Travel Losers (and Winners) of 2016

We’ve seen some big fails this year in the world of travel, but there have been some successes, too.

May you only see the latter in 2017.

Travel Losers

Home shoppers vs. airline computer outages

I’m not alone in suggesting it’s time for the airlines to overhaul some of their antiquated reservation systems. Among those that experienced some sort of computer outage in the past year were United in October, British Airways in September, Delta in August and Southwest in July. In the case of Southwest, this led to the cancellation of more than a thousand flights and thousands more were delayed/cancelled by other carriers, sometimes during the busy, peak summer season. This isn’t exactly a new problem; American suffered a system-wide grounding of its flights back in 2013, so maybe it’s time for carriers to take a good hard look at their systems to keep them up-and-running day-in and day-out.

Cheap flyers

United has joined other mega-airlines (including Delta) in announcing a new "basic economy" class that sounds pretty good since it’s supposed to be the airline’s cheapest way to fly, but it’s missing one vital ingredient. United’s basic economy passengers will not be allowed to bring carry-ons on the plane. Put it another way, you can pack a normal-sized carry-on but it must be checked like a suitcase and you will pay a fee. My gripe isn’t really about the money; I like carry-ons because airlines can’t lose bags that travel by your side. Unfortunately, in United’s new basic economy, no overhead-bins for you!

Anyone who violates the TSA’s no-no list

It’s becoming routine to see headlines on the TSA Blog such as, “75 Firearms Discovered in Carry-On Bags This Week." But when you consider 67 of those guns were loaded and 31 had chambered rounds, it’s starting to get ridiculous. Of course, this does not include all the other recent security finds like a blowtorch, a "Walking Dead" “Lucille” bat complete with rubber barbed-wire and fake blood, and a flash-bang grenade (which turned out to be a replica containing hot sauce but still a no-no). Passengers, please don’t put prohibited items in your carry-ons because not only could they be potentially dangerous, you could get fined (up to $11,000) and you could miss your flight. Worst of all, it slows the lines down for the rest of us. The TSA has clear guidelines for traveling with firearms and ammunition in checked baggage that you can read about here.

Travel Winners

Adventurers

Cuba has opened up for travel and we’re seeing some excellent prices to Havana, Santa Clara and Varadero like JetBlue’s recent special on Cuba flights from $54 one-way. On the other hand, maybe some airlines were a wee bit too ambitious about initial demand; American Airlines announced earlier this week it was cutting back on its flights by 25 percent for the coming year. Nevertheless, this bucket list destination is now available for many who used to only dream of visiting.

Europe traveler

Last week, my site posted deals to Europe for incredible prices including Boston to London for $313 round-trip and Los Angeles to London for under $400. A few things are at play here including relatively low oil/jet fuel prices. But much of the credit belongs to a host of discount carriers such as Iceland’s Wow Air, Norway’s Norwegian Air Shuttle, Portugal’s TAP airlines and more. These international discounters have changed the landscape of trans-Atlantic pricing and early signs point to this continuing through 2017.

PreCheck and Global Entry members

Short security lines, shoes stay on, a quick walk-through a metal detector -- that’s PreCheck and it’s worth every penny of its $85 cost (and that’s good for five years). For international travelers, Global Entry ($100 for five years) makes those customs lines a breeze (membership also includes PreCheck). If you haven’t signed up yet, do so; it could be the best travel decision you ever make.

Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world. Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.