6 Answers to Common Travel Questions

PHOTO: In this file photo, passengers approach the check-in counter at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport in Minneapolis.

Did you hear about the woman who had a ticket on a flight out of San Francisco International but instead of boarding her plane, she wandered the airport - for eight days because she didn't have the money to pay the checked-bag fee?

Astonishing story, but what really got me was she had no idea that free checked-bags are no longer the norm.

So I started thinking about what else "infrequent fliers" might not know. I'm talking about folks who save up for a nice vacation every year or so, or maybe fly for business but their company handles all the arrangements, so they're out of the loop.

Take a look at the following Q&A for the infrequent flier. I'm betting some of you seasoned travelers will learn a thing or two as well.

For more travel news and insights, view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

Q. So there is no such thing as a free checked-bag, right?

A. Wrong. Southwest still gives you two free-checked bags, while JetBlue gives you one. But this is not written in stone so check when you book; you never know when an airline will change a policy and you should know that carriers can and do change fee prices all the time.

Another way to avoid bag fees: become an elite-miles member flier, or use an airline-branded card that gives you checked-bags for free. Plus carry-on bags are still free on all airlines with the exception of Spirit, and that airline's carry-on fee can actually cost you more than a checked-bag.

Q. Can I still get an aisle or window seat for free in coach?

A. Maybe. More and more airlines are setting aside front-of-the-cabin seating, exit rows and even random aisle and window seats for elite-miles members or those willing to pay for better seats (and these days, "better" is considered anything outside of a middle seat).

Case in point involves a "non-elite" colleague of mine who recently booked four flights on American Airlines. On one of those flights, she was given a choice of an aisle seat in the last row or middle seats; for the other three flights, she was told to "see the gate agent for seat assignment" when she got to the airport. She wound up paying an extra $72 for the airline's Preferred Seating in order to get aisle seating on those three flights.

It's not just American; United has its Economy Plus program, Delta has Economy Comfort and so on. Sure, you might find the kind of seat you want without paying extra, although it might not be in the greatest location, but, sometimes you won't. By the way, even discounter Southwest charges for a better seat, with its $10 EarlyBird boarding fee.

To get the best choice of seating, always remember to check in for your flight at the earliest opportunity, meaning 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds before your flight departs.

Q. I made a reservation months ago for a flight I can't take now. How do I get my refund?

A. What refund? Unless you specifically purchased the more expensive refundable tickets, you are out of luck. Yes, you might be able to still use the tickets later in the year, but you will have to pay the "change fee," which can cost as much as $150, plus the difference in the cost of the tickets if they are more expensive during the period you can fly.

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