Tag Archives: American Airlines

In the Suitcase: travel vouchers

So I headed to Austin this weekend for the notorious South by Southwest film/ music/ interactive conference, where the world’s hippest and geekiest self-proclaimed techie heads in their skinny jeans, derby hats and Ipads all jetted in. It is such a huge event that every flight to Austin was oversold and every hotel was booked.

I became one of those oversold people, whose ticket type on American Airlines didn’t deserve a seat nor was I allowed to standby on an earlier flight unless I shelled out $50 – which my company would have paid, but out of principle I refused. My favorite is when the gate agent tells you your ticket type is the wrong kind, as if it was something personal and that I had purposely chosen this particular ticket type (W instead of Q, none of which mean anything to me). In any case, my ticket type was so low on the alphabet and therefore my status as a human being diminshed greatly that I didn’t get my seat until I arrived in Austin.

Meanwhile, the gate was giving away travel vouchers worth $300 if you volunteered to give up your seat for a later time. I was really in no rush to get to this conference and I would have welcomed the free ticket, which I would get to keep, not my office.

I’ve heard and read how easy it is for airlines to hand out free vouchers, and how difficult it is for passengers to redeem these vouchers for an actual flight. Just recently, American was slapped with a penalty for charging its passengers a $30 fee to use a voucher. a $30 fee!! The audacity some airlines have! They oversell their own flights and then charge people whse original flight they couldn’t even honor. Blech.

However, ‘ve used one voucher ever, and that was with United Airlines. They were kind after a delay from mechanical difficulty to hand them out to frustrated passengers. I used ours promptly to book a flight to a wedding in LA.

Vouchers are usually handed out on oversold flights, so if you’re really looking to score them and you have lots of free time on your hands, travel on the really busy times of the day – Friday afternoons, Sunday evenings, during conferences and popular events, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Easter weekend – those will usually do the trick.

You will always be placed first on the next available flight with open seats. If you’re really good, you can volunteer to get off the next flight and earn yourself another free seat somewhere.

Make sure you use your ticket within a year. Most expire after a year is up.

If you get bumped from a late flight and have to stay in a hotel or over a meal, ask for a voucher or how to get your meal and/ or hotel covered by the airline.

Now I arrived in Austin and the meeting I needed to go to doesn’t even start until 3:30, so I technically could have taken the voucher and hopped on a 2:00 flight from Dallas. Next time…


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Now Boarding: Monday Hat News- American charges for blankets!

Happy Monday everyone! Here’s the latest in travel news.

American Airlines is charging for BLANKETS and PILLOWS – at a whopping $8 a blanket/pillow set on domestic flights and flights to/from Mexico and Canada. Those questionably clean (even though sealed in plastic), staticky nappy blankets and bunchy little pillows that everyone fights over that American has realized its demand and put a price on it. Yes, it’s a conspiracy. The plane is air-conditioned to a chilling 60 degrees, forcing people to hand over $8, earning that one flight up to $1,500+. And to carry your own blanket takes up half your carry-on, and then you have to check your baggage for $25/ first piece. Granted, you’ll get to keep your $8 inflatable neck pillow and fleece blanket, which is a deal compared to what’s sold at retailers, but you’ll still have to carry them onto each flight and be dinged for the extra load. But don’t fear, I’m sure hundreds of entrepreneurs and companies (Brookstone – I have my eye on you) will be coming out with their own lightweight, folds-into-a-matchbox blanket-pillow set to challenge this latest charge.

On a more exciting front with American, the airline is now opening a non-stop route between Chicago and Beijing.

Southwest’s newest route, non-stop between Philadelphia and Boston’s Logan to start this June, has caused shuttle fares on other airlines to drop by 90 percent. US Airways is one of the popular choices for this commuter route, and travel is expected to shoot up between the two airports as a result of the price drop.

In other Southwest news, overweight actor-director-writer Kevin Smith was removed from a Southwest flight because he violated the airline’s “too fat to fly” policy. Individuals of a certain size (those who cannot put the armrest down) are required to purchase two tickets so they do not encroach his/her neighbor who paid for an entire seat. The producer of Clerks, Dogma, Chasing Amy and other film hits had purchased two seats, but then flew standby and was given one ticket/ one seat. As a result, he was asked to leave the flight, which he caused a great scene and Southwest gave him a $100 voucher which he turned down.

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Cool Tool: the Customer Service Rep and frequent flier miles

Believe it or not… customer service is still functioning, as are frequent flier miles. Jon and I are headed to London and Sweden and have saved up a ridiculous number of American Airlines frequent flier miles to make the journey to our friends’ wedding this summer. According to this previous blog entry, I had overstrategized the grand plan where we would get to London on 60K miles per person but not to Sweden, but we would fly Ryanair (for .01 euro cents! plus taxes) from local London airport to airport an hour outside Stockholm, then take a train to Gottenburg for the wedding. On the return trip, we would fly from an airport an hour outside Gottenburg on Ryanair back to London, then catch the 1.5 hour bus that travels among London’s airports to Heathrow, and catch our flight back to Dulles. Yeesh.

The key to using frequent flier miles is to get flights booked as early as possible, so you can use the minimum amount of vacation days (five) sandwiched between two weekends to make it a 9-day trip (this is all assuming I have a job by August). So our first strategy was to minimize vacation time taken. Of course, as the layoff and other issues crept up, we put the purchasing  on hold for a while, and lost the seats returning from London unless we forked over another 60K miles each or stayed in London until late September. I started all over searching online trying to find flights with frequent flier to Europe, plugging in every hub that American flew to. Could we fly in and out of Frankfurt? Zurich? Even those were completely booked. Turns out I could get us as close as Moscow on the dates we wanted, even though I stopped going to Russian class, but then it would cost nearly $800 just to get from Moscow to Stockholm on some random Russian airline, which would render the whole point of using miles useless. Or, we could switch our dates to arrive into London the day of the wedding at 6:30am, hope that we are on time, jump onto a 9:30am flight to Stockholm, then get a train to Gottenburg and get dressed in the cab on the way to the wedding. 

Surprisingly, Jon is extremely patient when it comes to making phone calls, whereas I have developed a weird twitch whenever the phone rings for me. After chatting with American Airlines for a while, very friendly, very patiently, he managed to score us not only the flight to London on the date we wanted, he also got us flights TO STOCKHOLM ON THE SAME FREQUENT FLIER MILES through a partnership with British Airways. On the return, we would fly from Stockholm to Helsinki to JFK on the date we requested, then on a shuttle flight back to Washington National. We could even take the metro back home. The booking gives us a leisurely four days to enjoy London and a week to drive around Sweden, plus attend the wedding.

When Jon came to meet me in Paris, he managed to book a several-legged trip on just 40,000 miles (American Airlines, too) which took him from Los Angeles to Paris, then Paris to JFK for Christmas with my family for a few days, then back to L.A. I, not realizing you could book a trip in such a way, had purchased a round-trip from JFK to Paris and back, then a separate trip from LA to JFK and back. Apparently, and I would suspect other airlines may do the same, you can use the same miles to travel around the different hubs of the world as long as you return to the same origin. So go fly somewhere fun before frequent flier miles become obsolete, like free checked luggage and peanuts.


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On My Itinerary: Costa Rica!

I got fed up with sitting around at home today and booked us two tickets to Costa Rica for Jon’s spring break.

source: Tulane U.

source: Tulane U.

While I’m thoroughly enjoying the freedom of watching Law & Order back to back after midnight, there is only so much I can take in my little unemployed routine (errands, yoga, plan to study Russian but not get around to it, eat, look for jobs, apply for jobs, make to-do lists each day that I don’t really do) before I start to pull my hair out. It’s also difficult to research travel industry topics for my blog and not get to go  anywhere. If I was laid off in sunny L.A., or even in DC springtime, I would be a little less antsy, but alas, it is still winter here.

What comes with a lot of free time is a lot of opportunity to surf the web for great fares, so I came across a 10% discount on American Airlines (code: JRTJ3GT7SA3J) on flights between March and June that do not take place on Friday, Saturday or Sunday; it lent a better search result than kayak.com, my usual option. We’re departing out of DCA bright and early on a Monday morning and arriving into San Jose by lunch; renting a car and cruising around Costa Rica for eight days before hopping back on a noon flight on Tuesday, a week later. And because we opted for the discounted days, one of our flights was $98 per person, before taxes.

Our plan, which doesn’t really exist right now, is to hit all the main sites in our little rental car which I will probably have to drive the whole time, since Jon cannot drive a stick shift (but perhaps this is a good opportunity to learn). We have yet to buy our Lonely Planet guide, but we welcome any suggestions from our readers. Also, if the unemployment office inquires, I am dutifully looking for work, perhaps in Costa Rica.


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