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Entries during 2012-09

Airline Sites & Promo Offers

Q. I read recently that you can save money by booking online directly with the airlines rather than on a site like Expedia, even though the contracts between the airlines and the online travel agencies prohibit the airlines from offering lower rates on their own sites. Allegedly the airlines circumvent this restriction by offering discount codes in emails to their frequent fliers or through Facebook and Twitter or through email. I don't mind going directly online to the airline's web site but is there a way for the rest of us who are not frequent fliers to find discount codes?

A. You’re correct that airlines are using promo codes to entice passengers to book directly on their sites, but I'm not sure that airlines are prohibited from selling fares for less on their own sites, since they do this all the time. We see frequent 10% to even 50% off promotions, and Spirit Airlines always sells fares on its own site for less than on third-party sites. Airlines hate paying fees to computerized reservation systems or to travel agents, whether online or “bricks and mortar”. In fact, it’s one of their largest expenses, after fuel, airplane purchases, and labor costs. The beauty of using an online travel agency is that you can easily compare prices, and you’ll learn if it’s cheaper to fly out on one airline and back on another, something that an airline website won’t tell you, so don't give up on them. Price aside, you can also find a range of convenient flight times among several carriers at a glance by using Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and their ilk. To learn about promo codes, sign up for your favorite airlines’ emails. The Airfarewatchdog Blog also lists current airline promo codes.

Merger Miles: US Air Dividend + American Advantage?

Q. After all of the news articles this year about a possible merger between US Airways and American Airlines, I am concerned about the fate of my US Air Dividend Miles. I would love to continue earning or purchasing additional miles but am not sure if I should do that or not. Without hearing about any clear conclusion one way or the other if a merger will actually take place, does it behoove us to keep acquiring miles with US Air? I would hate to have a high mileage balance only to find out that the airline alliance where they are destined to go is one whose airline partners I don't fly based on their routes or personal preference. What are your thoughts?

A. I think that an American/US Airways merger is all but inevitable. Your US Air miles will be combined with whatever you might have in the American Aadvantage program. But US Airways is a member of the Star Alliance global airline network, and American is a member of the OneWorld network. Chances are good that your combined miles and alliance status will be transferred to OneWorld, since the combined airline will be under the American Airlines brand.

Twice Booked

Q. I was trying to book a flight online, got to the very end and then it booted me out to the main page. So I did not know if it booked the flight or not. There was no confirmation page or anything. So I did it again and it worked. Now hours later I get the email conformation and there are two of them for the same flight. I need help. How to fix this?

A. Not to worry. You now have 24 hours to change your mind or cancel a flight, even after purchase, thanks to new D.O.T. rules. Just call the airline and cancel the duplicate reservation.

This Seat's Taken

Q. I am surprised you have never heard of anyone saving seats on Southwest Airlines (one person pays the $10 early boarding fee and saves seats for friends who avoided the fee). This has been going on for years. A few years ago I boarded a Southwest plane and found someone saving two rows of seats - a total of 6 seats. They said the seats were for their family, but when the "family" finally did board, they were all adults. One might forgive a parent for saving seats for his children and spouse so they could sit together. But saving seats for six people? It seemed outrageous.  I did mention it to a flight attendant, and she agreed that it was not really appropriate, but she also declined to say anything to the passenger about it. Because you have the advantage of being in the media, Southwest may actually pay some attention you print this.

A. Well, people do this in movie theaters and ballparks, and on trains and buses, all the time and no one seems to complain. But somehow this is worse, because someone is basically gaming the system. Southwest, if you’re reading this maybe it’s time to teach your passengers some basic fairness if not manners.

"Premium" Seating

Q. I just did advanced check-in on US Airways, 20 hours ahead of departure, from my home computer. I could select seats on the first leg of my trip, but not the connecting flight. Only a few "premium seats" at $10 and"emergency row" seats."  When I tried to select one of the latter, I got a note that they were only available for “premium” frequent flyers.  So I forked over $10, but does this mean I would not have gotten a seat without paying on this flight, for which I made a reservation a month ago?  Or would they give me a free seat on check in.

A. Many airlines these days are holding back “choice” seats, for their best customers, when consumers buy their flights. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get a seat, unless the flight is oversold and there aren’t enough volunteers to take another flight (involuntary bumping). You’d get a seat alright, but it’s either going to be a middle seat at the back of the plane, or it could be one of those premium seats for which there were no eligible takers. Do airlines do this in part to snooker passengers into paying for a seat they’d get free anyway? Very possibly.

Lap Child Limits

Q. I have a three year old who weighs 37 pounds. Do I have to purchase an additional ticket or can she fly on my lap for free?

A. With air travel as uncomfortable as it is, why you’d want to have nearly 40 pounds in your lap during the flight is beyond me. In any case, only children two years old or younger are allowed to fly as lap children on domestic flights for free. On international flights, you’ll be charged 10 percent of the applicable adult fare.

Miles for Unused Flight Segment

Q. Can I get Delta SkyMiles for a flight I paid for but never used? It was cheaper buying a round trip ticket than a one way—I never understood this!

A. No, you cannot claim frequent flyer miles for flight segments not flown. I’m assuming that you bought a round-trip ticket and just used the outward-bound segment in order to save money. You should know that if you do this often, the airlines might wipe out your frequent flyer account since this practice is against most airlines’ rules. So if you do it again, don’t provide your frequent flyer number.

Seat Saving vs Early Boarding

Q. I recently paid $10 each for my wife and I to do the early boarding on Southwest. However when we tried to take two seats together, another passenger was apparently holding 5 seats for his friends (guess he didn’t think the other friends should have to pay the $10 fee). What should I have done to avoid causing an uproar that would have gotten us kicked off the plane (assuming I was willing to endure the glares and comments of him and his friends during the flight)?

A. Was it Snagglepuss who used to opine, “That’s the most unhoid of thing I’ve ever hoid of?” (Correct me if I’m wrong). Anyway, this is pretty outrageous. You should have contacted a flight attendant immediately and had this jerk put in his place (maybe off the plane would have been a good place, where you wouldn’t have had to endure his “glares”). I’ve heard of this thing happening on cruise lines (people saving deck shares) and around resort pools, but never on a plane. Carnival Cruise Lines has begun cracking down on this practice, by placing stickers with the current time on chairs that been “claimed” by passengers with books, towels, etc. After 40 minutes, if the chaise is unoccupied, staff remove the items and leave a note where to claim them.

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