Thursday, September 3, 2015

Airlines Smoke & Mirrors

Have you ever been in a crowded airport and they start asking people to give up their seats.  They start out by offering vouchers. Maybe $75 dollars toward your next flight. It’s not on this one that is apparently overbooked. The voucher is time limited too.  Unless you’re the type of person who can take several vacations a year, you might not be able to use it. It is only good for the airline that issued it. It also could be invalid on premium flights, which is the one you wanted to fly on anyhow. Occasionally as you wait, the price goes up.

Recently, while my husband and I waited for our flight, the price went up to $400 vouchers per ticket. My husband and I looked at each other considering the possibility, but our luggage had already left. We decided to follow it. If we had a carry-on with the needed items, it might have worked. The airlines pay for the hotel,dinner, transportation and guarantee a flight the next day. I did that once. It turned out to be a relaxing evening and the morning flight wasn’t as crowded.

Overbooking is more prevalent than you might suspect. Airlines load thirty minutes before departure. Once the door closes, you don’t get on the plane. I've watched college students mill around thinking they had all day to board the plane only to be left. They assumed the flight wouldn’t leave twenty-two of them. They thought wrong. Flight attendants are anxious to get you settled to keep the flight on time, identify any troublemakers before they’re in the air, and most importantly, they aren’t on the clock until the door closes.

Sometimes just getting a ticket could test the patience of a saint. Trust me: I know. One thing I discovered when trying to book business flights with my husband is that airlines don’t always show you all the flights. They tend to show you the ones they need to fill. I got around this by calling the airlines directly. In truth, they don’t want you to do this and even have a pre-recorded message telling you your flight will be twenty-five dollars more because you called for assistance. If I end up on the right plane with my husband, then I will pay the extra twenty-five.

Some airlines reward you for booking through them such as Southwest. It allows you to get the cheaper Internet Wanna Getaway price. Others penalize you for contacting them directly as opposed to going to a third party or travel agent. I called Lufthansa to get an estimate to see my son in Germany. They doubled the price because I dealt directly with them.

Flying on weekdays is cheaper than weekends. Business travelers usually return on the weekends and families often start the vacation on a weekend. Monday seems to be the more reasonable day to fly. Your computer could be the problem too since it stores your searches. When I was trying to find a ticket on several different airlines I noticed the price kept going up. I signed off for a couple hours, then tried again, and received cheaper rates.

Using accumulated travel miles can be tricky. It does take a while to accrue enough for travel. If you think that won’t ever happen, use them to upgrade to a better seat. Often using a credit card such as Delta Sky Miles will help you accrue the miles faster. When you want to use your points remember the less desirable flights like the red eyes require fewer points.

Finally, take care of yourself on the plane. Bring an empty water bottle that you can fill up once you pass security. Bring your own snacks and possibly a pillow.  Follow the rules, do not stay on your phone to finish a call. Airlines have dealt severely with people who refuse to follow rules. Anyone who appears demanding, loud and drunk could cause the plane to land early placing everyone else behind schedule.

Watch how you address an attendant. Use your inside voice and good manners. A tired employee who has already dealt with rowdy passengers might decide your brusque request for service could be threatening. Make sure the person who causes the unexpected landing isn’t you. Southwest is the most willing to make sudden landings due to unruly passengers, which explains why their flights tend to harbor fewer difficult people and arrive on time. (This is a personal observation, not a commercial. I only wish they flew more places.)

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