Although the airlines aren’t quite working against travelers (they do actually fly us places) their size and structure makes it tough to deal with them. You’re the little guy working to make things right with behemoth companies – but now you’ve got the biggest older brother on your side to make sure that happens.
Get In Touch Directly
Communication is an important part of any relationship and most of your air travel worries can be solved by talking to a human airline employee. However, actually reaching one can be difficult at best. You may already know when and how to fight the airlines, even using methods from Sun Tzu’s Art Of War, but it’s important to get your message to the right employee.
- Skip Automated Phone Prompts – Aptly named website GetHuman helps you do just that by telling you exactly the digits to type to weave through annoying automated customer service menus. GetHuman and similar site Contact Help also make it easy to find most airline customer service numbers.
- Take Contact Numbers Offline – Business travelers can take those hard-to-reach airline phone numbers with them offline using the eSkyGuide iPhone app ($4.99) which also has contacts for hotels, rental car agencies, and more.
- Call The CEO – You can find contact (phone and email) information for the bosses of many major airlines on this Consumerist list.
These tactics will also help you save time but don’t inadvertently waste yours by immediately calling the most powerful person at a company because your flight was delayed 10 minutes. Be reasonable and escalate your complaints and suggestions accordingly.
Do Your Research
The airlines often know a lot more about you than you do about them, making you susceptible to fees, expiring frequent flyer miles, and screaming babies. Luckily for you the Internet is a wealth of knowledge to help you get a leg up.
- Dodge Extra Charges – Handy site Luggage Limits preps you for all of the fees associated with each airline so you can put your backpack on a diet if need be.
- Digitize Your Frequent Flyer Accounts – Don’t ever let another mile expire by tracking your accounts with Award Wallet and bump your earning up a notch by exchanging with other travelers on Points.com.
Screaming babies are pretty hard to drown out when you’re flying in a small aluminum tube in the sky but infants are unlikely to be placed in the emergency exit rows. Try requesting a seat there, finding a secret seat, or calling the airline ahead of time to ask if any infants are booked on your flight (and for a seat far, far away). It’s not a surefire method against loud babies but at least your body can be comfortable – both Seat Guru and Seat Expert can tip you off to specific seats with extra legroom.
Save Money By Automating And Becoming Anonymous
The airlines have the online advantage of being able to track every single ticket purchased and the habits of specific customers. Identifying information from your computer and online accounts can help the airlines predict how and when you might be likely to purchase an airline ticket.
Airlines typically want to hook you with a low initial price but may increase it slightly if they know you don’t usually buy until after about two weeks of searching. Although the jury is still out on how much manipulation actually goes on, you can easily become a mystery shopper online by hiding your tracks.
- Search With Two Browsers – While there are many methods of hiding your browsing habits online, by using one browser (e.g. Internet Explorer) for all of your searching and another, like Firefox, to purchase plane tickets is a straightforward shot. That ensure that different cookies are used when you hit a particular airline or airfare search engine. (It also helps to use a “Private Browsing Mode” right before you buy.)
- Hack Routes – Leveraging tools like Kayak Explore you can use multi-city flights to see more places for less.
- Try The Foreign Version Of Airline Sites – Adding a “.fr” instead of “.com” to Airfrance’s website might result in lower fares. The same trick goes for other international airlines. You can also use one of these free international proxies or FoxyProxy to appear like you’re browsing from just about anywhere.
- Track And Get Price Alerts – Online tool Yapta follows particular flights and airfares for you, alerting you via email when they drop. Yapta also keeps track of any coupons, refunds, and vouchers you might be entitled to before and after you book.
- Find Discount Codes Before Booking – Both RetailMeNot and Coupon Winner have comprehensive lists of all the airline discount codes, current sales, and special offers that can help you chip away at any airfare.
You can also give yourself a perk and make a bit more out of every cent by searching for flights with free wi-fi using HasWifi. Google is also offering free wi-fi on several airlines through early January.
Maintaining The Digital Edge
All airlines aren’t evil or working against consumers but they are using technology in a number of ways to give them an advantage over you and your wallet. The Internet helps tip the scales in your favor but don’t forget to combine it with some old school methods of working your way around the airlines for free for a well-rounded approach.
[photos by: Don Solo (glow of laptop), m00by (student researching), Tom Rydquist (footprints in the sand)]
This post is unbelievable.
Thanks Susan and sorry again for my overzealous spam bodyguard!
great tips Anil, many new things for me to be aware of – thanks for sharing.
Gotta try and keep the odds even!
What a collection of cool tips… Will definitely try out Award Wallet since I know I belong to at least 2 -3 airline memberships, but can’t even remember what they are anymore. Dang!
It’s a wonderful service and will help you keep on top of those miles!
Another very useful post Anil, I have to check Points.com and see if someone is willing to exchange my Continental points for something I can actually use!
Some of those points will get transferred to United unless they’re Continental partner points 🙂
Hi Anil Came by this on the recommendation of Erica at Travel Blissful and like she said it’s a terrific post.
I’d also add another tactic airlines use is to make their contact numbers premium rate.
A way I avoid that in the UK is to use the site – Saynoto0870.com, it gives you contact numbers at the normal telephone rate. I tested it against GetHuman for Virgin Atlantic and it came up with way more numbers.
Hi Ronnie, thanks for the site – great way against paying even *more* fees.
Some great ideas and suggestions. I think consumer orgs and maybe even regulators need to push to remove some of the more unfair practices (premium call rates for telephone booking lines; advertised prices that don’t reflect the true final cost of flying such as separating out unavoidable fees; and many more). Some good internet practices like you suggest at least help even the battlefield…
I agree, there’s needs to be a push on both ends. Premium rates, for example, to call customer service lines is ridiculous.
Unbelievably organized. Fantastic post, Anil! Thanks for the eSkyGuide mention! Please let people know it’s also a flight tracker, airport finder, weather reporter and if used on an iPhone (as compared to the iPod Touch or iPad) you can call those numbers with one tap!
Thanks Michelle and my pleasure to link back to your useful app 🙂 and thanks for added info about eSkyGuide.
Wow! This article is so full of valuable information it’s going to take me a while to digest it all.
Thank you Barbara, I did my best to help even the playing field 🙂
I think I need to clone you Anil and take you with me on my next trip. You have terrific suggestions
Thank you Leigh, one of the nicest compliments I’ve received 🙂
Great post Anil. I love screwing the airlines.
Sweet tips Anil — especially like the idea of using two browsers or searching in private mode.
It’s fun to see if the prices may vary that way 🙂
Thanks Anil, this is golden. Your article was quite insightful. I’m always searching for the best airfare, and will definitely use some of these tips when booking my next flight.
Aren’t we all 🙂 Now you’ve got another weapon against the airlines 😉
Great tips Anil! I’ve also found airline prices to be different by looking on another country’s version. I’ll have to try some of the others though!
Funny how that works isn’t it! Ah, the airlines…
I recently read somewhere where it recommended to clear your cookies if you are searching for flights. It said that sometimes airline search engines will know that you looked for a flight before and will raise the price when you go back creating more urgency to buy – and costing you more. I must admit – I tried this once. I got an initial price on Expedia but didn’t buy. Went back 2 weeks later and did the same search, but my low price was gone. I cleared cookies and went to the site again – and there it was.
Not sure if it was a fluke or what…but I did finally purchase my ticket for the lower price!
Really does make you wonder what the ‘official’ policy or scheme is.