Continuing our list of tips and secrets for coping with the airlines:
• If your flight is cancelled because of mechanical problems, call the airline’s toll-free number, explain the situation, and ask about “Rule 240” (also known as “120/20”). In essence, this rule says that if your flight is cancelled because of “flight irregularities” totally within the airline’s control (such as a mechanical problem), then the airline will try to book you on the next available flight, even if it’s on another carrier. If your flight is re-routed to another unscheduled destination and the delay is going to be greater than four hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., then you may also be entitled to other compensation, such as hotel accommodations. You may have to have your ticket endorsed (which will mean standing in line again), but this could very well get you on your way. Remember, though, that being able to take advantage of “Rule 240” also depends upon space being available on another carrier. I recommend that you print out a copy and keep it with you in case you need to use it (or to remind an airline agent about his or her own rules!).
• When you are traveling, always carry copies of your passport, important documents, and medication prescriptions. If you lose your primary documents you will be glad that you had a backup in emergencies. Also, remember to keep these separate from your main papers.
• You may be able to save up to 85% by flying as an air courier.
• European rail travel is great, but so is flying around the Continent. Check out EuropeByAir for $99 one-way flights to more than 150 cities. If you’re tall (like I am), you know how delightful it is when the person in front of you reclines back into your kneecaps. Whenever possible, ask for the bulkhead seat. These are located behind the walls that separate first class from coach and usually have much more room for you to stretch out. Also, many aircraft, such as the newer B737 series, have loads of legroom in exit rows. On a recent flight to Cancun, I was able to recline his six-foot frame and stretch out completely in these seats. Exit rows also typically have more legroom and these are a good choice if you can get them. Another hint? Ask the ticket agent if the flight is full. If not, see if you can get a seat alone. That may not last, but every now and then, if there are vacant seats, you may well wind up with 2—or even more—seats all to yourself.
• Sometimes the cost of a first class ticket can be the same or slightly higher than the walk up coach price.
• For the smoothest ride, ask for a seat over the wings. How about for peace and quiet? There are no guarantees here, but as a general rule, seats towards the back tend to be quieter, provided they are not too close to the galley or rest room. Some people think that the front of the aircraft is the best place to be, but in our experience, this is where you’ll usually find parents with young children.
• Check the travel ads in the Sunday newspaper sections.
• Always pay for major travel expenses with a credit card. Depending on the card, this may offer some protection when problems arise.
• Whenever possible, carry on your luggage. Airlines can—and frequently do—lose bags, so bypass all of these headaches by packing sparingly and taking your luggage on the plane. If you are flying internationally, this will also save you time at customs. While others are hoping their bags appear on the carousel, you will be breezing your way to the checkpoints, on your way out of the terminal.
• Remember, if you do run into problems, always ask for a higher authority to have the best chance of getting the answer you want.
Excerpted and adapted from the ebook "Fly Cheap, Stay Cheap, Travel Cheap" by Ron Stern.