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Entries during 2008-10

Code shares: Which rules apply?

Q. My husband and I are flying to Canada. Our tickets show that we are booked on Air Canada for our flight home. Because it is a code share, we will actually be on a United flight. Air Canada allows you to check a bag without charging a fee. United does not. Which rules apply?

A. Here's what Air Canada has to say about this on their site:

Because each airline has its own terms and conditions of carriage, whenever you are traveling on a flight operated by one of Air Canada's code share partners, you may be subject to terms and conditions that differ from those of Air Canada. If is therefore important to familiarize yourself with the operating carrier's terms and conditions, including those regarding:

Check-in times and procedures

Carry-on and checked baggage

Lighten your load, use more fuel?

Q. I recently flew USAirways and they charged $15 for my checked bag. I noticed a number of passengers bypassing the charge and bringing large suitcases onboard as carry-ons, which quickly filled up the overhead storage. By the time I made to my seat, all the overhead bins were full and I had to check my carry-on. Now, I thought the reason for these checked bag fees was to make up for fuel costs. Doesn't allowing all these bulky suitcases as carry-ons sort of defeat the purpose?

A. Not quite. Passengers who avoid the checked luggage fees must pack less and adhere to size/weight limitations. Lighter planes use less fuel, so it all works out.

Making sense of high fares

Q. Maybe I'm missing something but I keep hearing the reason for the increase in the price of flights is due to fuel costs. Two things - fuel costs are dropping but I don't see fares dropping. Secondly, if it costs Northwest $350 to fly me from Portland to Seattle to Detroit in January then how can it cost them $700 to do it November?

A. One reason travel may seem so expensive in November (and we're guessing you mean late November) is because of the Thanksgiving holiday. The airlines know that's when folks want to travel and they raise fares accordingly. Another reason is that fuel is purchased ahead of the time and even though it's gone down recently, it is still expensive. But mostly, it's because the airline industry is basically unregulated by our government.  (Remember, Congress wasn't even able to pass legislation limiting how long passengers can be stuck on the tarmac in planes with overflowing toilets and without food!)  They basically make their own rules, which also applies to seemingly arbitrary changes in schedule.  Only the government is going to be able to do something about it... but we're not going to hold our breath!

Refund due to Illness?

Q. Close family friends have booked airfare for their annual week long trip to New York City. They recently found out that one member of their party has cancer and they are scheduled to leave in a few weeks. They are booked on Midwest Airlines from Milwaukee to LaGuardia. Will Midwest give them a full refund? Obviously this is the last thing they need to be dealing with.

A. This is from Midwest's website regarding their change/cancellation policy:

If you would like to cancel your trip, your ticket remains valid for one year from the date of issue. If your ticket is non-refundable, you may apply its value toward the purchase of another non-refundable fare type. (Excluding instant purchase Internet only fares.)

A $100 administrative fee will be charged for confirmed date/time changes. If the new fare is less expensive than the original fare, you may apply that difference towards the administrative fee. If you would like to change the name on the ticket, there would be an additional $100 fee.

You may also want to call Midwest and see if they'll just issue a refund to your friends.  In that case, they'll probably require documentation from a doctor.

Before that ship has sailed

Q. I purchased a roundtrip with a package to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico through a travel agent. Des Moines through Memphis, to Cancun and then Cancun, Detroit, Des Moines. I just found out I have to be in San Antonio for work the 3 days before my trip, I checked and I can leave San Antonio in time to catch my connecting flight in Memphis, my travel agent said I can try and call Northwest myself and see if they will let me skip my first leg of my outbound, but they told her no. If I miss the first leg, they will cancel my entire ticket. I don't understand that if I let them know I'm doing this, they can still book the seat if they want and just let me connect in Memphis. Is this normal practice that they do not let you do this? I am going to try and call them, but from what I'm reading on your site, it doesn't look promising. The only way is paying the $150 change fee plus any fare difference. Any advice?

A. You could hope that someone at Northwest will take mercy on you and make an "unofficial" exception to their contracts of carriage.  That does happen from time to time... but again, it would definitely be in contradiction to their stated policy and rules. If all else fails and you're forced to string along an entirely new ticket and itinerary, keep in mind that Mexican budget airline vivaAerobus offers shuttle bus service from San Antonio to Austin, with flights from Austin to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, and other destinations in Mexico going for as little as $9.99, although for something more immediate expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $139 each way (at least that's what we found for Austin to Cancun in October).

Thanksgiving Fares

Q. I have a daughter living in Chicago that would like to fly home for Thanksgiving holidays (leave Chicago Wednesday, return either Sunday or Monday of the holiday week) far, all of the rates are very high. Any chance that they will come down?

A. Those are peak holiday travel days and the airlines know they can pretty much charge what they please during that time. So, no, it's highly unlikely that you'll find many discounted fares for Thanksgiving. However, if you're daughter is willing to fly out early Thanksgiving morning, she'll probably find a much much lower fare. Yes, yes, we know. Nobody wants to fly on Thanksgiving Day, but hey, that's why fares are so much lower. Let someone else reheat the casserole and mind the bird while you quickly skip out to the airport. At least you'll get to spend the holiday with your daughter, right?

Sunset in Sun Country?

Q. I have my Christmas holiday flights booked and paid for on Sun Country.  Now I hear there's a good chance that they will be going out of business.  Do you know if that's true and if so, what can I do to get a refund?  Is there any way to get a refund now so I can book flights on another airline?  I have a house rented and must get there.

A. Sun Country did indeed file for bankruptcy protection last week but they're still flying. So, unless you purchased fully refundable tickets you'll have to wait until they declare full on chapter 7 bankruptcy.  At that point, if they discontinue flights and no one else offers to fly their customers you can use the Fair Credit Billing act.  This piece of legislation states that if you notify your credit card company within 60 days of a charge appearing on your credit card statement that you wish to contest a charge for services or goods not delivered, the credit card company will refund the charge to you.  But remember, it must be within 60 days of the charge appearing on the statement.

Split Ticket to Vegas

Q. I am Canadian citizen who is studying in medicine in Grenada. I am thinking about taking a 4 day vacation to Las Vegas with a friend. I noticed that if I book a return ticket from Grenada to Las Vegas, it is about $1300 USD per person and has 3 stop overs. However, I found that American Airlines fly out of Port of Spain(POS) in Trinidad and Tobago to Las Vegas for $650 return. Now, I can get to POS for $200 USD and back to Grenada for $200 USD. So over all this trip would cost me $850 USD and I would save a lot of money. I checked and confirm that Canadian citizens don't need visa to enter Trinidad and Tobago or the US. If I do book these two tickets separately and travel, could I be in any form of trouble?

A. There's no reason why you can't do this split ticket strategy. The only downside is that if there's a delay on any of your flights, American will not be very sympathetic in helping you make the connecting flights or re-scheduling your onward flights at your original fare. They would be more so if you had a "through" single ticket. So be sure to leave plenty of time to make the connections in POS... as much time as schedules will allow. It's often true that buying two separate fares when flying to or from the Caribbean, sometimes on two different airlines, will save you a lot of money.

Your Miles: Use 'em or Lose 'em

Q. I had accumulated approximately 50,000 frequent flyer miles with United. It has been awhile since I have flown United and last night I went to the United frequent flyer website and saw that all my miles expired in JAN 2008. I do not ever recall getting notification from United about expiration of these miles. Can they do this? Is this normal?

A. They can if your account had been innactive for a certain period of time. And lately, that period is getting shorter and shorter. But if you have no plans to travel anytime soon, you can still keep your account current by making a small purchase in the airlines' "shopping malls." Full store in the blog.

Honolulu Honeymoon Miles

Q. If there is a discount fare offered, it's almost always for economy class. Is there any possibility that it would apply to the same flights in business/first class? My fiance and I are flying from Moline to Honolulu in mid-January for our 2-week honeymoon. Should we book in economy and use our United miles for upgrades and hope there are seats available when we go? Or use whatever miles we have for First Class seats on the 2nd leg and pay the difference? And what the heck or non-redeemable Elite miles? This will be our 1st time redeeming miles of any kind.

A. Flights that have economy class tickets being sold at a discount do not necessarily have discounted business class tickets available, because there are far fewer business and first class seats and they go "on sale" far less often in our experience.

Elite miles that are not redeemable, means that the miles count toward elite status, but are not credited as miles that you can use later to redeem awards travel. (Usually because they are miles flown on a discounted ticket)  And in fact, some types of tickets will earn you no miles at all.  (Usually tickets purchased at a deep discount, such as those from Priceline's "name your own price" program and other fare consolidator sites)

As for how to use your miles for your travel, find out what's even available for your flights and take it!  It's become increasingly difficult to use miles for awards travel.

When making your reservation, mention your honeymoon.  Perhaps you'll reach a reservation agent with a romantic bent who'll do you a favor!

Have a great time and congratulations!!

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