Friday, 13 January 2006

L.A. Times on airline vouchers

Sometimes, those airline vouchers are like a lump of coal (Jane Engle, Los Angeles Times Sunday travel section, 25 December 2005):

If you get bumped off your flight, help might — or might not — be at hand. As always, the devil is in the details.

Home for the holidays? If the past is any guide, some fliers won’t make it because blizzards or other emergencies grounded their jet-fueled sleighs or because overbooking bumped them from their flights.

Many of these strandees will garner goodies for their troubles: airline vouchers for free seats, hotels, meals and more.

But you’d better watch out for the fine print. Otherwise you’d better not pout if you don’t get what you want….

That’s because vouchers nearly always carry restrictions.

You may have to redeem flight coupons in person or by phone, incurring a fee. Or they may be good only for certain fares or categories of seats. They may expire after a year. A hotel may refuse to accept a voucher or, especially during weather delays, run out of rooms.

“Vouchers often aren’t worth what they seem at first glance,” said Edward Hasbrouck, the author of “The Practical Nomad” books who works with Airtreks .com , a San Francisco-based travel agency.

You may be better off bargaining for cash, experts say — if you can get it.

And bargain you will, under a curiously unregulated free-for-all bidding that airlines employ to entice you to relinquish your seat on overbooked flights. Negotiating for a hotel or meal voucher if your flight is delayed by weather or other causes — not a given — is equally unregulated…

Hasbrouck agreed that it’s usually better to go for the cash than the ticket voucher because at least you have something in hand. Don’t expect to get more than $400 on a domestic flight, though, because that’s the most the airline may owe a bumped passenger under DOT rules.

Beyond that, it’s all negotiable. Seats on long or infrequent flights may be worth more. Hasbrouck said he once saw a passenger awarded $300 plus a hotel voucher plus a business-class seat for being bumped from a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Los Angeles.

A caution for the holidays: Don’t be too eager to give up your seat. Full flights may mean you won’t get to your destination in time.

Before taking a flight voucher, ask these questions:

  • What type is it? Most coupons have a dollar limit, but some may be good for any flight, with a few restrictions.
  • When does it expire? A year is typical. Pin it down: Do you need to book by then? Travel by then?
  • How do you redeem it? Ideally, you can do it online for free. If not, ask for extra money to cover the $10 or $15 fee that is typically charged when you book by phone or in person.
  • Is it subject to blackout dates or other restrictions? If so, you may not be able to use it when you want.
  • Is it transferable? That is, can anyone use it, or just you?
Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 13 January 2006, 06:49 ( 6:49 AM)
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