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2018 Travel Trends & Tips from Pauline Frommer, Frommer Guidebooks

Every January, die-hard travelers thirsty for the latest tips and tricks for traveling better, smarter and cheaper, rain down upon New York City’s Javits Center to meet and learn from travel industry experts and a host of destination and tour representatives. Pauline Frommer, consumer travel expert and editorial director of the world-renowned Frommer Guidebook Series, is a regular marquee presenter at the show.  ExpertFlyer caught up with Pauline to get a cheat sheet of tips and trends that will affect travelers in 2018.

LISTEN to our podcast with Pauline Frommer, editorial director, Frommer Guidebooks

 

ExpertFlyer:  So, you just came off your annual presentation and attendance at the New York Times travel show, and you shared a lot of fantastic information that our listeners will benefit from. Let’s start with what people in the travel industry are calling the “Trump Slump.” What’s the effect of the “Trump Slump” on consumer travel?

Pauline Frommer: Well, the “Trump Slump,” for those who haven’t heard about it, is the fact that fewer visitors are coming to the United States. Worldwide we’re seeing a 7% increase in travel, it’s been a boom year for travel, less so here in the United States, and so that’s had a couple of effects. On the hotel front what it means is that prices are dropping, and I’ve seen this quite directly. I write “Frommer’s Easy Guide to New York City” every year — It’s my great joy, I get to go out clubbing, I get to try all the new restaurants, and get to visit all the hotels and also track their pricing. Hotels always drop in the months of January and February in New York City, if you ever want to come and visit New York City cheaply, that’s the time to come.

But they’re dropping, even more, this year than they have in the past. In the past, hotels that I saw going for $149 a night, say two years ago or three years ago, are now going for $119 maybe, or $129. It’s really been quite a significant drop. And the more expensive hotels are also seeing a significant drop. In fact, sometimes even more so. A hotel that would have gone for $439, might be $359 this year. So on the hotel front, I think we’re going to see better deals, and that also has to do with the growing ubiquity of Airbnb, HomeAway, and of people using alternative accommodations. But you’ll find that drop in New York City, at the Nation Parks of the west, San Francisco, and all the places that foreign visitors flock to.

ExpertFlyer:  What about airfares? Are they being impacted by the “Trump Slump”?

Pauline Frommer: We’re also seeing the effect of the “Trump Slump” on airfares internationally because, partially, we’re getting fewer visitors flying inbound to the United States. The airlines are having to drop their prices to fill their seats. I talked with a bunch of tour operators, and they told me they lock in their prices in advance, so it’s a pretty good look at what 2018 holds.

They say Asia is seeing airfares down 10%, 2018 over 2017, and they were already down. So 15% less to Asia, 10% to Europe.

ExpertFlyer: You talk about a number of good travel destination options for 2018, but if one were to decide to take advantage of these low-cost airfares, how does that tie in with your best picks? Are there certain European destinations, or Asian destinations that you would recommend right now?

Pauline Frommer: Well, every year we choose the top places to go, in 2018 we chose 18 places, with the help of the Frommer authors, who are all around the world. For those who don’t know how we work, Frommer’s hires local journalists, and we ask them, what’s really special happening in your community that makes this a particularly good year to travel? One of the places is Ireland because there’s a big spotlight on Ireland this year, not only the best place to go in the world, it’s the best place to go in the galaxy, or so the folks from Star Wars think. If you see the latest Star Wars film, half of it is filmed in Ireland. The beauty there is so otherworldly.  So that’s also a wonderfully, inexpensive place to get to from the United States… especially the East Coast. There’s a lot of good, inexpensive direct flights to Ireland, partially because there’s a lot of competition there, that’s the other reason prices are dropping. There’s just more upstart, low-cost airlines going to Europe, with names like XL, that goes to Paris, and Norwegian is going to a bunch of European gateways.

It used to be you could only get to Europe inexpensively from maybe New York, sometimes Boston, maybe Philadelphia. Now, these upstart airlines are going into secondary cities, to mid-size cities, and doing some really great international flight deals from places like Kansas City or Nashville. So don’t assume that you have to fly to one of the major hubs anymore. It may soon be cheaper, this summer soon, from your hometown.

ExpertFlyer: Talk a little bit about tours.

Pauline Frommer: What’s happening right now with tours, to me is interesting, is it’s finally easier to find them. It’s no big secret that if you go to Expedia, if you go to Priceline, if you go to Travelocity, you’re not going to see multi-day tours listed. And when I say multi-day, I mean tours were you’re traveling with a group of five, four, six, 10 days, and all the hotels are included, maybe some meals, all the sightseeing.

Now there are marketplaces for that type of travel. The two best ones are Stride Travel and Tour Radar. The nice thing about them is, say you want to go to Italy, you put in Italy, you put in the month that you want to travel, and up pops 60 different tours, and they’re so different.

The nice thing about these sites is you not only see Globus, and Tauck, and Intrepid, and the really big multi-national companies. We’re also going to find tiny Italian companies, or if you’re going to Africa, tiny African companies that are doing say safaris. And their prices are usually extremely reasonable, much more reasonable than the folks who have more layers of bureaucracy between them and the destination. So this is the first time you’re able to see the vast array of different types of tours that are out there.

ExpertFlyer:  Talk about some real practical measures. Everybody wants to get the best deal and there’s been a little bit of talk, I think just recently, concerning airline fees, and fares, and the transparency or lack there of. How does a consumer really effectively compare apples to apples?

Pauline Frommer: It’s difficult. It’s very difficult. There are websites that now show the fees in their interface. So for example, you go to CheapOair, as of just I think two weeks ago, they added the fees to your first slide. So when you first go to the site, you can see, okay this flight is $40 less expensive, but I’m going to have to pay to choose a seat, I’m going to have to pay to bring along luggage in the cabin with me, I’m going to pay even more to book that luggage. So CheapOair is good for that, but it doesn’t cover Delta, and it doesn’t cover SouthWest, very few of the sites cover SouthWest, so that’s not unusual. So you do want to keep those extra fees in mind. And unfortunately, just in the last six months, it used to be this was a domestic fee only, now we’re seeing it for international travel, it’s called HBO fares, hand baggage only. So be careful because on a domestic flight, usually, the difference between a basic economy fare, and those are the fares you have all these extra fees on. Usually the difference between that and a regular ticket is $25. How much does it cost you to check a bag? $25 dollars. It’s a bit of a shell game. So you just have to be careful and search in the right place.

At Frommers.com we did a study, we hired a wonderful author named Reed Bramlett, he just spent weeks doing searches, poor guy. And he found that two websites were whopping the others, mundo.com and bystander.net. In the vast majority of cases, they found the lowest rates more often for direct flights, but they just seemed to work better than their more well-known compatriots.

ExpertFlyer: People always want to know the best day of the week to book, and it seems to change, what is it this year?

Pauline Frommer: This year it’s Sunday. I’m not looking into a crystal ball as I say that. There is an organization called The Airline Reporting Corporation, they act as the middleman between airlines and travel agencies, whether that be bricks-and-mortar travel agencies, or Expedia, or Travelocity or the like. And they, every year, do a study of all the fare transactions they do, and that numbers about 30 million fare transactions, it’s billions of dollars they’re looking at. And they look for patterns, and they found that when you book on a Sunday you save about 18% off booking during the week. And the worst day to travel is Friday, prices are highest on Friday. When I say book, I don’t mean fly, I mean this is the day you put down the money. It’s statistical, so it’s not always going to be that much, but yeah, it is a lot of the times. So I personally try and do it on Sunday’s. Why is it? They don’t give a reason, but I think it might have to do with the fact that corporate travel agents don’t work on the weekends, and they know that business travelers aren’t booking, but that’s just my guess.

ExpertFlyer:  Any last nuggets of advice or little gems you want to share with the audience before we let you go?

Pauline Frommer:  Sure. Well one last tricky thing you can do on airfares is, they’re really, really trying to get foreign travelers to fly into the US. And so, nowadays, if you go to the foreign version of the website for the airline you’re booking, and search on that, you often will get a lower price. So if you maybe found a really good airfare on say Norwegian Airlines, go to the Norwegian site. It’s gonna be hard to translate, you’re going to have to keep two screens open perhaps, looking at the US site and the Norwegian site. But you can save a lot of money by booking it as if you are a Norwegian. Now the savings will be wiped out if your credit card adds in a big fee, so do check what your credit card will do, but if they don’t, sometimes this is a simple, easy, legal way to do it.

 

Air Travel Fairness aims for greater airline fare/fee transparency to ensure true consumer cost comparison

In light of the DOT’s recent decision not to pursue regulations that would result in greater airline pricing transparency for consumers, ExpertFlyer went One-on-One with Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of the Air Travel Fairness Coalition, to learn what his organization is doing to protect consumer travelers.

“Airlines are making record profits and we don’t begrudge that. In fact, we’re happy they are successful, but let’s get it all out in the open (fares and fees) so everybody knows what they’re getting into.”

WATCH our interview with Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director, Air Travel Fairness Coalition

ExpertFlyer: What is the Air Travel Fairness Coalition?

Kurt Ebenhoch: Air Travel Fairness is a coalition of consumer and business advocacy groups that are working together to protect the rights of consumers to easily compare airfares and schedules among airlines. Currently, we’re seeing an increasing effort by the airlines to block consumers from seeing the full set of varying fares and schedules, and flights, available to them from some of their favorite resources, including travel apps and websites. As a result, we’re working to try and protect that right because comparison shopping is the way that we all assess whether or not we’re getting a good deal.

EF: The Department of Transportation recently decided not to pursue some regulation that would have meant greater pricing transparency across the airline industry. What does this mean for consumers? 

KE: There are two issues here. One is how early in the transaction the consumer has the complete picture of what the cost of their trip will be. Over time, the airlines have added new fees, new charges for different things, and trying to figure out that bottom line of what one’s total cost is has gotten a lot tougher. So this was something that was going to require a summary of the total cost earlier in the process. And it had been studied over many, many years. There was lots of consumer input.

Then the second provision was one where the carriers would have to report to the government how much money they’re making on all these different ancillary fees and charges. And what really concerns us is, we’re seeing a pattern here from the DOT, where it feels to us like, airline profits are their most important objective and we think that consumers should really be their most important priority. They need to put consumers pocketbooks ahead of airline profits.

These different things that they’re doing, whether it’s what I mentioned before with making it hard for consumers to compare fares and schedules, or with what’s happened with the DOT, are all examples of behind the scenes price increases or deception that make it more difficult for consumers to find out the bottom line cost of their trip. And they’re doing it for no other reason than to extract more money from the consumer.

Our point of view is if the airlines want to charge a certain fare, this is a free market economy, they should charge that fare, but let’s get it all out in the open so everybody knows what they’re getting into. Rather than deception, and hide and seek with these varied charges and fees.

EF: So what’s the next step for your coalition?

KE: Well, right now we’re very much trying to get what’s called a Request for Information reinstated. Sometimes when it comes to policy making, one of the early steps is for a government agency, such as the Department of Transportation, which is charged with protecting American consumers, to initiate a request for information where they get different facts and data from different parties in the travel environment. From that information, they’re able to make a more informed choice about the impact these practices are having on consumers.

The Air Fairness Coalition had a Request for Information in place. It generated more than 58,000 comments, including 50,000 from individual travelers who just wrote to the DOT expressing their concern related to this. It initially had a deadline of December 31 of 2016. That deadline was extended by the Obama administration to March 31, 2017, at the request of the airlines and then on March 10th, inexplicably, the Trump administration suspended the RFI altogether. We have been working with members of Congress and with the DOT to get that RFI reinstated. What’s curious to us is that the airline industry is working very, very hard to try and stop the reinstatement of that. And we’re not talking about legislation or a new rule, we’re just talking about getting the facts out on the table and letting things go from there.

But even in that case, they’re working aggressively to stop that from happening. We think it’s important for everyone involved, all the decision makers, the policymakers, to really see what’s going on and what impact these practices are having. Consumers should be able to decide which website they go to, which app they use, which travel resource they use. It’s not for the airlines to decide that. And now that the top four carriers have more than 80% of the market, we’re starting to see some oligopolistic practices.

 

2018 Travel Technology Trends

The annual Phocuswright Conference took place last month and for travel, tourism, and hospitality industry professionals, the show serves as a bellwether for tech trends across all key travel segments. We conducted a post-show interview with Phocuswright research analyst, Alice Jong, to discuss the hot topics and opportunities for 2018 that created buzz at the show.

WATCH our video interview with Alice Jong, Phocuswright research analyst

ExpertFlyer: Give us a high-level description of what Phocuswright is and the purpose of the conference?

Alice Jong: We are a travel market research company and we focus on anything related to travel distribution and technology. The U.S. conference is our largest event where we gather the biggest ideas and the biggest opinions in the travel industry, and present them on stage to share trends and things to watch out for. We cover all the segments in travel … it’s a great opportunity for attendees to not only gain knowledge about what’s happening in the travel industry, technology and innovation, but also make connections with the biggest minds in this space.

EF: There were a number of highlights that came out of the show, one of which was the popularity of tours and activities and its impact on search and booking technology. How is this segment evolving?

AJ: It’s actually a big study that I worked on directly so I’m quite passionate about this segment. Essentially, so much of tours and activities — the things that you do once you’re in the destination — whether it’s going on a walking tour or participating in a cooking class or going scuba diving, much of that is still transacted offline. Travelers tend to book these activities very last minute in destination – with many actually walking up to the ticket booth or into the shop to purchase the experience in person. But there’s been a big shift where all of this is moving online now. So, think about how hotels and airlines are online.  You can easily compare options, whether it’s on a metasearch site or on an OTA like Expedia. That’s starting to happen for tours and activities now. Bike tours were among the first to do this in a big way, but in recent years, many more startups are getting on board, so platforms like “Get Your Guide” are surfacing and they’re aggregating all these activities that you can do and putting them online where travelers can easily research activities by category and then book them from a computer or mobile device.

Many of these activities and experiences tend to be operated by small “Mom and Pop” shops, but there are new technology platforms now that are being created that cater to these smaller players enabling them to basically digitize their inventory. So, once the supply is digitized, then the consumer can also book it digitally and it’s really gaining momentum, such that even the biggest travel players are now seeing a lot of potential in the tours and activities space.

The first time we did a study related to activities was back in around 2011, so just over six years ago and around that time the biggest players were lukewarm about tours and activities. Since then, brands like Expedia, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and Booking.com, are all looking to add tours and activities into their online platform.  As a result, it’s going to be easier for travelers to research activities they are interested in, compare what they want to do and then book it directly online. With more than 80% of the activities marketplace still offline, this category is expected to grow quickly based on the demands of travelers and their online search and booking expectations.

EF: What are some of the sites that are fulfilling this travel niche search now?

AJ: Some of the biggest or well-known brands, Expedia, has a local expert now and they’ve actually integrated that into their mobile platform, as well. Airbnb launched Experiences last year, so more focus on that local experience in the destination. TripAdvisor, after acquiring Viator, one of the largest online tours and activities booking agencies, started integrating bookable content onto TripAdvisor. So, travelers may now directly book those activities from TripAdvisor. Some of the other examples are Get Your Guide, which is one of the larger global platforms, and others with a regional spin, like Newman Tours specializing in Asia, as well as Klook, and Be My Guest. In India, you have options, like Make My Trip and Clear Trip. There is a good deal starting regionally, which indicates a lot of opportunities to grow. It’s very exciting to see where these players are going to take this and keep growing the inventory.

EF: There was some talk about the impact of artificial intelligence and voice recognition associated with travel search and sourcing. What’s on the horizon?

AJ: This technology is still quite new. We’re in our infancy with this and many of the biggest online players are exploring possibilities and options. They’re looking at chat, they’re looking at voice, and they’re looking to see how they combine a mix of A.I. chatbox with human interaction to find that right balance. Many of them are analyzing and testing what they can do with customer service inquiries. Expedia has been experimenting with Facebook Messenger and earlier this year they rolled out a Facebook Messenger booking capability for Hotels.com. Kayak has been looking at Alexa capabilities, so they’re all dabbling and they’re trying to see what the possibilities are, but so far what we are hearing from them is it’s still new and they are exploring the early stage capabilities.

Over in Asia, China’s biggest OTA, Ctrip, is using A.I. customer service chatbox to handle many of their customer inquiries. Make My Trip in India also rolled out chat-based online booking for their packaging business. So, we see different players exploring different routes but ultimately it’s like finding that right balance that makes things easier and more personalized for the customer.

We saw in our travel technology survey that in the U.S. about half of online travelers now use some kind of voice assistant in their everyday life. In terms of travel though, it’s most advantageous future usage is still developing. Companies are looking at opportunities starting with customer service for now and they’re considering how the technology will play out in terms of shopping and booking stages.

EF: Let’s talk about loyalty and loyalty programs. It was interesting to see some data on customer loyalty and membership programs. According to your analysis, membership to a loyalty program doesn’t necessarily mean a customer is all that loyal. What do you think is coming down the pike in terms of airline and hotel rewards programs? Are we ripe for reinvention in this space?

AJ: Well, for both air and hotels in general, we’re definitely seeing that loyalty programs don’t mean loyalty necessarily. And what we’ve seen in our studies is that loyalty programs aren’t deal-makers for the traveler either. Overall, they aren’t making their final booking decision based on a loyalty program. In fact, for air, we see that the majority of travelers belong to either multiple loyalty programs or none at all. So the share of travelers that belong to just one is the minority. And further to that, we also find that they’re willing to book with an airline outside of their loyalty program if it means a better price or schedule. So that’s what’s really driving those purchases. On top of that, air travelers’ loyalty greatly depends on their home base location. If you’re based in Atlanta, Delta’s probably going to be your preferred airline. So much of it is based on these variables that aren’t necessarily about loyalty. It’s about the commodity and what’s available and what’s most convenient and priced right for your budget.

It’s been fascinating to see how Airbnb has been able to build this brand affinity with its user base where people keep coming back and reusing again and again – and they don’t have an official loyalty program. With the airlines, especially in the U.S., there are a set number of carriers you can fly on. If there’s the option of a $100 flight versus a $600 flight and the schedule’s pretty close, you’re probably going to go with the $100 flight rather than trying to get 500 extra points on your frequent flyer program. So, I think for loyalty, what we’re looking for is who is going be able to find a way to differentiate their brand through some kind of deeper connection, not just by offering these perks because the loyalty program and frequent flyer miles are no longer differentiating brands.

Business Traveller Magazine and frequent flyers weigh in with top tips for better air travel

If you’re a frequent business traveler, odds are you and your colleagues compete for bragging rights when it comes to getting the best perks and deals to make life in the air a more pleasurable experience. We tapped some seasoned business travelers who are also elite airline loyalty program members to draw out their proven schemes and best practices for flying better.

“I’m a big fan of the stopover. There are about a dozen airlines that now do it covering Asia, parts of Europe, and the Middle East. So, if you’re traveling the globe, what a great way to actually add a couple of days on your trip and see a part of the word you might not have seen before.”

— Ross Atkinson, Chief Marketing and Product Officer, Business Traveller Magazine

WATCH our video interview with Ross Atkinson, Business Traveller Magazine

Dave Poplin is a sales executive with an international technology company. He flies every three weeks, on average, and holds Platinum-level status on Delta Airlines.

According to Poplin, there is no reason for a Platinum or higher level Delta flyer to ever pay for a Delta Comfort Seat. “Once you book coach you will get an upgrade to Delta Comfort the next day for free.  But, be careful on what Comfort seats are available, there can be some risk that you go from an aisle in coach to a middle seat in Comfort. Look at the seat maps, if there are a lot of First Class open, then Comfort customers will get moved up and open aisle seats again.”

“Remember, Comfort gets free movies and drinks. Aside from meals being included on a 2+ hour flight in First Class, there is really no difference between Comfort and First Class, especially on Delta.”

gregg ellman

Gregg Ellman

Gregg Ellman, co-owner of Ellman Photography, does about 35-40 roundtrips per year as a freelance photographer and journalist. With over two million flying miles, he’s a Platinum Pro level member of American Airlines Advantage loyalty program.

“When your flight is canceled or delayed, etc., the worst thing you can do is stand in line.  Call the airlines directly and use your status to your advantage.  If the person you have on the phone is not helpful, asked to speak to their manager. It works almost every time.”

Ellman says his American Airlines executive card is worth every penny.  “Along with the monthly miles, you get 10,000 yearly qualifying miles and your yearly
membership to the admirals club is included.”

Another tip, book the earliest flight possible, which avoids young kids and makes boarding much quicker. “Since I travel with a lot of camera gear, hassle-free boarding is a big deal,” adds Ellman.

jennifer flowers frequent flyer

Jennifer Flowers, found & CEO of Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Jennifer Flowers is the CEO of Accreditation Guru, Inc., a consultancy that works with non-profits across the country. Averaging two plane trips per month, Jennifer is a Delta SkyMiles Platinum Medallion member.

“I have both business and personal Delta American Express cards in order to maximize miles earned. Also, because of the amount of travel and other business expenses that are charged against my Delta AmEx, I am able to earn a Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) Waiver (MQDs are a way for Delta to ensure that Elite members have spent a minimum amount of money with the airline, as well as flying a certain number of miles or segments).”

Flowers joined the Delta Sky Club as a way to enjoy the amenities offered (wifi, food and drink selections, comfortable waiting areas, etc.) and ease the stress of frequent travel. “In the past year, I visited Delta Sky Clubs around the country at least 35 times. With the discounted rate of $29 for an access pass that is available through my Platinum Delta AmEx card (as opposed to $59 regular price of a single visit pass), my annual pass has allowed me to save more than 50% off of what the reduced rate access passes would have cost.”

Airfarewatchdog founder offers advice for snagging upgrades & unpublished airfare deals

Separating fact from fiction when it comes to scoring a seat upgrade or lower priced airline tickets on your next flight has become increasingly complicated and confusing.  We interviewed long-time industry authority, George Hobica, founder and president of Airfarewatchdog.com, to sort out the best strategies for success.

WATCH our interview with George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com 

ExpertFlyer: What type of information does Airfarewatchdog.com offer its subscribers?

George Hobica: We search and list unusually low airfares. Even though airlines have consolidated, there are still a lot of unadvertised airfare wars. Some of these deals can be extremely cheap. They’re not last minute fares. They are often for a good long travel period. However, they may only last a few minutes or hours, so you really have to jump on them. One way we get the word out is through email alerts. You can track a particular route or even airport to airport. For example, you can say I want to go from Washington Dulles or Washington National to London Gatwick or London Heathrow. We actually let you specify the airport that you’ll be flying into and out of in the alert. You can also choose the airline or if you don’t like a particular carrier, you can eliminate those from the alerts and we won’t send you alerts on those airlines.

EF:  How do you surface these deals?

GH: We have a staff of 10 people, some of whom are former travel agents. Some of whom were former airline employees, who know their way around airfares. They actually choose the deal. I hate to use the word curate, but they’re carefully chosen deals.

EF: For the more novice flyer, what are some of your tips that you tell folks who want to get a deal?

GH: Well, one thing is, you have to search often because airfares do go up and down without explanation. There might be 26 different fares on a plane or a flight, and there are only a few seats at each fare level. Once those are gone, then you will go to a higher fare level. If somebody’s holding those seats and releases them, then they will go back into a shared bucket perhaps, and you can grab them. Another thing that I suggest, unless you’re traveling with small children, is to book seats one by one because there might be one seat at a low fare and the second seat will be at a higher fare. The airline’s going to sell you both seats at the higher fare. They’re not going to average them one by one.

Also, look at one-way fares. A lot of the cheapest fares are half the lowest round trip price. It might be better to go out on one airline. Maybe on Southwest, for example, and then come back on United. Going to United.com, you won’t see that possibility. Always try those one-way fares. Sign up for airfare alerts. You definitely want to get those by email or by Twitter, using the hashtag #airfare on Twitter, is a really good place to look.

Subscribing to airline newsletters is a good idea. Sometimes you’ll find out about deals sooner than anyone else. Sometimes Singapore Airlines, for example, will send their sales to their frequent flier members first and then everyone else gets them a day later. It could be that some of the best seats and fares and routes have been sold out by that time.  I do think that some of the advertised fares are actually not as good as the unadvertised fares. That’s where Twitter is really helpful. Again, that hashtag #airfare is very useful. There are about 10 different accounts now that post deals on Twitter under that hashtag.

EF:  What are your best practices for getting an upgrade to business class for little to no cost?

GH:  Well, these days airlines are selling a lot of their business and first class seats. In many cases, they’re nonrefundable business and first at a reduced fare. For example, recently I flew one way from LA to JFK, and the regular fare was $300 one way on American Airlines. There were business class seats for about $650, which is a lot less than it used to be. It is nonrefundable at that price. I also, on this trip, booked 15,000 miles and $75 to get a paid upgrade. That was a pretty good deal; for $75 and 15,000 miles, I got $375 worth of value, so I upgraded myself that way. Also look for those last minute upgrades. If you book a ticket with Delta, they offer an upgrade for like $100 on a fairly short flight on the app. You can always ask for if there are any upgrades available when you check in or look for them at the kiosk. Sometimes there are offers.

I think the best way really is to use your miles. Now obviously if you attain upper tier status in the frequent flier program, they will sometimes give you a free upgrade, but those are getting rarer on popular routes. It’s really difficult to get those totally free mileage upgrades, or cheap upgrades. You really have to pay for it. You basically have to use miles plus cash to get the upgrade, I find, at least on American Airline on the transcontinental routes. The final way and many people don’t believe this, but on rare occasions, you get upgraded for no particular reason. Now, let’s say they oversell economy class, and everyone with status has been accommodated with upgrades. I have a friend who is a real estate agent in Los Angeles. She went to London recently and flew economy class, and she got upgraded to business class on British Airways. She said, “Why?” I said, “Well were you dressed the way you are today?”

If you are dressed way nicer than everyone else and they need one more person to upgrade, and everyone else looks like a slob, you may very well get upgraded. It’s just the way it goes. It’s happened to me before. It’s happened to my well-dressed agent. It happened to my friend Richard on Air Canada. He was flying from San Francisco to Vancouver, dressed in a business suit. He had no status. I had no status on United and I got upgraded on United because I was looking sharp.

I’ll tell you another story. I was flying on American Airlines last year, or two years ago. There was a seating problem in economy. This guy, a teenager, switched seats in economy class to accommodate somebody who was making a fuss. There was one seat left in business class – the seat next to me – and he got it. I heard the flight attendant say, “Shouldn’t we upgrade so and so who has status?” And the gate agent said, “I’m not going to upgrade that kind of behavior.” Apparently, the guy who was making a fuss was Platinum status on American. He was especially obnoxious, so they decided not to upgrade him.  So, sometimes getting an upgrade is as simple as being a nice, courteous human being.

One more thing about getting upgraded, make separate reservations because they may not want to upgrade two people together. They want to separate you, so if you have separate reservations you may have a better chance of getting upgraded.