Collect Marriott freebies with “Trick or Tweet” promotion

As Halloween approaches and the weather gets cooler, we realize that winter in the northern US, with its short hours of daylight and negative wind-chill factors, is just around the corner. Suddenly, it seems like there’s no better time to book a tropical vacation. If you’re thinking about a trip to a sunny island paradise, log in to Twitter and start following Marriott Resorts.

Now through the end of October, the company will be giving away daily coupons for perks at Marriott Resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico. Even if you aren’t planning on traveling until the temps dip a little lower (or even until next year), you can still take advantage of the freebies. The vouchers are good through December 20, 2010.

All you need to do is follow Marriott Resorts on Twitter and watch for their “Trick or Tweet” tweets. Click the link and download your voucher, which will be good for deals like free drinks, free rounds of golf, discounted spa services and more. Each voucher is good at a specific resort, so follow along and collect the deals that work for you.

Free drinks in Grand Cayman or a cheap spa treatment in Aruba? I’m feeling warmer already.

Tell your best travel story and win a voucher

Think you have the ultimate travel story? is celebrating its 10th anniversary and wants to hear about your best travel adventure of the last decade. Tell your inspiring, amazing, crazy or hilarious tale and you may win a €500 travel voucher.

Stories must be between 500 and 1500 words and be accompanied by a photo. The writer of the story selected as the best will receive the grand prize voucher, while nine other winners will be awarded a €50 Amazon card. Contest winners will be announced on October 7th.

Entries must be submitted by September 30th, so get writing!

Hungarian airline stunt too successful

A crowd pissed all over Wizz Air’s attempt to release 1,000 balloons into the sky. The low-cost airline had hoped to celebrate its fifth anniversary, but the Hungarian crowd was drawn to the event by the rumor of freebies hooked to the balloons – coupons worth $49.95 – ultimately ruining it for everybody.

The balloons were held in a net in Budapest. Attendees started to pop balloons so they could cash in on the discounts, prompting a burst of bursting. After the first popper struck, the crowd “attacked the net,” according to Wizz Air communications director Natasa Kazmer.

One young woman fished for coupons through a grill in the gutter, hopefully because she planned to take many Wizzes later this year.

The publicity stunt was too successful: most of the vouchers were gone before the press even arrived.

Giving up your seat for a voucher? Only on one condition!

It’s always pretty tempting. You’re sitting in the gate area and hear the voice on the loudspeaker, offering travel vouchers and other perks if you’ll give up your seat because your flight is oversold. You know the drill … “if your travel plans are flexible.” Well, while en route to the Gadling meet-up in Chicago, I got this opportunity and decided to roll the dice. Along the way, I learned a bit that you may find useful when the gate agent is trying to seduce you into seat sacrifice.

Don’t give up your seat on one airline to accept a seat on another.

Right away, I felt uncomfortable. It’s natural to hesitate when you’re giving up a sure thing. Next, the gate agents were hunting for flights … never a good sign. I was on Delta, and the next Delta flight was fully booked … even though the original announcement promised volunteers a flight on the next Delta flight. The whole arrangement left me doubtful, but the thought of $800 worth of free travel (I was with my wife) pushed me forward. Gadling top dog Grant Martin was egging me on via e-mail, along with several other members of the team.

So, I pulled the trigger.

The Delta gate agent was able to get us booked on an American Airlines flight to Chicago leaving two hours later. So, we picked up our carry-ons and trudged across the Cincinnati airport to Terminal 2, where we’d check in and catch our new flight.

A shock awaited us at the American Airlines counter: our flight had been canceled. Fortunately, the airline was able to get us on a flight that was leaving earlier … though it had been delayed five hours (i.e., it was supposed to leave at 1 PM but was pushed to 6 PM, while our canceled flight was supposed to push back at 8 PM). Unlike everyone else on that flight, we got lucky. But, I wondered, what if we hadn’t been put on the earlier American flight? How screwed would we have been?

I called Delta’s media relations department while waiting for my flight on American and heard back rather quickly. The rep wasn’t able to point to a specific policy and rushed through an explanation that wasn’t terribly encouraging. The moral of the story seemed to be that Delta would welcome you back … because that’s the airline with which you started.

A media relations rep without some form of corporate-speak to quote chapter and verse is unnerving. These are the people responsible for making the airline look good less bad. If PR can’t give you a straight (if biased) answer, what are the chances of that gate agent being able to deliver?

“It’s easier when it’s a Delta-to-Delta” change, the rep explained. So, that tipped me off. If you can’t get a flight on the same airline, don’t chance it. I was told that there is more the airline can do for you if you’re on one of its flights. That’s true. They can bargain with first class upgrades, exit row seats and other perks. But, if they send you to another airline, you lose all that leverage.

Now, if you are moved to another airline and they cancel on you, you can always go back to the one with which you started, but keep in mind that the options available to them are more limited. If they’ve spent the day accommodating bumped passengers from oversold flights, there may not be as many slots available. You’ve lost time, which means you’ve lost flights.

And, since you’ve already given up your flight, there’s little you can do. You’re at the airline‘s mercy.

With my episode last Friday, I’m still a bit confused about the gate agent’s choice of flights. To have a plane canceled in the 15 minutes it took to walk from one terminal to another felt a bit fishy. I have no evidence of a decision from convenience, but I am certainly suspicious.

Of course, I did learn something, albeit the hard way: do not give up your seat if you can’t be booked on the same airline. You’re guaranteeing a world of headache.

Help! I’ve been bumped!

No, bumping is not the latest craze to hit European dance floors, it’s what airlines do when they have more passengers than seats.

Chances are that you’ve been waiting in the departure gate area and have heard the gate agents ask for volunteers for a later flight. Overbooking has become a very profitable thing for airlines, and they have developed pretty smart mathematical systems to determine which flights have the greatest chances of passengers not showing up. Of course, even the best system is wrong every now and then, and your 88 passenger plane may have 110 people waiting at the gate for a seat.

Smart people prepare for bumps, and make a decent buck by taking the generous voucher in exchange for a later arrival. I’ve played the bumping game several times, and once made over $700 in travel vouchers just by accepting a 4 hour delay in my trip home. Grant Martin wrote about the art of fishing for bumps last year, and it’s a great way to learn how to make some extra money off the airline.

Of course, not every “bump” is voluntarily, and especially during busy times of the year, the airline will have a hard time finding volunteers for their offer. In some cases, they’ll keep raising the offer in the hope that someone snags it, but in the worst case, they’ll start calling out names of passengers who will be denied boarding.
This involuntarily denied boarding or IDB is costly for the airline, but only if you know your rights. The compensation rules for IDB changed this year, and passengers now get a better deal than we originally did with the 30 year old rules these changes replaced.

If the airline denies you boarding, you are entitled to $400, but only if the delay gets you to the first stopover of your trip more than 4 hours past your original arrival time. There is of course some fine print; the $400 is the maximum amount, and the true compensation is 200% of your airfare, with a maximum of $400. The whole thing is quite complicated, but is all described by the Department of Transportation in this document (PDF file).

Some other compensation could come from additional vouchers for food and beverages at the airport, hotel accommodation (on overnight IDB’s) and even free domestic US round trip ticket vouchers. If the airline is really desperate, you could even consider asking for an upgrade on your replacement flight.

When you are offered a voucher, be sure to ask the gate agent about the rules attached to it – some vouchers have so many restrictions that you’ll only ever be able to redeem it on a Monday morning between 8 and 8:30 and only on odd numbered days when the temperature is above 85. A free round trip ticket voucher may sound nice, but if it is impossible to redeem, it’ll be a useless piece of paper,

Remember – the law is on your side when you are denied boarding (assuming you got to the airport on time) so make sure you demand what you are entitled to!