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Entries during 2008-05

Kiev: Too High to meet our Low Standards

Q. Hi, I've been using Airfarewatchdog for a couple of months but haven't seen any fares to Kiev, Ukraine. Could you add Kiev to your list?

A. We do list fares to Kiev, but only when we spot a particularly low fare. We found a few back in April/early May from a handful of departure cities, but at this stage, so close to summer, low fares to Kiev are hard to come by. You might want to try Travelocity's newly reinstated flexible search for international fares as well as and to see what you might come up with.

You can also sign up to receive our International City Alerts for Kiev. That way, we can give you a nudge whenever something especially low to Kiev comes along.

Where are the Winter Sales?

Q. When can I expect to see sale fares for December this year? We usually go to Italy, but would be happy to go to Morocco or somewhere else just as great. I keep checking various airlines-- they have usually posted sale fares by now, but so far I've seen no sales.

A. The airlines time the release of these sales to maximize profit.  We imagine they're waiting to see what happens with the price of fuel, which really has them (most of them, anyway) in crisis mode at the moment. Stay tuned to AFWD though, and we'll let you know when they start springing up.

Sick & Stranded

Q. A friend recently purchased a non-refundable ticket from United to fly out for a conference. Many attendees, including my friend, were infected with a nasty intestinal virus, which prevented her from making her return flight. I called United on her behalf, and was told that they'd give her a $100 credit on the return ticket (even though the roundtrip ticket cost $325), which could be used any time in the next year. United would, however, charge $150 to use the credit!

And the cheapest return ticket would cost about $730. When I asked if United could discount the return ticket, the answer was an unencouraging, "No." The agent would not budge on the price, and we eventually gave up, and booked a much cheaper ticket through, with travel insurance, for about $230 total.

Are airlines generally this unhelpful? I certainly could have transported my friend to the airport and put her on the plane, but thought it was not appropriate to expose a plane full of people to such a horrible virus. United's uncharitable response was a little surprising.

Any suggestions on how to better handle such a situation in the future?

A. With the exception of Southwest, which does not charge a fee for changing your travel date, yes, airlines generally are this unhelpful. With policies such as this, it's no wonder Southwest is actually making money while most of the other guys aren't.

This is why it's so important to shell out those few extra bucks for travel insurance, like Travel Guard, which would have covered all those pesky little nonrefundables in the event of an illness such as this. To what extent, of course, depends on your policy, so always read the fine print.


Q. I've booked some great fares through you guys, and now I'm shopping around for a good deal on a cruise. Do you provide the same service for cruises? Or do you know of another site that does?

A. We're stricly airfares, but we do recommend Cruise Critic, which lists cruise deals, as well as advice from experienced cruisers to help you select the cruise that suits you best. You might also want to check out Cruisemates as well.

Potential Kinks in AA's New Bag Fee Plan

Q. I've noticed before that when you're in the last boarding group and there's no room in the overhead racks, that the flight attendants will offer to check your bag in. Of course, that was before American Airline's new $15 check-in policy. Now what happens when the situation I described occurs?

A. Good question!  We imagine those often ignored carry-on guidelines will now be strictly enforced, with passengers being asked to squeeze their carry-ons into those tiny metal size-guideline contraptions, the ones that no one ever uses. Will they go the route of European low cost carriers, with a scale to see if your carry-on bag is overweight, and charge you for that too? Will there be enough room in the overhead bins for everyone trying to avoid the fee? Maybe the flight crew will be equipped with charge card swipers, and bill you from the cabin, if bags prove too bulky for the overhead.  We have a feeling this may not work out  very smoothly and that maybe AA hasn't thought this through entirely.

Am I exempt from the new AA bag fee?

Q. I bought my ticket before American announced the new $15 fee for 1st checked bags, but my date of travel is after June 15, which is when the new fee goes into effect. So am I exempt because of my purchase date, or do I go by my departure date?

A. You should go by your pre-June-15th purchase date, which means no $15 fee for you. As American states on their site:

Customers who purchase domestic economy class tickets on or after May 12, 2008 but before June 15, 2008 may check one bag for free and check a second bag for $25 each way. Customers who purchase domestic economy class tickets on or after June 15, 2008 will be charged $15 each way for the first checked bag and $25 each way for the second checked bag. Our carry-on policy of one personal item (such as a purse or laptop bag) plus one bag remains in place.


Planning ahead for New Zealand

Q. My husband and I plan to travel to Auckland, New Zealand next April. When is the best time to start looking for good buys on tickets?

A. Let me first congratulate you on being a model travel planner! Not only have you started planning your trip well ahead of time, you have also picked one of the best times to go, at least from a price perspective. April and especially May, along with August and part of November tend to be the cheapest periods by far to travel down under.

Both Qantas and Air New Zealand have fairly predictable and straight-forward sales to Auckland that usually start several months in advance and run through the month of travel. You can start checking their respective web sites for sales late in the fall, but January should be plenty early to catch a good deal and a good seat. In addition to signing up for our e-mail alerts, you may also want to subscribe to those of both airlines.

While Qantas often prices their nonstop service from Los Angeles to Auckland a bit lower, with the "Discover New Zealand" offer Air New Zealand has especially attractive options for adding on domestic New Zealand travel at minimal extra cost to their nonstop flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco. From other major U.S. airports, both airlines offer add-on connecting flights, but you can sometimes do better by arranging your own connection.

Hawaiian Pinch: Less Competition & Higher Fuel Costs

Q. Can you tell me why I'm seeing fewer fares to Honolulu all of a sudden? It used to be included pretty regularly as a destination & now I never see it.

A. The demise of both Aloha Airlines and ATA means less competition and higher fares. Factor in the recent jump in fuel costs and the fact that Hawaii remains one of the most popular destinations in the US and -voila! - there's little reason for carriers to discount fares. Still, don't give up hope. Even if fares to Honolulu aren't as low as they once were, we continue to seek out and list the lower-than-average, such as Honolulu from Los Angeles for $380, from Kansas City for $652, and from Newark for $658, all round-trip.

Global Travel Shield refuses to reimburse ill traveler

Q. My sister and I purchased a round trip ticket from Boston to Seattle on Alaska Air for our elderly mother and also purchased trip cancellation insurance through Global Travel Shield. Since her arrival on the West Coast, it became clearly evident that her health had severely declined and it was no longer feasible for her to live on her own in Massachusetts. To that end, she never used the return portion of the ticket and we applied to the insurance company for a refund of the unused portion of the airfare.

Ultimately, the insurance company denied our claim for a partial refund, citing the sole reason for denial was that it was a round trip airfare.....duh!!?? They advised they could not refund one-half of a fare, in that they could not assign a dollar value to it. We contacted Alaska, who verbally advised us of the appropriate amount for the half-fare, but they were unwilling to put it in writing, which is what the insurance company would require to process the claim.

Do we have any recourse in this "Catch 22" matter?

A. Every Alaska fare is sold as a one-way for exactly 1/2 the RT purchase. That's their policy. I understand that on some airlines, low fares are sold as RT only, so indeed you couldn't have bought certain fares as one-ways for 1/2 the RT price. But on Alaska you can, each and every fare. I would go back to your insurance agency and tell them to stop trying to wiggle out of this or you will take them to small claims court. At least make a pest of yourself. Does it say anywhere in their contract that they exclude this sort of thing? I would also write a letter to your state's insurance commissioner.

Day Passes & Airport Lounges

Q. I am going on my honeymoon to Turks & Caicos in November and am interested in buying a day pass to an airport lounge. Do I have to have a ticket on a particular airline in order to access their lounge, or is it enough to just purchase a day pass? And what about international carriers? if I'm hanging out in JFK on my way to London on, say, American Airlines, can I go to the Emirates counter and buy a single-use lounge pass from Emirates? Who has the best food and amenities? Booze? We're on our honeymoon for crying out loud... it's time to party!

A. As long as you cough up that day pass fee, which varies according to carrier, you can access certain lounges regardless of what airline your ticket is with. For example, American charges $50 for a single visitor day pass to its Admirals Club, $75 for single visitor plus one, and $100 for a single plus two. And $30 will get you into the Delta Crown Room. As for the lounges of most international carriers, like Emirates , they don't exactly open their doors for anyone who flashes a few twenties at the door, no siree. For Emirates, if you're not a first or business class passenger, you have to be a Skywards gold or silver member.

If it's a cheery party atmosphere you're after, nothing says 'Get Crunk, Romantical Honeymoon' like a roomfull of ill-fitting suits slurping free Sanka. For something a little more glamorous, you may find the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK to be more your speed. In addition to their own, Virgin Atlantic allows access to Virgin America first class passengers and EleVate members (so join!)  for $30 - $40.

For more info and photos of airport lounges, check out the LoungeGuide Wiki page.

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