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Delta Launches In-Flight Wi-Fi

Let's see ... you dropped your iPhone in a mug of mulled wine -- so there goes that, you finished your book ahead of schedule, and you've already had the misfortune of seeing both movie selections (Really? You've already seen Air Bud: Golden Receiver and Swing Vote? Yeesh!). Yep, it looks like you're in for a pretty dull flight. Sigh. If only you had in-flight Wi-Fi, the ultimate in time-suckage. Two hours of ogling dream cars on Ebay, and hey, you're already there.

This week, Delta (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) became the latest carrier to tinker with in-flight Wi-Fi. The new service is being offered on five MD-88 jets and one Boeing 757. Though access is currently free until December 31, prices thereafter will range from $9.95 on flights of 3 hours or less, and $12.95 on flights over three hours.

Delta hopes to expand Wi-Fi across their domestic fleet in 2009, beginning with the MD-88, MD-90, Boeing 757, and Boeing 737, and then onward to Boeing 767s later in the year.

Door-to-Door Relief for Your Brittle Little Recession Wrists

Remember last month? We told you United Airlines (tel. 800/241-6522; www.united.com) would offer passengers a door-to-door luggage service and -- the downside -- it would cost $149 per bag? Yeah. Well, we're guessing no one was biting, because now United is dropping the price to $99 per bag, for a limited time, of course. Bags are delivered next day by FedEx, and -- if you're still squeamish -- you can always track your bags online.

And while $99 per bag is a definite improvement from the old price, that doesn't necessarily make it your cheapest option. That all depends on just how much loot you plan on carting along. We suggest checking out our Shipping It vs. Checking It comparison chart for a better idea of who charges what.

By the way, if you plan on sending your bag Priority mail from the post office, don't fuss with boxing it up. Just wrap it up in priority mail tape (a cocoon of the stuff, if you're worried!) and send as is!

In 2009, It'll Cost You Miles and More to Upgrade Your Seat

In case you haven't heard the news, and I'll bet a lot of people haven't, next year United will begin charging not just miles but also a copay if you wish to upgrade your economy class seat.

Effective Mar 1, 2007 American began charging $150 plus 15,000 miles each way from most domestic travel between the Continental US/Canada/Mexico/the Caribbean to/from Hawaii; and up to $700 plus miles for foreign destinations.

American also began charging, effective Oct 1, 2008, a $50 copay to upgrade most discount economy fares within the continental US and Canada, and within/between the continental US, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Note that these copays are not refundable should you change your mind (plus, of course, you'll have to pay a penalty of up to $150 on most airlines to re-bank your miles).

Effective July 1, 2009 United is adding co-pays to all frequent flyer ticket upgrades. Previously, it was just pay 5,000-15,000 miles each way from an economy class ticket; now it's miles plus $50 from most fares within the continental U.S.; up to $600 round-trip for foreign destinations.

Continental already charges most frequent flyers up to $1,000 RT plus miles to upgrade to international BusinessFirst; and up to $300 RT plus miles for domestic.

The airlines call these "copays" but they're really just new fees, and they make frequent flyer miles even less valuable than before, and, of course, they're in addition to all the other fees that airlines impose on frequent flyer tickets, such as re-banking miles and "close-in" ticketing (as if it really costs them anything to issue an electronic ticket a few days before you fly. Most airlines allow you to do it yourself online with no human intervention. Please).

In the past, we've recommended cash-back cards (especially the American Express Blue card) rather than frequent flyer credit cards, except if you use your miles for upgrades or for business and first class tickets. But with these new fees, cash-back cards are looking better and better, even for premium fares.

Near as we can make out, US Air and Delta/Northwest haven't added these new fees, but we have no reason to expect that they won't follow suit.

And perhaps most galling, not to beat a dead horse, frequent flyer fees are nonrefunable. Imagine a worst case scenario: you book an award ticket last minute on United ($100 fee) on an international route ($500 fee) and then something comes up and you can't make the trip ($150 fee to redeposit). You're out $750 and you never left the ground.

JetBlue Goes Paws to the Wall

JetBlue (tel. 800/538-2583; www.jetblue.com) would like you to know that they're pet friendly, and they've launched their new JetPaws program to get the message out. What exactly does JetPaws entail? Pets can earn you up to four TrueBlue points (two each way), pet carrier bag tag, as well as an e-booklet listing pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, and animal hospitals in your JetBlue destination.

Pet fares must be booked by phone, and are $100 each way. Sure, we've seen higher fees for pets, but nevertheless, we still think it wouldn't kill them to toss in some freebies, like that pet travel kit (available for $25) or the $45 pet carrier designed by gossip columnist (and long time personal obsession) Cindy Adams. Or pardon us. It's actually designed by Cindy's Yorkie, "Jazzy Park Avenue Dog." Oh, ok.

Southwest Winter Sale

Southwest Airlines (tel. 800/435-9792; www.southwest.com) is having yet another sale, so business must be bad. Hey, you already knew that. A 14-day advance purchase is required, travel is Jan. 6 through March 12 (although probably peak travel during the February school vacation week will be higher).

Sale is not system-wide, but many routes are included (travel to/from both Orange County/John Wayne Airport/Santa Ana and Washington/Dulles is not included). Sale ends December 29 at midnight.

Fares range from $49 to $109 each way, no round-trip purchase required, Mon-Thu and Sat; $59 to $159 each way Fri/Sun. Other airlines will no doubt match or even beat these prices, as they often do. Round-trip fares include:

Whenever You Want to Fly, So Does Everyone Else

Okay, so surely you know at least a few fare finding basics. Such as? You can pretty much bet on the fact that airlines will always jack up prices around the holidays. Those are the days that everyone wants to travel. Supply, demand, yadda yadda, them's the breaks, right? But have you ever planned a little getaway to some seemingly obscure random event, like say, the (yes, that's an actual real-life thing, by the way) and for some reason, all the fares to Arkansas for that weekend seem suspiciously high! Well, heck! If you didn't know any better, you might suspect the airlines knew in advance about that contest, and were doing their best to squeeze you and other would-be Ding Dong Eating contestants out of your extra cash. How do the airlines know this stuff? More on that here.

Additional reporting by Tracy W. Stewart and Andrew Hickey

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and blogger whose website, www.airfarewatchdog.com, tracks unadvertised airfare wars and fare sales, including the most helpful and always updated Top 50 Airfares.