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Entries during 2009-05

Why not fill those empty seats?

Q. I know many airlines have weekend specials (rarely all that special) to try and fill empty seats. Why don't they offer any TRUE last minute deals? For instance, there is/was an airline in Germany that allowed potential passengers to come to the airport, bags packed, and they'd be booked on any open flights with empty seats, and at deep deep discounts. The hitch was that passengers wouldn't know where they might be going until moments before boarding.

So why don't our airlines reduce fares for last minute travel? Doesn't it make more sense for them to fill a half empty plane and make some money off those seats? Or are they concerned passengers will begin waiting until the last few hours to try and catch a good deal?

A. In the past, a number of years ago, many airlines did allow passengers to wait at the airport for last minute booking of travel at substantial savings. This has been discontinued mainly because they have gotten much more efficient at filling seats and reducing/increasing capacity on routes, mostly due to their ability to track numbers and trends more quickly. Another factor, the price of fuel has reached the point where it's probably cheaper to fly a lighter plane than just fill seats for a small payment.

Base Fare vs Taxes & Fees

Q.  Would it be possible to mention/list the actual fees, taxes, etc that will be added on to a so-called low fare? They often amount to many times the stated ticket price, especially for international travel!

A. The fees and taxes for foreign travel can be especially daunting, which is why we almost always include taxes and fees for our international fares. Plus, the information is more readily available to us than for the domestic fares that we find (and of course, we note it right after the price that taxes and fees are included and we note it on the Fare Details page for you too!)  If we don't note that taxes and fees are included, you can safely assume that they are not.

The main reason why it's difficult to include taxes and fees is that they are so variable.  It's much less time consuming to list the base price, which is common practice.  (After all, even when you go to a retail store, a restaurant or shop online, the taxes and delivery fees are added in when you make your purchase.)

Some of the variables include:

 A federal segment fee for each takeoff.  So depending on whether you choose a non-stop or a connecting flight, the fee will change.  The number of connections changes this fee as well.

Facility fees charged by the airports.  These vary depending on the specific airports that are included in your itinerary.  And again, the more connections, the more fees.

The TSA charges a security fee and that varies depending on the airport.

The airline itself can charge fees, including a fuel surcharge.  Theoretically, you're supposed to see this in the base price, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this not always the case.


Taking the Earlier Flight

Q. I am going to Jamaica with my girlfriend this weekend. At the time I booked the flight, I was kind of rushed and distracted and I booked it for the evening. In the fullness of time, I realize that we will not be making it out of the airport and to our rental car before 8:30pm (flight arrives at 7:30). We then have to drive for 2 hours. Anyway, long story short, I would like advice on the best way to minimize cost of changing the flight time. Not date, just time. Are airlines often willing to do this at a nominal fee if there are seats available? How does one go about asking them to do this--does it matter?

A. Airlines usually charge for a confirmed same day flight change  and they're often higher for international travel than for domestic. For example, US Airways charges $50 for flights in the US and to Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, and changes are only allowed to earlier flights, not later. However, if you wish to take your chances and fly standby for the later flight, there may be no charge. You're taking a chance with standby, since the earlier flight may fill up.

However, you could also do this to avoid the fee:  show up a couple of hours before the scheduled departure of the flight you really want to take and throw yourself at the mercy of the ticket agent. Maybe your original flight has been cancelled, in which case they will most likely confirm you on the earlier flight at no charge; or maybe it's oversold, so again it's in their interest to send you earlier in the day. 
We've been in situations where we've arrived at the airport earlier than we expected, and JetBlue, for instance, put us on an earlier flight with no fee. If you don't like the answer you get from one agent, and there are lots of them at the check in desk, you might try another person (maybe the one with the big smile) a little bit later.  Also, I'd check with the airline by phone to see if the earlier flight(s) are "wide open" or if it looks like they're going to be full; knowing that will help you know in advance what your options are.


Seat Availability: the dreaded Xed out calendar dates

Q. Every time I click on the date I want to depart on the Travelocity calendar, the date is suddenly Xed out and my fare isn't available on that date. I've tried several different dates and they all end up Xing out and being unavailable. If these fares aren't available, why do they bother showing up on the calendar at all?

A. The airlines have only set aside a limited number of seats per day for a given price. Some dates will always sell out before others. And the longer a sale goes on, the more dates become unavailable. It's kind of like getting to the mall early the Friday after Thanksgiving to grab all the great sales. The earlier you pounce, the better.

No Sales to Nashville?

Q. I'm signed up for your newsletter, but also have about 4 other eblasts I get about travel, just to stay on top of things. I have noticed that whenever Midwest, Delta, American, United, etc have a big sale (like those $98 round-trip sales, or under $200 round-trips), rarely do they include Nashville. Is there a reason why they skip over it?

A. When you notice a trend like this, it's usually safe to assume that the airlines aren't putting a city/route on sale because, well, they don't have to. It's supply and demand. A higher volume of passengers in a particular market will keep fares high, and lack of a budget airline presence (like Allegiant, which serves Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Tri-Cities) to drive prices down doesn't help the situation either. But Nashville isn't completely left out of the game. There is Southwest, and they have a lot of great sale fares to/from Nashville.

Presto Change-o: WorldPerks into Skymiles

Q. Your recent article on the Delta/Northwest Frequent Flyer merger leaves out an important point that has not been addressed on the official "good news" announcements. I have lots of NW miles that were earned some time ago. Delta has a mileage expiration policy. NW has not expired any of my earned miles.Is it possible that Northwest WorldPerks Miles older than the Delta expiration period will be automatically expired when transferred to Delta SkyMiles?

A. As you said, Northwest's WorldPerks program currently has a no expiration policy for accrued miles. (Review Managing Miles for their policy). Delta's SkyMiles has a rolling 24-month policy from the last qualifying activity before miles will expire. Once the merger of the two loyalty programs occurs, all SkyMiles rules apply according to Delta's website (Locate the "Delta and Northwest Merger Update" to see their statement).

How will the merger affect you? Delta will, of course, honor all Northwest Miles. Once you have a SkyMiles account, you will be on their 24-month policy. As long at you have a qualifying activity every 24 months, your miles will be safe. A few qualifying activities include flying on Delta or a partner airline, buying or transferring miles, redeeming miles for magazines, and earning miles through Delta's SkyMiles partners.


Pardon me, this seat taken?

Q. My partner and I have used up our Frequent Flyer miles on upgrades to first class, and are looking for an alternative way to buy more space on a Philadephia/Los Angeles round-trip. Our solution would be to purchase three adjacent coach seats which would give the two of us enough room to stretch out. Since we will purchase two of the seats with credit card points, our additional cash outlay would be for the one round-trip coach seat. Much cheaper than two first class upgrades!

How do the airlines feel about this? If any of the flights were full, would they try and put someone in our empty seat? Can I get the airline to award me the FF points for both seats? What are our risks for trying this approach?

A. We've definitely heard of others doing this as well. And yes, a flight attendant did attempt to fill the empty seat so that another couple on board could sit together. Of course, the passenger who purchased both seats had to speak up and say so, which kind of left him looking curmudgeony and Scroogey in the eyes of the crew and fellow passengers. Wait, did that happen, or are we remembering an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm? Hmm...not sure. However, the point is, if you pay for two seats, you get two seats, they're yours, miles and all, end of story.

The only risks we can imagine is if one of your booked seats were to be bumped (which does happen from time to time), or the above mentioned awkward Larry David-ish scenario. We'd suggest checking with a reservationist at your airline for a less full flight, just to avoid any kerfuffles.

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