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Entries during 2008-04

Trip Insurance: Straight from the Source vs. from the Airline

Q. I've noticed a lot of airlines are now selling flight insurance when you buy your ticket. Should I buy from them, or use a company like TravelGuard or Access America?

A. We suggest buying coverage straight from the insurance company (a reputable one, of course), instead of the airline, because you may not be covered should your carrier go bankrupt. Of course, this all depends on the policy. For example, coverage purchased from Spirit Airlines through AIG/TravelGuard will protect you in the event of financial default. Meanwhile, AirTran's travel insurance through CSA does not cover financial default. Considering the recent string of airlines to go belly-up, it's definitely something you'll want to make certain you're covered for. Another point to keep in mind: You may find it  difficult  to near impposible to  purchase trip insurance if you're airline has already declared bankruptcy, such as Frontier.

Delta changes the rules, makes you pay

Q. In February, I booked a ticket for a domestic flight in May by Delta. Recently, I learned that Delta will be charging for second bags for travel after May 1, I was not unduly worried because I had made this reservation in February and I was sure Delta would not be charging those who made reservations before their announcement. But just to be sure I called Delta airlines and was told that my family will have to pay for their second bags. I did a quick check of other airlines who recently added the 2nd bag fee and found that none of them were charging for tickets purchased before the announcements were made. I would never have bought the ticket on Delta if I'd known this.

Can Delta get away with arbitrarily changing their baggage policy for passengers who have already purchased a ticket?

A. Somehow, yes they can. Chalk it up to yet another blow for passenger rights. We can't think of any other industry in which it's acceptable to change the terms of a contract after entering into an agreement. Seems like a pretty basic business no-no to us. Still, if you're stuck with the ticket, you might consider shipping your extra baggage. Sure, you'll still be paying to send extra bags, but at least Delta won't be getting your money, and you may end up spending less than that $50 round-trip baggage fee.

Pay Excess Baggage Fees for each leg of your trip?

Q. I have a follow up question about airline baggage fees. I am flying on Northwest Airlines from Fairbanks to Seattle and then Amsterdam and finally to Bergen, Norway. I own a place in Norway, but since it is so extremely expensive there I bring everything I can with me and therefore travel very heavily. I am wondering if my baggage, 2 per person, all of which will be over 50 pounds, will be charged a one time fee in Fairbanks, or charged three times for the three different connections that we will be making?

A. As long as your travel is on the same airline and on the same ticket, you'll be charged just once. And I believe you'll be charged at the domestic rate since your trip began in the US. However, if you change airlines and buy a separate ticket to Bergen, you may be charged again. But I'm guessing you're buying a through fare on Northwest/KLM. On the way back, you'll be charged again if you bring a heavy suitcase home with you, and that may be at international rates depending on airline and route. To avoid surprises, I'd contact Northwest/KLM to see what the charges will be heading home. I've heard stories of overweight bag charges on foreign airlines costing more than the fare itself.

Maybe Mr. Trump can lend you his chopper

Q. I'm a frequent flyer who doesn't find your site useful and has pretty much quit paying any attention to the daily e-mails you send with deals from the cities I've identified. The prices you list generally apply only to flights that have horrendous logistics (departure/arrival times, number of stops), and/or have horrendous connections, and/or are on tiny commuter planes. What gives?

A. Unless your commute to the airport includes a donkey ride and a rope bridge (in which case: not so much our fault, but sounds fun!), we're not sure what 'horrendous logistics' you could possibly be referring to. Many of the flights we list are nonstop, or require just a single connection, tops. We definitely take these things into consideration before listing a fare, and if a fare involves an excessive amount of layover time or multiple stops and other such hullabaloo then -like you - we don't consider it to be a good deal, which means we won't post it. And although it makes up a very small percentage of our listings, many reputable airlines do service shorter routes, or smaller airports, with commuter aircraft. You won't be sharing your seat with a caged chicken, or going off course to dust Farmer RoRo's crops or anything. It's really no different than any other flight, actually.

As for the departure and arrival times, it's just kind of common sense that flights are going to cost less during off peak hours. And although the schedule of flights we list will certainly varies, some may very well be for early morning departures. Sure, you might have to drag yourself out of the bed a little sooner than normal, but look on the bright side: If yours is one of the first flights of the day, you can pretty much be guaranteed that your flight will take off and arrive on time since the plane and crew are already there and air traffic control system hasn't had time to get bogged down as it does by 4.30 PM.

But hey, if you'd prefer to sleep late, order a nice frittata from room service, leaf through PC World, and finally take that leisurely stroll around Cleveland before making that popular 4:30 pm flight home, just be prepared to pay for it.

Oh, and although we'd love to build a Web site just for you, sir, that will cost you several hundred thousand dollars. Wouldn't you rather we continue to do this for everyone, and for free? Hmmmm?

 

Change of Plans

Q. About a month ago, I purchased a roundtrip airfare on AA for a trip in June. I just received an email from AA telling me that my itinerary had been slightly changed. My departure flight has been moved back by 65 minutes. Of course, the reason I chose the AA flight was that it departed at 4:25pm. Because of my engagements I cannot make a departing flight at 3:20pm. So I called AA to get a refund, and they tell me that I am not entitled to one. Only a voucher. They say a flight has to be changed by 90 minutes or more to get a refund. What recourse do I have?

A.  We spoke with AA spokesperson Tim Wagner, who informs us that since American changed your flight times they would refund your fare in full, which is nice of them.

Cover Yourself

Q. I was wondering if you think it is important to have flight insurance. I have a trip to Maui coming up in June and I'd hate for anything to happen, especially with all the recent problems with American Airlines. Do you recommend insurance and, if so, can I still get it after booking my flights?

A. Yes, yes, yes! It's extreeeeemely important to purchase travel insurance, even for those routine little domestic jaunts. In addition to your flight being potentially canceled due to mechanical (or the oh-so-hot-right-now Chapter 11) snafus, there could be weather issues, you might suddenly be too ill to travel, or you might have car trouble and miss your flight. Travel insurance can also cover lost or stolen luggage, and emergency medical evacuation too. Of course policies vary in coverage and price, but you never know what wrenches fate may toss your way. You can still purchase travel insurance after buying your ticket, although some policies diminish  coverage if purchased too close to your departure date, so the sooner the better. We suggest checking out Travelguard.com, and no matter what type of trip insurance you choose, read the fine print!

Expectant Grandmother Fares

Q. My daughter is expecting July 1st. I will be traveling from Dayton, Ohio to Seattle. Of course we know that babies have plans of their own. My concern is getting the best deal I can on an unsure travel date. Is there such a deal or do you have suggestions how I can be best prepared for making last minute arrangements?

A. We get this question a lot! And maybe it's time to start lobbying the airlines for a "loved-one-of-an-expectant-mother" ticket. Until that wonderful day, your current options are not the best. If you wait until the the mother goes into labor, you'll be at the mercy of whatever the current market is for last-minute travel, which is usually quite expensive (unless by some miracle the baby decides to make their first appearance as an airline is announcing a last-minute weekend fare.) Another option, is to buy a fully refundable ticket ahead of time (which again can be quite expensive), and you'll be able to change the the date of travel without a change fee, but still have to pay the difference in fare if there is one. Finally, you might want to go ahead and buy a sale fare on a carrier that charges lower change fees such as AirTran and JetBlue or one that doesn't penalize for change such as Southwest and hope that you won't have to change your itinerary. Of course if you do, you'll be responsible for the difference in fare and there will be one! In your area Southwest flies out of Columbus and AirTran out of Dayton, so you might want to keep your eye out for those fares.

New? What do you mean by new?

Q. What exactly does it mean when I see a listing noted as being new? Does this mean that the fare itself is new or that this is a new route that you don't normally list?

A. When we designate something as being new, that refers to the fare, meaning that it has gone down in price and we feel it's a bargain worth sharing. It could be on a route that don't normally list, or a route we see pretty regularly, just so long as it's a good fare!

Flying Fluffy Unaccompanied

Q. How do I go about finding out how to ship my small dog from Sarasota to my daughter in Jacksonville, North Carolina? I'd prefer for her to travel in the cabin.... not under the plane. Is that possible?

A. Although there are plenty of people out there (us among them) who would actually prefer to share an armrest with a cute little dog from Sarasota over most human seatmates, airlines generally do not permit unaccompanied pets to travel in the cabin. Rules vary according to carrier. There some airlines don't allow pets, even as cargo. Some exclude particular routes. For example, US Airways will not accept pets on flights to/from Pheonix and Las Vegas due to high temperatures. Check with your airline, and do so early on since cargo space for pets can be limited.

What if my airline goes out of business too?

Q. I know the airlines are having financial problems but I'm surprised that we lost both Aloha and ATA this week. And they say this stuff happens in threes. Think we'll lose another one? Also, we've planned a family vacation for June. How can we ensure we don't get ripped off should something like this happen to us?

A. It could very well happen again, as there are more than a few other carriers out there struggling to stay afloat. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is something you've probably already done: pay for your ticket using your credit or debit card, instead of cash  or check. You can contest the charge for a flight not taken, if you do so in writing within 60 days of the charge appearing on your card. Otherwise, you may have to line up in bankruptcy court. And that's not fun.

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