Airlines Use Loopholes To Avoid Paying For Damaged Bags

If an airline damages a piece of your luggage, surely they will pay to repair or replace it, right? Don’t be so sure. I’ve been very lucky over the years in checking bags but my luck ran out on a flight to Chicago from San Francisco over the weekend, when I found out that there are plenty of loopholes that airlines use to avoid paying for damaged luggage.

I prefer to travel light and bring my suitcase as a carry-on, if I can, but when I travel with my two young sons, as I did on this occasion, I tend to check my suitcase because we’re traveling with car seats, a stroller and a host of other items to keep our kids content on the flight. For me, it’s usually worth it to pay to check the bags at the curbside check-in, and I did so on Saturday.

The skycap was terrific; he actually came right to our car and wheeled our suitcases over to the counter himself. But when we arrived at O’Hare later that evening, the pull handle on my beloved Burton/Gravis suitcase was broken. I waited in line at the airline’s baggage counter and was told by a pretty young woman that I was, essentially, out of luck.”Our policy doesn’t cover protruding parts,” she said.

“Protruding parts?” I said, wondering what that included.

“Wheels, straps, pull handles, hanger hooks, nothing like this,” she said.

I appealed to her supervisor, who looked like a retired boxer.

“The suitcase is still useable,” he said, eyeing it over.

“How so?” I asked, showing him that the handle was completely broken.

“You can pick it up and carry it,” he said.

It seemed like a preposterous suggestion. Carry a suitcase through the airport? I think that Bernard D. Sadow invented the rolling suitcase back in 1970 precisely to relieve people of that burden, but technically the supervisor was right. He told me that I could send a complaint to the airline’s customer relations department but I know from past experience that doing that is typically the equivalent of urinating into a wind gust.

Many airlines apparently have the same policy regarding “protruding” baggage parts. (Though one airline apparently gave this writer a credit for their checked bag fee after they made a fuss.) The sheet that the airline gave me has a laundry list of items or for which it won’t assume liability. Here are some examples:

-Overpacked (zipper or seam damage)
-Damage resulting from TSA inspection
-Sports item not packed in hard-sided case
-Infant/child restraint devices, including car seats and stroller
-Photographic equipment, computers, any other electronic equipment, jewelry, cash, documents, furs, antiques, liquids, medicines, art or any other valuable items.

So forget about trying to tell them that you packed a Van Gogh, an original copy of the Magna Carta or a $50,000 mink coat. If you take a look at my suitcase in the photo above, you can probably tell that it isn’t very valuable, and in fact, I’ve gotten years of great use out if it. I should probably just get a new one, right? Maybe so, but I develop a strong attachment to a good piece of luggage. That bag has been my travel companion on dozens of memorable trips all over the world. I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.

I thought about trying to super glue or duct tape it, but now my plan is to bring the suitcase with me, broken protruding pull handle and all, the next time I travel to a developing country. I’m afraid that fixing things has become a lost art here in our disposable society but in some places, cheap fix-it people still exist and thrive. My suitcase will live to travel another day. But I think I’ll carry my bag on board with me next time, because in its weak and fragile state, it needs me now more than ever.

UPDATE, 5/22/2013: I sent a complaint e-mail to this airline and ten days later received a $150 voucher toward a future purchase with this airline. Not quite as good as money to repair or replace the bag, but not bad at all. The moral of the story is that even if they tell you at the airport that they aren’t liable for your damaged bag, it’s worth it to follow up with a complaint.

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]

Frontier Airlines To Charge More, Reward Less

It came across as a simple tweet of information by Airfarewatchdog: “Frontier charging for carry-on bags if fare not bought on their site. Calls it an ‘enhancement.'” The airfare experts at the site were noting a new policy from Frontier Airlines that goes into effect this summer.

“Frontier continues to make it easier for customers flying with Frontier to pay only for the services they use, which allows us to continue lowering fares,” said Daniel Shurz, Frontier’s senior vice president, commercial on the Frontier Airlines website.

Should Have Seen It Coming
Presented as a way to reward Frontier’s most loyal customers and reduce the fight for overhead bin space created by checked luggage fees, the airline will begin charging those buying Basic fares through third party sites for carry-on luggage.

Buy a Basic (the lowest) fare through Frontier’s website? No charge for a carry-on
Buy anywhere else? $25 to $100Water Is Probably Still Free
Beverages on Frontier are no longer free either. As part of the airline’s transformation into an Ultra Low Cost Carrier, Frontier will begin charging for on-board beverages on July 1, 2013, with customers who purchase Economy or Basic fares charged $1.99 for coffee, tea, soda and juice, although they will get a full can for the price.

Mileage earned, Mileage burned customers will get 100% of frequent flier miles flown. But starting July 1, 2013, Basic fares will get 50 percent to 25 percent of miles flown.

The big change involves Basic tickets, currently Frontier’s lowest fare sold for travel through outside booking channels, including other travel websites. Frontier frequent fliers in Classic, Classic Plus, Summit and Ascent levels pay nothing for checked or carry-on luggage, beverages (when they show their boarding pass or membership card) and get between 100 percent and 150 percent of their mileage.

Will the move force Frontier air travelers to skip third-party sites and book direct?
@Airfarewatchdog quickly tweeted “That’s the whole purpose.”

Watch here as Frontier Airlines boss Brian Bedford poses as an out of work welder on Undercover Boss:

[Photo credit – Flickr user AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon]

Sneaky And Insane International Air Fees To Avoid

Sure, no one likes to pay luggage fees. But $800 for an oversize bag? That’s the international air fee from Lufthansa for a checked bag that weighs in between 73 and 100 pounds. Over 62 inches? Those jumbo bags are $800 too. Lufthansa ranks at the top of the list for fees on international flights, but they are in no way the only airline standing by with sky-high fees.

“The flying experience has definitely changed over the last few years,” says Alicia Jao, Vice President of TravelNerd, a website dedicated to saving us money. Taking another look at fees charged by airlines, TraveNerd came up with some surprising numbers.

How about €70 ($91) for printing a boarding pass at the airport? That’s the fee at RyanAir, the discount airline that allows just one small carry-on bag. Want to bring a cello, guitar, violin or viola? RyanAir travelers can do that, if a seat for it has been reserved and the appropriate fare paid.”While some international carriers are still known for great customer service, there are numerous regional budget carriers that have strongly adopted the fee model,” says Jao.

A recent TravelNerd study found that international carriers commonly have baggage fees on international flights that are even higher than those on domestic flights. While individual airline fees vary, the study found that booking online is almost always less expensive than calling an airline to make a reservation.

Here are some other fees being charged right now by airlines for international flights from the TravelNerd study.

[Image courtesy TravelNerd]

$6.79 Breakfast Sandwich And Other Avoidable Travel Expenses

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]

Gadling gear review- EatSmart Digital Luggage Scale

As airlines continue to focus on extra fees for baggage over a certain weight limit, luggage scales have gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have travel accessory. In this Gadling gear review, we take a look at a digital luggage scale from EatSmart is today’s tool for the job.EatSmart’s Precision Voyager Luggage Scale is a lightweight travel accessory designed for anyone from the casual vacationer (cruise passenger) to the road warrior (Gadling reader). After easily clipping onto the handle of your suitcase or bag, EatSmart’s proprietary (I guess it’s a big deal others wish to emulate) two handed SmartGrip design allows for easier lifting of even the heaviest bags. The manufacturer tells us:

“When your scale registers the weight, the scale will beep and your luggage weight will appear on the screen instantly.”

Sounds simple enough.

This is a big improvement over my old-school hand-held luggage scale that required gymnastic skills and the arm of a weight-lifter (or so I thought), neither of which I have, to get a reading.

To use that one, I had to mount the bag on a hook attached to the scale then, with one hand, hold the bag up off the ground while simultaneously bending over sideways to see the reading, rendering my other hand/arm useless in helping hold the bag up high enough to see. Later I learned (I read the directions) that I could attach that old scale to some stationary object, mount the bag, stand back and read.

Using the Precision Voyager Luggage Scale is much easier even without reading the directions. A durable strap and easy-clip buckle fit around the bag handle for taking a reading, making that cool clicking sound those things make. A quick lift off the floor gets a beep, signaling the user to look down at the device which has lit up with a pretty blue digital display. Who doesn’t like more pretty blue digital displays?

This new one from EatSmart, features a compact, lightweight design that allows travelers to bring it along and not have to worry about paying unexpected baggage fees. I envision bringing this device along when traveling to allow others to marvel (be jealous of me) at it’s easy-to-use yet cutting-edge-technology level cool look.

At a maximum weight load of 110 pounds, this new scale should handle just about any bag you want to weigh and a whole lot of other things as well. My foot, for example, weights 16.3 pounds. My coffee cup did not register. I wonder if I just forgot the luggage and packed everything in coffee cups if that would be a problem with the airlines. TSA should be OK with it.

You can find the EatSmart Precision Voyager Luggage Scale on their web site for $19.95.