Friday, July 30, 2010

The (Near) Death Of Standby Seating

In the past, securing a cheap ticket used to be as simple as walking up to the ticket counter and saying that you wanted to put on the standby list. Airlines would happily allow you access to any leftover seats they had available for a greatly reduced cost. Although you weren't guaranteed a seat on any particular flight, the savings were well worth the inconvenience of waiting around the airport.

Although some airlines are offering standby tickets to college students and airline employees, none offer standby tickets to the general public. Even the tickets that are marketed “standby” are often just re-packaged coach seats. The discounts offered aren't nearly as steep as they were in previous years.

So, why are airlines so reluctant to allow standby flyers?

  • Passenger weight/fuel ratios.

Adding another passenger at the last minute changes the passenger weight to fuel ratio. If the plane is already fueled and ready to go, adding another passenger can throw off the appropriate ratio. Further, guidelines require that a plane with more passengers carry a certain amount more fuel. The plane would have to be re-fueled to account for the additional passenger(s).

  • Sneaky strategies.

Some standby passengers began to book tickets on a flight, only to cancel the reservations at the last minute. This ensured that open seats were available, and cost the airlines a significant amount of money.

  • Cost of fuel.

The cost of oil has skyrocketed over the past decade, and will likely continue to rise well into the foreseeable future. Adding more weight to the plane significantly increases the cost of fuel. It simply isn’t profitable for an airline to add another 100-250lbs of passenger weight for pennies of what they would normally charge for the seat.

Deeply discounted airfares are becoming more difficult to find with each passing year. Students and other who want to fly for the least possible expense should consider booking their trips at least six months ahead-of-time. Flying on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays will also lower costs. If possible, applying for a credit card that awards airline miles will also help to offset the cost somewhat.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degree programs. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

SFO-Phoenix $121 "all in"

United just released a Tware SFO-PHX for $100 - roundtrip + tax = $121. Valid for travel through August 26th. Tware's are very limited time offers, usually only lasting a few hours. Click here (until offer expires) for details and to book.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

United Promo: 30% Off Short Haul Award Redemptions

For a limited time, spend 30% less of your United Mileage Plus miles for flights 700 miles or less in distance. For example, a roundtrip flight between San Francisco and Seattle which normally costs 25,000 miles, is now available for 17,500 miles. The 30% discount applies to tickets booked by August 31, 2010, for travel through January 7, 2011. These are pretty good deals particularly into regional airports, which are often costly to purchase. More details here.

156 People Aboard Pakistani Airliner Crash

A Pakistani airliner has reportedly crashed on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan Wednesday. The plane, a commercial Airbus belonging to Airblue, was carrying 156 people en-route from Turkey. Early reports indicate several fatalities, but also some survivors. Bad weather in the area may have been a factor in the crash.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

San Francisco to Cancun $238 RT "all in"

Fares have steadily dropped the past few weeks on the SFO-CUN route - now down to $238 RT, taxes included. Fare is currently offered by Mexicana Airlines, and is valid through end of schedule (EOS) next year, including peak travel days. To book, visit Watch the layovers - some are short, others are quite extensive - and Mexico City airport is not the most exciting place to lounge between flights.

Air Berlin to Join Oneworld Alliance

The Oneworld Alliance announced Monday that Germany's second largest airline - Air Berlin has accepted an invitation to join the global alliance, and will develop codeshare agreements with group members American Airlines and Finnair by November 1, 2010. More details are expected at a press conference later Tuesday.
Air Berlin recently launched twice-weekly non-stop service between San Francisco (SFO) and Dusseldorf.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Some Great Travel Quotations

The web is full of quotations on about every subject possible. Here are a few of my favorites relating to travel. Hats off to lonesome traveller for these.

"Travel teaches how to see" -African Proverb
"No matter where you go, there you are" -Unkown
"They change their climate, not their soul, who rush across the sea" -Horace
"Not all those who wander are lost" -JRR Tolkien
"It is good to have an end to journey inwards, but is the journey that matters in the end." -Ursala La Guin

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Redeeming Miles for Award Travel Can Be Challenging

A piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the weekend highlights the challenges travelers face attempting to redeem frequent flyer miles for free flights. Specifically mentioned is Delta Airlines, recently rated 2nd to last out of 22 airlines, for award travel redemptions at the 25,000 mile level. Read more.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Airline Talk: Operational Upgrades

By Mike Grasso

In most cases upgrading from one cabin (such as economy) to another (such as business) requires an upgrade instrument. This may be in the form of miles, cash, a combination of both, or automatically as a perk of an airlines' loyalty program. Each of these options are generally cheaper ways that outright purchasing a ticket in the higher class of service. In addition to these, there is another method - called an operational upgrade, which takes place behind the scenes. That is to say, your miles, money, and elite status are less important (at least directly) than the immediate operational needs of the airline.

A typical operational upgrade happens when the flight is oversold in economy. With inventory left in business/first, the airline can "bump" select passengers from economy to the front of the plane - a free upgrade. More often than not, this is handled at the gate just prior to boarding, once agents have a handle on how many ticketed passengers will actually show up for the flight. It is true that customer loyalty goes a long way on these types of upgrades, and therefore holding elite status may put you at the top of that "list." But in other situations, the "op-up" as it is called, happens when its least expected. A friend of mine was trying to negotiate a better economy class seat with the gate agent, when suddenly by surprise the agent presented him with a first class boarding pass. Why? The agent needed his original seat because a family of 3 (including 2 children) were going to be separated on different parts of the plane. Little did he know at the time how much easier he had just made that gate agents job. In another case, a few years ago I misconnected on a Northwest Airlines flight due to a mechanical issue; the gate agent rebooked me into first class because no economy seats were available onto my connecting flight. In each of these examples, the needs of the airline (and the need to quickly board the plane for an on time departure) meant operationally, the complimentary upgrades made good business sense.

In summary, operational upgrades are a necessary part of the airline business. The are however, rare. If you are an elite traveler, and/or find yourself in irregular operations, such as an oversell or a last minute plane change (to a larger plane), an op-up may be in your future.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

American and JetBlue Starting a Relationship

American Airlines and JetBlue Airlines have launched a commercial agreement giving customers the convenience of booking interline service in non-overlapping markets from JFK and Boston airports. This allows customers to book domestic and international tickets on both carriers with a single reservation. The two airlines will also begin a frequent flyer relationship later this year on the cooperative interline routes noted here. This means customers will have the choice to earn either AAdvantage or TrueBlue points when flying select routes.
"The rewards of the journey far outweigh the risk of leaving the harbor" - Proverb

Access 600 airport lounges

Tropical Depression Forms in the Bahamas, Warnings Posted

The National Hurricane Center issued Tropical Storm Warnings for the Florida Keys this morning as a newly formed Tropical Depression was moving toward the south Florida coast from the Bahamas this morning. According to a statement, the depression may form into a storm later today, and begin to impact parts of Florida in the coming days. The longer range outlook takes the storm into the Gulf of Mexico this weekend. A good reminder to travelers heading south that Hurricane Season is now upon us.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Virgin America Launches SFO-Orlando October 6th

In a press release Tuesday Virgin America announced new service between San Francisco and Orlando, Florida. The launch, previously slated for August 19th, was postponed to October 6 due to a delay in its leased aircraft deliveries. The airline will initially offer one daily flight between the two cities. Tickets can now be purchased at

Play United's Optathlon Games and Win Big (or Small)

Check out the United Airlines Optathlon games where you could win a million Mileage Plus miles, or some of the smaller instant prizes, such as Red Carpet Club passes and discount travel vouchers. I just played and scored a 10% off e-voucher for domestic travel. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Now Hear This: Free Sample of Hearos Ear Plugs

Grab yourself a free pair of Hearos ear plugs - the perfect companions for an overnight or long distance flight where you need some sleep. The promotion says there is a daily limit of 1,000 samples, so if you don't scoop one up today, try again tomorrow. By the way, although this is a pretty legit company, and their products are readily available at retail stores, it's probably wise to use a spam email address rather than your primary account for freebie offers like this.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Register Now for Double HHonors Points/Miles

Hilton says... Double your HHonors. Earn double points or double miles for every stay between now and September 30, 2010. Pre-registration is required. The bonus can be earned at over 3,600 properties around the world participating in the HHonors program.

United Plane on Approach to SFO Reports Laser Beam, Injury

Around 10:30 tonight while on UA155 listening to Channel 9 (Live ATC communications), someone from the flight deck reported to San Francisco Approach they were hit by a green laser beam aimed from the ground south of the airport. Upon touching down, medical assistance was requested. Medics and police were at the gate to meet the plane. An alert was issued for other inbound traffic of this hazard. I was on the opposite side of the plane and didn't see the actual incident. No official announcement was made of the incident or injury by the flight crew.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Double Southwest Credits Flying into Philadelphia or DC Airports

Now for a limited time, earn double Southwest RapidRewards credits when you fly to/from Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Washington-Dulles airports. That means two credits for each one-way flight, instead of the usual one credit. You must register for the promotion, then book travel by August 11, 2010, and complete all travel by September 30th.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday afternoon storm chasing update

Hello inFLIGHTout readers... here is my storm chasing Saturday adventure:

10:50 PM CDT - The day's recap: WOW! Today was an excellent day of chasing - one of my best ever. Although pretty scary! The storm prediction center did an amazing job in their initial severe weather prediction (see storm reports graphic below compared with their initial prediction for areas with moderate risk for severe weather). In the end, it was the hail that was the big story - with several reports of golfball and baseball sized hail dropping from the sky. This was a bit of unexpected danger as my rental car kept taking hits around 4-5pm this afternoon. I felt at any moment the windshield was going to break - as it had on other cars in the area. I quickly pulled off to the side of the road, where some tall trees and shrubs provided partial protection for me and the car. Afterward, I met up with another amateur storm chaser, to compare war stories and share ideas about what the afternoon has in store for us.

The real treat waited until about a half hour before dark. Rule #1 of storm chasing, do not chase at night! I'm sitting near Maple Grove, MN enjoying an approaching cluster of cells from the west, when suddenly a (very) nearby tornado siren began to scream. But where was the tornado? No tornado warning had been issued. But then, after chasing 6 hours, your eyes begin to play games and certain clouds begin to look "suspicious." It wasn't until a second tornado siren (now 2) starting going off, and lightning strikes were dancing around my car did I begin to wonder the escape route. But no time, a minute later, the weather radio is alarm rings with the announcement of a confirmed tornado on the ground, in a town 3 miles to the north of me!

Considering it was getting dark, I didn't have an immediate plan to withdraw, if necessary, and the confirmed tornado on the ground (moving at 40 MPH by the way!), I felt the best decision was to take myself off the course for the tornado and pull into a suburban neighborhood. Before doing so, I snapped up some great video of the approaching dark and lower wall cloud which is rapidly approaching my location. As the storm increased in intensity, straight-line winds of 40-60MPH were slamming my car in torrential rain. Fearing uncertainly whether baseball size hail might start falling, or the tornado moves into my direction, I gracefully pull into someones driveway, and partially into their open garage to take cover. Glad they left the garage door open. Thank you unknown friend. =) After 20 minutes the storms moved east.

Hail was the primary cause of damage during today's storms, but wind contributed to some downed trees. Six unconfirmed tornado's were also reported. Although I did not observe any of the tornado's (soooo close), I saw mother nature at her finest today, which made it all worth it. Will have pics of this travel adventure posted later in the week. Hope you enjoyed!

11:50 AM CDT - Currently west of Minneapolis, MN. The entire area continues to be under a moderate risk of severe weather. The primary threat will be large hail, and a few tornado's this afternoon, turning to a large wind events overnight. The first severe thunderstorm warning just got posted well Northwest of here... with quarter size hail being reported.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2:38 PM CDT Friday


12:45 PM

Afternoon update from the SPC looks promising for severe weather episode Saturday afternoon across Central and Southern Minnesota.

Off.... Storm Chasing in Minnesota

Even the first time chaser knows Minnesota is not in the heart of tornado alley. But they do receive their fair share of severe weather each season. The Storm Prediction Center has hatched a 30% probability of an organized severe weather event across the southern part of the state for Saturday. Severe weather is defined as hail 1" or larger, winds greater than 58 m.p.h, or a tornado.

As I do each season, I plan on flying out for a weekend of enjoying nature at its finest. The strong and severe storms rarely seen or heard on the west coast, are a welcome treat for me. Supercell storms, wall cloud (pictured below), funnel clouds or even tornado's are simply icing on the cake. =)

Current plan is to depart on a red-eye tonight. Stay tuned for updates.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Travel Tip: Daily Deals for Cities You Travel To

Group buying sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial are sweeping through the web offering steep discounts to consumers, while driving in heavy traffic to local businesses. These sites work by offering 1-day only deals - such as 50% off a rafting trip in the Sierra, or highly discounted restaurant and entertainment deals. The high response to these discounts allows businesses to offer such deals. In addition to activity deals, recent hotel and airline deals have been offered. For example, on the Atlanta Groupon page, Delta Airlines was offering a One-Visit Pass to Delta SkyClub Lounge (a $50 value) for just $22. On the Las Vegas Groupon page, the Clarion was selling for just $21 a night for a King-bed Junior Suite - valid any day of the week.

So, if you are planning a trip outside the Bay Area, it's probably worth signing up (free) for the daily emails offered by these sites, which can be customized to the cities you are traveling to.

LivingSocial sign-up (earn $5 toward first purchase)

Save on all the things you love to do!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Earn American Airlines Miles Completing Online Surveys

Opinion Place is an online site where you can share your opinions on a variety of products or services while earning bonus frequent flyer miles (or other rewards). I've used the site for many years, with no problems. Usually 75-150 AAdvantage miles are offered per survey, with an average time commitment of 10-15 minutes on each. Miles are usually credited within a week. This Click here to sign up.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Flashback to Airline - the TV Show (2004-2005)

Who remembers Airline - the TV show from 2004-2005? The programming is based on a UK show, with the U.S. version focusing on Southwest Airlines and their customers. Tempers are flying in this episode due to massive overbooking, ticketing problems, and a potentially drunk passenger attempting to fly. Here is part 1 of 3, with remaining episodes available on YouTube.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Register Now for the Best of All Worlds Sweepstakes

Register now for your chance to win roundtrip air and 3 nights accommodations at a participating Hyatt Resort in North America or the Caribbean. Plus receive a $500 Hyatt gift card to use at the resort. ARV of the prize is $3,500.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

HOT! Virgin America $33 Fare Sale (7 hours only!)

12:45 PM update:
$33 fare valid between SFO and Vegas/Los Angeles/Seattle/San Diego
Travel August 25-October 3, 2010, valid any day of the week (subject to availability)
$113 fare SFO to Washington-Dulles/New York-JFK/Boston/Fort Lauderdale

From the Virgin America Facebook page:
"To celebrate our Three-Peat Win of #1 Best Domestic Airline by Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards, we’d like to thank you with a 7-Hour “Three-Peat” Fare Sale with fares as low as $33 (see fare rules). Book your ticket before 4:59pm PT to take advantage of these sweet deals."

The website is getting hammered with requests. Consider booking through Orbitz as some of the fares are showing up there. Unsure of which dates qualify for the discount, but one date - August 29-31 from SFO to Vegas was just found for $66 roundtrip (Thanks Binh).

Strategies On Getting "Bumped" From A Flight

By Mike Grasso

In the industry it is called an oversell and to flexible consumers, it can result in free travel.

Denied boarding, known as getting "bumped" from a flight, often occurs when an airline made more reservations than seats available - a sometimes controversial business practice that predicts some passengers will not show up for their originally scheduled flight. But when predictions are wrong and everyone does show up for the flight, the airline must bump some passengers holding confirmed reservations; voluntarily (probably going to make people happy), or involuntarily (probably going to upset people).

Here's how it works: Take for example a United flight between San Francisco and Denver on an Airbus 320. The flight has a capacity of 138 passengers, but based on several factors, the airline decides to oversell by 6% - allowing the airline to sell up to 146 seats. The airline is predicting that those 6% of customers will for whatever reason (missed connections, delays through airport security, etc) will not make their flight. When it comes departure time, any number greater than 138 (total seats) results in an oversell, and the "bumping" process begins.

Airlines will first ask for volunteers (this is you!) to give up their seats. In return, airlines will generally offer a free round-trip ticket within the continental U.S, or a voucher between $200-$400 valid for future travel, in addition to putting you on the next available flight. Situationally, amenities such as higher compensation, food vouchers, hotel stays, and first class upgrades can be negotiated. Sounds great, doesn't it? But, absent willing volunteers (where are you?) the airline will begin to involuntarily deny boarding to some unlucky passengers. It is for this reason, the practice of overselling flights is frowned on by some.

Let's stick with you graciously volunteering to give up your seat. Here are some tips:

1. Overselling the flight does not mean the airline will need volunteers. And just because they ask for volunteers doesn't mean they will end up needing them. Most of the time, the determination of whether volunteers will be needed and/or utilized is decided at the gate.

2. Assume you are not the lone volunteer. If the gate agent announces they are looking for volunteers, walk (run) yourself to the podium to ensure your volunteer status is noted.

3. If you have information that your flight might be oversold (methods on how to do this previously discussed on inFLIGHTout) you can be proactive and inform the gate agent you are available, if needed.

4. Don't be "gate lice." Oversold flights are extra work for already fatigued gate agents. They don't need passengers constantly nagging them about their volunteer status. Once you've identified yourself as a volunteer, remain in the gate area for updates.

5. Know your tolerance for "pain". Are you OK being separated from your checked luggage? If you do accept a bump, it's likely your bag(s) will stay on the original flight. Are you OK if the next available flight out is several hours later? What if only a middle seat is available on the next flight out? If you volunteer, and after everyone else boards the plane the airline determines they don't need to bump you, how would you feel about not having overhead bin space? These situations should be carefully evaluated before you commit yourself as a volunteer.

6. Be flexible and be smart. Gate agents will want to route you to your final destination as quickly as possible. But sometimes they need to be reminded of easy alternatives. If you are trying to fly back to San Francisco, ask if a later flight is available into Oakland or San Jose. If there are no good flight options, ask if they can accommodate you on a partner airline (ie: United/U.S Air). If you are in a particularly nice destination such as Hawai'i and you are flexible with travel dates, ask to fly out the next day.

So how can you predict which flights are more likely to need volunteers? You really can't. Friday, Sunday and Holidays are busy travel dates and thus would, at least theoretically, result in more bumps. To narrow it down further to particular flights or routes would seem pointless since the airlines would quickly identify these by all the previous bumps, and adjust future overselling downward.

Finally, besides oversells, there are other instances when volunteers might be needed. Weight restrictions hugely impact smaller aircraft, such as those that seat less than 50 passengers. Too many checked bags and/or other cargo could limit the number of passengers allowed on. Also the occasional last minute plane swaps, a larger plane for a smaller one, often mean dozens of people will need to give up their seat.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Delta Airlines Adds Min Stay Requirement on Some Award Travel

In yet another disappointment to the Delta Skymiles "useless miles" program comes a minimum stay requirement for certain award travel resumptions. Effective August 2010, customers who redeem award travel within 21 days of departure will now have a Friday or Saturday night minimum stay requirement. According to the Delta website certain elite members, Delta-branded credit card holders, and those willing to dish up extra miles for mid or high tier award travel are exempt from the fee.
A growing number of travel experts believe the Delta Airlines SkyMiles program has fast become the worst frequent flyer program in the U.S. due to mounting fees, strict policies, and lack of low-tier award travel availability.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Register for Southwest's Vac8ion Destin8ion Giveaway

Click here to register for Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Vac8ion Destin8ion Giveaway. You could win up to 8 free roundtrip flights with elite (A-list) status for a year, or one of several other prizes. You must be a Rapid Rewards member to register for the giveaway. If you are not a RR member, click here to sign up and earn up to 4 credits just for doing so.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

RyanAir to Begin Testing Standing Room Only Tickets

Never lacking creativity, Low-cost-carrier RyanAir said it has plans to sell standing room tickets on some of its short-haul routes. The European-based airline says it hopes to remove the last 10 rows of seats aboard flight less than 1-hour in length, and replace them with 15 rows of vertical seating. But current European Aviation rules prohibit such a "seating" arrangement, and Boeing - who supplies RyanAir with 737-300 aircraft said they are not considering standing-only accommodations.

This begs the question: A prank from Ryan Air - or something that might just fly in the years to come?

New Passport Fees Begin Later This Month

If you are in need of passport-related services, now may be the time to start the process. That's because the U.S. State Department is upping several fees beginning July 13th. For example, the total cost to apply for an adult passport will increase from $100 to $135. Been doing some extensive travel and need new pages? Before that was free of charge, but come July 13th, an $82 fee will be assessed. Here is a listing of all current fees, and new fees effective July 13.