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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.

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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

Trip Doctor: Why Southwest’s New Fees Might be Good for You

Southwest Airlines

In a move that hardly said “Merry Christmas,” discount carrier Southwest seemed to take a page from the Spirit Airlines' playbook when it announced a slew of new fees last week. Among them: doubled costs for overweight bags, increased early check-in fees, and strangest of all, a to-be-determined no-show fee. But don’t consider yourself Scrooged just yet: these new moves may actually be in your favor, offering optional alternatives to fees that are standard stuff nearly everywhere else.

LUGGAGE FEES: Hate flying with just a carry on? Southwest passengers can check two bags each way—free of charge. To compensate, the airline is raising the overweight luggage fee from $50 to $75. Same goes for your third bag.
WE SAY: You really shouldn’t be hauling so heavy a load unless you’re moving cross-country. And checking two free bags? Practically unheard of in today's fee-happy world.

EARLY CHECK IN FEES: Early bird service automatically checks you in and puts you at the front of the queue for a prime seat—it used to cost $10, but in March, it’ll bump to $12.50.
WE SAY: A $2.50 increase is negligible, and on other airlines, we’ve paid over $50 just to steer clear of a middle seat.

THE DREADED NO-SHOW FEE: Most airlines overbook flights to compensate for no-shows, but Southwest doesn’t even take standby passengers. Why? Passengers aren’t charged a change fee when modifying itineraries. To prevent the gesture from being abused—and planes from flying half-empty—the airline is instating a no-show fee. But you’ll only be charged if you forget to call ahead before you’re meant to depart.
WE SAY: Poor manners shouldn’t ruin everyone’s fun—and though it's certainly unconventional, we’re happy to have this fee if it preserves fliers’ abilities to change itineraries at no cost.

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 © istockphoto.

Now Boarding: Robot Bartenders Take Flight

While this robot is no Rosie, airlines are taking tips from the Jetsons with the SkyMax Skytender, an on-board robot bartender.

The Skytender trolley is similar to current airplane trolleys, but works as a mobile drink dispenser. The innovation can prepare up to 15 different drinks, from steaming mugs of coffee to iced tea, and even cocktails. Airlines can choose from over 100 different beverages and flavors, so plan to be surprised.

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Trip Doctor: American Airlines’ New Bundled Fares

American Airlines

Tacking on individual fees to your airline ticket is so 2012. The next big thing is bundling your airfare. American Airlines just introduced a new tiered fare structure that allows fliers to chose between a basic ticket (called “Choice”) and packaged fares (“Choice Essential” for an additional $68 or “Choice Plus” for an extra $88) that include everything from free checked bags to premium drinks onboard. As with most package deals, this one offers savings.

Take a look at the roundtrip fares we found from New York’s JFK into Los Angeles’s LAX in early March:

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Trip Doctor: Air Canada Introduces Spinoff Budget Brand, Rouge

Air Canada

Fans of EasyJet, rejoice: there’s a new affordable airline coming to this side of the Atlantic. Rouge, a spinoff of Air Canada aimed at the budget market, will begin flying on July 1, 2013, with Toronto as its hub. The carrier will take off with a handful of routes, primarily connecting the Canadian hub with destinations in Europe and the Caribbean, and gradually expand its gateways—possibly as far as Asia. Book by December 25 and you’ll snag an introductory price—flights to Venice, Edinburgh, Athens, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Costa Rica will all be discounted, with the average fare to the Caribbean hovering around $300, all taxes, fees, and surcharges included.

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 TRISTAR PHOTOS / Alamy

Trip Doctor: TSA’s Wrapped Gift Policy

wrapped holiday gifts

Q: I’m traveling for the holidays. What is the current airline policy on wrapped gifts? —Molly Richins, Astoria, N.Y.

A: The TSA doesn’t prohibit them, but if an agent asks to see what’s inside, you have to comply. Because they’re legally allowed to open the gifts in your checked baggage as well as those in your carry-on, it’s best to wrap when you arrive (or send them ahead).

Packing is rarely easy—we’re here to help. Send your question to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

Photo by Frances Roberts / Alamy

Trip Doctor: Delta + Virgin—What It Means for You

Virgin Atlantic

Delta made a power move to increase its transatlantic presence earlier this week, announcing that it will acquire an equity stake in Virgin Atlantic. Though Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson made it abundantly clear that his airline's brand and all of its hip trappings are not going anywhere (he even bet British Airways head Willie Walsh £1 million to that effect), the partnership does signal a significant shift in transatlantic alliances—one that has implications for Delta fliers.

More options into Europe. By gaining a strong foothold in London's notoriously tough-to-get-into Heathrow, Delta can now offer customers nine daily round-trip flights from the New York area to Heathrow, and 31 flights a day between North America and the United Kingdom. For the first time, Delta fliers can look to London (rather than, say, Amsterdam or Paris) as a viable European gateway. And they can get there in style via Virgin Atlantic's much-vaunted new Upper Class cabin.

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Jackson Hole Gets Big Snow (and Direct Flights)

Jackson Hole

The mountain is open at Jackson Hole and eager skiers who’ve been watching the Wyoming weather (to summarize: snow and snow and more powdery snow) will be happy to hear that getting to the Tetons is easier this winter. United is flying directly from Newark and San Francisco and Delta has added direct flights from Minneapolis, bringing the number of cities with direct service to the valley up to nine.

Intermediate skiers (me!) get a little love from the notoriously Black Diamond-heavy resort, too. A recently completed detachable quad lift opened last week to sweep Blue Trail skiers (me!) up to mid-mountain in just three and a half minutes. The Casper trail network has been expanded and buffed and more than half the blue trails are open, even this early in the season, because of the benevolent snow gods have dumped over 130” so far—more than at any other Rockies resort.

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Trip Doctor: New Data Shows Some—Not All—Holiday Fares Rising

Holiday Travel: Hong Kong airport

If you felt that booking holiday airfare was especially taxing to your wallet this year, it’s possible you weren’t imagining it. According to new data by Travelocity, fares were indeed higher this year than last—by a full 9% for domestic flights and 6% for international tickets on average. But there’s a silver lining: the most popular routes are becoming more affordable, as flights connecting major airports—like New York’s JFK and Chicago’s O’Hare—are proving to be cheaper than last year’s average, even during the holiday rush.

And if you’re still undecided about where to spend Christmas, consider this: the greatest savings come by booking a flight that leaves on the 23rd or 24th and returns later in the same week.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team.

Photo by istockphoto

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