$6.79 Breakfast Sandwich And Other Avoidable Travel Expenses

Paying for travel fees

Which airline does the best job, which hotel has the best perks and which cruise line has the best past-guest program are topics that few travelers agree on. But when it comes to extra travel fees, all seem to agree: they are something to be avoided if at all possible.

Getting to the final cost of an airline ticket was made easy with recent truth in advertising rules put in place. But nowhere in that legislation was a requirement for airlines, airports, hotels, cruise lines and other travel service providers to be fair. We have to watch out for ourselves when traveling and while some parts of our travel plan are bound to cost more on the road than they do at home, some can be controlled with a little thought.

Talking to a person can cost. Some airlines charge $25 or more if you buy your ticket over the phone, speaking to a human being. While thinking the airline employee on the other end of the phone might be able to help out when we run into trouble scheduling online is not a bad idea, be prepared to pay more for the extra service.

Unnecessary insurance can add up fast. Rental car insurance fees are often redundant. Most travelers who own a car at home are covered if they rent one on the road. Check with your personal auto insurance agent to see. While you’re talking to them, ask if you have any travel coverage for anything at all and ask that same question of your health care insurance provider. Many travelers assume that they have no coverage but many do, if not through their regular health insurance, then through credit cards they may have if travel is purchased using those cards.

Post-Security purchases at the airport can be insanely high-priced. A $6 bottle of water can be avoided by bringing an empty re-usable water container that will make it through the security check. Planning on a meal between home and your destination? Bring it with you and save. Portable foods that are nutritious and not perishable are the best bets. Planning ahead for flight delays, energy bars like KIND bars are a good choice when brought from home – $1.50 versus at the price at a convenient kiosk in the airport by the gate for $3.79.

Breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s on the way to the airport: See the dollar menu.
American Airlines breakfast sandwich in the air: $6.79.


Printing cruise documents, what was once the cause for dancing, as travelers who looked forward to their cruise of a lifetime waited for the mailman to deliver, has gone electronic on all but a few cruise lines. Many major cruise lines simply don’t have the option of paper documents anymore. Royal Caribbean still offers a printed version of cruise documents, upon request at time of booking, for a $35 fee per document.

Probably one of the worst and most avoidable extra fees is Spirit Airlines $100 Carry-On Fee, due to start in November.

The idea is to discourage their customers from making last-minute luggage decisions. The current bag charges of $20 for $9 Fare Club members, $30 for online orders and $35 for telephone reservations go up $5 each on November 6. The prices for carry-on bags paid for at airport ticket counters or kiosks go from $40 to $50. Forget to pay that before you reach the gate? $100 will be the fee. The airline still allows one free small personal item that will fit under the seat.

Check this quick video with some ways to save on airline fees.

[Flickr photo by stevendepolo]

Man Kicked Off Budget Airline For Wearing Baggy Pants

spirit airlines In recent airline news, a man was kicked off a Spirit Airlines’ flight for wearing baggy pants with the top of his underwear showing.

According to the Daily Mail, a flight attendant asked the passenger to pull up his pants, but he refused.

“It was to the point where his entire bottom was hanging out,” said Spirit Airlines’ spokeswoman Misty Pinson. “And that’s not appropriate. We have a lot of customers on the plane, a lot of children on the plane.”

According to Pinson, the man’s pants were below his bottom, exposing his underwear but no skin. When he was confronted, the unidentified man apparently become aggressive, threatening to smack the flight attendants.

When law enforcement arrived, the man and his female companion were escorted off the plane with their belongings, and put on a later flight.

What are your thoughts on airlines enforcing dress codes?

[Flickr image via Alaskan Dude]

Airline Fees: You Get What You Pay For Or Weapons In Travel Class Warfare?

airline fees - plane seat meapLast month, the media was abuzz over increased airline fees for pre-assigned seating, with many concerned that it would especially affect families who want to sit together for no additional cost. Even New York Senator Chuck Schumer got involved, asking airlines to waive fees for families traveling with children. Rather than look for victims or call airlines “anti-family,” however, look at the bigger picture. Airline seat fees are nothing new, but they are increasingly being used as another weapon in the arsenal against the airlines’ least desirable customer: the infrequent flier. If travelers will choose airfares based on a difference of nickels and dimes, does this force the airlines to nickel and dime the traveler?

The real divide in travel now isn’t between business and leisure travelers, families and singles, or even first class and coach; it’s between frequent fliers with airline loyalty, and price-conscious consumers who won’t hesitate to switch carriers for a cheaper fare. Savvy travelers who fly more than a few times per year understand that it pays to be loyal to one airline. In addition to earning miles for future trips, frequent fliers can jump to the top of upgrade lists, skip long check-in and security lines, and even waive many of the fees not included in the base fare. Travelers who fly only a year or less are more likely to book the cheapest ticket they find, even if the difference between carriers is just a few dollars, assuming the service will be similar (or worse, the same as they remember the last time they flew). What’s the incentive for airlines to give such passengers anything for free if they might never fly them again? “The customers that are more loyal, who fly more often, we want to make sure they have the best travel experience,” said American Airlines to Associated Press.

People are quick to call airlines greedy, and while they are looking to make money, running an airline is hardly a lucrative business these days. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a nifty graphic breaking down the cost of an average flight, showing that on a 100-person flight, the airline is making a profit off only a single seat. Between the rising costs of fuel, staff, security, insurance, and maintenance, most airlines are struggling to avoid bankruptcy or just stay in business. While you shouldn’t feel sorry for the airlines, understand that the alternative to fees is increased base fares, where you may be stuck paying for amenities you don’t need or want.As I’ve lived abroad for two years, I’ve become loyal to Turkish Airlines. They not only have the most flights from my current home airport in Istanbul, but I know I’ll always get a meal even on short flights, never have to pay fees outside of excess baggage, and even be able to use a dedicated check-in desk for travelers with children at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. I’ve often paid more to fly on Turkish Airlines than other carriers on the same route to guarantee the same standards of service. This makes me a valuable customer, and the more money I spend with them, the more perks I receive.

Earlier this year, I was looking for tickets from New York to Austin for a friend’s wedding. It was slightly cheaper to fly on American Airlines (my preferred carrier when I lived in New York) than Jet Blue, but as a solo traveler with a baby, I knew I’d be checking a bag and wanting to take my stroller up to the gate. Jet Blue would offer these services for free (American wouldn’t let me gate-check the stroller, but I could check it at the counter for free), and the overall cost would be about the same, plus I’d get free snacks and entertainment. In the end, I chose Jet Blue and was even given a priority seat without charge because the flight was relatively empty. If I were still based in New York and flying frequently, it would be more worthwhile to me to fly American to build my frequent flier status and miles for places I’d like to go.

As a parent who travels frequently with my child, I understand the potential nightmare separate seating could cause, but I also understand that airlines can’t make exceptions without making some passengers unhappy. If airlines were to waive a seating charge for families, travelers would complain about special treatment. Fliers with elderly parents would ask for exemptions to sit together, people with a fear of flying would want their travel partner close with no fee, and single travelers would feel they were being forced to subsidize everyone else.

Over at Huffington Post, my colleague (and fellow baby travel expert) Corinne McDermott contacted all of the major airlines regarding pre-assigned seating fees. Only Spirit Airlines explicitly said families should pay fees to be guaranteed adjacent seats. In fact, much of the hype about families being separated might really just be that: hype. Most airlines will try to accommodate people traveling together, just reserving preferred aisle and window seats to reward frequent fliers, or sell for an additional fee. It makes sense for an airline to offer a premium like preferred seating for free to a loyal customer, and instead try to make as much money as possible for a customer they may never have again.

Instead of spending time writing angry comments online, spend that time educating yourself about the full cost of an airline ticket and decide where your priorities lie: do you want to pay the absolute lowest fare and expect nothing more than a seat, or do you want to pay for service instead surprise fees? The old axiom “you get what you pay for” is the new reality in airline travel.

Spirit Airlines fed up, says government has hidden agenda

Spirit airlinesThis week, Spirit Airlines, mad about new airline disclosure rules, started adding a $4 “unintended consequences of DOT regulations” fee to ticket prices. It’s just the latest in a salvo of complaints by airlines over new fare disclosure rules they feel are unfair.

Spirit Airlines isn’t happy with the new rule requiring airlines to include all taxes and mandatory fees in the quoted airfare price and posted a big “Warning!” sign pop-up on the carrier’s website making that quite clear earlier this week. The pop-up is gone now but the information is still prominently displayed, urging consumers to contact their Congressional Representatives to complain.

In a direct attack on the new rules Spirit says “If the government can hide taxes in your airfares, then they can carry out their hidden agenda and quietly increase their taxes. (Yes, such talks are already underway.)” on their linked web site, keepmyfareslow.org.

Spirit believes that with the total price on display up front, it looks like airlines are raising their prices which could drive away consumers, something a low-cost airline can not afford.

“We’re against these new regulations because we actually think it reduces transparency,” Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza told Time this week. “We think it makes it harder for consumers to understand what they’re paying for.”

The new regulations of airline marketing also allow passengers to wait as long as 24 hours to pay for a reservation, a huge change from policies airlines have requiring immediate, nonrefundable payment for discount fares.

Here is where they might have a point: its a trade-off of sorts.

Airlines often struggle to fly full planes and need to have them full to make a profit. The airline gives a discount to attract buyers and expects that seat to stay sold in return.

Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said in a statement that “the new rule takes seats out of circulation, albeit temporarily, limiting the inventory for people willing to pay on the spot. As a result, he said, the airline now has to spread costs over fewer passengers, and add the $4 fee” reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Confusing? Looking at this from a different angle might provide some clarity. This is an issue that cruise lines, exempt from disclosure rules, have begun dealing with recently also.

Traditionally doing what DOT rules are having airlines do just now, travel agents or passengers booking directly could put a courtesy hold on a cruise cabin to lock in the price and availability for a given period of time. That took the cabin out of the available inventory for others to choose from, much like airlines are being forced to do now. Affecting available inventory and pricing even more, huge blocks of cabins on a given sailing could be held out of available inventory for a proposed group sailing, artificially inflating occupancy levels.

On the other end, cruise line cancellation policies were more generous in the past, allowing passengers to book up to a year or more in advance and cancel just before final payment with no penalty. Cancellation charges started on the day final payment was due and increased as the date of sailing came closer, to where if passengers canceled within 7 days of sailing the cancellation penalties would be as much as was paid for the booking. Now, that 100% penalty time is happening farther out from sailing, giving the cruise line more time to sell that cabin to someone else and further discouraging passengers from cancelling.

A good example of what the airlines are talking about can be found in new cruise fare options aimed at reducing those cabins that have been taken out of the available inventory but are not really sold yet.

Carnival Cruise Lines
Early Saver Fare is a good example.

In world of seemingly unlimited deals and offers with pricing all over the board, Carnival guarantees the Early Saver Fare to be the lowest advertised fare and reduces the price if a legitimate lower price is found.

Simple.

In return, the buyer agrees that the deposit is totally non-refundable, few changes can be made to a booking without incurring a $50 per change administrative fee, and standard cancellation penalties apply, much like reduced fare airline tickets were before the disclosure rules set in.

Airlines contend that they are being singled out as other travel products including hotel rooms and cruise vacations that commonly advertise tax-off pricing and are not affected by the rule. They are correct on that point.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood does not agree though, calling the regulations common sense in his own return attack.

“This is just another example of the disrespect with which too many airlines treat their passengers,” he said reports the Chicago Tribune.

On the other hand, if how discount air carriers do business keeps them in the air, at low prices, should we complain? Who really ends up losing here?


Bankruptcy for American Airlines


Flickr photo by redlegsfan21

Spirit Airlines goes public … with dirty laundry

Spirit AirlinesRemember when Spirit Airlines talked about going public? The company felt the need to disclose customer service as a critical risk in its initial public offering documents. One would expect nothing less from the carrier that used flight attendant-turned nutjob-turned spokesman Steven Slater to sell seats. Well, Spirit hopped into the arena of public finance, raising $187.2 million in its initial public offering last week.

What’s interesting is that the folks with the dough – Indigo Partners and Oaktree Capital Management – weren’t shy about looking for the exits. In addition to revealing the problems with “[n]egative publicity regarding our customer service,” Spirit noted in its filing:

“After the offering, our private equity sponsors may elect to reduce their ownership in our company or reduce their involvement on our board of directors, which could reduce or eliminate the benefits we have historically achieved through our relationships with them.”

Time to brace?