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November 17, 2010

Hipmunk Takes Some of the Agony out of Finding the Best Airfare

Hipmunk photo

Big news broke yesterday about Hipmunk—the refreshingly simple and consumer-friendly new site for finding the best airfare, founded by Silicon Valley wunderkinds 22-year-old Adam Goldstein and 27-year-old Steve Huffman. The news, which they told me here at the PhoCusWright travel tech conference in Phoenix, is that the fares will now be provided by ITA Software, my favorite airfare search engine and one of the "magic tools" I recommended you use in my latest Perrin Report column. Getting its airfare data from ITA means that Hipmunk will now have a more accurate and comprehensive set of fares from which to draw and that they can add flexible date search and other cool features. It also means that Hipmunk is now one of the sources you should check when shopping for a flight.

What Hipmunk offers that other sites don't is the ability to filter your airfare search results not just by lowest price but by best value for your dollar. You can sort by "agony"—which is a combination of three factors: price of flight, length of flight, and number of connections—and get a list of your flight options in order from least agonizing to most agonizing.

Continue reading "Hipmunk Takes Some of the Agony out of Finding the Best Airfare" »

November 15, 2010

Remember This the Next Time You Reach for an Airsickness Bag

Gulfstream International Airlines Beechcraft 19-seat prop plane
The tiny Gulfstream prop plane that I flew from Nassau, Bahamas, to Fort Lauderdale earlier this month

Gulfstream International Airlines announced ten days ago that it had filed for Chapter 11. I can't say I'll shed a tear. The next day I was on a Gulfstream 19-seater (a Continental Connection flight) from Nassau to Fort Lauderdale when one of the most disgusting things in all my years of travel happened to me. (Yes, even worse than that public toilet in Luang Prabang in 2001). 

Caught in the wash of Hurricane Tomas, our flight got bumpy and my eight-year-old started feeling nauseated. I reached for his airsickness bag, stuck my hand in to open it fully for him...and my hand came out dripping. Yes, the bag had been used by a previous passenger! So I looked in my own seatpocket...and there was no airsickness bag at all.

Lesson learned: On bumpy hops on tiny planes, bring your own airsickness bag. And hand sanitizer!

What's your most disgusting travel moment?

November 08, 2010

16 Magic Web Tools To Save You Time, Money, and Headaches

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Should you buy your airline ticket now or wait because the price may drop? Is there a better coach seat on your overnight flight than the one you've been assigned? How long will it take to walk from your hotel or cruise-ship dock to the sights and restaurants on your itinerary?

You can get answers to these questions and many more via the 16 magic travel sites listed in my Perrin Report column in Condé Nast Traveler's November issue. Here's a snippet:

AirfareWatchdog.com
The real live human-being fare wonks behind AirfareWatchdog find low fares that automated airfare search engines may miss. The result: a list that includes unadvertised sales and promo-code fares (AirfareWatchdog tells you which codes to use). Sign up for e-mail alerts for low fares from your home airport, as well as "to a city" alerts that list fares from various airports to your destination. Say you want to fly from Houston to Kona, Hawaii. The Houston-Kona fare might be $800, whereas the Dallas-Kona one might be $350. If you'd signed up to see all the fares to Kona, you'd know to combine the Dallas-Kona fare with a cheap Houston-Dallas ticket.

AutoSlash.com
Seeking the best price for a car rental? It's tough if you haven't got time to check back every so often to see if rates have dropped or to sort through all the rental-car discount coupons you get in the mail (often from airline loyalty programs). Luckily, Auto­Slash does this for you. It searches for the lowest rates, using all manner of publicly available discounts in its search (you needn't know any promo codes; it enters them for you), and once you've booked, keeps repricing your rental automatically. If the rate drops, it alerts you so you can rebook at the lower price.

Read the full list, then click "Leave a comment" below and tell me: What's your favorite magic tool for planning and booking travel?

March 08, 2010

Even MORE of Your Pressing Frequent-Flyer Questions Answered!

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Admit it. You wish you knew the answers to all those burning mileage-award questions that didn't get answered by Randy Petersen in our FlyerTalk Challenge.  So do I.  But there were more than 100 of them. Who could possibly have the time, the patience, the sheer mileage obsession, to step up and volunteer to answer them?

The Global Traveller, that's who. If you're a FlyerTalker, you know him by his FT handle, Kiwi Flyer, and by his FT blog, The Gate. If you're a loyal Perrin Post reader, you know him because of his frequent insightful comments here. He's been one of my favorite air warriors ever since he flew halfway around the world to meet me for lunch 2 1/2 years ago (see "I Was a Stop on His Mileage Run").  And, as if writing three blogs -- in addition to The Gate, he writes Musings of the Global Traveller and Real Cheap Air Fares -- didn't eat up enough of his time, he is now digging into your remaining miles-and-points quandaries!  Incredibly nice guy or masochist?  I don't know. All I know is Conde Nast Traveler readers are lucky to have him as their friend.

The first batch of questions he's answered involve elite frequent-flier status: how to work it, how never to lose it, when it's worth killing yourself to attain it and when it's not....

Continue reading "Even MORE of Your Pressing Frequent-Flyer Questions Answered!" »

February 24, 2010

Forced to Pay an Airline Fee I Didn't Owe

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A Hawaiian Airlines “customer experience agent” spoiling my customer experience at Kona International Airport two days ago.

Have you ever wrongly been charged a fee at an airport check-in counter? And you had to just shut up and pay, or you'd miss your flight?

It happened to me on Monday in Kona, Hawaii. My family and I were flying back to Oahu (where we are now) after a week on the Big Island. The Hawaiian Airlines check-in agent insisted we owed $40 in luggage fees: $10 per bag times four checked bags. I insisted we did not, showing her my credit card that waives luggage fees: I had booked my family’s airline itinerary--from Newark to Honolulu to Kona to Honolulu to Newark--on Continental, and I carry a Continental Airlines Presidential Plus MasterCard that waives fees for checked luggage on flights booked through Continental.

The Kona check-in agent would not budge, even after I told her that a week earlier the Honolulu check-in agent had waived the fee after I'd shown her my credit card. The Kona agent said the Honolulu agent had been flat-out wrong. I had no choice but to pay the $40 or miss my flight, so I charged it to the MasterCard in question.

Yesterday I called the number on the back of the credit card to report what had happened and, sure enough, they said that I should not have been charged the luggage fees and that the $40 charge will be removed from my bill.

There are two morals to this story:

Continue reading "Forced to Pay an Airline Fee I Didn't Owe" »

February 10, 2010

Lessons Learned from a Cancelled Flight

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Photo: Telstar Logistics / CC BY 2.0

I was supposed to fly to Hawaii today. Then the snowpocalypse hit. My Continental flight out of Newark was cancelled. And suddenly I was faced with the daunting prospect of trying to reschedule my family of four on flights from Newark to Honolulu to Kona and back during the Presidents' Week holiday.

Instead of arriving in Honolulu tonight via a nonstop, we'll now be arriving on Sunday, after an overnight in Houston.  Still, I consider myself lucky: Continental let me reschedule not only our outbound flight to Hawaii but our return flight as well, enabling us to make up for our four lost days in Honolulu on the back end of our trip.  Plus we suffered no financial penalty--neither from the airline nor from the hotel we were supposed to stay in starting tonight.

The lessons I learned might prove useful to you the next time a big snowstorm hits and threatens to ruin your vacation:

Continue reading "Lessons Learned from a Cancelled Flight" »

December 22, 2009

How to Cope with Holiday Flight Cancellations, Overbooked Planes, and Other Airline Adversity

ts_snow_airport_delay_091221.jpg
Photo: yahya/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The snowstorm this past weekend that canceled thousands of flights and stranded thousands of airline passengers--just before the peak Christmas travel period--serves as a reminder that U.S. travelers have few rights when their flights are delayed or canceled. An airline's only obligation is to get you to your destination eventually; it doesn't owe you compensation for damages. Which is no comfort to travelers like Susan Karpa, who wrote in with this sad story:

"My husband and I were booked on a Uniworld holiday market cruise on the Rhine. We were scheduled to depart Chicago O'Hare yesterday and arrive in Basel, Switzerland, today. The heavy storms on the East Coast cancelled our USAirways flights. After an agent at the airport service counter spent 2.5 hours trying to get us to our destination, it became apparent that this was not going to happen. The only possible flight is for arrival on December 24, when the ship will be in another location. Uniworld is unwilling to give us a voucher for later travel, as we did not buy the travel insurance. We are out almost $3,500."

Yikes. Unfortunately, I can't help Susan with her predicament (she should have bought the insurance), but I can tell you that if you're hitting an airport this holiday season, you should follow these steps to minimize the damage that flight delays and cancellations can do to your travel plans:

Continue reading "How to Cope with Holiday Flight Cancellations, Overbooked Planes, and Other Airline Adversity" »

October 12, 2009

The Embarrassing but True Story of My "Lost" iPhone...and How Continental Airlines Came to the Rescue

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In my hand is the record of a Continental Airlines captain's efforts to help me find my lost iPhone last week
.

The moment I boarded my Continental flight from Newark to Houston on Thursday, panic set in: I couldn't find my iPhone.

I had spent the past hour working on my laptop at the gate--and unpacking, using, and repacking various accessories, cords, battery chargers, and other gadgets--so I assumed the iPhone had somehow slipped out of my bag of gear and been left behind. Immediately after arriving at seat 16D and stowing my wheelie in the overhead bin, I begged the flight attendants to let me off the plane so I could go back to the gate area and search for the phone. They did but, alas, the phone was nowhere to be found.

Seeing the look of dismay on my face when I reboarded, the flight attendants could not have been more sympathetic. One spent about ten minutes suggesting Continental employees I could speak to at the Houston airport who might be able to help. Another suggested I write down my name, contact info, and the details of where I thought I'd left the phone, saying she'd take my note to the captain. Pictured above is the note that the captain sent back to me, showing that he'd made three calls to Newark, asking them to be on the lookout for the lost phone.

Continue reading "The Embarrassing but True Story of My "Lost" iPhone...and How Continental Airlines Came to the Rescue" »

September 09, 2009

The Art of the Airport Layover

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Click the map above to see a full size version

by Wendy Perrin

When we at Conde Nast Traveler force a blogger to fly tens of thousands of miles within the space of one month -- remember last year's Airport Layover Contest? -- our goal is to get him out of the airport as much as possible during the down time between flights.  Not so over at Wired.com. The stunt-loving sadists at Wired's Autopia blog won't let their guinea pig -- nicknamed "Terminal Man" -- leave the airport even once!

Remember those $599 JetBlue unlimited travel passes that were on sale last month? Our friends at Autopia bought one for 28-year-old blogger Brendan Ross, a.k.a. Terminal Man. He now gets to fly every day for the next month, endure as many as 68 flights in total, and never leave the airport unless it's on a plane. This is one journey I can't wait to follow. Brendan will soon begin blogging about his adventures, and he's already tweeting up a storm on Twitter

Autopia has invited readers to suggest where Brendan should fly and what he should do during his layovers, so if you've got recommendations, share them here. (We've provided a handy-dandy JetBlue route map to help you out.)

If, on the other hand, you're someone who prefers to spend layovers escaping the airport, check out the 180-or-so seriously creative layover suggestions, most of them international but many domestic, recommended by Perrin Post readers in our Airport Layover Contest. For easy scanning, we've copied and pasted the layover recommendations into this blog entry, after the jump:

Continue reading "The Art of the Airport Layover" »

March 24, 2009

Flying in the Caribbean? Beware CheapOair

Conde Nast Traveler contributor and Daily Beast consulting editor Lee Aitken recently ran into trouble booking Caribbean airline tickets for an assignment for the magazine. I thought you all should hear her story:

"Here's a scam to watch out for when you book local flights within the Caribbean. Big sites like Expedia don't deal with puddle jumpers like Dutch Antilles Express, so I used CheapOair to book short hops between Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. They were even offering $10 off each ticket. (Always looking out for the magazine's money!) CheapOair took my money, confirmed my reservation, then emailed me that they couldn't book the flights I'd chosen for a "technical reason" unspecified. They proposed different flights at times that didn't suit our plans. So I got on the phone to Bangalore and said, "If you can't book the flight, I want you to refund my money." The poor operator there said they would be holding on to a $48 booking fee for each ticket. I raised hell about that, demanded a supervisor, and after a long time on hold was finally told they would refund ALL the money to my credit card (although we'll see if they do). Then I rebooked the flights directly with Dutch Antilles Express and discovered that its round-trip fare for Aruba to Bonaire is $75 lower than CheapOair's! How dare they call themselves CheapO? (Answer: Because people like me fall for it.)"


February 18, 2009

Planespotting at SXM

747_landing_at_sxm A Corsair 747 from Paris (Orly) landing at Sint Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport, as viewed from the Sunset Bar & Grill, Feb. 15, 2009.

by Wendy Perrin

The idea came from airplane junkie Benet Wilson over at Business Aviation Now:  Her tip for Sint Maarten was to hang out at the Sunset Bar & Grill--a super-casual barefoot beach bar that sits on Maho Beach right at the end of the airport's runway--and watch the planes come in.

But I wouldn't have been there at just the right moment if it weren't for Perrin Post reader TheGlobalTraveller (a.k.a. Kiwi Flyer of FlyerTalk's blog The Gate): When I asked on Twitter how to deduce what day/hour to hit Maho Beach so as to see both a 747 and an A340 (the biggest inbound planes) land within the shortest possible time frame, he pointed me to this cool FlightStats.com tool: Punch in the airport, and it will tell you which planes land when. It told me that, on Sunday the 15th, a Corsair 747 was due to land at 1:55 and an Air France A340 at 2:30. Bingo!

A340_landing_at_sxm_2
That's the Air France A340 that flew in from Paris (Charles de Gaulle) on Feb. 15, 2009.

Now, if you're on the beach when one of these giant planes comes in for a landing, you'll get sandblasted--or, as Benet aptly describes it, "exfoliated."  If you're standing behind a huge plane that's powering up its engines for take-off, you can get blown right into the surf.

Danger_sign_at_sxm_2
Maho Beach sits just across the road from this.

To see more planes--and sandblasted spectators--click to the next page:

Continue reading "Planespotting at SXM" »

January 29, 2009

Got Five Minutes and Need a Laugh?

by Wendy Perrin

Just a quick note to let you know that the U.K. Telegraph has published a passenger complaint letter written to Virgin Atlantic's Sir Richard Branson that is described as possibly "the world's funniest passenger complaint letter." Don't miss it.

January 16, 2009

"Miracle on the Hudson"

by Wendy Perrin

Conde Nast Traveler aviation correspondent Barbara Peterson learned how to ditch an aircraft as part of a flight attendant training course she underwent a few years ago. She shares her take on yesterday's incredible events--a USAirways flight landing in the Hudson River, with all 155 passengers and crew surviving!--on our sister site The Daily Traveler. Check it out here.

January 08, 2009

Transatlantic Business-Class Comfort for Only $1,000 Round-trip

Prem
Premium economy class on Open Skies offers business-class-sized seats on the cheap.

by Wendy Perrin

No sooner did I write that I'd need a few more days before I could rev up and post daily deals again than into my In-box popped a deal so astounding I felt I had to drop everything and let you know:

Remember last fall I told you about Open Skies' PREM+ class, one of the best values in the skies? Through January 26 the airline is selling round-trip fares between New York and Amsterdam starting at only $1,000 (including all taxes and fees), for travel through May 31.

One glance at the Premium Economy chart at SeatGuru.com will show you that the legroom you get--52 inches of seat pitch--is extraordinary compared to what you get in other airlines' premium economy cabins. Conde Nast Traveler aviation correspondent Barbara Peterson tested PREM+ herself recently and tells me that the cabin is equivalent to business class on many airlines and that $1,000 is an "amazing" price for what you get. And business travel expert Joe Brancatelli raved about it back in October.

So, if you're headed to Europe this spring and can rationalize a splurge, consider flying Open Skies to Amsterdam (AMS is a great airport for connecting) and booking a flight on a low-fare airline to your final destination.

December 20, 2008

When Your Flight Is Canceled and the Airline Doesn't Bother Telling You

by Wendy Perrin

A reader who bought tickets last April to fly to Puerto Vallarta for the holidays has written in with an urgent plea for help.

"I have been on the telephone for over an hour. Four of us are supposed to return from Puerto Vallarta on January 2, 2009. If I had not called to check on my reservation, I would never have known that my flight that departs from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara and then Guadalajara to Chicago was canceled. They never contacted us!!! My whole family is flying in from all over the United States. They told me that I could leave on January 1, but that is not acceptable, since we have plans for January 1. I would even be fine if they offered to arrange ground transportation from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara, as long as it's on January 2. We saved for a long time to purchase these tickets and to rent the condo, and now our dream for one stress-free week is turning into a nightmare. Please help us!"  --Angela Harris

Yikes!  It's not too late to run to the newsstand and pick up Conde Nast Traveler's December issue, in which aviation correspondent Barbara Peterson advises how to handle just such a situation, as well as other increasingly common air-travel nightmares.

Continue reading "When Your Flight Is Canceled and the Airline Doesn't Bother Telling You" »

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