How Would an American Airlines/U.S. Airways Merger Change the Way You Travel?

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
August 16, 2013
Nick Ballon/Gallery Stock

Yup, the airlines just keep on changing names. More than a decade of bankruptcies and mergers has left us with a smaller field of competitors—we had 10 major carriers in the United States in 2000, now we have five—and the familiar brand names are disappearing or getting hyphen-happy. Northwest? It's now part of Delta. Continental? That's United-Continental to you.

So, when American Airlines and U.S. Airways announced a proposed $11 billion merger in February, many industry folks expected it to be the last, somewhat inevitable, merger, creating the world's largest commercial airline and allowing American to emerge from bankruptcy with renewed clout. Not so fast, the Department of Justice declared on August 13. Or, rather, "The American people deserve better," as Attorney General Eric Holder put it when he announced the department's antitrust action against the merger.

The DOJ maintains that combining American and U.S. Airways would reduce competition, leading to higher airfares, higher fees, and fewer choices for consumers. Its announcement was such a surprise, lawyers for American and U.S. Airways took the unusual step of meeting with reporters to publicly refute the DOJ's major contentions. In fact, the lawyers leading the merger declared emphatically that merging the fourth and fifth largest commercial air carriers in the U.S. would actually enhance competition and lead to lower fares because it would create a new, powerful competitor to rivals Delta and United-Continental.

Hmmm. What gives? While we don't have a crystal ball to predict whether this merger would change the way you fly, Budget Travel has always preferred solid research to intuition. So we took a look at some evidence from the most recent airline mega-mergers and asked the obvious question: Did those mergers enhance competition and help bring down airfares?

Nice try. In 2008, Delta merged with Northwest. In 2012, the American Antitrust Institute analyzed airfares on routes and hubs affected by that merger and found above-average fare increases on 70 percent of routes, with fare increases up to 20 percent. In 2010, United merged with Continental. Similarly, the AAI found above-average fare increases on 90 percent of affected routes, with fare increases up to 30 percent. Both mergers limited competition on affected routes and at affected hubs and drove some local airlines and lower-cost airlines out of those hubs.

The AAI's findings would tend to support the DOJ's position. As just one example, the DOJ contends that, if this merger goes through, 69 percent of the takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., would be controlled by the new American/U.S. Airways entity, and that the low fares offered by JetBlue out of National could be threatened because JetBlue's slots at the airport are the result of an earlier agreement with American Airlines. Further, U.S. Airways currently offers lower fares to passengers who fly through some of its smaller, non-hub airports. The new mega-airline created by the merger—in control of more flights and more hub slots across the U.S.—might very well have less incentive to offer those discounted fares.

Will American and U.S. Airways merge? Will fares rise? We don't know. We must acknowledge that airfares alone may not be the most important factor in whether the merger ultimately goes through. Let's remember how thin the airlines' profit margins are: The Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney recently reported that on a plane with 100 passengers, less than one airfare goes to the airline as profit; the rest pays for fuel, equipment, and staff. The consolidation of the past decade may have been, as Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has said, a "necessary evil" to bolster an industry facing multiple bankruptcies. Of course we're rooting for the consumers—you—in this case. But time will tell whether American Airlines and U.S. Airways can best serve consumers by remaining separate entities or becoming one big one.

TALK TO US! Did the Delta-Northwest or United-Continental mergers change the way you fly?

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How to Plan the Perfect Dude Ranch Vacation

Darley Newman is the five-time Daytime Emmy Award nominated host, writer, and producer of the lifestyle travel TV series Equitrekking, which broadcasts on PBS and international networks in over 82 countries. Interested in taking an all-American dude ranch vacation? As someone who's taken a lot of them, including girlfriend getaways, family escapes, and wilderness adventures while filming my PBS TV show Equitrekking, I can tell you that there are a variety of diverse choices. While many ranches promote a casual, relaxed atmosphere, others offer luxury with top amenities. While some modern ranches cater to foodies and offer gourmet fare, others deliver cookouts and cowboy singers. Ranch vacations can make for a stress-free, wallet-friendly and family-friendly vacation. Here are five travel tips to help you plan your ranch escape and pick the right ranch vacation for you. Pick your ranch styleIn thinking about your dream ranch vacation, decide what best suits your goals and tastes. Are you seeking an authentic Western experience on a dude ranch vacation, a working cattle ranch where you can play cowboy, or a luxury ranch resort complete with a fitness center and spa? Do you want an intimate, boutique setting or larger numbers of guests to perhaps serve as a buffer for the rest of your group? Decide up front on ranch activities and amenitiesMany guest ranches offer a surprising array of special activities either onsite or nearby such as whitewater rafting, fly-fishing, mountain biking, cooking classes, spa treatments, square dancing, horse pack trips, local sightseeing, and often have children's programs—a built-in, stellar babysitting tool. If there's a particular activity or amenity you're seeking, this can be a good way to narrow your search. Having so many pre-planned activities can often take some stress out of the trip because you don't have the pressure of planning everything for your group. Addicted to the Web or need cell reception? Keep in mind that some ranches are off the grid, meaning you'll be staying in a technology-free environment. This can be a great way to unplug from our interconnected world and enhance your family or group bonding. Run the numbersMany dude ranches are all-inclusive, so if you are getting initial sticker shock from the week's pricing, do the math. Consider that all meals, activities, lodging and even some alcohol can be included, meaning you know almost all of your expenses up front. You'll need to add in flights and transportation to and from the ranch, as while some ranches offer free airport shuttle service, you'll need to rent a car for others. Consider that you will need to tip at many ranches, which could add 10 to 20 percent more to your tab. Search the ranch website, email, or call the destinations you are considering to find out what's included, so you can create a budget and stick to it for your ranch vacation. Check out ranch planning resources There are a lot of great ranch escapes, so enjoy exploring and getting ready to saddle up and ride the range! Here are some trusted ranch vacation resources to help you narrow your search: • The companion website to the Emmy-winning PBS TV show offers Ranch Travel Deals, the Equitrekking Vacation Guide to great ranches and horseback riding vacations, and Dude Ranch Blogs. • Dude Ranchers Associations. The Dude Ranchers' Association has been helping travelers choose Western vacations since 1926 and offers great ranch planning resources. If you've narrowed it down to a state, check out the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association, Arizona Dude Ranch Association or Wyoming Dude Ranch Association. • This website features 20 of the best North American dude and guest ranches. Enjoy the ranch search As someone who likes simply looking at travel destinations, I ask that you, too, enjoy the search and that you search in a variety of ways. There are great resources online, but don't judge a ranch by its website. Search multiple places, read online guides and reviews and if you can, ask around. A personal referral from a trusted source is always a good idea.


Take a Ride on These Budget-Friendly Bus Tours

Whether you're looking for a fun day-trip to a famed amusement park, an hour-long joyride through the legendary Wild West, or a behind-the-scenes look at the city featured in AMC's hit show Breaking Bad, we've rounded up several bus tours around the country where you can get to know a new place without breaking the bank. Embrace your inner child with a trip to Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City It's called the Big Apple for a reason, and one way to take in all the major sites in a small amount of time is to tour parts of the city by bus. Both CitySights NY and Gray Line New York offer a wide variety of sightseeing tours depending on which neighborhoods are highest on your list—check their websites to view touring options that include packages to Broadway shows, day trips to locations outside the city, and in-depth tours of the Bronx and Brooklyn. Their special deal this summer involves more than $75 in savings and a chance to embrace your inner child with a day-trip to Luna Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Valid now thru Oct. 1st, the package includes transportation to and from Manhattan, four hours of unlimited amusement park rides, a ride on the legendary Cyclone Roller Coaster (guests must be taller than 54 inches), a Nathan's Famous hot dog with a 16 oz. drink, a souvenir hat, a $10 card to use for the arcade and games, and a complimentary pass for access to the beach and boardwalk. The Luna Park package costs from $59 for adults and from $39 for children ages 3-11. Please visit the websites for CitySights NY or Gray Line New York to book this deal and to view pick-up and drop-off locations. Book ahead of time online or arrive at least 15 minutes early to grab a spot on this limited-edition tour. Meet the legends of the Wild West in Deadwood, South Dakota If you want to feel like you've just stepped into an old Wild West film, definitely visit the historic town of Deadwood, a magical place where crowds gather in the streets several times a day to watch historical re-enactments of street-dueling gun-fighting shootouts that took place more than 100 years ago—you can even catch a re-enactment of the shooting of Wild Bill Hickok every night at the #10 Saloon, followed by The Trial of Jack McCall, the man who shot him. For a closer look at 19th-century Deadwood, reserve a ride on Alkali Ike Tours, an hour-long narrated bus tour through the historic town and adjoining neighborhoods. The tour even includes a visit up the hill to Mt. Moriah Cemetery where you can learn about the town's most famous inhabitants—Preacher Smith, Seth Bullock, and Potato Creek Johnny among others—and pay a visit to the gravesites of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, two legendary (and real) characters who lived and died in Deadwood. Tickets cost $9 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-16. Children under age six get in free. Ask about special discounts for Veterans, seniors over age 60, and those visiting from outside the U.S. Call 1-866-601-5103 to book ahead of time as tours can fill up quickly during the busy summer months. Tours leave Monday thru Thursday and Saturdays at 12:15 p.m., 2:15 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:15 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. from Main Street in front of the #10 Saloon. Breaking Bad-themed trolley tours in Albuquerque, New Mexico If you're lucky enough to be anywhere near Albuquerque, N.M., where nearly the entire series has been filmed, catch a ride on The BaD Tour by the Albuquerque Trolley Company, a 3.5 hour open-air joyride that covers 38 miles and 13 main locations from the show including the exteriors of Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, and Gus's houses, the car wash and laundry facilities that act as the meth-maker's storefronts, Tuco's headquarters, the ever-shady Crossroads Motel, and the infamous railroad tracks. To top it all off, you'll get a complimentary drink during a stop at Twisters Grill, the restaurant that doubles as Los Pollos Hermanos on the show. Tickets cost $65 per person including taxes and leave from 208 San Felipe St. NW in Albuquerque's Historic Old Town. Check website for available dates and to purchase tickets online. Please note that the tour is rated 'R' because of the show's dark subject matter and may not be appropriate for children. If you're short on time or if tickets happen to sell out due to the tour's popularity, the Albuquerque Trolley Company also offers an 85-minute long Best of ABQ City Tour, featuring a peek at several major sites from the show like Jesse Pinkman's house and Hank's DEA office during a fun trip through Historic Old Town, Museum Row, Nob Hill, the University of New Mexico, the historic Barelas neighborhood, and along Historic Route 66. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $23 for students and seniors over age 65, and $12 for children under age 12. Tours leave from 208 San Felipe St. NW in Albuquerque's Historic Old Town. We want to know: have you ever taken a themed-bus trip in a new place? Tell us about it below!


How to do Florence on a Budget

Florence is an Italian city best known for its art. Home to the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Galleria dell'Accademia (where Michelangelo's David masterpiece resides), visitors from around the world flock to see famous statues and paintings by Raphael, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci among others. The good news is you don't have to break the bank to get some world-class culture. You can view sculptures, paintings, and other works of art for less—or for free—if you know where to look. Whether you're a history buff, art lover, or just passing through, there's something for everyone in Florence. Stroll the medieval streets admiring Florentine architecture (it's best to do this accompanied by a scoop or two of gelato!), take in views of the city's famous Duomo, and take tons of photos of the Arno River from the Ponte Vecchio at sunset for a memorable—and free—day on the town. And whatever you do, don't forget to bring your camera! Here are some great ways to get the biggest bang for your buck when visiting Florence. Visit the Statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia—for lessYou can't go all the way to Florence and not see David. For a budget-friendly way to visit Galleria dell'Accademia, try investing in a Firenze Card, which remains valid for 72-hours, covers admission to 60 museums, galleries (including Galleria degli Uffizi), historical villas, and gardens, and includes a three-day transit pass—great for taking cheap, scenic rides around the city. While the $81 (72 euro) price tag might seem a little steep, keep in mind that most of the included museums charge between $9-–$28 (8-–25 euros) each and you can now visit 60 of them over a three-day period. You'll also have access to a separate, shorter line for Firenze Card holders. Visit the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence's famous DuomoNo trip to Florence is complete without a look inside the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, one of the most easily recognizable landmarks in the city. Fortunately for budget travelers, admission to this 13th century gothic cathedral is free (although you can pay about eight euros per person to climb the 463 steps of Brunelleschi's dome for sweeping views of the city or opt for the all-inclusive $12 (10 euro) ticket that lets you tour the Galleria dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi's Dome, Giotto's Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, and the Crypt of Santa Reparata). Step inside the cool marble interior during a hot summer day and check out Giorgio Vasari's magnificent frescoes featuring the Last Judgment and a beautiful clock built in 1443 by Paolo Uccello that still works today. See free art—and famous replicas—in Piazza della SignoriaVisit replicas of popular sculptures like Michelangelo's David and Judith and Holofernes, grab a snack at one of the outdoor restaurants and cafés, or stroll the Piazza, taking in the sites on your own. You can also view Cellini's statue of Perseus holding Medusa's head, sculptures by Donatello, and Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines in the square's open-air sculpture gallery, as well as other works like Bandinelli's Hercules and Cacus, and an impressive fountain featuring Neptune near Palazzo Vecchio, a 14th century palace that overlooks the Piazza. Visit Piazzale Michelangelo for beautiful panoramic views of FlorenceFor a change of pace, take a ride on the #12 or #13 ATAF bus (tickets cost about $1.35 (1.20 euro) per person and are valid for 90 minutes) from the Santa Maria Novella train station to Piazzale Michelangelo for amazing panoramic views of Florence from the top of the hill. You'll get a beautiful 20 to 30-minute ride over the Arno River through the Florentine countryside to a scenic square overlooking the city, complete with a replica of Michelangelo's David and plenty of vendors to help you find the perfect souvenir. Explore sites south of the Arno RiverVisit Ponte Vecchio, the city's famous medieval arched bridge, now home to an assortment of shops and restaurants, and a regular spot for free musical entertainment. Cross the river to Florence's Oltrarno District to see how the super-wealthy Medici family once lived—admission to the Boboli Gardens, Pitti Palace, and several museums associated with the Medici Treasury are included with the Firenze Card (mentioned above), or you can purchase tickets for from seven euros ($8) per person. A three-day combo ticket is also available for from about $13 per person.


What's Cookin' in Music City?

Sure, Nashville has earned its rep as Music City. Where else can you kick back and enjoy a family-friendly show like the Full Moon Pickin' Party, featuring country headliners plus bluegrass and roots artists in a public park under a full moon? Or Bluegrass Nights each Thursday through the end of July at the legendary Ryman Auditorium? But there's another kind of jammin' going on in the country music capital. Imaginative chefs are transforming the city's food scene—check out the James Beard nominations and placements on top American restaurant lists. From upscale eateries to buzzy food trucks on the streets of hip nabes like East Nashville and The Gulch, here's what's cookin' in Nashville: Lockeland Table. This upscale kitchen serves up contemporary riffs on classic Southern cuisine by chef Hal Holden-Bache, a West Virginia native and 12-year veteran of the Nashville restaurant scene. Its menu, including crab and corn fritters, wood-fired pizzas topped with housemade sausage, and main courses such as Niman Ranch bone-in pork loin or Carolina Mountain trout with honey bourbon glaze, earned it a James Beard nomination for 2013 best new restaurant. 1520 Woodland St.,, pizzas from $11 Margot Cafe & Bar. Inspired by her Tennessee childhood and training in New York City, chef Margot McCormack specializes in rustic French and Italian fare, focusing on the freshest, highest quality seasonal ingredients. The menu changes daily and may include simple but elegant choices such as green garlic risotto or housemade linguini with pickled ramps, crimini mushrooms, and parmesan. 1017 Woodland St.,, entrees from $16 Hoss' Loaded Burgers. C'mon—sometimes you just want to bite into a ginormous burger, right? Hoss' Loaded Burgers brings the beef right to you. Well, sort of. You can find out where this popular Nashville food truck happens to be parked by texting "burger" to 88000 and flag down a stuffed burger like The Big Easy, a 1/3 lb patty of local grass-fed beef crammed with creamy melted provolone and topped with Cajun spices, Creole remoulade, and red onion., burger from $7, fried $2