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Entries during 2008-03

Travel to China morally wrong?

Q: I noticed that you answered a question about finding low airfares to the Beijing Olympics this summer, which brings up a question: don't you think it's morally wrong to encourage travel to China, what with the genocide in Darfur, which is largely made possible by China's support (oil money for weapons, support for the Sudanese government, etc). Not to mention Tibet. Not to mention that the Chinese government looks the other way as their factories send us tainted products, everything from Heparin to dog food? Oh, and how about the way they censor internet access. I'm not saying you're as bad as Yahoo, which handed over a Chinese dissident to authorities not so long ago. But I would ask that you show some social responsibility.

A: This is a tough one. We certainly share your concerns about China, no doubt. But are we a political organization or an airfare listing service? Does travel to China by North Americans encourage understanding, and help bring down barriers between peoples?

Many people outside the US take issue with our involvement in Iraq. So what if they boycott travel to the US? Is this what we really want?

I'd be interested to see what others think about this issue so perhaps we'll set up a reader survey and feel free to leave comments below.

New NonStop Features & Coming Attractions

Q. After a series of mishaps involving connecting flights, I've vowed to only fly nonstop. Any chance you'll offer city-to-city alerts for nonstop only? And while I'm sure some people appreciate receiving info for other nearby airports, I'm really only interested in receiving fares only for my closest airport inTallahassee, not Jacksonville. Is this possible?

A. It will be! Soon, you'll be able to change your settings to receive alerts for only nonstop fares between your city pairs, as well as have the option to receive fares just for your preferred airport without any info for other local airports. That's something that a lot of folks asked for, and we're happy to deliver.

Have any other suggestions? New features you'd like to see? We love to hear your ideas! Click here and be heard.


Buying for Beijing

Q. I am traveling to China for the Olympics this summer, and I have been painfully watching the prices for airfare from the New York area to Beijing increase ever since the New Year. I probably should have booked early (like last fall) to save, but now the prices are over $1,700 when normal non-stop flights from NY - PEK are less than $1,200. Should I just buy it as soon as possible to stop the bleeding or wait until a 'miracle' sale a couple of weeks before my travel dates (8/1 - 8/23)? What are some general trends in the airlines in terms of fare reductions? In other words, do deals open up a few weeks beforehand?

A. We wouldn't bet on it. The airlines know that travel to Beijing this August will be in high demand, so expect to find seats priced accordingly. So, yes, last fall would have been a better time to buy, but fares are definitely lower now than they will be once summer rolls around, so grab 'em while the grabbin' is good. Just a word of warning: When shopping for Beijing fares on Orbitz, Cheaptickets, and those guys, we've noticed (and maybe you have too) some wacky too-good-to-be-true fares on Asiana. Try and book them and, in the final stages of booking, the price jumps by several hundreds of dollars.

More Hahn than Frankfurt

Q. My sister and I are planning a trip to Europe this summer, with a little side excursion to Sharm-el-Shiekh, Egypt. We're flying Ryanair from Barcelona to Frankfurt/Hahn, but then we must transfer via bus to a differenet airport in Frankfurt to catch our flight to Sharm-el-Sheikh. I'm a little concerned about the bus service. What happens if our flight is delayed? Will the bus leave us stranded or are there other buses?

A. The bus transport that Ryanair provides into the city is pretty reliable, and allow passengers plenty of time to clear customs, baggage claim, and get onboard. Though if you do miss it, for whatever reason (which we have) you shouldn't have to wait very long to hitch a ride on another bus. However, if time is of the essence, and you're concerned with making it from Frankfurt Hahn to the main airport, be warned that Frankfurt Hahn is quite a distance from actual Frankfurt. In fact, you're almost closer to Luxembourg than Frankfurt. And while the bus from Frankfurt Hahn does stop at Frankfurt am Main Int'l on the way to the city center, we'd still suggest scheduling your flight to Sharm for the following day, just to be on the safe side.

Tax & Fee Refunds for Award Tickets

Q. I used my Continental miles to purchase an award ticket to London this Spring but now it looks like I'm going to have to cancel my trip and return those miles back to my account. My question is about the few hundred dollars I paid for taxes and fees on this ticket. Shouldn't I get that money back?


A. Yes. Your miles should be re-deposited and taxes refunded. Continental will charge a service fee of $50 for non-Elite members, $35 for Gold and Silver members, and the fee is waived for Platinum members.

The Voucher Offer: When to Hold 'em, When to Fold 'em

Q. I recently was traveling on American Eagle from San Juan, P.R. to St. Thomas. I had a confirmed seat and when I checked in was told I would have to wait until boarding to get my seat assignment. They also asked if I was willing to give up my seat for a $100 travel voucher since they were in a oversold situation. I declined the offer. Needless to say, I was involuntarily bumped, sans voucher. What recourse do I have?

A. Normally, if you're bumped on a domestic US flight you get between $200 and $400 in cash compensation, according to government regulations, which is a woefully small amount and has never been adjusted for inflation. However, this piddling amount does not apply to smaller aircraft (60 seats or less), or if the airline has to replace a larger aircraft with a smaller one. However, American Eagle flies jets to/from San Juan with 66 seats, so they couldn't have used that excuse.

So you should be entitled to compensation, unless they got you to your destination within 1 hour of schedule.

Here's a link to the DOT rules

If you still have your boarding pass and ticket info, I'd write to AA and copy the US DOT and insist on the compensation.

Their address is:
Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

AA's customer service is at:

    American Airlines Customer Relations
    Mail Drop 2400
    P.O. Box 619612
    Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport, TX 75261-9612
    Fax 817-967-4162

A Doctor's Note vs. A C-Note

Q. I had to cancel a flight with AA because I had a terrible case of strep throat. Is there any way around the $100 cancellation fee. I only paid about $150 for the ticket, but it still stinks. I physically was unable able to get on the plane. Can I show them a doctors note? Prescription for antibiotics? Anything?

A. This is always done on a case by case basis, and for some people the hassle is just not worth $100. Airlines get fake "doctor's notes" all the time so they are very wary. If this happened to me, I'd probably just say the heck with it, but if I had the time, I'd back up my claim with something more convincing than a doctor's note, such as a copy of my medical record for this medical emergency, any receipts for expenses incurred, an Rx, and so on. Even this might not help, but at least you'd be assured that you did everything possible.

Lost or Stolen Luggage

Q. My daughter's luggage was lost during a recent flight on American Airlines, and it contained several items worth a few thousand dollars. The airline is only willing to give her $600 to cover the loss! Needless to say, she is not pleased. And we don't understand how the luggage was 'lost' in the first place! It was a non-stop flight! What ever happened to those people who used to check your luggage tag to your claim number as you left the baggage carousel? We've also heard rumors that there's a whole industry around reselling stolen, or presumably "lost" luggage, at warehouses in the south. What can we do?

A. Most airlines have done away with baggage area claim checkers, in part as a cost saving measure. Anyone can walk away with someone else's luggage and only common human decency prevents this from happening more often. If you check valuable luggage, you either have to take your chances or take out insurance. Airlines sell excess valuation insurance when you check in your bags, but most people don't realize this. American Airlines for example charges $2 for each additional $100 of insurance. So, for $40, your daughter could have protected her $2000 worth of valuables. A small price to pay considering the circumstances. Within the US, you're covered for up to $3,300 in lost baggage.

As for the luggage warehouse in the south, I'm guessing you must be talking about the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama? To our knowledge, they're running an entirely legitimate show, with luggage that was never claimed and genuinely lost. And Tracy, our on-staff former baggage handler at Atlanta's Hartsfield International, can attest to the number of lost bags out there, somehow left behind in the frenzy of unloading and loading luggage carts...unmarked, with no name tags, no return address, kept for so many days in a special fenced-in, locked-up area under the airport. True, you're chances of losing a bag are higher when you're making a connection, but always put your name and address on a luggage tag, as well as inside your bag.

Dog-Friendly Days of Summer

Q. In addition to two children, we also have a 4 year old labradoodle, Ginger, who is just as much a part of our family. We can't imagine going on our annual beach vacation without her, and in the past, that's meant a lot of smuggling her into hotels and such. It's surprisingly hard to find a good pet-friendly resort. Any suggestions in the New England area?

A. You're asking the right people! The thought of being on a family vacation, cheersing our margarita glasses on the beach while one family member has been left home, behind bars in some kennel, has never sat well with us either. In the New England area, you may want to look into the Inn by the Sea in Crescent Beach, Maine, which is just a short drive from Portland. Animal guests receive their very own amenities kit, full of toys and treats made from local ingredients, and are allowed to go wherever you go. Not only are they nice to pets, but the Inn also scores points with environmentalists by building with eco-friendly materials, and made the Forbes 2007 list of Top Ten Green Hotels in the US. You can visit their website, or call 207-799-3134 for reservations.

Wedding Discounts

Q. I'm getting married next year and will have many guests flying the same route to attend.  I know hotels give discounts when booking many rooms at once or blocking out rooms for a wedding, but I’m wondering if airlines do something similar? Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!

A. Call the airline, ask for their group & specialty travel services department and negotiate. Ask for a free fare for every so many guests you're booking. In most cases, if you can book 10 or more guests, you'll qualify for a discount and/or an upgrade to first class for the bride and groom, which works out nicely for destination weddings or honeymoons.

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