Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fly high, safely and in control with these pointers on air travel

When in Rome -- as Keller and Cookie are here -- check out all your airline options to continue flying high.

Do your homework, shop around, be assertive, talk to a human being when in distress  


View from a small plane approaching landing in Medford, Oregon. 
WITH TODAY'S jittery economy, federal turmoil, erratic travel costs and wear and tear that travel takes on body and soul, it would be easier to just stay home.
But we wouldn't learn.  We wouldn't explore, expand, adventure or have fun! We wouldn't have an opportunity to speak other languages, sample new cuisine, savor the differences and similarities of other cultures.
SO TRAVEL we will and travel we must.  Today, we begin a series designed to help you kick your travel methods up a notch. First, we concentrate on airfares and
Low-hanging clouds and blue skies await near Olbia, Sardinia, Spain.
airline tips.  Saturday, we'll look at hotels and rental cars.  Then we'll segue to tips on traveling abroad, with a look at money, phones and "travel apps." We've already offered pointers on traveling with pets and picking the perfect cruise for you!
TODAY, airline and flying pointers:
Whether you're traveling domestic or to Europe, be wary!
* First, be in control and do your homework, so you aren't caught off guard when something goes wrong. If, for instance, the kiosk won't recognize your confirmation code, don't get shunted to the back of the longest line to check in with a human. Make a polite fuss. Get an agent's attention to move you up the line so you won't miss your flight, as a friend just did leaving LAX. Be  aggressive but not rude.
* If you can, try to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday, which are cheaper than higher-priced fly days of Monday, Friday and Sunday when business travelers and vacationers are leaving and returning.  Thursday varies.
AIRLINES OFTEN release sale fares on Tuesdays.  The cheapest time to shop for them is 3 p.m. Tuesday, Eastern Standard Time.
* If your airline charges for seat assignments and you don't want to spend more for a "comfort" or "economy plus" or upgraded seat, wait until you check-in online -- 24 hours before your flight. Then the seat assignment is free. A frequent-flier friend sets his
Cookie has logged nearly five million airline miles!
Not quite as many as George Clooney's film character.
phone calendar to remind him 24 hours before the flight and seldom has a problem getting an aisle or window, usually farther back.
* SHOP AROUND.  I am loyal to Delta, because I travel internationally with Delta and her partners, using miles I rack up on domestic travel and my American Express card.  Also reference the major search sites:  Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz. If you don't mind more than one stop, you can get a cheaper fare taking the milk run. You'll be surprised at the differences in fares. They vary widely, especially internationally. If you're using miles, best to work through the airline, even though you'll pay a service fee, usually $25.  The airlines can make your miles go farther with a little congenial push and a human being on the phone.
Miami's skyline is a high-rise maze, just as intricate as navigating airlines.
* TAKE TIME to check fares a couple or three times throughout the day before you book.  Be careful about booking until you're sure you're ready.  Airlines can update fares several times a day and some may refund the difference if a fare goes down after you book.  But check first because if a fare goes down, you may be charged a "change" or "service" fee, which can be as high as $150.
 Be careful about using your hard-earned miles.
The 25,000-mile coach ticket isn't always available.
* In the old days, airlines offered a bereavement or "crisis" fare. Those days are gone, but usually airlines will work with you for "best available fare" if you have a sudden death, illness, accident or other emergency.  Again, take the time to call a
human being.  If you have miles saved, it might behoove you to use them for this special deal.  Again, check the options.
The Las Vegas skyline features many fun hotels -- here New York, 
New York, with the MGM Grand's Lion keeping watch at the right.
* USING MILES. Airlines release "x" amount of seats for each category -- and the 25,000-mile coach seat quota may be filled.  I've paid as much as 60,000 miles for a short-notice ticket domestic ticket to San Diego from Billings.  Reviewing the situation of that under-stress booking, I'd have been better off to have saved those miles toward international travel and paid the cash price the airline wanted for the domestic ticket --  even though it was high. Weigh the options.
* Tip for picking a TSA line. Never get behind a family, with all their child apparatus, or slow-moving people. Look for a businessman with a single carry-on and his shoes and computer already   in the tray. You'll zip through faster!

COMING NEXT: Our travel tips continue with pointers on hotels and car rentals.  Then we offer advice on international travel, using apps and more. Past columns have focused on cruising tips (check Jan. 27, April 20 and April 27 posts) and travel with pets (check May 4, May 8 and July 13 blogs.)
Remember to explore, learn and live. Visit us Wednesdays and Saturdays at:

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