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Entries during 2012-03

Fly Together, Buy Together

Q. I am very baffled about my search today for a SkyMiles (frequent flyer) ticket to Detroit. Delta listed online a 7:00 a.m. flight 2290 that was perfect for me. Since there are two of us flying and I only have enough miles for one ticket I went online and could not find a matching flight for myself. How is this possible? I would really like to fly with my wife on the same flight.

A. I’m baffled too because Delta’s flight 2290 is currently scheduled to fly between Pittsburgh and Atlanta. It’s operated by an ancient DC-9-50 aircraft, which is one of the smallest “mainline” jets extant. If that was actually the flight you wanted to be on, it’s possible, although unlikely, that your wife got the last seat on the plane (routes are flying fuller than ever these days, especially over peak travel periods). In situations like this your best bet really is to speak to a Delta rep by phone. Perhaps he or she can put you on a wait list if indeed the flight is sold out.

Need to go, not sure when

Q. My son and his wife are having my first grandchild in September. I live in Mississippi and they are in Denver, CO. How do I go about pre-scheduling a flight from either Jackson, MS or Memphis, TN to Denver, CO when I don’t know the exact date that they may be having the baby? It seems that it is easier to schedule a return flight so I am not too worried about that one.

A. I always say that the only leisure travelers who will fly no matter how high fares go are expectant grandmothers. Congrats, by the way. Most airlines charge $150 to change travel dates on a non-refundable ticket. Your best bet is to book a flight on Southwest Airlines from Memphis. Uniquely, they’ll let you change your travel date with no penalty even with a non-refundable fare (assessing only any applicable fare increase compared to the time you originally bought your ticket). You could also buy a changeable, refundable full fare ticket on any airline, but that would be expensive.

Change Fees for Non-Refundable Tickets

Q. Do you know if non-refundable tickets purchased on United's website would be eligible for a refund? This is the information I found on its website: "A $150 administrative fee will be assessed for nonrefundable tickets for travel wholly within the U.S. or Canada. Fees vary for international tickets. Any applicable penalties are retroactive to the new fare ticket." Does this mean the ticket would have to decrease by $150 to make it worthwhile to request a voucher?  

A. Most airlines will deduct a fee when you change or cancel a non-refundable ticket, returning any amount left over in the form of a travel voucher. American, Delta, United and US Airways all charge $150 on a domestic fare, meaning that if the original fare was $150 or less you don’t get any money back (these airlines charge at least $250 on most international fares). Southwest doesn't charge a rebooking fee, giving you a credit voucher for a future flight in the full amount. JetBlue charges $100 for both domestic and international fares. Alaska charges $75 if the change is made online, $100 otherwise.

Silver Elite Perks

Q. I have "silver elite" status with Continental for 2012.  I'd like to book my family of eight on a US Airways flight from Denver to Dallas. Will my status with Continental allow all members of my party avoid a fee for the first checked bag owing to my status with Star Alliance?

A. First of all, of course, Continental is officially no more, and your status with Continental should transfer over to the new entity, United Airlines, where you'd now be a "premier silver". For those not familiar with how this works, when you obtain status on a member airline in the Star Alliance airline group, you also get benefits that you can use on any Star Alliance airline, including priority boarding and free checked bags. As long as everyone in your party is booked on the same reservation as you (the silver elite member), then yes you'll all get one free checked bag within specified weight limits. However, US Airways sometimes doesn't apply these rules correctly, so it's best to refer to this article from United.

Flexible Search Calendar

Q. I want to visit Hong Kong for about 30 days, leaving from Syracuse, New York (or New York City if I must). My travel dates are very flexible. I found a fare leaving June 4 returning June 21 on Delta for $800 round-trip including tax, but if I search for a 30-day trip in June the price becomes $1,800! How can I find the cheapest fare for a 30-day stay without entering five million date combinations?

A. That task has become harder, unfortunately, in the aftermath of new U.S. D.O.T. regulations requiring airlines and online travel agencies to show fares including all taxes and mandatory fees. Previously, you could have done a search using Travelocity.com, which had a flexible travel date search calendar showing domestic and most international fares up to 330 days ahead. It wasn't perfect, but it was all we had. Other sites, such as Orbitz.com, offered "month at a glance" searches, but not for a 30-day trip, but Orbitz and sister site Cheaptickets.com have disabled (at least temporarily) their flexible date searches. Hotwire.com still has one, but only allows a maximum of search over 16 days. Your best bet now is the always-improving ITASoftware.com, now owned by Google. ITA lets you search over as many days as you like, up to the limit of the airlines' published fares, which is typically 330 days. It's a bit tricky to use, and you cannot book fares you find there directly (you have to note the dates and switch over to an online travel agency or the airline's website). Plus, ITA doesn't list all airlines, all fares, or all flight combinations, but it's the best option out there for researching fares when your travel dates are flexible. And you're right, 30-day stays over he summer are indeed running about $1,200 from New York but if you search from about September 10 onward (when Hong Kong's weather is better anyway), the fare drops to $874 round-trip with taxes on China Eastern Airlines according to ITA. Checking on Expedia.com I was indeed able to find that price leaving September 10 and returning October 10. By the way, the fare from Syracuse is $1,269 for that itinerary, and the fare from Syracuse to New York JFK on those dates via JetBlue nonstop is just $145, so assuming you have plenty of time to make connections (and I mean PLENTY), you could save over $250 by buying two separate tickets. Someday, ITA and the airlines will be sophisticated enough to figure out combined fares like that.

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