¨On a bus, your eyes, ears, and pores are just absorbing in the variety, the wonder, the magic of the city. It is a wonderful way to get to know the city.¨.
For trips under 300 miles, I prefer buses or trains to airplanes. I do not mind spending five or six hours on a bus or a train. I like having the option of just deciding to buy a bus ticket at the last moment rather than making arrangements far in advance for a plane ticket. I find time aboard a bus or a train to be a great time to read, write, and watch the world go by. In contrast, all the security, check-in procedures, waiting in airport lounges, transportation to and from the airport, and the complications of buying the right airplane ticket wear me down. When I have a long trip, I am willing to suffer through all the rigamarole involved in airline trips to save time. However, I do not think I will ever enjoy traveling on a plane as much as a bus or a train.
I do, however, sometimes get frustrated trying to find my way around a city by public transport. Uber, despite its problems, has helped me avoid some of the frustrations I used to have with public transportation and taxis. That said, I must admit that I have had some great times getting to know the taxi drivers in various parts of the globe. I also have had some fun experiences getting lost on city buses.
Over time, I have been on thousands of taxi and bus rides throughout the world. I have learned a lot of lessons from these experiences which you will find in more detail below:
- Useful Websites and Resources
- Easy Tips for Getting Flights at the Best Price
- Bundling of Fares
- Budget Airlines
- Other Factors than Cost to Consider When Selecting Your Flight
- Frequent Flyer Miles
- Flight Schedule Changes
- Getting Bumped and Upgraded
- Round-the-World (RTW) Tickets
Useful Websites and Resources
¨People say there is a delay on flights. Delays, Right? New York to California in five hours, that used to take 30 years, a bunch of people used to die on the way there, have a baby, and you would end up with a whole different group of people by the time you get there¨.
The finest overall discussion of how to find the best deals on cheap flights (and to some degree hotels) and how to use and collect frequent flyer points can be found at the Nomadic Matt website. His PDF book How to Travel Hack and Get Free Flights and Hotels is probably the most useful guide to the subject that I have seen.
Until I read Nomadic Matt´s Travel Hacking book, I had not ever heard of Skyscanner, now I often wonder how I ever lived with it. As Matt indicates, it is a great site because it includes budget and major airlines. But I like it because it separates ticket options by the best deal (which takes into account both time and cost), the lowest cost, and the quickest flights. Skyscanner also:
- Is not an online travel agency. Instead, it links you to the airline site where you can learn more about the ticket´s features and buy the ticket directly from the airline (Note: Kayak also does this); and
- Allows you to compare the cost of a given flight easily on other days.
Frequently, the first flights (listed by price) in traditional online travel agencies, like Travelocity, involve incredibly complicated and inconvenient itineraries that are quite frankly not worth the small additional cost savings. (I remember one time trying to book a ticket from Merida, Mexico to Tucson, Arizona and the first itinerary listed on Travelocity went from Merida to Dallas to Miami to Phoenix to Tucson and took 34 hours. The actual flight I booked, cost only $30 more, and flew from Merida to Houston to Tucson and took 8 hours).
While I use Skyscanner, I have learned over the years that you need to consider changing your preferred search engine periodically because either:
- The search engine eliminates the features that make it my go-to website (sometimes after being consolidated with a larger search engine or online travel agency);
- Other search engines begin to offer the same services; and
- Some other search engine comes along that performs even better than my go-to search engine.
Easy Tips for Getting Flights at the Best Price
The glamour of air travel- its aspirational meaning in the public imagination- disappearing before its luxury did, dissipating as flying becomes commonplace¨.
Note: While these tips usually help save money, there are always times when they won’t work. They are meant to help you to get started on your search for the right flight, they are not considered to be hard and fast rules.
- Usually, it is best to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The other days of the week are more likely to attract either business travelers (Monday and Friday) or leisure travelers (Friday and Saturday). (That said, if you have some flexibility on the date, I would encourage you to pick a date and then take advantage of the features on most search engines and airline websites that allow you to check the price on various days around the date that you select.)
- If you want to travel during the Christmas holidays, if possible, fly before December 18th and return after January 5th. If you cannot do this, it helps to buy flights on the day of the holiday (this also applies to Thanksgiving and Easter). It also is a good idea to start looking for flights several months in advance. You will probably see a marked increase in price a month or two before the holiday season.
- While there is no fool-proof time to buy an airline ticket, most experts (and this is confirmed by my personal experience) maintain that the best prices are usually available six to twelve weeks before the flight.
- The most important rule for buying cheap airline tickets is to travel during the low season and be as flexible as possible when choosing your departure date. Purchasing tickets during the high season times can raise by 30% or more. Here’s what seasonality looks like around the world:
- High season: Summer season (in the Northern Hemisphere, June to Labor Day-early September). In the Southern Hemisphere: December-March), Christmas (Dec 18 – Jan 5), and the week before and after Easter.
- Low season: Winter (in the Northern Hemisphere, Jan 10-March 15. In the Southern Hemisphere: June-September).
- Shoulder season: All the rest of the year.
As a rule of thumb, the low season is when schools are in session or employees are working. The seasonality factor is especially relevant for traveling to or from high-traffic, seasonal destinations like Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific.
- Many travel advice sites suggest that you buy flights at certain times of the week. Whenever I have tried to follow their advice (which is often something like, book your tickets after midnight on a Wednesday), I have not seen any real difference in price.
- Consider buying a ticket right away if you find one-way fares under those noted below:
- Within the same continent
- $150 for a distance under 1000 miles
- $200 for a distance of 1000-2500 miles:
- $300 for a distance of 2500 miles or more.
- For flights between continents
- Under $400 one way from the US East Coast to Europe,
- Under $500 one direction from US West Coast to Europe or Asia,
- Under $500 one way from anywhere in the US to South America
- Under $800 one way from the US to Australia or Africa.
- Within the same continent
- You should always compare the cost of tickets both one way and round trip. Sometimes, oddly, it can be cheaper to buy two one-way tickets than one round-trip ticket. This is particularly true if you expect to spend more than a month on your trip.
- It is rare that it is worth buying a round trip ticket if you are not going to use the same airports for both legs of the trip. For example, if you want to go from New York to Paris and return from Rome to New York, it is not worth it to travel back from Rome to Paris in order to make a round trip, New York-Paris-New York journey. Instead just buy two one-way tickets: one from New York to Paris, the other from Rome to New York.
- If you get a good fare from an online travel agency like Expedia, etc., compare the price of the same ticket on the airline’s website. If the cost is the same (or similar) on the airline’s website, then you are better off booking the trip through the airline’s website. (Note: Occasionally the fare is radically different between the airline and search engine site. I remember one time the cheapest ticket on Travelocity from Miami to Cancun was $120 on American Airlines and when I checked the fare on the American airline’s website the same flight was $420). Airlines are generally better than online travel agencies because:
- Online travel agencies often charge you an additional fee if you need to change the flight;
- In the case of a problem, it is easier to deal with the airline directly than through a large, third-party online travel agency; and
- Sometimes online travel agencies do not advise you of changes to flights. (For this reason, if you do book through an online travel agency, I would encourage you to confirm the flight´s time on the airline’s website a couple of days before the trip).
- Sign up for flight deals mailing lists. These two sites — the flight deal and holiday pirates — provide handy flight deals from the US and Europe, respectively.
- If I see a really good airfare on a trip that I may take, I will book that flight, and if my plans change, do not use the ticket. I have often found if I wait until my plans are firm, the ticket will cost me a lot more than the initial price. Yes, sometimes, I decide to cancel the trip and end up eating the cost of the ticket. Most of the time, however, I end up taking the flight and benefiting from buying the ticket at its cheapest point. By doing this, I make the decision to cancel or change a trip based on the other aspects of the trip- accommodations, transportation, tour fees, etc.- rather than the airfare. I find this to be good because often it is: (1) very cheap or free, in the case of many car rentals and hotels, to cancel non-airfare aspects of the trip and (2) usually the other elements of the trip represent the majority of the costs (particularly since I bought a low-cost air ticket).
- Always double check the date and time of your flights frequently. I did not follow this advice one time and paid for it. I bought a relatively inexpensive flight (around Euro 100) from Lisbon to Madrid. I was convinced the flight left on a Sunday. When I got to the check-in on Sunday, I could not check-in at the counter. I looked at the ticket and realized I bought a ticket for a flight leaving on Saturday. I had to be in Madrid early the next morning to catch a flight back to Canada. I, therefore, had to buy a new ticket on another airline that cost me nearly 300 Euros to get to Madrid to catch the flight.
Bundling of Fares
¨For all the jokes and complaints about the aches of air travel, it’s pretty marvelous if you think about it¨.
In the last couple of years, all the airlines have started to provide two to four different fares (bundles of services) for each flight. While the names for each of these bundles vary from airline to airline, the first is usually called basic economy fare, the second something like economy plus, and a third is business/first class (sometimes premium fare).
The basic fare is usually no frills (small seats and minimal leg room) and includes lots of additional fees. I have never seen a basic, domestic fare that did not include a charge for seat selection and checked baggage (called hold baggage in some countries). However, many other expenses can come with basic economy depending on the airline. Some additional charges that I have seen include fees for on-board snack/non-alcoholic drinks, in-seat entertainment, carry-on bags (mainly if you want to carry-on something heavier and/or larger than a small backpack), and printing out boarding passes. Often, basic fares, also add the weight of both the carry-on and checked baggage together to derive the baggage fee.
Perhaps the most important thing to realize about most basic economy fares is that you usually cannot change or cancel the ticket. (Note: You can cancel or change almost all tickets bought from the airlines free within 24 hours after ticket purchase). However, as you will see later in this discussion, you may often end up not using being able to change most inexpensive tickets anyway.
I often select the economy plus options, especially if it includes free baggage and seat selection (particularly if I am traveling with someone else and want to make sure that we sit together). It usually ends up being about the same cost as paying the fees separately and often includes one or two small extra benefits. My favorite advantage of some of these economy plus fares is that you can sometimes cancel or change the flights for a reduced fee (usually $50-100, instead of forfeiting it entirely or paying a fee of $200 plus to change a ticket).
One of the most common benefits of the non-basic economy fees are seats with additional legroom. Since I am a heavy-set man with relatively short legs, I do not find this a great benefit. However, I think this could be a benefit for many fifty-plus nomads, particularly on a long flight.
Unfortunately, these bundles are still new and confusing to consumers. It can take a while to figure out what is and is not included in the fee. Even if you carefully read all the rules, do not be shocked if you end up paying a small, unexpected fee. Also, understand that the bundles of services will probably change frequently over the next couple of years while airlines either work out the bugs or decide to abandon the idea altogether. (Note: You are usually held to the terms that you were applicable when you bought the ticket. It should not matter, in most cases, if the airlines change the rules after you purchased the ticket).
¨Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo¨.
The large, traditional airlines (often called ¨legacy carriers) have adopted this bundle system in response to the rise of budget airlines. Today, budget carriers represent a substantial share of the airline industry (50% of the market in Europe) and are usually profitable. You will find budget airlines throughout the world, especially in Europe.
The services offered in the basic economy bundle of the legacy airlines and the budget airlines do not differ as much as in the past. However, there are some small benefits to the legacy carriers including:
- Budget airlines are more likely to be located in the farthest reaches of the airport with uncomfortable, overcrowded lounges;
- Often you will need to take a shuttle from the plane to the airport on a budget airline;
- You may have fewer options if a flight is delayed or canceled on a budget airline than a legacy carrier. (note: you do not have that much recourse even on a legacy airline);
- Since budget carriers only fly regionally and don’t partner with anyone, you can’t use them on your round the world ticket;
- Some budget airlines use lesser-known, further out airports like Luton in London and Islip in New York City. Sometimes, the costs of the additional fare to get to the airport may be more than your cost savings on your tickets (more and more budget carriers are, fortunately, using major airports). That said, always check to see where the airport on both ends is located before booking the ticket; and
- Seats are small and generally cannot recline.
Most flights between different continents (i.e., Cross Atlantic/Pacific, flights between North and South America, etc.) on legacy carriers include in-flight entertainment, meals, and beverage service (often including alcoholic drinks). The budget carriers often either charge extra for these services or do not include them at all. However, it is on these flights, that the difference between a budget and legacy carrier’s price may be the most extreme.
That said, if the difference between flying a budget and a legacy carrier is less than $50 one- way on a flight within the same continent and $100 one-way between continents (after ensuring that the ticket terms are somewhat similar), I will choose the legacy carriers for the reasons described above. However, I expect, that with time, the line between budget and legacy carrier will become fuzzier and that I may change this policy in the future.
See here for a list of budget airlines. This is not a perfect list. I have been on some airlines that are not on the list, Jet Airways in India, for example; but it gives you a good starting point.
Other Factors than Cost to Consider When Selecting Your Flight
The best thing about flying first class was that you could be as nutty as a fruitcake and were still treated as the Queen of Sheba¨.
Sarah Kate Lynch
The airline pricing system may serve airlines well. But it does not really serve customers. For all intents and purposes, it means that customers increasingly must trade inconvenience for low prices.
Until about eight years ago, I was always willing to do almost anything for low prices. However, with time, I have decided that sometimes the sacrifices required to get the lowest cost tickets are not worth the cost savings.
The following list summarizes some of the factors other than costs that I take into account for selecting the right flight for me. Every Fifty-Plus Nomad will have somewhat different definitions of the right flight. However, I have included my list to give my readers some food for thought:
- In the winter, keep the weather in mind when booking a flight. Generally, non-stop flights are preferable to connecting flights. By limiting the number of flights, you take, you also limit the number of weather systems that can affect your route. Also, it can be worthwhile to avoid some airports like San Francisco that are infamous for flight delays (and use San Jose or Oakland instead) to avoid weather-related issues. (Keep in mind that when the weather is to blame, airlines don’t pay for hotels or meals for stranded travelers).
- If you do not live in a city with a large airport, there are many times when it is better to travel to the major airport via land transport (a car, bus, etc.) than to fly out of the nearest airport, even if there is not much difference in the price of the ticket. Since the number of destinations from smaller airports is limited, you will almost always have to choose a connecting flight to get practically anywhere. It is not unusual to wait a long time for these connecting flights making the total trip time as much or more than if you took land-based transportation to the large airport and then took a non-stop flight from there to get to your destination. I find it is less stressful to take land-based transit as much as possible because it is usually more dependable than air transport and less stressful (no security, etc.), it often ends up costing about the same or less as well, even taking into account the costs of the land transport to a large airport.
- It is often worth considering not taking an airplane at all if you can get to your destination in less than five to six hours by land-based transportation (particularly if you are going to/from somewhere near the bus or train station). Usually, it takes almost five to six hours to travel between two destinations by plane by the time you account for the following:
- A 30 minute or so trip to the airport
- An hour to an hour and a half at the airport to go through security and check in and then wait for and board the flight
- An hour to two-hour flight
- A 30 minute or an hour trip from the airport to your destination
- Flights that involve multiple connections are not usually worth it. The more connections, the more chances that something will go wrong. Besides, the longer the flight time, the more stressful the trip becomes.
- I would recommend paying more to avoid trips that involve backtracking. About ten years ago, I flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Mexico City because the flight was $100 less expensive than a non-stop flight between Los Angeles and Mexico City. I also flew eight years ago from Miami to Newark to Washington DC to Buenos Aires to save $150 and get more frequent flyer miles. (Frequent flyer miles earned on flights were worth much more eight years ago than today). Both of these itineraries made the total trip time more than twice as long than the non-stop flight. Nowadays, I consider my time and sanity to be worth a bit more than these relatively small differences in fees. (That said, I may subject myself to these backtracking flights if the price difference is higher than $100 one-way.)
- If I choose a flight with connections, I prefer to have a connection with at least one and a half hour or more layover. Many times, if a plane is delayed, it will be for an hour or less. By booking a longer connection window, you have a better chance of making the connection. Besides, many of the airports that have a lot of connecting flights are immense. It is not unusual to have to walk for thirty minutes to an hour to get to the connecting gate.
- Whenever you find yourself with less than an hour for a connection, ask the check-in counter to arrange to have a small golf cart at the connecting airport. (Airlines love to change their flight schedules and reduce your wait times so that it seems less of a hassle to the traveler. I hate this.) If you have even slightly limited mobility, ask the airline for a wheelchair. Even though I have no mobility issues, I sometimes wish I had a wheelchair when faced with some of the long distances in airports necessary to make a connecting flight. (In London-Heathrow and Miami International airports I have walked an hour to make a connecting flight).
- Nowadays, I’d also suggest that anytime you have a choice between airlines, you give a slight nudge to international over US-based carriers. In the post 9/11 period, US-based carriers have basically been forced to cut back on customer service. Fortunately, foreign airlines haven’t had to adapt as many cuts as their US-based equivalents.
Frequent Flyer Miles
¨I’ve met the most interesting people while flying or on a boat. These methods of travel seem to attract the kind of people I want to be with¨.
I have been able to get a lot of benefits just by using two airline branded credits cards: Citibank AAdvantage card and the Mileage Plus United Chase card. My United Chase card comes with a $450 annual fee that allows me to use United’s airport clubs. It also gives me 1-1/2 points per dollar spent. I used to have a similar card with American Airlines however I canceled it because:
- I seldom used the airlines’ clubs;
- it only gave me a point for each dollar spent;
- I was able to benefit from the sign-up bonus without renewing the card; and
- I did not want to pay the $400 annual fee. (my current Citibank card costs me $95 a year).
One of the most significant benefits of the airline branded credit cards is that I do not have to pay baggage fees on most flights. (as long as I pay for the ticket using the appropriate airline branded card). I am also usually able to board the airplane earlier than most other customers, which means that I seldom have to search for a cabin to stow my carry-on bags.
If I had to choose between American and United´s cards, I would select United for a couple of reasons including:
- I frequently fly to and from Montreal and Air Canada is a partner airline for United;
- The United Chase cards waive baggage fees on all flights. The American Airlines-Citibank card only waives the baggage fee on business-oriented flights. You have to pay the baggage fee for flights to leisure destinations, such as Cancun. (Note: Neither card waives baggage fees on partner airlines); and
- The United website allows you to access all the flights of its partners when you are booking a trip using frequent flyer points whereas American only lists flights for frequent flyer awards from some of its partners. (Ñote: I have booked flights using frequent flyer awards on British Airways, Finnish Airways, and SAS on the American Airline’s website. I was not able to do the same with LAN-Chile).
Points from credit card spending (I usually charge between $25-40,000 a year on these two credit cards), combined with bonuses, have enabled me to use frequent flyer miles to fund around 40% of all my flights over the past eight years, including the following trips:
Quito- Miami; Montreal-Rio de Janeiro; Buenos Aires-Montreal; Merida, Mexico-Sofia, Bulgaria; Montreal-Vienna; Los Angeles-Panama City; Vienna-Milan; Cartagena-Quito; San Francisco-Anchorage; Panama City-Buenos Aires; Montreal-Lima; Miami-San Francisco; Montreal-Copenhagen; Montreal-Paris; Prague-Montreal; Montreal-Philadelphia; Montreal-Detroit; Montreal-Cancun; Buffalo-San Francisco; San Juan-Cancun.
I have a Delta-American Express card as well but use it sparingly. The Delta-American Express card has a reputation of requiring leisure travelers, like me, to use their card a lot before they can qualify for an award ticket. I also do not have a lot of reasons to fly Delta because I do not live or often travel to and from their hub cities (particularly Atlanta). I know people who love these cards and would encourage you to read the following article to learn more about the benefits of American Express’s Platinum Card.
I would estimate that I earned around 80% of my points through credit card purchases and bonuses and approximately 20% from miles flown on airlines over the last eight years. The percentage from credit card purchases has increased markedly over the past three years (I would guess that nowadays over 95% of my points come from credit card purchases and bonuses). Until three years ago, American and United gave a point for every mile flown. Today they give points based on money spent (generally five points per dollar spent after taxes and fees).
I sometimes used to choose flights from American and United, and their partners, over trips that were slightly less expensive on other airlines to get points on American and United airlines. Nowadays, I think twice about doing this because:
- Sometimes, flights on some partner airlines like Air Canada (a partner of United Airlines), are not eligible to earn points if you use their low-cost tickets and
- I only get between 500-1500 points for most flights on American and United. (I used to get 2-3 times often this much before the airlines determined mileage based on the dollars spent on the ticket).
I always try to enter the appropriate frequent flyer membership number whenever I book a flight online. (The membership number you enter should be from an airline that is a member of the same alliance as the airline. In other words, if you are booking a flight on British Airways, you would enter American Airlines membership number, since British Airways and American Airlines are both members of the Oneworld alliance.) If I cannot figure out how to enter the number easily (this is rare), I will call the airline and ask that they enter the number into my passenger record. While you won’t always get points from the partner airlines, many times, you will get some points. A few of the partner airlines even award miles based on the number of miles flown. (I had a pleasant surprise in 2015 when I received around 15,000 American advantage points for flying on Fiji airlines from Los Angeles to Sydney).
Here are some of the ways that I have earned bonus points. (Note: I found out about most of these bonuses through emails sent to me from the credit card companies):
- Credit card sign up bonuses (this is the most common way that I earned points, other than credit card spending. I would estimate I earned around 150,000 miles from these bonuses)
- Signing up for credit cards which include access to the airlines’ club (approximately 50000 miles)
- Using United Cruises for making cruise reservations. (Note: I had to pay $100 to United Cruises when I have canceled cruises).
- Signing up for a Citibank banking account. While this same offer is not available to today, you may want to check out ufbdirect to see if their offer may work for you. (I do not think it is of much use for me because the most important benefit of my Citibank account is free overseas ATM withdrawal, which is not included in ufbdirect’s offer).
Owning these two credit cards also means that I sometimes get better service on the flight and occasionally get an upgrade without asking.
Keep in mind that frequent flyer tickets are not free. I have paid between $5 (for some domestic flights in the US) up to $225 (primarily for connecting in London) for award flights. (Note: even airline employees usually pay these fees).
I recommend that you keep your boarding pass after you finish a flight. Sometimes (fortunately this is relatively rare nowadays) airlines fail to give you points for a flight, particularly if, for some reason, the airlines have re-booked you on a different flight at check-in. You need the boarding pass to make a claim (which can be done relatively easily online) for the airlines to credit these points.
Using frequent flyer award points for flights has another advantage over cash: It is much easier to cancel or change a trip. Generally, if you cancel a flight, you can just redeposit your points back into your account online for a fee. ($75-125 on United; $150 on American plus $25 for each additional ticket that you cancel at the same time. Note: you may not have to pay this fee if you have some exclusive -i.e. executive- credit cards). You can also reschedule many frequent flyers award flights without a fee.
If you want to get a ticket that requires a small number of points to purchase, you should expect the trip to be inconvenient. I have several times ended up spending the night in a connecting city and taking an early morning flight to take advantage of a low point frequent flyer flight. That said, I have found that this is less true on long distance, transatlantic flights and business-oriented flights (usually short-haul flights with regular departures throughout the day).
Please keep in mind if you are buying non-airline related services or products for frequent flyer miles that some of the products affiliated with frequent-flyer programs may be purchased somewhere else for less. Sometimes, the hotels and car rental companies featured on the airlines´ websites offer more expensive products and services than their competitors. (Car rental company may even charge you a fee for reporting your points to the airlines). However, if you are a fan of a particular company’s service or find a company that offers services at a competitive price, by all means, try to get frequent flyer miles. If you are interested in an excellent analysis of the affiliate offers check out the Free Frequent Flyers Mile Website.
Be careful to pay your credit cards off every month. Many airline-branded credit cards charge interest rates between 15-20% a year and high annual fees. If you have decent credit, it is not hard to find a credit card without a fee and/or at lower interest rates. Assuming that you, like most Americans, carry a $6,000 balance on your card, you will pay approximately $1000-$1500 more per year in interest and fees using airline credit cards. (Note: the 6000 frequent flyer miles that you will get from spending $6000 on a card will only save you approximately $100 on a future flight.)
Flight Schedule Changes
¨Travel is glamorous only in retrospect¨
Don’t be surprised if after you purchase your ticket, you receive an email from the airline announcing that they have either changed: (1) the departure time for the flight by several hours, (2) extended or even sometimes reduced how long your trip lasts, or (3) and this is my pet peeve, eliminated a non-stop flight and re-booked you on a connecting flight.
Airlines sell tickets as much as 11 months in advance but rarely end up flying the same schedules they sold. (Note: Sometimes the changes are relatively minor, like a ten-minute change in departure time). Airlines tend to make wide scale schedule changes every couple of months. As a result, you may want to consider waiting to buy a ticket until a couple of months in advance if you want to ensure that you will fly the same flight as the one you purchased. You are also less likely to see significant flight changes on a route that has many departures every day. (i.e., Miami-New York, Chicago-Los Angeles, etc.)
If the departure time or flight duration is changed by more than an hour (two hours in the case of Delta Airlines) and/or the routing is changed, you should be able to cancel the ticket and get a full refund. (It took me a lot of patience and effort to get Delta to issue me a refund. It has been easy with American Airlines). The airline can also reschedule you on a different flight without charging any additional fare, even if the new flight is more expensive than the cost of the ticket you booked.
I find that when an airline reschedules my flight, and I receive a refund (it usually takes a week or so to receive the refund), I can often find a decent alternative flight on another airline. However, there is always a chance that the flights will be more expensive when you re-book the flight.
Therefore, I would suggest that you check the costs of alternative flights before you call the airline to ask for a refund. If you find that the flights are more expensive, ask the airline to book you on an alternative flight instead of issuing a refund. (Unfortunately, airlines will only re-book you on a plane that they operate).
I highly recommend that you always check to make sure the flight has not changed at least a couple of days ahead of the flight. (The easiest way to do this is to check your passenger record the airlines’ website online. All you need is your confirmation number to do this). Airline companies will usually send you an email with changes. However, the email can easily get lost. In addition, if you booked the flight with a third-party search engine, you cannot be sure that you have received the emails with updated flight info. I learned this the hard way when I checked in for a flight (I bought the ticket on Travelocity) from Montreal to Halifax on Porter Airways. I arrived about two hours before what I thought was the right flight time, only to learn that the airline had changed the flight schedule a couple of months earlier and the flight had left three hours before I arrived at the airport. The airline re-booked me on the same flight the next day, but I lost a day of a tour and had to travel six hours by shuttle to meet the group. (By the way, the tour company, Caravan Tours, did an excellent job of helping me deal with the problem).
As a whole, if I really want to have a nonstop flight, I will choose a routing that offers several non-stop flights every day. (Often these are flights to one of the airline’s hub cities). That way, if the airline decides to cancel the flight, they will just re-book you on another non-stop flight. (Living in Merida, Mexico, it seems like airlines love to schedule flights from the US to Merida and then cancel them and force me to make a connection in Mexico City, which adds between 5 to 8 hours to the trip. As a result, I make most of my flight arrangements from Cancun (instead of Merida) to the US because there are multiple flights from there to most destinations in the US. That way, if the airlines reschedule my nonstop flight, I will be able to find a non-stop alternative easily).
Based on the airlines fondness for making schedule changes, I also recommend that you consider booking flights, whenever possible, one day before any of the following events to avoid stress and potential problems: 1) the starting date for a cruise or tour or 2) an important business or personal event (like a wedding).
Getting Bumped and Upgraded
¨If the Wright Brothers were alive today, Wilbur would have to fire Orville to reduce costs¨.
Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines
Despite the extremely negative publicity that United Airlines received for involuntarily bumping a doctor off one of its flights from Chicago to Louisville, many travelers don’t mind volunteering their seats to wait for the next trip out. In fact, I have known people who will try to get “bumped” on every flight.
I have volunteered to be bumped three times and have received each time credit toward a future flight. All three times, I have only had to wait an extra hour or two for the next available flight.
While I have never set out with the intention of being bumped, some people do employ strategies to get deliberate bumped off their flights. Read more about this from Johnny Jet.
I have flown in business or first class around twenty times in my life. Only twice, have I actually paid significantly more than I would have paid for an economy class ticket. (Both of these times were because I needed to buy a ticket last minute and the only available seats were in business class).
Probably five of these twenty times, I bought a business class ticket (a couple of these times I purchased it with frequent-flyer miles) that did not cost much more than I would have paid otherwise. On flights to and from Cancun (probably because not many business people fly there), airlines occasionally offer business class tickets for only $50-$100 more one way than an inexpensive economy ticket.
I also have a few times flown business class after being offered an inexpensive upgrade at the time of check-in. One time, for example, I had arrived early and paid $50 extra for a bag over the weight limit and got upgraded to business class for an additional $50 on a flight from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta on Alaska airlines. (You are more likely to be upgraded if you are among the first customers to registration for the flight and the agent knows that they have free space in business/first class and are oversold in coach)
However, the bulk of the times I have flown in business or first class, I have been upgraded for free by the airline staff for free after check-in. While most of the time I do not know why I was updated, I suspect it was because I usually dress appropriately and am a member of their frequent flyer program. (A pair of chinos and a polo shirt is fine, no shorts or Hawaiian shirts for men; a dress or an attractive pantsuit or blouse and pant combo, no sweatshirts, will work for women). One time, surprisingly, I was upgraded because I mentioned -this was not deliberate- that I was a volunteer English teacher in Russia and the check-in agent decided in her words that I needed a ¨bit of comfort¨ before I started back at teaching.
Here a few other strategies that experts recount can help you to secure an upgraded seat:
- Mention that you’d like to be upgraded for a legitimate reason (such as you need special assistance, you have a medical condition that makes it hard to sit in cramped spaces, etc.). I would only recommend using these reasons if they are correct. If they are not and you’re found out, you will forfeit any chance of being upgraded in the future.
- Spend lots of money. I think one time I was upgraded because I bought a reasonably expensive flight ($600 one way from Portland, Maine to San Jose, Costa Rica).
- Check your emails. Sometimes airlines will email you a couple of times before the day of departure offering a cheap (not free) upgrade.
- If the airline has done something that has caused you a legitimate problem (like potentially missing a meeting), then you should explain what has happened and ask in a firm, determined, but not aggressive manner, for an upgrade. It is easier for airlines to give you an upgrade than compensate you for your problems.
- Be nice. I was once given an upgrade to an empty row of seats with extra legroom on a flight between Mexico City and San Francisco because I asked the flight attendant if there was any way, I could move so that a young, very sleepy girl could lay down and sleep.
Try your luck. Don’t be afraid to ask for an upgrade. Of course, the airline could always say no, but what have you got to lose? Dress well, be nice, smile sweetly and say please and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Round-the-World (RTW) Tickets
¨Travel makes you modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world¨.
Fifty-Plus Nomads may want to consider buying round-the-world (RTW) tickets anytime they plan to make a journey with multiple stops within one region or around the world.
There are generally two types of RTW tickets. One type is geared toward flying exclusively on one of the three airline alliances. (Each airline alliance has its own rules for how its round the world tickets work). The other type of RTW ticket comes for RTW travel agencies that use airlines from more than one airline alliance.
Round the world tickets that use one alliance for all the flights require you to buy a ticket that begins and ends in the same country, will complete within a year after the start of the trip, and does not have you crisscross an ocean (meaning that you cannot travel from New York-London-Rio de Janeiro-Paris). These tickets are based on the number of miles you fly (the minimum number of miles for one of these tickets is 29000 miles) and allow a set number of stopovers (most require you to have a minimum of three stops and a maximum of fifteen). Travelers can change the dates and the times on their tickets so long as they don’t change the destination. These tickets can be bought from the airlines; however, it is usually cheaper and better to use an RTW travel agency.
RTW travel agencies are just travel agencies who specialize in helping travelers who are planning a ticket with multiple stops around the world. You can buy any type of ticket from these agencies. Instead of creating a round the world ticket, the RTW agencies piece together individual airline tickets based on the lowest available fares they find. (Note: These agencies usually do not deal with budget carriers). The RTW travel agency will help you find the type of ticket that works best for you. Depending on your routing, the RTW agency may create a routing that involves more than one alliance and is not subject to the same rules as the alliance tickets above.
The largest, and best known, round-the-world travel agency is Airtreks. I used them in 2013 to buy the following round-the-world tickets: (1) Montreal-Chennai (India)- (overland to Mumbai); (2) Mumbai-Dubai; (3) Dubai-Istanbul; (4) Istanbul-Madrid; (5) Madrid-Toronto. The cost of the ticket -US $2200- was around $200 less than buying the tickets individually (Note: I may have been able to save money if I compared the cost of these tickets with those offered by budget airlines) and I found them to be very helpful with planning the flights and when I needed to make a slight change to a flight.
Generally, you will get the best prices if you travel in one direction, don’t backtrack, have a reasonably small number of stops, occasionally travel overland, and travel to large cities which serve as an airline hub. (Note: Airtreks website is extremely useful. It allows you to play with different itineraries to see how changes affect the price. It also will suggest destinations where you may be able to stop for free because it is a hub for one of your flights).
All RTW tickets make you pre-book all your tickets in advance. However, since you are purchasing them in one giant bulk package, you may save money off the total price of all individual tickets (particularly if you do not want to fly budget airlines). Also, the RTW travel agencies have much more experience with this type of ticket which can save Fifty-Plus Nomads considerable frustration and possibly money.