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carry-on bagsIf you’ve ever been irked to see someone stride up to the gate at the airport with a massive carry-on and a second (or third … or fourth) bag that strains the definition of the term “personal item,” you’re not alone. A new hashtag called #CarryonShame is spreading on Twitter, calling out those fliers who seem to believe the entire overhead bin should belong to them.

The campaign is the brainchild of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Spud Hilton, who explains why he thinks it’s important in a post on the Bad Latitude blog: “If it were just passengers rationalizing their behavior as trying to cheat the airline out of checked baggage fees (or fliers just trying to save money), we wouldn’t care. But the increasingly aggressive disregard for the size standards — which has led to flight delays, a much longer boarding process, abusive passengers, and increased theft from gate-checked bags — also is disregard for everyone else on the plane.”

Hilton encourages travelers to snap photos of offending bags and tag their tweets with #CarryonShame; they may be retweeted by a dedicated Twitter account (@carryonshame) or even included in a gallery on SFGate.com.

What Not to Pack

Unfortunately, thanks to several airlines recently changing their carry-on size limits, it’s gotten a whole lot easier to go over the top — especially when, as Hilton points out, many suitcases marketed as carry-ons are actually too large: “We’ve started skulking around luggage and travel stores and have found that 40 percent of the bags labeled as carry-on that we measured did not meet standards for most airlines (45 linear inches, typically no more than 14 inches wide by 22 long by 9 deep).” Hilton urges travelers to post photos of these bags as well under the #CarryonShame hashtag.

Personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about #CarryonShame. On one hand, it drives me nuts when I have to gate-check my own carry-on because I’m in a late boarding group and there’s not enough overhead bin space. On the other, I prefer to travel solely with a carry-on — I don’t trust the airlines not to lose my luggage, and I hate waiting at baggage claim — so I bet I’ve exceeded the limit by a few inches here and there. My take: If I can fit my personal item under the seat in front of me and my carry-on in the bin wheels-first, it’s all good.

But I’d better look out for those #CarryonShame cameras, just in case.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

How do you feel about the oversized carry-on trend? Post your thoughts in the comments!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Regional carrier Frontier Airlines plans to lower its fares by adding a slew of new charges for things that used to come standard for economy-class passengers — like carry-on bags.

In a statement, the airline refers to the change as “unbundling” and says it’s “enabling customers to choose and pay for only the products they want to truly customize their flight.”

Gee, thanks for the favor.

Not only has the line compressed its former fare structure into just two types — Economy and Classic Plus — it has also introduced a discount club called Discount Den, which will allow passengers to access special savings (for a fee, of course — which has yet to be revealed).

“You can choose an all-in fare by purchasing Classic Plus, or only pay for what items matter to you with our Economy tickets,” the airline’s Facebook page optimistically chirps. “When you purchase our Economy fare, you start with our lowest fares and then add on the items that you want such as carry-on bags, advanced seat assignments, and onboard beverages.”

Many customers aren’t buying that argument, though: “Haha! I just read your email – $25 for a carry-on?” says Andrea Lee on Facebook. “$3 starting price for the ability to choose a seat to sit in? I had to check out your Facebook page to see if this was a joke….”

“Are the ‘new low fares’ not loaded yet?” asks Christine Malinconico Rhodes. “I am not seeing any competitive fares for the places I go!”

“#neveragain,” adds Jayson Vonfreizer.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

In its FAQs about the changes, which went into effect on April 28, Frontier boasts that the unbundling has decreased Economy base fares by more than 10 percent. Although Frontier answered some of our other questions, its reps still won’t say what the percentage increase in Economy fares will be if passengers choose to add all of the amenities that are now a la carte.

If you want to bring a carry-on bag, you’ll be shelling out anywhere from $20 to $50 for the privilege, depending on when you make the payment. (It’s cheapest if you pay when you book, most expensive if you pay at the gate.) Oh, and in case you were wondering, you’ll still have to pony up for checked bags too, but you’ll pay less for a checked bag than a carry-on. Frontier spokesperson Kate O’Malley says fewer carry-ons equal a more streamlined boarding process.

Don’t worry, though. You won’t have to pay anything extra for toting a purse, backpack or laptop bag. What a deal!

Those of us who prefer to be treated like people, rather than cattle, can always purchase the more expensive Classic Plus fares, which are fully refundable and include one checked bag, one carry-on bag, pre-assigned seating and extra legroom. In the few sample fares we scoped out between a handful of randomly chosen destinations, we saw differences of nearly $200 roundtrip between some Economy and Classic Plus fares. Oof.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Allegiant and Spirit Airlines pulled something similar not too long ago, and we’ve still got a bitter taste in our mouths. The only question remains: Which airline will be next?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

zodiac aerospace face to face seatsWoe to the flier who’s stuck anywhere near a screaming infant, a guy who snores or a woman who’s unaware of a little something called deodorant. It’s bad enough when you’re wedged next to an undesirable flight companion, but imagine sitting face to face with one (or all) of them.

As reported by Runway Girl Network, a new airplane concept developed by seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace would have the window and aisle passengers facing forward and the middle passenger facing backward. Although studies have shown that backward-facing seats are actually safer in the event of an emergency, this would add a whole new level to our loathing of the middle seat and likely create an additional way for airlines to charge for the privilege of sitting near the window or aisle.

Facing your fellow travelers would make it that much harder to politely ignore them if all you want to do is catch a catnap or read that book you’ve been dying to start. Quick! Avert your eyes, lest the overly chatty woman across from you decide to strike up a conversation about her horrible layover, dislike of cats or recent bunion surgery. And imagine trying to eat your airline-provided peanuts in peace without feeling like you’re sitting at a family dinner. Talk about awkward.

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

There are also some concerns among fliers about whether the seats’ design would impede the exit of passengers during an evacuation. Some argue it could be a hazard, but others think the design’s fold-up construction (much like a theater seat) might actually help to speed things up by offering extra room while entering and exiting each row.

For now, this arrangement is still in its conceptual stage, and it’s only being proposed for short-haul flights. And there’s a silver lining; since the seats would alternate with regard to the direction they’re facing, passengers would no longer have to worry about fighting for room on armrests or tray tables — a minor victory when personal space is at a premium.

Face-to-face flying: Love it or hate it? Share your opinion in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airport plane gateThe customer is always right, right? Wrong. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Northwest Airlines’ right to revoke loyalty program privileges to a passenger who complained too often, according to ABC News.

The passenger, Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg, filed a class action suit in 2009 after he was removed from WorldPerks, the airline’s frequent flier program. He claimed the measure was to remove high-mileage passengers in the face of a pending merger with Delta Air Lines, and sought $5 million plus a restored WorldPerks status and prohibition of any future revocations of his status, according to Consumerist.

Northwest refuted the claim, pointing to a provision of the mileage program’s terms that gives the airline the right to cancel members’ accounts for abuse. The airline reported that Ginsberg complained 24 times in a seven-month period, including nine instances of delayed luggage arrival. All told, Northwest paid Ginsberg $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, a voucher for his son and $491 in cash reimbursements, before pulling the plug on his account.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Justice Samuel Alito ruled based upon the Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits parties from bringing forward state-level claims dealing with the price, route or service of an air carrier. Justice Alito noted that travelers can still take their complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation or choose a different frequent flier program if they’re unhappy with an airline’s treatment.

“We think [the ruling] harms consumers by giving airlines greater freedom to act in bad faith in performing their contracts with consumers,” said Ginsberg’s attorney Adina Rosenbaum of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

We don’t often side with the airlines here at IndependentTraveler.com, but in this case I think the ruling is fair. A line needs to be drawn for any rewards program because there are always going to be people who take advantage of a generous offer. Holding an airline accountable to high standards is one thing, but ultimately it’s a business that needs to act in its own best interests.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

What’s your take? Would you side with the airlines’ right to protect themselves against excessive claims for compensation, or does this ruling give them too much power?

written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport plane woman gate suitcase United Airlines generated a collective groan from travelers over the weekend by saying it will be strictly enforcing its carry-on baggage requirements, which limit each passenger to one personal item (like a purse, laptop or briefcase) and one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 9 x 14 x 22 inches.

The issue, however, isn’t with the size of the carry-on luggage allowed; other major carriers, including Delta and American Airlines/US Airways, have the same dimension restrictions. Instead, what’s upsetting is that United will now be charging checked-bag fees for any carry-ons that must be gate-checked due to noncompliance — even if passengers have used their carry-ons for years with no trouble fitting them in the overhead bins.

Of course it’s annoying when you see fellow flyers waddling onboard under the weight of a purse, a backpack, a computer bag and a carry-on that you can just tell exceeds regulation. But instead of making the boarding more efficient, charging for gate-checked bags is certain to slow down the process.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

United also charges for the first checked bag for each passenger, so it’s understandable that many would attempt to bring slightly larger carry-ons to avoid baggage fees. (Meanwhile, two popular U.S.-based airlines — JetBlue and Southwest Airlines — allow each passenger to check at least one checked bag at no charge. To boot, the carry-on dimensions for both lines exceed those of United and the other major carriers at 10 x 16 x 24 inches.)

Ultimately, United’s decision to charge for the gate-checking of carry-ons reminds us quite a bit of the policy of ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines: one personal item can be brought for free, but passengers are charged as much as $100 per bag — each way! — for the privilege of boarding with a carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of them.

At this point, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if United eventually starts charging for things like bathroom privileges (don’t laugh — this was proposed a few years ago by European discounter Ryanair) and oxygen.

4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

new york times travel showLooking for inspiration for your next trip (or simply an escape from all this winter cold)? If you’re in the New York metro area, don’t miss the New York Times Travel Show this weekend. Held at the Jacob K. Javits Center on Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2, the show features exhibition booths, giveaways, book signings and a full line-up of travel seminars.

Besides walking the exhibition floor, you can see IndependentTraveler.com contributor Chris Gray Faust give a talk on Sunday at 3 p.m. on how to “Chronicle Your Adventures Like the Professionals Do: Impress Your Friends and Family.”

If you’re interested in cruising, don’t miss Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic (our sister site), at the Ask the Expert Q and A, scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday. Carolyn is also speaking Sunday at 2 p.m. on “The Best Cruise at the Best Price: Everything You Need to Know.”

Other speakers include travel experts Arthur and Pauline Frommer, “10,000 Places to See Before You Die” author Patricia Schultz, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg and Conde Nast Traveler columnist Wendy Perrin.

9 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Travel Show

The show is open to the public Saturday, March 1, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, March 2, from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $17 for adults, with children 18 and under admitted free. More information is at NYTTravelShow.com.

*Not in the New York area? See our list of 2014 travel shows around the U.S. and Canada.

– written by Chris Gray Faust

businessman dreaming of vacationPeople who don’t use their vacation time are starving the economy.

Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of an oversimplification, but a new study by Oxford Economics conducted on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association found that Americans who chose not to use all of their paid time off deprive the economy of $160 billion in total business sales and $21 billion in tax revenues.

And while not all of that money would be derived from folks traveling — after all, not everyone will be able to splurge on a getaway and will instead opt for a staycation — a lot of it would be.

For instance, the report states that if all unused personal time were successfully converted to travel, leisure travel spending would be $99 billion dollars greater. Of course, that’s not going to happen, but the report estimates an additional $67 billion could realistically be converted into travel spending.

The reason the dollar amounts are so high is that a staggering 42 percent of Americans ended 2013 with unused vacation days. Of that 42 percent, the average amount of unused vacation time was 8.1 days — enough time for a road trip through California’s national parks, a relaxing cruise or two to three extended weekend getaways!

And the sad part of the whole thing is that while not everyone has money in their budget for a vacation, most people choose not to use their vacation time because they think they’re being responsible.

“My company needs me.”
“There’s too much work to be done for me to take off.”
“Leaving now would affect my overall performance.”

But these beliefs are often simply not true.

Survey Says: Travel Makes Us Happier

Research continues to show that employees who take time off to recharge are significantly more productive upon their return to work, a fact most managers recognize. According to the report, most managers believe that taking vacation time improves their employees’ mental health (76 percent of respondents) and physical health (67 percent). Similar numbers of managers believe that time off enhances their employees’ personal and social lives. The bottom line: Healthy, happy people are healthy, happy workers, and managers know it.

Those who use all their vacation time are also being more responsible to their country (cue patriotic music). If each employee who currently leaves paid time off on the table were to take just one additional day of earned leave each year, the economy would benefit by $73 billion dollars.

So the next time someone you know says they don’t plan on using up all their vacation time, feel free to give them a lecture on why taking vacations, even one as short as a weekend getaway, is so important to their employers, themselves and their country.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

And if they still insist their workplace can’t survive without them? Well, tell them to send me their days off. I know I can find a use for them.

– written by Dori Saltzman

google glass virgin atlanticThe travel industry doesn’t tend to win many kudos for its customer service (see our Airlines Behaving Badly series for evidence), but one airline is hoping to change that through the introduction of cutting-edge technology.

Virgin Atlantic announced yesterday that staff members in its Upper Class Wing at London‘s Heathrow Airport will be using Google Glass — a wearable mini-computer that’s not yet broadly available to the public — to check in passengers and perform other personalized customer service tasks. This includes things like giving flight status updates, translating information in foreign languages and providing a weather forecast for the passenger’s destination.

For now, Virgin Atlantic’s economy-class passengers are out of luck; the pilot test of this program affects only those in the Upper Class cabin. The test will go on for six weeks, with the possibility of expansion in the future. Eventually the technology could also be used to identify passengers’ inflight preferences (such as special dietary needs or preferred drinks).

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Would you find it appealing to be greeted with such personalized service at the airport? Let us know in the comments below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

semester at seaWith the massive Target credit card data breach only about two months behind us, I’m not sure we’ve yet hit a “just when you thought it was safe” moment. And now, a new data breach is striking fear into the heart of consumers and, most especially, travelers.

White Lodging, a company that owns or manages 68 Hilton, Marriott, Westin and Sheraton hotels in 21 states, has experienced a data breach exposing thousands of guests’ credit and debit card data to thieves, a Yahoo Finance article revealed. The breach occurred between about March 23, 2013, and the end of the year. That’s more than nine months’ worth of credit/debit card information!

Most of the stolen data came from cards used in hotel restaurants and gift shops. USA Today has a full list of affected hotels.

White Lodge is not providing any information about the breach other than to say it is under investigation.

But perhaps what’s even more frightening than the breach itself is that it doesn’t surprise security experts.

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Credit.com and Identify Theft911, told a Credit.com writer that breaches are inevitable. He even used the words, “None of this matters”!

What he’s really saying is that we just need to remain vigilant and monitor the charges that appear on our credit/debit card statements, because data breaches aren’t going away. He also recommends watching your credit reports (translation: use his Credit.com services).

In “11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling,” our own Ed Hewitt recommends checking your credit card statements regularly. While you should do this whenever you travel anyway, if you’ve stayed at a Marriott in the past year, make sure you go back and double check all your charges! You might even want to let your credit card bank know you stayed at a hotel you suspect may have been the target of a data theft.

While I’m not going to lie and say this latest data breach doesn’t scare me, what I walk away with is a renewed determination to keep doing what I’m doing and just accept that part of my traveling routine now must include actively checking my credit card statements while I’m traveling and in the weeks and months after a trip.

Keep Your Home Safe on Vacation: 9 Essential Tips

– written by Dori Saltzman

tripadvisor flightsWhat’s most important to you when booking a flight — price? Schedule? Number of connections? Legroom? The in-flight experience? For many travelers, the answer is “all of those things.” And airfare booking sites are responding.

Today TripAdvisor introduced a new version of its flight search engine that includes information such as legroom ratings (tight, average or spacious), whether seats with extra space are available for purchase, the cost of a first checked bag, and whether your seat has a personal TV screen and/or power outlet.

The default search results are sorted by lowest price, but you can also choose to show only nonstop options, to “avoid early flights” (before 8 a.m.) or to see the flights offering the “best value.” It’s not immediately clear what qualifies a flight for “best value” status. In one search, the site gave me a happy medium between an expensive nonstop flight and a cheaper but less convenient option with two layovers. In another, it suggested a nonstop flight that cost about $300 more than the cheapest, multi-leg flight (about a 25 percent increase in price).

9 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful

These offerings are similar to those on other sites like Routehappy.com — which assigns flights a Happiness Score based on entertainment options, seat configuration, trip length and other factors — and Hipmunk.com, whose Agony Index sorts flights by a combination of price, length and number of layovers.

What’s cool about TripAdvisor’s flight search is that it has user photos so you can catch a glimpse of what your plane will look like. The site also pulls in seating charts and ratings from sister site SeatGuru.

For most of us, flying will never really be fun — but now at least we’ve got one more option to help us save money and make that in-flight experience just a little bit brighter.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns SeatGuru.com.