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Friday January 18th 2019

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Summer Travel Season Tips

Los Angeles, CA – As the Summer Travel season approaches people are thinking of heading to the beach or flying away from the beach, and they are asking lots of questions like;  “Should I buy tickets now?  I hear last second deals can be cheaper.” and “Where are the $99 flights”.  These are among the more regular conversations overheard at ticket counters.

Ticket Prices Are Going UP?

This summer will be slightly different for many reasons.  The merge of American and USAirways/America West was finalized on April 6th.  Now there is only the “New American”.  The merge of Continental United finished some time ago as did the Delta Northwest merger.  Southwest and AirTran are still not completely unified but they are getting closer.

While these big mergers have reduced overall costs for the airlines, the prices are still going up.  The reasons are little deeper than you think though.  For many years the airlines have been reducing employee pay.  Pilots have remain unionized and are claimed to be the highest cost.

In the 1970’s many pilots were military trained, and gas was still cheap enough for civilians to get affordable flight training.  Even so pilot pay was among the best paying jobs in the country, with many pilots making over $100,000 and working 12-14 days a month with only 65-70 hours of flying time.

Pilots at all major airlines are basically paid when the airplane leaves the gate until the airplane parks at the gate.  If you can see them they are off the clock.

After adjusting for inflation, pilots now work 30% more hours and receive 25-40% less relative pay than the predecessors of the 1970’s and 80’s.  Less people wanted to become pilots for the lower pay, a situation experienced by the medical fields in the 80’s which led to the current shortage of certain types of Doctors and Nurses.

What does this mean to you?  Buy your tickets as soon as you know your dates.  The pilot shortage is effecting all of the airlines.  Fewer pilots means fewer seats, and with the economy on a very slight up-tick, the cheap seats are gone quickly.

Is the new upgraded Economy Worth it?

It depends on two things, first how long is the flight, and second how tall are you.  A 6′ or taller person will have their knees hitting the seats in front of them on the economy seats at Spirit, American and United.  For them the Economy Plus on United or Main Cabin Plus on American is going to be money well spent.

What about those free First Class Upgrades.

There are lots of websites out there and books telling you how to “argue” with gate agents to get a “free” upgrade.  Those days are long gone.  Those seats are big money and the airlines don’t let the agents upgrade anyone without getting paid anymore.  But…..

If you look early enough First Class may cost only about a hundred bucks more than a coach ticket.  I recently bought two First Class Round Trips on United and three days later the coach tickets were the same price.

I could have bought economy tickets and saved $200 on that day, but they didn’t have any Economy Plus left and I wasn’t going to sit with my knees crammed into the seat in front of me for 4 hours on my way to and on my way home from vacation.  First Class just seamed like the better way to de-stress.  We both know I’ll probably have a laptop and work anyway.  I can’t work with the screen pushed backwards in those knee smashing seats.

Checked Bag Fees?

Unless you are flying Southwest, checked bag fees are here to stay.  Why?  simple, it makes the tickets look cheaper and adding weight to the plane takes more fuel to fly it.  Have you ever looked at the “fuel surcharge” when you ship UPS or FedEx?  Consider that the checked bag fee.

So what is the secret to avoid those fees?  There are several options.  One, Fly first class. Two, cram it all on a  carry on and hope for the free check at the gate and that you didn’t forget anything that violates the 3-1-1 rule.  Finally, Three, get the airline credit card.  United, American, Delta, Alaska and Hawaiian all had credit cards that gave you a deal or free checked bags last time we looked.  Just don’t use the credit card for anything other than the airline tickets because the interest rates tend to be higher than some other cards.

For a complete review on the airlines credit cards, take a look at this article on The Simple Dollar.

What are the Best Days to Travel?

Wednesday and Saturday tend to be the lower traffic days for flying, but…

The airlines have caught on and reduced the flights on those days, so the overall percentage of open seats isn’t that much better any more.  In addition for vacation travel most weeklong hotel deals are Friday to Thursday, or Sunday to Saturday or something like that.  Wednesday to Saturday doesn’t hit our radar, so while you might save a few bucks on the airfare you might get your wallet emptied when you check in at the hotel.

What Should I Bring?

The TSA has changed everything.  The “Beach Street Summer Travel Bag” is packed very lightly.  Wear the best outfit you think you will need on your trip, it is easier to hang and de-wrinkle or get to the cleaners when you get there if you are wearing it.

Depending on where you are going.

1. Jeans
2. Versatile shorts
3. Two T-shirts
4. Light Jacket if heading north of I-10 in the US
5. Undergarments to include socks
6. Spare nice top/shirt
7. Toiletry kit with travel sized or no liquids.  Buy it when you get there.

Thats it.

Hotel V. Timeshare?

Some time ago I made the flip and moved to Timeshare travel.  Having a washer, dryer and kitchen means I bring a lot less with me and I have a bit more space to spread out.  Even when I run out of points at my timeshare, there are  plenty of sites where you can buy other peoples points, and some of the companies will even sell them for you renting your timeshare directly when you can’t use it.

Occasionally it is nice to stay on a resort property like Disneyworld at the Floridian or Polynesian, but even the Polynesian was recently upgraded to suites for Disney Vacation Club Owners.

Of course the Ritz or Four Seasons are always nice, but even they now have timeshares for their biggest fans.

What does it all mean?

At the end of the day, Summer is about family time and forgetting about the stress of our daily lives under the cars or sitting at the keyboards.  Don’t overthink, pack light and enjoy your summer vacation!

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