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Subject: FAQ: Air Traveler's Handbook 1/4 [Monthly posting]
This article was archived around: 13 Aug 1997 07:48:27 GMT
Last-Modified: Tue Mar 19 14:26:32 1996 by Mark Kantrowitz
Size: 90743 bytes, 1794 lines
;;; Airfare FAQ, Part 1 ********************************************
;;; Written by Mark Kantrowitz
This post is a summary of useful information for air travelers. The
focus is on obtaining inexpensive air fares, although other topics are
also covered. It was previously posted under the title "FAQ: How to
Get Cheap Airtickets".
The information in this FAQ applies primarily to US domestic flights,
though some information may also apply to international flights.
Please mail comments, corrections, additions, suggestions, criticisms
and other information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) 1989-94 by Mark Kantrowitz. All rights reserved.
This FAQ may be freely redistributed in its entirety without
modification provided that this copyright notice is not removed. It
may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial documents
(e.g., published for sale on CD-ROM, floppy disks, books, magazines,
or other print form) without the prior written permission of the
copyright holder. Permission is expressly granted for this document
to be made available for file transfer from installations offering
unrestricted anonymous file transfer on the Internet.
If this FAQ is reproduced in offline media (e.g., CD-ROM, print form,
etc.), a complimentary copy should be sent to Mark Kantrowitz, School
of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3891 USA.
This article is provided AS IS without any express or implied warranty.
*** Recent Changes:
;;; 31-MAY-95 mk Replaced all the URLs in [4-12] with a pointer to the FAQ's
;;; home page, which now includes a substantially greater
;;; number of links.
;;; 20-DEC-95 mk Corrected several London numbers, thanks to Richard Relf.
;;; 19-MAR-96 mk Info about Jet Train provided by Srivathsan Narasimhan
*** Topics Covered:
[1-0] Obtaining the FAQ
[1-1a] Standard Tricks: Advance Booking Discounts
[1-1b] Advance Purchase Fares
[1-2] Nested/Overlapping Tickets Strategy
[1-x] Stopovers and Circle Trips
[1-3] Fare Classes
[1-4] Classes of Service
[1-5] Fare Types
[1-6] Special Fare Categories
[1-7] Children's Fares
[1-8] Clergy Fares
[1-9] Military Fares
[1-10] Senior Citizen Fares
[1-11] Student/Youth Fares
[1-12] Family Fares
[1-13] Conference Fares
[1-14] Sympathy Fares, Emergency Fares
[1-16] Flying Standby
[1-17] Getting Bumped
[1-18] Special Travel Dates/Fare Sales/Fare Wars
[1-19] Moving Up the Return Flight
[1-20] Hidden City Fares
[1-21] Buying Someone Else's Nonrefundable Ticket
[1-22] Discount Airlines
[1-23] Tour Desks
Part 2 (Travel Agents, Connections, Airports, Baggage):
[2-1] Travel Agents
[2-2] Unusual Travel Agents: Commission Rebaters
[2-5] Travel Agencies that Specialize in Students
[2-6] Visit USA
[2-7] Free Upgrades to First Class
[2-8] Companion Tickets
[2-9] Avoiding Travel Scams
[2-10] Missed Connections
[2-11] Getting There Faster
[2-12] Airports Monopolized by One Carrier
[2-13] Hub Cities
[2-14] Lost Baggage
[2-15] Baggage Limits
[2-18] Restrictions on Electronics
[2-19] X-ray Machines/Metal Detectors
[2-20] Packing Tips/Checklist
Part 3 (Safety & Comfort, Frequent Flyers):
Travel Safety, Comfort, and Convenience:
[3-1] Travel Advisories/Health Information
[3-2] Travel Safety
[3-3] Air Quality
[3-4] Smoke-Free Flights
[3-4a] Air Pressure Problems (Colds)
[3-5] Special Meals
[3-7] Pregnant Passengers
[3-8] Tips for Families Flying with Children
[3-9] Tips for Business Travelers
[3-9b] Best Seats
[3-10] Exchanging Currency
[3-11] Frequent Flyer Programs
[3-12] Premier FF Membership
[3-13] Hotel Frequent Flyer Plans
[3-14] Credit Card Voucher Offers
[3-15] Telephone Companies
[3-16] Discount Coupon Offers
Part 4 (Appendices, Miscellaneous):
[4-1] Airline Reservation Phone Numbers
[4-2] Flight Information
[4-3] On-line reservation services
[4-4] Complaints and Compliments
[4-6] Other Sources of Information
[4-7] Further Reading
[4-8] Phone Numbers Included in this FAQ
[4-9] IRS Rules Change
[4-10] Airline Antitrust Litigation
[4-11] Miscellaneous Notes
[4-12] World-Wide Web (WWW) Resources
Search for [#] to get to question number # quickly.
All dollar ($) amounts in this FAQ are in US dollars.
Subject: [1-0] Obtaining the FAQ
Certain questions and topics come up frequently in the rec.travel.air
newsgroup. This FAQ is intended to gather these questions and their
answers into a convenient and comprehensive reference. The hope is
that this will cut down on the user time and network bandwidth used to
post, read and respond to the same questions over and over, as well as
answering questions some readers may not even have thought to ask.
Posts of a commercial nature, such as the buying and selling of
airplane tickets, should be posted to rec.travel.marketplace and not
An updated version of this file is posted once a month on the 13th of
the month to the newsgroups rec.travel.air and news.answers. The
version date for the file is located in the header near the top of the
In between postings, the latest version of this FAQ is available by
anonymous FTP from
using username "anonymous" and password "name@host" (substitute your
email address) or via AFS in the Andrew File System directory
as the files airfare1.faq, airfare2.faq, airfare3.faq, and airfare4.faq.
Other files available from this directory include:
bucket.faq Edward Hasbrouck's FAQ on Bucket Shops and Consolidators
classes.txt List of fare classes
discounts.txt Table of Airline Special Fare Discounts (29-JUL-92)
em_intrfrnc.txt Summary of EM Interference by Laurie Bechtler
ff.faq Joel Chan's Frequent Flyer FAQ
flt_attdnt.txt Description of the Job of a Flight Attendant
iata.tgz List of worldwide airport IATA codes by Peter Loibl
and Paulo Santos
jetlag.txt The ANL jet lag diet.
online.faq John Levine's FAQ on Online Computer Reservation Systems
tourism.faq Where to get tourist/travel information
The FAQ postings are also archived in the periodic posting archive on
If you do not have anonymous ftp access, you can access the archive by
mail server as well. Send an E-mail message to email@example.com
with "help" and "index" in the body on separate lines for more
A HTML version of the FAQ is available as
If you need to cite the FAQ for some reason, use the following format:
Mark Kantrowitz, "Air Traveler's Handbook", rec.travel.air, <month>, <year>,
Subject: [1-1a] Standard Tricks: Advance Booking Discounts
Airlines give better fares to people who advance book because they are
trying to encourage people to book as early as possible. If the
airline were to lower fares just before flight time there would be a
flood of people (on random flights) at the last minute. Airlines need
an accurate estimate of the number of people and amount of baggage on
a flight so that they can load the proper amount of fuel. (Meals and
beverages also have to be loaded.)
Moreover, people who book at the last minute are usually flying on
business, and therefore the business is paying for it. People flying
for pleasure usually know weeks or months in advance, and can't afford
the prices that a business would pay. Thus it is to an airline's
advantage to set rates according to the major differences between
business and leisure travelers:
o Business travelers fly mostly between 9 and 5, whereas leisure
travelers can fly offpeak hours.
o Business travelers buy tickets on very short notice, whereas
leisure travelers plan trips well in advance.
o Business travelers do not stay over a weekend (= Saturday
night), whereas leisure travelers do.
So airlines typically give discounts for people who stay over a
weekend, flying offpeak hours, and purchasing tickets 7 days, 14 days,
21 days or 30 days in advance. Such fares are known as excursion,
discount, or supersaver fares.
For example, US domestic excursion fares require that you buy
your roundtrip ticket 7 days, 14 days, or 30 days in advance, and that
you stay over a weekend (usually Saturday night, though sometimes
Sunday night as well). Some may also restrict the travel to a
30-day maximum stay. Stopovers aren't allowed, except for the purpose
of connection (if you want a stopover, you'll have to pay extra).
Some fares may be limited to a particular routing (e.g., routes with
connections cost less than nonstop flights). You may also be limited
to flying during offpeak hours, with flights during the busiest times
of the day costing more. Tickets are usually non-refundable and
non-transferable, and may either be non-changeable or have a $35
change fee. The price is usually the average of the two one-way
tickets. (E.g., a 2-week advance PGH/BOS advance ticket is around
$200 this way.) Tickets must be purchased within 24 hours of the
For international excursion fares, also known as apex fares, you must
book at least 21 days in advance of the flight, and you may have to
purchase the tickets at the time of the reservation. Minimum stay is
usually 7-10 days, and maximum stay can range from 3 months to a year.
Midweek travel (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday) is usually cheaper.
Tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable. Fares often depend on
Since a regular 1-way ticket is so much worse than a round-trip
excursion fare, it sometimes pays to buy a round-trip ticket and throw
away the other half (if you're only going one way). If you buy a round
trip ticket and throw away the other half, make the first leg of the
trip the destination, since some airlines will cancel the return trip
if you don't show up for the first leg. If you intend to skip ONE leg
of a multi-leg flight, tell this to your reservation agent in advance,
so that they can annotated your PNR to prevent subsequent legs from
being cancelled. (Note: You can't use this technique to exploit a
"hidden city" fare. You'll have to have a very good reason for
skipping a leg for the travel agent to allow it, and you may have to
pay a different fare to do so.)
For example, a round-trip to San Francisco from Pittsburgh with a
one-night stayover is $1,333. However, the cost of a Saturday night
stayover is only $479 if you order the ticket a week or two in
advance. Purchasing two round trip tickets, one originating from Pgh
and one from SF, and then using one half of each round trip ticket
saves you $375.
Note that for many airlines the discount fares depend solely on the
date of the first leg of the trip. The price does not vary no matter
when the return flight is (so long as you stay over a Saturday night).
You could buy a flight with one leg in March and the return in
November, and it would cost the same as if the return was in March.
For some of the lowest fares, however, there is now a 30-day maximum
stay. Staying more than 30 days often increases the fare by about 25%.
If you travel on offpeak hours and low volume days, the rates are
cheaper. Thus to guarrantee a low cost flight, you have to be very
flexible about where you are going, what time and day you are leaving,
and how long you want to stay. Offpeak hours typically include before
7am, between 10am and 2pm, and after 7pm, depending on the day of the week.
Also important is when you make the reservation. If you make the
reservation for an offpeak flight during the peak season (say, make a
reservation for February just before Thanksgiving), you may be charged
the peak rates. After the holidays some airlines lower their discount
fares to attract customers. So you may be able to get a better fare by
making your reservation right after the holidays.
If you notice that the fare for your flight has been lowered after you
bought the ticket, try calling the airline. Sometimes they will refund
the difference between the price you paid and the lower fare. (You may
have to go to the airport to get the ticket rewritten at the lower
fare.) You may have to pay a $35 to $50 reticketing fee to get the
refund, but some airlines have been known to waive the fee if you get
the money back in the form of a voucher (to be applied to future
travel) instead of cash. For example, USAir will refund the
difference less a service charge, or give a travel voucher (credit)
for the difference with no service charge.
According to a Wall Street Journal article by James S. Hirsch, (July
30, 1993) many airlines now test fare increases by raising prices on
the weekend (Friday night through Sunday night). If other airlines
don't match the increases, the fares return to normal on Monday. So
you should be careful when purchasing tickets on the weekend. (This
works around the Justice Department consent decree that prevents
airlines from signalling proposed fare increases in the computer
reservation systems. When the competitors didn't match the increase, the
airlines would cancel the increase before it took effect. With the new
method, since it affects current prices, it technically isn't price-fixing.)
Hirsch also reported that many airlines have increased the $25 charge
for changing advanced purchase tickets to $30 or $35. Note that this
is often a minimum fee -- you'll probably have to pay the full
difference in price if the new ticket price is much higher. Airlines
are using these measures to discourage passengers from buying tickets
during a fare war and later changing the time of flight or
destination. If you go to one of the airline's ticket agents (not a
travel agent), some airlines will reissue a ticket at the lower fare
without fee if the difference is refunded in the form of a voucher for
In addition to the Saturday night stay requirement, many airlines now
give additional discounts for travel midweek (usually Tuesday and
Wednesday, sometimes Thursday) when a Saturday night stay is involved.
Some also provide discounts for travel on Saturdays. Flights usually
aren't fully booked on these days. For example, Northwest discount
coupons recently had this restriction. Most leisure travelers like to
travel Sunday-Sunday, or at least not miss a large part of the week.
Business travelers, of course, don't like to stay over the weekend.
When making your reservation through an airline ticket agent or
through a travel agent, always ask for the lowest possible fare. Don't
just give them specific dates/times and ask them for a low fare --
tell them that your plans are flexible, and you'd like to know what
the low fare is. If you're too specific on the flight details, and
don't say that you're looking for the cheapest possible fare, you
might not get the best price. Sometimes by departing on a different
day, you can get a much cheaper fare.
Subject: [1-1b] Advance Purchase Fares
[Note: This section to be merged into preceding section.]
Typically, tickets must be purchased 4, 7, 14, 21, or 30 days
in advance of the departure date. All require confirmed reservations.
Seats are always limited. Most do not permit changes/cancellations,
and those that do will usually charge you.
Some require a roundtrip ticket, though there are some that
give lower rates for one-way tickets. Most do not permit open-jaw
travel (most require circle-trip for excursion fares). Some permit
stopovers, and may or may not charge you for the privilege (typically
$15-30 per stopover). Fares are often seasonal.
For those that have a minimum and maximum stay period (e.g.,
stay over the weekend, must return 150 days after departure), the day
of departure is not included as part of the minimum and maximum stay period.
Children's rates are usually discounted against the applicable
fare. (Some airlines now apply children's discounts against the
highest fare only.) As usual, children must carry proof of age.
Note that fares are almost always not applicable to/from
intermediate points. This means a ticket from Boston to Chicago
passing through Pittsburgh could be cheaper than a ticket from Boston
to Pittsburgh! But, of course, you can get off at Pittsburgh so long
as you don't have checked bags nor have subsequent legs on the same
Use the same carrier and flight class for all segments of your
itinerary. Changing airlines usually adds to the cost of your trip.
But sometimes you may be able to get a dirt cheap fare on one
airline to an airport 150 miles or so from your destination, and then
use another airline to get to your final destination. (This most often
happens when the first airline has no direct flights to your final
Sometimes fares which involve a connection are cheaper than direct
flights. So if all the fares are non-stop, ask if flights that involve
a connection are cheaper. For example, flights from Pittsburgh to
Boston on TWA are often cheaper than flights on USAir, because USAir
offers non-stop service while TWA flights are routed through their JFK hub.
+ If all the fares are on one airline, ask your travel agent if
there are cheaper fares on other airlines. Be prepared to ask
for specific airlines. Don't run down a list of a dozen
airlines, but ask for two or three. If all show similar lowest
fares, you aren't likely to do better on another airline.
(Obviously, this advice doesn't apply if you're calling the
airlines directly. If so, call 2-3 airlines before purchasing tickets.)
+ If there are two airports near where you live (e.g., Washington
DC, New York), ask if fares from the other airport are cheaper.
It may pay to drive 40 miles to save $100 on airfare.
+ If you qualify for special discounts (youth, student, senior
citizen, etc.) ask about the availability of such discounts. If
you don't ask, they won't volunteer the information -- how are
they to know whether you qualify?
+ Tickets are generally cheapest for travel in late August and
from March (excluding Spring Break) through mid-June, when air
traffic is the lowest. Of course, this rule of thumb depends a
lot on the destination, since some destinations have strong
Subject: [1-2] Nested/Overlapping Tickets Strategy
If you travel regularly to a particular destination, but don't
stay over weekends, you can get the cheaper weekend rates by
staggering your tickets. I.e., if you're flying from A to B and back
Monday and Wednesday of Week 1, and the same Week 2, instead of buying
roundtrip tickets for each week, buy a roundtrip ticket leaving A
Monday of Week 1 and returning Wednesday of Week 2, and a second
roundtrip ticket leaving B Wednesday of Week 1 and returning to B
Monday of Week 2. This works out to be precisely the same flights, but
since both tickets are over a weekend, you get the cheaper rate. The
only problem is that you have to know your schedule in advance to make
this work. Using the Pittsburgh-San Francisco example from above, this
method would save you $1708 on a pair of midweek round trip flights.
If this seems confusing, perhaps the following diagram will make
| A ----1----->>---MON---- B |
| --- |
| A ----2-----<<---FRI---- B | |
--- | |
| A ----3----->>---MON---- B | |
| --- |
| A ----4-----<<---FRI---- B |
The two round trip flights consist of two outgoing flights (1, 3) and
two returning flights (2, 4). Normally these are grouped as on the
left, with flight #1 from A to B being paired with flight #2 from B to
A, and similarly for flights #3 and #4. The result is two midweek
flights, neither of which is over a Saturday night. But we could also
pair flight #1 with flight #4, and flight #2 with flight #3, as shown
on the right. Then the middle pair of flights (#2 and #3) becomes a
round trip with its origin at your destination, and both sets of round
trip tickets are over a Saturday night.
The 30-day maximum stay on discount fares prevents you from using this
overlapping round trip tickets trick if you travel to a destination
infrequently (say, every six months). If your trips are more than 30
days apart, here's a new trick to use. Buy two round trip discount
tickets (weekend stay) per trip, using one for the outgoing trip and
one for the return, and then turn in the return portion of each ticket
for credit towards your next trip. Even with the $25 or so processing
charge per ticket for crediting and reissuing the ticket, it is still
cheaper to do this than to buy a single round-trip ticket without a
Subject: [1-x] Stopovers and Circle Trips
If you're flying to two destinations, ask your travel agent about the
rates for stopovers and circle trips. A stopover is useful when you
want to stay for one or two days at a connecting city, and costs only an
extra $20-50. A circle trip applies when your intermediate
destination isn't a connecting city, and costs less than a pair of
round trip tickets, even when your point of origin is a connecting
city for the middle leg of the circle trip. This is especially true
when one of the stays isn't over a Saturday night.
Subject: [1-3] Fare Classes
When airlines set their fares, they divide their seating into
"classes", which are based on an analysis of past passenger purchases.
Suppose you have a 100 seat airliner going from DC to SF. The rates
might break down on a particular day as follows:
30 seats at $315 round trip, 30 days in advance
20 seats at $350 RT, 21 days in advance
20 seats at $375 RT, 14 days in advance
20 seats at $400 RT, 7 days in advance
10 seats at $450 RT, full fare, available until the last minute.
Now if the time has elapsed within a given price group, then the fare
will go up to the rate of the next price group. If they sell the quota
of tickets for a price group, even if the time has not elapsed, then
they can only sell you tickets at the next rate group price (which is
naturally higher). So it can pay to make your reservations way in
advance. (The number of seats available at each fare varies from day
to day, depending on the airline's yield management algorithm.)
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that airlines distinguish
between classes of service and types of fares. A discount ticket
(fare) for first class travel (service) could, in theory, be cheaper
than an advance purchase ticket (fare) for thrift travel in the first
class compartment (service). The best way to describe it is as a
series of overlapping tiers of fares.
There are five regular classes of service: First, Business, Standard,
Coach and Thrift. Standard is practically nonexistent these days.
Fares usually drop with lower class service. For each class except
Standard there are six main types of reduced-fare tickets: discounted,
night, offpeak, weekend, advance purchase, and excursion fare.
Subject: [1-4] Classes of Service
The following chart gives some of the letters used to designate each
class of service. Note that Fn means Night/Offpeak Coach in the First
Class compartment, and Yn means Night/Offpeak Coach in other than the
First Class compartment.
Regular Premium Discounted Night/Offpeak
First Class F P A Fn (Coach in FC seat)
Business Class C J D Cn
Standard S W Bn
Coach Economy Y B, H, M, Q, T Qn, Yn
Thrift K L, V Vn, Kn
Shuttle Service U (No reservation needed, Seat guaranteed)
Shuttle Service E (No reservation allowed)
In reality there is no difference between classes F and P, nor between
classes C and J. The Q class is usually used for discounted student fares.
If you want the cheapest fares, look at the Thrift and Coach Economy
Airlines have started eliminating First Class, because many companies
now have policies that won't let their employees claim a first class
ticket on their travel expenses. Instead, the airlines have started
upgrading their Business Class as a marketing ploy (and, of course,
company policies are now requiring employees to travel coach).
Subject: [1-5] Fare Types
The following lists some of the letters used to designate different
types of fares. This is distinct from class of service. A number
(e.g., 7 or 14) usually means how many days in advance the ticket must
AP Advance Purchase
EX Excursion Fare
B Capacity-controlled Excursion Fares
SW Offpeak; Saturday or Sunday
US 48 contiguous states (not including alaska/hawaii)
MH Weekend (Discount Fare)
ML Midweek/Offpeak (Discount Fare)
L Capacity-controlled Inventory
B Capacity-controlled Inventory
BN Night Coach
H Capacity-controlled Inventory, Coach/Night Coach
QH Weekend; applies Fri-Sun
QL Midweek; applies Mon-Thur
Subject: [1-6] Special Fare Categories
All airlines have special rate categories, but you have to ask for
them by name, since the agents are usually not familiar with them.
You may even have to talk to the agent's supervisor. Below is a brief
listing of different special fare categories, followed by a more in
depth discussion of standby fares.
Also, see preceding discussion of classes of service and fare types.
For example, on TWA, class K, V, YC, and M fares are the cheapest.
Note: Just because you qualify for a special fare category doesn't
mean that it is the cheapest fare possible. Shop around. By being
flexible with your travel plans, you may be able to save even more.
When the special fares are discounted against full fare coach prices,
you can often do better by purchasing a supersaver or other advance
booking fare. Of course, if your special fare discount may be
combined with other offers (e.g., 5% discount for using the official
airline of a conference to travel to the conference), you win both
Subject: [1-7] Children's Fares
Children under 2 years of age travel free on US domestic flights.
(That is, children who have not reached their second birthday at the
date of commencement of travel.) To be more accurate, the child must
not occupy a separate seat (sits on its parent's lap), and must be
accompanied by a fare paying adult passenger 12 years of age and over
(the lap in which it sits). If the flight isn't full, usually the kid
can sit in the seat next to the adult, but if the flight is full, the
child will have to sit in the parent's lap for the duration of the
flight. Such children do not get a baggage allowance. Ask for an
"infant ticket" when you make your reservations. Additional children
under 2 are subject to regular children's fares. On international
flights you need a "lap child" ticket which typically costs about $100
(10% of the regular fare).
Fares for children (age 2-12) accompanied by a fare paying adult
passenger and occupying a separate seat are cheaper than fares for
unaccompanied children. Some carriers will not accept unaccompanied
children under five years of age (some 8 years, some 12). Fares for
accompanied children range from 50% to 100% of an adult fare
(1/2 fare, 2/3 fare, 3/4 fare, 80%, 90%, full fare). Fares for
unaccompanied children range from 50% of adult fare to 125% of an
adult fare (1/2 fare, 2/3 fare, 3/4 fare, full fare, 1-1/4 fare).
Nowaways, 2/3 fare seems to be the most common children's fare.
Tell your travel agent before they start searching for discount fares
that you're traveling with children. Not all discount adult fares
allow discounts for children, so it may sometimes pay to buy a
slightly more expensive adult ticket that allows for much cheaper
Subject: [1-8] Clergy Fares
Clergy have been entitled to discounts by various airlines in the
past, but as of May 1994, none were participating in such programs.
Qualified parties would be advised to check with airlines at the time
of their booking to see if these programs have been reinstated.
Subject: [1-9] Military Fares
US military personnel traveling at their own expense on
authorized leave or pass may get signicantly cheaper fares. Discharged
military personnel must complete all travel within 7 days of discharge
date. Valid active duty US green identification card or separation
orders must be presented. USAir has a 50% military discount.
Also, any military person who is on active duty and either on TDY
(temporary duty), emergency leave or regular leave, or any retired
military person may sign up for space available travel on
pre-scheduled military flights to any air force base (e.g., Hawaii,
Boston, Florida). Active duty personnel have priority over retired
personnel, and space is allocated in order of signup. Few flights,
however, are scheduled more than 24 hours in advance, and you may need
to go to your destination by a very roundabout route, since not every
base has a lot of space-available flights. The cost is free from most
bases, but some tack on a $10 or $20 charge for admin purposes. For
long flights, they will sell you a box-lunch for $2.40. The planes may
not be as comfortable as commercial flights. There are numerous books
on space-available flights that military people can pick up at their
PX/BX. They should also contact the PAX representative at their
nearest base for more specific information.
Subject: [1-10] Senior Citizen Fares
Certain airlines provide reduced fares for passengers 65 (sometimes
62) years of age and older. Passengers must carry proof of age
(passport, birth certificate, driver's license or medicare card). The
typical discount is 10 percent, though some discounts may be as high
as 75%. Some programs provided a booklet of discount coupons, or sell
several tickets at a sharply discounted rate. Seats are usually
limited, and off-peak travel may be required. The fares are sometimes
refundable and sometimes do not require advance purchase. In some cases,
membership in the AARP will qualify you for the reduced fares. (The
AARP's 10 percent discount deal with American Airlines ended in 1992
when the fare war broke out.) Call 1-202-872-4700 for information
about joining AARP. Airlines with special fares include:
American, America West, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest
Airlines, TWA, United, and USAir.
Delta sells books of coupons for travel by retired senior citizens
(age 62 or higher). The cost is $596 for a book of four coupons,
$1,032 for eight coupons. Each coupon is good for a one-way flight in
the continental United States, with two coupons required for travel to
Alaska or Hawaii. The number of seats are limited, and reservations
must be made two weeks in advance of departure.
If buying a booklet of coupons, compare the prices against the
discounted excursion fares. Sometimes you can do better than the coupons.
Be sure to ask if there are any special fares for senior citizens, if
you qualify. Many travel agents are reluctant to ask a customer if
they are a senior citizen, because they are afraid the customer might
Subject: [1-11] Student/Youth Fares
Some airlines give discounted fares to full-time students of an
accredited school, college or university who are at least 12 years of
age. Student ID card must be carried and displayed at the request of
the carrier. Some restrict the age of the student to under some age
(e.g., 22, 24, 26 years of age). Stopovers are not permitted, and some
require reservations at least 7 days before departure.
The status of such discounts varies considerably. For example, the
USAir student discount was cancelled on May 30, 1992, as a consequence
of the American fare restructuring. As of June 1993, the program was
reinstated on a limited scale, primarily on short-haul east-coast
flights, with an age limit of 24. On June 1, 1994, they cancelled the
program, and replaced it with a more restrictive youth fare. The
details of this program are as follows:
+ Maximum age 22.
+ Reservations must be made 7 days in advance.
+ Saturday night stay required.
+ Round trips only, must be a non-stop flight.
+ Not offered in all markets, and the amount of the discount
varies. The best discount seems to be 30% off.
+ The discount seems to not be combinable with supersaver fares.
+ You must show proof of age when making a reservation.
+ The discount is limited to US domestic travel.
Students may purchase discount books of 10 tickets on the Trump (now
USAir) shuttle for $499. Delta has a similar program for their shuttle.
Age restrictions can be as low as 18-22 on these tickets (Continental
18-22, USAir 18-24 some routes, 18-22 others, Delta is 18-24). Times are
restricted from 10am to 2:30 pm and after 7 pm.
TWA has established a student discount program. Membership costs $15
for one year, $25 for two years, and gets you 10% off most TWA
round-trip fares. You must be a full-time student, aged 16-26. The
fares must include a Saturday night stay-over and 14-day advance
TWA has also offered a "Youth Travel Pak" which provides coupons for
four one-way trips in the continental US for $548 (coupons may be
doubled for travel to Hawaii). The Pak is restricted to students aged
14-24. This can be a good deal if you're traveling cross-country.
A variety of discounts are available if you have an International
Student Identity Card (or International Teacher Identity Card).
Besides offering proof of student status, the ID provides discounts on
museums and events, air fare, 24-hour traveler's assistance, and
health insurance. Ask your travel agent for details on how to get such
a card and what discounts are available. All Council Travel travel
agencies sell the International Student ID Cards. They are rather
cheap -- $17 for students aged 12 to 25 -- and well worth the price.
However, some people have found that their regular university ID or
American Youth Hostel Card works just as well for most of the
discounts. For an application and a free magazine, call the Council
on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) at 800-438-2643.
Youth fares: Passenger must be between 12 and 22 (25 for international
travel) years of age. Seats may be limited. Tickets must be purchased
from the point of origin. Some require picture identification such as
Youth Fare identification Card, birth certificate, government ID card
or drivers license. Southwest gives the offpeak rate for *all* flights
for youth (21 & under), although this is still more expensive than
their supersaver fares.
In short, when purchasing tickets ask if there is any youth/student discount.
Subject: [1-12] Family Fares
Some carriers offer discounts on family travel. For the purposes of
the discounts, a family is defined as a husband and wife with or
without accompanying children age 2-17, or one parent with one or more
accompanying children age 2-17. Age restrictions on children differ
from airline to airline (some set the maximum age at 20 or 21 years;
and some break children into two classes, 12 & under and 12-21). Some
include legal guardian and grandparents within the definition of
parent. It is usually not necessary for the family to travel under a
common surname. Proof of family relationship must be established to
the satisfaction of the carrier and all family members must travel
together for the entire trip. Fares are typically 100% for first
family member, 50% each additional. Some have further discounts.
Subject: [1-13] Conference Fares
If you're flying to a meeting or conference, airlines will often offer
a conference discount. This must be arranged ahead of time by the
conference organizers and only holds for one particular airline. This
airline is designated as the "official" airline of the conference, and
is advertised in the registration brochure. Discounts are generally
40% off of full coach or 5% off of the best supersaver fare, with
travel within 3 days of the meeting. The conference organizers receive
one free round trip ticket for every 20 conference attendees who use
See also "Moving Up the Return Flight" [1-19].
Subject: [1-14] Sympathy Fares, Emergency Fares
If you have to go to a funeral, most airlines will give you 50% off of
the discounted rate, at very short notice. They call this the sympathy
fare. Similarly for a medical emergency (e.g., a close relative is in
intensive care, or is likely to die). For example, Continental will
waive advance purchase requirements for cheap fares for an emergency.
This is their bereavement rate for people who have to attend funerals.
Other airlines that do this are United and USAir ("compassionate
fare"). American gives 50% off of the non-discounted rate, and will
ask you for the name, address and phone number of the funeral home.
(Some airlines will require a copy of the death certificate or an
obituary instead.) This is a tradition carried over from the "funeral
fare" of the railroad days. Airlines do this because it is simply good
PR, and doesn't cost them all that much. Some airlines will only allow
immediate relatives to get a sympathy fare.
[As of 4/30/93, American and United offered 17% discount on
unrestricted coach, USAir 50%.]
In any case you have to ask and sometimes be persistent as these are
nonstandard and not widely publicized policies. Many low level airline
workers are not aware of them or do not have the authority to allow them.
United "Rule 120" describes the rules governing sympathy fares.
Subject: [1-15] Refunds
In the same vein, many airlines will refund a ticket, even a
nonrefundable one, for good cause. Medical emergencies, jury duty, and
a death in the family generally qualify as a good cause for not using
a ticket. Some sort of proof must be provided (death certiicate, note
from doctor), and it is completely up to the airline as to whether or
not the particular instance warrants a refund. But it doesn't hurt to
ask, even multiple times. Some airlines may issue a new ticket or
provide a flight credit voucher instead of offering a refund.
If you don't have any luck in getting a refund when talking with the airline
ticket agent or their supervisor, try asking your travel agent for
help. Sometimes they can succeed where you can't. You can also try
talking to someone at the airline's downtown ticket office in person,
and writing to their national office. It never hurts to ask, even
multiple times. If you're making no headway at the airline's downtown
office, try turning on the tears. This is especially effective if the
person who is preventing you from getting a refund is of the opposite
sex. Nothing makes a person try harder to help than seeing someone
start crying because of them.
A useful trick for normal circumstances: When they ask for your name
for printing on the ticket, use your first initial instead of your
full first name. (Many airlines now require your full first name, even
if you purchase the ticket through a travel agent.) Thus if you can't
use your "non-transferrable non-refundable" ticket, your spouse or
some other member of your family might be able to.
[Airlines do not allow name changes on reservations and tickets, to
prevent travel agents from buying up cheap fares with dummy names in
anticipation of selling them to real people later. For this reason, it
is important when traveling overseas to make sure you give your name
to the travel agent exactly as it is listed on your passport. The name
on your tickets must match the name on your passport, and once the
reservations are made and the tickets issued, there's nothing you can
do to correct the name. The travel agent will have to cancel the
reservations and rebook the full itinerary using the correct name,
assuming the seats are still available at that fare. If the tickets were
non-refundable, there's nothing you can do.]
Another trick is to have your travel agent talk to the airline,
assuming you used him to purchase the ticket. Sometimes they will be
able to swing a deal.
Nontransferable tickets may still be useable by other people in your
organization, if the address listed on the ticket was your business
address, or if your organization's name appears on the ticket.
If the passenger named on the ticket died before the flight, most
airlines will allow a name change, and many will even refund a
Unused nonrefundable tickets can often be applied as a credit toward
another nonrefundable ticket of equal or higher value on the same
airline, less a small reticketing fee of $35 to $50. You'll also have
to pay any difference in the fares, and you can do this for up to one
year after the date of purchase. (Note that if the new ticket costs
less than the old ticket, you probably won't be credited with the
difference.) So if you bought a non-refundable ticket and decided to
not use it, don't throw it away. If you only used part of the ticket
(e.g., the originating flight but not the return), you probably can't
do this; these policies are for completely unused tickets.
If you lose your tickets, most airlines will require you to buy new
tickets, and then issue a refund after 30 days, less a fee of $30 to
$50. Thus 'losing' your tickets is not an effective means of getting a
refund for non-refundable tickets.
Full fare tickets (e.g., unrestricted coach, business class, or first
class), of course, usually allow changes without charge.
Normally a reservation will cancel out automatically if you don't
purchase a ticket within 24 hours. However, if you ask the airline to
invoice you, usually this timeout is extended to 10 days to allow
enough time for the invoice to reach you. You can still pay the
invoice using a credit card. If you don't pay the invoice, the
reservation cancels out at the end of the 10 day period. I was once
able to get the 10 day period extended, but that was because the
airline had transposed digits in my zip code, causing the invoice to
arrive after the 10 day period had expired.
Being hostile to airline personnel is the one sure way to prevent you
from getting a refund or change. Be nice to them -- it doesn't hurt
you, and probably will help you get what you want.
Subject: [1-16] Flying Standby
Flying standby used to be one of the cheapest ways to travel. The idea
was that an empty seat doesn't earn the airline any money. So some
airlines would sell special fare "standby tickets". Using such a
ticket you were NOT guarranteed a seat on a particular flight, but on
the next flight with empty seats. You'd be enplaned on a flight
subject to the availability of space at departure time. This was only
after all passengers with reservations for the flight have been
boarded. Passengers from a previous flight who were bumped also had
priority. No stopovers were permitted on standby fares.
Since advance reservations were not accepted, you had to get to the
gate early to put yourself down on the standby list. If it was a busy
day and the flights are full, you would have to wait several hours to
get a seat, or maybe not get a seat at all. A standby ticket didn't
guarrantee you a seat, but if you did not absolutely, positively have
to be there tomorrow, you could get some good deals.
But the days when students could hang out at the airport and fly
standby for dirt cheap prices are long gone. The term "standby" is
still used, but doesn't mean what it used to:
1. Most airlines no longer sell standby tickets at a special
fare, but will sell you a standby ticket at regular fare. In
other words, if they have space on the flight, the gate agent or
ticket agent will sell you a ticket for the flight on the spot.
All this means is you can buy a full fare ticket on the spur of
2. Nonrefundable, nonchangeable tickets can often be used for
standby travel on the same or similar route (sometimes with a
slight surcharge). This most often comes up if you missed your
flight (e.g., you arrive at the gate after the plane has left,
and catch another flight to the same destination later that day),
but you may be able to use unused flight coupons in
this manner. For example, if you bought a ticket but didn't go
for some reason (a reason that didn't entitle you to a refund), the
ticket may still be usable for standby travel on the same airline.
(Your best bet with such a ticket, however, is to have your
travel agent or airline credit it towards your next ticket.
You'll probably have to pay a fee, but it's better than throwing
away the ticket.) All this is often at the whim of the gate
agent, and is based on the notion that a ticket is often
designated as being good for travel on the airline for one year
from the date of issue. Your luck will vary by airline and gate agent.
3. If you're on a later flight but get to the airport early,
check with the attendant at the gate. You may be able to get on the
earlier flight is there's space available (but this may result in your
getting no "snack" or losing your special meal). This works even
for "non-changeable" tickets.
Airlines stopped the practice of selling standby tickets for a variety
1. Even if a seat isn't taken, putting somebody in the seat still
costs the airline some money (e.g., fuel).
2. Standby travel played havoc with airline load management programs.
Airlines were sometimes faced with having to unload fuel to
change the weight distribution of the aircraft because of a
sudden appearance of several standby passengers.
3. Some people would "ensure" the availability of standby seats by
making a large number of regular reservations, and then an hour
before the flight release the block of seats, virtually ensuring
that standby passengers will get aboard at cheap standby fares.
This caused airlines to overbook flights, and eliminated their
ability to schedule their flights accurately. Since the
elimination of standby tickets, overbooking errors have dropped
significantly. (Another result of this practice is the automatic
cancellation of unpaid reservations after 24 hours.)
4. Airlines felt that they were losing regular business to standby travel.
Flying standby, however, may be making a comeback. In 1993, some
airlines had special one-day fares for folks traveling on Christmas
and New Years. These holidays are the nadir of the travel season, so
by offering these fares, the airlines were able to increase their
business on flights they had to fly anyway. (Yes, airlines still have
to fly the routes, even with empty planes, because scheduling is so
complex. For example, the plane in Atlanta might need to fly to Boston
so that it can be used on the Boston-Washington route later in the
next day.) Now these holiday fares weren't true standby fares, but
the concept was similar. Since most flights these days fly at 85-95%
of capacity, one of these days an airline is going to get the bright
idea of reinstating standby fares in one variation or another. For
example, some airlines now sell discount flight coupon booklets to
senior citizens; the coupons may be used for standby travel. And of
course, US Air Force personnel can fly standby on some US Air Force
planes on a space available basis for dirt cheap prices, but with no
amenities (and maybe no real seat either, but strapped to webbing on
Some foreign airlines still provide standby fares, sometimes limited
If you are flying standby one way or another, here's some advice:
- Make sure you get to the gate EARLY. If several people are
flying standby, you want to make sure that your name is first on
the list. Note that connecting passengers, bumped passengers,
etc., get priority over local boarding standbys.
- Days which are bad for getting bumped are usually good days for
standby seats. Don't fly standby on the day before Thanksgiving
or the Sunday after, you won't get a seat. On Thanksgiving day
itself, you're likely to find a seat.
- On really busy days it might pay to show up early for the
*first* flight of the day, since standbys who don't make it can
"roll over" to the next flight.
Some airlines will only allow "same day" standby travel (i.e., you
overslept and missed your flight, and will take a flight on the same
route later that day). Others will not allow you to fly standby on a
flight if all the seats in your fare class have sold out, even if
there are empty seats available. If the agent at the check-in counter
gives you trouble, go directly to the gate and see what happens.
[Agents at the check-in counter are under more pressure to enforce the
rules than gate agents, who have some discretionary power. If you can
avoid dealing with the agents at the check-in counter, (e.g., no
checked baggage), so much the better.] If you want to try flying
standby on one airline using another airline's ticket, bypass the
check-in agent and go directly to the gate.
Most airline employees (and their spouses and dependents) can fly
standby on that airline for cheap or free (as "representatives" of the
airline). Crew who must reach their destination for work purposes have
priority over all non-revenue passengers. Active employees have
priority over retired employees and dependents of an employee. There
is a pretty strict dress code -- suit and ties for men, and similar
requirements for women -- so you can't fly wearing a jogging suit.
Subject: [1-17] Getting Bumped
[Note: Most of the comments in this section apply to US domestic flights
only. US Department of Transportation rules apply only to flights
between points in the US. Airlines do not need to give any
compensation for international flights, so what, if anything, you get
for an involuntary bump is entirely up to the airline.]
Airlines tend to overbook their flights in case of no-shows. (Airlines
also ignore the overbook limit when a customer is buing a full-fare
ticket, because the cost of bribing volunteers with a bump ticket is
usually less than the additional income derived from a full-fare
ticket.) Occasionally this will mean that more people show up with
confirmed reservations than there are seats on the plane. (Or if the
flight is a particularly full one, it may exceed the weight limit even
with empty seats.) The airline will ask if there's anyone willing to
be bumped from the flight in exchange for compensation (e.g., USAir
will give you a free round-trip ticket anywhere in North America). The
airline will then put you on the next available flight to your
destination, along with your free ticket.
Vouchers are typically valid for only a year from date of issue. But
if you ask *before you get the ticket*, you can sometimes get it
extended for a month or two beyond the year limitation. (Some folks
have reported success in getting vouchers extended a month or so
before expiration.) If your voucher is expiring you can also try using
it to get a ticket with a particular origin and destination
but no specific departure and return dates. Such tickets should be
good for 12 months. Many bump vouchers, however, prohibit exchanging them
for such "open" tickets. An alternative is to use the voucher to book
a flight to your favorite destination for some likely dates. If the
dates don't work out, you can usually rebook the tickets for different
dates for a small fee.
So another way to reduce the cost of flying is to volunteer to be
bumped. You can maximize your chances of being bumped by purchasing a
confirmed reservation on flights that are most likely to be full. A
good time is 7-10 am or 4-7 pm on a weekday (especially Monday morning
and Friday afternoon). These are the times most businessmen fly
(trying to make early morning meetings or to get home for dinner in
the evening), and hence when the airline is most likely to be
overbooked. Airlines are also likely to be overbooked on Sunday nights
(early evening) and the beginning and end of holidays, since that is
when non-businessmen typically fly. For example, right before
Thanksgiving and the Sunday or Monday after are prime bumping times.
The same is true of typical spring break destinations toward the end
of March and beginning of April. Receiving a free roundtrip ticket
effectively cuts your air travel costs in half. And if you get bumped
while using a previous free bump ticket, it gets even cheaper.
Even on the best days for being bumped, the likelihood is still rather
low. Airline yield software has been getting better and better, so it
is uncommon for bumping to occur. The DOT figures cited in [4-4]
show that American had an involuntary bump rate of 1 in 200,000 in 1993.
(These figures do NOT include voluntary bumps, which are more likely.
The DOT does not collect statistics on voluntary bumping. Note also
that American had the lowest involuntarily bump rate. The likelihood
of your being bumped voluntarily on an average carrier is probably
close to 1 in 10,000.)
If you want to be bumped and notice that the flight looks full, get to
the gate as early as possible (e.g., 1-2 hours before departure) and ask
the gate agent whether they are overbooked. If they are, they will
need volunteers. Ask them to put your name on the bump list (aka "bump
queue"). Bump tickets are offered on a first come/first served basis,
so you want to get your name near the top of the list. This will give
you priority if there are only a few bumps. Note, however, that by
pre-volunteering, you're only likely to get a free ticket in addition
to rebooking on a flight later that day. If nobody volunteers and you
wait until they ask for volunteers, you can sometimes up the ante,
depending on how desperate they get. (Some airlines give all
volunteers the same thing, no matter when they volunteered. Others
will process you as soon as you volunteer, so the later you volunteer,
the better the incentive.) In general, you should put your name on the
bump list, and don't wait until the airline calls for volunteers.
Enough people volunteer ahead of time these days that if you don't put
your name on the list, you won't have the opportunity to be bumped
(except on very rare occasions, when not enough people volunteer).
When you get your bump ticket and are being rebooked on a later
flight, if the delay is a few hours, ask the gate agent if they can
give you a meal voucher. This voucher, which is worth $5-$10, can be
used at airport restaurants to get something to eat. Not every airline
and not every gate agent will give you one, and they certainly won't
give you one if you don't ask for it, but sometimes they will. If you
have any other special requirements (e.g., you want extra frequent
flyer credits, you want the free ticket to be good for an extra month,
etc.) it doesn't hurt to ask.
If you have a confirmed reservation, and you notice the flight is
overbooked but first class is underbooked and you don't necessarily
want to be bumped, try being the last person on line. If you are lucky
the coach and business class will be full, and they will have to
upgrade you to first class at no charge. (Also, having a pre-issued
boarding pass will decrease your chances of an involuntary bump.) This
is risky, though, because you might wind up being bumped anyway, so
only do it if you don't care whether you'll be bumped.
It always pays to volunteer to be bumped, even if the flight isn't
overbooked. If the airline needs adjacent seating for a family, they
will sometimes bump you into first class if you are in a row by
When you arrive at the airport, check the flight schedules to see
which flights (on the airline and its competitors) will be departing
for your destination, and when. Airlines are extremely reluctant to
book a volunteer on another carrier, so if you get bumped on the last
flight to your destination, you may have to stay overnight at a hotel.
Good days to get bumped include: Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Sunday
after; couple days before and after Christmas weekend; ditto with New Years.
Friday afternoons, evenings, and Sunday afternoons and evenings also
bump a lot.
Another trick is to ask your travel agent which flights are full or
nearly full and to purchase tickets for one of those flights. (Not
every travel agent will let you do this.) Note, however, that you
probably won't be able to get the discount rate for such a flight,
since all the seats in the discount coach fare class have probably
been sold. Also, if a flight has reached the overbook limit, you won't
be able to buy any ticket for the flight, except perhaps a full fare
If the airline still has plenty of coach seats a day or so before the
flight, it is unlikely that they will bump.
Here's what some airlines usually give volunteers:
Delta, USAir: Open roundtrip
(Delta requires reservations three days before flight time on
United: Travel voucher in increments of $100 based on how long you have
to wait for your next flight (e.g., 2 hour wait is $200), up to
a maximum of $300. You can also ask for a food voucher.
Continental: US domestic roundtrip ticket. Sometimes offers a
dollar amount in credit to be used towards any Continental
flight (e.g., $300).
American, America West, Southwest, Northwest: $$ off another
ticket (usually $150 to $300; Northwest generally around $300;
American has been known to go as high as $1000.)
Dollar-denominated vouchers are not subject to tax, so they
stretch further. Amounts depend on the degree of overbooking of
the flight. United sometimes will also issue a
United bumps more than average, Delta less.
Air Canada offers $150 cash or $300 in travel vouchers.
If you are bumped and the next flight out is the next day, the airline
may offer you overnight accomodation in addition, especially if you
are bumped while away from home.
Most bump tickets (vouchers) are non-transferable, so you must use
them yourself. If the voucher must be exchanged for a ticket,
you may be able to have the ticket issued in someone else's name,
given a reasonable excuse (e.g., your girlfriend/boyfriend).
If you are bumped (voluntarily or involuntarily) and have checked
baggage, the airline will not remove your bags from the plane. The bags
will continue on to your destination and wait there until you arrive.
So if you're planning to be bumped, bring enough clean clothes in your
carry-on to last you a day or two just in case your bags are lost or
stolen by the time you arrive, or you get stuck at a connection.
If you get bumped or your flight is canceled and need to stay at a
hotel overnight, hotels near the airport will often give you
a substantial discount if you ask for it (50% discount is not unheard
of). Ask for the "Distressed Passenger Rate". Airlines also have
overnight kits they can give you.
A flight being cancelled is *not* the same as being bumped. Bumping
occurs only when the carrier has more passengers with confirmed
tickets on the flight than seats. You can get compensation if you are
bumped, but not if the flight is cancelled.
If airline delays cause you extra expense, the airlines may be willing
to help you out. For example, if the airline delay caused you to miss
the cheap bus shuttle service to downtown, the airline may be willing
to pay the difference between cab fare and shuttle fare. But in
general, there aren't any policies for compensation (e.g., meals, hotel,
etc.) that must be given to bumped and delayed passengers. Some
airlines are very nice and will give you food coupons if you ask, some
Under Department of Transportation rules, an involuntarily bumped
traveler who is delayed more than one hour but less than two on a
US domestic flight is entitled to $200 or 100 percent of the one-way
fare, whichever is less (the airline must also honor the original
ticket). For delays longer than two hours, the compensation doubles.
The calculation of delay is according to the time of arrival at the
destination. Airlines can offer you a travel voucher (for a free
US domestic round-trip ticket) in lieu of cash, but must give you the
cash if that's what you want. Airlines like bumped volunteers because
free travel vouchers cost them less than the cash compensation they're
required to offer involuntarily bumped passengers. Approximately 1 in
10,000 passengers is bumped involuntarily. (If the involuntarily
bumped passengers are put on a flight which brings them to their
destination within an hour of the original flight time, the airline
has met its requirement.) Anything more is strictly the policy of the
airline, which is stated in its Conditions of Carriage statement. (To
obtain this statement, get it either from your travel agent or by
writing to the customer affairs office of your airline. Be sure to ask
for the full copy of the conditions; otherwise they'll give you just a
three page summary of the limitations of liability sections.) Note
that these rules do NOT apply to delayed passengers in general, just
to involuntarily bumped passengers.
According to a 1994 Supreme Court ruling, passengers who are denied
boarding can sue the airline for compensatory damages, but not punitive
damages. So in most cases you are better off accepting the
compensation offered by the airlines.
Note that if you don't show up at the gate 15 minutes before
departure, the airline can involuntarily bump you and not owe you
There are no rules governing compensation for volunteers -- airlines
can offer as little or as much as it takes to bid you off the flight.
Delta restricts reservations using volunteer bumped vouchers
to two days in advance.
Re-booking: Most volunteers are routinely booked on another flight
within a few hours, but re-routing isn't a legal requirement. Before
giving up your seat, ask when the next flight leaves, whether you'll
have a confirmed or standby reservation and (if the flight is with
another carrier) whether you'll have to pay additional fare.
Negotiating: Most airline managers can escalate compensation offers in
an attempt to get enough volunteers. So you might get a better deal by
simply asking for one. American Airlines, which has the lowest rate of
involuntary bumpees in the industry, tends to be the most generous
with compensation for volunteers.
Sometimes, when all of the airline's flights are full, they will
reroute you on another airline. However, if you are flying on a free
ticket (e.g., frequent flyer ticket, previous bump ticket), they may
not be willing to endorse your ticket over to the other airline. (It
doesn't hurt to ask.) So they'll have to send you out on another
flight later that day. If this happens and "inconveniences" you (i.e.,
you have to wait another hour or so), you may be able to weasel
something else out of the airline -- a roll of quarters for the
pinball machine, use of their club facilities, first class
accomodations on the later flight, meal voucher, or something.
If you volunteer and they don't need to bump you, you don't lose your
seat. If you volunteer, they need you, and you change your mind, you
may lose your seat, and wind up in a random seat. That is, of course,
if the airline decides to accommodate you. Once you've volunteered and
they've accepted your offer, you can't really reneg on it.
If you are bumped on an international flight, the airline will reroute
you but generally not offer you any extra compensation. Involuntary
reroutings may involve upgrading your class of service (at no extra
cost to you) or putting you on a different carrier to your destination
at the same or higher class of service. If rerouting you requires an
overnight stay, the airline will provide you with vouchers for hotel
rooms and meals. But you won't get any free tickets, and writing a
letter of complaint to the airline probably won't get you anything.
(The only case where complaining will get you something is if you paid
for a first class ticket, and they rerouted you on a lower class of
service. If this occurs, ask the airline to refund the difference in
fares.) If you're traveling international and don't want to be bumped,
buy a first class ticket. Airlines rarely bump first class passengers.
Subject: [1-18] Special Travel Dates/Fare Sales/Fare Wars
This section describes several recent categories of fare sales.
When one airline announces a sale or promotion, many other airlines will match
it. But they may not match it in all markets. Some circumstances in
which the other airlines might not match the fare sale in a given
+ When the original airline's sale is for a flight that involves a
connection and the other airlines provide non-stop service.
+ When the market isn't a competitive market. For example, when the
airline holds a virtual monopoly on a particular airport (e.g.,
USAir in Pittsburgh). They may match the fare for flights through
the hub, but not for flights originating at the hub.
+ When the airline's bookings are already strong for the period
covered by the sale, and they don't feel the need to compete.
Not all the airlines that match a sale will necessarily impose the
same restrictions. So it may pay to shop around.
Fare sales are most likely during the early fall (mid-September
through mid-November), when airlines begin to worry about their
fourth-quarter financial performance. Other good times are late summer
and early spring. There are currently about 8 major fare sales a year,
and you can expect that airlines will start acting like department
stores with sales every month or two. When an airline gets
the jump on its competitors with the announcement of a fare sale --
even if by just half a day -- it gets a significant edge in terms of
the number of reservations.
The greatest discounts are usually on the most expensive routes.
Markets where prices are already low due to competition tend to have
Except for the original airfare war during the summer of 1993,
media use of the term 'Fare War' for fare sales is a misnomer. To
some extent airlines try to stir up consumer excitement by using the
The most common kind of fare sale has the following characteristics:
+ midweek flights (departure on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday)
or other offpeak times (e.g., Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving)
+ UP TO 50% off round-trip tickets (most discounts
substantially less, around 10% to 15%)
+ Saturday night stay, 14-day advance purchase
+ limited purchasing window (1-2 weeks); travel completed
during a large travel window (2 months)
+ restricted to competitive routes
+ limited number of seats available
Some popular times for air fare sales:
+ Just after Labor Day, for travel between late September and
mid December, with blackout dates around the holidays.
+ From mid-July to late July for early fall travel.
(e.g., Continental July 17, 1994)
+ Early August for fall travel. (e.g., America West on 3-AUG-94
and Continental on 19-AUG-94)
+ Winter, from early December through mid-February, with blackout days
around Christmas and New Years. (e.g., Continental on 25-NOV-94)
These sales offer one-way fares for up to 50% off of the usual
fare. Since round-trip fares are already 50% off the price of the
equivalent pair of one-way tickets, such sales do not affect the
consumer much (but do generate consumer sales anyway due to the
excitement of a "Fare War!!!").
Southwest routinely offers $25 fares (per non-stop flight segment) on
flights that leave after 7pm local time on Monday nights, September 12
through December 26, 1994. The restrictions eliminate many of the
airline's flights, but it is still a good deal if your schedule and
destination happens to meet the restrictions. The promotion is part of
Southwest's sponsorship of ABC's Monday night football.
Two-for-one sales, also known as companion fares ("Friend Flies
Free" or "Add a Pal for a Penny"), offer passengers
traveling together two tickets for the price of one. However, the
seats are usually limited, and may not apply to the cheapest coach
class tickets. So for folks who were traveling in pairs anyway, the
discounts come closer to 25% off than the "up to 50% off"
advertised by the airlines, when you take everything into account.
(Sure, you're saving 50% off the price of the ticket, but if you were
buying a single ticket, you'd get a cheaper ticket.) Both passengers
must travel together on all legs of the itinerary. There must also
be two passengers -- you can't claim a free ticket for a fictitious
friend just to have an empty seat next to you.
Nadir Days Fare Sales:
There are several days of the year when air travel hits rock bottom,
like December 25, January 1, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the 4th of July.
Airlines can't simply reduce their operations on these days, because
of scheduling difficulties. A flight from San Jose to Boston must
still fly on schedule, even if there are no passengers on board,
because that plane must be in Boston the next day when the normal load
An empty seat doesn't earn the airline any money. So several airlines
have started special one-day fare sales on peak-minimum days. For
example, a round trip ticket from Pittsburgh to Boston on the Sunday
before the 4th of July cost only $100. The catch was that you had to fly
out after noon on Saturday and return by midnight Sunday.
Whiteout Fare Sales:
In an unusual twist, Delta cut fares about 30-40% on some of the least
popular travel days around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
Travel (both departure and return flights) must occur on November 17,
21, 24, or 25; December 15, 19, 20, 28; or January 4, 5 or 6. The
tickets are non-refundable and apply only to the 48 contiguous states.
Although Delta initially included the usual 14-day advance purchase and a
November 10, 1994 deadline to buy tickets, USAir and Continental have waived
those restrictions. (Note that the more popular travel days, such as
the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, have been excluded.) For
example, a round trip ticket from Pittsburgh to Boston flying on 11/21
and 11/25 costs $137, compare to the usual $200-$250.
Subject: [1-19] Moving Up the Return Flight
Departure dates on non-changeable tickers are inviolable -- you can't
change them without running into major obstacles. Return flights,
however, are sometimes a bit more flexible. You probably can't change
them before the departure, but sometimes you can change them afterwards.
For example, suppose you're flying to a conference that takes place
mid-week, but have to buy tickets that include a Saturday night stay.
Paying for an extra one or two day stay in a hotel (or student
housing) is cheaper than paying a full-price midweek fare. So you
need to pick a Saturday night, either the one before the conference or
the one after. To take advantage of the flexibility on return flights,
book the flight to include the Saturday night *after* the conference.
On the night before you want to leave, call the airline and tell them
you'd like to return early. If they have space available, they'll let
you return early (possibly with a $35 change fee). For example, if you
want to fly out on Friday, call them Thursday night. This isn't flying
standby, because they'll actually give you a reservation for the
Some travel agents use a similar trick to obtain inexpensive tickets
for their business customers. They'll issue a ticket with a Saturday
night stay at the discount rate, and provide the passenger with a
sticker to put on the return ticket after the outbound ticket has been
removed. The sticker reflects the earlier return flight. The travel
agent also changes the return date on the reservation after the
outbound ticket has been used. Since this is a slightly shady
practice, any other changes in the itinerary must also be made through
the travel agent, not the airline. Not all travel agents are willing
to do this, and then only for expensive tickets and their best
If you want to try moving up the departure date, go to the airport a
few hours before departure and ask. If they have room, they may let
you on. You will have more success asking at the gate; airport
ticketing/checkin agents tend to be sticklers for the rules.
If you ask before the day of departure, or try to get it
changed by calling the toll free number, the answer will almost
certainly be no (or involve additional fees).
Subject: [1-20] Hidden City Fares
A hidden city fare occurs when a flight from point A to point B
happens to make a connection in point C and is cheaper than a direct
flight from point A to point C. This is a quirk of the way in which
airlines price their routes, which has little to do with the distance
flown. The prices are driven by market conditions. Prices drop when
there is a lot of competition on a route. The flight from A to B might
be a very busy route, with several airlines serving that market, while
the A-C and C-B routes might be not as busy. Usually such hidden city
fares occur when A and C aren't hubs for the carrier in question, but
B is, and B is dominated by the airline. So the airline routes you
through B, but charges you less than if you were to purchase two
Theoretically, you could buy a ticket from A to B, get off at
point C, and throw away the B to C portion, saving some money, if
point C was your ultimate destination. Airlines frown on this
practice, and taking advantage of a hidden city fare is explicitly
forbidden by their rules. If you happen to skip a leg of your flight
(e.g., logged as a no-show on the airline's computer), the airline has
the right to cancel all subsequent legs, and will do so to discourage
folks from using hidden-city fares. So the only case in which you can
"safely" take advantage of a hidden-city fare is when you're taking a
one-way flight. If you buy a round-trip ticket from A to B through C,
skip the C to B leg, and try to board the return flight at B or C,
you'll find that your reservation has been cancelled and you'll be
required to buy a new ticket at the full-price one-way fare.
You also can't take advantage of a hidden city fare if you've checked any
baggage, as your baggage will be sent through to your ultimate
Airlines have started to really crack down on the use of hidden city
fares. They can not only cancel subsequent flights on their own lines,
but also recommend cancellation of subsequent flights on other
carriers. They've programmed their airline reservation systems to
watch out for hidden-city reservations, flagging potential violations
in the passenger's record, and in some cases will automatically cancel
all subsequent legs if one leg is skipped. Even if the reservation
system doesn't automatically cancel the subsequent legs, the agent at
check-in will see the warning flag and will be very suspicious of any
Some airlines (e.g., Delta) have a practice of checking you in for all
outbound flights at the point of origin. But this doesn't make them any
more susceptible to folks who use hidden city fares, because if you
don't show up for the return flight at B, they'll still cancel all
your remaining legs. Also, sometimes the boarding passes are marked
Hidden city fares happen most often when the connecting point is
dominated by one airline (the carrier of your flight) and the ultimate
destination is a competitive market.
If you happen to catch an earlier flight than your scheduled one, be
sure to reconfirm your subsequent flight segments. Any departure from
your ticketed reservation can potentially cause your itinerary to be
flagged as a hidden-city violation (e.g., "NOSH" for no-show), if the
gate agent didn't record the earlier flight properly.
If you're the dishonest type and are going to lie about actually
having taken the skipped segments, at least have the intelligence to
remove the ticket and boarding pass (keeping the stub of the boarding
pass) from the ticket packet. [I once saw a couple try this stunt in
New York, and the gate agent caught them at it. The wife had removed
her ticket and boarding pass; the husband hadn't. The husband claimed
that the gate agent at the hidden city had forgotten to remove the
ticket. The gate agent didn't let them on the flight because the
computer showed that they had missed TWO segments of their flight --
from the hidden city to their ultimate destination and back. In
addition, the gate agent had been on duty the last time they passed
through, and didn't remember seeing them board. The agent's supervisor
If you know in advance that you want to skip a segment of your flight
(e.g., you're flying from A to C via B, but want to get off in C,
visit with some friends, then drive up to B to visit some more friends
and return home), tell this to the travel agent when you buy the
ticket. They can make a note about it in the record so that your
return flight won't be automatically cancelled when you miss the B to
Subject: [1-21] Buying Someone Else's Nonrefundable Ticket
Many people, when they can't use their nonrefundable ticket (or the
return leg of a round trip ticket), try to sell their tickets through
classified advertisements. This can be a source of cheap air tickets.
However, you'll be traveling under someone else's name, and the
airlines frown on this practice. If they catch you doing this, you'll
be forced to pay full fare for the return flight (typically twice the
face value of the round-trip ticket), and the airline will cancel all
your frequent traveler miles and all the frequent flyer miles of the
person who originally bought the ticket. They may also terminate your
membership in their frequent flyer program. Their contract is with the
person named on the ticket, not with you. If the tickets are actually
stolen tickets, they will definitely catch you. Many airlines offer a
bounty to employees who confiscate such tickets.
Most airlines only check IDs on full flights or on fares that require
a special ID, such as a student ID. But more are checking IDs on
randomly selected tickets in an effort to discourage this practice.
All carriers reserve the right to require identification and to refuse
transportation if identification cannot be provided. For example
Northwest prints the following warning on the inside flap of the
"Photo identification is required for all passengers. Boarding may
be denied and ticket confiscated if passenger's identification does
not match the name on the ticket."
If the person named on the ticket checks in for you at the baggage
check-in counter, you'll probably run into trouble on the return trip.
If the airline catches you, you'll have to pay for a full fare one-way
ticket, which will negate any savings (and probably cost you more than
a round-trip would have). Plus, many airlines now check IDs on
boarding at the gate, to discourage this practice.
If the airplane should crash and you die, the airline won't have your
real name (which can affect life insurance policies), and this is just
plain unethical. Moreover, your legal rights are extended only to the
person named on the ticket (or their estate), so in the event of a
loss or claim against the carrier, you will have no legal recourse
But given that the airline pricing strategies try to game
the consumer market, some consumers feel they are entitled to game the
system right back. I NEITHER ADVISE NOR CONDONE USING THIS PRACTICE AS
A MEANS OF OBTAINING CHEAP AIR TRAVEL. This practice constitutes
fraud, and hence is illegal.
One thing, however, cannot be stressed enough: Never purchase such a
ticket for international travel. If the name on your ticket does not
match the name on your passport, you can get into a lot of trouble,
not just with the airline, but with Immigration, Customs, and the
police at your destination. The airlines are required to check your
travel documents before you are allowed to board the aircraft, so they
will compare the name on your ticket with the name on your passport.
Many countries require airlines to return passengers to their country
of origin (at airline expense) if the passenger is denied entrance
into the country. So airlines have some incentive to be careful. If,
by some fluke, they don't catch you, Immigration and Customs will also
inspect your travel documents. They also tend to compare the name on
the passport with the name on the bags. When they catch you, the
consequences can be a lot more serious than having to pay for a
full-fare ticket. Since traveling under false documents is often a
crime under the laws of the destination country, you will be subject
to the courts and punishments of the destination country, and there
will be little your embassy can do to help you.
Subject: [1-22] Discount Airlines
Regional airlines have started eating into the larger airlines by
offering discount travel on short and medium haul flights in high
demand routes. Advance purchase fares during off-peak hours on these
carriers can be dirt cheap. This section describes some of these carriers.
Note that some discount airlines are not full participants in the
computerized reservation systems, so you may have to call the airline
direct to purchase tickets. If you're connecting with another airline,
you may have to transfer your luggage yourself to the other carrier.
But if you can fit into their limited schedules, you can save a bundle.
Many discount airlines also provide "ticketless travel", where you
receive a receipt and a confirmation number instead of a ticket, just
like with rental cars. This reduces the amount of paper the airlines
must ship around.
The low-cost travel may also involve an elimination of many of the
frills common on larger airlines, such as meal service. Instead, you
may just get peanuts, or no food at all.
These discount airlines are expanding rapidly and are adding new
cities all the time.
MarkAir was founded in 1947 as Interior Airways, carrying cargo
within the state of Alaska. In 1984 they took on the name MarkAir
and began carrying passengers as a regional carrier. Beginning in
November of 1991, they started a major expansion to the lower 48
states, and now offer jet (737) service to 16 cities in the lower 48
states and 13 cities in the State of Alaska. Through MarkAir Express,
their commuter service, they provide transportation to 144 Alaskan
communities. Their service is low cost, with peanuts and drinks as
the main sustenance. Snacks meals are available only on longer haul
flights. Reservations 1-800-MARKAIR.
Need to write a description.
800-IFLY-SWA (800-435-9792) or 800-531-5601.
Flights to 41 cities in 19 states.
American Trans Air 800-382-5892, 800-225-2995
Flights between AZ, CA, FL, NY, Chicago and Indianapolis.
Serves different cities during different times of the year. During
the summer they have flights to Europe and Israel; in the winter,
they have flights to the Carribean. Some of these operate as
charter flights and some as regularly scheduled flights.
Carnival Airlines 800-437-2110, 800-8-AIR-FUN
Flights to FL, LA, and the Caribbean from the Northeast.
Jet Train 800-FLY-4-YOU
Their daily route is
Pittsburgh - New York (Newark) 7:45 am - 9:05 am
New York (Newark) - Orlando 9:45 am - 12:20 pm
Orlando - New York (Newark) 1:20 pm - 3:55 pm
New York (Newark) - Pittsburgh 4:35 pm - 5:55 pm
Kiwi International 800-538-5494, 908-353-3232
Flights between Chicago, Atlanta, Newark, and FL.
Midway Airlines 800-446-4392
Flights from Chicago's Midway Airport to eastern cities.
National Airlines 800-949-9400
Flights from Atlanta.
Reno Air 800-736-6247
Flights between AZ, CA, OR, NV, and WA.
Tower Air 800-221-2500
Flights between NY and Miami, LA, and San Francisco.
ValuJet 800-825-8538 (404-994-8258)
Flights via Atlanta to Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Georgia, and Washington DC (Dulles).
Subject: [1-23] Tour Desks
Airline "tour" desks (e.g., Flyaway Vacations on American) are
excellent sources of good fares on relatively short notice. For
example, "bulk" or unpublished fares are available with as little as
four days notice (and a $15 late booking fee if the reservation is
made less than 14 days prior to arrival) to many popular destinations.
The only catch is that a minimum land package must be booked; after
all, it is a "tour" package. But for some destinations (e.g., Hawaii
from the west coast), that's only a minimum two-day rental car. Other
embarkation points require a three-day minimum hotel stay, but the
rates are very attractive.
Other cities require a two-day minimum hotel stay, but this can be in
connection with the Holiday Inn voucher program (runs as little as $79
per room per night depending on the hotel category). The passenger
must book a "tour room" directly with a participating Holiday Inn --
and the airline rarely checks if the passenger actually made the
reservations. Also, the vouchers do not have to be used in connection
with a flight, and can be used anytime within a year from the date of
To combat fraud, such as folks cancelling the car rental and applying
for a refund, the land segment is usually non-refundable. Bulk fares
are also often blacked out during holidays, but this can vary by the
In essence, a tour package combines airfare with a minimum hotel stay
and/or car rental. Requirements vary with the destination and
embarkation point, but if you can meet the requirements, you may find
yourself saving some money.
These tour packages can be particularly useful to business folks who
don't want to stay over a Saturday night. The savings on the flight
can more than make up the cost of the hotel stay, especially when
compared with the cost of a last-minute non-supersaver fare.
Many airlines are starting to outsource their tour calls to
contractors, as they aren't very profitable to the airlines. How this
will affect the availability of such deals is unknown.