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Entries during 2010-11

Code Shares: Same Flight, Lower Fare

Q. My son will be spending next semester in Europe and I am trying to find flights for him. I've discovered in several instances where flights from the U.S. on SAS are at least $100 cheaper than the identical flights booked through its partner United. Why is there this differential and, more importantly, is there any reason why I should book through United instead of SAS?

A. This is a code share flight and there's no reason why you shouldn't buy the fare from whoever is selling it for less. Airlines buy blocks of seats on other airlines for a set price and then are free to sell them for whatever they wish. We've seen fare differences on various routes for much more than $100 in the past. A good way to identify code shared flights is by using, which will sometimes show you the exact same flights at different prices on different airlines.

Non-Refundable Fares Unfair?

Q. Back in July, my partner and I booked 'non-refundable' flights on from Portland to Baltimore. However, we ran into some financial difficulties and had to cancel the flights. I called the airlines directly (US Airways and Delta) to cancel. They said the tickets were non-refundable, but they would credit the costs to future flights with a $150 per ticket 'change fee.'

I find this unreasonable. A $50 fee maybe, but not $150. Also, I've never heard of a product that's non-refundable. Do think that's fair and is there a legal basis for challenging 'non-refundable' tickets?

A. Unfortunately, change fees are pretty high among the airlines these days, as you can see in our fee chart. As far as non-refundable tickets are concerned, only Southwest is enough of a maverick not to designate its lower priced fares as non-refundable. I doubt that there's a legal basis to challenge it, since the airlines do offer fully-refundable fares. You just have to pay a lot more for those refundable fares.

Using Miles to Upgrade Not Always Easy

Q. Are all economy-class fares, including the 21-or 14-day advance purchase ones, eligible for upgrading using frequent flyer (air) miles?

A. Theoretically, at least on most US-based airlines, the answer is yes. But on other airlines, the answer is no. Airfarewatchdog has always maintained that one of the “highest-value” ways to spend frequent flyer miles is to buy a super cheap economy class domestic fare and upgrade it (usually with 15,000 miles each way) to a super expensive business or first class fare, rather than spending 25,000 or even 50,000 miles on a cheap economy class seat. However, some airlines, most notably the world’s largest, Delta, allow upgrades only from their most expensive economy class fares, assuming there are even upgradeable seats available. United, American, and Continental, however, allow upgrades from almost all economy class fares, but they now require co-pays starting at $50 each way on domestic flights up to $700 each way on international flights (Delta does not require co-pays). These hefty co-pays on international flights sometimes make upgrading with miles a bad bargain. Add the hassle factor of finding flights that have upgradeable seats, and it’s no wonder that more consumers are using cash-back credit cards rather than cards that earn frequent flyer miles.

This article provides further information on which fare classes are upgradeable for the major US-based airlines.

Inadequate Compensation

Q. Why can't Delta Airlines compensate customers better when something goes wrong? Here was our situation: Family of 5. Child 5 years old, and twin infants. Getting to our destination was uneventful, however our trip home was a nightmare! After waiting to board the plane for about an hour, we were told the plane we were to fly out on arrived with a flat tire, and would not be fixed until the next day. Delta offered to put us up in a hotel. The shuttle bus took an hour to arrive. We got to the hotel, and it was a dumpy motel. The room was filthy. We asked for two cribs, they only had one, and that one was broken and very dangerous to place an infant in, and we were still charged for the crib. The next morning our flight was to leave at 6 a.m., and shuttle service began at 5 a.m. We got to the airport, and we waited in a long TSA line and by the time we got to the counter to check in, we were told we were too late to board the flight, and the next flight was 11 hours later! Finally, after a month of continuous complaining, we got $100 off our next trip with Delta.

A. First of all, Delta is not obligated to put you up in a hotel (there's no law that says they must do so). You might think it's the least they can do, but Delta could argue that a flat tire was an unforeseen "act of God" (the plane might have run over a piece of metal on the taxiway or who knows what) rather than "poor maintenance" which would be a different matter. It seems that your beef is more with the hotel than with Delta. Did you ask for a cleaner room? And I guess you don't travel very often, because you should never get to the airport less than an hour before flight time (leaving for the airport an hour before flight time isn't the same thing). Next time, take a cab if the free hotel shuttle won't get you there in plenty of time. I do wish that nothing bad ever happened when people fly, but in this case another airline might have done less than Delta did and you brought some of this woe upon yourself by bad planning.

Holiday Deals & How to Find Them

Q. I've read so many times that holiday airfares are much higher this year than last, so I have been afraid even to look. When will be the cheapest days to travel and when are the cheapest days to search for airfares this holiday? Should I wait until the last minute or is it already too late?

A. Don't give up hope! Fares may indeed drop at the last minute, and if fares are so high that you're not going to travel anyway, you have nothing to lose searching last minute.

Here are my top 10 rules for finding travel deals for the holidays:

1. Keep looking, at least 3 times a day until you find something good (you have nothing to lose except a few minutes of your time).

2. Keep looking….(do not be discouraged unnecessarily by the "fare experts")

3. Keep looking…. (OK, I really want to drive that home! Fares fluctuate throughout the day, and the number of seats at the lowest fare can also change minute by minute)

4. Be willing to take inconvenient flight times (6 a.m. departures, red eye flights, etc) and connecting flights

5. Look at nearby alternate airports (West Palm Beach rather than Miami, Mesa, AZ rather than Phoenix). It may be cheaper flying one-way into one airport, and out of a nearby airport.

6. Check,, and separately (assuming they fly where you're going).

7. Travel on Thanksgiving Day, return the Saturday or Monday after, or on Christmas Day and return the Tuesday or Wednesday after.

8. Consider a cruise. If you live within 4 hours driving distance of a cruise port, and the majority of Americans do, a cruise on Carnival, NCL or other cruise lines might be less than a flight. Much less in some cases.

9. Check out fares to Europe. Ironically, it might be cheaper to fly to London or Paris over the holidays than to Grandma's house.

10. And be sure to sign up for airfare alerts from several fare alert sites, such as,, and

Protections Against "Flight Irregularity?"

Q. I haven’t flown for several years, preferring to drive instead. One reason is that last time I flew, my flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems. However, the airline (American) did put me on another airline at no extra charge to get me to my destination, and although we were still several hours late, it was better than sleeping on the airport floor. I need to fly to a wedding in February and wonder if United still has this policy in the event of a cancellation. What about other airlines?

A. As a matter of fact, according to United’s current contract of carriage, yes it does. You were protected under a clause called “Rule 240” in United’s contract, which states that in the event of a “flight irregularity,” if United Airlines (UA) “is unable to provide onward transportation acceptable to the passenger UA…will arrange for transportation on another carrier…with whom UA has agreements for such transportation…in the same class of service as the passenger’s outbound flight at no additional cost to the passenger.” Some airlines, but certainly not all, have similar rules in their contracts. Alaska Airlines, for example, will even put you in a higher class of service (i.e., first class) on another airline if that’s the only option to get you to your destination faster than you’d arrive on one of Alaska’s own flights, as will Hawaiian Airlines. However, other airlines are not so accommodating. Most airlines formed in the years after carriers were deregulated by the government, such as AirTran, JetBlue, and Spirit, have no such language in their contracts. Nor does American Airlines. Delta, Southwest, and US Airways use terms such as “may attempt to rebook the customer…on another airline” or  “at our sole discretion we may arrange for travel on another carrier.” Virgin America’s contract states that it “may…substitute alternate carriers.” Obviously, “may” is not exactly an iron clad guarantee.  Even so, JetBlue and other airlines with iffy language have been known to reroute passengers on other airlines in the event of a cancelled or delayed flight, but all airlines have clauses in their contracts absolving themselves of responsibility if the delay or cancellation is beyond their control, such as a weather event, strike, or, say, a volcano. Even so, it’s a good idea to locate your airline’s contract of carriage before your next flight and give it a good read. These contracts are full of interesting information spelling out what rights you may—or may not—have. Most of these are in PDF form and can be found by doing an online search under “contracts of carriage.”

Know Before You Go! Dinky Connections & On-Time Performance Stats

Q. Is there a website or source to check the on-time schedule for various airlines? I'm trying to make a reservation and I'm given a 38 minute layover to make a Delta connection in Detroit. Is this even possible? 

A. Only 38 minutes? Eeek. Sure, it's possible, but that doesn't allow you much wiggle room for any little thing that might (and often does) go wrong. Hopefully, you'll arrive within a short walk to the gate for your connecting flight.

As for a site that allows you to check on-time statistics, there does exist such a thing. The US Department of Transportation Bureau of Statistics allows you to track on-time statistics by airline, airport and flight number. If your flight has a lousy on-time track record, you might try pointing out your skimpy connection time to a Delta agent and plead to be switched to an earlier flight without having to cough up the change fee.

Making Sense of Rule 260

Q. Where can I find information about "Rule 260" for Continental Airlines? Where did this rule come from? Is it an FAA rule?

A: I'm not sure where you heard about Rule 260, but the short answer is that Rule 260 was one of many rules that, when they were regulated by the government before 1978, airlines were required to include in their contracts of carriage. It is not an FAA rule, and as far as we know, there is no government regulation that now requires it. Rule 260 stated, in essence, that if your flight is canceled or severely delayed, you may apply for an "involuntary refund" of the fare you paid (in other words, you can get your money back, even on a non-refundable fare). However, if do a web search for "Continental Airlines Contract of Carriage" (it appears as a PDF document) you'll discover that Continental has completely revised the "standard" airline contract of carriage and now doesn't have a Rule 260 in its contract. Instead, it has Rules 21 to 27, which in modified language state some of the same things that you'll find in other airlines' Rule 260 (many airlines still have a Rule 260 in their contracts). Rule 27A in the contract reads: "Ticket Refund—Voluntary; 1) The amount [Continental] will refund upon surrender of the unused portion of the Passenger's Ticket for reasons pursuant to Rule 21 or Rule 24 will be…An amount equal to the fare and charges paid." So what do Rule 21 and 24 say? Rule 21 deals with Continental's refusal to transport a passenger for one or more reasons (such as if you don't have a proper ID); Rule 24 deals with flight delays or cancellations; and Part "C" of Rule 24 states that if a passenger is affected due to a change in schedule and chooses not to fly at another time or on a future flight, "the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request."

Confused? What it all boils down to is that on Continental, and indeed on most airlines, if you hold a non-refundable fare and your flight is cancelled or severely delayed and as a consequence you do not wish to travel, then you can get a refund. Interestingly, United Airlines, which recently purchased Continental, does have a Rule 260 in its current contract and it's much easier to understand.

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