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November 2012
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January 2013

Flight under Trip Delay flies over the Rocky Mountains en route to San Francisco. Travelers rights and travel insurance can help you in the event of a trip cancellation.In our year-end editorial meeting, my boss/executive editor commented about the amount of writing I've done about the various trip delays I've had this year. "People are going to start to think you're the unluckiest traveler in the world," she told me. And looking back at all my travels in 2012, I'm starting to agree with her. Out of all the flights I took, I was forced into a trip delay on at least four of them - and outright missed my connections twice. Based on those numbers, I might be pretty unlucky this year. But in the same stroke, I've also been pretty lucky in the fact that I've turned a lot of those delays into bonus points and credits. 

 Non-frequent travelers may not know that there are several laws out there to protect you and help get you to your destination - all depending on where you're going to or from, or how you're getting there. As a result of all of my travels, delays, and cancellations this year, I've made myself learn about what rights are available to me. It also helps that, as a result of all the hurricanes and winter storms this year, the media has done a better job of bringing attention to flyer's rights.

So what can you do if you're behind a trip delay or a trip cancellation? Traveler advocate offers the following tips: 

  • Know when you can and can't get off the airplane
    Once the doors to the airplane are closed, you're stuck on the plane, right? Yes and no. Once the doors are closed, you are under the control of the airline and are obligated to follow the directions of the pilot and flight crew. But if the flight is delayed for three hours or more, the airplane must return to the gate and allow passengers to deplane - unless doing so would disrupt regular airport operations, or create a security problem.
  • Know when you can and can't get information
    If your going to have a trip delay on your flight, your airline is obligated to give information about the delay every 30 minutes after the scheduled take off, and continue to do so until your flight is departed.
     This allows you to be in control and understand the situation at hand, and allow you to make reasonable accomodations to get where you're going. If you're not getting this information on a regular basis, its okay to ask - just be polite when you do so, and understand that the gate agents are possibly just as stressed as you are. 
  • Know when you can ask to take another flight
    Before airline deregulation in 1978, all airlines operating in the United States had to comply with FAA Rule 240. What was Rule 240?  If a flight went under a trip delay or trip cancellation, the airline you flew was obligated to transfer passengers to another carrier if that other carrier could get you to your destination faster. Since airline deregulation, this rule has become obsolete - however, under the conditions of carriage that every airline files with the FAA, many airlines still have a variation of this rule. If you're worried that you may be under a trip delay, check with your airline to see their version of this rule, and under what options you can elect to exercise that right. 

As I've written before, considering travel insurance is not a bad investment in this situation. To learn more about what travel insurance may cover during a winter storm, click here

By knowing your rights when flying, you can better prepare yourself to ride out a trip delay or trip cancellation. Preparation is always the best thing to pack when taking a major trip - and knowing these tips could be just as important as packing your lucky sweater.

Has knowing your rights helped you in the midst of a trip delay? I'd like to know about it - leave me a comment below with how you negotiate your way through a trip delay. 

Mission San Luis Obispo - a reminder of home holiday travel.
Photo by: Ed Bierman/Flickr

The title says it all - this year, I won't be heading to my home of California for the holidays. It's a rather common occurance, I'm embarrased to admit. And after everything that we've seen this year, I'm very regretful that I won't get to spend this quality time with my family. I suppose that's part of the agreement that I made to live this life that I wanted: can't stay for long; just turn around, and I'm gone again.

Not that I hold any regrets. I've gotten to see a lot more of the United States this year than I ever anticipated. Nor does this damper my spirit to hold to my New Years Travel Resolutions (which I'll share next week). But I do wish I could spend more time taking pictures with my mom. Or sitting beside the barbecue telling stories with my dad. Or discovering new dungeons on Skyrim with my brother. Though my cousin and I are close to finishing our multiplayer of Portal 2...

This post is not directly about travel. There are no miles or points to be had for this one. Not even a story on how I kept sane in the midst of a trip delay. But it is about how I keep in touch with those who are close to me while I'm on the road. Because no matter where you go, you'll always have an anchor holding you home - be it Austin, Boston, or Bulgaria.

I'll not be home for the holidays this year. But regardless of the fact that I'm 2,000 miles and one left turn away, I plan on bridging the gap using technology to see those who I care about the most this season. Using the three W's:

  1. Webcams and Wirless
    No, I won't be home to see my family this year. But I will be "seeing" them when we use Skype and Facetime to connect with each other. Thanks to the blistering-fast internet that I have at home, and all of my various connecting apparatuses, I'll be able to wish Grandma a Merry Christmas face-to-face, and even open a couple of gifts on the webcam. I'll be able to show dad the Tri-Tip I plan on grilling for dinner. And everyone will get to watch the cat play fetch with his favorite toy. Its not the same as being there with them, but it's as close as I can get.
  2. Well wishes to everyone
    I've always argued that the written word is much more real than anything scribed in an e-mail or text message. So for those who I can't see as regualrly - like my friends in Richmond, Chicago, Hollywood, and everywhere in between, holiday cards are getting sent out with my well wishes for everyone. And the occasional gift - because what are the holidays without a little festivity?
  3. Warm outlooks for 2013
    So I can't be everywhere with everyone. But at least I can start the planning for an awesome year of travel ahead. Already this year I've got a travel plan of star touring in Temecula, racing in Rockingham, wine tours in Niagara and Napa, and a bunch of side trips inbetween. And in the time off I have coming up in the next couple of weeks, I plan on sitting down and making it all come together. If nothing else, I can start dreaming. That's part of the holiday magic, right?

Keeping in touch while you're on the road can be difficult. But every once in a while, technology can bridge that gap and keep you focused, regardless of where you wander. How do you keep in touch with your loved ones on the road? I'd like to hear your tips on keeping in touch!

And no matter what you celebrate or how you do so...have a fun, joyous, and safe holiday season.

IMG_0420Earlier this week, my friend Linda in Customer Service and I had a debate on Facebook about the great airports of the world. I defended my love of Chicago O'Hare, despite the fact that it can be notorious for trip delays. She held the position that there are better airports to be stuck at with more power outlets - like Port Columbus and Las Vegas McCarran, among others.

I appreciated our back-and-forth, because it made me really wonder why I had such a love of Chicago's busiest airport - and the fourth busiest airport in the world. Despite all of my travel delays here, the baggage loss, and even trip cancellations...what made me hold on to this airport so dearly?

I credit my appreciation of the windy city to my second flight ever - when I was visiting colleges in Ohio for the first time. I was filled with a sense of wonder and amazement as I first laid eyes on this modern monolith. Coming from meager roots from a little farm town in California, this was the closest to a midwest major city that I had ever been (save for Los Angeles...which was a different experience in my mind entirely). The architecture was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life, and a far cry from the single gate that served my hometown airport in Santa Maria. There were people of all cultures there - all either waiting to get to where they were going, or waiting to get home.

The airport was a modern labrynth, with the occasional minotaur of a tired or cranky traveler. It would be the place that I would spend a lot of time either waiting to get home for the holidays or summer, or dread going back to school. It would be the place where I would spend hours reading, waiting for a flight - or playing a game while trying to kill a trip delay. It was the place that I would have a coffee while pondering the mysteries of the earth - like where my bags ended up when I had a baggage loss. And especially around Christmas, when the entire airport would be decorated to the season, it held a particularly magical feeling to it. At least until the plane would be de-iced.

Now as an adult, I can appreciate the fact that Chicago inspired into me the love of travel that I have today. Having that experience there, flying back and forth from coast-to-coast for the better part of four years, really made me appreciate seeing the world - and gave me a wanderlust for places to see. Take a walk in any terminal, and you'll see flights departing to all continents of the world. Seeing the names of the places and the people boarding each flight made me wonder what went on at each of those places. What people lived there? What did they do? What made them want to go to their final destinations? What brought them home each time?

Linda may be right - I do run the higher risk of a trip delay or baggage loss every time I go through Chicago's airports (the only place in the world with both airports named after World War II people or events). But the memories that I have there of my youth will always make it a special place to be, that I will always look forward to traveling through.

What makes a place or airport special for you? Where do you enjoy traveling through most? Let me know by leaving a comment below! 

IMG_0564One of the pains of living in the spoke of a spoke-and-hub travel world is that trip delays aren't an inconvenience - they are a way of life. I was reminded of that lesson the hard way this weekend, when taking my end-of-year mileage run from Columbus to San Francisco. Once again, I did everything right: I left work on time, plotted out a fast way to the airport, and arrived to check my bag 90 minutes ahead of schedule. My planning was so good, in fact, that I was able to swing through the TSA checkpoint without any trouble, and I was sitting in my gate with a good hour to spend doing whatever I wished to do.

It was a shame that I ended up spending that hour scrambling between two gates and five gate agents as the result of a trip delay that originated out of Newark, trying to make a connection in Chicago that was never meant to be. What's worse, is that I wasn't alone - at least five other people were stuck trying to make a connection to San Francisco, and the delay from was affecting people going to Newark as well.

I've blogged about surviving trip delay in the past. And in this case, it helped a little bit. But it didn't take away the frustration that I was stuck between either going home for the night and getting 12 hours less time to play in San Francisco on Saturday, or potentially being stuck at Chicago O'Hare airport all night (even though I do love that airport). Ultimately, I ended up forging on and risking the awkward overnight stay at O'Hare - just to be pleasantly greeted at the gate by an agent who already had a hotel and meal voucher waiting for me, as well as my rebooked tickets for the next morning. It's the little things that can make everything better. 

This was a situation that I was grateful for travel insurance - as it may have helped if I didn't have the assistance of the airline. But even without an extra ace in the hole, there are ways  that I could have used to get through the trip delay:

  • Know the cause of your trip delay
    As we learned from the Q & A with United President & CEO Jeff Smisek, irregular operations are just that - irregular. But there are different reasons why the irregular operations are happening. Sometimes, it's weather - and sometimes, its operational error. By using flight tracking websites (and in some cases, the cargo website of the carrier), you can find out why the flight is delayed - and make an attempt to get some recompense as a result.
  • Be aware of your surroundings
    Gate agents are worked very hard - especially in the midst of a trip delay, when they have a line of angry passengers
    . And sometimes, that gate agent in the middle of the mix isn't the best one to deal with. It's ok to seek another gate agent that isn't busy with another group, or in the best case scenario, a customer service center. By stepping out of the storm, you've got a fresh set of eyes that might be more willing to help you in the event of a bad situation.
  • Know all your options
    There's no way around it - the trip delay has left you stuck, and there's nothing left to do but figure out your next move. What's worse, you don't have a voucher from the airline to help you out. In many cases, you can ask your airline to help with a "distressed traveler rate" at a local hotel. The "distressed traveler" situation allows for a discount on a hotel room that you can use to at least get some sleep and freshen up before your next leg. And hopefully not get stuck again.

After all was said and done, my end-of-year mileage run was a fantastic success, despite the trip delay bringing it to a rough start. I got to see family, accidentally reconnected with old friends, and once again got bonus points for making it through the situation. All to get back on the plane 25 hours later, and come back to my life already in progress. Now I can't wait for my next one in January - crossing my fingers that there won't be another trip delay there as well.

Do you know of any better ways to get through a trip delay, or try and get some assistance as a result of one? I'd really like to hear them - let me know in the comments below!

In my last blog post yesterday, I talked about the lessons learned after a very fun road trip weekend to Canada. The one thing that I didn't talk about was how I was able to provide the funds behind the trip. Yes, the trip itself was a great time - and thanks to some well-timed specials, I was able to pay a fraction of the cost that I normally would. And I won't have to pay off the bills over the next decade.

So how was I able to make it all work? Allow me to outline the ways I made this trip easier on myself.

  1. Groupon and Living Social Discounts
    Hotel planning was a breeze this time, as the majority of my hotel stays were paid for through Groupon and Living Social discounts. With these discounts, I was able to pay about a third of the price I normally would for the four-star hotels I stayed in, and had some extra bonuses added as well - such as restaurant discounts, wine tastings, and even free casino credits. However, the secret to making this a successful proposition was being able to stay flexible in my dates - as these deals are only good for a limited time frame. But that's a blog post for another day.
    Average hotel costs: $110/night
    Regular hotel costs: +/- $250/night
    Savings: $150/night
  2. Rental Car of Delight
    Lets not pretend that the rental car that I road tripped with was not an expense - because in this case, it was. But as I outlined before, the last time I drove to Niagara Falls, I had to pay $300 to replace a flat tire. So in the grand scheme of things, the cost of the car was less than having to replace a tire on my own. Not to mention the 1,000 miles that I put on the rental prevented me from having to get a oil change that much sooner. And because of my elite status with the rental car company, I also earned a free rental car day as a result!
    Rental Car Cost: $77
    Avoided Potential Costs: $400
    Savings: $323
  3. Creative Meal Planning
    The entire time I was on the road, I was able to make the most of my trip using creative meal planning. That is, instead of stopping for three squares a day, I instead opted for two. How did I make up lunch? By eating the nutritional equivalent throughout the day. To do this, I opted for snacks and smaller meals throughout the day that could be eaten on the road. While they were really only a slight step up from MRE rations, they did the trick - and kept me having fun on a budget!
    Total Lunch Costs: $50
    Average Meal Costs per Day: $25
    Savings: $25

All of these savings added up through the weekend allowed me to have a great time, and really enjoy myself throughout the weekend without worrying about money. Of course, I only say that until I'm forced to pay for all of my fun next month. Oh Visa bill, why can't you come next year instead?

How do you save money on the road? I'd love to hear your secrets - and maybe even try them out on my next trip! Let me know how you make it all come together in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product or service mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)