10 Routes That Promise Cheap Flights This Spring
Get Upgraded Just for Being Nice
By: George Hobica – Travel Smarter
Rude and uncooperative passengers make flying difficult for airline staff and fliers alike. And although there will always be die-hards who insist that you can never get upgraded on a flight merely for being “nice” (or for being well-dressed) I beg to differ. Consider my experience on a recent American Airlines flight between L.A. and New York JFK.
Lo and behold, the seat next to me in business class is empty as the door is about to close. With so many people attaining status in American’s frequent-flier program, or paying $75 plus 15,000 miles for a one-way upgrade, it almost never happens on this route.
Two minutes before scheduled takeoff, there’s a kerfuffle in economy. Someone is not happy with his seat and is letting the cabin crew know about it in no uncertain terms. Angry voices waft over the boarding music. Maybe someone wanted to sit next to a traveling companion. I was never able to find out.
A gate agent and a flight attendant appear at my row.
- Gate agent: “Is this seat occupied?”
- Me (crestfallen): “Um, noooo … “
- Gate agent: “Well, I need to upgrade someone.”
- Flight attendant: “Shouldn’t we upgrade 12C?” (Row 12 is in the economy cabin.)
- Gate agent, exasperated: “I am NOT rewarding that kind of behavior with an upgrade!” (Her exact words.)
I’m guessing that 12C had some kind of status. Or felt he did. Or was the source of the problem.
So who got the upgrade? A young man who, I later learned, volunteered to change his seat to settle whatever dispute was going on back there. He had never flown in business or first class in his life.
- Young man, after the flight attendant pours the Lanson Champagne: “Dude, how much does this cost?”
- Me: “It’s free.”
- Young man: “Free? As much as you want free?”
- Me: “Yup, free. Enjoy!”
- A menu is handed out.
- Young man: “Is this free too?”
- Me: “Yes, everything is free.”
I took as much pleasure watching him enjoy his well-deserved upgrade as he did experiencing it.
During the flight, a couple of flight attendants stopped by to thank him profusely for being such a trooper. “Things like that really do make our job easier,” one said.
Young man, sotto voce, as a passenger (tank top, tattoos, gym shorts, baseball-cap-on-backward) strolls past us to use the business-class lavatory: “That’s the jerk who gave the flight attendants a hard time.” You guessed it, 12C. Although he didn’t get upgraded, he still felt entitled to use the business-class lav, which he did several times during the flight.
Lesson: People really do get upgraded just for being nice. Sure, it doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen. And even if you’re not going be upgraded, be nice anyway.
How to Check a Bag for Free
By: Carl Unger – Travel Smarter ~
Southwest is the only major U.S. airline that lets you check a bag for free. Repeat: Southwest is theonly major U.S. airline left that doesn’t charge a bag fee. Heck, they’ll even let you check two bags for free. Like most airlines, Southwest does levy a surcharge for overweight bags, but with two free bags available to you that shouldn’t be an issue.
Be a (Really) Frequent Flyer
Elite status is difficult to earn for a reason, but if you manage to fly, say, 25,000 miles a year, a whole world of perks opens up to you. In addition to a free checked bag, elite travelers often enjoyaccess to upgrades, reduced fees, priority boarding, and more. Unfortunately, 25,000 miles per year is unattainable for many leisure travelers (though good for you if you travel that much).
Explore Different Fare Tiers
Many people simply grab the cheapest ticket possible, but these tend to be nonrefundable base fares that entitle you to a seat and nothing more. Higher-priced tickets are often refundable and offer additional perks such as “free” checked bags.
For example, JetBlue introduced an entire new ticketing system when it unveiled its bag fees, and its BluePlus and BlueFlex fares include one and two checked bags, respectively, along with reduced change and cancellation fees. Other airlines, including Virgin America and Frontier, offer similar fare tiers, so it’s worth investigating your options. Of course, the price difference can exceed the cost of a single checked bag, so do the math.
Go Minimalist and Carry It On
This one’s obvious, but while checked-bag fees are now the norm, most major airlines have resisted adding carry-on bag fees (with notable exceptions including Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier). So if you can travel light, this is one of the simplest ways to ditch the bag fee—plus you know your bag won’t get lost in transit.
There are countless ways to get the most out of your carry-on, from vacuum bags that compress your clothes to ingenious organization solutions for your electronics to the suitcase itself. Remember, too, that you get a carry-on and a personal item with most airlines, so use that second bag wisely and you might find yourself able to handle a four- or five-day trip on carry-ons alone.
Get an Airline-Affiliated Credit Card
Many airline-affiliated credit cards grant cardholders free checked bags in addition to other perks and (of course) the ability to earn miles. There are, naturally, a few catches associated with these cards. For example, most airline-affiliated credit cards carry hefty annual fees of around $100, though some waive the fee for the first year. With the typical first-bag fee hovering around $25, you’ll need to check a few bags just to break even, and a few more to really benefit from the perk. Also, airline-affiliated cards by nature lock you in to a particular carrier, so you’d better be a fan of American if you pick up its credit card.
Play the Gate-Check Game
If you’re the gambling sort, you can always try the ol’ gate-check trick, which involves bringing a carry-on that—oops!—is a bit too large for the overhead bin and has to be gate-checked. There are a few pretty good arguments against doing this, first and foremost being that it will slow down the boarding process while you and a (likely irritated) flight attendant try to cram the thing into the overhead bin on a crowded plane. You don’t want to be that passenger, do you? More importantly, airlines have gotten wise to shenanigans like this and are cracking down on oversized carry-ons, meaning you may end up paying a fee anyway. Hardly seems worth the effort, but air travel has a way of making people do strange things.
Ship It, But At What Cost?
Shipping your bags is a popular tip among the bag-fee averse, but there are a lot of factors to weigh when considering the option, starting with price. I priced out shipping a 45-pound suitcase from my home in Massachusetts to Seattle and got a one-way estimate of $75 from UPS. That’s considerably more than just about any bag fee, and in fact is more than I’d pay in bag fees for both legs of my journey. For a trip to Chicago I was quoted $44, still more than a bag fee but closer in range. For a trip to Philadelphia I was quoted $31.
Beyond raw dollars, you also have to consider time. For my Seattle trip, UPS estimated 5 days via its basic ground shipping (faster options were substantially more expensive). Chicago and Philadelphia were both estimated at two days. This means you’ll need to pack earlier and make an extra trip to drop off your suitcase a few days before you leave. It also means you’ll have to make a drop-off trip at the end of your vacation as well and then wait around for it to arrive (hope your keys aren’t in the suitcase!). If you do decide to ship, see if there’s a drop-off at the airport you’ll be traveling through. You can also ship in one direction and check your bag in the other.
World’s Best Airlines for Food
Airlines have gone to great lengths to prove that in-flight dining can be so much more than shrink-wrapped, something-salad sandwiches. From local specialties to upgraded comfort food, menus designed by world-renowned chefs, and wine menus that rival those found at upscale restaurants, the best airlines in the world know they need to push the boundaries to win over customers hearts. And stomachs.In our annual World’s Best Awards survey, we asked readers to rank their favorite airlines, both domestic as well as international, on the quality of their in-flight food service.
“Food on the flights was outstanding,” said one T+L reader about Emirates. “We couldn’t believe [we were] in Economy.” One Virgin America traveler raved about the ability to order food and drinks from the seatback entertainment systemThe top ten domestic and international carriers impressed our readers by making food service something to look forward to in all cabins, and took every detail, from table settings to welcome cocktails, into consideration.When you book a flight with one of these top airlines, you won’t dread food service—you’ll look forward to it.