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Trip Doctor: Airline Fees, Simplified

airline checkin

They account for much of the $36 billion a year in revenue that airlines get from ancillary services—and an untold number of headaches (and heartaches) for passengers. We’re talking, of course, about airline fees, which include everything from advance seat-selection charges to blanket and pillow fees (we’re looking at you, US Airways and JetBlue) to Spirit’s dreaded carry-on bag fees, which now range from $25 to $100. What makes these charges all the more unpalatable is the difficulty of keeping track of them. Enter the good folks of Airfarewatchdog, the terrific fare-alert and travel-advice website. They’ve just updated their Comprehensive Airline Fees Guide and housed it on the site as a handy PDF file. Go ahead, download it. And don’t make us have to say “We warned you” next time you show up at airport.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

 

Photo by iStockphoto

Trip Doctor: Delta Brings an Outdoor Lounge to JFK

Delta outdoor lounge

Fancy a little sunbathing on your next trip through JFK? As part of its $1.2 billion expansion of the airport’s Terminal 4, Delta Air Lines will open an outdoor sun terrace—a bold addition to its already ambitious plans for a 24,000-square-foot Sky Club lounge. The JFK Sky Deck, with runway views and Miami Beach-style seating, is expected to debut in May. A Sky Deck will also open near the Delta Sky Club at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport over the summer.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @TLTripDoctor on Twitter.

 

Photo courtesy of Delta Airlines

TODAY Show Video: 10 Travel Tips for Getting an Upgrade

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

There are simple things you can do to increase your chances of getting an upgrade on your next flight, hotel stay, or even when you rent a car.

1. Choose Your Frequent Flyer Program Carefully
When picking an airline frequent-flyer program, it can pay to choose an airline that isn't headquartered in your city (there will be fewer elite passengers to compete with for an upgrade).

2. Check-in Later
Check in to your hotel late in the day; you're more likely to get an upgrade if it looks like a better room will otherwise sit empty.

3. Stay at a New Hotel
Stay at a new hotel; staff are more likely to want to woo new guests and spread good word of mouth. You could also think about staying at a large hotel—large hotels with tons of rooms offer a better chance of getting you upgraded.

Related: It List: The Best New Hotels

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Tech Thursday: Seatguru's Intelligent Flight Search

airline seat

Everyone’s favorite airline seat-map compendium, Seatguru, has just upped the ante with a newly redesigned site that’s more user-friendly and—drumroll—includes flight search functionality for the first time. Though the service is in beta (it still has some kinks to work out), it’s already proving to be a refreshingly smart addition to the world of airfare search.

How it works: In addition to the usual flight-search filters (price, stops, departure time, duration), Seatguru introduces several new sorting mechanisms for travelers: Best Value (factoring in price, departure time, and duration), Best Times (weeding out early morning and overnight flights), and the site’s signature Guru Factor, which mines the site’s trove of cabin data to look at the “comfort” of flights. Taking account of cabin class, seat pitch, width, and recline, as well as inflight entertainment and amenities, the Guru Factor givers travelers an overall assessment of either “Love it,” “Like it,” or “Live with it” for any given flight. In our tests, it also alerted us when, for example, we could spend an additional $40 to trade up for a plane with an extra four inches of legroom.

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Trip Doctor: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Flying

how to avoid getting sick while flying

It’s not the air quality you have to worry about (cabin air is well circulated and filtered) but rather germs transmitted through shared surfaces. So wash your hands frequently, use a sanitizer, and clean surfaces with a disinfectant wipe. And always keep yourself hydrated and well-rested.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo by istockphoto

Trip Doctor: American Airlines' New Look

American Airlines

It’s time to say goodbye. After forty years in action, American Airlines’ silver striped planes—the last vestige of sky-high nostalgia—are getting a makeover. Replacing the traditional design we all know and love is a bold, patriotic color scheme, with a flag-like pattern extending from the tail onto the rear fuselage—an updated spin for a brand that nearly collapsed just last year, and is still in the throes of a merger with US Airways. The first new AA plane debuted yesterday at Dallas-Fort Worth, with the full fleet taking five years to convert (a third should be newly painted by the year’s end). But frankly, we’d rather see the cabins get a refresh though—wouldn’t you?

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

Trip Doctor: Dreamliner Update

787

The news over the last few days about Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner has been unnerving—to say the least.

Last night, the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority grounded the aircraft pending a comprehensive review of the fire risk posed by the plane's lithium-ion battery. This comes a day after a Dreamliner in Japan's All Nippon Airways fleet was formed to make an emergency landing because of a defective battery—and a week after the battery was faulted with starting a fire aboard a parked Japan Airways 787 at Boston's Logan airport. Both of Japan's airlines grounded their fleets after the emergency landing. With the FAA directive, other international carriers with 787s followed suit. Among them: Air India, Chile's LAN Airlines, LOT (Poland), Qatar Airways, and United Airlines here in the States.

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Trip Doctor: Airplane Etiquette—What to Do About a Space-Hogging Seatmate

airplane etiquette

Do...

Assert your territory early on: claim your overhead and under-seat space, and put the armrests down.

Be sensitive about passengers of size. Alert your flight attendant discreetly; you may be able to switch seats.

Don’t...

Resort to dirty looks, or subtle little pushes. Being passive-aggressive only escalates the problem.

Be greedy. Airplane etiquette says that the middle-seat passenger has rights to both inner armrests.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Illustration by Tom Gauld

Trip Doctor: Getting Partial Refunds on an Orbitz-Booked Trip

airplane

Q: I booked a flight on Orbitz, and the price dropped the next day. Can I get my money back for the difference? —Heather Browne, Colorado Springs, Colo.

A: Most online booking engines offer price-assurance guarantees that protect you when fares fluctuate. Orbitz has a hassle-free policy that will automatically issue you a refund check if another customer books a cheaper fare. Other sites make you do the legwork: Travelocity, Expedia, and Priceline give credits toward future purchases on top of the price difference if you spot a better deal within 24 hours—but it can be time-consuming to make sure you’re matching all the criteria that qualify you for a refund (dates, fare category, cancellation policies, and more). Alternatively, if you book directly with a carrier, sites such as Yapta can monitor your fare and alert you when you can request a refund.

More From Travel + Leisure:
America's Worst Airports for Flight Delays
Best Secret Islands on Earth
America's Coolest City Parks

AmyHave a travel conundrum? The Trip Doctor is in. Send questions to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

 

Photo by iStockphoto

Trip Doctor New Year’s Resolution: Maintain Elite Flyer Status

Frequent Flier Tips

Last week, as I was en route on a flight that would give me the final handful of miles necessary to keep my frequent flyer status in 2013, I pondered my year in air travel: Priority reservations. Priority check-in. Priority boarding. Priority seating (case in point: a recent last-minute flight change cost me nothing and resulted in a free bump to Economy Comfort). Not to mention the frequent upgrades to business class—sometimes while traveling on reward tickets. Or the two free checked bags. Or the TSA PreCheck qualification, paid for by my airline, which let me sail through security with my shoes on my feet and my laptop buried deep in my carry-on. And all the handy drink and snack vouchers—there’s nothing like a hummus snack or some red wine to help those hours in the air whiz by!

This is all owing to the fact that I stayed loyal to my airline (and, of course, I traveled a ton—my addiction to boarding passes is severe). As comfort in the skies increasingly comes at a premium, my resolution in 2013 is to do everything in my power to maintain elite status. Sadly, most airline programs’ entry-level tiers don’t offer much in the way of perks these days, but you don’t need top-tier status to reap significant benefits: I’m going for mid-level elite to keep all the awesome perks I mention above. My game plan? Travel much (I need 50,000 miles), travel far (roughly, the equivalent of two round-trip tickets from New York to, say, Bangkok, plus another round-trip flight from New York to Honolulu), and travel smartly (you can earn qualifying miles through airline partnerships with credit cards, hotel stays, and even car rentals). And now for the fun part: where to go in 2013? Here’s hoping that wherever it is, it will come with some sweet upgrades (or at least a free hummus snack).

Jennifer Flowers is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @JennFlowers.

Photo © Greg Pease - Getty Images

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