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rendering of a new kind of airplane seatFrom infants to overweight adults, there are plenty of people who don’t fit in the stereotypical airplane seat mold. That’s why we’re tipping our proverbial hat to the SII Group of Germany, which has developed adjustable plane seats.

Known as the SANTO (Special Accommodation Needs for Toddlers and Overweight Passengers) Seat, the concept involves extra-wide seats, which can be used for larger passengers or divided into an adult/child combo for parents traveling with babies or small children.

The invention makes use of space at the back of the plane, where cabins are generally narrower.

Complete with proper arm rests and seatbelts, which can be easily installed and adjusted by cabin crew, the idea earned SII a recent award in the “Passenger Comfort Hardware” category at the Crystal Cabin Awards.

Get the Best Airplane Seat

The seats haven’t been installed on any planes yet, but we’re waiting to see which airlines will be the first to bite.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Share your comments below.

–By Ashley Kosciolek

road sign that says rewards aheadSwapping unused airline miles for magazine subscriptions is so passe. Forget Rolling Stone magazine — use those miles to go backstage at a rock concert or snag tickets to the 2015 Billboard Music Awards. Music doesn’t interest you? How about an authentic replica of Gandalf’s “Magical Silver Scarf” from the Lord of the Rings movies? Made of 100 percent New Zealand wool, it’s woven by the same weavers who made some of the costumes for the movies.

These are just two of the many unusual rewards frequent fliers can turn their award miles in for nowadays.

Research company IdeaWorks, in partnership with Switchfly, recently reviewed the frequent flier programs of 160 airlines, highlighting 25 of the most unusual and innovative reward options in the report, “Airlines Woo Members with Wild, Weird and Wonderful Rewards.”

Offerings range from unique products to one-of-a-kind travel experiences, and everything in between. Some can be “bought” straight up with miles, while others have to be bid on in auctions or won in raffles.

Here is just a taste of some of the most unique rewards on offer:

* ANA All Nippon Airways: For 15,000 miles you’ll get a four-course meal for two — with Champagne — at the Lexus experience store in Tokyo.

* EVA Air: For 100,000 miles you’ll get access to a flight simulator and trainer for a 90-minute session.

* El Al: For 120 points (plus $60) you can propose to your partner with the line’s Inflight Marriage Proposal Kit, which includes a bottle of wine and two elegant glasses delivered by the flight attendant after she has said yes, plus premium chocolates.

* Cathay Pacific: 15,000 miles gets you a very unique eight-hour Hong Kong handicraft tour that includes visits to a tailor, shoemaker and wood engraver.

* Avianca: A few slices of New York City’s famed pizza can be had for 5,803 miles. It’s part of a walking tour that stops at three pizzerias in several Manhattan neighborhoods.

* Qantas: For a whopping 536,500 points you can take part in Earthwatch’s Conserving Koala Country program in Australia. You’ll spend 10 days in Great Otway National Park in Victoria conducting measurements, collecting samples and tracking koalas by radio. Room and board are included.

* Air Canada: For 128,000 miles parents can purchase a $1,000 (CAD) gift certificate to a Me to We Adventure and Volunteer trip for their child. Participants may lay bricks for a new school, dig for a water project or teach English in a school in destinations like Kenya, Tanzania, India, Ecuador, Ghana and the Amazon.

* Emirates: It only takes 12,000 miles to get a first-level ticket to a Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) football/soccer match with access to the Emirates Club at the stadium.

* Auction and raffle rewards included TAP Portugal’s auction of a four-night cruise; Etihad Airways’ raffle of an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix package for two with four-night hotel stay, VIP race seating and air tickets; and American Airlines’ auction of a Justin Timberlake Live in New York package for two, which included flights, hotel accommodations, transfers, meals and a $600 prepaid credit card.

If you had unlimited air miles, which experience would you select? Or if you could make one up, what would it be?

— written by Dori Saltzman

Well, aren’t these the cutest first-class fliers you’ve ever seen?

qantas koala

Australian flag carrier Qantas recently flew four koalas called Paddle, Pellita, Chan and Idalia from Brisbane to Singapore, where they will live at the Singapore Zoo for the next six months, reports Travel Pulse. The loan is in honor of Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence.

qantas koala

The airline shared a few photos on its Twitter account that capture the cuddly creatures in first class (#KoalaClass), being served a delicious snack of Schweppes and eucalyptus leaves by a flight attendant. Travel Pulse notes, however, that the koalas ultimately flew in the cargo hold (standard for transporting animals) in climate-controlled carriers stocked with eucalyptus trees. Qantas will fly fresh supplies of eucalyptus to Singapore every two weeks throughout the koalas’ stay abroad.

qantas koala

All together now: “Awwww.”

Need More Travel Cuteness?
Shetland Ponies in Sweaters
Puppies and Kittens Make Everything Better — Even Flying

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that the airlines aren’t all unfeeling, bean-counting, baggage fee-charging corporations, but that they have a human side as well. This time the reminder comes courtesy of JetBlue, which recently launched a campaign called Flying It Forward, in which the carrier has been giving away free flights to passengers with inspiring stories.

JetBlue’s latest giveaway sent a passenger named Johannes from Medellin, Colombia, where he was working to fight poverty, back home to Washington D.C. to reunite with his wife over Valentine’s Day. (They’ve been living separately for two years.) Before that, a man named Jon flew for free from Portland to Medellin on a mission to spread his love of cycling with kids in the local community. In a nice touch, each flier helps select the next recipient of the free flight.

The following video offers a moving overview of the first four trips in the campaign:

While this is clearly a sophisticated PR and social media campaign, it’s impossible not to feel a little inspired — especially as you look over the photos and videos from each passenger’s journey.

Next up? The ticket is on its way to West Palm Beach and will be departing from there for its next trip. If you want to be considered as a recipient, tweet @JetBlue with your story and the hashtag #FlyingItForward.

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos

— written by Sarah Schlichter

woman on airplane listening to headphonesThe next time you’re hitting 35,000 feet in altitude aboard a JetBlue or Virgin America airplane, you might want to pull out a spiral notebook and start taking notes. That’s because in addition to the usual assortment of also-on-DVD Hollywood blockbusters, these airlines are serving up some educational entertainment options to fliers who crave a little mental stimulation with their bag of pretzels.

JetBlue started the trend in December when it began offering 10 recorded college lectures to passengers. Using their own mobile devices, fliers can audit an introductory marketing class from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School or learn about the dynamics of infectious diseases from Penn State University. Music lovers can sit in on an introduction to guitar class from the Berklee School of Music, while astronomy nerds can geek out on the science and technology behind astronomical discoveries from the University of Edinburgh.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

The airline also is providing access to a few practical, how-to courses as well, with video classes on how to cook vegetables, brine meats and read nutrition labels.

This month, Virgin America followed JetBlue’s lead when it began offering “Great Courses” audio and video. The selection of recorded lectures from well-known professors include excerpts from “The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries,” “The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins,” “The Skeptic’s Guide to American History,” “Being Human: Life Lessons from the Frontiers of Science” and many others.

Volunteer Vacations

Both airlines will rotate new lectures in every few months.

What types of lectures would you be interested in — or would you rather just watch a movie?

— written by Dori Saltzman

airport happy coupleEvery once in a while, a stellar airfare deal presents itself. Generally, though, the cost of a flight is enough to fund an entire week’s vacation at a place within driving distance, and it makes me sick to have to pay it. What’s a budget-strapped globetrotter to do?

Apparently there’s a little-known loophole in town, and it’s called hidden city ticketing. Say, for example, you want to fly nonstop from Newark to Phoenix, and the cheapest fare you can find is $494. It turns out that the same airline offers a flight from Newark to Los Angeles, by way of a stop in Phoenix, for just $304. All you need to do is book the second flight, take carry-on luggage only and not show up for the second leg of the trip. You’ll get to your destination for almost $200 less.

However, it can be a pain to do the legwork to find such flights; that’s where Skiplagged.com can help. Created by Aktarer Zaman, a 22-year-old techie from Brooklyn, the site is currently rubbing a few airlines the wrong way. According to The Higher Learning, United Airlines and Orbitz are suing Zaman, claiming “unfair competition” and seeking $75,000 in compensation for lost revenue.

Although hidden city ticketing has been around for years, whether it’s actually allowed is questionable. Skiplagged simply allows potential travelers to search for hidden cities more quickly and easily, but many airlines prohibit this type of booking.

Note that it’s not a particularly sound method of finding airfare if you check bags, as they’ll end up at your ticket’s final destination instead of yours. Hidden city tickets also don’t work for roundtrip flights; if you don’t show up for the second leg of your outgoing flight, it’s likely the airline will consider you a no-show and cancel your return ticket altogether.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Have you tried this method of finding less expensive fares? Do you think it’s “unfair competition”? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Ever sat next to a chatterbox, a space hog or another undesirable seatmate on a plane? One airline feels your pain — and it’s taking a light-hearted look at the issue with a new series of videos called Flight Etiquette.

JetBlue has released two short, humorous videos on its YouTube channel, with more to come. The first one features the world’s most obnoxious napper. Take a look:

In an interview with Skift, a brand analyst from JetBlue explains the sentiment behind the videos: “Flight Etiquette is not only entertaining and humorous, it also says to our customers that we get you. We understand that on a plane, you’re sometimes forced to rub elbows — literally — with people you don’t know, and a little etiquette goes a long way. We’ve all been there.”

The second video shifts its focus from inconsiderate seatmates to the eternal dilemma of being stuck in the window seat when you have to use the bathroom. Watch and squirm:

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

Did the videos make you laugh? Which scenario should JetBlue tackle next? Sound off in the comments below.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

klm amenity kit delft house I’m the worst kind of luxury traveler: I crave the perks of first class, but balk at paying unreasonably high prices, particularly for flights. So unless I get an upgrade, more often than not you’ll find me in premium economy, glaring enviously at the curtain ahead of me.

My luck changed recently on a trip to Athens, where I had the good fortune to try KLM’s World Business Class cabin on a flight between JFK and Amsterdam. The carrier has installed lie-flat seats on all of its 747s, and I knew as soon as I was ushered to my cocoon that I would actually be able to sleep.

While the seat’s features — roomy storage space, a shelf for shoes, a USB and electrical outlet, and noise-canceling headphones — were certainly thoughtful, I was more impressed by the amenity kits handed out by the flight attendants.

The small pouch, created by the Dutch design team Viktor & Rolf, was adorable, with a cute leather bow (the kits are distributed by gender; the male version is dark and has no bow). Contents included lip balm, a small toothbrush and toothpaste, footie socks, ear plugs and eye mask. The kit came with a strap so it could be used as a wristlet.

First Class for Free: How to Get an Airline Upgrade

I thought that was the end of the swag. But then, as we approached our destination, attendants came around with a basket full of small ceramic Delft houses, based on real properties in Amsterdam. These figures, which are filled with the Dutch liquor jenever, are apparently highly collectible and are often auctioned off on eBay (KLM has its entire collection on view in its Crown Lounge at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport).

Intrigued by KLM’s approach to courting luxury travelers, I took to Instagram to see if other airlines have stepped up their amenity game. Sure enough, there’s a hashtag called #businessclassswag, where high fliers post photos of their comfy corner in the sky. Expect to see pictures of hot fudge sundaes, gourmet meals, complimentary Champagne and tricked-out entertainment systems, uploaded by grinning frequent fliers swaddled in duvets (#businessclass is also popular).

Now it will be even harder to go back to the back of the plane.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

— written by Chris Gray Faust

Details of Delta Airlines’ newest seat classes — Comfort+ and Delta One — were released on Monday. Comfort+ will replace Economy Comfort, the airline’s extra legroom seats, while Delta One is its new Business Elite cabin.

We caught wind of the changes from the blog View from the Wing, which questioned whether the upgrades were noteworthy.

Highlights of the rebranded classes came via a video on Delta’s YouTube channel. While the free drink vouchers known as Have One On Us have been eliminated, Comfort+ will include complimentary beer, wine and spirits. These vouchers were previously available to elites in economy class who weren’t upgraded. Premium snacks will be available to passengers of this class on domestic flights of 900 miles or more. Dedicated overhead bin space has also been added to this cabin. Priority boarding remains a perk.

The main perk in the Delta One class is the flatbed seats on select flights, along with Tumi amenity kits and regional dining selections.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Both cabins, as well as First Class, will feature new quilted seat covers.

If you’re a Gold Medallion member, the bad news is you’ll no longer be able to choose Comfort+ at booking for free. Access to these seats will be released 72 hours before check-in for Gold Medallion and 24 hours before for Silver Medallion.

The new cabin classes take effect March 1, 2015. I guess the question is whether these upgrades come at a cost, or if airlines are making a genuine effort to improve the in-flight experience. If that’s the case, when can we expect to see improvement to coach? What do you think? What upgrade is the most important to you?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

passengers at airport baggage counterTraveling (and packing) for the holidays this year? We can’t tell you what to expect from the person sitting next to you on your flight — if they are sick, like to snore or have a crying baby sitting on their lap — but we can tell you which baggage fees to expect from your air carrier and how to beat them.

First, make sure your carry-on is complimentary. If not, bring only the most essential items on your person or in a small bag that could be considered your personal effect, and then check the rest. If you are checking a bag, make sure to determine whether prepayment is available online prior to arrival at the airport. Many airlines allow you to pay for checked baggage on their site or app, and sometimes it’s at a reduced price.

The next thing to consider is how much you’re bringing. Always weigh your bags before you arrive at the check-in counter. Guessing a number may be fun on “The Price is Right,” but not so when that number might result in extra fees. If you must pack everything you own, take advantage of all the space you have; that means packing your carry-on and, if you can manage them, two checked bags. We noticed that many of the fees for overweight bags exceed how much it would be to bring two checked bags, so divide your belongings into two suitcases, pay less and potentially have room to pack anything you purchase while you are away.

Our award for the best airline to fly with excess baggage this season goes to Southwest: zero baggage fees unless you fill over capacity, and even then, the overweight fee is less than most. As an added bonus, Southwest also doesn’t charge for things like making changes to a nonrefundable flight. Our vote for the most nickel and diming goes to Spirit. Notorious for added fees, Spirit not only charges more per bag, but might be Scrooge of the airlines with their $2 holiday surcharge. Bah humbug!

Fees for international flights may vary by region, so double-check your carrier’s website to be sure. Also, discounted fees are available for members of most airline loyalty programs.

Happy flying!

Alaska Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $25. Overweight bags are $75.

American Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Delta Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Frontier Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $25 to $50; first bag is $25 and second $30. Overweight bags are $75.

JetBlue Airways

Fees: None for carry-on or first bag. Second checked bag is $50. Overweight bags are $100.
(Note: Starting in 2015, JetBlue will offer a new fare that doesn’t include a free checked bag.)

Southwest Airlines

Fees: None for carry-on, first or second checked bag. Overweight bags are $75.

Spirit Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $35 to $100; first bag is $30 to $100 and second bag is $40 to $100. Overweight bags are $25 to $100. A $2 surcharge will be tacked on to existing baggage fees from December 18 through January 5.

United Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

US Airways

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Virgin America

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag is $25 and second bag is $25. Overweight bags are $50 to $100.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel