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Entries during 2010-01

Cheap Travel to Merida, Mexico?

Q. Help! I'm having mega trouble finding an affordable flight from tampa fl to Merida, Mexico in late March. It's over $400!. Are there any of those ticket consolidators I should be checking out?

A. Flights to Merida can be pretty costly. You might have better (cheaper) luck flying into a busier airport such as Cancun, and taking a bus. You'll find buses run pretty regularly between Cancun and Merida, and will typically run you around $20 each way. We can't exactly vouch for the reliability or comfort of the bus, and it might be a bit of a hassle as far as travel time, but if you're looking for the cheapest way, this is most likely your best bet. You may find this TripAdvisor thread regarding bus companies and schedules to be helpful.

Boarding Logic

Q. We just returned from the South via American and US Airways. Neither boarded us in a logical way. Why not board the plane starting with groups at the rear of the plane first, then do the front? Wouldn’t this speed up the boarding process?

A. It definitely would make more sense. But airlines want to cater to their frequent flyers and those with status in their frequent flyer programs, so they board first class first (which is at the head of the plane), and then the ever-growing number of “elite” passengers, who usually sit at the front of the plane. These people clog up the aisles as they place luggage in the overheads. Some airlines have experimented with boarding window seat passengers first and then middle and aisle, but this method seems to have been a failure. Planes would board faster if only everyone would just step out of the aisle while they get settled. You can pretty easily put your luggage in the overhead even if you’re not blocking other passengers’ way. Airlines also give boarding priority to parents with young children, who seem to take longer than other passengers to get settled (which is why the airlines do this in the first place), but it always seems like they’re still getting sorted by the time the other passengers are allowed to board.

International Lost Luggage rules differ from Domestic?

Q. We flew on Airtran to the Bahamas, and our bag was lost for a few days. Although we were reunited with it, we were surprised to learn that, if it had been lost forever, a different set of rules would apply for compensation because it was an international flight. For domestic flights, the maximum liability would have been $3300, but it would just be pennies for international flights. Does this apply to all airlines?

 A. A lot depends on the originating country of the flight in a case such as this, since certain jurisdictions, such as the European Community, might have different compensation rules than others.

Many countries and thus airlines follow a set of rules called the Warsaw Convention, which limits liability for loss or damage to luggage at  $9.07 per pound ($20.00 per kilo) for checked baggage with a maximum of $640, and $400 per passenger for unchecked baggage, unless a higher value is declared in advance and additional charges are paid. Some travel, however, may be governed by the newer "Montreal Convention," which stipulates higher liability limits for international flights (but it's still less than domestic liability). That’s why it’s so important to buy excess valuation coverage when checking bags on an international flight. Ask about this coverage when you hand over your luggage at the airport. It's surprisingly inexpensive, ranging from 50 cents to one or two dollars per $100 of coverage.

Florida to Down Under

Q. We are recent retirees we are planning our dream trip so don't want to mess it up. We want to travel from Tampa to Sydney, Australia in mid September of this year for 6 weeks. During the trip we are considering a 13-day cruise to New Zealand and the remaining 4 weeks traveling around Australia.

We have a few questions that we need your help with.

First, in your opinion, since it is months away, should we wait to book the flight, and or cruise, hoping for a better price or set both up now to secure them?

Second, the most economical flights are currently similar in price on both American Airlines and Qantas. Do you know if either airline has an edge as far as comfort or service since it is such a long flight?

A. You might consider breaking your trip up in Los Angeles or San Francisco for a couple of days rather than flying straight through. You might even find it’s cheaper to buy one fare, say, on Southwest from Tampa to the West Coast and then onward. Be sure to look at fares directly on Qantas.com for the flights to Australia, as they sometimes sell seats for less than you’ll find on third-party sites, and sign up for their emailed newsletters. There are frequent fare wars on the routes from California to Australia, so sign up for Airfarewatchdog or other fare alerts and jump when fares go down. I’d say that Qantas probably has the edge on service, so I’d fly with them. In order to get the best cabin location, I’d probably shop around and book the cruise portion earlier rather than later. Take a look at cruisecritic.com for some tips.

Cheap seats already sold for summer?

Q. We have been looking at fares to both Australia and Europe on United for May, June and July.  We have noticed that many of the long haul flights have one-third to one-half of the coach seats already booked and no cheap fares are available.  Is United playing a game or has someone purchased all of the cheaper, overseas seats already?

A. What you’ve found could be explained by a number of reasons. Perhaps other airlines have bought seats on United in a code share agreement, or perhaps business has indeed picked up and more seats have been sold. Another explanation: airlines have eliminated flights from their schedules, mothballed unwanted planes in the desert, and are using smaller planes (767s instead of 747s for example) on some routes, in a bid to drive prices up and fill seats. And fares to Europe do indeed appear to have firmed up. Usually around this time of year, dead of winter fares to Europe are much lower than what we’re seeing currently. There will probably be spot, unadvertised sales here and there, but we wouldn’t be surprised if international fares, on average, remain higher than last year.

Ciao to International Fare Listings on AFWD?

Q. Hey guys! Love the site, and I really dig the new look, but I wish you guys still listed international fares! Where'd they all go?

A. Thanks for the kind words! And we still have plenty of international fares! We've just changed the way we list them. All fares are listed alphabetically, with domestic and international deals combined into one list. However, you'll notice there's a key at the very tip top of this list, with a D for Domestic, an I for International, a W for Weekend, N for New, and U for Unadvertised Fares that could disappear at anytime. Use this key to filter which type of fares you're interested in by checking off the corresponding box. Want to see those international fares? Just check off the International box. Want to see only the newest international fares we've found today? Check off the New and International boxes and, ta-da! There you go!

Southwest promo codes

Q.  We are traveling to Florida in April 2010 from Philadelphia to Orlando most likely wth Southwest Airlines. The flight per person each way is currently $87.00.  Is there any promo codes available for us? We are staying with relatives so I don't need a car or hotel.

A. We don't know of any Southwest promo codes at present, but last year they had quite a few, including a 50% off deal to Orlando, Salt Lake City, Buffalo and other cities. We list all promo codes the airlines come up with in the Airfarewatchblog, and you can sign up for Southwest's email stream here.

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