American isn’t changing fare-publishing

EF1American Airlines’ roll-out of a new bundled fare structure this week has created some confusion among frequent fliers about what the change means to the way they book tickets. They have nothing to worry about — at least for now. American is not changing the decades-long practice of how fares are published on an airline tariff, and fears of a lack of transparency are misplaced.

You can still see in which booking class your ticket will be issued, though it’s indeed a bit confusing how exactly one would know the difference between the three new fare types by looking at that booking class, which could be the same for all three fares. So let’s break all this down and try to make sense of it.

First, what has American changed? It has bundled products and services that airlines have been unbundling for a few years, though some of those extras like certain seats are still sold separately. When you search domestic fares in the contiguous 48 states on its website, you now get three tabs: lowest fare, refundable (both coach) and Business/First Class. The default tab is lowest fare. In that category, there are three types of fares, as shown below for a one-way trip from Washington to Los Angeles…

ExpertFlyer boosts airfare transparency

The transparency of raw airline data in recent years has been hugely important for our ability to secure the lowest fares and build the best itineraries. ExpertFlyer.com has been a pioneer in that endeavor, and now it has taken an extra step by showing government, military and other fares that have long been a mystery to most travelers.

I first began using ExpertFlyer soon after the website launched in 2005, and was happy to pay the $100 annual fee because it has helped me save thousands of dollars. Last year, when I left the Washington Times and started teaching seminars, I naturally decided to use the site in my classes — and I received a complimentary subscription. In the interest of full disclosure, ExpertFlyer also donated $1,000 to the book tour I’m currently on. That said, I’m not at all obligated to promote the site in this column…

When airfares jump on you for no reason

I’ve always brushed off suggestions that airline websites are deliberately programmed to increase the fare if you don’t take their initial offer immediately. But I’ve become suspicious since Air Canada’s site recently jacked up a ticket price on me by hundreds of dollars in seconds, even as its lowest published fare and the flight inventory remained unchanged.

Airlines have gone to great lengths in recent years to encourage customers to book tickets on their websites, and that can certainly save travelers time and hassle in the event of any changes to a ticketed reservation. However, to their utter shame, many carriers haven’t built reliable and user-friendly sites. In fact, some airlines, such as South Korea’s Asiana, have outsourced their entire online booking process — at least in the U.S. market — to a third-party travel agency, which charges its own booking fees…

Clarifying United’s StarNet blocking

Readers’ interest in United Airlines’ practice of massively blocking award seats otherwise made available for mileage redemption by United’s partners in the global Star Alliance doesn’t seem to subside, judging by the feedback I get and the web traffic on this site’s pages dedicated to the issue. So it’s time to clarify some misconceptions about the infamous StarNet blocking.

Earlier this week, I received a complaint from Norma Brandsberg, a reader from Virginia, that United is “blocking an award through Continental” Airlines. “United’s own site is showing availability,” but “Continental is not seeing the open seats in their system,” she wrote…

Cancel trip, but don’t lose ticket

Have you ever had to cancel a planned trip and lose your nonrefundable plane ticket? Next time, you don’t actually have to lose the ticket. In most cases, even if it’s nonrefundable, its value — except for any penalties — can be applied toward another ticket, and not necessarily on the same airline.

The first and most important thing you need to do is cancel your original itinerary before your first flight takes off. If you don’t, you’ll really lose the ticket’s value. After cancellation, you have two options. You can either use the old ticket’s “residual value” — the total price minus the penalty — to purchase a new ticket if you have another trip coming up, or you can use that amount any time until one year from the date your original ticket was issued. You don’t have to travel by that date — just buy the new ticket…

Openness rattles airline industry

This is, no doubt, the era of glasnost or openness in the airline industry. Thanks to the Internet, once tightly held data on fares and available seats is now more transparent than ever, which seems to have caught the industry unprepared. So, to stretch the Soviet-era metaphor, will glasnost lead to perestroika — real change?

In order to answer this question, a simpler one must be asked first: Should the airlines fear the transparency they didn’t seek? Is the ability of any of us to directly access real-time data on fares and seats without the help of a travel agent bad or good for the carriers? Although some executives have done the politically correct thing and publicly embraced the transparency, in reality the so-called legacy carriers are still struggling to make up their minds…