Category Archives: airfare

About those “basic economy” Plane fares….buyer beware!

Yet another way for airlines to nickle and dime us: the “Basic Economy” fare. It means different things depending upon the airline. United’s basic economy does not allow you to stow a bag in overhead (let alone check a bag) so you’ve got to pack very lightly.  Dirck tried this out during a recent trip to Albuquerque (where he was staying with relatives so he could borrow clothes, if need be. Plus   it was only a long weekend trip.) He did have to check in at the counter — he couldn’t get his seat assignments or boarding passes in advance online. And he got closely scrutinized by the counter person who seemed to think he was going to try to smuggle on a bag to go in the overhead. Meanwhile the ticket fare was by no means cheap (about $340) and both of his planes traveling to ABQ were delayed due to mechanical problems so he lost half a day of his trip. Thanks United.

I opted for American’s Basic Economy fare during a recent trip to New Orleans after I read the fine print and found out that I could bring a bag to stash overhead. The fare (a reasonable $240) was about $70 cheaper than the Economy fare, I think. I ended up buying advance seat assignments on both flights for about $9 per flight (two flights each way).  I was in the last group to board, regardless — in the ominous-sounding “Group 9,” which wasn’t that big an issue except when it comes to finding overhead space to put a bag. I didn’t have this issue because Dirck had an Economy ticket (that his employer paid for) and had checked his bag  so he took mine when he boarded with Group 6.

One irritating thing did happen when I tried to buy seat assignments on the way home.  I went online, picked out a specific seat for each of my two flights at a specific price. But instead of giving me the seat I chose for the first flight (an aisle seat toward the front of the plane, so I could get out faster and make my connection) the automated system gave me a seat I never would have purchased (a middle seat way in the back).  I was charged $16, rather than $18 for the two seat assignments. And there was no recourse. I tried calling the airline but they said I’d have to wait until I got to the airport and switch — which I did but the seat I originally selected was no longer available. I did switch to an aisle seat but way back in the plane. It’s a cockamamie system — as I complained to the American ticket agent, it would be like buying a specific book from Amazon and Amazon ending me a different book, at a different price, with no option to correct my order. Consumer be damned….

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Filed under airfare, Airlines, flying

How I (unexpectedly) got a new bag from American Airlines

 

In the “it pays to ask” department: After returning home late two Sundays ago  from Florida, I realized that the purple suitcase I’d checked (at the request of American Airlines, although it would have easily fit in overhead) had several prominent rips. At first, I thought “Oh well,” but later it dawned on me that I probably wouldn’t be able to use the bag any more, especially if I need to appear somewhat respectable (or ever have another business trip…).

When I looked up online the particulars for what to do about a damaged bag, I learned I was supposed to show the bag to an American Airlines person at the airport within 24 hours of my return. But the morning after I returned was not only Spring Break. A major storm on the East Coast had led to many cancelled flights, meaning the airport would be even more mobbed. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the airport and kvetch about my ripped bag.

I explained all this to the AA baggage person the following Thursday night when I happened to be picking someone up at the airport and to my surprise, she looked at my bag, and said that even though I was past the 24-hour period, she’d give me a new bag “as a courtesy.” She left for a few minutes and returned with a brand new bag and was quick to point out the features including four wheels and a 10-year warranty. I thanked her profusely and went on my merry way.

 

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Filed under airfare, Florida

A first and last (for awhile) no-connection flight on southwest back from DC to dsm

imageWell this is weird and kind of nice but it won’t be happening for some time. My southwest flight from DC was almost direct to dsm. the plane stopped at Chicago’s midway airport but is the same plane going to dsm. Never done that before. And sadly won’t again because Southwest is replacing its Des Moines-Chicago flights with dsm-st. Louis flights. Oh well. I will miss the affordable flights to Chicago and to midway (goodbye Manny’s corned beef too) but one good thing: it appears that there will be Sunday flights to DC from dsm via St. Louis (there weren’t any via Chicag0.)

Two more good meals in DC, last night at graffiato, the top chef personality mike Isabella’s inventive Italian small plates and pizza joint near gallery Place. And tonight superb crab cakes at legal seafood in Reagan national airport. Plane is filling up again so signing off.

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Filed under airfare, Washington D.C.

On flying Air Canada and international/to Portugal via Toronto

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Betsy in Evora

We never really got clear information information from United about what was involved in flying their airline for two of our three flights to get to Lisbon from Des Moines and flying Air Canada the last leg, between Toronto and Lisbon.

They were fine with selling us the pricey plane tickets that included the Air Canada flight but seemed to know little about the particulars. (We even had to call Air Canada to book seats for the Toronto-Lisbon-Toronto flights. United wouldn’t do it.) So when we couldn’t get a clear answer about whether our bags could be checked straight through to Lisbon (or if we would have to pick them up in Toronto and transfer them to Air Canada,) we opted to carry on our luggage. (And had to surrender our Swiss Army knife in the process.)

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Dirck at Coimbra restaurant where guests post receipts on the wall

We were glad to have our bags when our planned two-hour layover in Toronto outbound evaporated as we were sat on the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare. At one point it looked like we would have to wait two hours to fly to Toronto (we didn’t find out until later that a storm had shut down the airport) but fortunately our delay ended up being one hour. We ran through the airport, went through some sort of expedited Canadian customs and easily made our 10 p.m. connecting flight. (Phew! If we had missed that flight we would have had to stay overnight in Toronto and wait until 4:30 pm for a flight to Newark and then get an 8 pm flight to Lisbon.)

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Porto church

 

It was Canadian travelers whom we met in Toronto outbound who told us that on our return trip we would be able to go through U.S. Customs in Toronto, before catching out next flight to Houston. This was a relief since we had a two-hour layover in Toronto but only an hour layover in Houston (which means we would probably miss our flight to Des Moines if we had to go through customs there). I couldn’t get anyone to confirm this from the airlines but it is in fact what happened. Phew!

meanwhile the air canada planes there and back were old and cramped with NO movie screens. The only option was to use our laptops (or rent one) and get movies via an airline app. Huh?

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Filed under airfare, airline fees, Portugal

High Line and Nutty end of day thanks to delta airlines

New High Line sectionSo by midday I had already received a text from delta that my 7:30 pm flight to Des Moines from LaGuardia was delayed til 8:00. By 1:26 or so it was now leaving at 9:30 pm so I leisurely sauntered along the new section of the High Line down to Chelsea Market at 15th street, ready to eat a leisurely late lunch. But no, another text at 4:19 pm had arrived. I figured it was another delay or even a cancellation. But no, the flight was now leaving at 7:35 again. at first I thought I’d read a previous text but I called to check with delta and sure enough, the flight was back on time. And I was late. I rushed out of the market, hustled over to the subway and made it back to 108 th and riverside drive  at 5:15, grabbed my bag, skipped my plan to take the m60 bus to the airport and jumped in a cab.

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Just my luck I had a newbie driver who took me to the wrong terminal but eventually I made it with time to spare and we will see if this does in fact leave on time.  This appears to be a new or revamped terminal, with much improved food, New LaGuardia 2fress iPads for use everywhere and lots of plugs to recharge all our gizmos. Now if they could just get the flight notification process under control. And the flights to leave on time. At 7:15 came a development that does not surprise me at all. our flight is now delayed until 8:15. We have a plane but no pilots. Post Script: we finally left the gate around 8:30 and the tarmac about 9 p.m.

 

The new LaGuardia

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Filed under airfare, New York City

Joys of the Burbank Airport

Terminal building at Bob Hope Airport

A week ago we were wending our way home from green and sunny Los Angeles (now we’ve got snow again in Iowa grrrr) and appreciating the ease of traveling through the Burbank “Bob Hope” Airport. It cost considerably more to fly home from Burbank rather than LAX but man was it worth it – considering that we had a 3 p.m. flight (rather than the early morning flights available from LAX) and the airport is about 10 minutes from my brother’s house in Burbank. It’s a surprisingly tiny, pokey place – reminds me of Des Moines’ airport before it got bigger and busier. (Oddly our plane from Burbank to Denver was much smaller than the plane from Denver to Des Moines. )

One other tip: it pays to ask when you’re dealing with a tight connection in Denver. We chanced a 35-40 minute connection between United flights in Denver and even though our flight left almost on time from Burbank (10 minutes late technically), making our connecting flight was touch-and-go. The connecting flight was in the same Terminal B but about 60 gates away. I ended up asking an airport employee standing behind a desk with a disabled sign on it how long it would take to get to that far-away gate and without batting an eyelash, he offered to drive us in his cart – which saved the day. We got to the gate as people were boarding. (He did accept a tip – we weren’t sure of the protocol.)

Boarding from Terminal B

 

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Filed under airfare, California, Colorado, Los Angeles

Tips on flying Southwest out of Des Moines

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IATA
WN
ICAO
SWA
Callsign
SOUTHWEST
Founded March 16, 1967

As word comes from today’s DMRegister that there’ s talk of trying to expand the selection of direct Southwest flights out of Des Moines (Orlando and St. Louis but no promises and would happen, at the earliest next summer), I’ve been thinking about advice I’d give to people flying Southwest out of DSM right now – based on my first trial run earlier this month. And here it is:

– Although Southwest offers no fee to check your luggage (how refreshing), I am glad I didn’t check mine because if I had I wouldn’t have been able to switch flights in Las Vegas at the last minute after my LAX flight was delayed and I hopped aboard a Burbank flight. Or so I gather. The first question the counter agent asked me after I inquired about switching was whether I’d checked my luggage. I hadn’t and miraculously I was en route to Burbank minutes later. When I got to Burbank, I received another update on my original LAX flight. It still hadn’t left Vegas, delayed over 2 hours and counting…

– Paying the extra $12 or so to get priority boarding was definitely worth it!! Otherwise it is essential to check in as close as possible to exactly 24 hours before flight time so you get a good position in line, preferably A group or failing that B group but NOT C group. Those folks get the middle seats and there’s less likelihood, if the plane is booked, of getting an overhead spot to stow their luggage. The one flight I didn’t take and pay the extra $12 I got an A44 number in line – not bad. And I ended up with a good aisle seat close to the front of the plane (so I could exit quickly and make my connection).

– Speaking of connections, in Las Vegas my flight arrived in the C terminal and I had to haul a** to make my connecting flight in the B terminal, which seemed like miles away (with only a few moveable walkways). The slot machines strewed in the corridors didn’t help as I had knots of people to get around while dragging my suitcase. I don’t know if this is always the case on the DSM-Vegas-LA flight. (The one I took was at noon on a Friday out of DSM.)

– My connection at Chicago’s Midway was much much better – the Seattle-Midway flight landed in a gate only three gates away from the Midway-Des Moines flight. Yippee!! (This was on the 2:30 Wednesday flight from Seattle to Midway and the 9:30 pm flight from midway to dsm.)

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Filed under airfare, Chicago, Des Moines, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle

Thanks for being flexible Southwest Airlines

Another thing to love about Southwest: their flexibility. Yesterday when I realized that my connecting flight from Vegas to LA was going to be delayed yet another hour due to mechanical problems with the plane back in Tucson, I decided it was time to act. I tried to get on an earlier LAX flight which was oversold but the airline said I could give it a shot…and not loose my seat on my scheduled flight. No extra cost. No hassles. What a delightful change from other airlines which are rarely so flexible and would charge extra to change my ticket. Even more amazing, as i was,rushing back across the airport to see if I could get,on the earlier LAX flight, I passed a gate where a flight to Burbank was boarding. I remembered that my brother lived even closer to Burbank than LAX so,I dashed over to the desk, asked,if there were any seats left and once again, was told it was oversold but worth a try. A few minutes later , my name was called and an hour later I was at the Burbank airport when I got a,text saying my original flight still had not left Vegas. Even though Burbank was more expensive, no one said a word about charging me more or not letting me on the flight. Talk about a good way to build brand loyalty! meanwhile here (see photo) is the reason why I am now staying in a sweet bungalow in Toluca Lake with my brother and his family. Beautiful,area by the way. We walked in some lovely residential areas, passing houses owned by movie stars like Steve Carrell and even sawmthe house that was used as the exterior for the brady bunch!

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Filed under airfare, Los Angeles, Uncategorized

Tips for if my flight gets screwed up at thanksgiving…FlightStats.com!

Okay, so I am not convinced my flights will go well at thanksgiving because, well, it’s thanksgiving. I have tried to reduce possible snafus by flying direct (a rare treat from Des Moines although it does require a 6 am flight to Newark on thanksgiving day for close to $500′ insane I know) and avoiding the wed and sun surrounding thanksgiving. Still I am holding onto some good tips from the November Conde Nast traveler on dealing with winter flight issues :
– best time to fly on …Presidents’ Day weekend, which is also valentines day. Book in early december.
– other cheap tome to fly to warm weather places? Dec 3 to 16 (you are close dad!) and mid jan.
– try alternate airports. Tampa or Fort Lauderdale rather than Miami or Orlando
– nope problems in the bud. Fly early am (I knew that one) and avoid landing between 7 and 10 in say, ohare(we learned that the hard way on our way home from Boston last month when we almost got stuck overnight in Chicago,.
– if you have to do a connecting flight (yes, alas. We do) stay away from ohare (knew that too but hard to avoid). Opt instead for Dallas or Houston (really?)
– if you can’t get a seat when you book your tix online, call the airline to get from a phone agent. Apparently it IS true that you are more likely to get bumped if you show up,at the gate without a seat.
– checking in early also decreases your chance of getting bumped.
– if bad weather on the horizon, find out if your flt is cancelled by checking airline website or twitter feed for updates. Soone r u know the better chances of getting rebooked. (I learned that last fall en route to New Orleans from Kansas City)
– Have a plan b. I was just telling this to my daughter. Know what flights are leaving after your scheduled connecting flight, in case you miss it. Although you may not find a seat. Before your flight check FlightStats.com, open “:delays” and then “global trends” which will show which airports and airlines are having the most cancelations and delays and which aren’t. Ask to be rerouted to a city that isn’t having problems. You can also sign up for A flight status alert with FlightStats.com
– cancelled flight? Fly thru Vegas if if not necessarily on your way…it has lots of flights and cheap hotels (I am flying southwest thru Vegas to LA next month!) so for example on stead of waiting for a Boston Seatte
flight, try thru Vegas. (I am flying next month to Seattle to midway to Des Moines…was acttually shorter flight time then thru Vegas.)
– know whet alternative flight you want when you can to rebook (been there, done that) use FlightStats.com again. Sign up for an account, click on flights, then flight availability, then advanced search, so you can specify airlines and city and seats.
– if airline phone is jammed, call the overseas reservation desk. Really???
You can get the phone number on your airlines web site and use Skype to call free. Wow (although I have had trouble finding airline numbers on the website)

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Filed under airfare, airline fees, Chicago

Adventures with American Airlines

So we are flying home from Boston on Monday night, perfect weather (when there was supposed to be a storm) and we are feeling cautiously optimistic that we will get to Des Moines. At O’Hare we have to get from the end of terminal H to the end of terminal G to catch our next flight. a long haul debut we have time…about 40 minutes. after a few minutes, the monitor that just seconds ago showed our flight leaving on time at 9:40 pm now suddenly says it’s leaving at 11:40 pm, because our plane is due for an inspection. (at 9:30 pm??) This is not a good sign.

After waiting awhile, we are suddenly told our flight will leave at 10:30 from gate 7 so we leave gate 21 and head to 7, uprooting other passengers who are now told to move elsewhere. Before we can get comfy, we are next told to move back to Gate 20. Just before we board, the poor people en route to Madison who were reassigned to our original gate 21 (and presumably our original plane) are told their flight is now leaving at 6:30 am. Really? At least our ferry ride from Provincetown was a little calmer!

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