|2. RESERVATIONS AND TICKETS|
Once you decide when and where you want to go, and which airline you want to use, getting reservations and tickets is a fairly simple process. You can make all of your arrangements by telephone, at the airline's ticket office, or through a travel agent or other ticket outlet. There are a few potential pitfalls, however, and these pointers should help you avoid them.
* If your travel plans fall into a busy period, call for reservations early. Flights for holidays may sell out weeks-sometimes months-ahead of time. Don't buy a standby fare or an 'open return' ticket if you need to fly during a high-demand period, especially the end of August. You could be stranded for a week or more before a seat becomes available.
* Ask the reservations agent to give you the on-time performance code for any flights that you are considering. This is a one-digit code in the reservations computer that shows how often that flight arrived on time (within 15 minutes) during the most recent reported month. For example, an "8" means that flight arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time between 80% and 89.9% of the time. If you are deciding between two flights with similar schedules and fares, you may want to choose the one with the better on-time record. (Only the largest U.S. airlines are required to maintain these codes.)
* When you make a reservation, be sure the agent records the information accurately. Before you hang up or leave the ticket office, review all of the essential information with the agent-the spelling of your name, the flight numbers and travel dates, and the cities you are traveling between. If there is more than one airport at either city, be sure you check which one you'll be using. It's also important to give the airline your home and work telephone numbers so they can let you know if there is any change in their schedule.
* Your ticket will show the flight number, departure time, date, and status of your reservation for each flight of your itinerary. The "status" box is important. "OK" means you're confirmed. Anything else means that the reservation is not yet certain (e.g., waitlisted).
* A "direct" (or "through") flight can have one or more stops. Sometimes flights with only one flight number can even involve a change of planes. Ask about your exact routing.
* If you are flying to a small city and your flight number has four digits, you may be booked on a commuter airline that has an agreement with the major carrier in whose name the flight is held out. If you are unsure, ask the reservations agent about the airline and the aircraft type; these flights are identified in the computer.
* When a reservations agent asks you to buy your tickets by a specific time or date, this is a deadline. And if you don't make the deadline, the airline may cancel your reservations without telling you.
* Try to have your tickets in hand before you go to the airport. This speeds your check-in and helps you avoid some of the tension you might otherwise feel if you had to wait in a slow-moving ticketing line and worry about missing your flight.
* If your reservations are booked far enough ahead of time, the airline may offer to mail your tickets to you. However, if you don't receive the tickets and the airline's records show that they mailed them, you may have to go through cumbersome lost-ticket procedures (see the end of this chapter). It is safer to check the telephone directory for a conveniently located travel agency or airline ticket office and buy your tickets there.
* As soon as you receive your ticket check to make sure all the information on it is correct, especially the airports (if any of the cities have more than one) and the flight dates. Have any necessary corrections made immediately.
* Bring a photo I.D. when you fly, and have your airline ticket issued using your name as it appears on that I.D. Many airlines are requesting such identification at check-in in order to reduce the re- selling of discount tickets. (Airlines don't permit tickets to be sold or given to other persons.) On international flights, make sure your name is the same on your ticket and your passport. If your name has recently changed and the name on your ticket and your I.D. are different, bring docu- mentation of the change (e.g., a marriage certificate or court order).
* It's a good idea to reconfirm your reservations before you start your trip; flight schedules sometimes change. On international trips, most airlines require that you reconfirm your onward or return reservations at least 72 hours before each flight. If you don't, your reservations may be canceled.
* Check your ticket as you board each flight to ensure that only the correct coupon has been removed by the airline agent.
Paying for and refunding airline tickets
* If you plan to pay in person and with your own bank check, take at least two forms of identification with you like a driver's license, major credit card, or employee I.D. card. Particularly when you purchase tickets far from your home town, airlines, travel agencies and other ticket outlets will want to confirm your identity.
If you paid for your ticket with cash and you have a refundable fare, you can often get an immediate refund from the issuing airline or travel agency. If you paid by personal check, the refund will gen- erally have to be mailed to you. NOTE: In some cases tickets purchased overseas in foreign currency can only be refunded in that same currency and country, due to foreign government monetary restrictions. Keep this in mind if you are considering buying a ticket in a foreign country.
* When you pay by credit card, your charge account is billed-whether you use your tickets or not. You won't receive credit unless the original unused tickets are returned to the airline. You usually can't get a cash refund for a credit card purchase.
* If you buy your tickets with a credit card and then change your flights, the ticket agent may want to credit the amount of the old tickets and issue another set with a second charge to your account. You may want to insist that the value of your old tickets be applied to the new ones, with the difference in price charged or credited to your account. While this creates a little extra work for the airlines, it prevents double-billing to your charge account.
Payment by credit card provides certain protections under federal credit laws. When a refund is due, the airline must forward a credit to your card company within seven business days after receiving a complete refund application. If you paid by credit card for a refundable fare and you have trouble getting a refund that you are due, report this in writing to your credit card company. If you write to them within 60 days from the time that they mailed your first monthly statement showing the charge for the airline ticket, the card company should credit your account even if the airline doesn't. This procedure is particularly useful if your airline ceases operations before your flight.
Airline tickets are similar to negotiable documents. Because of this, refunds can be difficult to obtain if tickets are lost or stolen. Many passengers believe that air tickets can be replaced as easily as travelers checks just because the reservation is in the computer, but that is not the case. Your ticket number may be shown on your credit card receipt or travel agency itinerary. If it is not, jot down the number on a sheet of paper and carry it separately from your ticket. Bring it with you on your trip. If the ticket does go astray, the airline can process your refund application more quickly, and perhaps issue an on-the-spot replacement ticket, if you can give them this number. You should report a lost ticket immediately to the airline that is shown as the issuing carrier at the top of the ticket. You may be required to repurchase a ticket in order to continue your trip. If you no longer meet all of the restrictions on your discount fare (e.g., seven-day advance purchase) the new ticket may cost more than the old one did. In that event, however, it is generally the higher fare that is eventually refunded, as long as you don't change any of the cities, flights or dates on your trip. Once the airline establishes that you actually bought the ticket, they will begin processing your refund application. There is often a waiting period of two to six months. If anyone uses or cashes in your ticket while the refund is pending, the airline may refuse to give you your money back. Finally, there is a handling charge that the airline may deduct from the refund. All in all, getting a refund or replacement for a lost ticket is a lot of trouble, and there's no guarantee you'll receive either one. So the best advice is-don't lose the ticket in the first place.
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