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Entries during 2010-08

The 411 on Seat Selection

Q. I'm trying to book a vacation to Ft. Myers in late September.  I've been trying to book on Spirit Airlines, but I need to know the price and availability of at least one “big front seat” (the ones with extra width and legroom) on each flight.  They used to give you the price of both the regular seats and the “big” ones before booking and you'd be able to reserve it right away.  Now they only show you the “big” price after you’ve booked the regular seats (allowing you to upgrade). I'm hesitant to book a flight because one of the passengers is tall and needs the legroom.  Is there a way to get this info that I'm missing? 

I would be willing use another airline but need to have an aisle seat at a bulkhead or exit row because he needs the additional leg room. Any suggestions on a good airline or a way around this?  Unfortunately, the price is an issue.  We're willing to pay extra for the type of seat he needs within reason.

A. Not sure where you’re flying from, but if you can’t be certain to upgrade to two seats with extra legroom on Spirit, you might pay an extra fee to choose a seat in their economy section with even more legroom (Spirit is one of the growing number of airlines that charges for advance seat selection). Seats 12A and 12F on their Airbus A321 aircraft, for example, have several feet, not just inches, of legroom because they’re located at emergency exits and there’s no seat in front of them. The same goes for seats 26A and 26F on those planes. Spirit’s “Big Front Seats” actually only have 36 inches of legroom (although they do provide more elbow room), and JetBlue, which also flies to Ft. Myers, has many seats with that much legroom on all of their jets  (choose the “Even More Legroom” option). You’ll have to pay a slight premium (perhaps around $30 each way) to reserve one of these seats. We suggest that you head over to where you can specify airline and flight number and see seat maps showing how much legroom each aircraft offers on scores of airlines, and which seats in economy sections have no seats in front of them.

Throwaway Ticketing

Q. We are going on a cruise in November. We thought it was from Seattle to Shanghai and returning from Beijing to Seattle. We are flying from Ft Lauderdale to Seattle. When we got our itinerary, it turns out we are supposed to fly from Seattle to San Francisco and then to China. On the return, we are coming into San Francisco then to Seattle. We prefer to return right to Ft Lauderdale from San Fran and not go back to Seattle.

When I called United, they wouldn't let us skip the first leg and embark from San Fran. They also said our bags would be ticketed back to Seattle so we could not skip the last leg at all. My question is can we just remove our baggage tags in San Fran when we go thru customs and then continue home to Florida on our own?

A. Airlines frown upon this practice called "throwaway ticketing" and do every thing they can to penalize travelers when they do this. We've heard of airlines charging travel agents penalties for their customers who haven't used their entire ticket, closing out the traveler's frequent flier account and taking away all their miles and even trying to charge the traveler's credit card for a last minute ticket on the "new" itinerary. If you decide that it's worth the risk and sneak away in San Francisco on your return trip, make sure that you will indeed be collecting your luggage there... otherwise, you could be creating a huge hassle for yourself.

Ticket Changes the Easy Way

Q. I hope you can help me. I am part of a business that does a fair amount of traveling. We are looking at reducing our flight costs in general, but our main issue is the cost of rescheduling and canceling flights. For most flights the fee for doing so is $150. I would say we canceled 30 to 40 flights out of 220 booked last year. Refundable tickets are usually more than double the cost of the lowest fares we buy, and I don’t feel that paying for fully refundable fares would make sense. I also looked into “cancel for any reason” travel insurance a bit. Would an airline, travel agency, or insurance company charge an annual fee for allowing a business to cancel and rebook fights? Any advice on the matter?

A. Probably the best advice I can give is to book your company’s flights with Southwest Airlines whenever possible. If you cancel a flight, Southwest will “bank” a credit for the entire fare, without a fee, into your account and you can use the credit for a future flight for up to one year from the original purchase date. 

Sky High Roaming Charges

Q. My wife and I will be traveling abroad for the next month and a half, and plan on using our cellphones to keep in contact with friends and family back home. Our carrier is AT&T, and though they've suggested we sign up for their 'Global Package' rate plan during this time, we're still concerned about charges for data, checking email, going online, using certain iPhone apps, and so on. We've heard horror stories. Should we wait and invest in a local phone when we arrive?

A. You're right to be cautious! Roaming charges for data usage on smartphones/iPhones can be sky high! If you're a talker and happen to be traveling for an extended amount of time, your phone bill could easily surpass the cost of your vacation...heck, maybe even your college tuition. Whatever plan you have, we'd make sure your Data Roaming is switched off to avoid those insane charges. Avoid checking/sending mail, using web apps, etc until you have access to WiFi. As for calls, some countries will have better rates than others. You check with AT&T regarding roaming rates, but we imagine the Global Package will only shave off a few cents.

If you plan on taking along your computer, we suggest you limit your calls home to Skype! Or buy a basic, inexpensive phone before leaving home and purchase a prepaid SIM card in the country you are traveling.

Anyone else have tips to avoid high roaming charges? We'd love to hear it. Comment below.

Pecking Order of Southwest's EarlyBird Boarding

Q. On Southwest Airlines, EarlyBird check-in customers automatically receive a boarding pass 36 hours prior to their flight. But what determines the order of the boarding position of the EarlyBird passengers?

A. After A-List members and Business Select, EarlyBird check-in order is strictly first come first serve. So if you want on first but not bad enough to upgrade, better be the earliest of the EarlyBirds.

DIY Split Fares

Q. Is there a simplified way to find out if it’s cheaper to buy separate one-ways on two different airlines vs. a roundtrip fare online on one airline to get to the same destination? In other words, I’ve found, for example, that it’s cheaper to fly on JetBlue from New York to Nassau in the Bahamas and then to buy a separate ticket from Nassau on Bahamasair to some of the smaller islands in the Bahamas rather than one “through” fare. Or the best way to fly to some Asian destinations is to buy a fare online at and then on onward ticket on AirAsia. But sites like Kayak and Orbitz won’t allow me to do this.

A. Currently, the answer is no. What you’re asking about is a “split” fare strategy, something that a good travel agent would be able to put together. Despite giant strides in online airfare booking over the years, current fare search technology isn’t capable of combining fares like the one in your example. However, we’ve heard through the grapevine that this sort of thing is “in the works” and as soon as we learn more and take it for a test drive, we’ll tell you about it.

Avoiding Foreign Transaction Fees

Q. We may be traveling in Great Britain this September and hear that most credit cards charge a 3 percent transaction fee for charges made outside of the United States. Is Capital One the only one that does not?

A. As far as we know, Capital One is the only widely-accepted major credit card issuer that does not pass along foreign transaction fees. By the way, you’ll also pay a foreign transaction fee with most cards even if you’re in the U.S. but by something from a company based overseas, such as a foreign-based airline with no offices in the U.S. like Ryanair or Easyjet. Some credit card issuers charge more than 3 percent, so it’s wise to shop around.


Fees for Lap Infants

Q. Do airlines charge for lap infants?

A. Airlines do not charge (at least not yet) for lap infants on domestic U.S. flights, however they do on most international fares, typically 10 percent of the applicable adult fare. Even if you’re traveling on a “free” frequent flyer ticket, your lap child will pay 10% of the adult fare, which can be quite a lot if you’re sitting in business class or first class. As we’ve stated before, however, since planes take off and land at very high speeds, and can come to sudden stops on runways, we don’t advise holding an infant in your lap (any more than you would do in an automobile traveling at far slower speeds).

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