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Entries during 2007-07

Know Your Rights (and know where to find them)

Q: I just finished reading your column on coping with airline delays and cancellations, and was very interested in your last tip: "Know your rights. If you are heading out to a wedding or other scheduled event (such as a meeting or funeral), and you're going to miss it entirely because your outbound flight is canceled or delayed, the airline is required to refund you in full even if you have a nonrefundable ticket. You do not have to take whatever flight the airline gives you."

How can this be? Is it too good to be true? This happened to me several years ago, and I got the short end of the stick from the airline. Can you give more information on this wonderful idea please? Also, could you give me a reference for it that I can present the next time the need arises? Which law or industry agreement does this come from? Are there any other sneaky gotchas or conditions that must be satisfied?

A: You might find this page on the site interesting:

Here you'll find links to the airlines' contracts of carriage.

Click on the Delta link for example. On Page 48 of this PDF document it reads,

RULE 240:

C. Schedule Changes, Delays, & Flight Cancellations within Delta's Control

When, as a result of factors within Delta's control, you miss a connection due to flight delays, your flight is cancelled, or a substitution of equipment results in a change in the class of service that you purchased or prevents us from transporting you, Delta will provide you with the following:

1. Transportation to Your Destination

Delta will transport you to your destination on our next flight on which seats are available in the class of service you originally purchased. At our sole discretion, we may arrange for your travel on another carrier or via ground transportation. If acceptable to you, we will transport you in a lower class of service, in which case you may be entitled to a partial refund as set forth below. If space on the next available flight is available only in a higher class of service than you purchased, we will transport you on the flight, although we reserve the right to upgrade other passengers on the flight according to our upgrade priority policy to make space for you in the class of service you originally purchased.

2. Full or Partial Refund

If some or all of your ticket is unused, you may be entitled to a refund. Any refunds will be made as provided in Rule 260.

Rule 260 reads:


A) The amount carrier will refund upon surrender of the unused portion of the passenger's tickets:

1) If no portion of the ticket has been used the refund will be an amount equal to the fare paid (editor's note: this applies if you decide not to embark on a "futile journey" from your origin point.)

So as you can see, if for example there is a mechanical cancellation (as happened to me recently) and you decide that your trip will be in vain, Delta will refund your fare. Other airlines have similar policies. You may have to fight to get the refund, and wait, but you are entitled to it. Of course, airlines hope that people won't apply for refunds so they can keep the funds. And as you can see in Rule 240, Delta (and some other airlines) will even put you on a competitor's flight or fly you in first class if that's what it takes to get you to your destination. But you have to ask for this (assuming that you can find a seat on another airline, which is becoming increasingly difficult).

Alitalia pulls a fast one when they bump a passenger

Q: I was slated to fly from Boston to Rome (nonstop) to meet my friend from Indianapolis who was waitng for me there. I arrived at the airport about 2 1/2 hours ahead of my scheduled 6:15 pm take-off. After waiting for almost 2 hours in a huge line, the folks at Alitalia closed off the ticket/boarding pass gates. We were told that they would be with us shortly. After about a half hour, the staff then announced that their was no more room left on this flight! I was bewildered because I had purchased my ticket in April and here it was late June?? I was amongst about 10 or so people who were shut out of this flight because "We overbooked this flight". After unsuccessfully trying to put me on a 9:45 pm flight on Lufthansa, my options were: 1) Take a flight the next night at 6pm to Milan and then change planes after a layover to Rome; 2) Wait 2 nights and fly Boston to Rome on a similar flight. I opted for the 1st option because of my friend who was waiting for me in Rome. Alitalia then gave me a 125 euro ($168 USD) voucher to use on my next flight on Alitalia for all my troubles. They're awlful presumptuous to think that I'd ever want to fly with them again!!  My question is, is this common practice for some airlines to conduct this type of business? Can they be held accountable for this?

A: Alitalia pulled a fast one here. According to Bill Mosley, aviation spokesman for the US DOT, bumping compensation rules apply to all flights originating in the US, no matter where they're headed. Those rules stipulate compensation ranging from $200 to $400 per passenger, depending on the cost of the ticket and the length of the delay. You would be entitled to the full $400, an amount which, unfortunately, has not changed in many years and is in woeful need of an adjustment for inflation (Congress is currently considering an overhaul of these rules; write your representatives and urge them to follow through). You should file a complaint with the DOT and go back to Alitalia and explain that they are not following the rules.

A Slap on their Wrist, A Blow to your Wallet

Q. I was bumped from my flight last week, which caused me to arrive at my destination two days later and $500 lighter, and all I was given was a measly $200 voucher. This can't be normal, can it?

A: Normal, yes. Acceptable, no. According to Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal, this is becoming increasingly more common. Airlines routinely bump passengers who booked the lower discounted fare for walk-ups who willingly pay the big bucks for those last-minute fares. There is a penalty that airlines must pay for doing this, but it isn't much. In fact, the penalty fees are set so low that airlines may actually profit when bumping the little guy. What can you do about it? Complain and make a fuss. Write your Congressperson and demand higher penalty fees.

Consolidator Cons

Q: I read about consolidators all the time. Which ones are reliable? What are the negatives in using one?

A: Consolidators (also known as ticket wholesalers) do indeed sometimes have lower fares than you'll find with a retail travel agency such as Travelocity or your local travel agent (although sometimes these agents can sell you consolidated tickets).

But there are drawbacks. Consolidators have a history of going out of business without a trace. Indeed, a very large and well known consolidator based in Washington DC went out of business several years back, leaving passengers stranded. This agency had been in business for many years and then just went poof.

So if it can happen to a big agency, it can also happen to the hundreds of smaller mom and pop agencies out there.

Consolidator fares tend not to be so much lower during peak travel periods or seasons, and the best fares are in the shoulder or off seasons when travel slackens.

Also, consolidator fares don't come with the same "rights" or protections that full retail fares have. You may not be able to collect frequent flyer miles or get advance seat selection. And should you miss your flight or need to cancel or change it for any reason, the ticket may have no value whatsoever--you can just rip it up. This happened to a reader of ours who arrived at the airport for an international flight with just 60 minutes to spare due to a traffic jam. He and his wife were told that although there were seats available on the next flight out (he had missed check in for his original flight), they'd have to buy full fare last minute economy fares.

And, if the airline cancels or delays your flight, they probably won't "protect" you on another airline flying the route, as they might with a "real" ticket. You'll have to wait for your original airline's next flight with space available.

It's kind of like buying electronics or a camera on the "gray market." You just don't get a full USA warranty!

Besides which, if you track our lists of unadvertised "retail" fares and our airfare blog entries, you'll find deals that even consolidators can't match, without the risk. See our best deals from your city.

Refund Rights for Lengthy Delays

Q. I am writing with a question about the possibility of getting a refund for a long flight delay. Last Sunday I was supposed to fly with Transavia from Treviso to Amsterdam and the flight had a 10-hour delay. We were given a lousy food voucher and nothing else. One of my fellow passengers said that as of February this year airlines are supposed to refund airfare for flights delayed more then 5 hours. Is that right? The Transavia staff of course never mentioned this possibility.

A. Your fellow passenger is correct. According to European Economic Community regulations on passenger delays, if your flight is delayed by five or more hours, you are entitled to a refund and, if you're left stranded in the middle of your connection, a flight back to your original point of departure. You should definitely point this out to the folks at Transavia, but keep in mind that most airlines aren't exactly eager to hand out a refund. It may take a little hounding on your part to cut through their runaround. Check our Rules of Carriage page for the EEC regulations in their entirety.

Combining frequent flyer miles from two airlines to get a free ticket

Q: How can I combine miles from different airlines who are all partners.  Since the award travel can be on any of the partners, it seems having all the miles accrue in one place would be best.

A: I don't know of a way to spend 25000 miles, say, on American and another 25,000 from BA, for instance, to get a 50000 mile award; however, many airlines let you earn and burn miles on their partners. If you fly airline A, you can often put any accrued miles in partner airline B's program; and you can use miles earned on airline B for a free ticket on airline A. You just can't take miles earned on airline A and put them in your airline B account to earn a flight on B.

Many people like the flexibility of the American Express Membership Rewards program, which allows you to transfer mileage points to nearly 20 airline frequent flyer programs, including AirTran, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Singapore and Southwest. Right now they're offering 25,000 bonus points for your first purchase using the Amex Gold Rewards Card for small business. Your points stay in a pool until you're ready to transfer and spend them on the airline of your choice.

Allegiant Airlines' Hidden Charges

Q: Don't you think it's false advertising to promote Allegiant Airlines' low fares considering that they charge $11 for seat assignments and for all checked luggage? Also, if the cancel a flight they only have one flight a day (and on some routes they don't fly every day) so you'll be stuck.

A: No, not at all. They're fares, all of which are for nonstop flights, are still bargains. Southwest doesn't even have the option of assigned seats, and I don't hear people giving them a hard time. It is what it is. And Allegiant is pretty up front about the seat assignment charge. They also charge for all drinks and snacks, which they detail as well on their site. However, they don't state how much they charge for bags checked underneath the plane. They should be more upfront about this (Spirit also charge for bags and all beverages, as did the now defunct Skybus). Still, if you don't mind where you sit and you don't check bags, Allegiant's fares are incredibly low.

As for the lack of flight frequency, the major airlines are so full that you'll have trouble finding a seat on their next flight out if they cancel your flight.

10 Tips for the Stranded Passenger

Q: Friends who have traveled by air recently have told us horror stories about missed connections. One couple missed their connection in Chicago because of a late incoming flight and spent two days at the airport before the airline could find them seats on an onward flight. Is there any way to avoid situations like this or at least make them less likely? What are my rights if I miss a connection or the flight is severely delayed?

A: This is proving to be a miserable year for delays and cancellations. Plane are full to capacity, making it difficult for airlines to find you a seat on another flight should your flight experience problems. Here are some tips to help you avoid inconvenience, and some suggestions about what to do if things fall apart:

1. Avoid connecting flights altogether. They are the flyer's worst enemy. Yes, airlines often charge more for nonstops, but it's worth the extra money.

2. If there is no nonstop flight, then build extra time into your itinerary for the connection. Don't take the connecting flight that gives you just 45 minutes to change planes at a busy airport; instead, ask for a 2 to 4 hour layover to make the connection. You may not be able to do this online, but rather you'll have to call a travel agent or the airline directly. Yes, it will cost you more (airlines charge extra to book over the phone, and travel agents charge too) but it's worth it. Hate longer layovers? Bring a good book. You'll hate spending two days on a cot at O'Hare even more, trust me.

3. Shun chronically late flights. Every domestic US flight is assigned a number from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning that the flight is historically on time between 0 and 10% of the time, and 10 meaning it is on time between 90 and 100% of the time. You can get this data on some airline sites, or call the airline to find it. Some flights are indeed late 100% of the time. Try to book only 9's and 10's.

4. Call your airline to reconfirm that your flight is operating on time (or operating at all). Do this several weeks, several days, and several hours before your flight. I've heard so many stories from readers lately about airlines scrapping flights from their schedules entirely (not just canceling one flight, but the entire route or the entire flight schedule) and not notifying passengers until they got to the airport. I wouldn't rely on having the airline contact you, although if you wish, sure, give them your phone number, email address, and mobile phone number. Just bet your trip on the expectation that they'll call you.

5. Book the first flight of the day. Just as your doctor or dentist will see you on time if you're the first appointment, first of the day flights tend to be on time as well.

6. Know beforehand what your alternatives are on other airlines if you miss your connection or your initial outbound flight is cancelled or delayed. Some airlines will put you on a competitor's next flight out if the "flight irregularity" (as they're called in airlne-speak) was within their control (a mechanical problem, for instance)., others won't. If you fly frequently, you might want to carry a printed or PDA copy of the Official Airline Guide ( so you can propose alternate flights on the spot.

7. If your flight is cancelled or delayed, get in line with the other unfortunates, but while waiting call the airline on your mobile phone to make other arrangements. By the time you get to the front of the line at the check in desk all the alternative seats may be booked.

8. Prepare for the worst. If all else fails, make sure that you (and your kids, if any) have books, games, and other distractions in your carryon luggage. Many airlines sell day passes to their club lounges, a more attractive alternative than sitting at the gate listening to those awful TV and PA broadcasts.

9. If you're stranded at the airport overnight, ask for a hotel room, meals, and transportation nicely (and out of earshot of other passengers). Airlines are not required to provide you with these amenities, and they'll do so only out of the kindness of their hearts on a first come basis. They may only have a few rooms to hand out if dozens of flights are cancelled, and asking privately and politely is the best way to snag one.

10. Know your rights. If you are heading out to wedding or other scheduled event (meeting, funeral, whatever), and you're going to miss it entirely because your flight outbound flight is cancelled or delayed, even if you have a non-refundable ticket the airline is required to refund you in full. You do not have to take whatever flight the airline gives you.

New airfare website

Q: Have you heard of this new airfare booking site I thought you might want to check it out.

A: In truth, we hadn't. But it looks like they show both published and "wholesale" fares, including business and first class, and specialize in international flights. They also offer a flexible search (4 days earlier or later) for international flights, which is great. The downside? At $30 a pop, their booking fees are a little pricey. And, for the routes we checked, the fares aren't exactly the lowest.

We'll be interested in comments from other visitors. Are they worth the clicks?

A Secret Passage to Orbitz Savings

Q. You recently posted a fare to Berlin for $624 but when I set out to actually book this fare with, it was nowhere to be found. The lowest I found, even when I used flexible search, was $900-something. But here's the strange part. When I clicked to book the $900 fare, I was then shown the lower $624 fare! What in the world?

A. This is something we run into quite a bit during our Orbitz fare hunting.  We have no idea why some fares are hidden in this way, but it happens, and it's a good idea to click through those search results to see what bargains lurk beneath.
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