Swiss Air overplays ‘mistake fare’ excuse

Airlines sometimes make mistakes when filing fares — it’s human and understandable. But when major carriers keep erring and then punish paying customers by unilaterally canceling tickets days or even weeks after their issuance, that raises questions about competence and responsibility.

In late September, Swiss International Airlines filed a first-class one-way fare from Burma, also known as Myanmar, to Canada that was between $600 and $800 after taxes, depending on the specific routing. Was that an obvious mistake? Under normal circumstances, an educated traveler would probably say that it was. But there is much more to the story.

That was not the first time such a low fare out of Burma had been published. Just five months earlier, Korean Air issued tickets at similar prices — they were later canceled, but the Department of Transportation eventually forced Korean Air to reinstate them. Although I noticed that fare at the time, I didn’t bother to take advantage of it, suspecting it was, indeed, a mistake that wouldn’t be honored…

U.S. carriers tighten routing rules

Do you sometimes prefer making a connection or two instead of taking a nonstop flight, either to save money or rack up more frequent-flier miles? You might have to change your ways. Domestic U.S. transfers are now allowed much less frequently than before, and making connections on flights between an airline’s hubs is almost impossible.

No big deal, you might say. Wouldn’t any reasonable person choose a nonstop any time? Not necessarily. Different travelers have different priorities — some would rather save time, others money. But the best thing about the previous practice was that passengers had options. Now, that’s no longer the case…

Airlines refuse to honor mistake fares

How would you like to fly to Australia in Qantas Airways’ luxurious first class on its new Airbus A380 aircraft for $1,200? You could actually buy such a ticket last week, but as regular readers of this column might have guessed, that was yet another case of a mistake fare.

Just like 2009, the new year began with a major airline making an error when filing a fare, and then deciding not to honor the issued tickets. As I wrote last January, Swiss International Air Lines published a $300 business-class fare from Toronto to several European and Indian cities. In November, British Airways filed a $560 round-trip coach fare from the United States to India…

Airlines require credit cards at check-in

Do you always pay for your airline tickets? If not, what would you do if you are denied boarding unless you show the credit card used for the purchase at check-in?

It may sound unreasonable, since many companies buy tickets for their employees with corporate cards that all of their travelers cannot possibly carry with them. It happens often enough, however, for all of us to keep our eyes open for any alerts with such requirements during the booking process. Last month, I used the Singapore Airlines Web site to book a ticket to Indonesia for a co-worker. I was asked if I was the passenger, and when I proceeded to enter my credit card number, this message appeared on the screen…

Rebook flights at no cost

Are you planning to postpone a trip you’ve booked to Mexico because of the swine flu? By now, you’ve probably heard about airlines waiving fees to change your flight. But do you know how to rebook a flight to make sure you avoid any extra costs?

The waivers issued last week, as the State Department advised Americans to delay travel to Mexico if possible, are not much different from waivers related to bad weather and published regularly throughout the year. They usually allow passengers who have already begun their journey to reschedule their return — and fly back home later, until a storm passes, or earlier, if you happen to be in Mexico right now — without having to pay the normal reissue fee…

Round-the-world fares rise — still a deal

Have you ever taken a trip around the world or does that prospect sound too extravagant amid a global recession?

Despite a significant price increase that took effect Sunday, if you need or want to travel to several international destinations at a price much lower than regular published fares, a round-the-world ticket is the way to go. Thanks to global airline alliances, booking such tickets has become relatively easy in the last few years. The close partnership among alliance members also makes flight connections, baggage handling and earning frequent-flier miles more convenient for passengers…

New hopes for rail travel

Have you heard that trains are “in” again? They have been “out” for so long, it’s almost hard to believe it, but President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to ride the rail into Washington for his inauguration has excited many train lovers.

Since flying became the main form of long-distance transportation in the United States in the past couple of decades, repeated warnings by railroad executives and industry advocates that insufficient funding and out-of-date equipment would lead to the system’s collapse seemed to fall on deaf ears. Finally this fall, Congress more than doubled funding for Amtrak, the semi-public company, in a $13 billion railroad improvement bill sponsored by Reps. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, and John L. Mica, Florida Republican…