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Entries during 2012-11

Best Flexible Date Airfare Search

Q. What’s the best airfare search website for a retired couple like us who can fly anytime it’s cheap? In other words, we are looking for a site that makes it easier to find the cheapest airfare without worrying about specific dates of travel.

A. There are several good ones that allow you to specify a departure day, a length of stay, and then search over successive 30- or 60-day periods. Among them: Hotwire, Kayak, and Cheapair (although this last one charges a $9.95 booking fee, it shows fares over a 330-day period). United also has this feature, as does Southwest. Many other airline sites only search over a week at a time (or show results week-by-week only, or allow just a 1-to-3 day search before and after a specific date. Travelocity used to have a very useful flexible date calendar product but it’s been discontinued and Orbitz has hidden its flexible date search here.

Excess Valuation for Checked Baggage

Q. How does “excess valuation” work when checking a bag on an airline and is it worthwhile to buy it?

A. Excess valuation is basically extra insurance that you can buy when you check in your luggage. It’s over and above any liability that the airline is required to pay if your bag and its contents are lost or damaged. On domestic U.S. flights, the airline’s standard liability is no more than $3300. By paying a relatively small fee, you can up the coverage to $5,000 on most airlines. Delta, for example charges $40 to boost coverage from $3300 to $4000 and an additional $50 for coverage from $4000 to $5000. For most people, it’s not worth buying on domestic flights. But where it’s very useful is for international flights, because airline liability is much less when traveling outside the U.S. Delta, for example, charges $10 for each $1000 of coverage up to $5000. Beware though: you’re still not covered for cash, camera equipment, commercial effects, electronics, jewelry, works of art or other valuables, and the coverage only extends to a Delta destination, the first Delta stopover, or your point of transfer to another airline. You need to buy the coverage each time you check a bag.

When 2 Become 1

Q. I recently took a flight on Jet Blue. When I checked in I was told my second bag would cost $40 each way! It used to cost $10 each way. I really believe that fees this high should be included in the cost of the ticket instead of trying to hide them from you when you do comparisons on websites. On the return flight the nice lady at the counter said she would turn the two bags into one. And with that I started thinking. I asked her to weigh both at the same time. They came in at 50 pounds total, so no overweight charge. So why we can’t strap two bags together and call them one? No fees!

A. Sounds like a great idea, as long as you don’t go over size limits, after which extra fees kick in anyway. If your combined bags measure more than 63 linear inches (width plus length plus height), you’ll start racking up enormous fees. On Delta, for example, that fee will be $175 each way. So it’s not just weight that you need to worry about. So as long as your bags are too big and you’re carrying some duct tape, go for it.

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