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Entries during 2009-10

Europe Fares for Summer

Q. I'm finding that flights from Washington to almost anywhere in Europe are quite expensive for travel this summer. Washington to Paris is $1100 or more including taxes. Should we wait to buy? Will fares come down? 

A. Two summers ago, $1100 summer fares to Europe would have seemed like a bargain, but last summer fares from the East Coast from Europe came way down, often to the $700 range. However, we noticed that average fares from Washington Dulles to Europe were higher than from other airports. It's impossible to predict if airfares will come down, especially to Paris, which has typically been more expensive to fly into than other European cities such as Dublin, Frankfurt, Zurich and Madrid. United recently offered summer fares from Washington to Madrid for summer 2010 travel for just $600 including taxes on nonstop flights, which is a good deal. Airfarewatchdog suggests that you be somewhat flexible in your destination and land where it's cheapest and then perhaps take a train or low cost European carrier onward. And check fares on your desired routes every day starting next spring, because airlines often have "flash sales" that are unadvertised. Be sure, also, to sign up for our free fare alerts on Washington to Europe routes.

One-Way Holiday Travel Deals

Q. I haven't been able to find a deal from Orlando to Chicago one-way for holiday travel. Can you help?

A. Peak holiday fares on that route, last we checked, are indeed sky high, but they might come down since there are so many airlines flying the route, so keep checking. Meanwhile, you might consider flying from Orlando to Rockford, IL on Allegiant Airlines. Last we checked, there were $99 one-way fares even on some peak holiday days. Beware, though, of Allegiant's extra fees, including one for booking online! (You can avoid this fee by buying your fare at the airport). Allegiant flies to lots of smaller airports, some of which are near large cities, mostly using nonstop flights.

Combine flights & build a cheaper itinerary?

Q. I have been looking for summer airfares from Los Angeles to Madrid for my family for four. Here's my question: when I look on Kayak.com and Orbitz.com I see fares are quite high (at least too high for me) at $1129 round-trip including the tax. However, I see I can fly on many days in July from LA to Washington's Dulles for $238 with tax and from Washington to Madrid on United for $699, saving almost $400 for the four of us. So why didn't the search engines show me this possibility and is there any reason why I can't book two separate fares?

A. First off, summer fares to Europe right now are much higher than they were last summer, especially to Madrid, which was the bargain capital of Europe airfare-wise. So they might come down. I'd try checking in the early spring and keep on checking. Second, most airfare search sites just aren't sophisticated enough yet to combine two different flights on two separate airlines. And third, be sure to leave enough connection time between your flights in case one of them is delayed. In general, it's a somewhat risky business to assume all your flights will operate as scheduled and unless the savings are truly dramatic (or you're willing to overnight in your connecting city to give yourself plenty of wiggle room), the strategy you're suggesting might not be worth it.

Escape from Logan Airport

Q. I'm flying into Boston next month and am wondering how much it costs to take a cab to the city of Cambridge, which MapQuest tells me is only a few miles from the airport. Any idea how long travel time would take? Or should I just take public transport (which I discovered only costs $2)? How long is the ride on the subway?

A. Cabs leaving Boston's Logan Airport must pay rather hefty fees and tunnel tolls (they have to pay for that Big Dig somehow), so your ride might easily cost $25 with tip but with no traffic should only take 20-25 minutes. The "T" (Boston's public transit system) might take about 30-35 minutes to Harvard Square in Cambridge and does indeed cost $2. There's a free shuttle bus from the airport to the airport station. Plus, riding the subway is better for the environment.

No Close-In Fees, Please

Q. I have frequent flyer miles on United, American, Delta and US Air and need to book a flight in the next few days using my miles. American is my preferred airline but they want to charge me $100 because I'm not booking 21 days or more in advance. I earned those miles and it's not fair for them to charge me to use them. Do the other airlines also charge this fee?

A. American does indeed charge a fee if you don't plan ahead. It's $100 for award requests 6 days or fewer before travel and $50 for 20 to 7 days before travel. United, however, no longer charges for "close-in" award ticketing, and Delta has eliminated the fee for holders of its American Express Delta Reserve card. US Airways and Continental also charge close-in ticketing fees. Southwest issues travel awards as soon as you've earned them (they must be used within a year of issuance), and there's no fee to use awards with little or no notice.

Which day of the week and what time to buy?

Q. I've read that the best time of the week to buy airfares is Tuesday. What hour of the day on Tuesday is ideal?

A. Actually, Airfarewatchdog.com doesn't subscribe to the "Tuesday is fare day" theory. We're writing this on a Friday on which several airlines announced new sales, and United launched some amazing unadvertised fares for $160 round-trip coast to coast (that's with tax). The best day to buy fares is when they hit rock bottom on the route you want to fly, and that could be any minute of the week. Sign up for free fare alerts and you'll have a better chance of nabbing a deal.

Do you fit the bumpee profile?

Q. Is it accurate to say that airline passengers flying on the cheapest fares or on frequent flyer tickets are the most likely to be involuntarily bumped?

A. Policies vary from airline to airline, but as a general rule, the answer is yes. A customer who has upper tier status in the airline's frequent flyer program, or someone paying full fare, will get priority on many airlines.

When fares drop after you buy, then what?

Q. Last week I purchased two tickets for $580 to travel from Savannah to Phoenix. Today I saw the exact same flights on the exact same days for sale for $240. Is there anyway I can get the difference back on my tickets, which of course are non-refundable?

A. You can get part of the difference back, at least. Only three airlines will give you a price drop credit in full (Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest). But none of those airlines fly Savannah to Phoenix, so most likely you're flying on an airline that will charge a $150 "ticket re-issue" fee, which will be deducted from your refund. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Airlines change their schedules and cancel flights with no penalty, but if you change anything, you're charged a fee.

The best time to choose seat assignments?

Q. My wife and I think we're savvy travelers and like to think we know all the tricks of the trade. Lately, we've had a disagreement about when are the optimum times to request a seat assignment and to check in for your flight. She feels that if you wait until arriving at the airport to get a seat assignment, the coach seats might all be assigned and they would likely give you an upgrade. She also feels this is the case for checking in later at the airport.

 

It seems to me that if all the economy seats are assigned, they would select one of their best customers (a very frequent flyer) for the upgrade and give you that person's economy seat. I'm guessing that checking in at the last minute only increases the chance that you will get bumped. If this is what you prefer, fine. So who's right?

A. I'd say you're right, and your wife is wrong. Airfarewatchdog wonders if all airlines won't do this one day in order to increase revenue. You're right that airlines are more likely to upgrade someone who has attained upper status in their frequent flyer programs. And to answer the bump question, we think it's true that you increase your chances of being bumped if you show up at the airport without a seat assignment. On the same subject, some airlines, most recently British Airways, are charging for advance seat assignments (even in business class).

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