Posts in the category "Airline policies":

Tune-up tips for travelers

TRAVEL SUITCASES

Even the savviest traveler can use a few new tricks each year, whether on the road for business or leisure.

So here are some of the expert tips I gathered for a recent CNBC Road Warrior piece.

Fly Frugally

Before the end of the year, take inventory of your frequent flier miles. Claim credit for any missing miles and decide if you can top off—with an extra flight, hotel stay or mile-generating purchase—accounts where you are close to getting elite status perks for the following year.

When shopping for new flight reservations, sign up for fare alerts, enlist helpers such as Kayak’s price forecasting tool and remember the “24-hour reservation requirement” put into effect in January 2012 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The rule requires carriers to hold a flight reservation for 24 hours without payment, or allow a reservation to be canceled within 24 hours without penalty if the reservation is made one week or more ahead of the flight’s departure date.

“If you see an airfare you’re comfortable with, book it,” said Kayak spokeswoman Maria Katime. You can continue your research and, if you find something better, go back and cancel.

Reasonable rental cars

When it comes to cars, reserve once you know your dates and have done some shopping, but recheck prices closer to the time of travel. “Prices can drop last-minute, depending on the actual availability of cars versus what the companies anticipate,” said travel expert Carol Pucci, who saved more than $100 with this method on the Big Island of Hawaii. “It was easy to do because I hadn’t prepaid, which is hardly ever a good idea given the chances of prices falling,” said Pucci.

To make sure a rental car company doesn’t charge you for scrapes, scratches or dings already on the car you’re issued, “take pictures of the car before you drive it away and when you return it,” said Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the business travel website Joe Sent Me.

“Rental firms are getting extremely aggressive about these charges and since the cars in the fleet are older these days than they used to be, there’s more of a chance you’ll be given a car with a ding and/or scratches,” he said.

Honing in on hotel deals

Sign up for the frequent stay program of any hotel you visit to take advantage of free perks that can include complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi and welcome amenities such as cheese plates and bottles of wine for even the first-time guest.

Research room rates and hotel property reviews online, but as a final step, call the hotel you’ve chosen. “Once I narrow down my hotel choice, I call the hotel to see if they have any better offers then what I see online,” said Rob Connors, assistant vice-president of marketing for National Car Rental. “Your membership in a club or association might get you an added discount, and many times hotels offer special rates for suppliers calling on nearby companies.”

It’s also a good idea to check city tourism sites for short-run, special promotions.

Some cities have destination marketing funds and packages designed to generate room sales during off-seasons. The inaugural Hotel Week LA runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 14, and in 2015, more than 30 Manhattan properties are participating in the fourth New York Hotel Week from Jan. 3 to 18. The programs offer significant discounts rate for some of each city’s top, usually very pricey, properties.

Vancouver’s “Be Vancouver” promotion gives guests $125 American Express prepaid gift cards for bookings made by Nov. 16 for stays through Feb. 28, bringing rates in some upscale hotels down to less than $60.

“The offers coming from that program are the best we have on offer,” said Jim Mockford, general manager of the Listel Hotel. “They’re highly targeted in regards to time frame, so you have to be quick and flexible. So it’s always a good idea to put your name on the mailing list of your favorite hotels. You’ll hear about some great deals that you’ll never see anywhere else.”

Choosing travel gear

To get the best bang for your buck when shopping for travel gear “make a list of three to five ‘musts’ for your new bag and prioritize these as you do research,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association.

“The manufacturer’s warranty policy can be an indicator of durability, but be sure to check the dimensions of new carry-on bags to avoid getting dinged by extra charges when flying,” she said.

When to use a travel agent

Modern online booking tools and mobile apps make it easy to research and reserve much of your own travel. But the customer services of a travel advisor who can quickly reroute and rebook you when there’s a travel snafu can come in handy.

“When it’s a trip that matters—family vacations, celebration travel, a destination you want to experience rather than ‘see’—that’s when you most need a travel advisor,” said Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel agencies. “Not only will they save you precious time, they can save you money with negotiated hotel benefits and extensive firsthand knowledge to ensure that you get exactly what you expect from the trip.”

Boarding the bus

“Bus travelers typically save 50 to 55 percent versus the train and 55 to 73 percent versus flying,” said Joe Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago and author of the Traveler’s Tradeoff study comparing intercity bus, plane and train fares across the United States.

“The ‘sweet spot’ for bus travel involves trips between 125 and 300 miles. Driving can be tedious, but air travel is often not cost effective,” he said.

When to book the bus?

“As early as possible,” said Megabus spokesman Mike Alvich. “Generally customers booking 30 to 45 days in advance will see the greatest savings, but even last-minute trip tickets are still very affordable in comparison to last-minute airline travel or even the cost of filling the gas tank of your personal vehicle.”

Smarter destination choices

You may not have much choice where business trips take you, but you can save money on leisure trips and avoid crowds by heading for South Africa, Shanghai, Uruguay, Portugal or some of the other “best-value” destinations on Lonely Planet’s Best Travel 2015 list.

Choosing “almost-as-good” alternatives to classic experiences in more expensive cities can also save cash.

“European cities are stuffed full of amazing historic buildings and churches that can be seen and explored for free without the crowds of big-name things,” said Lonely Planet’s editorial director, Tom Hall. “Gorilla trekking might be an unforgettable experience in East Africa, but looking out for chimpanzees and smaller primates can be much more fun and is certainly easier on the wallet.”

Round-up of airline travel advisories & fee waivers

SnowglobeUpdated 2:45 EST January 21, 2014

Another winter storm is on its way to the east coast and airlines are canceling flights and posting travel advisories and change fee waivers.

If you’re traveling to, through or from an east coast city, there’s a fair chance your flight will be canceled due to weather. If your flight isn’t canceled (yet…) you want to change your plans anyway.

Here’s a rundown of cancellation and change fee waiver policies posted by many airlines as of Monday evening, January 20, 2014.

And as always, it’s always a good idea to check with your airline before you head to the airport.

Alaska Airlines: East coast travel advisory details here.

American Airlines: Travel advisory in effect for January 21-22. Change fee waivers apply to, from or through a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

Delta Airlines: Travel advisory posted for January 21-22 for tickets that must be reissued before January 25th. Change fee waiver applies to a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

JetBlue: Travel advisory applies to flights scheduled January 21-22. Waivers for cancellations or changes to, through or from a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

Spirit Airlines has a weather buster travel advisory in place. Details here.

United Airlines: United’s travel advisory covers January 21 (for now…) and applies to cities affected by weather in the New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. areas. Details here.

US Airways:
Travel advisory in effect through January 22, 2014 for a long list of east coast cities. Details here.

Virgin America: Northeast travel advisory covers flights through January 22 for flight to, through or from BOS, EWR, JFK, PHL, IAD and DCA. Details here.

Southwest Airlines  has its travel advisory information posted here.

Alaska Airlines joins gate-to-gate electronics club

Alaska Electronics

On Saturday, November 9, Alaska Airlines joined the club of airlines that allow passengers to use their personal electronic devices from gate-to-gate.

Already in the club: United, American/American Eagle* JetBlue, Delta and US Airways.

We’re still waiting to hear when Southwest and Virgin America will get FAA approval.

Horizon Air passengers should be able to use their electronic devices during all phases of their flight next week.

But beware: the rule does not yet apply on US Airways Express, United Express, Delta Connection and *American Eagle flights operated by some of its regional partners.

Stay tuned.

Airlines test new ways to board planes

The task seems straightforward enough. Get passengers from inside the terminal onto a plane quickly and efficiently so the flight can leave on time.

But if you’ve ever stood in the aisle waiting as another passenger s-l-o-w-l-y takes off a coat, fiddles around for a book and then attempts to cram an overstuffed bag into the overhead bin, you know how tedious the process can be.

Airlines would also like to hurry it up. Not just because slow boarding makes already cranky travelers even crankier but because time is money for airlines, and planes earn their keep only when they’re flying.

Most carriers now give first-class passengers and elite frequent fliers a head start down the Jetway; they then board by groups, from back to the front or from window seats toward the aisle.

In March, United Airlines created clearly marked lanes for five different boarding groups.

“We also started going to a window-middle-aisle boarding method,” said United spokesman Charles Hobart. “This reduces the interference that may occur in the aisle as a result of someone having to move to allow another customer to sit in a window or middle seat.”

On many flights, American Airlines gives early-boarding privileges to passengers who won’t be using space in the overhead bins. And Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t assign seats, “lines people up like schoolchildren and avoids the ‘mad rush’ to the door,” said a flight attendant who tweets as @PeanutsnCoke.

“By allowing people to naturally flow to the seat where they want to sit among the available options in front of them, the time savings is unmistakable,” said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins. “Across 3,400-plus flights each day, that saved time realizes incalculable savings not only for Southwest but for our customers. Less time to board the whole plane translates into less time sitting and awaiting departure.”

Some airlines will allow passengers to jump ahead in the boarding line for a fee. Others, like Spirit Airlines, “charge a heavy fee for carry-on luggage,” said Raymond Kollau of Airlinetrends.com. “But this seems to be an effective way to encourage passengers to check their luggage and shorten aircraft turnaround times.”

Future boarding scenarios?

Alaska Airlines boarding ramp

In some airports in Mexico and at some smaller U.S. airports without boarding bridges, Alaska Airlines boards passengers from both the front and rear doors.

Last spring, with the help of a solar-powered boarding ramp made by Keith Consolidated Industries of Medford, Ore., the carrier began testing the use of both boarding doors on some planes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (its home base airport) and Mineta San Jose International Airport in California.

The motorized ramp is driven to the backdoor of the aircraft, and three switchbacks covered in a nonslip material offer a gentle slope that makes it easy to pull a rolling suitcase or push a wheelchair from the ground level to the rear door of the aircraft.

“It’s powered entirely by solar panels but can also be hitched to a tug if necessary,” said Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey.

Testing is scheduled to continue through year-end, and while the carrier isn’t shaving 10 or 15 minutes off boarding times, Lindsey said, dual-door boarding is speeding things up a bit.

“What this initiative really is about is providing our customers with a more hassle-free flying experience, i.e., saving time boarding and deplaning, which gives customers back time,” Lindsey said. “It’s also right in line with our environmental goals.”

Another option being experimented with is seats that slide out of the way.

Hank Scott, a former Australian Navy pilot who now teaches aeronautical engineering in Colorado, was sick of standing in the aisle behind people who didn’t move very quickly.

“I thought the process would go faster if I could just walk around them.”

Scott’s solution is the Side-Slip Seat, which can be moved a few inches out of the way during the boarding and deplaning process to help widen the aisles.

“We’re looking at a 50 percent improvement in the rate you can get people on an off the aircraft,” said Scott, who hopes to have the seats certified by the Federal Aviation Administration at the end of the year.

And then there’s the Jason Steffen approach.

Steffen, a Lindheimer Fellow in the physics department at Northwestern University, recommends boarding passengers in a line so that when they enter the airplane their seats are spaced two rows apart.

“For example, the first passengers would be 30A, 28A, 26A, 24A, 22A, etc. If speed is the primary goal, I believe that this method is the fastest.”

No airline has adopted the plan, but on Oct. 16, as part of a four-part PBS special called “Making More Stuff with David Pogue,” his method will be tested against that of Southwest Airlines.

“They currently have among the fastest, if not the fastest, boarding method,” Steffen said.

But perhaps not for long.

(My story ‘Airlines test new ways to board planes’ first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Solar-powered boarding ramps – in Seattle?

As we head into the dark, dreary and drippy season here in Seattle, my first question about the solar powered boarding ramps being tested by Alaska Airlines was “How can that possibly work?”

Alaska Airlines boarding ramp

The answer to that question – and a host of others relating to efficiently getting passengers on and off a plane – will show up soon in a story I’m working on for the CNBC Road Warrior.

If you’ve got an opinion – or a fresh idea – on how to streamline the boarding process please add a comment below. You might end up part of the story.

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