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Entries during 2007-09

On the Bright Side, She Won't Have Far to Walk

Q. My wife booked a trip on US Airways through Travelocity, and wasn't given the option of selecting her own seat. When she checked in, she realized she'd been given the worst seats on the plane, at the very rear, by the toilets. She says she will not use Travelocity in the future. What should she have done and when?

A. Hmm...I'm guessing she bought her fare close to flight time, or on a very heavily booked flight. It was probably US Air that wouldn't assign seats, because the flight was oversold. There's really not much you can do in a situation like that, but hey, it never hurts to ask an agent if they can assign you a different seat.

Baby On Board part II

Q. I have another question in response to last week's lap-baby Q&A: Several years back, my wife and I were flying to Europe with our 1 year old daughter. We used our frequent flier miles to upgrade to business class, but were told our daughter's fare would be 10% of business fare, which came to  $600! I asked United if we could just pay the 10% of the original coach fare, since neither fare came with an actual seat, but they declined. I later mailed United a complaint about the charge and they did send me a voucher for most of the amount. Anyway, is this standard practice?

A. Fortunately, it is not. And that's probably why United was so quick to send you a voucher. Sure, you may have been upgraded to business, but hey, your lap is just as no-frills as it would have been in coach. So unless they're doling out mini-jars of Gerbers foie gras and Tiffany's baby bottles of Dom Perignon 1953, we don't understand how they'd justify such a charge.

Glad to hear you were given a voucher, and you'll be pleased to hear that United no longer charges for lap children.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby...On My Lap. For 10 Hours.

Q. I plan on flying home for Thanksgiving this year with my one-year old daughter. This will be my first time flying with a toddler and I was wondering what I should expect to spend for her fare. What's the norm?

A. Of course it varies according to airline, but can be anywhere from $10 to 10% of the adult fare for international flights.

Personally, we think it's a little silly to charge for babies/toddlers. After all, your kid isn't taking up a seat, and certainly isn't partaking of the free food and booze. Is the little tyke responsible for consuming extra jet fuel? We think not.

On a fare of say, $1200, you'll be billed $120 or more for the privilege of holding the child in your lap for 10 hours (on a business class fare of, say, $5000 you'll pay $500). Domestically, SkyBus, never to miss the chance to line their pockets, charges a $10 "administrative fee" for lap children. Is that to compensate for the oxygen your infant will be breathing during the flight (there is no charge if you stuff the junior in the overhead however….just kidding).

Are You For Real?

Q. Is Airfarewatchdog legit? Sometimes I have trouble finding the fares you list and begin to wonder.

A. Yes Virginia, we are legit. Just read this comment from our message boards. Or ask our moms.

Oh, and speaking of the message board, feel free to post on whatever topic you like. Or, let us rephrase: travel related topics. Not so much on your predictions for the next season of Lost, or how many grams of fat are in ham & cheese Hot Pockets, or anything as far out as that. You know. Travel stuff. Fare related stuff. Airlines, sales, and other chit-chattable stuff.

You Call this a Reward?

Q. Due to a family emergency, I was recently forced to cancel a flight I'd booked. The thing is, I dipped into my frequent flier miles to purchase the ticket. Since I didn't use them, I expected them to just be deposited back into my account. When I phoned the airline, I was told there'd be a $50 fee to do so! Is this common or was I duped?

A. Well, both. The majority of airlines do charge a fee when you need to cancel a flight purchased with frequent flier points, and ask to retain those unused miles. Who charges what? Well, Delta charges $75, United, US Airways, and American all charge $100, Northwest and Continental take $50 (unless you're Platinum Level, in which case it's free), and JetBlue charges TrueBlue members $45 to prolong their trip and an additional $45 when it comes time to rebook.

So let's say you used your points for a ticket that would have sold for $200 RT, and seven days before you fly, then decide not to use it. By the time you cough up those hefty fees ($100 for the last minute request, $100 to redeposit the miles...) you may have been better off just purchasing a new ticket! Seems like a lousy way for a business to reward their best customers.

The Family that Flies Together...

Q. I've enrolled in several different frequent flier programs over the years and somehow have never managed to save what it takes for a trip to Europe. Is there a frequent flier program that allows my wife and I to combine our earned miles into one account?

A. As it stands, there aren't any domestic carriers that offer such a program. However, since you're interested in travel to Europe, you may want to check out the British Airways Executive Club, which allows a Household Account, good for up to 4 family members.  You might also consider the Family Club  from Japan Airlines, which is similar.

Holiday Fares

Q. In your experience, do airlines ever offer last minute discount rates over Christmas?

A. In the past, airlines have offered these discounts, especially for off peak holiday travel, such as Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day departures and New Year's Day returns. These deals are becoming less generous and more scarce these days, as overbooked flights become the norm. We suggest searching in early to mid November when these fares tend to pop up, that is if they pop up at all this year.

Oh, and should you feel like spending your holidays abroad this year, you might want to check out this deal on Continental's BusinessFirst to Europe.

Same day travel airfare change fees

Q: Since when have the airlines charged to go standby on the same day, either for a later or earlier flight? I was charged $75 recently on United to do this. Do all airlines have the same policy?

A: No they do not. United has the most expensive same day change fees, but many airlines now charge $50 or more, up from $25 previously (and up from $0 at one time). Airtran charges $25, JetBlue $40 for a confirmed same-day change or $0 only for the flight prior to your original one (if there is one that day); Continental charges elite frequent flyers $25, and Delta and US Air waive the fee for their elites. However, if you pay the fee, you're not really going standby; rather, you get a confirmed seat (it's basically a same day change fee, which will cost less than standard change fees). You can still take your chances and truly standby, hoping a seat will open up, without paying a fee, on some airlines. Keep in mind, though, that if it's in the airline's best interest to let you go on a different flight (for example, if your original flight is oversold) they will probably waive the fee and confirm your seat, and sometimes gate agents are just nice and will let you change for free (especially if you show up a few minutes before the gate is closed and they don't want to bother doing the paperwork).

These fees are just another way for airlines to make money, and have replaced the prior free standby policies, but on the plus side, at least you do get a confirmed seat vs. a standby.

Here are the policies of some of the carriers, with language from their official policies. Note that these policies apply to domestic flights and may be different for international travel.

Airtran

Fee: $25.

American

Fee: $50


Passengers can call Reservations or handle the transaction at the airport ticket counter or Self-Service Check-In machines. If eligible seats are available within 12 hours of departure of alternate flights for your same itinerary, your flight change can be confirmed.  American no longer offers free same day standby.  See rules.

Continental

Fee: $50 ($25 for OnePass Platinum and Gold Elite members, free for OnePass Platinum)

The same-day flight change option will be available within 24 hours before your original scheduled flight. Does not apply to weekend fares and fares bought through "name your own price" on Priceline.com

You may take advantage of this same-day change option when traveling on Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines, Inc. dba Continental Express and/or Continental Micronesia. Changes may be confirmed within three hours of your new desired flight at any airport check-in kiosk or with an airport agent. You may also contact Continental Reservations by phone." See rules.

Delta

Fee: $50

"The same-day confirmed option allows you to change your flight time on the same day of travel for a fee of $50. To use the same-day confirmed option, you must confirm your new flight within 3 hours of the scheduled departure time. If you have a flexible fare (usually a refundable ticket), you may be able to change your itinerary without a fee.

A $75 fee applies to restricted Delta Shuttle fares when changing to a peak flight time.

You can use the same-day confirmed option for travel within the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Delta and Delta Connection® flights.

No changes between origin, destination, or co-terminals (such as New York's LaGuardia and JFK airports)." See rules.

Frontier


Fee: $50-$100

Fee depends on the ticket type. Economy fares incur a $100 fee, "Classic" fares a $50 fee; more expensive "Classic Plus" fares have no fee. There is no free standby, only confirmed same day changes. "Summit" frequent flyers can confirm a same day change for free.


JetBlue


Fee: $0-40

A confirmed same day flight change costs $40.

Cities with Multiple Flights a Day

    * You can make your confirmed same day changes via 1-800-JETBLUE or at the airport beginning at midnight (in the time zone of the departing flight) of the same calendar day as your original scheduled flight.
    * You must travel on an earlier or later flight the same-day.
    * You must travel between the same city pairs.
    * A Same-Day Change Fee of $40 per person will be applied for your confirmed seat.



Cities with One Flight a Day
The same-day change program is not available for cities with one flight a day.


Standby travel is free, but you may only standby for the flight just prior to your original flight, and you are allowed to standby for the flight one day prior to your original flight if there is just one flight a day on the route.

In order to travel standby, you must have already purchased a seat on JetBlue.

Cities with Multiple Flights a Day

    * You must contact JetBlue within 24 hours of your original flight.
    * You are allowed to travel on the flight prior to your original flight only, regardless of whether it is a non-stop or connecting flight.
    * You must travel between the same city pairs (specifically, the origin and final destination BlueCity).
    * This option is free of charge.
    * If you are booked on the first flight of the day you cannot fly standby on the last flight the day before. However, you may jet standby one flight after your scheduled flight."

See rules.



Southwest

Fee: None, but you may end up paying more than on any other airline

This airline is a whole different animal. While most customers love the fact that if you change your travel dates on a non-refundable fare and decide to travel within a year from the original flight (even on a different route), you'll be able to do so without a fee, it's a whole other situation if you want to fly same day on a different flight. Although they don't state this anywhere on their site (that we can see anyway), if you're on, say, a $99 one-way fare leaving at 5 PM and you want to leave now on the 2 PM flight, while there's no "fee" as such, you will have to pay the difference between your $99 fare and whatever the current "walk up" (no advance purchase) fare is on that route, which could be hundreds more. As with other airlines, Southwest sometimes looks the other way, but if the gate agent isn't in a generous mood that day, prepare to pay.

United

Fee: $50-$75

Confirmed same day travel changes cost $75 each way and can be confirmed within three hours of the time of your request. Only valid for flights wholly within the U.S.

Or you can do an unconfirmed same day standby for $50. This applies for travel on or after April 28, 2010, with tickets purchased on or after April 10, 2010l.  Same day standby can be used for travel within the U.S. and Canada. See rules.

US Airways

Fee: $50 (waived for elite frequent flyers)

"We allow you to 'move up' to any earlier flight on the same day of your originally scheduled departure time at the airport (with the exception of flights to Hawaii and Europe). You can only make day-of-departure changes at the airport (and not by calling Reservations).

If there is an open seat available on any earlier US Airways operated flight that departs on the same day as your originally scheduled departure, you may change to that flight and we will automatically confirm your reservation for $50 for flights within the 48 contiguous United States and $50 for flights to Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada and Alaska. This lower confirmation fee replaces the usual $150 change fee, plus any differences between your old fare and new fare, for non-refundable tickets.

If there is not an open seat on an earlier flight that departs on the same day as your originally scheduled departure, you may stand by for that flight at no charge. Standing by at no charge is not permitted if we can confirm that there is an open seat available for that flight. Seats on completely booked flights may become available if passengers with confirmed reservations don't show up for the flight. Unlike a confirmed reservation, flying standby does not guarantee that you will get on the particular flight that you want and may involve waiting for two or more flights before a seat is available to you." 
See rules.

Pirates & Gators

Q. My sons and I are planning a trip to Atlanta next month to visit relatives, and I'd like to take a drive down to the Savannah area and tour historic homes. This will probably be of little interest to my 9 and 12 year old.  Anything a little less "magnolias and doilies" in this area that you might know of?

A. Ooof, magnolias and doilies, eh? You may try reviving them with a trip to the Pirate House for dinner. Formerly an inn for pirates and other seafaring types as far back as the 1730s, it's one of the oldest homes in Georgia. There's even a secret tunnel connecting the inn to Savannah's port, used by pirates whenever they needed to make a quick getaway.

And you could also visit nearby Cumberland Island, a private wildlife reserve complete with wild horses and untouched dunes. If you'd like to stay the night, check into the Greyfield Inn, the only available lodgings on the island.

And if they're still complaining about how you forced them to tour of homes for 5 hours, pull out the big guns, by which we mean alligators. Okefenokee Swamp is just a few hours south, with park access in both Waycross and Folkston. Depending on water levels, you can even take them for a little boat ride.

Bad Bad Riad?

Q. My boyfriend and I will be traveling to Marrakech next month and have been hunting online for accommodations. We contacted one riad/hotel in particular who then asked us to pay for the entire duration of our stay upfront, before arriving. Of course I expect to be asked for a deposit, but am I correct in being suspicious of paying all in advance?

A. That does sound a tad shady and we'd advise against it. If you suspect your hotel may not be a legitimate business, try sussing things out on a site like traveladvisor.com. Read the reviews (and that's reviews, plural, mind you), view the photos posted by previous guests and, if you're still not convinced, contact other commenters. Also helpful are photo sites like flickr.com, where you can try searching for your hotel by name and checking out the vacation pics of other guests.

If it weren't currently closed for renovations, we'd suggest you ask for room 414 at the Hotel La Mamounia, which served as the location of Doris Day and James Stewart's room in 'The Man who Knew Too Much."
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