Go All In on a Trip through Asia this Fall

This deal is most useful for readers who have a lot of flexibility (read: vacation time) in their schedules and are looking to travel this Fall. But if you meet both of these criteria, Cathay Pacific’s All Asia Pass might match your travel plans quite well, as it allows travel throughout Asia in a span of 21 consecutive days with departure dates until November 29, 2011.

Since Cathay’s hub is in Hong Kong, all tickets include a stop there. For $1,880 (including taxes and fees), you can get an All Asia Pass with a stop in Hong Kong as well as two other Asian cities of your choice. The ticket allowing stops in three other Asian cities is $2,231, and for $2,582 you get to visit four Asian cities along with Hong Kong. For all three tickets, these prices are if you leave from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco, though you can pay extra to leave from other cities. Depending on where you’re flying out from, however, it may be cheaper to just buy a separate ticket to one of the four US departure cities listed above than pay for the add-on. These prices also require you that take the first leg of your flight, from the US to Hong Kong, on Monday through Wednesday during the promotion period; starting your trip on any other day of the week is $100 more.

Cathay Pacific All Asia Pass

Cathay Pacific's current ad for its All Asia Pass

There are 40 cities to which you can fly under any of the three All Asia Passes, all serviced either by Cathay or its sister airline Dragonair. These include some awesome destinations like Bali, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Singapore, and several cities in China, Japan, and Korea (for a full list check out Cathay’s brochure).

If you’d like to take advantage of the fact that you’re flying around the world and stop somewhere along the way, you can also include “add-on cities” in your itinerary. For an extra $300, you can add one of 9 cities to your itinerary, several of them in India, but also Dubai (United Arab Emirates), Kathmandu (Nepal), and Dhaka (Bangladesh). And if you want to go all-out and take this trip on a leisurely pace, you can pay an extra fee to extend the ticket for 30 or 90 consecutive days instead, although that may not be worthwhile since you’re effectively paying extra to stay put.

If you’ve got the vacation time and the flexibility, but just need a little more to sweeten the deal, here it is: all of your travel with any of the All Asia Passes accumulates miles just like a regular ticket! It will probably be painful to come back home after a 21-day-long relaxing trip through Asia, but the miles should ease the pain. Especially if the cities you choose in Asia are far from each other, all the city hoping you do with an All Asia Pass might actually already earn you a free ticket back to Asia. This means you can explore another part of Asia in the future, or just relive this Fall’s vacation some other time.

JetBlue’s Boston All BluePass Is Back for a Bit

JetBlue's Boston All Pass is Back

Just two days ago I wrote an update on JetBlue’s BluePassoffer, but here’s a new fact: JetBlue’s Boston All pass, which allows unlimited flying to/from Boston to ALL airports serviced by JetBlue during the promotion period, including those in the Caribbean, is back for 48 hours! If you hesitated the first time around or new plans have come up in the meantime, now’s the time to buy one of these passes. The Boston All price is still $1,999, and allows unlimited travel from August 22nd to November 22nd, 2011.

To Save on Flights, Clicking “Buy” is Not the End

This is an updated version of an article originally posted to our .com blog, which was unfortunately hacked a few months ago.

Doing a price comparison before booking a trip is standard procedure for saving money on travel.  There are search engines such as Kayak that tally up ticket prices for airlines and third-party sites, and even academic theories on when is the best time to buy.  But regardless of when you pull the trigger, there are still ways to save after making that flight purchase.

The third-party travel website Orbitz, for example, offers a price assurance coverage, which promises consumers that, once they book their hotel or flight, if the price drops and anyone else books the same exactly itinerary (same dates, flights, and restrictions) for less through Orbitz from then on, they will be refunded for that difference. Refund values range from $5 to $250 for flights and $5 to $500 for hotels, and there is no need to submit a request.  Orbitz keeps track of all purchases made through its website, and if you qualify for the price assurance, you will automatically get a check in the mail 6-8 weeks after you’ve completed the trip.

But what if you see lower fare soon after you book your ticket?  This happened to me twice recently.  I spent a while tracking flight ticket prices, and as the travel date approached, finally decided to buy.  No less than a few hours later, though, prices for the same exact itinerary had dropped by around $20!  If this happens on the same day in which you booked your ticket, you usually have two options.  First, you can appeal to the company’s “low price guarantee” policy, which essentially is an offer to undercut competitors’ rates. Many travel and airline sites have this, including Orbitz, Expedia, and even United.  All you have to do is submit a claim on the website with links to the lower fare for the exact same itinerary and wait for customer service to verify it.  Remember to also make several print-outs of the screen with the lower fare, so you have proof if you run into trouble having it approved.  Orbitz’s and United’s guarantee apply only to the day of booking, while Expedia gives you 24 hours to find and claim the lower fare.

If you find a lower fare within 24 hours, another option is to simply cancel your original reservation and book the other one.  Most sites give you 24 hours to cancel without any fees. Third-party sites have a policy of retaining their own booking fees if you cancel, but several of them have not been applying fees for the last two years or so anyway. Doing this is a better option if you are afraid your lower fare guarantee claim will not be approved, or if you have a coupon for another site that can now be used.

Last week, I chose to just cancel my reservation and re-book it.  Earlier in the day, I had booked my flight through Orbitz because it had the cheapest fare for the exact itinerary I wanted (United did not even show that itinerary when I searched for it in the morning).  But when I ran the same search in the afternoon, the fare had both dropped on Orbitz and was now showing on United for the same price.  Orbitz offers a $50 coupon valid on your next trip through its “low fare promise,” but I had a coupon for 10% off a purchase on United (earned through an old United promotion).  I decided 10% off now was better than a potential $50 in savings in the future, since the latter would depend on validation from Orbitz’s customer service.  I canceled my Orbitz reservation online without any penalties, and re-booked my itinerary on United. Ultimately, I saved $50 from what I would have spent had I kept the reservation I made that same morning.

Price comparison does not end when you click “buy.”  If you keep track of prices on your itinerary for another 24 hours, you may find a pleasant surprise.  Who knows – it could even be that the fare on an itinerary you liked even better than the one you booked drops too. And if you book on Orbitz, the search keeps going; their price assurance means you could get a check later on if someone else books your same itinerary for less.  And if you can’t find a lower fare and don’t get any money back, by doing this follow-up you can at least rest assured that you got a good deal on your travel plans.

What the Airline Tax Holiday and the Tax Reinstatement Mean for Your Wallet

The short answer: probably nothing.

On July 22, 2011, Congress failed to extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) budget and, along with it, airlines’ authority to collect taxes to fund the FAA, leading to a lot of questions and concerns about air travel in the US. Among these were whether this would bring furloughs for employees in the FAA (yes); if this would affect traffic control (supposedly no); and what would happen to ticket prices and who would be responsible for the uncollected taxes.

The third question was answered by each airline: most airlines raised fares by the amount of the taxes, so that consumers faced the same prices as before the tax expiration. Notable exceptions included Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian, and Spirit, which maintained their fares and passed the tax savings onto consumers. There were serious concerns, however, that once Congress reinstated the airlines’ authority to collect taxes, customers who didn’t pay taxes may be required to pay them anyway – perhaps the airlines that increased their fares to compensate for the tax expiration were doing customers a favor by effectively collecting the taxes preemptively?

Photo credit: Alaskan Dude (Creative Commons)

This confusion was finally solved last week, when Congress passed a retroactive reinstatement of the FAA’s budget from July 23rd.

The bad news: By making the reinstatement retroactive, Congress stated that taxes were technically applicable to the suspension period, July 23-Aug 8. Before the reinstatement, there had been talk that passengers who paid taxes on their tickets (because they purchased them before July 23rd) but flew during the suspension period might be due a refund on the taxes collected. The retroactivity has dismissed this possibility. No matter when you purchased your tickets or flew, you cannot get an airline tax refund.

The good news: The IRS is giving a relief for passengers who did not pay and airlines that did not collect taxes during the FAA budget lapse. This news may be better for airlines than for you, but is good nonetheless.  Since airlines collect about $200 million in taxes per week for the FAA, this two-week suspension generated almost $400 million in cumulative profits for the airlines that raised their tickets to match the expired FAA taxes – which they now get to keep.

For you, the relief means that if you managed to snag a ticket during that the suspension, at least you don’t owe any taxes on the ticket either. That would have been a savings of 7.5% on the base fare plus $3.70 if flying domestically, $8.20 if flying internationally to/from Alaska or Hawaii, or $16.30 for international flights to/from anywhere else, but since most airlines increased fares accordingly, you likely did not feel any difference in your wallet. On the plus side, with the reinstatement of taxes, at least airlines are lowering ticket prices back to pre-July 23rd levels.

So, unless you are one of the lucky few who scored tickets with an airline that did not raise prices during the suspension, this FAA budget story should not affect your wallet: ticket prices have stayed the same throughout since most airlines raised ticket prices (earning several millions along the way) when taxes expired and lowered them now that the taxes are back.

Bikes on a Plane

In a recent conversation with a friend, I learned that she was considering taking a 9-hour-or-more bus ride from Boston to Washington, DC, to bring her bike down. The alternative, she thought, was limited to having it sent through Fedex or UPS.

Little did she know that most airlines actually allow you to check-in a bike when you fly. Though taking the bus may still be the cheapest way to travel between DC and Boston, if you decide to face that trip with a bike, it should at least be an informed decision, with the knowledge that your bike could make it on a plane and of how much that would cost too. Moreover, airlines do not charge extra when flying bikes cross-country instead, while Fedex and UPS prices will be higher and the bus may be a much less realistic option.

Below is a table with some of the main US-based airlines and their rules for checking-in bikes. Make sure to look at it before moving, or if you find a great bike deal when visiting friends or family in another town, or when, like my friend, you want to rescue the bike that has been sitting in your relatives’ basement for all of those years in which you were living a transient life for school and work.

Airline Cost Packaging Requirements/ Restrictions
AirTran $79 Must be packed in a box
Alaska Airlines Bikes are treated as regular or oversize luggage. There is a $20 charge for the first 3 checked luggage items. Oversize items measuring 63-80 inches incur an additional $50; items smaller than 62 inches do not have an extra fee and those between 81 and 115 inches incur a $75 fee. Can be packed on any soft or hard case designed for transporting bikes
American Airlines $150 for any bike larger than 62 inches or over 50 lbs. Smaller bikes are treated as regular checked luggage, at $25 for the first item. Can be packed on either a hard-sided case or a bike bag, but bikes not in a hard-sided case are considered “fragile,” meaning that the airline does not accept liability for damages.
Continental $100 for domestic flights and $200 for international flights for any bike larger than 62 inches or 50 lbs. Smaller bikes are treated as regular checked luggage, with the fee for the first item at $25 in domestic flights and free internationally. There are strict rules for packaging, including fixing the handlebars sideways and removing pedals, and the airline is not liable to damage if these are not followed. Interestingly, Continental also sells bicycle boxes for $25 at all of its airport desks except for the one at Reagan National in DC.
Delta Airlines $150 flying out of a US airport or other airports around the world (excluding Canada and the EU); 150 Canadian dollars when flying from Canada; and 150 Euros when flying from the EU. The only exception is for travel to/from Brazil, for which the fee is $75. Excess fees apply to bikes weighting more than 70 lbs. Can be packed in a cardboard or canvas container.
Frontier Airlines A bicycle may be treated as overweight, though not oversize checked-in items. As such, it incurs the base $20 fee for being a checked-in item, and, if it weighs more than 50 lbs, another $75 as well. The airline is not liable for damage to bikes not packaged in a hard-sided case.
Hawaiian Airlines $35 for flights within the state of Hawaii, and $100 for flights between Hawaii and the Continental US, Japan, and Hawaiian’s other Pacific destinations. If you are flying more than one of these segments, such as from the Continental US to Japan via Hawaii, you will be charged the fee for each segment. Bikes weighing more than 50 lbs incur an extra charge: $25 when flying within Hawaii and $50 when flying to/from or within the Continental US. Bikes must be packed in a box or hard case. They are also transported on a space-available basis, meaning that the bike might not make it on the same flight as you, and, if not, Hawaiian is not responsible for the ground transportation to get it delivered from the airport to you as it is for suitcases.
JetBlue $50 for domestic flights and $80 for international flights. Bikes are not accepted on flights to/from the Dominican Republic. Bikes under 62 inches and 50 lbs count as a checked bag, to which JetBlue’s “first checked bag free” policy applies. Bikes can be packed in hard-sided cases, plastic foam, or a cardboard box. The airline is not liable for any bike lost or damaged.
Southwest $50 for bikes larger than 62 inches or 50 lbs. Smaller bikes count as regular luggage and can be checked-in for free. Bikes can be packed in a hard-sided case, a cardboard box, or a soft-sided case, but the airline has limited liability for bikes packaged in the latter two.
Spirit Airlines $100 plus a checked luggage fee starting at $28 (actual price depends on whether it is paid online or at the counter) Must be packed in a cardboard or hard-cased container
United $100 for travel within the US, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands; $200 when traveling from the US to other continents. The maximum allowed weight for bikes is 50 lbs, and they must be packed in a “durable, protective case, bag or box.”
US Airways $200 for bikes over 62 inches. Bikes smaller than 62 inches count as a regular checked bag, with fees starting at $25. Bikes can be packed in a cardboard, hard-case bike container, or wrapped in plastic or foam. If it is only wrapped, the passenger must sign a form releasing the airline from any liability.
Virgin America $50 if it weighs up to 50 lbs. If it weighs more than 50 lbs, the additional overweight fees assessed range from $50 to $100 and depend on the weight as well as the total number of suitcases you are checking in. Bikes should be packed in a hard case or a padded bike case. The airline also accepts but is not liable for those packed in cardboard boxes or foam.

JetBlue’s Unlimited Travel Pass make Autumn Jet-Setting a Breeze

If you are looking at a lot of pre-Thanksgiving travel, counting all of the weddings, family reunions, and long weekends, – or would just like an excuse to take more trips this Fall – you may want to look at JetBlue’s new BluePass tickets. These passes offer unlimited travel to and from Boston and Long Beach, CA, from August 22nd to November 22nd. BluePass tickets will be on sale until the end of August, or while supplies last, and flights can be booked starting on August 15th.

There are three BluePass options: Boston All, Boston Select, and Long Beach Select. The Boston All ticket goes for $1999 plus taxes and allows unlimited travel between Boston and all airports served by JetBlue from Boston, including several cities in the West Coast and many Caribbean destinations such as San Juan and Aruba (direct) and Saint Lucia, Montego Bay, and Cancun (connecting).

The Boston Select ticket ($1499) is more tailored towards business travel, allowing unlimited travel between Boston and 13 other cities, Chicago being the furthest West. Other valuable cities for business travelers included in this ticket are Washington, DC (both Dulles and National airports), New York JFK, and Pittsburgh. But this doesn’t mean this ticket can’t be used for fun too: you can also fly to/from Jacksonville and Bermuda this Fall with the Boston Select ticket.

From the West Coast, the Long Beach Select ticket ($1299) has some great destinations as well. The ticket covers unlimited pre-Thanksgiving travel between Long Beach and Las Vegas, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, Portland, Seattle, Austin, and Chicago.

To buy any of these BluePass tickets, you need to be a member of TrueBlue, JetBlue’s frequent flier program for which you can sign up for free. You will then get 12,000 TrueBlue points if you buy the Boston All ticket, 9000 for the Boston Select and 8000 for the Long Beach Select ticket. Unfortunately, these are the only miles you will get for the BluePass tickets; JetBlue is not giving points for the actual flights taken with these passes.

Nonetheless, these passes come with a lot of flexibility. Flights can be booked or canceled up to 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time, which allows for last minute changes as well as spur-of-the-moment trips. Also, a no-show fee of $100 will only be assessed if you don’t show up for your trips twice within a 7-day period. In that case, your pass will only be reinstated once you pay the fee.

This is not a mileage run deal, but we are right in the middle of wedding season, and if you are starting to resent all those events for which you have to fly, these BluePass tickets may soften the blow. Besides, if one of these BluePass tickets is already financially worthwhile given the trips you expect to take before Thanksgiving, adding more trips on will just make it better. And if you legitimately have consistent business travel to or from Boston or Long Beach, getting work to pay for a BluePass ticket could be a great perk. Once you have the ticket, let the fun begin. With unlimited travel, it’s ok to take several weekend breaks and fly to the beach just because.

Concierge.com on Earning and Redeeming Miles

At Money Under Your Futon, we’ve frequently encouraged our readers to sign up for mileage and points accounts with their favorite airlines, hotels, and stores.  But not being able to redeem miles/points or shedding more of them than you would like can undermine even the most diligent efforts to accrue them.

Condé Nast’s concierge.com sheds some light into the mileage redemption process in a recent article.  Writing on “How to Maximize Your Miles,” they offer 10 tips for getting the most out of your mileage account, from well-known advice, such as looking for seats in code-share partner flights, to the more obscure but probably equally useful, including calling airline companies after midnight on a weekend and, if your home airport is an airline hub, considering a frequent flier program that is not from that airline but from one of its partners instead.  To read the full article, click here.