I read with interest the article on airline awards by Brian Kelly ["Going the Distance to Get Airline Awards," March 3]. I was amazed he didn't mention the outlandish additional fees that some airlines are charging.
Recently, I tried to book two tickets to England on British Airlines for my daughter and myself. It took four phone calls before I could get anyone to come close to finding seats for us using miles from LAX to Newcastle, with a plane change at London's Heathrow. As I was completing the transaction, the agent told me that additional taxes and fees would cost almost $700 for each ticket. My daughter was online at the time and found tickets for the same flights on BA at $1,020 a person, including fees and taxes. Not much of a savings for my miles.
I ended up buying tickets to end the trauma and get what we wanted. Then I was told that to reserve our seats would cost $60 a person for the L.A.-to-London segment and $12 more from London to Newcastle. And that was only one way. If we wanted to wait until 24 hours before takeoff, booking the seats was free, but there was no guarantee that we would be able to sit together.
I have flown internationally on frequent-flier miles on other airlines and never incurred such high taxes and fees or had to worry about booking seats. Because we planned to end the trip close to London, my last question was to ask whether we could skip the Newcastle-to-London flight on the return trip and just pick up the London-to-LAX segment. But, no, that was not possible. Now we have to take a train back to Newcastle to take the scheduled flight to London or the return ticket from London to LAX will be canceled. Is it me, or is there something wrong with this picture?
Excellent article, but a couple of things to take into consideration:
Besides the fact that some airlines charge big fuel surcharges on their "free" award tickets that can sometimes run into the hundreds of dollars, where you depart from can also mean higher fees. Flying to the U.S. from Vancouver, Canada, will cost $50 more per person, for example, than returning from Seattle, even on a "free" ticket.
Perhaps I'm the exception or maybe just lucky, but I've never encountered a problem or not been able to take a trip with my family because of the inability to use my miles on two large airlines. This includes a variety of domestic cities (Boston, Chicago, New York, Seattle) and such international destinations as Israel, Germany, Canada and England.
Occasional business travel and concentrated credit-card spending have done wonders for us. I have no secrets other than the obvious: Plan well in advance, be patient in your search and have flexibility in your dates.
Your reader tips of Feb. 17 mentioned the International Assn. for Medical Assistance to Travelers, which can provide a list of English-speaking doctors. Your readers should also know about Medical Air Services Assn., (800) 423-3226, http://www.masaassist.com. It provides emergency transportation while traveling or even at home.
My wife and I have been members for years and, fortunately, have not had to use the service. It would be invaluable if you were sick or injured and needed transport to proper care facilities. The service costs about $540 a person or $720 for a family, retail, but prices vary depending on destination, services and whether you're associated with group through which discounts are available.