Category Archives: Consumer Issues

AirBnB: First Time But Not the Last

Prague apartment more than meets expectations.

AirBnB-logoThe AirBnB listing promised an awesome view and a great location in central Prague. The photo looked good. The price was right (under $250 for four nights). There’s WiFi in the apartment. So after checking with friends who have not only stayed but also hosted via AirBnB, I was in. I corresponded a bit with Katerina, my hostess. When I arrived, her friend Martina let me in, showed me around and gave me the keys. Katerina, it turns out, is in Barcelona. That means that I have the whole apartment to myself — except, of course, Katerina’s own room.

The baronial door between two skateboard shops pretty much symbolizes Prague today --- a co-existence between the traditional and new.
The baronial door to Katerina’s apartment building is between two skateboard shops, which pretty much symbolizes Prague today — a co-existence between the timeless and the hip. The concrete rectangle with the steel railing is the entrance to the Metro.

The apartment is on the third floor. Since Europeans label the ground floor as 0, it is on what we would call the fourth floor. Taking into account that the ceilings are 10 or 12 feet high, it is like being on an American fifth or sixth floor. There is no elevator. I travel light, especially in summer, and had just one small roll-aboard, a small purse and a daypack for my netbook, assorted battery chargers, electrical cables and adapters. Still, I was grateful that Martina, who is probably half my age, offered to take my little suitcase. The ascent is worthwhile for the apartment’s artsy ambiance and great river view.

My room features high ceilings, a comfortable bed, a small desk and a bathroom that I might have had to share with my hostess if she were here.
My room features high ceilings, a comfortable bed, a small desk, fresh flowers and a bathroom that I might have had to share with Katerina if she were here.

Continue reading AirBnB: First Time But Not the Last

Airlines’ Extra Fees Soar Ever Higher

Extra revenues are passengers’ burdens.

smarter-travel-logoSmarterTravel.com posted “Airlines with the Most Extra Fees,” citing a new study by industry consulting firm IdeaWorks. which “found that the airlines’ ancillary fees had increased by almost 1,200 percent between 2007 and 2013, from $2.45 billion to $31.5 billion,” adding that “lthough the overall trend is clear, and inescapable, not all airlines are equally oppressive when it comes to tagging every imaginable atomic particle of air travel with a surcharge. There are more and less egregious gougers. According to the report, on a per-person basis, the airlines imposing the highest fees are as follows:”

  • $55.61. Jet2.com (a UK company that bundles travel components and thereby  manages to hide extra fees)
  • $51.22.  Spirit (a US nickel-and-dime champ that I flew this past spring — and never again)
  • $45.67. Qantas
  • $44.87. Allegiant (from what I understand, a Spirit-like carrier)
  • $44.43. AirAsia
  • $40.97. United (no surprise)
  • $38.93. Korean Air
  • $34.41. Wizz Air
  • $33.92. Virgin Atlantic
  • $32.61. Alaska Air Group

Most dispiriting of all are the add-ons by low-fare domestic carriers, because the extra fees are a hefty percentage of the fare. When a robust add-on is charged for long and pricy trans-Pacific or even trans-Atlantic flights, the percentage isn’t quite so bad. I’d rather pay an extra $35-$45 to, say, Qantas or Korean Air than to Spirit.

United Sells Service ‘Subscriptions’

Pre-payment options for surcharges

United-log-newI’ve got to hand it to United. They’ve found another revenue stream by pre-selling services that carry surcharges. The airline is introducing annual “subscriptions” so that passengers can pre-pay either a year’s worth of checked baggage or access to Economy Plus seats. Those are the ones in the front of the Economy cabin with extra legroom.  Annual rates start at $349 for checked bags and $499 for Economy Plus seating. The Chicago-based airline claims that it is the only U.S. carrier to offer such “subscriptions.” I wonder how long it will take for others to follow.

Of course, even this option is not simple. Passengers must select a region (United States, North and Central America, Asia or “the world”) and the number of people flying using the subscription. Prices depend on which region, how many companions they plan to bring and if they whether they to check one or two bags. A two-bag subscriptions costs $50 more per flight than one bag, and another $100 is added if if the subscription extends to travel beyond the continental United States.

Also, MileagePlus members can now redeem accumulated miles for annual United Club memberships in order to access the 49 United Club locations, as well as participating Star Alliance-affiliated airport clubs worldwide, starting at $500 or 65,000 miles.

Denver Holds Contest for July 4 Trip

VisitDenver-logoI don’t need to enter a contest to be in Denver for 4th of July fun (or any other time of year), because it’s right down the pike. But out-of-towners (is that you?) can discover that it is a super place to celebrate the 4th of July with pro sports, free festivals, live music under the stars, and of course, spectacular fireworks displays, all with the nearby Rocky Mountains as a backdrop. One lucky winner and a companion will experience it all – and much more. The winner of Denver’s Purple Mountain Majesty will receive:

To enter, go to Denver Rocks Giveaway page , Like”VISIT DENVER, fill out the easy entry form and submit by 11:59 p.m. (MDT) on June 9.   Then spreading the word. Share this contest with Facebook friends to increase your chances of winning. If 10 of your friends enter through the post on your wall, your name will receive fifty more entries into the contest.

Not interested in this giveaway or not optimistic about winning, but still want to come to Denver this summer, check out the great hotel packages  starting as low as $99. Plan your summer vacation and discover more than 100 things to do in the Mile High City at denverdares.com.

Frontier Airlines’ Ridiculous New Policies

Frontier-logoDoes Frontier Airlines really hate its customers? If not, why do they institute regulations designed to keep people from flying with them? New policies seem designed to coerce travelers into using their own website, effectively cutting out travel agents and independent booking sites.

  • Passengers who buy Frontier economy tickets purchase from travel agents or online booking services will have to pay between $25 and $100 to stow a carry-on bag in the overhead bin. Those who use the airline’s own website will be relieved of these charges. This ridiculous and unfriendly policy is to be put in place at some unannounced date this summer.
  • Frontier will start charging $25 for bags checked in at the airport but “only” $20 for checking in via the website. This goes into effect in June.
  • Frontier is also going to start charging $1.99 for non-booze beverages (soft drinks, coffee, tea or juice) for low-fare fliers. Water? I don’t know. Those who fly purchase on fully refundable tickets or pay for a Select Seat upgrade to the front of the cabin will still get free drinks. Whoopie!
  • But wait! There’s more! Mileage earned on low-fare tickets purchased any way other than Frontier’s website will be valued at 25% of miles flown, down from the current (and hardly generous) 50%. All tickets bought via the Frontier website continue to earn 100% of miles flown with bonus miles for upgraded economy seats and elite fliers, who might well be a diminishing group thanks to these new draconian policies.

And Frontier’s loss could well be Southwest’s gain — no matter how many cute animals appear on the aircraft tails.

Guest Post: Woroch’s Tips on Air Fare Savings

11 useful tips on saving money on air travel

Guest post by Andrea Woroch, whose money-saving advice has been featured io such top news outlets such as Good Morning
America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney
and more. In view of the looming budget cuts from the Sequestration threat, she writes about what mandatory budget cuts would mean for air travelers. Her 11 tips for saving money while traveling have always been useful , but even more so in this uncertain fiscal and travel climate. Experienced travelers know these tactics already. Note that they apply mainly to domestic flights. International travel is a whole other story. Everything that follows is in Woroch’s wordsBudgetCut:

How to the Get the Best Values in Air Travel

As you likely know, across-the-board spending cuts are scheduled to take effect this Friday, March 1, unless last-minute action is taken by Congress. These cuts will impact most federal agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration, whose annual budget will be reduced by over 5 percent

Unfortunately, these cuts will trickle down to consumers in the form of fewer flights, according to the National Air Traffic Control Association. Fewer flights means higher demand and increased fare costs in some markets. Since the busy spring and summer travel season is just around the corner, consider the following ways to save on airfare.

1. Wake Up Early
The time you fly can impact the cost of your flight significantly. Waking up before dawn or catching a late-night redeye may get you the cheapest flight of the day. For example, a departing Southwest flight from Denver to Spokane at 8:05 a.m. costs $148, while the flight that leaves at 10:20 a.m. costs nearly $50 more ($196).

2. Get a Credit Card
It’s important to sign up for an airline’s frequent flyer program, but just as important to find a credit card that offers award trips. Most credit card companies offer mileage points for use toward flights, hotels and even car rentals. Airline-specific credit cards, like the United MileagePlus Visa or Frontier World MasterCard, enable you to earn miles for everyday purchases.

3. Look for Discount Gift Cards
Pick up a few discount travel gift cards from sites like GiftCardGranny.com to save on airfare. For instance, you can find discounts of up to 15 percent on Frontier Airlines gift cards and 8 percent on American Airlines.

4. Shop for Flights on Tuesday
According to FareCompare.com, booking flights at 3:00 p.m. ET Tuesday afternoon is your best chance to find the cheapest airfare. Since more airlines bid for flights on Mondays and companies are busy booking their business travelers, less expensive flights abound on Tuesday and Wednesday.

5. Stop Over
I’m not a fan of making connections, but it’s a great way to lower your overall fare costs in some cases. Look for short connection windows but make sure there’s enough time to catch the next flight in case of a delay. Also, be sure the amount of savings is enough to justify the hassle of a layover.

6. Travel Midweek
Flight prices peak around the weekend as business travelers fly home and leisure travelers escape for a short getaway or vacation. A departing flight from Denver to Las Vegas costs $83.99 when leaving on Wednesday, while the return flight on Sunday rings in at $205. Depart one day later on Monday and the fare drops to $124.

7. Track Flight Price Drops
Some airlines like Southwest will issue you an airline credit if your itinerary drops in price after you book it. Yapta.com will alert you when your itinerary drops in price so you can request a credit or book the trip if you’re holding out for a better deal.

8. Compare Airports
You might assume smaller airports with limited flights will always have costlier airfare, but this is not always the case. With limited schedules, these airports can’t accommodate all travelers, making select flights and trips in less demand and therefore less expensive.

9. Search One Ways
When you’re flying to and from the same city, you may limit your search to roundtrip flights. However, booking one way flights on different airlines may get you a better deal in some cases. Plus, it’s easier to redeem miles on one-way flights because the cost of one leg is significantly less than the cost of a roundtrip flight.

10. Don’t Check Bags
You can save $50 for a roundtrip flight if you don’t check a bag and even more if you were planning to check multiple bags. Pack light with a carry on or pick an airline like Southwest or JetBlue that offers a free checked bag (or two, in the case of Southwest).

11. Book with Airlines Directly
I always recommend comparing prices and schedules with a search engine like Kayak, but don’t forget to search airlines separately. Airlines like Southwest don’t allow their airfare to be posted to third-party sites, so you could overlook a better deal. What’s more, buying directly from the airline will reduce the hassle associated with dealing with a third party in cases of flight changes or cancellations.

Most Ethical Destinations Cited

 Best practices + superb scenic and cultural attractions = ethical travel destinations

EthicalTraveler-logoEthical Traveler’s annual survey of the world’s most ethical tourism destinations highlights 10 countries  in the developing world that have all demonstrated a clear and continuing commitment to environmental protection, human rights and social welfare. They are places you can visit with a clear conscience that you are supporting destinations that exhibit best practices and also offer great scenery and cultural attractions. This year’s 2013 top ethical destinations, in alphabetical order, are Barbados, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ghana, Latvia, Lithuania, Mauritius, Palau, Samoa and Uruguay. 

“This year’s winners are doing a great job showing the world that you can have a successful tourism industry along with sustainability and social justice,” said Ethical Traveler Executive Director Jeff Greenwald. “With the number of international arrivals expected to top the 1 billion mark in 2013, travelers have more power than ever. Every dollar we spend is a statement about which countries and governments we choose to support. By visiting the countries on our list, savvy travelers can have great vacations and promote the values we all share.”

Ethical Traveler used publicly available data to evaluate destinations on a broad spectrum of criteria including ecosystem support, natural and cultural attractions, political rights, press freedom, women’s equality, commitment to LGBT rights, and— the survey’s newest indicator— terrestrial and marine area protection.

Among the three examples of best practices: “Ghana maintains a high degree of freedom of the press, has a stable democracy which just re-elected a pro-environment President; about 15 percent of its territory is environmentally protected in some form. Latvia is well-rated for human rights and press freedom; it was also the most-improved country on the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In Uruguay, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and women’s rights are among the best in the region.”

This year’s report also includes a section recognizing “Destinations of Interest” for the coming year.  While not part of the 10 Best Ethical Destinations, Ethical Traveler encourages potential tourists to peer behind the “media curtain” and explore controversial countries like Burma, Cuba and Namibia that are in the midst of dramatic social changes.”

10 Airports Where You’re Likely to Arrive Late

Eight of the 10 are in the Northeast including three in/around New York

There’s an awful lot to like about the greater Denver area, and one of them is the (relative) ease of air travel. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics recently listed the 10 worst  airports in the US for on-time arrivals in 2011, and I don’t imagine things have improved a lot since last year. Of course, lousy on-time arrivals rolls over to lots of late departures and considering how many people connect to/from international flights at these airports, flying through them is a likely scenario for further late or missed connections.

Here’s the list:

1. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) – 33.28 percent late
2. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – 28.62 percent late
3. LaGuardia Airport (LGA) – 27.82 percent late
4. Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – 26.35 percent late
5. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) – 24.66 percent late
6. O’Hare International Airport (ORD) – 24.57 percent late
7. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) – 23.84 percent late
8. Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport (DCA): 22.28 percent late
9. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) – 21.39 percent late
10. Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL) – 21.12 percent late

Travel Providers’ Lousy Contracts

Chris Elliott examines contracts travel industry forces upon customers

DayJob.com illustration.

For a service industry, travel providers are often more about being self-serving than actually serving, let alone catering, to the traveling public. Author, travel advocate and journalist Christopher Elliott tackles yet another topic on behalf of aggrieved travelers. In “Who Has the Worst Contract in Travel?”,  he takes on four major segments of the travel industry and lists some of their considerable flaws.

The take-away is that lawyers have had a collective field day writing contracts that actually support and protect travelers, all the while shielding companies from consequences from treating travelers fairly. Travelers, meanwhile, are often compelled to accept small-type agreements that shift the responsbility when things go wrong from the travel companies to themselves. He writes:

“Airline. Your rights, such as they are, can be found in a document called the contract of carriage. Among other things, you agree that the airline isn’t responsible for getting you to your destination on schedule and that it owes you nothing if it loses your valuables. Got a problem with that? You’ll have to sue in federal court.

“Car rental. Your car rental terms vary by state. In it, you agree that you’re responsible for the car, even if the vehicle is damaged by an Act of God, like a hailstorm or flood. You also agree to pay for whatever the car rental company thinks you’re responsible, like a ‘loss of use’ charge it invents.

“Cruise. The ticket contract is an astounding rights grab. You give away your right to sue the cruise line and agree that the company can remove you from its vessels for any reason it wants to and deny you a refund. Maritime law, the law that governs the contract, favors the cruise line.

“Hotels. The rules of your hotel stay are governed by state law, but you also sign an agreement at the beginning of your stay in which you agree to additional terms. Those can include paying a ‘resort fee’ or agreeing to any late charge to your credit card (like a ‘cleaning’ fee) the hotel decides to bill you.

“Simply put, the deck is stacked against travelers.”

If you read his entire post, which I suggest you do, scroll to the bottom and take a one-click poll on which segment of the travel industry you find the worst — and leave a comment if you like.

Pamphleteering Pilots at Nine Airports Today

Disgruntled United pilots take complaints to flying public

If you are passing through any of nine US airports today (Chicago O’Hare, Denver International Airport, Washington Dulles, Los Angeles International, Lexington Blue Grass Airport, NYC LaGuardia, Greater Rochester Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and San Francisco International Airport), you’ll probably see United Airlines pilots in full uniform taking their gripes with management directly to the traveling public. The pilots, you see, are pissed. They say that they  have been in contract negotiations with United Airlines’ management team for more than two years and are currently working under a 9-year old bankruptcy contract. They add that they made major sacrifices in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks to help save United from going out of business.  In the years since, they say, United “has exploited the sacrifice of the pilots in many ways, including the offshoring and outsourcing of U.S. jobs.”

The airline’s CEO Jeffrey Smisek reportedly made $13 million in compensation last year out of “appreciation” for implenting United’s merger with Continental, a move that did not go as operationally smoothly as anyone had wanted and that has left many of both airlines’ loyalists disappointed. I’ve never thought of pilots as being low-wage workers, but in comparison with the CEO, they certainly are. Go to next page to read the pilot’s leaflet. Continue reading Pamphleteering Pilots at Nine Airports Today