SmartMoney Blogs

Pay Dirt
A daily look at what we buy, how we spend, and the companies that do right - and wrong - by their customers.

Travel - All posts in category Travel

  • Nov 10, 2011
    3:18 PM ET

    5 Ways To Avoid the Flightmare Before Thanksgiving


    Don’t fasten your seatbelts yet. It could be a long and bumpy wait for your flight this Thanksgiving. Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare and Orlando International airports will be the busiest around Thanksgiving, according to a survey by travel website However, JFK in New York rates only eighth out of the 10 busiest. JFK mainly caters to international travelers, consumer advocate Chris Elliott says, while LAX and other airports service more of the typical American Thanksgiving traveler fleeing the big city for home.

    But there is good news for those traveling via Ronald Reagan Washington National and Atlanta’s Hartsfield International airports: They fell off the busiest Top-10 list this year. The survey covered the top 50 U.S. airports based on flight bookings between Nov. 23 and Nov. 27, 2011. And it’s no surprise that holiday/destination airports like Mineta San Jose International, Kahului/Hawaii and John Wayne in California are seeing less traffic, Elliott says, as most folk travel to see family around Thanksgiving.

    Here are 5 tips to avoid the longest of all possible waits:

  • Nov 9, 2011
    7:11 PM ET

    Passenger Groups Want More Sway With TSA


    The Transportation Security Administration this week announced the new membership of its Aviation Security Advisory Committee, but passenger rights advocates complain they are still not adequately represented. As expected, some of the TSA’s biggest critics were not invited to the party.

    Passengers should be represented on the ASAC, which was established in 1989 following the destruction of Pan American World Airways Flight 103 by a terrorist bomb, groups say. “Where’s the passenger advocate?” says syndicated columnist and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott. Kate Hanni, founder of, agrees. “There are virtually no consumer advocates on this committee,” she says. “It’s again frontloaded with the [airline] industry.”

    The 24-member committee includes people who have been directly affected by terrorist attacks. Hanni notes the inclusion of one passenger advocate, Glenn Johnson, board chairman of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc., set up by families of those killed by a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.

  • Nov 4, 2011
    12:48 PM ET

    Can the Weatherman Save You Money?


    The iPhone can’t control the weather, but a 99-cent app purports to take most of the guesswork out of planning weddings, ski trips, and other shopping decisions.

    Available on iOS, and in the Android store starting Nov. 23th, the WeatherTrends360 app uses a team of meteorologists, climatologists and mathematicians to help people plan for good and bad weather, says CEO Bill Kirk, a former United States Air Force Captain. The website is free. He claims his company can predict the weather with 80% accuracy up to a year in advance.

    WeatherTrend360’s main business is helping retailers control their inventory, and clients include Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s and Coca-Cola. The consumer app offers to help shoppers decide when is best to buy goods at the best prices. Forrester Research gives it 80% accuracy, which sounds impressive, but keep in mind that means the information could be wrong once every five days.

    However, some experts believe the app is probably better used for entertainment purposes only. “I don’t think people will plan any major events around what this application does,” says Andy Nyquist, personal finance and investment blogger. “It may make them more comfortable about the choices that they do make in relation to weddings and trips. But people are more likely to enjoy the entertainment factor from the application as well as using the shorter term weather forecasts.”

    Pay Dirt spoke to Capt. Kirk about the new app.

  • Oct 31, 2011
    3:46 PM ET

    New Rules Didn’t Help Stranded Airline Passengers


    The threat of massive fines apparently isn’t enough to stop airlines from stranding passengers on the tarmac. On Saturday, some 100 JetBlue passengers and an unspecified number on American Airlines flights were left stuck on a runway at Bradley Airport in Hartford, CT. for seven hours during the snow storm.

    These incidents raise the question: Are new Department of Transportation rules enough? They stipulate that airlines can incur maximum fines of a staggering $27,500 per passenger if planes sit on the tarmac for more than three hours on domestic U.S. flights. (In JetBlue’s case, passengers were stranded without adequate food, water or functioning restrooms. American Airlines say passengers had food and beverages.)

    The amount of any airline fine depends on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the violation and harm caused to consumers, the carrier’s compliance disposition and ability to pay, says Bill Mosley, a Department of Transport spokesman.

  • Oct 18, 2011
    3:44 PM ET

    Orbitz’s Fares Were Flights of Fancy


    The Department of Transportation fined online travel company Orbitz $60,000 on Tuesday for misleading advertisements that failed to mention taxes and fees, and in some cases, promoted fares which were no longer available.

    Orbitz blamed the ads, which appeared in early 2011, on a computer “glitch.”  Consumers selecting discounted fares advertised by the site  were instead taken to a page where different rates was displayed.

    To be fair to Orbitz, this is the first time in the company’s 10-year history it’s been hit with such a fine. “Orbitz is in compliance with Department of Transportation advertising requirements and the glitch that resulted in how fares were displayed for a short period of time earlier this year has been addressed,” Orbitz spokesman Chris Chiames said in a statement. But Air Canada, Spirit, JetBlue, United Airways, Continental have all been hit with fines for failing to inform passengers of various charges.

  • Oct 13, 2011
    11:55 AM ET

    Could Airline Bathrooms Go the Way of Free Peanuts?


    Accidents are relatively uncommon on commercial flights, but that could change if Ryanair’s plan to remove two-thirds of its bathrooms catches on.

    With each bathroom creating room for three seats, the European discount carrier, which is known for proposing bizarre cost-cutting measures, says it could save passengers $6 on a $120 ticket. “It would fundamentally lower air fares by about 5% for all passengers,” CEO Michael O’Leary told The Independent.  “We’re trying to push Boeing to re-certify the aircraft for six more seats, particularly for short-haul flights — we very rarely use all three toilets on board our aircraft anyway.”

  • Oct 7, 2011
    8:30 AM ET

    Travel Alert: Rental Car Rates May Fall with the Leaves


    The post-summer travel lull is known for cheap airfare and discount hotel rates. Now, travelers can add cheap car rental rates to that list of incentives. says there are still good deals out there before rental companies reduce their inventories and airline travel picks up in earnest ahead of Thanksgiving “as the industry heads into shoulder season and rental car companies adjust their inventory in preparation for fewer renters,” according to a statement from the travel website.

    Car rental fees in hot tourist spots like Hawaii have plunged 50% since high summer, Hotwire says. Kelsey Mays, industry analyst at, agrees – even given a 12.5% fall in inventories from 2007 to 2010. “With sluggish demand,” he says, “even fewer cars could lead to lower rates.”

  • Sep 29, 2011
    6:39 PM ET

    Priceline: Book at the 11th Hour, Save 35%


    Have you ever made one of those nerve-wracking “Name Your Own Price” blind bookings on and ended up in a drab hotel on the edge of town?

    I have. And it wasn’t pretty. But now some travelers using the site can avoid making a similar mistake.

    Priceline’s new “Tonight-Only Deals” app, released today for the iPhone and iPod Touch, offers rates of up to 35% off at three- and four-star properties and — wait for it – you can see the hotel name before you book. Normally on Priceline, if you want to see the name of the hotel, you don’t get a discount. reports that deals are currently available in 34 cities, including New York and Chicago.

  • Sep 26, 2011
    6:07 PM ET

    Fall Fling: 3 Domestic Travel Bargains


    Although the euro’s steady drop has sweetened off-season international deals, a financial crisis tour of Europe isn’t in everyone’s budget.

    Last week, Pay Dirt brought you “Last Hurrah: 3 Top Fall Getaways” for international travel. This week, we have scenic bargains closer to home. has discounts of 50% on packages to Aspen and Vail, while has 70% off packages for travel in Florida. At this time of year, says Jason Clampet, senior online editor at, “You avoid locals’ end-of-season stress and burnout and get them while they’re fresh for the next crop of visitors.”

    Of course, it’s the off-season for a reason: those Vail deals, for example, come too early in the year for skiing, and may be too late for hikers who don’t want to layer up. Florida, meanwhile, has hurricane season to contend with through December, so it’s best to check with the National Hurricane Center before you travel. Pay Dirt asked Clampet; cruise broker Stewart Chiron; Stephen Daimler, a spokesman for; and Christie McConnell, marketing director of TravelZoo, to pick three of the best domestic deals worth a look.

  • Sep 23, 2011
    2:11 PM ET

    Last Hurrah: 3 Top Fall Getaways


    If you are itching to fly away before 2012, airline and hotel deals abound, if you don’t mind a long flight. Vision Airlines in Suwanee, Ga., is offering flights from $36 one-way to The Bahamas. The Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu has discounts of up to 30% on rooms. Both locations have warm weather far into the fall. And if you book a flight/hotel package, Angela Lyda, senior editor at, says, you may even find sweeter – more exclusive – bargains.

    The best part of the shoulder season? The summer crowds are gone. Of course, the Bahamas is still in hurricane season until December, but some resorts will give you de facto hurricane insurance in case you need to cancel. Our experts – Lyda; Andrew Young, web editor for; Anne Banas, executive editor of; and Jason Clampet, senior online editor at – chose three deals further afield worth a look.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to or tweet @SMPayDirt.