BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS
8 Common Air-Travel Snafus (And How to Beat Them)
From missing your flight to losing your passport, flying can be full of nasty surprises. Check out Budget Travel's insider tips for coping with, and avoiding, these headaches.
Trick to avoid the problem: Try to book early morning flights, when there's a full day ahead for airlines to recover from any weather or operational delays. Insider tip: Before you book, check to see a flight's statistical average for cancellations at flightstats.com (listed under the on-time performance rating). Consider that it may be worth peace of mind to book an alternate flight that has a lower historical average of cancellations, even if that option costs a bit more.
YOU'RE BUMPED FROM A FLIGHT
Last year, airlines bumped 681,105 passengers from flights in this country (8.7 percent of these individuals were bumped against their will). Overbooking is to blame.
Why it matters: If you volunteer to give up your seat, you'll be rebooked and usually rewarded with a free flight pass to use at another time. But if you're unlucky enough to be kicked off a domestic flight against your will, you're at the mercy of the airline's schedule. With planes often flying at capacity today, it could be a long while before you reach your destination.
How to deal: If you're bumped involuntarily, know your legal rights: Being placed on another flight within an hour scores you no compensation. Yet when it takes up to two hours on a domestic flight (or four hours for international travel), the airline must pay you double the value of your one-way fare, up to a maximum of $650. If you're more than two hours delayed, you'll be reimbursed four times the value of your one-way ticket, up to $1,300 max. Flying in Europe? Rules are similar, with possible compensation up to $874.
Trick for avoiding the problem: Check in via the airline's website as soon as you're allowed—usually 24 hours before departure. Early check-in may boost the chance that you'll make it onto a flight. Insider tip: When it comes to reimbursement, federal law entitles you to cash for being bumped against your will. The airline may try to give you a voucher for a free future flight instead. Insist on the cash, which is obviously less restrictive than a voucher. But if you're volunteering to give up your seat, don't be pushy about receiving cash. In that case, airlines aren't required to give you anything, so a gracious "thank you" is all that's called for.
YOU MISS YOUR FLIGHT
Sometimes travelers show up too late for their flight because of traffic or other snafus.
Why it matters: Booking a new, eleventh-hour plane ticket can be costly.
How to deal: Whatever the reason, if you miss your flight on a nonrefundable ticket, you can usually pay a change fee—typically between $150 and $200 on a domestic flight—and be rebooked on a new one. You generally also have to pay for the difference between your new ticket's price and the original fare. Policies on overseas airlines may vary, but expect to pay in the ballpark of $250.
Trick to avoid the problem: Your mother was right: Showing up early is the smart thing to do. Other tricks can give you an edge when life doesn't cooperate: Don't bring bags to check, so that it'll be much faster for agents to allow you to board—even if you've missed the check-in cut-off time (see below). Insider tip: Find out in advance the airline's cut-off time for checking in by going to seatguru.com <http://www.seatguru.com/>, picking your airline, and clicking on the "Check-in" tab. For example, Continental's policies at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport requires check-in to be completed 45 minutes before departure or else you may be denied boarding. If you're en route to the airport and realize you're going to miss your flight, look up alternative flight times (and seat availability) via an app like TripCase, which is free for devices such as the Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry.
YOU DON'T FIT IN YOUR SEAT
If you're super tall or extremely overweight, you may not fit in the typical airplane seat.