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Entries during 2013-04

Lost Luggage Heaven

Q. What happens to lost luggage that goes unclaimed?

A. After a period of about a week, the airline will attempt to match the bag's contents with missing baggage reports. If 90 days pass, and the owner and the bag still haven't been reunited, that luggage then becomes the property of the airline. What do they want with your fannypacks and cameras? They auction 'em off to places like the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, which then resells the contents (over one million items a year). Most of the Baggage Center's stock is clothing, but shoppers will also find electronics, jewelry, etc. Especially odd finds go on display in the Baggage Center museum, like a Jim Henson puppet from the film Labyrinth.

image via Shutterstock

Booking fares without specified dates

Q. Is it possible to by an airline ticket without knowing the exact date of travel? I’m wondering if I can purchase a ticket ahead of time and decide later when I was going to fly.

A. You can always purchase an airfare and change the dates of travel, but the fare may change (either up or down) for travel on the date you decide to fly, and in most cases the cheapest fares will also require a change fee ($150 on a domestic fare on most U.S.-based airlines) if you change dates. Of course, you can buy an expensive fully-refundable fare and change the dates all you want, but I’m guessing that’s not what you had in mind. You can also purchase an airfare on Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t charge a change fee, but again, the fare on your new dates of travel may be higher or lower than the fare you originally bought (you’ll either pay the difference if higher, or get a travel voucher for future travel if lower). American Airlines now also sells a fare upgrade called Choice Essential that allows you to change your travel dates without a fee, but that also requires you to pay extra if the fare changes on your new dates of travel. Choice Essential fares cost $68 above regular fares but also include a checked bag round-trip and priority boarding.

Cancelled Flight Policies

Q. I recently cancelled a March flight on US Airways and have about $255 that I need to rebook and use within a year. Is that one year from my travel date in March, or one year from when I bought the ticket back in October?

A. The fine print states that the ticket expires one year from the original date of issue, and the unflown value expires one year from the original date of issue. So you'd have until the October purchase date.

Image via Shutterstock

Multi-City Flex Search

Q. I am trying to find flexible dates for a multiple destination booking, and I want to leave from New Haven Rail Station.

Near the end of May I want to go to Houston for about a week and then to Cleveland for 6 days, starting from and returning to New Haven. I'm having trouble figuring out which are the cheapest days to travel.

A. As far as we know, there is no site that searches multi-city trips over a long date range, but ITASoftware.com's Matrix will allow you to perform multi-city searches over a plus/minus 1-2 day range.

Even so, you can't book there...only search, then go elsewhere to book.

Taxes & Fees on Flights to UK

Q. I understand that London’s Heathrow Airport has a horrendous arrival fee. Is the same true for Stansted and Gatwick, London’s two other airports?

A. I’m not sure if you’re referring to the airport landing fee, which is assessed based on the size of the aircraft and does vary from airport to airport but is paid directly by the airline, or the United Kingdom’s air passenger duty, which is essentially a tax levied on airline tickets and which only varies depending on the class of service (economy or premium) and the length of the flight, not the airport. This tax is paid directly by the passenger, and has been steadily increasing. When first introduced in 1994, it was an insignificant 10 British pounds. Currently, on a flight from the eastern U.S. to the U.K. and return, it’s 67 pounds (about $103 at current exchange rates) in economy and 134 pounds ($205) in business or first class. On a flight, say, from Los Angeles to London and back it’s 83 pounds ($127) and 166 pounds ($254), respectively. And these rates are set to increase as of April 1, 2014. That’s in addition to taxes imposed by the U.S. government and the TSA. So if you’re wondering why flights to the U.K. are so expensive compared to past years, that’s one reason. By the way, Northern Ireland airports, such as Belfast, are the only ones in the U.K. exempt from the tax at present.

 

Image via Shutterstock

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

Q. A friend and I are traveling from Phoenix, AZ to Orlando, FL in February of 2014 (the 19th or 20th through the 25th) for the Disney Princess half marathon. As of now, we saw an American Airlines for $250 round-trip. I genuinely don't know if that's an especially good deal. My concern is that Southwest Airlines only publishes fares six months ahead. By the time they publish, it's possible that the American Airlines fares will either be sold out or have gone up. I feel like I'm gambling, but I haven't got a clue what my safe bet is! Can you provide some advice?

A. Phoenix to Orlando at that time of year for $250 is a fantastic fare. Indeed, these days, any fare $250 or less for such a long flight is a great deal, and especially since it’s around the February school vacation period. And good news: Looks like it's still available. One way to tell that it's a great deal is to look at what other airlines are charging for the very same dates, by using a fare comparison site such as TripAdvisor.com/Flights:  Delta $579; United $574; US Air $572; and Southwest, which you have to search at Southwest.com, $670 round-trip. Many consumers assume that all airlines pretty much match each others’s fares, but that is simply not true, as the above example shows.

Image via shuttestock

Compensation for Baggage Delays

Q. I returned from a cruise and had a flight back home through Chicago. The plane was delayed so they put me on another flight through Washington. I paid for my checked luggage. When I got home my luggage wasn't there. I live four hours from the airport, so I went home without it. I received my bag two days later. Am I due to receive my luggage fee refunded?

A. New U.S. Dept. of Transportation rules stipulate that if your bag is lost, then the airline must refund your checked bag fee, on top of providing up to $3,300 in compensation for the lost items. However, there’s no compensation merely for a delay. You could certainly contact the airline and request a full or partial refund, and they might give you a travel voucher in the amount you paid. But I doubt they’re going to give you money back. Next time, consider putting your stuff in a sturdy box and shipping it FedEx or UPS ground service. I bet it’ll cost less than the $50 the airline charged you. And the service will be better, with no waiting at the check in line or the luggage carousel.

Luggage image via Shutterstock

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