Airlines Putting a Stop to Mileage Runs

January 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Airline mileage mavens, take note. The days of making mileage runs to boost your frequent flier membership levels may be coming to an end.

A recent article in the Seattle Times says that United and Delta airlines are cracking down on a practice known as “mileage running”.

Basically, this practice entails purchasing a low-cost, long-distance ticket and just flying in order to make sure you stay eligible for elite flying status on an airline. For example, if you’re 15,000 miles short of keeping your Super Elite Titanium level, you might purchase the lowest-cost ticket to fly from Chicago to London to Frankfurt to Rome, and back again, all in a four day whirlwind trip.

For short to medium-haul flights.

Business class for short- to medium-haul flights. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keeping a higher status can earn you extra miles and other perks such as upgrades to business class or the ability to hang out in the premium lounge. The mileage run often involves a round trip ticket to a destination the traveler has no time to enjoy, connecting through as many stopovers as possible.

It’s not that surprising airlines are cracking down on this. What is surprising is that people are willing to take such drastic steps, such as spending an entire weekend flying to Europe or South America and back just to gain these ticket points. I have to wonder whether it’s all worth the effort and discomfort.

I find that the elite airline mileage programs tend to be problematic anyway. I’ve had trouble booking tickets to the place I want to go and at the time I want them. A lot of blackouts and restrictions apply, not just for the free tickets, but also on what tickets you can use toward getting the free tickets. For me, getting rewards from my credit card has proven to be a lot more worthwhile. I find fewer restrictions in every area of the transaction. There are some credit cards that are specifically geared toward accruing travel points, and I use those whenever possible.

Plus, consider how valuable your time is. Many people don’t have the time to take a long haul trip over a weekend like that. It may be worthwhile to spring for a business class ticket once in a while rather than spending 36 hours traveling just to get upgraded. You have to calculate whether the benefit is greater than the cost, both concrete and abstract.

Three Airlines That Will Still Fly You On a Competitive Airline

September 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

United Airlines Boeing 767-300 at Zürich Airpo...

United Airlines Boeing 767-300 at Zürich Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s lost to the annals of history, but up until 1978, there was a code that said if an airplane was delayed, the airline had to book you on a competitor’s flight. Unfortunately this code, Code 240, was dismissed in 1978 when the Civil Aeronautics Board was eliminated. However, three airlines still uphold this level of courtesy.

According to a recent USA Today article, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and United Airlines will still fly you on a competitor, in the spirit of Code 240.

Granted they do have some stipulations, such as if the delay was weather-related or an act of God, then they won’t. But that’s still better than nothing. Even in the 1990s, many airlines would honor the Code. But after September 11th, security became stricter, and fewer airlines honored it.

If you’re ever caught in a flight delay, you can still ask for Code 240 to see if the airline will grant it. After all, the worst they can do is say no. However, there is an alternative.

Some airlines have ongoing working relationships called a codeshare, where they work together and will sell tickets on each other’s behalf, and even fly their passengers. For example, the SkyTeam codeshare has 20 airlines, including Delta, Alitalia, and Air France. Star Alliance networks 27 airlines including United, Lufthansa, and Air Canada.

So if you booked a Delta flight to Rome, and have a Delta ticket, you may end up on an Alitalia flight because of the codeshare. If you want to fly Lufthansa to Germany, you may be on a United flight, and so on. This codeshare, in a way, works like Code 240. If your Delta flight to Paris is delayed, you may be able to get a codeshare seat on an Air France flight a couple hours later.

You can also use these alliances to get cheaper tickets. If you want to fly overseas, check the different ticket prices on each airline’s website. You may be able to get a cheaper ticket on one than the other, even though you’d be on the exact same plane.

Furthermore, if you’re a member of a frequent flyer program with one airline, but you fly with a codeshare airline, you’ll still get your miles.

If you ever find yourself stranded because of a delay, ask the airline about their codeshare alliances and see if any of them are available to get you to your destination faster. At the worst, you’re going to be late anyway. But if you’re lucky, you can get there sooner than everyone else waiting for the next regular flight, and you can do it without any extra fees.

Can You Bring Liquor On Board a Flight?

July 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Purchasing liquor in-flight can be costly, which has led many people to wonder if they’re allowed to bring their own bottles of liquor on board. We’ve seen many blog posts on this topic, and unfortunately, with the rules on this being a bit confusing, many travelers are being misinformed.

Since there’s so much misinformation floating around, we decided to do some digging on this topic and set the record straight.

So can you bring liquor on board a flight? The answer is yes. . . and no. (Mostly no.)

Full size bottles of liquor

little liquor bottles

little liquor bottles (Photo credit: Scorpions and Centaurs)

Per the 3.4 ounce rule, full-size bottles of liquor are not allowed to be packed in a carry-on – you must pack these in your checked luggage. The exception to this rule are bottles of liquor purchased at the airport duty free shops past the security gates. But if you have to bring it through the security checkpoint, you won’t be allowed to keep it.

Mini bottles of liquor

Travelers are allowed to pack miniature bottles of liquor in their carry-on luggage, as long as the bottles are 3.4 ounces or smaller and are placed in a clear plastic bag for inspection. Note that in compliance with the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule, you’ll need to include these bottles into your quart-size bag. Visit the TSA website for more information.

Can you drink your own liquor in-flight?

While you may be able to bring your own liquor on-board with you, if you’re flying within the United States, you won’t be able to drink it. The Federal Aviation Administration’s rules state “No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.”

While you may think that it might be easy to sneak a drink, think again. Unless you’re OK with paying thousands of dollars in civil penalties for breaking the FAA’s rules, you’ll want to bite the bullet, spend a few extra dollars for a drink from the in-flight beverage cart and save your personal stash for your hotel room.

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How to Survive an Airport Layover

April 16, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The words “delay” and “layover” are apt to cause even the most seasoned air traveler to feel just a bit stressed out. Thankfully, airports are starting to recognize that they’re in the business of customer service and that nowadays, savvy travelers are apt to select layover airports based on amenities and comfort.

If you happen to find yourself stuck in an airport on a layover or flight delay, don’t spend your time stressing – instead, why not enjoy yourself? Here are eight of our favorite ways to not just survive, but actually enjoy a layover.

Singapore Airport shopping kiosks1. Do some shopping
Whether you’re interested in picking up gifts, shopping duty free or checking out designer wares, many airports are now increasing their retail options, making them an excellent place to get some shopping done! Even better? Denver, Los Angeles and Vancouver airports are all planning outlet malls next to their airport terminals.

2. Airline lounges
Think you can’t gain access to an airline lounge simply because you’re flying coach? Think again! Many lounges now allow travelers to pay per visit, making them a great place to kick back and relax.

3. Relax
It may seem like an oxymoron, but many airports are actually great places to squeeze in some relaxation. Listen to music, read a book, or take advantage of the free WIFI many airports now offer and watch a movie online.

4. Pamper yourself
Having a hard time relaxing on your own? Pamper yourself! Many airports now offer barber shops, salons, spas and massage kiosks.

5. Catch up with friends and family
In this fast-paced world we live in, it can be hard to find the time to catch up with friends and family. Why not take advantage of the down time and do some catching up? If your cell phone battery is low, fear not – most airports are now offer charging stations.

6. Meet other travelers
Airports, bars and restaurants can be a great place to meet people of all walks of life! Who knows – you may end up meeting a future client or love interest!

7. Squeeze in a doctor’s visit
Yes, it’s true! Many airports now offer clinics that conduct routine physicals and inoculations. If you haven’t been to the doctor lately, there’s no time like the present.

8. Go sightseeing
If you’re stuck on a long delay, venture out of the airport and do some sightseeing! Most, if not all airports have kiosks that provide tourism information. If you do venture out, just be sure you’re back in time to get through security.

Photo credit: PeterGarnhum (Flickr, Creative Commons)

United States Seeks Device to Replace Pat Downs

July 26, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

I recently spotted an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a Department of Homeland Security request to technology companies for a light, handheld device that will be able to quickly determine whether an object on a passenger being screened is a weapon or explosive of some sort.

The Department of Homeland Security oversees the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and all the screening that get travelers through the checkpoints before their flights. The TSA has about 700 full-body “backscatter” machines at 180 airports throughout the United States, but as of right now, backscatter machines do only part of the screening work. They can detect objects hidden on passengers during that full-body scan, but if the machines find something, TSA agents still have to do manual pat downs to determine what the object is.

The Monk and the TSA Officer

The Monk and the TSA Officer (Photo credit: seadevi)

I’ve been through a few manual pat downs — you can be randomly selected for them, too — and as a seasoned traveler, I’ve gotten used to the process. But some people are very sensitive to pat downs and feel violated when a TSA employee asks permission to do so.

There are many upsides to creating an electronic device that will do the work of a person who might do the pat down. The risk of offending travelers will be greatly reduced, and it will make TSA agents’ jobs easier, too.

Also, in general, if a company develops a great handheld digital product to detect weapons and explosives, the amount of human error in the search and detection process will be reduced, too, making the skies safer for everyone who travels.

It’s a win-win for everybody.

A solution like this takes time — companies will have to submit their proposals, and there’s no telling how long development, testing and approval will take both at the corporate and government levels — but moving to an electronic device that will digitize the entire screening process, from the backscatter machine’s full-body scan to determining whether the objects found pose a threat to other travelers, is a step in the right direction for travelers and the efficiency of the entire process.

I can’t wait to hear updates on this process as it moves forward.

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Four Ways to Keep the TSA From Ruining Your Holidays

November 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The TSA is not known for its Christmas spirit, which can make everyone else a real Scrooge when it comes to holiday travel plans. It’s to be expected: there are certain travel rules everyone has to follow, and safety doesn’t take a holiday.

So if you want to avoid having your holiday gift giving ruined by some overzealous agents who think your fruitcake constitutes a security issue, try remembering these holiday travel rules:

1. No Snow Globes Allowed

Just so you know...

Image by russteaches via Flickr

In an article on Condé Nast’s Daily Traveler, writer Molly Fergusreminds us that your liquid limit is 3.5 ounces, which is less than the volume of most snow globes. Which means you’re not going to be allowed to take your snow globe gifts along with you. Your best bet is to pack it securely and safely, and ship it ahead to your final destination.

2. Ship your gifts ahead of time.

Just because a gift is nicely wrapped doesn’t mean the TSA won’t tear into it to make sure it’s safe. If you have to carry a gift with you, leave it unwrapped and wrap it when you get to your final destination. Pack some wrapping paper inside the box (pre-cut, of course, since you can’t take scissors on the flight), and wrap it. Or just buy the wrapping paper or a gift bag once you arrive.

Or, just like everything else we’ve discussed so far, ship it ahead of time. It may seem like an added expense and headache, but if you can save yourself the stress of trying to get everything through security, you may find it was worth the money. Also, compare the cost of shipping ahead to the checked bag fees that most airlines charge. You may be surprised on how small the cost differential actually is.

3. Save room in your luggage for the return trip.

If you didn’t have a full suitcase heading out, you will when you’re coming back. Be sure to leave some empty space in your suitcase to pack the gifts you’ll be bringing back with you. This is especially true if you’re worried about having an overweight suitcase. Only pack the bare necessities, because you don’t want to get hit with overweight baggage fees coming back. And ship back any gifts that you can’t take through security.

Holiday travel is stressful enough. There’s no need to add to the hassle, especially as you’re trying to get through security. Leave stuff at home or ship it ahead, but avoid packing the things that are going to make the TSA confiscate them. You’ll have a merrier time if you don’t have to worry about it.

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Tips For Flying With Grandchildren

August 2, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

One of the great joys of being a grandparent is watching your grandchildren experience new things. And, there’s no better way to share in these experiences than by taking trips together.

Traveling to exciting new places with your grandkids enables you to broaden their horizons, enhance their education and deepen your bond with them. Plus, your adult son or daughter will appreciate both your relationship building efforts and the “time off” from parenting.

Beach Bums

Beach Bums (Photo credit: Adventures of KM&G-Morris)

But, remember that these trips aren’t for the faint of heart. You’re not only assuming responsibility for the children’s well being during your travels, but you’ll need to match their energy levels as well.

To minimize stress, it’s important to think through beforehand what everyone in your party will need during the flight. By anticipating the challenges of navigating your grandkids through a busy airport terminal and frantic security checkpoint and onto a crowded plane, you can plan and pack accordingly.

Here are some tips that every inter-generational traveler should consider:

Create A Handy “Trip Case”: While shepherding young children through the airport, you shouldn’t have to hunt through multiple bags to locate airline confirmations, boarding passes or rental car reservations. Simply tuck a “trip case” containing all travel documents into your Travelpro Rollaboard’s ticket pocket, and relax. Everything you need in now in one place for quick and easy access.

Be Prepared: You’re the children’s guardian during the trip, so make sure you have their proper identification, health insurance, contact information and notarized authorization from their parents in case they need medical attention. Plus, it’s your job to know all their medications and dietary needs.

Let Your Grandkids Carry-On: Have your grandchildren pack a backpack that they’re responsible for. By involving them in the planning process, they’ll be less intimidated (and more agreeable) at the airport. You should limit the number and size of items they take, and encourage them to make a list of their belongings which they’ll keep in their backpack.

Pack A Surprise Bag: Bring along a “surprise bag” containing books, games, dolls and other visually stimulating toys that you can pull out when they get restless. Engaging your grandkids will not only make the trip more pleasant for you, but for surrounding passengers, as well

Load Up On “Apps”: Instead of weighing down your Travelpro® Rollaboard® with a bunch of books, why not load some stories and games onto your iPhone or iPad? There’s a wide array of whimsical and delightfully illustrated online books available for kids.

Finally, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you have many grandchildren, consider traveling with no more than two at a time. You’ll not only be able to provide each the attention they deserve, but you have a ready-made excuse for future trips with the ones left behind.

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New Passenger Rights Rules Mean Fewer Headaches For Air Travelers

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

At long last, there are some sensible new rules to reduce air travel hassles.

According to an article in the May 1 edition of The Baltimore Sun, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced a new series of passengers rights designed to correct a range of issues that have outraged air travelers in recent months.

Addressing such irritations as involuntary “bumping” on overbooked flights, excessive flight delays, lost bag fees, and deceptively advertised discounted fares, these rules are scheduled to go into effect on August 23, 2011.

JFK International Airport

Image via Wikipedia

According to Ambrose, if you’re bumped from an oversold flight, you’ll soon be compensated more generously. Currently, you can receive the price of your ticket, up to $400, if the airline gets you to your domestic destination within two hours of your original arrival time (four hours on international flights). For longer delays, you can receive twice the ticket price, not to exceed $800.

The new DOT rules raise these limits. For short delays, you’ll get double the price of your ticket, but no more than $650. For long delays, you will be entitled to four times the value of your ticket, not to exceed $1,300. These limits are to be adjusted every two years for inflation.

Regarding extended flight delays (a recent blizzard at New York’s JFK airport stranded a group of passengers on the tarmac for 11 hours), carriers won’t be able to keep passengers on the tarmac for more than four hours. And airlines must make sure passengers have food, water, working bathrooms and medical treatment, if necessary, after two hours.

Plus, when an aircraft is delayed on the tarmac, airlines will have to give passengers a status report every half-hour. And carriers will have to notify the public within a half-hour of learning about a change that will delay a flight by 30 minutes or more.

In addition, the new rules will require that airlines not only reimburse passengers for lost luggage, but refund the baggage fees they assessed to transport those bags. And, to address the problem of undisclosed airline fees, carriers must now include all mandatory fees, including taxes, in their advertised fares and on their website.

Once you combine these updated DOT rules with the convenience of flying with Travelpro® Rollaboard® luggage, the skies are suddenly much friendlier.

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Understanding Armrest Etiquette

March 3, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Air travelers face an etiquette question every bit as challenging as who goes through the elevator doors first, should you take the last hot wing, or whether one should initiate eye contact in an elevator. . .

Who gets the armrests?

Is it the passenger who arrived first? (the “stake your claim early” approach)? Is it the passenger stuck in the middle seat? (the “pity the poor soul” method)? Is it the overweight passenger? (the “why not, he’s already spilling over into my space” theory)? Or, is it most aggressive passenger? (the “survival of the fittest” technique)? And, is an armrest up for grabs when one passenger momentarily abandons it to grab a magazine or accept a drink (the “you snooze, you lose” strategy)?

Difficult issues, indeed. Proper travel etiquette should provide guidance in these situations. But, as frequent fliers well know, good manners often stay on the ground.

In a two-seat row, cooperation is more likely since only two people are vying for the middle armrest. Communication is much easier and most people go along to get along.

Three-seat rows add another player, and increase the tension. Obviously, the aisle-seat passenger gets the aisle-side armrest, while the window-seat passenger gets the window-side armrest. Possession of the middle armrests often comes down to who’s least comfortable with having their personal space invaded.

So, what happens when two assertive, armrest-coveting people are seated side by side? In most cases, the passenger who fears social awkwardness more than claustrophobia will yield. But, it’s highly likely that he will employ the “you snooze, you lose” strategy at some point during the flight.

The bottom line is that most of the flying public are mature adults who accept the fact that air travel involves some inconvenience. When sharing an aisle with an inconsiderate jerk, they remain polite and avoid confrontation.

It makes sense. Why complicate an already unpleasant situation over an armrest (which, incidentally, can be raised to create more room for everyone involved).

If you’re stuck with a seatmate who has poor armrest etiquette, look at the bright side. At least, he’s not staring you straight in the eye in a crowded elevator or eating your hot wings.

When Should I Book My Trip With A Travel Agent?

January 13, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

With the seemingly endless amount of travel resources now available online, does it still make sense to book your trip with a travel agent? It often depends on the complexity of your trip.

If it’s just you and your spouse traveling to a familiar destination, the arrangements should be pretty straightforward and easily handled online. But, if your journey is to an unknown location, and involves coordinating the arrivals and departures of multiple people and the arranging of various outings and excursions, a full-service travel agent can be a Godsend.

Everyone needs a vacation. Everyone.

In his article, “Why Use A Travel Agent,” Joseph A. Watters, President of Crystal Cruises, listed the important services travel agents provide their clients either free or for a nominal charge:

1. Distilling the product information: No one knows more about travel and trip planning than a travel agent. They’re up on the latest news, packages, and ways to save money.

2. Investigating and supplying competitive information: Airlines don’t share competing information, like prices, about each other. Travel agents have that information at their fingertips.

3. Staying abreast of the most current and timely promotions: Since travel agents get all the information from industry-only emails, airline district managers, and other sources, they have the most up-to-date promotional information.

4. Analyzing the current promotions: Travel agents can also advise you on the best value over the best price. Remember, a cheap price is not always a bargain if you’re uncomfortable, have to pay extra costs, or get bumped.

5. Clarifying the fine print, such as cancellation penalties and restrictions: A travel agent can tell you of any of the pitfalls you might not otherwise spot on a travel booking website.

6. Making recommendations for travel-related options: Since travel agents are always up on the latest news about the travel industry, including the destinations, they can give you ideas of how to pack, what to expect, places to shop and dine, and packages to try.

7. Simplifying the research and subsequent transaction: Rather than spending hours yourself looking for individual hotels, rental cars, flights, dining reservations, ask your travel agent to help you out. They can act as a personal concierge for organizing your itinerary, saving you the time you need to handle the rest of your life. And you can be sure they’re going to act in your best interest, not the destination locations’

8. Enhancing the trip with value-added benefits and amenities: A travel agent, especially one who’s knowledgeable about your destination, can enhance the experience by putting you in touch with special packages and amenities that the average traveler isn’t going to hear about.

9. Using their clout to obtain the best possible in seemingly impossible situations: Travel agents have a little caché when it comes to their position, name, and buying power. Hotel owners, airline booking agents, and cruise organizers know that a big portion of their business comes from travel agents, and they’ll work to keep them happy — even to the point of getting perks and amenities that you couldn’t have gotten if you tried it yourself.

10. Getting problems resolved: Your travel agent will also, like a true concierge, handle any problems you have when something goes wrong. Get bumped from your flight? Call your travel agent to rebook. Need a different hotel or rental car? Rather than navigating everything yourself, place a call to your travel agent, and then wait for them to call you back with the information.

You’re going on vacation to escape planning, scheduling and hassles. Working with a travel agent helps you do just that, so let them handle your next trip for you.

Photo: MikeMcSharry (Flickr)

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