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Entries during 2013-03

Car Rental vs Flight

Q. I will be taking a trip from St. Louis to Rome in April on Delta. Flights from Atlanta to Rome are somewhat cheaper then from St. Louis to Rome. I can drive to Atlanta in less than 12 hours but would like to use a rental car rather than drive my own and pay parking for a week. Are there any car rental agencies that will allow pickup at an airport in one state and return it at another airport in another state? I would be picking up the car at the St. Louis airport and dropping it off at Atlanta. Is this possible and are there any alternatives?

A. Most -- if not all -- agencies will allow this. These days, everything's possible for a price. Hertz and Enterprise are charging around $200 for one day including tax for a pickup at St.Louis Airport and a drop off at Atlanta within 24 hours. It's possible it might not cost nearly that much, though -- Alamo shows a quote of $50 for one day midweek in April, including taxes and fees, for the same scenario. Though I'd call ahead after booking the reservation to ensure that there's no crazy hidden fees. But if you're going to spend $200 plus gas and tolls, why not just fly? A flight from St. Louis to Atlanta currently costs just $141 including tax on Southwest Airlines.

Two Airlines, One Trip, & Interlining Agreements

Q. My wife and I need to attend a wedding later this year in San Jose. I was able to book a round trip ticket from Chicago to San Jose. On the trip out, we'll have a layover in Reno and need to change carriers, flying the final leg on Alaska Airways. According to my itinerary, after checking in online with American, I'll also need to check in online with Alaska. My question concerns the baggage. In Reno, do I need to retrieve and recheck my bags with Alaska or can they be checked through to San Jose directly from Chicago even though there are two different carriers are involved?

A. It looks like you've booked two separate fares, and although American would normally "interline" your bag with Alaska had you bought a single fare with a connection from one airline to the other, in this scenario you'll probably have to collect your bag, recheck it, and go through security again. Might I suggest that you consider sending the contents of your bag ahead by FedEx Ground? In many cases it's cheaper than paying two separate checked bag fees round-trip ($25 each way, each flight for a bag weighing under 50 pounds). Just put whatever you need in a sturdy box (there's no need to ship your suitcase itself) 5 or 6 days ahead of your arrival (have it sent to a friend's or relative's home or office, or to your hotel with instructions to store for your arrival). Check out this comparison chart, as well as this chart showing airline checked bag fees.

River Cruise & Miles

Q. I am planning a River Cruise trip to Europe this fall. Three persons leaving from Knoxville TN arrive Amsterdam and one week later depart from Zurich. We can switch cities for arrival departure if need be. I have a travel agent handling the cruise portion. Should she also handle the air portion? Most importantly, I have 250,000 United miles. What would be the best way to use them?

A. Well, you might be in luck with your miles. I did a sample search for your itinerary on United’s MileagePlus section and I found seats available for exactly 250,000 miles in economy class with $71 in taxes and fees. That might seem like a lot of miles and it is, but it would cost you $1220 were you to buy the ticket instead. But were you to only do a round-trip from Nashville to Amsterdam (taking the train perhaps back to Amsterdam from Zurich at the end of your cruise), it would only cost 60,000 miles plus $217 in taxes, a better deal in my estimation. Your travel agent would probably come up with the same ticket price I did, more or less, for the “open jaw” ticket (Nashville-Amsterdam, Zurich-Nashville). Even with the cost of the train ticket to Amsterdam, I’d say spending 60,000 miles plus $217 for a $1200 fare is reasonable. But definitely see what your travel agent can come up with and make the decision from there.

Name Changes to Tix for a Reasonable Fee

Q. With airline tickets, the reason many buyers seem unhappy with the service is because of the 'non-refundable', 'non-transferable' policy that most airlines have adopted. From my point of view, it seems that these restrictions could only lead to dissatisfied customers and a negative stigma attached to dealing with the airlines. Why then do the airlines insist on keeping these policies? Are there any laws that say they have to prevent tickets from being transferred (security etc.)?

A. Actually, some airlines do permit tickets (or fare value) to be transferred or spent on someone else in the case of a cancellation. Some of Frontier Airlines’ non-refundable fares can be transferred to another person for a fee of $50 (or $100 on their cheapest fares). Mexican airline interjet allows name changes for $25. Over in Europe, Ryanair allows name changes for a stiff fee of 110 Euros, which often wipes out any value the ticket might have had. I don’t think there are any laws against airlines issuing a credit or allowing name changes, but doing so for free would rob them of their hefty cancellation penalties. Why more airlines don’t follow Frontier’s or interjet’s example, allowing a name change for a reasonable fee, is a mystery to me, unless they believe that doing so would result in a revenue hit or excessive administrative costs. Clearly, if Frontier and interjet can permit this then there can’t be a government regulation banning the practice.

Ticket image via Shutterstock

Two Tickets, One Bag

Q. I will be flying on Southwest Airlines, connecting in Nashville, and traveling onward to Charleston. I purchased two separate fares (to Nashville and onward from Nashville) to save money. I’m thinking that I’ll need to pick up my bags to check them in for the connection to Charleston. Can Southwest check my bags through to Charleston, even if I didn’t buy a through fare, so that I don’t have to be groped by TSA twice?

A. This should be possible. The ticketing agent would place a transfer tag plus a final destination tag on your bag. But you’d need to have enough time between connecting flights for the bag transfer, and your connection shouldn’t be more than four hours between flights because airport baggage holding areas have limited storage space and a long connecting time might be grounds for refusal.

Image via Shutterstock

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