No Online Booking Fee? Turns Out That's Only Sometimes True
Remember back in 2009, when it seemed like every online travel agent was making a big deal about removing airline booking fees (those nasty "processing" charges that can range between $7 to 12?)? Within a couple of months of one another, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity all announced that they were doing away with fees.
They weren't the first booking sites to do this either—Priceline and Hotwire had removed their fees on most tickets as early as 2007.
Many of these sites still advertise the "no fee" promise, but, as it turns out, that's only true when you book a flight that is serviced by the same carrier. Book a trip that has you flying in on American Airlines and out on Delta, for example, and you'll be paying a fee for that itinerary.
In fact, the only site mentioned here where you won't be hit with these extra fees is Hotwire.
What's a traveler to do? Well, the answer seems clear—unless you're booking through Hotwire, if the prices are the same, always choose an itinerary with a single airline over one served by several airlines. If the multiple-airline trip is significantly cheaper, even after you factor in the fee—that still may be the way to go.
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Trip Coach: Share Your Upgrade Strategies
You may dream about going past the magical Business/First Class curtain on airplanes and into the fancy room-with-a-view in hotels, but how can you get there without paying? There are strategies you can use to improve your chances of snagging an upgrade. Loyalty to a particular airline, hotel company, cruise line or car rental firm certainly helps—especially when you gain "elite" status in their frequent traveler program. Experts say a friendly smile and few kind words for the check-in agent also goes a long way when it comes to upgrades. I've seen "pro" upgrade-seekers in action. One pal even brings chocolate as a gift for airline gate agents and flight attendants and says it frequently works in getting him a better seat — on one overseas flight I observed, chocolates didn't get him out of coach but did get him near constant attention including extra water and a cheese plate from First Class. An interview with a fellow who tracks upgrades revealed you're more likely to get special treatment at hotels and car rental firms if you book directly, even if you pay the same price as at discount travel sites. Another pal says he always books the cheapest rental car because they tend to sell out, leaving the car rental company no choice but to upgrade him. We want to hear your experiences, questions and techniques when it comes to getting upgrades. How did you snag a complimentary First Class seat? Did you trade in that economy car for a mid-size at no extra charge? What was it like getting that lavish suite even though you paid for cheaper accommodations? Has your credit card or membership in an organization helped you get an upgrade? How did you get the ocean-view cruise cabin for the price of an inside? Are upgrade coupons online worth the effort? We'll feature reader comments and answer your questions in the Trip Coach column in an upcoming issue of Budget Travel. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Would You Pay $80 for an Upgrade? Should We Tip Flight Attendants? Would You Say No to an Upgrade?
Holiday Travel: To Go Home Or Go Away
The airfares gently creeping towards the outlandish. The jostling for time off (did you put that request in yet?). The promise of weather delays, overbooked flights and traffic jams. It’s that time of year again, the holiday travel season. So, what does this time of year mean to you? Do you look forward to reuniting with friends and family, despite the travel hassles? Or is it tempting to forgo the family feuds across the turkey and trimmings and just get away? Or maybe, it's all a bit too much for you and you're happy to hunker down at home until after the new year. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('24dd2103-9636-4848-b48a-8c1a39a64340');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)There are several factors in the holiday travel equation. On the one hand, this is the traditional time of year for togetherness, whatever that means to you. And seeing as it comes every year, a lot of people have it down to a science, booking their flights or planning their travel well in advance to make the process as painless as possible. On the other hand, travel companies do throw some tempting deals out there to entice precisely those travelers who may not have the need, desire or opportunity to be with loved ones for the holidays. But, unless you plan on heading south, it's cold in a lot of places this time of year, which is in part why many of the deals exist in the first place. And even if you're traveling farther afield, chances are, you're still heading to the same crowded airports you'd need to go to if you were staying closer to home. So, what about you? What is your travel strategy this holiday season, and why? Are you maybe trying something different? Let us know by voting in our poll or commenting below. More from Budget Travel: Buy Your Holiday Plane Tickets Now to Avoid Fare Hikes 14 Ways to Survive a Holiday Flight Trip Coach: Share Your Upgrade Strategies
Will Innovations in Hotel Booking Lead to Higher Prices?
A lot of thought goes into hotel booking—you have travelers like us out there looking for the best deals, you have hoteliers who are trying to convince us they offer the best value, and you have the middlemen who are trying to make the process easier (and make a few bucks while they're at it). I'm all for easier—and that's why my ears perk up every time an innovation in hotel booking comes along. One of the newest innovations, the ability to specify the exact room you will book, has me especially intrigued for two reasons—one, because I think it has the potential to improve the lives of travelers, and two, because I'm mindful of how it might affect hotel rates in the future. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('0f3f8f48-7f38-4444-bbfc-21ee97b5b2f6');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) We saw this coming back in March, shortly after Room77.com arrived on the scene. The website operates on the premise that not all rooms are created equal, so you might as well choose the best one, and they try to help you do this by sharing room reviews, views, and floor-plans. They weren't the only ones experimenting with this idea—some hotels such as Hilton and Homewood Suites, were starting to let guests choose their own rooms too. (Though, in the case of Hilton, you have to be an HHonors rewards member to take advantage of the offering.) As of midnight this past Wednesday, Room 77 is now giving people the opportunity to not only search specific hotel room reviews, but to specify the exact type of room they would like—and book it through their website. Here's how it works: you search for hotels in a given city. You can narrow your results based on price, destination and desired amenities (jetted tubs, for example). When you go to book, all of the room details you've indicated are important to you are communicated to the hotel via a proprietary algorithm called RoomMatch. At least in theory, this means you'll get the perfect room for you. This sounds pretty nifty, but what does it mean in the long run? First of all, I'm curious—do you care enough about your hotel room to be excited about an offering like this? Second, if people get wise to the fact that one standard room is decidedly more desirable (bigger, better view) than another, might hotels eventually catch onto that as well and start charging more for those rooms, therefore making it even more difficult for cost-conscious travelers to snag a prime room at a discount? I guess only time will tell. What do you think? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: The Dirty Truth About Hotel Ratings 10 Record-Breaking Bridges 10 Most Interesting Beaches
4 Tools for Finding the Perfect Airplane Seat
Window, aisle or middle? Countless fliers have faced that age-old question, the answer to which could have serious implications for the enjoyment of any flight. A collection of online tools and apps is now helping passengers settle the issue once and for all. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('47422524-2ba5-4fb1-9cb7-3d939d8a6a96');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info) The question of seating is actually quite complicated. Aside from the three classic options, there are exit–row seats, bulkhead seats, seats located in the proximity of restrooms, plus physical differences in the seats themselves. If you’re a seasoned flier, you may well have all these variables committed to memory already. Unfortunately, what you can’t control is your fellow passengers, and by the time you scour an airline’s online seating chart for your beloved aft/aisle/exit row throne, some rube may have snagged that very seat without even knowing that he’s in possession of the gold standard. What’s a discerning flier to do? With ExpertFlyer's new Seat Alerts, you might still have a chance at reclaiming your rightful place. ExpertFlyer allows you to search the seating map for an upcoming flight and set up a Seat Alert for any seat (or range of seats) you wish. If that seat opens up before the flight, ExpertFlyer will send you an email notification of the vacancy so that you can contact the airline and change your seating arrangement. (Beware of additional airline fees for doing so.) With a free ExpertFlyer account, travelers can set up one Seat Alert at a time. Additional Alerts cost $.99 each, or users can purchase monthly Basic ($4.99) or Premium ($9.99) accounts that allow up to thirty alerts plus lots of other features. But what if you don’t know a bulkhead from a bassinet seat? There are tools for that, too. Paid ExpertFlyer accounts come complete with reviews and ratings from SeatGuru, permitting even beginners to the cutthroat world of airline seating to figure out which seats are best for a given flight. SeatGuru not only provides free color-coded seating maps, but also detailed comments on leg room and degrees of recline. SeatGuru is the venerable king of the airline–seating industry—it launched back in 2001—but there are newcomers challenging the crown. Seat Authority, a $2.99 iPhone app, gives fliers similar information in a handy portable package. Aside from over a hundred seat maps, Seat Authority provides photos of the seats in question and all the necessary comfort metrics: width, seat pitch, and recline. For ease of use, the recently launched Jets iPhone app is hard to beat. Jets displays crisp seating maps from its database of flights, and lets users select specific seats to get the pros and cons of each. Even the most inexperienced flier can develop an understanding of seating dynamics from Jets’ clean graphical interface, and at $2.99, the app costs the same as Seat Authority. Both are a cheap price to pay for the assurance that you won’t end up wedged against a bulkhead or suffering from the foot traffic—and aromatics—of a nearby restroom. Are you that uncommon flier who prefers the middle seat, or does the aisle or window win you over? Vote in our poll and explain your answers in the comments below. —Ryan Murphy MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Would you fly more frequently if airplane seats were more comfortable? The Ultimate Guide to Travel Apps 10 Most Useful Travel Websites