Maybe they should blame your next flight delay on space aliens

Albert/Shutterstock
Albert/Shutterstock
Fred Rotgers’ recent flight from San Juan to Newark was canceled because of the weather. At least, that’s what United Airlines claims.

Rotgers doesn’t believe it.

“The weather at both the origin and destination was just fine from the time of cancellation until two days later,” he says. “United called this a pre-emptive cancellation.”

Question is, what was United pre-empting? Like many passengers, Rotgers suspects it had other reasons for canceling the flight. Maybe it was having plane trouble or maybe they failed to sell enough seats on the plane.
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A lifetime of loyalty, erased in a second

Sobko/Shutterstock
Sobko/Shutterstock
Loyalty. It ain’t what it used to be.

Just ask someone like Daphne Gemmill, a lifelong US Airways frequent flier whose allegiance to the company goes all the way back to its predecessor, the old Piedmont Airlines.

“With the merger of US Airways and American, I thought my combined lifetime miles might put me in the million-mile category,” says Gemmill, a retired federal government employee. (Million-milers get VIP treatment, a coveted perk for passengers.) So she logged into her account, only to find her “lifetime” miles were gone — voided because of “inactivity” on her account.

“Guess those miles aren’t really lifetime miles, since I’m still alive,” she sighed.
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There’s no such thing as too prepared

Milles/Shutterstock
Milles/Shutterstock
You can’t be too prepared.

I understood that in the abstract sense — who doesn’t? — but it wasn’t until one day exactly 20 years ago that I learned what it really meant. That’s the drizzly, bitter cold Northern California day I discovered I was broke.

I lived in a rat-infested tool shed that had been turned into a spare bedroom in a run-down part of East Berkeley. Down to my last $20, I trudged up to Telegraph Ave., to visit my bank. There, an ATM delivered the bad news dispassionately: I didn’t have enough money in my account to cover next month’s rent.

Come March, I’d be homeless.
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What to do when your airline betrays you

Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com
Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com
To call Ron Giancoli a loyal US Airways customer might be something of an understatement. A sales manager from West Chester, Pa., he’s flown on the airline — which recently merged with American Airlines — almost exclusively for the last three decades.

“I flew US Airways even when it wasn’t the lowest price,” he says. “I flew US Airways even when it was a less convenient schedule.”

Giancoli says he’s been an elite-level customer for 27 out of the last 30 years. He stuck with US Airways through good times and bad, through bankruptcies, reorganizations and customer service meltdowns. In exchange for his loyalty, US Airways offered him upgrades into more comfortable seats and award tickets.
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5 tips from the world’s smartest traveler

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So you think you’re a smart traveler?

Yeah, so did I – until I took this job. Now that I’m immersed in the wacky world of forgotten passports, flat tires, missed connections and trip-ending calamities that I thought only happened in the movies, there’s one thing I know: I am not the world’s smartest traveler.

But you can be.

In my new book, How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle), I serve the inside scoop on how to navigate the winding and confusing road ahead.

If you’re not a book person, don’t worry: I distill my favorite takeaways from the book here. Peruse them before your next vacation and I promise you’ll come home a little smarter, if not happier.
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Beware of the half-truths airlines – and passengers – like to tell

Kunertus / Shutterstock.com
Kunertus / Shutterstock.com
It would be inaccurate to say that American Airlines lied to Kori Conley’s friend when she tried to fix her airline ticket.

She needed to get home for Christmas with her kids, but someone else was paying for her ticket and they’d bungled the reservation, confusing the origin and destination airports on her itinerary.

“My friend called immediately — we’re talking right away — to let them know the error,” says Conley. “They in turn told her there would be a $200 per ticket fee — an extra $600 to fix three tickets.”

It would also be inaccurate to say the American Airline representative who Conley’s friend talked to told her the whole truth. See, under the Transportation Department’s 24-hour rule, she could have canceled her flight and made a new reservation at no charge.
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Total fee absurdity: when your luggage costs more than your airfare

Nico/Shutterstock
Nico/Shutterstock

Tom Ungar and his wife spent $128 to fly from Venice, Italy, to Naples, which is a ridiculously low fare. But when their checked luggage tipped the scales at just over 20 kilos, their airline demanded an additional $152.

A luggage fee that exceeds your airfare? Welcome to the wacky world of a la carte fees — a world filled with consumer “benefits” that airline apologists believe you’ll love.

Ungar’s case is something of an extreme example. He was flying on easyJet, an airline known for its preposterous luggage policies. But ignore his cautionary tale at your own peril, because this is the world the Big Three legacy airlines aspire to, if we, their captive customers, would just let them.

Ungar’s misadventure began when he checked in for his flight in Venice recently. After placing their baggage on the scales, an easyJet employee informed the couple that their luggage was “a bit” overweight and pointed them to another representative. That person said their luggage was free to fly for an additional fee of $152.
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