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Entries during 2013-05

Why list Spirit fares without the extra fees?

Q. Why even list San Diego to Las Vegas as being a $60 fare? What Spirit Airlines doesn't get in airfare, they rake in on luggage fees. A $29 fare, plus a fee for checking luggage each way, plus a fee for a carry-on each way, plus a fee for a better seat if I'd like...My $60 round-trip ends up being $146 in total.

A. You can always pack light and place your bag under your seat for take off and landing (use it as a footrest during the flight). If it fits under your seat, there's no charge at all. And avoid choosing a seat in advance. If you do, you will indeed pay $60 round-trip, leaving on your chosen dates.

For the same trip, American charges $164, Delta $246, United $207, US Air $271 and Virgin $276.

Even with all the fees, it's a lot less than some other airlines. And again, those fees are all optional.

Award Seat Availability

Q. American Airlines does not make available even one mileage award seat for travel in business or first class from any of their hubs (DFW, ORD, LAX, etc) to any major European hub such as London, for months to come (nothing before November). That is unless you spend double miles or fly with their partner BA with multiple stop overs and paying more than double in fees and taxes.
Seems to be a little excessive when there are no available seats for months on end. Can’t anything be done?

A. There are definitely too many miles chasing too few award seats, so it makes one wonder whether it's still worthwhile collecting them. AA recently offered miles for sale with a 50% bonus, which results in still more miles chasing fewer seats. Sometimes they open up seats, at the lower award level, at the last minute if they haven't sold them. I'm not sure if AA does this, but I know United has been aggressive in offering last minute paid upgrades at huge discounts to business and first… $800 to upgrade an economy class seat to business class on the LAX to JFK route for instance (for a seat that would normally cost $2300 each way), rather than offering those seats as free upgrades to elite flyers or as award seats. It doesn't seem fair, does it, but the airlines hold all the cards.

Whatever happened to Rule 240?

Q. Whatever happened to “Rule 240?” As I recall, in the past when a flight was canceled or severely delayed, the airline would put you on a competitor’s next flight out if that flight would get you to your destination sooner than your original airline’s next flight out. I was even put in first class on Continental one time when my American Airlines flight was cancelled, even though my original ticket was in economy class. But recently I was flying on Delta and the agent refused to put me on the next flight out on Airtran when my flight was cancelled, even though there were seats available on Airtran.

A. Rule 240 was a part of all airlines’ contracts of carriage back when airlines were regulated by the government, and stipulated that in the event of a cancellation or delay “within the airline’s control” (and not resulting from an act of God, such as weather) the passenger must be put on the next flight out on another airline. Most airlines have done away with this rule in their contracts. However, some airlines still have such a rule, although usually a weaker version of it, and will (at their discretion) re-route you on another airline in the event of a cancellation. For example, Rule 24 in United’s contract states “[United will] reroute Passengers over the lines of one or more carriers in the same class of service when a Change in Schedule results in the cancellation of all UA service between two cities.” Alaska Airlines has a similar rule, as does Frontier Airlines. Most others, however, including those formed after airlines were deregulated, have eliminated Rule 240 or never had one.

Voucher for Sale

Q. I showed up at the airport for my flight, but was told that the plane was “oversold” and I would be put on the next flight out, leaving in three hours. The airline offered me a voucher good for future travel anywhere they fly in the U.S., however it has to be used within a year of issue and I have no plans to travel. Can I sell the voucher to someone else?

A. You might be able to use the voucher to arrange transportation for someone else, if the voucher is “transferrable”) (some are, some are not). But it’s probably against airline rules to outright sell it to another party. In any case, you were entitled to a cash payment on the spot rather than a voucher if you were involuntarily denied boarding. So in the future, if you’re bumped from a flight, never accept a travel voucher. You’re entitled to a cash payment on the spot of up to $1200 or 400 percent of the value of the one-way fare depending on the length of the delay.

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Third party bookings vs direct from the airline

Q. When traveling with my brother's family we got stuck in Denver. My brother stood in a long line at customer service for Frontier who immediately turned him away saying, "You bought your ticket through a third party, we can't help you." This was close to midnight, customer service would not even hear the issue. We have to cobble together different airlines because we fly into tiny airports in southern Colorado so we do use Travelocity, Expedia or whatever -- which they were calling the third party. So how to cobble together airlines without using a third party so that we are not turned down when the trip goes awry -- particularly late at night? Do travel agents still exist?

A. You're correct that sites like Expedia and Travelocity are useful for "cobbling together" itineraries that combine flights on more than one airline to find the best fares and schedules. But those sites are indeed travel agencies. Not "bricks and mortar" travel agencies, but online travel agencies (OTAs) with 800 numbers and customer service agents. You should have or could have called them for help rather than going through Frontier. Frontier has been very aggressive in pushing consumers to buy on their own website (by offering more frequent flyer miles, avoiding carry on bag fees, and allowing advance seat selection, among other things), and perhaps this unhelpful response was just another manifestation of this policy. In any case, at midnight in Denver there was probably little chance to be put on another flight. Depending on the cause of the problem, travel insurance might have helped defray the costs of a hotel room, meals and other expenses, but probably Frontier was under no obligation to defray those costs since there's no regulation or law requiring them to do so. 

Image via Shutterstock

First Time Family Trip to Europe

Q. I am planning our family vacation in Europe in the first two weeks of August. We'd like to see Rome, Venice, Florence, Switzerland/Lucern, Paris and London. We have never been to Europe. What type of trip (escorted tour, guided tour or independent tour) do you suggest? Do you have suggestions on which web site or tour companies?

A. I would say first that two weeks isn't enough time to enjoy all those cities, and I doubt that you'd find a guided two-week tour that covered them all. You'd probably need at least three days -- including travel time -- in each city, and I'd probably save Switzerland for another visit. You could conceivably do the Italian cities you mentioned plus Paris and London in 15 days. If you're not an experienced traveler to these countries, you might want to consider consulting a travel agent. Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers for suggestions. You could also join a guided tour for part of your trip and see the other cities on your own. For example, Go Ahead Tours is offering an 11-day tour of Paris, London and Rome and then at the end you could visit Venice and/or Florence independently. Tours can be pricey, however. That Go Ahead tour costs $3,700 with airfare from New York CIty, based on double occupancy. A great site to get ideas of where to stay and what to do is the aptly named TripAdvisor. And you might save money by renting short-term apartments in each city using sites like FlipKey or AirBnB, especially if there are four or more in your group. Just be careful when booking on those sites because there are scam artists exploiting visitors.

Image via Shutterstock

TSA locks for European Travel

Q. We are flying to Europe this June. Are TSA Locks worth the cost? Can they be opened in European airports?

A. I don't believe they can always be unlocked outside the TSA jurisdiction and generally don't think they're worthwhile when traveling abroad. Many travelers have reported finding these locks snipped open by international security personnel anyways. Might as well just leave your bags unlocked and, as always, keep any valuables and electronics in your carry-on.

Image via Shutterstock

Lost Luggage Compensation

Q. I will be flying on United Airlines from a domestic U.S. airport to an international destination with a connection in Houston. If my luggage is lost, would domestic or international lost luggage compensation rules apply?

A. Even though you began your trip in the U.S. and connected within the U.S., your trip would be considered an international itinerary. International lost luggage compensation, which is typically lower than domestic compensation, would apply. Domestic compensation tops out at $3300. Compensation for luggage lost on an international flight is capped at 1000 “Special Drawing Rights,” a currency established by the International Monetary Fund, and is governed by the Montreal Convention. One SDR is currently equal to USD $1.50, so your maximum compensation would be $1500. On most airlines, you can buy additional excess baggage valuation (typically up to $5000 of coverage) for a reasonable fee when you check in your bags.

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