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AIR TRAVEL

Fly the gloomy skies


>> Airlines have not been able to rise above the down-in-the-dumps economy. Five of the biggest U.S. carriers reported losses this year, and air travelers will feel the bumps. This fall and winter, expect routes and service to be cut, planes to be grounded, fees to go up, and don’t even think about roomy seating. Despite recent gains, the number of domestic passengers has taken a dive, creating a surplus of airlines. Analysts think some may have to resort to bankruptcy.

Self-defense: If you have air miles (or other rewards), consider using them sooner, rather than later. By the time you’re ready to fly, your airline may be in bankruptcy court. If you haven’t been using sites like
www.farecompare.com, now’s a good time to start. See other fare and service sites below.

A plague of extra fees

>> The airlines call it “unbundling.” You get charged for everything from snacks and beverages (where it started) to a wide array of services. You may pay extra for checked bags, wi-fi, in-flight entertainment, pillows, exit-row seats, priority boarding, and so on. On top of all that comes news that some airlines are jamming more seats onto their aircraft, giving travelers even less legroom.

All of which makes it hard to compare prices: A $350 ticket on one airline could be more expensive to get what you want than a $400 ticket on another. But the canny traveler can beat the system. Several websites spell it all out for you, so you can compare apples to apples.

Self-defense: Don’t take published fares at face value. Figure out what extras you will want and compare prices on your total package of services. These sites will help:  www.AirlineQuality.com and www.FlyingFees.com.

The “now you tell me” airfare

>> In case you haven’t noticed, airlines may defeat your best efforts to get a cheap ticket. Say you buy a month ahead of time to save money. Then, a week before your flight, you discover that a seat on your flight now costs $160 less. That happens partly because the recession has intensified competition among airlines. But you don’t have to sit there and stew. You can call your airline and ask for a refund, which usually comes in the form of a voucher, not cash, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing. Jet Blue, United, and Southwest will do this at no extra charge. Some other airlines charge a hefty fee. If you’re thinking, “I have a life. I can’t keep track of all that.” Not to worry. At least one website will do it for you. See below:

Self-defense: As soon as you buy your ticket, go to www.Yapta.com, which will automatically track the price, even reflecting the airline’s refund fee, if there is one. If they spot a lower price, they’ll send you a free email or Twitter notice, and even, for a small fee, call the airline to claim your refund.

A smarter way to compare air fares.

 

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Copyright © 2009 Richard Evans and Andrew Bromberg