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…

Keeping United international first class

Should the new United Airlines have international first class, like the old United, or not, like the old Continental Airlines? Most frequent fliers expect a decision in favor of one of the two models, but why not go with a mixed model? Why not keep first class on routes where it makes business sense, and fly two-cabin planes where it doesn’t?

Since the two carriers’ merger was announced in May, there have been many opinions in online travel forums advocating just coach and business class, but it’s hard to see the world’s largest airline without long-haul first class at all. Continental may call its premium cabin BusinessFirst, but it’s business class…

DOT should ban fictitious flights

Did you know that hundreds of fictitious flights inhabit airline schedules every day? They don’t exist in real life — just on paper. They are meant to make more money for the airlines by tricking customers and perverting a practice that was actually started to help travelers. In fact, they spell nothing but trouble for passengers.

Those fictitious flights are labeled “direct” by the airlines, which years ago decided to rewrite the dictionary and use that term for flights that weren’t nonstop but made at least one stop on the way to their destination. First, those flights were operated by the same aircraft, but later a “plane change” was introduced. The Department of Transportation has allowed the airlines to abuse the practice any way they like…

Singapore Airlines’ maddening perfection

Singapore Airlines topped yet another industry ranking this week, and while it usually deserves the awards it wins, there are a few aspects of the way it does business that drive some customers and partner-carriers crazy. Still, don’t expect those practices to change anytime soon.

The latest awards were bestowed by Britain’s Business Traveller Magazine. Singapore was named best airline overall and also won best economy and business class. Best first class went to Emirates, probably because of the shower on its Airbus 380 aircraft. I have yet to meet anyone who has flown Singapore and didn’t like it, regardless of which cabin they were in. It has long been the world’s leading carrier in hard-product innovation and luxury, often years ahead of its competitors…

When an airfare sale is not quite a sale

How do airlines decide what fares qualify as “sales,” and why do they advertise certain fares, but not other, much lower ones? Why is United Airlines promoting a “sale” between Washington and Boston for $109 each way, when there are currently six published lower fares in that market, beginning with $49 each way?

For the most part, I don’t bother to figure out why airlines do certain things anymore. I just gather all the information I need about what they do and try to work with it — or around it. Years of watching fares have taught me not to fall for those “sales,” because in many cases, I can find a much lower price to the same destination, on the same dates and on the same carrier…

‘Tweaking’ airlines’ yield management

Have you been accused by airline agents of trying to “game the system” by asking if they could open up for mileage redemption seats they obviously won’t sell for cash? Now a top airline executive is encouraging fliers to alert agents when the system fails in its predictability, so it can be “tweaked.”

Before you do that, however, make sure you know what you are talking about — learn all booking codes used by the respective carrier, if you haven’t already, and be able to access and understand its inventory data. Just because there are dozens of open business-class seats months before a flight doesn’t mean you are entitled to an upgrade or an “award” ticket…

When ‘open skies’ aren’t really open

Having covered American diplomacy for a decade now, I’ve received many “diplomatic” answers to my questions — but none more so than “Yes, but not really.” I was reminded of it by the recently negotiated Open Skies aviation agreement between the United States and Japan.

The idea of the Open Skies accords, which Washington has with more than 90 countries, was to liberalize air travel between the signatories, allowing flights from any city in the first country to any city in the second without the previously imposed government restrictions. However, the deal reached with Japan in December has one glaring exception…

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…

United cuts advance domestic upgrades

If you’ve become accustomed to upgrading your domestic flights on United Airlines months in advance, the party will soon be over. The carrier is abandoning its current system of so-called confirmed upgrades in favor of the last-minute upgrades that are more popular in the U.S. industry.

United announced the change last week, although it’s not planning to implement it until spring. The current system apparently was confusing for some passengers, although I prefer to call it sophisticated and not at all difficult to master if you are a semi-frequent flier. However, that’s not why United is making the change. Rather, in trying to maximize revenue from selling first-class seats for cash, it will keep more of those seats open until just before departure…

Back to basics of air travel

Many of us have learned the ins and outs of air travel in great detail and mastered the frequent-flier game in recent years, but two incidents this month reminded me that we often take for granted some basics that are unknown to many travelers.

Did you know, for example, that there are still people who have no idea they can check in for a flight online, even though they fly at least once a year? Or that some passengers miss their international flights because they are not aware they need to be at the airport by a certain time? Last week, I was stuck at the Minneapolis airport for hours because of bad weather. The airline I was flying had shut down its business lounge there, so there would be no peace and quiet or free soft drinks and snacks for me…