and thus a higher chance of fare
discounts later if seats sell slow? We’re wondering when to buy.

A. The problem is that with the weak dollar, many Europeans are
coming here. And guess what--they have to go back eventually unless
they become illegal aliens. Then there's the jump in fuel prices, which will certainly have an impact on fares. And what if Delta merges with another airline and scales back on routes? Less competition means higher fares.

But rest assured, we'll be on the lookout for any deals. Meanwhile, you may want to think about flying into an alternate, less expensive city and booking a second flight on one of Europe's many low cost carriers (like Ryanair, Wizzair, or the newly revamped Airberlin...), or even take the train, if direct flights to your dream destination look a tad expensive.

Be sure to visit our international fare search: http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/InternationalFares/tabid/171/Default.aspx closer to the springtime.

The Who to Where and How?

Q. Is there a site I can see which airlines fly where, and which offer those routes as nonstop?

A. Yes, this tool from Innovata allows you to enter any two cities and sort by nonstop. It lists Southwest and other smaller carriers that don't always show up on the radar, which we like. But it does seem a little moody, or buggy, at times, and doesn't always seem to list every possibility for international flights.

Also similar is this tool from OAG which searches for direct flights on your given dates. The same site offers other useful tools for figuring out flight duration and terminal info, as well as some that seem slightly less useful, such as the oddly titled "Who Am I Really Flying With?" 

The World's Biggest & Busiest

Q. Which airport is the world's busiest? One minute I hear it's Chicago O'Hare, the next it's Atlanta, and then recently someone told me London Heathrow. So which is it?

A.Well, If you're measuring busy by the annual number of passengers, that title goes to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson. And if you measure business by the number of flights that come and go, Atlanta takes the crown for that as well. But O'Hare comes in at a close second.

And of course there are all sorts of other variations of busy to go around: London Heathrow has the highest number of international passengers while Franfurt serves the most international destinations and London Gatwick is the world's busiest single runway airport, in terms of passengers. World's largest airport? Hong Kong International.

Another notable runner up for world's largest airport is Berlin's Tempelhof, which was the very first airport to be accessible by subway in1927. And also, it's the world's second oldest operating (for now, at least) airport.

And while we're talking airport superlatives here, what are the world's most dangerous airports? Check out who made the list on Jaunted.com.

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