The airline industry has a serious image problem as many reports have shown it ranks towards the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys. The industry can blame high fuel costs for rising airfares, but they have no one but themselves to blame for the way their quality has gone down as they have antagonized their customers with a variety of fees that are constantly increasing. In response, travelers have been thinking of themselves less as customers and more as adversaries in a battle over their scarce business or vacation budget. Out of this new relationship emerges seven innovative ways to minimize your travel expenses while circumventing customer hostile policies.
1. Beat Checked Bag Fees
There are several strategies to avoid these fees and still take enough luggage for your trip. Carefully review the airline’s policies to ensure that you are carrying on the maximum allowed in both size and weight. Consider gate checking suitcases as airlines rarely charge for this service. Carry on heavy items in order to keep your checked bags below the weight limit, and consider wearing bulky items such as coats and boots.
2. Get An Empty Middle Seat
When traveling as a couple, you can increase your chances of enjoying a little extra space by booking aisle and window seats with a middle seat between the two of you. In the event that the aircraft is not full, it will likely be these middle seats that are unoccupied. Should someone claim that seat, they will gladly accept your offer of a window or an aisle, allowing you to sit next to your traveling companion.
3. Get Around Change Fees
Airlines change their schedules all the time without compensating their passengers, yet when your schedule changes, you are expected to pay a “change fee” that can be as much as $250 on international flights. It is sometimes possible to get around these fees in the right circumstance.
When you have booked a flight many months in advance, there is a strong possibility that the airline will change its schedule, as most carriers do every ninety days. Even a small change must be accepted by passengers who have already booked their seats. Before approving these changes, you can ask the airline to change your reservation to another flight. The rules vary from company to company, but the reservation agents generally have the discretion to waive change fees in most instances.
4. Fly To A “Hidden City”
Airlines use sophisticated computers in order to price tickets from the origin to the destinations, irrespective of intermediate stop over points. Multiple carriers compete with each other based on these city pairs as well. As a consequence, it often costs more to travel from point A to point B than it costs to purchase a ticket from point A to point C, with a change of planes at point B.
To take advantage of this bizarre pricing, customers can purchase the lower fare and simply leave the airport at the stop over point. Travel experts refer to the covert destination as the “Hidden City.” Most airlines have rules against this, but this practice breaks no laws. The only potential penalty the airlines can enforce is to cancel your remaining itinerary and freeze your frequent flier account. To avoid this, only book hidden city tickets as one way flights and don’t let them track you by using your frequent flier number. Finally, do not check bags as they will always go to your ticketed destination, not the hidden city.
5. Find Partner Award Seats
Airline miles used to be a fantastic way to travel for free. Today, it is extremely difficult to find award seats at the lowest mileage levels. As hard as it is to find these awards on flights operated by the company’s aircraft, most airlines make it difficult just to search for additional awards offered by their partners. They simply have no incentive to make it easy as they have to pay the other carriers when members of their frequent flier program book award seats with their partners.
You can find these partner award seats, but only if you are creative. The key strategy is to search the web sites of other partners within the same alliance. For example, US Airways partner awards can be found by searching the web site of fellow Star Alliance partner, ANA Airlines. Partner awards on Delta airlines can be found by looking for awards on SkyTeam member, Air France’s website. And American’s partner award seats can be uncovered by going to Qantas’s website, another OneWorld Alliance partner.
6. Search For Fares One Seat At A Time
Airlines sell seats in many different fares for the same flight, and individual customers are always offered a seat in the lowest fare group. When customers search for multiple seats, airlines will only offer seats in the lowest fare group for which there is space for all passengers. The result is that two passengers will be denied the lowest fare if there is only one seat left at that price. To avoid this, search for one seat only before booking the entire group. If the group sees higher fares than the single seat price, you know that there is a limited number of tickets left in that price group. You can then book your group under multiple reservations and receive the lower price for at least a portion of your party.
7. Take Your Business Elsewhere
Airlines treat their customers with such disdain that it seems like they feel you don’t have any choice but to fly with them. Nevertheless, you almost always have the option to take your money to an airline that has policies that are more favorable to your needs. For example, Southwest airlines offers all of its customers two checked bags for free and does not prohibit hidden city itineraries. Frontier Airlines will accept a bicycle as checked luggage without charging anything beyond its normal checked bag fees, while Delta charges an additional $150 each way per bike. The important thing is to learn the policies of your airline before you purchase your ticket, and search for better options if you don’t like the answers you find.
The airlines have created their systems of complex rules and outrageous fees, and it is their customers who are forced to live with them. Fortunately, there are many ways you can outsmart these companies, save money, and still have a decent flight.