Best U.S. Airlines: 2013 Edition Unveiled By Airfarewatchdog

Eight weeks remain in 2013-including the busy holiday travel season-but apparently Airfarewatchdog has seen enough. Last week it announced its picks for the best, and worst, U.S. airlines of the year. The top three were Frontier, Virgin America and JetBlue with United ranking last.

For criteria, Airfarewatchdog looked at canceled flights, on-time arrivals, mishandled bags, denied boardings and customer satisfaction. Interestingly, top overall airline Frontier didn’t rank at the top of any individual category.The entire overall results:

  1. Frontier
  2. Virgin America
  3. JetBlue
  4. Alaska
  5. Southwest
  6. Delta
  7. AirTran
  8. US Airways
  9. American
  10. United

9 Year-Old Skips Through Airport Security, Flies To Vegas

airport security
Flickr/ ampmouse1

It’s supposed to be impossible. Armed guards are in place to prevent it from happening. Three levels of airport security were breached, and airline and TSA officials have no idea how he did it. That’s the situation at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP) as a 9-year-old was able to get past all that then fly to Las Vegas on his own, without a ticket.

“At this point, this is a Delta and TSA issue,” said airport spokesperson Pat Hogan in a KARE11 tv report. “This is a rare incident.” Rare it may be, but the boy made it on to Delta flight 1651 and was not discovered until the plane landed in Las Vegas.

Both Delta and the TSA are investigating the incident and the 9-year-old stowaway, also believed to be a runaway. Getting past the TSA security screening as well as Delta’s gate agents and the flight crew on the aircraft was simply all in a day’s work for the boy. MSP airport officials report that he also took someone’s luggage off a carousel, ordered food at a restaurant before going through security and even asked his server to watch his luggage while he used the restroom. He never returned.Sound familiar? You might be thinking of the incident not long ago when a man posing as a pilot made it into the cockpit on a US Airways flight.

Does Your Credit Card Include Hidden Travel Perks?

Flickr user 410(K) 2013

Millions of travelers are holding discounts to thousands of museums, concerts and airline rewards in their pocket without realizing it.

Credit-card companies offer hundreds of perks that most holders never use. How good are some of these perks? It depends on the card.

The great
The American Express Platinum cardholders can receive unlimited access to several airport lounges, including those run by the Delta, US Airways and American. According to MSN Money, those memberships would cost well over $1,000 if purchased individually.

Airline credit cards carry perks beyond earned miles. Some airlines, including American and Delta, allow cardholders to check their bags for free.

The pretty good
Bank of America credit cards entitle users to one free general admission to select museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, on the first full weekend of every month. A great way to save an easy $10 or more, but not worth getting a card solely for that reason.

Many cards include a small amount of travel insurance when you purchase your trip, although it’s likely only to accentuate the travel insurance you purchase. A much better perk is the free crash insurance for rental cars that comes standard with many cards.

The so-so
Citi’s Easy Deals allows you to cash in earned points for travel perks, including slightly discounted gift cards for cruises, rental cards and hotels. The hotel and rental car deals featured on the site aren’t much better than offers you can find on Travelocity or Expedia. You can also book tickets to popular attractions, but again, the discounts are virtually nil. Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center are $50 on its website, while Citi offers the same ticket for $48 and five of your earned points.

My wife had her iPhone stolen in the Paris Metro earlier this year. Had we used a Wells Fargo credit card, we may have been eligible for $600 replacement coverage. But, of course, there are caveats. First, we would have had to pay our monthly cellular bill with the card. Also, after the phone was stolen, we would have first had to file a claim against our homeowners insurance before Wells Fargo would have paid the difference.

Before making any travel plans, check your monthly credit card bill for any potential offers, visit your bank’s website or call the toll-free number on the back of the card to find out what perks are available to you.

*This post was updated from its original version to remove reference to a credit card offered by Continental.

Travel Win and Travel Fail of the Week

Boy Finds 5-Carat Diamond In State Park

Travel Win: Arkansas and Michael Dettlaff

Dettlaff, a 12-year old boy who was vacationing in Arkansas with his family, found a 5-carat diamond while exploring Crater of Diamonds State Park. Actually, it was 5.16-carats, if you want to get technical. What does that mean? Mining.com estimates this diamond could be worth $12,000 to $15,000, and the park allows visitors to keep whatever diamonds they find.

So young Dettlaff takes the cake for vacation win this week, though we have a feeling that Arkansas’ tourism numbers are also going to enjoy a nice little boost from this one as well.

Travel Fail: American Airlines and US Airways

Well that was a surprise. The merger between American Airlines and US Airways was challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice and a few states this week, causing the brakes to screech to a halt on the airline industry’s newest mega-consolidation.

This merger was going to be the solution to American Airlines’ bankruptcy issues, and was central to US Airways’ strategy for the coming years. Now it might be back to the drawing board.

American Airlines, U.S. Airways Merger Challenged By DOJ, States

Has Airline Consolidation Really Been a Boon For Travelers?

Flickr user HappyRelm

During a recent conversation with Charlie Rose, United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek spoke on the benefits of consolidation in the airline industry.

Smisek opines the corporations’ increased profits means greater investments in the airline’s fleets, including new planes and global WiFi.

“That costs a lot of money,” Smisek said. “And to do that, you’ve got to make money to be able to make those sorts of investments.”

A proposed merger between the bankrupt American Airlines and US Airways is currently under review by the Justice Department. Last month, antitrust lawyer Joseph Alioto filed suit seeking to block the merger, claiming consumers would be negatively impacted. Although attorneys for both airlines decried the suit as baseless, the Government Accountability Office reported that nearly 1,700 routes between would lose a competitor as a result of the merger, affecting more than 53 million passengers.

When United and Continental merged in 2010, competition was decreased across more than 1,100 routes, according to the GAO.

Just how many airlines have caught merger fever? Take a look at this list.

While consolidation has undoubtedly helped the airline’s bottom line, how has it affected the passengers? With fewer airlines vying for your business and fewer flights to and from your destinations, passengers are at the mercy of increasingly large monolithic airlines that, like major banking institutions, are rapidly becoming “too big to fail.”

William McGee, a travel expert with the non-profit Consumers Union (publishes Consumer Reports magazine) raised those and several other issues when testifying about in front of a US Senate Judiciary meeting regarding United’s merger with Continental. McGee testified the airline mergers meant loss of service for many cities, higher fares, reductions in service quality and the threat of widespread service disruptions.