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Bargain fares could be mistakes

Q: I purchased a Boston-to-San Diego ticket on Continental that was going for $61.30 total round trip, based on a tweet from your website ( I called Continental and asked if I could take an earlier flight the same day, but learned it will cost almost as much to change ($50). The ticket agent was blown away by the price I paid for my ticket. She was sure it was a mistake. I was worried that they weren't going to honor my ticket, but she assured me that they would have to honor it as I bought it directly from the Continental website. How then do these prices slip by? (Earlier, I also bought a $150 round-trip Delta flight to Europe!)

A: We remember those airfare bargains well. Were they "fat finger fares" (i.e., mistakes made when programming the computers) or were they intentional? Airlines will never answer that question (we've asked). We think those $150 tax-included fares to Europe on Delta were a mistake (the airline forgot to include the fuel surcharge perhaps), because they lasted just a few hours, but Delta honored them.

Recently, Spanair and USAir had a joint fare to Spain for summer travel for under $400 round-trip from New Orleans and slightly higher from other cities. Unfortunately, the online travel agencies that sold these fares (Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, etc.) decided not to honor some of them, blaming Spanair and US Airways for the "bait and switch," after they were bought by some consumers. Other purchasers tell us that their flights have been confirmed after buying the very same fares, however. It makes no sense to us.

Sometimes airlines and travel agencies honor "mistake" fares, sometimes they don't, and in this instance it looks like they honored some purchases but not others (some airlines have language in their contracts of carriage that they reserve the right not to honor mistakes).

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Q: My U.S. passport expires in May 2012. When would be the best time to renew it? At this point I have no international travel planned, although if I should change my mind, won't I need to have at least nine months left on it?

A: Why wait? Yes, you'd have to have three to six months on your passport if you suddenly decided to up and travel, so there really isn't much point in waiting. It'll take at least a month to get a new one, so go for it.

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Q: Someone stole my seat on a flight and refused to move. It was a prime seat that was stand-alone, both a window and aisle seat (the plane was small) and this guy starting yelling about the seating chart being wrong when I pointed out the seat numbers. He then started yelling at the flight attendant who explained to him that she had no control over the seating chart. While some attendants love to put rude customers in their place, I could tell she just wanted the drama over so that she could do her job, so I offered to take his seat instead. She thanked me about a dozen times during the flight and happily gave me a free drink. While I'm annoyed this guy got his way by being rude, my golden rule on planes is to always make life easy for my flight attendants.

A: That's a good policy. If that escalation had continued, it could have resulted in the angry passenger (and possibly you) being removed from the flight. Such altercations are taken seriously. Refusing to follow a crew member's instructions is a federal offense. You were smart to back off.

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