United raises ticket change fees by $50, others follow

MIA 033United Airlines has quietly increased the fees it charges for voluntary changes on tickets for travel within North America, and between North and Central America by $50 to $200. The change took effect on April 18, according to an internal company advisory sent to employees.

The decision makes United the airline with the highest change fees in the affected markets. Other major legacy U.S. carriers, such as American, Delta and US Airways, still charge $150, and smaller airlines like Frontier and Virgin America charge $100. Alaska Airlines’ change fees are $75 online and $100 by phone. Those fees, which Southwest Airlines proudly spares its customers, are in addition to any fare differences. Changing the most expensive — or full-fare — tickets doesn’t incur penalties on any airline.

The United fee increase, coming just a week after the carrier was named worst in customer service in a national ranking tracking airline performance, is certain to anger United fliers even further. Industry watchers will be monitoring very closely whether other airlines follow suit — that has been the trend historically, though customer backlash and social media outrage have forced carriers, including United, to reverse controversial decisions in recent years…

Proper airfare advertising comes to U.S.

This should not be news, but it is: U.S. airlines have finally begun advertising some airfares properly, meaning they now show round-trip prices instead of the longtime marketing ploy of “each way based on a required round-trip purchase.” But those are just baby steps, as some taxes and fees are still being excluded.

When I wrote about false fare advertising in 2008, my copy editor at the Washington Times put this headline on my column: “Fare sales often lost in translation.” I compared the deliberately misleading airline practice to the mysterious “Twin Peaks” revelation “The owls are not what they seem.” I also wondered, If a round trip is required, why on earth is only half of the actual fare being advertised?…

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…

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…

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…

Myths vs. realities of celebrity travel

Who is the biggest celebrity you’ve seen on a plane, at an airport or in a hotel? Did they draw attention to themselves or quietly mind their business? Whatever happened, you probably told stories about it.

As we were reminded last week, the only celebrity travel tales commanding media interest tend to be those that involve making a scene. Actress Lindsay Lohan, the Fox News Web site reported, did just that at the Tampa, Fla., airport Jan. 31, when she was told that there were no first-class seats left on her Delta Airlines flight. “You’d better come and visit me back [in coach] in case I die,” she was quoted as telling a friend traveling with her who had secured a seat upfront…

Fare sales often lost in translation

Why is it so difficult for major U.S. airlines to be upfront with their customers? Their practices of advertising fares and marketing services remind one of that mysterious “Twin Peaks” revelation, “The owls are not what they seem.”

Last month, I wrote about fake “direct” flights — two or more separate flights that are sold as one under the same number, but are operated on different aircraft and sometimes require changing terminals. That often sends unsuspecting passengers running across the airport to catch what they discover is a regular connection. Knowing that “direct” flights are not what they seem helps to avoid unpleasant surprises during a trip. To avoid such surprises before travel, you should also know that airfares, as advertised by the so-called legacy carriers, are not what they seem, either…

Airlines abuse ‘direct’ flights

At about 9 p.m. last Monday, Delta Air Lines Flight 9 was over eastern Canada on its way back from Cairo. At the same time, Delta Flight 9 took off from New York en route to Los Angeles. That doesn’t make sense to you? Well, it does to the airline industry.

The flight taking off was the “continuation” of the flight that hadn’t yet landed because of a five-hour delay. Delta sells Cairo-Los Angeles as a “direct” flight with a stop in New York, but in reality, that journey consists of two separate flights that have nothing in common except for number 9. The first one goes from Cairo to New York on a Boeing 767 aircraft, and the second from New York to Los Angeles on a Boeing 737. The arrival of the first leg is evidently not a condition for the departure of the second…

Cheap airfares endure

Who says that cheap plane tickets are a thing of the past? How would you like to go skiing in Utah this winter for less than $150 round trip from the East coast, including all taxes? Rather visit a warmer place? How about a ticket to Hawaii for less than $300?

Yes, these are real prices, but you might need to do some homework to get them. Airlines now publish low fares less frequently and often pull them off the market within hours. We’ve all heard travel experts warning that air fares have nowhere else to go but up, mainly because of record-high jet-fuel prices, as well as predictions that the era of affordable air travel is over. That may well be what the future holds. The present, however, begs to differ…