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Entries during 2017-07

Compensation for Delays

Q. This happened in 2012. I was flying from San Diego to Bahrain with connecting flights in both Washington Dulles and London Heathrow. My departure from San Diego was delayed for more than 2 hours due to mechanical problem. Because my travel was a government order, I accepted a rerouted flight to San Francisco and then to Dulles. I was stuck in San Francisco for over 2 hours. I missed my flight from Heathrow to Bahrain and was stuck in Heathrow for over 6 hours. Can I still submit a claim for phone expenses and for the inconveniences as a result of those delays?

A. That was a long time ago, but if you have records I’m sure Delta would at least give you a travel voucher. I was on a flight from JFK to LAX on American recently and the plane had a technical problem. Then the crew “timed out” (meaning the pilots couldn’t work any longer per FAA regulations), so American gave me a $300 voucher for future travel when I asked. It does depend on your status in the frequent flier program, how long the delay was (in my case the flight was canceled around 1 a.m. and then rescheduled for 6 a.m. that morning).

What Sale?

Q. A few people have mentioned that there will be a huge airfare sale (domestic and international) on August 21.  I've been on the hunt for a cheap fare from Boston to Melbourne, Australia for Christmas (the most expensive, I know!) so I'm wondering if I should keep waiting for this supposed sale?

A. A somewhat irresponsible publicity seeking airfare pundit made this "rumor" go viral. Airfare always costs less if you travel mid August until the holidays (usually around December 15) compared to summer travel. But these fares are not going to magically appear for sale in August. They've been available for sale for months. It's just that if you travel (travel, not buy) from mid-August onward you'll pay less. Airlines lower fares for travel around then because students are back in school and there's less demand. It angers me when airfare "experts" make confusing and misleading "predictions" like this.

Keeping Your Hard-Earned Miles

Q. I have 30,000 frequent flyer miles with United that will expire in November. In order not to lose these miles do I just have to book a flight before the expiration date?  If I'm unable to plan a trip what would be the best alternative way to use these miles?

A. There's an easy way to preserve your hard-earned frequent flyer miles, without having to book a trip. All it takes is a little shopping. You'll find many companies that are affiliated with the airlines' online shopping programs. No need to buy anything expensive. Even a piddly little three-ring binder from Staples.com, or a single song from iTunes or a pair of jeans from Target.com, and your miles are active for another year to 18 months. Easy! Check out our handy article on preserving miles with online shopping.

Above image via Shutterstock

Consider This When Buying Travel Insurance

Q. When checking travel companies for trips and tours they always suggest purchasing travel insurance. The problem is that sometimes the insurance costs as much as $499.00 per person for a 14-day trip. We are retired and like to travel now, but even at 3 or 4 trips a year, this adds up considerably. What do you think of those annual travel insurance programs that some companies are offering?

A. First, let’s think about the #1 reason people end up using a travel insurance product: it’s illness or injury before taking the trip (either illness or injury to the traveling party of someone near and dear to the traveling party who is not actually traveling—you and your husband are planning a trip together, but your niece gets into a serious accident 10 days before departure and you don’t feel it’s a good idea to take off).  Many credit cards, as I’ve written before, provide quite good coverage for this scenario, as long as you charge your trip (in some cases just a portion, in other cases the whole thing) to the card. Particularly good are the Chase Sapphire Card and the United Chase Explorer Card.

The other thing that happens the most is getting sick or injured after the trip has commenced. If you’re insured by Medicaid or Medicare, your medical and hospital bills might not be covered overseas, so it’s a good idea to have emergency medical insurance, which many travel policies offer.

But the most financially devastating scenario, for which there are annual plans, is this: you’re seriously injured in the middle of nowhere overseas (for example, you’re hiking down the trail from Machu Picchu in Peru and you trip and break your leg in 12 places—this actually happened to a colleague of mine).  It’s going to cost a lot of money to safely get a) to a qualified hospital in Peru but more importantly b) get you back home safely in an air ambulance (assuming that you cannot take a commercial flight because your condition won’t allow it). Companies like MedJet Assist are designed to safely bring you back to any hospital of your choice—from the trail where you broke your leg, to the nearest quality hospital, and then back home, once you’re medically stabilized. Such trips can cost over $100,000 without insurance, so the cost can be catastrophic.

Another fairly common scenario is simply that you miss your cruise or the start of your tour because of a delayed or canceled flight. Credit cards don’t cover that sort of thing, but regular travel insurance does. It really depends on the price of your trip and how much you can afford to write off if something goes awry. I would insure a $5000 non-refundable cruise, but maybe not a $1000 trip if only the first hotel night is non-refundable.

Bottom line: the only travel insurance I buy is, in fact, emergency medical evacuation. I can’t afford to foot a $100,000 bill.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Q. My husband and I are planning a trip to Italy for the end of summer and are wondering about Air Berlin. Their flights continually pop up with fares that are $200-$400 less than others.  I looked them up online and saw that they've been having troubles. Should we avoid them and pay the higher fare with a different airline? What's the worst that could happen if we were to give them a try?

A. There’s a reason why they’re cheaper. Yes, they are having operational difficulties. I flew them recently from LA to Rome via Germany and the flight was delayed 2 hours, so I missed my connection, and had to hang around the horrible Berlin Tegel airport for 6 hours until the next flight. No explanation, no announcements even acknowledging the flight was being delayed. But all airlines can have problems, so there’s no guarantee that flying on a different airline will ensure a smooth trip. If your flight is severely delayed and you’re flying on an European airline like Air Berlin, however, you can apply for compensation of up to 600 euros, so at least there’s that.

Casting a Wide Net

Q. I'm looking for the best airfare, cruise, and hotel aggregators. Which site should I be using?

A. That’s a hard question to answer because there are so many good ones and they all have different prices at different times.

I recently saw some great airfares on Orbitz to Rome that were ONLY available on Orbitz—not on Expedia or Priceline or anywhere else.  And then I saw super low fares to South Africa on KLM that were only available on Priceline, not even on KLM’s own website, which were hundreds less than any other option.

The same applies to hotels. I booked a room in Boston at the Fairmont Copley Plaza on a site I’d never heard of, saving $200 from every single other hotel booking option. I did call the hotel directly to make sure my reservation had been made and all was in order.

I think TripAdivsor does a very good job offering a range of hotel booking options (that’s where I found the Boston hotel bargain). Plus, you can read the most extensive number of hotel reviews while you book your room.

CruiseCritic.com is a great place to look at cruise aggregators.

For airfare, take a look at BookingBuddy.com but be sure to search all the options offered (there are sometimes 25 different aggregators and they may not all have the same price depending on the airline, dates, etc)

So the answer is that there is no perfect aggregator for every trip and every travel date. But it’s often worth looking at all the options presented because you can save hundreds of dollars.

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