Salvation Army Bell Ringers Just One Way To Give

Salvation Army bell ringersSalvation Army bell ringers located at shopping malls, grocery stores, airports and other locations, not just in the United States but around the world, are a sure sign that the holidays are upon us. The red kettles fill with donations that provide millions to help the Salvation Army continue its mission year-round. But holiday giving does not have to stop with a quick donation while passing by a Salvation Army bell-ringer.

The Salvation Army needs to have the ability to move their personnel quickly in time of disaster. They provide travel for those in need of emergency medical care outside of their area too. To help with those transportation needs and reduce administrative costs by providing travel for Salvation Army staff members, airlines are helping with programs of their own.

United Airlines Charity Miles Program has partnered with the Salvation Army since 1999, allowing frequent fliers to donate miles from their United Airlines Mileage Plus account to any of their nonprofit partner organizations. To make a minimum donation of 1,000 miles to the Salvation Army, call United at 800-421-4655 and request that your Mileage Plus miles be transferred into the Salvation Army’s account.

Annually, United Airline customers donate more than 268 million miles through the program.Delta Airlines’ Sky Wish program works in a similar way. Any Delta frequent flier can email delta.bids@delta.com with their name, SkyMiles number, SkyWish charity name, donation amount and telephone number.

Delta makes it easy too, enabling us to choose from a variety of charities including Canine Assistants, a non-profit organization, which trains and provides service dogs for children and adults with physical disabilities or other special needs.

Public contributions to Salvation Army kettles enable the organization to continue its year-round efforts at helping those who would otherwise be forgotten. In the UK, the Salvation Army has made a big effort to help the homeless, as we see in this video:




[Photo Credit- Flickr User dananthony11]

Fees And Penalties Waived By Travel Companies: Nice Or Strategic Move?

fees and penalties

Frequent travelers know that fees and penalties happen when we change plans. Booked elements of a travel plan, especially when discounted, often carry heavy charges to prevent changes. But when major disruptive events happen – situations beyond our control that force plans to be modified – travel companies often waive those fees. It seems like a logical, good business move to make. But sometimes they need a little encouragement to do so.

Weather events, like a hurricane, a massive winter snowstorm or even disasters far away like an earthquake in Japan can throw off air schedules, empty or fill hotel rooms and make normal operations nearly impossible. When that happens, airlines, hotels, car rental companies, cruise lines and more adjust quickly to do the best job they can under the circumstances. Commonly waiving cancellation or change fees for these situations out of our control, it’s a show of good will by travel service providers. They don’t have to do that.

But it’s also a strategic move since the rescheduling is going to be done anyway, putting a severe strain on reservations systems and personnel. It’s kind of like the boss that is mad when someone calls in for work vs. the understanding employer who wishes them well and hopes they get better soon. Either way, the worker is not coming in today but the understanding employer gains good will with his workers. The mad boss? Not so much.As Hurricane Sandy caused aircraft to be grounded or moved out of harms way, United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson told USA Today, “We will likely suspend operations scheduled for tonight and tomorrow at several airports in the region. Conditions are likely to keep us from operating with an acceptable margin of safety.” Delta went on to suspend change and cancellation fees, as did most major airlines, asking passengers to consider departing earlier, postponing or re-routing their travel. At the time of Hurricane Sandy, it made sense.

After the storm passed and normal operations resumed, back came the fees and charges. But on the ground, the lives of those affected where far from back to normal. Homes left standing were still without power in many areas, forcing residents to live in hotels, scramble to find a rental car and change plans well into the future. For a while, it looked like airlines were going to hit passengers with fees again until Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) stepped in to lobby airlines on their behalf. As a result, airlines reevaluated their policies and made the right move.

“JetBlue and Delta have stepped up to the plate for those teachers and families with students whose travel plans have been ruined by Superstorm Sandy – now other airlines and cruise lines should follow suit ASAP,” said Schumer on his website. “Having to cancel a long planned vacation because of the storm is bad, but being forced to shell out hundreds or thousands in cancellation or change fees is worse.”

Whether it is nice to do in order to earn or keep our good will, or a strategic move that should make resuming normal operations more efficient, we’re always happy when fees we don’t think are justified are removed, regardless or what (or who) caused them to happen in the first place.

Want to know more about how to avoid fees? See this video that tells us fees are big business for airlines, between 3 – 4% of their income:


[Photo Credit: Flickr user swanksalot]

How To Fly If You’re A ‘Customer Of Size’

Given the ever increasing, uh, size of air passengers (not least American air travelers), airlines are cracking down on passengers who may just rather roll up their armrests and encroach a little on the space of other passengers next to them.

The ongoing debate has been around whether larger passengers are, and should be, required to buy extra seats for themselves, and the jury is coming back with a definitive “yes.” Yahoo! News rounds up policies from major airlines on “passengers of size,” whether there are special provisions, if fees are required, and, basically, what the deal is.

After going through the options, we can weigh in on the best and worst.

The winners? Customers of some size may want to opt for JetBlue, which has slightly larger seats than most other airlines. Usually airlines provide about 17 inches between armrests, but JetBlue provides 17.8 inches.

If you’re a customer of the next size up, your best bet may, surprisingly, be Spirit. Although Spirit is known for nickel-and-diming its customers with loads of different fees, paying extra for a Big Front Seat may actually be worth your while, rather than buying a whole extra seat like you’d have to on another airline. In addition to offering 6 extra inches of legroom, Spirit’s Big Front Seats are 18.5 inches wide.

If you’re a customer of a larger size than that, your best bet may be Delta, which doesn’t require you to buy an extra seat. Delta will simply give you an extra seat next to you … if one is available. Obviously, the downside is if you’re in a rush and there are no spare seats on the plane. They’ll put you on another plane with extra room, but you may have to wait. In that case, it’s your choice to buy an extra seat for yourself in advance.

The loser? United. If you fly on United, you have to prove the armrests go down and stay all the way down – even if you’re seated next to family. While I totally understand (and agree) that it’s inappropriate for strangers to intrude on other passengers’ spaces, other airlines make an exception if you sit next to family members who don’t mind. No such luck on United. You can purchase your extra United seat in advance, and if you don’t, you may be charged additional walk-up fees later.

[Image credit: Flickr user sbamueller]

Lost Luggage Has A Season And It Is Here Now

lost luggage

Lost luggage was once a major problem for airlines but they have been doing better lately. Perhaps with the introduction of fees for checked bags, airlines are paying more attention to what happens to luggage. Maybe it’s those fees that are driving airline passengers to pack less, carry on more and give airlines less to lose. Whatever the reason, lost luggage is less of an issue than it once was for air travelers – for the most part. Still, there are some airlines that do a better job than others and, apparently, a time of the year when lost luggage reports peak.

A recent study by NerdWallet notes, “regional airlines mishandle luggage at significantly higher rates than average.” Those regional airlines include carriers like like ExpressJet, Mesa, and SkyWest. Better known airlines line American, Delta, US Airways and others, have a better report card.

The problem is that those smaller, regional airlines often operate flights for larger carriers, which equals more lost luggage. Also a problem: the holiday travel period between now and January.According to the NerdWallet survey, reports of lost, mishandled, damaged, delayed or stolen luggage spikes during this time as more travelers take to the air.

Looking to minimize the chances of a bad luggage experience? NerdTraveler suggests when traveling with someone else, split valuables into multiple carry-on bags to reduce the odds of losing important papers, documents and other items. Booking direct flights to minimize the airline handling of your luggage can help too.

Another good idea is to take smartphone photos of your luggage and its contents. That goes a long way towards a happy claim when luggage is lost or damaged. Finally, know the airline’s policy on reimbursement. Airlines commonly exclude personal items like electronics, photography equipment, things made of glass and more.



[Photo Credit: Flickr user puregin]

Weather Events Send Aircraft, Cruise Ships Running

weather events

When weather events cause travel disruptions, most people planning a vacation or business trip to an affected area have to change their plans. Airports and roads close, flights are diverted and destinations may be damaged or destroyed. Suddenly, the best travel plan has gaping holes in it that need instant attention. The good news is that many travel service providers stand by to help.

Right now, a massive superstorm, caused by the rendezvous of hurricane Sandy and two other big winter storms, is aimed at locations 800 miles inland up and down the U.S. East Coast and experts are worried.

“We’re looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people,” said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in an Associated Press report.

Those with travel plans on either side of the storm are scrambling to reschedule. Airlines are waiving change fees for travelers who want to change their flights in and out of the growing area to be affected by the storm. It’s not something they have to do, but as travel service providers, airlines want to minimize the inconvenience to their customers.

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines and others are allowing air travelers to rebook flights starting Sunday for travel to and from a variety of Eastern U.S. airports.

Airlines are urging booked passengers to check the status of their flight frequently. Another good idea is to have a backup plan in place. If travelers have those potentially affected flights entered in smartphone app TripIt, for example, alternate flights are readily available. Signing up for email and/or text alerts from your airline provides additional information.

Similar in formation to 1991’s perfect storm when hurricane Grace joined a nor’easter and a cold front, this one looks to be far more powerful. That 1991 storm never came ashore. This one will.

Now, travel via cruise ship suddenly has a bit more allure. Unlike land-based travel destinations, cruise ships can, do and have moved out of harms way. Those booked on a cruise vacation will have less disruption than, say, those planning a trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey where casinos are closed and mandatory evacuations are happening.

Most of the time.

This storm is so big that in addition to normal itinerary modifications, ports are closing and entire sailings of a few ships have been cancelled. Carnival Cruise Line has canceled the October 28 sailing of Carnival Glory, not because of the storm, but due to a situation at the Norfolk Cruise Terminal. Positioned behind a major flood gate, which will will be closed to protect the city, there will be no access to the cruise terminal.

Regardless of the method of travel, this is where having a good travel agent in our back pocket comes in handy. Frankly, providing assistance to travelers in a time of emergency is probably one of the least common tasks that agents do. But in a situation like this, when surfing the Internet to make alternate plans can burn up valuable time that might have snagged a seat on the next flight out, travel agents shine.

Armed with information on all flights, hotels, cruise lines and other travel service providers at their fingertips, a good full-service travel agent can be the most efficient way to save the day.



[Photo Credit: Flickr user by ph_zainabe]