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Entries during 2013-01

Whatever happened to "free" frequent flyer tickets?

Q. I have saved lots of air miles on British Airways and American over the last 10 years by using my credit card.  When I try to use them to fly to Europe or Africa, I noticed that BA charges $800 in taxes and fuel on a flight to Nairobi.  Most of that is a fuel surcharge.   American was only going to charge around $20 on a similar flight. I can buy a ticket for almost $1200 to Nairobi.  So basically, my 100,000 air miles are worth $400.  Also on British Airways, even when you try to find something almost eight months in advance, there is nothing available. I guess what I'm asking, is there anyone to complain to about these unfair fees or is it just shut up and save another airlines' air miles for years and then have them screw you too after you've saved 10 years to take your family somewhere exotic.  

A. I never use my BA Avios points on economy class tickets, because it is indeed not worth it. You'll pay the same taxes and fuel charge on a business class ticket which would cost thousands more than an economy ticket. That's where the value is. And you're right, American, for whatever reason, does not stick you with the fuel surcharge. You can sometimes spend your BA miles on its OneWorld partner American and avoid the fuel charge, so that's one possibility. But if you're flying through London, you'll still end up paying the British government's air passenger duty, which keeps going up. It's usually best to attempt to use BA miles on a OneWorld partner on the phone rather than online, but you might also want to consult this article.

Booking your fare

Q. I have a question in regard to an airfare alert I received about Los Angeles for $257 round-trip. What airline is this on? How do I go about booking this?

A. You'll find this information in the fare details. There we provide you with information regarding the availability of the fare, as well as travel period, and days of the week on which this fare is valid for travel, along with any other notes or tips we may have regarding that fare. Better still, we always provide links to the airline or travel site where you can book the fare.

And remember, fares can change several times a day, meaning you should pounce on those fare alerts the moment they arrive in your inbox. There's no guarantee that a fare from yesterday's alert will last through the following day.

For more tips on how to search for fares, be sure to read over our FAQ page and User's Guide.

Refunds When The Price Drops

Q. A few years ago, I used Yapta, which tracks airfares and alerts you when the price of your flight has gone down after purchase so that you can apply for a “fare drop” flight credit on a future flight.  It worked very well.  But like many things I forgot about it.  Anyway I found it again this morning and downloaded the application to my iPad and iPhone and tried to put my first flight in.  I got as far as flight number when it crashed and I started over again...three times.  Since the app hasn't been updated since 2011 I wonder if it still works?  Or if you have any suggestions for other sites that do the same thing. It would be great if such a service existed for flights, car and hotel rooms!  

A. Yapta does indeed work well when a fare goes down after you buy it, as long as you’ve booked on a participating airline. It only works with nine airlines however (soon, it will only work with seven airlines, once AirTran is fully integrated with Southwest, which doesn’t participate, and when the almost-inevitable American/US Airways merger takes place). JetBlue, Airtran, and Alaska will offer a voucher or electronic credit, good for future travel up to a year, on any price drop, without deducting a fee from the refund. Virgin America deducts a $75 change fee; Hawaiian a $100 fee, and American, Delta, United, and US Airways a $150 fee, on domestic flights (fees are as high as $250 on international flights, which often wipes out any savings). And there are all kinds of loopholes. For example, as Yapta states in the “airline policies” page, American reserves the right to decline refunds “when reduced fares are for sale for a limited period of time,” whatever that means.

Another option for airfares as well as hotel rooms is’s “Price Assurance” program. If you book an airfare or a hotel room, and another Orbitz customer books the exact same flight or a room in the same category at the same hotel for the same travel dates at a lower price before your trip commences, you’ll get a check for the difference between what you paid and the other customer paid. Orbitz claims that it has issued more than $10 million in refunds under this scheme. Yet another possibility for hotels is Tingo only works with hotel rooms, and the major difference is that another Tingo customer does not have to book the same hotel stay (room type, exact in and out dates) for a refund to kick in. If any night of your stay has been reduced by the hotel before you arrive, Tingo automatically refunds your credit card. Or, if a better room becomes available at the same price it will offer to upgrade you for the price of the less desirable room. Tingo is relatively new, but it has so far issued over a quarter-million dollars in refunds.

I don't know of a service that works the same way for rental cars.

If the apps aren’t working, I’m pretty sure the website itself is still fully functional, so perhaps you should just use your laptop or home computer.

Fare Hikes in Philly

Q. We usually travel from Philadelphia to Orlando every year in May. Last year we paid $230 each on US Airways, and in previous  years paid about $275 each on either US Airways or Southwest. This year  airfares for nonstop flights to Orlando in April or May are about $325  to $330 each.
Last Year  after Christmas, my daughter and her husband flew from Philadelphia to Tucson on American  Airlines and paid $830 for the two of them. This  year, my wife and I are flying to Tucson (see our son and his wife)  at the end of February and our airfare on American is $1010. Whats up with these huge increases in airfare?

A. It's partly consolidation and capacity cuts. You might want to  check out flying from Trenton NJ on Frontier Airlines as an alternative, as they've recently added lots of new nonstop routes, including Orlando, with introductory fares going for around $138 round-trip. You might even consider taking NJ  Transit to NYC and fly from either Newark or JFK/LGA to Tucson.  But fares fluctuate so keep on checking.

Extra Legroom, Extra Money

Q. I know several airlines (United, Delta, for example) now have seats that cost more than economy, less than first or business class, but are roomier.  What is an easy way to find out pricing on those seats?

A. In addition to United and Delta, American Airlines and JetBlue sell extra legroom economy class seats for an additional fee on both domestic and international flights, as do a number of foreign-based airlines (Air France, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and many others). These seats aren't usually any wider than standard seats on domestic U.S. airlines (they are somewhat wider on international airlines however), but they do offer more legroom. It's not particularly easy to learn how much the extra legroom will cost you without actually attempting to book a seat on the airline's own website (these extra legroom seats aren't typically bookable on third-party sites such as Pricing depends on the route and flight. American clearly states a possible price range ($8 to $118 per flight) on its website.  In addition to these separate sections, exit row seats offer considerably more legroom, but these seats are sometimes only available for advance booking to "elite" frequent flyers. Several smaller airlines, such as Spirit and Airtran, offer cheap upgrades to business class seats. VirginAmerica sells exit row and bulk head seats in advance for rather steep fees (they call in "Main Cabin Select") with six inches of extra legroom (these seats also include free food and drinks, a free checked bag, and priority check in). And all JetBlue planes have more legroom than those on other domestic airlines.

A Cheap Ride on the Airbus A380

Q. I want to take a short ride on an Airbus A380 super jumbo for as little cost as possible. Can you suggest a few short, relatively inexpensive routes that are served by this aircraft? I travel a lot and any departure airport is acceptable whether it's out of New York, LA, or an airport in Asia or Europe. Any airline is fine.

A. Although prices will always depend on the season, date and time of travel, there are a lot of great options for hopping on the A380. One of the cheapest is to travel between Auckland and Sydney on an Emirates' flight. I found a one-way flight on that route in an A380 for $169 (in New Zealand currency), although fares fluctuate all the time. Thai Airways also flies their sole A380 within Asia primarily between Bangkok and Tokyo/Hong Kong. On the same route between Bangkok and Hong Kong, Emirates flies its own A380. When British Airways takes deliveries of their A380s this year, they will put them on short intra-European routes for crew training purposes (much like Air France did). It won't last long and the routes are not yet announced. You will also find the A380 on China Southern domestic flights Guangzhou to Beijing and Beijing to Shanghai.

Calendar View: The More You See, The Less You Spend

Q. What airfare booking sites let you see available flights and fares over a full year’s calendar rather than three days at a time?

A. The only one I know of currently is, but it only works for airlines that sell their inventory over a 330-day period (that’s the approximate maximum period that any airline sells fares). However,,,, and some other sites show fares over consecutive 30-day periods.

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