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.