Tag Archives: airport

Airport parking that won’t break your travel budget

When most people book a flight, they search and search for the cheapest fare. With airfares skyrocketing, people are holding out longer. Some are even driving several hours to a different airport to save money. Once you book that flight, are you applying the same research tools to save money on parking? Spend ten minutes before you leave for the airport to save big bucks.

We drove to Pittsburgh for our wedding and honeymoon because Cleveland flights are simply astronomical. We saved $600 just on our return trip by flying out of Pittsburgh rather than Cleveland, but our return flight didn’t arrive until almost midnight. We didn’t want to drive home at that hour, and we were going to be gone for sixteen days. With a hotel and parking, it doesn’t take long for the expenses to eat away at your savings.

Sixteen days of parking at the airport would cost $128. I tried to find my normal $50 hotel, but had no luck. Once the Priceline price tag reached around $90, I began looking for other options.

Many airport hotels offer great discounts on parking and hotels. They’re called a Park, Sleep, Fly package and can save you big bucks. There’s an entire Park, Sleep, Fly website that helps you find the deals. We paid $128 with taxes for 16 days parking, a night’s stay, breakfast, and shuttle to/from the airport. You can’t beat that.

I highly suggest this option if you can’t find a good deal for a hotel room on Priceline. When I say good deal, I mean $50-75. I never pay more than that in a big city for any hotel room. Call around and you might be able to save even more by doing a price comparison of hotels.

If you don’t want to sleep, call some of these hotels that offer packages. They may charge you a reduced or flat fee to just park your car for the duration of your trip. At last check, there are some airport hotels in the Cleveland area that offer reduced parking rates. Plus, they’ll transport you to the airport. Just check, because sometimes these shuttles run only once an hour.

Just like you shop around for that airfare, do the same for parking whether you are travel for the holidays or a vacation any time of year.

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Continental-United frequent flier program merger updates

Courtesy Continental Airlines

If you travel, you’ve probably noticed the changes at the Continental ticket counter as they merge with United. Some airports are adopting the new “United” name earlier than others. One thing is clear — this merger is supposed to be seamless to the consumer but it can get downright confusing. On the upside, you can merge your miles so you may qualify for a free flight when you wouldn’t have otherwise.

In Cleveland, Continental is the only game in town so there’s not much of a difference other than your miles which I will get to in a minute. In Kansas City, it’s a whole different ballgame. United and Continental are in two different terminals. I didn’t realize this until we got on the rental car bus and the driver announced United as the first terminal. We had no idea if that was our stop. It wasn’t. The Continental gates were in a completely different terminal. I asked the friendly ticket agents and they told me the date to merge in Kansas City keeps getting pushed back. One reason is that they are doing some renovations to their new space, but how confusing for the consumer.

You should have seen the look on the face of one traveller when she got off a Continental plane and found out at the gate that she had to get on a bus and go to another terminal to get on her connecting United flight. I understand mergers are done in phases but it’s getting downright confusing.

Linking your frequent flier accounts isn’t always easy
Then, there’s the miles. Many changes are taking effect this quarter. By the end of this quarter, new Mileage Plus account numbers.  To deal with new technology, your number will become an eight character alpha-numeric number similar to the one already used by Continental. If you have a Continental account, it will be your new United number. Your old United number will be recognized for a short time.

The two carriers urge you to link your accounts to deal with the merger of frequent flier programs.   In June, I wrote about the problems I was having linking my accounts. Now, it’s January and crunch time and I still haven’t accomplished the linkage.  First, my addresses didn’t match even though they were the same. The abbreviations were off so the computer wouldn’t link the accounts.

Now, I can’t connect my accounts because of name variations. I use Jenn all the time. I’ve tried to get better about using my full name on airline tickets because they have gotten tougher with security now that you have to give your birthdate and such when you book a ticket. Still, I’ve never had trouble with just using Jenn. However, it’s giving me trouble linking my frequent flier accounts.

United has my full  name including middle initial and Continental has the shortened first name I use. I waited on hold for 35 minutes to get a Continental operator despite being told 10-15 minutes. Then, I was told to write a letter with my account number, account PIN, and a copy of my government issued ID to get my name corrected. That will take a month. What red tape!

At least the new airline, United had fast customer service. I waited less than five minutes to talk to someone and tried to get them to just change my name but they suggested because of security I use my full name and follow Continental’s advice.

If you have put off linking your accounts, act now! If you ever open another frequent flier account use your full name. You don’t need it for credit cards but you do to earn miles in this world of constant airline mergers.

Related links you may like:
Merging airlines can get confusing
Southwest acquires Air Tran – what this means for customers
Cashing in on frequent flier miles – how likely are you to get a seat
Continental OnePass coming to an end
Taxes and fees can ruin an apparent airfare deal

Airlines enforcing size limits for carry-on luggage

Flying during the holidays can be a real headache, and this holiday it may be an even bigger pain. In my recent travels, I’ve noticed airlines are enforcing their baggage rules more strictly.

During a recent trip, I was stunned when the ticket counter agent told me to put my bag on the scale. Two other ticket agents walked past me as I swiped my credit card to retrieve my ticket for self check-in, but this agent seemed determined to argue with me. She told me the bag was too big to fit in the overhead compartment. I’ve flown with this bag multiple times a year for at least 4 years with no problem. Why was this woman suddenly giving me a hard time?

For five minutes, we argued back and forth about the size of my bag. I’ll be the first to admit my bag is not the smallest, but it always fits with ease in the overhead compartment. What irritated me more about this whole debate was that I knew we were taking a plane that required gate checked bags. Nobody was getting their bags on the plane. So, was this woman simply giving me a hard time to get money out of me?

She made me take the bag over to the luggage compartment on display and try to fit my bag in it. Then, she yelled at me from the ticket counter telling me it had to go in the other way. Nothing was good enough for this woman, and it was a moment that was too hard to believe because it was so unexpected. I fit my bag in the metal display, and went on my way.

At the gate, the same woman was taking tickets from boarding passengers. She stopped the man in front of me because she thought his bag was too big too. He was just as stunned as I was since it was a duffel bag he travels with often. He fit the duffel bag in the demo overhead bin and boarded the plane frustrated. He sat next to me on the plane, and I told him my  horror story too. We laughed.

Then,  during a girls trip some of my friends talked about their horror experience not realizing I’d had problems too. These incidents happened on different airlines and different trips.  While I understand airline employees have to enforce the rules, this has  nothing to do with security and it’s a rule that hasn’t been enforced for years. Is it a coincidence that now airlines make big bucks off those checked bag fees?

Just make sure you pack even more patience before heading to the airport. What frustrating thing will happen at the airport next?

Say goodbye to long security lines?

If you have a vacation planned in the next few months, your airport security experience may change.  The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is launching a pilot program to speed up the screening process for low-risk and known passengers.

Starting this fall, a pre-flight, identity-based screening pilot will start. Certain frequent fliers and members of Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs will be eligible to participate.  You’ll opt into the service through your frequent flier program, because you’ll need to enter a traveller number when you book your ticket. Then, you’ll find out if you were selected for pres-screening when you arrive at the airport.  Your boarding pass will be scanned, and that will tell you if you are on your way to general security or the shorter pre-screen line.

In Atlanta and Detroit, frequent fliers from Delta will be targeted.  In Miami and Dallas Forth Worth, American Airlines frequent fliers will be able to participate. There are plans to expand the pilot to other airports and airlines including United Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, US Airways, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines.

TSA points out over and over that at no point is this program an entitlement club. Passengers are always subject to random, unpredictable screening measures.

While this program may not be coming to an airport near you, it may rollout nationwide if successful. The TSA wants to know if passengers are willing to provide additional information upfront to avoid long security lines. TSA says this could signficantly change the travelling experience.

On time flights until you board

There are all sorts of ways to stay up to date on flight delays. You can give the airline or aggregator (places like Orbitz) your phone number and they’ll alert you to delays before you arrive at the airport. However, nothing can prepare you for the delays you should expect if you’re travelling in the next few weeks.

Since the Southwest jet developed a hole in mid-flight, it seems airlines have been cancelling flights and re-routing passengers. They appear to be super sensitive to problems with the aircraft.

During a recent trip, I saw two planes full of people leave the aircraft before it took off. The first plane was headed to Memphis, and the passengers were re-routed. It was a big inconvenience for those passengers because they had to stand in a long line to get their new itinerary.  At least they were given food vouchers.  At first I thought it was just a unique situation. A few hours later it happened to me.

On my second flight of the day, we boarded the plane and were waiting and waiting for the door to close. The crew then told us the plane had a mechanical problem. After mechanics inspected the plane, the crew told us the thermometer in the cargo area was alerting the crew that the baggage area was too hot. The crew told us it was obviously a faulty thermometer because it wasn’t hot outside so there was no way it could be too hot in the baggage area.

The crew made it seem like an un-important repair. However, they had to make it. It makes you wonder if they would have made that fix and delayed the entire flight two hours if there hadn’t been a hole in a Southwest jet just a week prior. As much as I’ve travelled, it seemed odd that I saw two plane loads of people disembark and heard of other cancellations that day.

They finally decided to put us all on another plane rather than wait for the repair.  There are new rules that prevent airlines from keeping you on the tarmac for hours and hours.  So, they make decisions faster now.

Kudos to the airline for getting us a new plane and not re-routing us. I suppose they have extra planes these days considering there are far fewer flights than there used to be.  Still, it was handled smoothly and Delta even sent a survey asking how the delay was handled.

At least some airlines still care about their customers and know they are critical to their bottom line. Just be prepared the next time you head to the airport. Your flight may be on time until you board.