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Frequent Flyer Miles Without All Those Nasty Fees

Many consumers are questioning the value of frequent flyer mileage programs, what with the new fees airlines have tacked on plus ever-increasing mileage requirements to cash in, and ever-decreasing (or so it seems) seat availability at the lowest award levels. But it's the fees that really steam our socks. We recently received an e-mail from someone whose 76-year-old friend had a stroke and couldn't use the frequent flyer tickets that he and his wife had booked. In addition to charging the couple $75 each to redeem an award fewer than 21 days prior to departure, United charged them an additional $150 each to rebank their miles. So they're out $450 and they never left the ground.

It almost makes you wish that airlines were re-regulated, doesn't it?

So far, a surprising 55% of respondents in our poll say yes, let's go back to the good old days when airlines actually made money instead of losing it year after year, and as a result provide increasingly poor service and consumer protections.

The stroke victim's friend asked if we could help do battle with United, but we have a couple of better "next time" ideas in the Airfarewatchdog blog.

Midwest Airlines Offers Weekend Deals with a Twist

As far as we can recollect, Midwest has not in the past advertised their weekend deals. They have had them in the past, but not posted on their website (indeed, other airlines, such as Northwest, frequently have weekend deals that they don't post online, often matching United and American, which typically do list all their deals on their sites). Anyway, this week Midwest is indeed listing a bunch of weekend fares for travel this weekend or next. And what's especially cool is that you can leave on a Thursday or Friday and return on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, whereas most weekend fares require leaving on a Saturday and returning the following Monday or Tuesday. Purchase by February 23 or until seats are sold out.

See deals:

Remarkably Low Fares to Dublin for Spring Travel

Don't skip over this item just because you don't want to visit Dublin. Think of these as remarkably low fares to Europe. That's because you can hop on a Ryanair flight from Dublin to scores of European cities for next to nothing. Of course, you'll probably want to overnight in Dublin on your way to Olbia, Grenoble or Berlin (don't worry, we're not sure where Olbia is either). Take a look at their route map and play travel agent.

Anyway, the fares to Dublin from the states are really low right now. We've seen Los Angeles and San Francisco to Dublin for just under $400 round-trip including taxes on American and US Airways for outbound travel through April 2 with a 30 day maximum stay, meaning that you can be in Europe until early May. Continental lowered fares on non-stop flights from Newark to around $310 round-trip including taxes, and Delta has non-stops from JFK for around $350 tax included. Similar deals are available from other U.S. cities.

JetBlue Sale

In addition to allowing consumers who are laid-off from work to get a full refund on non-refundable tickets, JetBlue is having a sale, which ends Friday, February 20, at midnight MT, unless it's extended, which could happen. These fare are good for travel between February 24 through April 1. On most routes, fares are higher for Sunday and Friday travel. Continental is matching this sale on competing routes from Newark. We actually saw slightly lower fares on many of these sale routes a few weeks ago, such as New York JFK to San Francisco for $200 round-trip plus tax. But these prices aren't bad either. Speaking of New York to San Francisco, Virgin America has JFK to SFO for travel February 27 to March 3 with no minimum stay for $213 plus tax (this fare also works in reverse, of course). Had you signed up for the Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club frequent flyer program, you might have received a 25% off discount code on Virgin America, making that flight even cheaper. What, not signed up? Do it, because they frequently offer these codes, as does Virgin America's own Elevate program.

By the way, travel insurance usually covers job losses so if you think your employment is iffy, you might consider buying it. But read the fine print, as always.

Southwest Coming to Boston

According to this article in the Boston Globe, Southwest airlines is planning to add The Hub as its 67th destination sometime this spring, with "between 8 and 12 departures" to a couple of destinations. Airfarewatchdog guesses that these will be Baltimore, where the airline operates a mini-hub, and perhaps Chicago Midway, but Southwest isn't saying for now.

Allegiant Airlines Adds Los Angeles

While other airlines shrink, this scrappy carrier just grows and grows. In May, they're adding non-stop flights between LA and 12 destinations, mostly in the West and Midwest, with their usual low fares (but watch out for the extra fees, such as booking online or by phone -- booking at the airport if you don't mind trekking out there will avoid booking fees).

Where Did Airline Ticket Prices Go in Q4 Last Year?

As consumers and travel journalists, we're always a bit puzzled when airfare pundits send out releases announcing that the airlines reduced or increased "airfares" (they never say exactly how they measure or define an airfare) up by $20 or down by $10, or that there were this many or that many attempted fare increases last year. Call us crazy, but as near as we can make out, what really matters is what airfares actually sold for rather than what the airlines were asking for seats -- in other words, published fares versus actual sales. So we found it interesting in Expedia's fourth quarter 2008 financial results that the company's revenue per air ticket sold decreased four percent in the quarter compared to 2007's fourth quarter. To us, that's a more accurate picture of what airfares did late last year since it includes all types of fares.

From the Mailbox: Last-Minute Travel

A reader writes: "Are there REALLY any last-minute deals for travel. I have tried numerous sites and all of the costs are enormous. My wife and I were just looking for someplace warm for two days. Any suggestions would be appreciated. By the way, do you always need to purchase at least 7 days in advance?"

Other than the airlines' weekend fares, which typically only require a one-day or no-advance purchase, your best bet for last minute travel is the "Name Your Own Price" feature on Priceline.

In our experience, their last-minute fares simply can't be beat. True, you won't know your exact departure and arrival times or the airline you'll be flying, and there might be a connection involved. But the savings are typically up to 60% off what you'd pay otherwise. If you can live with a little suspense and mystery, this is the way to go.

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.

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