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Entries during 2008-06

Flexible International Searches

Q. Do any of the travel sites allow you to do flexible searches for international flights? Most that I have seen require exact dates for international flights. The only way to compare different dates is to do multiple searches. The flexible grids -used by Travelocity and others- showing +/- 1-3 days would also be nice.

A. Actually, Travelocity does offer international flex searches now, just not for all routes. Previously, you may recall, they allowed international flex searches but failed to tack on hefty fuel surcharges, and the Department of Transportation objected and asked them to cut it out altogether.

You might also want to try ITAsoftware.com. although you can't book through them, it's good for reference; and ZUJI.com is worth a look although it prices in foreign currencies and isn't always accurate.

Get me to the church on time...and, if possible, for under $1000 too, thanks.

Q. I'm having a wedding in Italy in late September. My fiance and I thought September would be a good month for our relatives to travel to Europe because flight costs typically drop in the fall. Over the last few years, I've been able to find airfares for about $500-600 in off-peak seasons (I live in New York City). I'm a little concerned, though, that I haven't seen much in the way of fall sales yet. In the past, I've seen seen discounted fares offered by now for post-Labor Day travel. A friend recently speculated that the prices may not be reduced this year due to rising energy costs. If you were me, would you tell your guests to wait to buy tickets to Italy or to buy any fare below $1,000 now?

 

A. As you have probably already realized, nothing about air travel is quite what it used to be. Normally, now would be a good time to start looking for cheaper fall sales, but the September fares I've been tracking just went up rather than down last week after holding steady for over a month.

Most nonstop routes to Europe saw upward adjustments of $30-60 across the board, although a few jumped by as much as $300-400. They may all come down to previous levels again, but a bottom of $600-800 for early fall travel does seem to have been established. If airlines can't sell seats at these rates, they may simply discontinue service at a moment's notice.

None of those fares included Rome, which is generally a rather pricey destination, although less so this year thanks to Air One's new nonstop service from Boston and Chicago to Milan. Fall fares on these routes have long been available for $800, although they have been as low as $700, with connecting service to Rome and other Italian cities for $50-200 more.

From New York, your best bet is often Eurofly whose nonstop flights to Rome, Bologna and Naples regularly go on sale. Back in April, fares for early summer travel were $575 RT nonstop including taxes, so it wouldn't be entirely unreasonable to expect similar deals in the fall, but perhaps not until October or November.

From New York, September fares currently start at $880 RT nonstop with taxes, and these are available even for short weekend trips (e.g. 9/26-28), perfect for a Saturday wedding. From other U.S. cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, you can find fares on connecting service for slightly less.

That's still $200-300 more than you'd pay to get to London, Frankfurt or Paris, so on a relative basis this is not cheap, although with everything in flux, it's simply impossible to know if better deals are forthcoming. Even intra-European fares to Rome are high, so our usual suggestion to try to arrange your own connection through a cheaper gateway may not be worthwhile.

Incidentally, Eurofly also has an on-going sale for August travel with 10-15% off for families traveling together that would suit your nuptials well, so I advice you to contact the airline at 800-459-0581 to find out if they anticipate having a similar sale for September travel.

I hope it all works out for you so you can have the most romantic Roman wedding ever!

Schedule Changes: You're at their mercy

Q. We booked our international flight originating from an airport about 75 miles away instead of from our home airport specifically because the itinerary was better and we would only have to make one connection instead of two. A month after receiving our paper tickets we found out that both of our domestic flights had been cancelled and we would have to make two connections each way after all. Even worse, the new domestic flights that they switched us to would have caused us to miss our international connection!

After some serious phone time, we did get booked on a new domestic flight that would arrive in time for us to connect to our international flight, but we had to leave three hours earlier. If we had known that would happen we could have flown from our local airport. Failing that, we could have eliminated the first flight (Louisville-Cincinnati) and driven to Cincinnati instead of Louisville in about the same amount of time. The airline would not allow us to do either of these things without a penalty. It doesn't seem fair considering that they were the ones to cancel the flights and it would not cost them any more (and possibly less if we took only two of the three flights) to accommodate us. To add insult to injury, the flight that we were re-booked on was also cancelled on the way back so we had to be rerouted through Atlanta and arrived 5-6 hours late. Is this sort of treatment typical? It doesn't seem right when you buy the tickets based on the itinerary and then end up with an entirely different one.

A. Yes, this sort of thing is happening more and more frequently. And if the airlines don't watch out, they're going to re-regulated. Honestly, I suggest writing to your congressman, and demanding more consumer protection from the airlines. You can also find a lot of great info on a much needed Passengers Bill of Rights by visiting www.flyersrights.com. Until such a bill is passed, there's not much passengers can do aside from making your case to the airline, repeatedly. Always make sure to escalate your case to a customer service rep, as opposed to a reservationist.

Fewer Seats and for More Miles

Q. When do you think airline mileage plan points are going to be devalued by the airlines increasing the number of points required for flights?

A. Frequent flyer miles will be harder to cash in from September onward because airlines are cutting capacity 8-12% or more on all seats, and that will reduce the number of frequent flyer seats proportionally. In addition, I've noticed that it's usually very hard to cash in miles on popular routes at the standard 25000 mile domestic seat award level. More often, they offer you the 45,000 or 50,000 "anytime" award level.

On top of that, yes I do think that sometime in 2009 or sooner they'll officially start requiring more miles, especially on international routes. I wouldn't be surprised to see 30,000 miles as the standard domestic award level, and I'm surprised they haven't done this sooner. And if more airlines merge or stop flying, the remaining ones will pretty much be able to do whatever they want with their loyalty programs.

What happens to my credit if Spirit goes under?

Q. Due to a family emergency last December, I had to cancel a trip and have since been holding a credit of over $3,000 on Spirit Airlines to use toward future air travel. I plan to use it for a family trip to Costa Rica in November. With the major cutbacks in service and personnel that they are having, if they DO go under or they are no longer serving Costa Rica, do you know what my rights are? Would my bank credit card company get involved to recover the money? Any advice for what I should do in the meantime?

 

A. If Spirit goes under there is no protection other than standing in line at bankruptcy court, which would be fruitless. Because the payment was made last December, credit card protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act would not cover you (that protection only kicks in if you challenge the charge within 60 days of the charge appearing on your credit card statement). In the meanwhile, just hope that Spirit keeps flying. And next time, consider travel insurance.

Roundtrips and One-ways

Q. Why don't you list one-way fares? That would be so much easier!

A. In the olden days of Airfarewatchdog, we did list fares as oneway -- and on occasion we still do, for the odd sale from Spirit, Allegiant, USA 3000 and others  --  but most folks travel round-trip and prefer us to list fares as such. Here's a quick list of airlines that sell all their fares for half the round-trip price that we list:

  • AirTran
  • Southwest
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • WestJet
  • ExpressJet
  • JetBlue

 

 

Breaking down fare codes

Q. Can you explain what the numbers and letters mean on the fare basis code.
I have a flight booked on Northwest with the code T7RV3N. Can you
decode that? Is there a table that lists the various codes that I can
refer to for future flights?

A. Well, the first letter is the fare class, T for example is a really cheap non-refundable fare. Y means full fare economy, and F is full fare first class. M and B are discounted but more flexible economy class fares. 7 refers to the advance purchase requirement (7 days); the 3 as in 3N means there's a 3 night minimum stay.

TR21M1SN would mean a non-refundable coach ticket with a 21 nigh advance purchase and a 1 night min. stay

As far as we know, there's no hard and fast set of rules as to how the airlines come up with these codes, and they vary from airline to airline.

Look out for unfair loopholes in travel insurance!

Q. I bought travel insurance directly from AIG Travel Guard. But then my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I was not able to take the flight. I thought I was covered under the terms of the policy, but the insurance company refused to reimburse me for my non-refundable airfare because my mom is not a US citizen and lives in a foreign country. Is this a common exclusion? I'm a US citizen and I was the one who bought the coverage. This doesn't seem fair at all to me.

A. There are all kinds of loopholes in travel insurance policies, and although it's difficult to read all the fine print (some of which runs to 7000 words or more--we checked it by pasting a contract into Microsoft word and doing a word count), it's a good idea to read the contract. Travel Guard does appear to exclude non US citizens from coverage in this scenario. And here's another loophole: one of our readers bought travel insurance directly from an airline site (the insurer was again TravelGuard) but was informed that she wasn't covered due to a pre-existing condition. If you buy insurance directly from TravelGuard within 15 days of purchasing your travel, you are covered for pre-existing conditions. But it seems that protection bought through airline web sites when buying your ticket is not the same thing. These airline-sold policies are relatively cheap, but don't buy them unless you study the fine print.

Fine-tuning your City-to-City Alert Settings

Q. I signed up for alerts from New York JFK to Los Angeles, and hadn't received anything from you. But then I noticed on the site that there was a great $225 RT fare from LaGaurdia to LA on the site. Wouldn't I automatically get alerts from LaGuardia to LA as well?

A. Actually, no. Because some people only fly out of favorite airports, we don't assume that you'd take a connecting flight out of LGA to save money. So if you're airport-flexible, you should sign up for alerts to/from any alternate airports that you'd be willing to fly through.

Star Alliance Miles: Reading the Fine Print

Q. My daughter and I recently completed a trip from Denver to Stockholm on SAS/United. The SAS portion is giving me just 25% of the miles earned. No where on my itinerary can I find information stating that my economy fare does this. In fact, when I click on airline conditions and terms it states there are none provided.I am a United Premier Member. I was counting on these 6000 miles to get Premier Executive status by fall. Any suggestions?

A. Unfortunately, SAS does clearly state this policy on their website:

The principle is simple, the more you spend the more points you earn. For the cheapest tickets you will earn 25% of the points you earn for a normal Economy ticket, check how many points you earn in our earn points table.

 

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