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Entries during 2008-07

Pre-Pay Tickets at Today's Fares?

Q. I've been wondering if it is possible to pre-pay, that is, pre-buy round trip tickets to a specific location for future use at today's prices? I've just returned from a trip to the mid-west from the west coast for a family member's funeral. I can see this happening again, and in the not too distant future, as my elderly aunts are nearing their final rest. ( Two in their late 80s and one in her 90s !) Since bereavement fares aren't really a bargain any more, it would seem to me to be beneficial to at least be able to lock in my ticket when prices are more reasonable. Do you know of any airlines offering such a service?

A. It's not really possible to pre-pay at discounted sale prices for future travel... as it is, the airlines make quite a bit of money from the higher fares charged to last minute travelers and from change fees when people do need to alter the itineraries of their previously purchased tickets (plus the traveler has to pay the difference in fare when there is one, and there usually is.) Right now, given how the entire industry is struggling financially, we can't imagine them making such a drastic change to benefit consumers.

In the meantime, you're right to steer clear of those bereavement fares. We recommend using's Name Your Own Price for last minute travel arrangements. Sure, your ticket comes with a ton of restrictions, and you're pretty much at the mercy of the airline should you miss your flight, but it's hard to argue with a low fare when you're in a pinch. During a family emergency of our own last month, we were able to book a next-day flight from New York to Jacksonville FL for about $190 round-trip, which really had us wowed.

Determining Taxes & Fees

Q. About how much are taxes and fees? Is there some ballpark figure I can add in so I don't get sticker shock at the checkout counter? While checking for trips from Sacramento to Columbus OH, I noticed taxes seem to be so expensive these days!

A. Unfortunately, there's no set amount to plug in for taxes and fees, because they vary by airport, airline, and according to the number of connections you make. For example, traveling midweek from Sacramento to Columbus on Continental, with one connection in Houston, we found taxes to be $33 on a base fare of $276.

Book now or wait for something better

Q. I'm trying to make it home to a wedding in Charleston, SC the last week of September from where I currently live in Honolulu. The flights right now are listed around $900 round-trip. I've occasionally seen deals for around $650 to $750. Do you see the flights getting any cheaper, or should I cut my losses and take the $900 flight? Does flying between 2 vacation destinations make a difference in when I should look for cheap flights home in general?

A. Low season for both destinations intersect around January to March, so fares may be generally cheaper then. We'd also suggest signing up for any one of our newsletters to keep on top of sales. Given that it's a wedding and your dates aren't flexible... it's better safe than sorry as far as booking travel. If it were us, we'd do it now, just for our own peace of mind.

Name Your Own Price, Hope Nothing Goes Wrong

Q. We booked a flight using Priceline's Name Your Own Price. Our flight left at 6:20 a.m. on Wednesday and we, very unfortunately, slept through our 3:00 a.m. alarm. We called Northwest on our way to the airport at 5:30 and they said we would be put on standby for the next flight. When we arrived at the front desk, they told us we had to call Priceline.

Priceline said they would put in a standby request, but that the right to fly was at the discretion of the airline. When we went back up to the desk, we were told that they saw nothing in the computer, would not put us on standby and, oh by the way, your return flight is invalid as well.

I know that missing the original flight was our fault, but can you explain why Northwest would not put us on standby and why the return flight was cancelled?

A. Most likely your "name your own price" fare was what they call a consolidator or bulk fare, and these fares are often "use it or lose it"--they have no value if you miss your flight, and that's why they're so cheap.

Sorry you had this experience. It's one reason why we don't list these fares on

Rule 260: Involuntary Refunds

Q. We had long-standing reservations for a flight to St Louis, connecting in Atlanta. Departure time from our home city was 8:30 am.

We received an email timed at midnight (which we didn't see right away) and then a 5:00 am automated phone call from Delta telling us the flights had been cancelled, and that we'd been placed on another series of flights departing around noon. It would have gotten us to St Louis within five hours of our original arrival time.

The new timing did not work for us, so I called Delta (and after being on hold for quite a while) the reissue desk allowed us to cancel with a full refund ... since they said that it was an involuntary change on our part.

Is this common? I mean, I'm grateful to have a full refund, but with all the schedule changes in the air today, is it Delta's policy to fully refund if THEY change the flights?


A. Yes indeed, this is called an involuntary refund and most airlines have a rule in their contracts of carriage covering this. If the flight is cancelled, or the time significantly changed (depending on airline, if it's just an hour or two this doesn't apply) you can get a full refund, even on a non refundable ticket.

You'll find this rule (usually called Rule 260) in the airlines' contracts of carriage. So if you feel like the new flight times are so far off the original that you can't make it to the airport in time, or your trip will be futile, ask for a refund.

Will my flight be on-time?

Q. I am flying to Vegas from Tulsa in November on United. My flight itinerary leaves Tulsa at 1:08 pm arriving in Denver at 1:50, departing Denver 2:55 arriving Vegas 3:50. What are my chances that this flight will be on time and I will not be late for a 6:00pm engagement?

A. On time departures and arrivals vary according to weather (and not just in the departure and arrival cities), time of day of the flight, the airport and the airline.To get a better feel of your chances of landing on time, you can visit the US Department of Transportation Bureau of Statistics webpage, where you can track on-time statistics by airline, airport and flight number. If your flight has a lousy on-time track record, you might consider switching to an earlier flight.

Early Departures, Stranded Passengers

Q: We checked in for our flight an hour before take off time, got our boarding passes from an automated kiosk, and proceeded through security. When we got to the gate, there were no seats, so we went to a nearby food court area and had a cup of coffee and a bagel. About five minutes before the final boarding time (when they were supposedly going to shut the doors) we presented ourselves for boarding but guess what: they had shut the door, and detached the Jetway. They would not let us on. It seems that everyone was on board (except us) and they decided to close the flight a few minutes early in order to ensure an on time arrival. Is this some new kind of airline policy? Are all airlines doing this?

A: I have heard of this happening. Airlines do sometimes close flights ahead of schedule if they determine that everyone is on board. They fill seats of the "no shows" with last minute or standby passengers (often those passengers are paying higher last minute fares, so it boosts the airline's bottom line). Something a bit similar happened to me a while back: they said the flight would be delayed for two hours, so I went browsing in the airport shops, and returned to the gate about 45 minutes after the two hour delay was announced. And guess what: no plane. Oh, they said they had paged all the passengers who weren't on board, and explained that they fixed the problem faster than they expected and just took off without me. I guess the lesson here is don't wander far.

Faulty Flap Ruins Vacation

Q. My family and I had boarded our flight to Houston, the doors were closed, and we were ready to go. But before we left the gate, it was discovered that there was a mechanical problem with the flaps. The flight was cancelled. We were put on a plane at 6:30 a.m. the following day. We were told there would be no compensation for the delay, which was a short weekend getaway to start with. Is this normal? Can they do this on mechanical delay. Do we have any recourse?

A. Unfortunately, they can. Consumers in the US have little protections when it comes to situations like this, something completely within the airline's control, whereas in Europe, you would have received several hundred dollars in compensation. I certainly hope they refunded your money, but I'll bet they'll keep the taxes/fees. You should certainly write their customer relations department and ask for a voucher good for a future flight, at the very least.

Refunding the Non-Refundable

Q. When I checked for a weekend trip to Toronto one recent Friday, American Airlines informed me that my flight was delayed. Then it was cancelled. I was scheduled to return on Sunday, but there were no seats available until the following Saturday afternoon, so I said the heck with it, what's the point of going. Although I had a non-refundable ticket, can I get my money back?

A. Yes, you should be able to get a refund for sure, even on a non-refundable fare, under American's contract of carriage. You can see links to the airlines' contracts here. Click on the American link and read section 10.

Where have all the great fares gone?

Q. A few months ago, you guys had really good fares. Now a lot of the fares you list I wouldn't consider bargains at all. What happened?

A: Just as it's costing more to fill up your gas tank, it's costing more for airlines to fly their planes, plus they're cutting routes and seat capacity. So while we do indeed still have some great fares (see our Top 50) we all need to rethink what a bargain is in light of new economic realities. In the past, we seldom listed fares over $300 RT, but everything is relative, as Einstein used to say, and it's time we readjust. It's unlikely we'll see another SkyBus selling fares for $10.

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