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You can submit your own question to us at askgeorge@airfarewatchdog.com. We will try to answer as many as possible.

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Entries during 2009-02

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.

Are There Multi-City Sale Fares?

Q.  I'm planning a multi-city trip.  How do I sign up for a fare alert for my trip?

A.  When the airlines announce fare sales, they apply to round-trip routes.  So finding a listed sale fare specifically for your multi-city route really isn't going to happen.  That's why we don't have a place on our Newsletter page to sign up for alerts for multi-city itineraries.

Domestic Multi-City Trips
In order for you to find sale fares for your trip, the stars are really going to have to align for you.  Three things will have to happen.  First, each leg of your trip has to be discounted as a roundtrip fare.  Next, each of those discounted fares will also have to be available as  a one-way trip for half the roundtrip price.  And finally, the fare periods for all the routes have to coincide with your travel dates!  In other words, a "perfect storm" of sale fares has to occur.  Not impossible, but it could be tough.

International Multi-City Trips
Believe it or not you might have a better chance to travel on the cheap with an international itinerary to multiple cities than a domestic one.  The strategy is to get a great sale fare for a round-trip ticket to a city that has good sales often, such as London, Dublin, Paris and the like.  Once you're there, use the cheaper local carriers for your trips around that part of the world.  Return to the orlginal arrival city and use the return portion of the roundtrip ticket to get home to the US.  You could really save a bundle this way.   Leave plenty of time for your connections, because whenever you book travel as separately transacted itineraries in this manner, the airlines are not responsible to rebook or accommodate you in any way when you miss a flight because of another airline's lateness.  It could a very expensive missed flight if it happens, wiping out all your previous savings and then some!

Why Aren't Taxes and Fees Included?

Q.  Wonderful information generally, and just what I am looking for!
 I do have one request: would it be possible to mention/list the actual fees, taxes, etc that will be added on to a so-called low fare? They often amount to many times the stated ticket price, especially for international travel!

A.  The fees and taxes for international travel can be pretty daunting.  We quite often include taxes and fees for our international fares because the information is more readily available to us than for the domestic fares that we find (and of course, we note it right after the price that taxes and fees are included and in case you missed that, we note it on the Fare Details page for you too!)  If we don't note that taxes and fees are included, you can safely assume that they are not.

The main reason why it's difficult to include taxes and fees is that they are so variable.  It's much less time consuming to list the base price, which is common practice.  (After all, even when you go to a retail store, a restaurant or shop online, the taxes and delivery fees are added in when you make your purchase.)

Some of the variables include:

 A federal segment fee for each takeoff.  So depending on whether you choose a non-stop or a connecting flight, the fee will change.  The number of connections changes this fee as well.

Facility fees charged by the airports.  These vary depending on the specific airports that are included in your itinerary.  And again, the more connections, the more fees.

The TSA charges a security fee and that varies depending on the airport.

The airline itself can charge fees, including a fuel surcharge.  Theoretically, you're supposed to see this in the base price, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this not always the case.

For international travel, there are additional US government taxes, and you can be sure that immigration, customs and the government of your destination country will be sure to take a cut too.  This can result in the "sticker shock" of seeing your ticket double in price (sometimes even more!) when all the extras are added up.

Finally, if we attempted to find the "final total" for each and every permutation of each and every fare that we list, you would notice a big drop in the number of routes that we'd be able to cover.  And we're pretty sure that would make for a lot of unhappy campers!
 

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