Your airline travel can be fun, economical, and made a lot easier with a little advance planning. To help consumers learn more about their various options, rights and responsibilities as an airline passenger, the Better Business Bureau Consumer Education Foundation has prepared this BBBTips on Airline Travel.
How to Get the Lowest Air Fare
- You can search on one or more of the many low-fare Web sites that will allow you to comparison shop or bid for airfares online. But you should always be sure to check the airlines' own Web sites. Many airlines will offer special packages that are simply not offered on any other Web site, and even better discounts on tickets if you buy them directly from their Web site. And, there are even some "low-fare" airlines that will only provide their ticketing services exclusively from their own Web site. On most airline Web sites, you can also register to receive weekly e-mail notification of newly announced special discounts on flights or travel packages.
- Check with several travel agents; not all agents will have access to the same prices.
- Get your tickets early, since there may be a limited number of lower priced seats. Many airlines require advance booking of at least two to four weeks, in order to get the largest discounts. Be sure to check for any limitations or restrictions that may apply on an advanced booking should you need to change your plans.
- Consider checking with the airline to see whether you can lower your airfare by flying on particular days of the week. The cost differences may be very significant.
- Determine exactly what the price covers, particularly when purchasing a travel package. For example, does the package include taxes, surcharges, airfare, hotel, or mileage charges for a rental car? Notice whether the ticket you are buying has particular restrictions that affect its use and the cost, if booking changes are necessary. For example, is it non-refundable?
- Be wary of extremely low prices that seem too good to be true and remember that an advertised price may not always be available or may have numerous restrictions and limitations that offset the discount.
Ticket consolidators buy a large number of tickets from airlines at a reduced rate, which gives them the opportunity to offer these tickets at a discounted price to consumers. Airline ticket consolidators can be a source for discounted tickets, at times offering savings over tickets directly purchased from the airlines. However, as with most bargains, there are trade offs and risks involved with the discounted price. Many ads placed by ticket consolidators do not state important information, such as the limited time period for the offer, limited availability of seats, restrictions on changing the flight, and cancellation penalties. In addition, most of the fares that consolidators advertise are not for familiar airlines and may not be available for the dates or even the week you wish to travel.
Ticket consolidators generally do not give the same amount of assistance as travel agents in making your travel arrangements. Ticket consolidators do not help you plan your trip, do not know the connecting time between flights and do not tell you the visa requirements of the country you are visiting. You need to call the airline for this information. In addition, you should contact the airline directly to check the status of your reservation before paying the consolidator for your ticket because the reservation may not represent a confirmed seat on the flight. Also, be aware that many consolidators do not accept credit cards or will add a surcharge for using a credit card.
Travel agents promote and sell transportation and related services including travel packages. They can be of assistance in planning your trip and often have knowledge of the area you wish to visit. However, the price you pay for your flight may be higher than what you would pay from a consolidator.
Online Travel Services
Online travel service has recently become a billion dollar industry. Now consumers can purchase airline tickets by contacting airlines and travel agents via the Internet or by making bids for airline tickets on certain Web sites. Be aware that many low priced airline fares advertised on the Internet are based on your purchase of non-refundable tickets or tickets with high cancellation or rescheduling fees. As with all online purchases, no matter how professional looking the Web site, check the company's reliability with the Better Business Bureau before doing business with it, and be sure to use a secure browser if you are providing credit card or other personal information online.
Airlines do not guarantee their schedule. Bad weather, air traffic delays and mechanical difficulties are beyond an airline's control. Nevertheless the airlines do attempt to help stranded passengers when schedules are not met. If a flight is canceled, an airline will attempt to place passengers on its next available flight. The airline may also attempt to place the passenger on another airline when necessary.
Overbooking and "Bumping"
Most airlines overbook their flights to compensate for an estimated amount of last minute cancellations and "no-shows." If more people show up for the flight than the number of available seats on the plane, some passengers, even those with confirmed reservations, will be left behind. In order to encourage passengers to wait for the next available flight, the airline will often offer travel credit for use at a later date, an upgrade to first class on a later flight, and/or food and lodging while you wait for the next flight. If you do have flexibility with your travel plans you can find these offers to be valuable. If the airline does not have any volunteers, the airline resorts to involuntary "bumping." The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that the airline give each bumped passenger a written statement describing the airline's obligations and the passenger's rights in the case of an oversold flight, in accordance with the U. S. Department of Transportation.
Lost or Damaged Luggage
Many times passengers arrive on time, but their luggage does not. In most cases, the luggage catches up with the passenger, often within a few hours. However, if a traveler's bags are lost or damaged on a domestic flight, the airline will compensate the passenger up to a maximum of $2,500 for documented claims. On international flights, they will pay approximately $9 per pound. When your luggage and its contents are worth more than the liability limit, you should consider purchasing "excess valuation," coverage if available, from the airline when you check in. Excess valuation is not insurance, but it will increase the carrier's potential liability if your luggage is lost or damaged. Most airlines exclude from coverage jewelry, antiques, computer equipment, and similar items of excess value or rarity. Keep in mind that when an item is lost or damaged, the airline considers the depreciated value of the item and not its replacement cost. Also, if luggage arrives damaged, the airline may opt for repair instead of replacement.
Electronic airline tickets, known as e-tickets, are increasingly offered by many airlines as an alternative to traditional paper tickets. Airlines prefer e-tickets because it saves them money by eliminating the handling costs associated with paper tickets. Consumers like e-tickets mainly because they do not have to worry about losing or forgetting their tickets or wonder if their tickets will arrive on time through the mail.
With an e-ticket, instead of receiving a paper ticket in the mail, you get a reservation confirmation number (also called a record locator number) for your reservation. Even with e-tickets, there may be some paper involved; many airlines and travel agents send out a paper itinerary to confirm your reservation, and if you buy your ticket on the Internet you usually get an e-mail confirmation message that you can print out for your records.
At the airport, you just give your name and/or your confirmation number, an appropriate photo ID and the credit card with which you purchased the ticket to get your boarding pass. If you have no luggage to check, you can do this directly at the departure gate. With some airlines and airports, all you may need to do is swipe your credit card and respond to a series of prompts at an electronic kiosk (for example, whether you packed your luggage personally) to get your boarding pass. Even when using e-tickets, it is highly recommended to call the airline directly in advance to confirm your seat, and check in at the gate well in advance of departure time in order to protect yourself against "bumping."
If you do opt for a paper ticket, losing it does not necessarily mean that you have lost the money you spent for the ticket. Many airlines will require that you purchase another ticket, and if they see that the lost ticket is not utilized within a specified amount of time, they will then send you a refund.
A Traveler's Checklist
When examining travel advertisements and brochures, pay particular attention to the following:
- Small print and asterisks: Make sure to consider the requirements listed when considering the value of the offer. For instance, a firm may advertise an extremely low hotel rate but require an extended stay to achieve that rate. The offer may not include extra charges such as port fees or other service charges, while other ads include these fees.
- Availability: Make sure the offer is available for the time you are considering.
- Features: If the advertisement describes nearby attractions, this does not necessarily mean that these attractions will be included in the travel program for the advertised price. Carefully check what each package includes.
- Method of Payment: Pay with a credit card whenever possible.
Need Consumer help?
The more research you put into planning your trip, the more likely it is that the trip will meet your expectations. But sometimes problems occur even with the best thought out trip. When this happens, it is important to get hold of the organizations that can help. They include:
- The travel agent who booked the trip for you. If your problem is specifically with the airline, then a complaint directed to customer relation's personnel of the airline itself would usually resolve the difficulties.
- The Better Business Bureau in your community can be located through the BBB systems main Web site located at www.bbb.org.
- If you used a credit card to pay for the service, your credit card issuer may be able to assist you in resolving your complaint. Credit card companies will try to help even if you have already paid the bill for the services.
- The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). This organization will mediate complaints against member travel companies. To see if an organization is a member, contact:
- American Society of Travel Agents
- 1101 King Street, Suite 200
- Alexandria, VA 22314.
- You can also contact ASTA by telephone at 703-739-2782 or by accessing its Web site at www.astanet.com.
- The Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD) of the US Department of Transportation operates a complaint handling system for consumers who experience air travel service problems. Complaints filed with the ACPD are reviewed and acknowledged and, when appropriate, forwarded to an airline official for further consideration. Written complaints can be sent to the:
- Aviation Consumer Protection Division
- U.S. Department of Transportation
- 400 7th Street, SW
- Room 4107, C-75
- Washington, DC 20590.
- You can also contact the ACPD 24 hours a day by telephone at 202-366-2220, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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