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Entries during 2013-10

Peak Summer Planning: Wait for Fare Drops or Buy Now?

Q. We will be flying from Philadelphia to Kalispell, Montana next August. The plan is to pay for half of our family's tickets with frequent flyer miles and half by cash credit card. Should we book now, 10 months ahead, because the most frequent flyer seats are available early on, or should we wait to see if the air fares might go down? Do they ever go down as the date gets closer?

A. On a route with such limited service like Philadelphia to Kalispell, I'd book the frequent flyer seats now, especially for peak summer travel. As for the paid seats, I would monitor prices.  Currently fares are in the high $500s for round-trip August travel. That route rarely goes on sale. If you have the miles available, or think you might have them later in the year, I'd grab as many seats as you can using miles since this is a typically expensive airfare. You might also want to check departures from Newark and/or flying into Missoula as alternatives. And sign up for free alerts from your favorite airfare sites (cough cough...Airfarewatchdog...cough).

Kalispell image via Shutterstock

The Sitch with Seat Belt Extenders

Q. My kids and I will soon fly to my visit my mother in Florida, as we do every spring. This year my husband will join. He's a pretty big guy, and requires a seat belt extender when we fly. To save us from having to ask the flight crew, we ordered one of our own and it worked out fine the last time he went. However my husband says he heard that these were banned. How can that be?

A. This is partly true. The FAA didn't ban all seat belt extenders, just those that passengers bring from home. That includes any that claim to be FAA-approved. According to the rule, the seat belt extender must be provided to you by the airline.

Seat image via Shutterstock

Air-inclusive Cruise Fares

Q. Do any cruise lines offer air-inclusive fares, with the cruise fare and airfare packaged in one price? And if so, are they better prices than buying the cruise and airfare separately?

A. Yes, some cruise lines, such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises, do offer air/cruise packages. Some call these deals “free airfare” packages, but it’s always a good idea to price the two elements separately to see if you’re really getting a bargain, and they’re sometimes offered only on the most expensive cabins. I once saw an air/cruise package on Seabourn Cruise Lines for a one-week sailing in Europe during the fall for $2199, and that was indeed a screaming bargain. You might find this discussion on the Cruise Critic website helpful. Whatever you do, I always recommend arriving at your cruise port at least one day (and preferably two days in winter) before sailing so that you won’t miss the boat due to airline delays or cancellations.

Cruise image via Shutterstock

Yellowstone for Newbies

Q. Now that the National Parks are open again, we’re planning a trip to Yellowstone for the first time. What’s the best airport to fly into, and who has the best airfares? We’re considering staying in the park itself at the Old Faithful Inn but we’ve read reviews on Trip Advisor that the creature comforts are not exactly luxurious (no TVs, no WiFI, no air conditioning, etc). Should we be concerned booking a stay there?

A. Yellowstone (and nearby Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole) should be on everyone’s bucket list. You can fly into Jackson, WY.  Frontier Airlines (FlyFrontier.com) typically has the cheapest airfares with connections in Denver. Book directly on their website for the best deals. I’ve stayed at the Old Faithful Inn and while it’s true that the rooms are quite “historic” it’s a marvelous building and all part of the Yellowstone experience. Why watch TV or surf the Internet when Old Faithful is spurting outside the door? And I never found it uncomfortable in any way. You should book way ahead with Xanterra Parks and Resorts (the same company that manages lodging at the Grand Canyon, Glacier National Park, and Zion National Park) at 866-439-7375 or online at Xanterra.com. The only concern I had about my stay in Yellowstone: the portions at the Old Faithful Inn’s dining room are enormous, so if you’re not a huge eater, split an entrée or prepare to stuff yourself silly as I did.

Yellowstone image via Shutterstock

The Best Airline Gift Cards

Q. I'm thinking of getting my nephew one of those airline gift cards as a gift. I've seen Southwest and JetBlue advertised. Is there one discount airline that is better or more flexible than another for the gift cards. Thank you for any advice on these cards you can give me.

A. I would go with Southwest. They have fewer fees, make it incredibly easy to change travel dates, and allow passengers to rebank the value of the ticket for up to a year. JetBlue would be my second choice. Both offer card values of up to $1000, and neither will expire.

Avoiding High UK Airport Taxes

Q. I am planning to use my frequent flyer miles for a trip to the UK. However, I have noticed crazy high taxes imposed especially by London airports. I was wondering what nearby airports I could possibly fly into to minimize this tax?

A. The only UK airport that doesn't have these onerous taxes is Belfast in Northern Ireland. Though fares to Belfast may be high enough to cancel out whatever you'd save by skipping out on the tax.

Northern Irish flag via Shutterstock

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