Airline passengers already suffering through packed flights and record delays may now have something new to gripe about: airlines are cutting back on some of the few perks that are left.
US Airways today became the first major carrier to end a practice that customers have come to count on. Previously, any flight on the airline earned travelers enrolled in US Airways' Dividend Miles program a minimum of 500 frequent flier miles, no matter how short the journey. Now the carrier will award actual miles flown.
For example, beginning March 1, customers flying the heavily traveled shuttle flights between New York and Boston will earn just 185 miles instead of 500 miles. It's a small change, with big implications.
This comes just one week after United Airlines announced it would allow non-elite status passengers to check only one bag for free. A second bag will cost $25, and a third and fourth bag will cost a whopping $100 each.
United says the change will bring in an extra $100 million a year, but there will almost certainly be a negative cost in customer relations.
US Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant explained that high oil prices have kept plane ticket prices up.
"Fuel is our number one cost. If fuel stays where it is, it will cost us $800 million more in 2008 than it did in 2007," Durrant said. "If you have that kind of operational reality, then you've got to look where you can generate revenue, and this was one area that was identified."
Durrant pointed out that travelers can still save money by signing up for a Dividend Miles credit card that would accrue frequent flyer miles with each purchase made. He also said that travelers can save by making purchases from third-party companies such as Netflix, i-Tunes or 1-800 Flowers, through the Dividend Miles Web site or mentioning a member number at the time of purchase.
But Expedia travel expert Erin Krause suggests that spending money elsewhere isn't necessarily the best way to save money on flights.
"We're finding that it's not about having to spend money to save money," she said. "It's about being smart and maximizing the travel you get for your dollar."
Krause suggested having flexible flight dates and traveling in the offseason.
"Look into which day of the week is the least expensive or try going to a popular spot in the off-season." she said. "Instead of going to Europe in the summer, try to go in the next couple months. You'll have the same great people, food, local flavor, but it won't be overrun with tourists and you won't be paying as much."
Here are some other travel tips from Expedia to get the most value out of your vacationing dollar:
Be flexible. The ability to alter travel dates by even a few days will often yield savings on airfare and hotel rates. Use tools like the Expedia Fare Compare Calendar to find the least expensive days to fly.
Let someone else do the shopping for you. Downloadable desktop applications like the Expedia Fare Alert tool can continually shop available flights and deliver pricing information right to your desktop. Presetting the preferred pricing will ensure the information delivered meets the your requirements and will even show how much it would cost to add a hotel to the trip.
Book a vacation package. Those who book their flight and hotel together as a vacation package rather than booking separately save an average of $220.
Listen to travelers like you. User reviews are a great tool to learn more about a hotel or a destination. Feedback from other travelers can be invaluable in helping to determine if the pool really is as great as it looks or if the continental breakfast can't be beat. A great resource on hotels, vacations and more can be found at Trip Advisor.
Travel during the "shoulder season." The "shoulder season" is travel industry lingo for the time right before and right after a peak season, when travelers can generally find better deals and availability, even in the most popular destinations. For summer travel it is roughly May 15 to June 1 and Aug.15 to Sept. 15. Especially in June, prices tend to be lower, crowds lighter and the weather cooler.
Travel against the grain. Vacation where it is the slow season. During the summer visit a Rocky Mountain ski resort, desert spa or Mexico beach. Rates are 50 percent to 80 percent less than during the peak season, and you can experience the same restaurants, pools, spas, activities and in-room amenities.
Consider a Caribbean cruise. Cruising is one of the best values for early spring and summer travel as lines continue to cut rates to keep ships full. A Mediterranean cruise is also a less expensive way to see Europe, as your transportation, food and lodging is paid for in U.S. dollars before you leave.
Consider travel to Latin America. With the dollar at record lows against many major world currencies, travelers yearning to go overseas are increasingly headed south — to Mexico, Central America and South America. In addition to low prices, Latin America offers a wide array of cultural attractions and a cosmopolitan hotel scene in many of its larger cities. The region is an interesting alternative to crowded and higher-priced Europe, with something for everyone, including foreign languages, exotic cuisine, long sandy beaches, outdoor adventure, jungles, vineyards and glaciers.