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Entries during 2010-07

Destination Wedding Deals

Q. I'm planning a destination wedding with anywhere from 20 to 40 guests in attendance. Any suggestions on getting the best air fare for all?

A. If they're all departing from the same city, you might be able to book a group rate, either through a travel agent or calling the airline's group travel desk. Otherwise, if they're coming from multiple departure cities, you might want to sign up for one of our alerts that lists all the fares we've found from all over to a single destination (it's the second type of alert on our Fare Alerts page.)

Seat Pocket Black Hole to Nowhere

Q. My 13 year old left her iPod (no identification on it) in her seat pocket of a Southwest flight two weeks ago.  It was heading off to another destination by the time we realized it was gone and we were heading down to baggage claim. We filed a lost and found claim. What are the chances that the iPod (if it was turned in) will be matched up to the claim form?  Should my child just give up hope and chart it up to a lesson learned?  

A. Chances are not great that it will be returned. I advise people to never, ever put anything in the seat back pocket. It’s a big black hole, a sure way to lose or forget things (plus who knows what else is in there—yuck!) and just pretend it’s not even there.  I once put my passport in a seatback pocket and went to find it as the flight was landing, and it had disappeared. Miraculously, Virgin Atlantic found it after the plane had flown on to Orlando from London, and returned it to my London hotel in time for my trip back to the US. But that was sheer luck. I do recommend that people label all valuables (phones, games, laptops, eyeglasses, passports, whatever) with an email address. Any labeling device, such as a Brother P-touch or Dymo, will suffice.

Catch the earlier flight, minus the fee

Q. Which airlines do not charge a fee for flying stand by on an earlier flight?  I occasionally get to a connecting airport and have the time to make an earlier connection, however, I always get the "well, for $50 you can fly earlier..."  

A. As we read the rules, Airtran, JetBlue and US Airways will allow you to take an earlier flight on the same day, on a non-confirmed standby basis only, without charge. However, most airlines now charge a fee, typically $50 for domestic flights, if you wish to change your flight on the same day of travel and get a confirmed seat. Southwest Airlines’ official policy is a bit different: there’s no “charge” as such to change your flight, but you’re supposed to pay the then-current last minute “walk up” fare (so if your original fare was $39 and the current last minute fare that day is $109, you’ll pay the $70 difference). We’ve heard, however, that Southwest ticket agents often “neglect” to collect the fare difference.

Cash Back vs Miles

Q. I’m using up my frequent flier miles as fast as I can because they're getting impossible to use, plus they keep on adding fees and increasing the miles required for a “free” ticket. So I'm going to get rid of my airline credit cards and switch to “cash back” card. Which one do you recommend?

A. We like the Blue Cash Card from American Express, which gives you unlimited 5% cash back on purchases made at gas stations, grocery stores, and drug stores and 1.25% on everything else, once your spending reaches $6500.

Taking Care of Business

Q. I just used 50,000 frequent flier miles to book a flight in business class from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Never having flown business before, what type of services can I expect? Online, I saw that there is an upper section, and a lower cabin section, both with business class seats. Can you tell me which would be best, and which section is safest and easier to exit, in case of mishaps ( I always look for my escape route when I get on board)?
 
A. You’re probably flying on a 747 in that case, and I’d opt for the upper deck, since there’s less foot traffic and it’s generally quieter and more “private.” Don’t worry, there are emergency escape slides from the upper deck and it’s probably much easier to exit from the upper deck in the unlikely event of an emergency, since there are fewer passengers. It depends on the airline, but business class seats these days generally recline to a fully-flat, horizontal position, allowing for a more comfortable snooze, and you’ll find a wider choice of meal options and more attentive service. But the main draw is a more comfortable seat. Asian-based airlines such as Singapore and Cathay Pacific generally offer a better experience than United, Delta, and Continental.

Prevent Miles from Expiring

Q. I need to preserve some United Airlines MileagePlus frequent flyer miles that are due to expire soon, but I don’t have a United credit card and I don’t plan to fly on them or on a partner airline any time soon. Any suggestions?

A. There’s no excuse for anyone to have miles expire. Most airlines have shopping mall sites where they will award you anywhere between 1 and even up to 24 bonus frequent flyer miles for every dollar spent (that’s in addition to at least 1 mile per dollar charged on a frequent flyer-affiliated credit card). So, for example, if you spent $10 on drugstore.com, walmart.com, or hundreds of other merchant web sites, not only will you get bonus miles, but you will preserve any expiring frequent flyer miles. Airlines also have dining programs, which you can register for and when you dine at participating restaurants, you get bonus miles and also preserve miles. Since almost everyone shops or dines out, this is a great way to extend the life of your miles. You can use any credit card to make these purchases. For more information, check out our recent blog post on the subject.

Hassle Free Refunds for Fare Drops

Q. I just booked a flight to Chicago from Buffalo with Southwest for travel Sep. 16 to 20. I got it at a cost of 179.40 (including taxes). Now I see I could get it for a lesser price of $118. Is it possible to get refund for the difference?

A. As long as you’re traveling on the same flights and dates, Southwest will refund you the difference in the form of a voucher, good for travel up to a year from the date of the original purchase. JetBlue and Alaska also have this policy, but unfortunately most other domestic airlines will deduct $150 from any fare drop refund they provide to consumers.

Free of Baggage Fees

Q. Are there any airline companies that do not charge for luggage besides Southwest?

A. Southwest doesn't charge for the first or second bags, unless they're oversized or overweight. JetBlue also doesn't charge for the first checked bag, and neither does Air Canada or most other airlines flying internationally from the U.S. 

All other domestic U.S. airlines charge for checked bags, and as you may have heard, starting Aug. 1 Spirit Airlines will begin charging for any carry-on luggage that doesn't fit under the seat in front of you.

Pick a Seat, Pay a Fee

Q. I went to purchase and select seats on Airtran recently and imagine my surprise when there was a $6 charge to get a specific seat assignment. I understand the premium for extra legroom or exit row seats but for a regular seat? With connecting flights for my wife and me, for a roundtrip that adds $48 for the two of us. I felt like calling them and saying "no thanks, I will just stand during the flight". Do other airlines charge for seat assignments?

A. Fortunately, most airlines based in the U.S. do not. Southwest doesn’t offer seat assignments at all, paid or not; Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Airlines do charge to pick a seat (any seat). British Airways even charges business class customers to choose seats more than 24 hours ahead of departure.

Right Flight, Wrong Date

Q. Boy am I dumb. I booked a one-way fare on Expedia (on Delta Airlines) from Seattle to Albuquerque for $160—pretty good fare, I thought!  The problem is that I thought I was making it for Tuesday, July 6 but it was actually for Tuesday, June 29! Big surprise for me when I showed up at the airport. I ended up taking a Southwest Airlines flight, as that was the best walk-up option.  

As for the $160, Expedia says that I never cancelled the flight—this is a “no-show.” They say that this is Delta’s deal, not theirs. Delta says there’s a $150 change fee, and that doesn’t leave me with a lot.  

Is there any way I can spin this into a $160 credit voucher with Delta? Or is a “no-show” a ticket to “good-bye money”?

A. Or maybe “bad buy” money. I’m afraid you’re out of luck here. Some airlines will negate the value of your non-refundable ticket in its entirety (i.e., it has no value) if you fail to cancel and don’t show up for your flight. It’s a really good idea, when booking a ticket online, to call the airline’s 800 number and double-check the dates. Keep in mind that many airlines will allow you to cancel or change a reservation if you do so within 24 hours of booking. If you have “fat fingers” it’s wise to book with those airlines. For a list of these carriers, please see our chart.

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