Thinking of traveling for the holidays this November or December? The good folks at FareCompare have mapped out the dates when the major airlines in the US have added “peak travel day surcharges.”

This phenomenon of peak surcharges began last year. It’s getting worse, not better, as more airlines adopt these fees that aren’t technically part of the base fare.

While there’s more to airfares than just these surcharges, avoiding (or minimizing) these fees can make a holiday trip more affordable.

Here’s a snippet for the Thanksgiving dates:

farecompare peak travel dates Holiday travel: When to fly to save a few bucks

Note that Thanksgiving Day, and days prior to the marked dates on the chart, are surcharge-free. Interestingly, AirTran, which added surcharges over the summer, is refraining now.

Click on the image to see the full post and December date info.

Categorized in: fare search, FareCompare

nissan leaf Upgrades and Downgrades: Electric rental cars, acts of God, proto bankrupt Mexicana and more
Upgraded: Enterprise Rent-a-Car turns a new leaf
Enterprise Rent-a-Car has committed to purchasing 500 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles — not hybrids, electrics — for implementation in Phoenix, Tucson, Knoxville, Nashville, San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. The cars can run for about 100 miles on a single charge. No word yet on rates, but you’ll start to see the cars at rental locations beginning in January 2011. The challenge, of course, is recharging it, unless you happen to have “a standard SAE J1772-2009 connector for level 1 and 2 recharging (110/220 V AC)” or “a TEPCO connector for high-voltage ‘level 3′ quick charging (480 V DC 125 amps) using the CHAdeMO protocol” handy…

Downgraded: Southwest Airlines
Southwest keeps acting more and more like a “regular” airline. The company has changed its contract of carriage to brazenly and bizarrely refer to a mechanical delay as an act of God. Deus ex machina? I don’t think so. Lame, and begging for a legal challenge…

Strong: Downgraded: Wegolo
The Netherlands-based discount-airline fare aggregator Wegolo lost a court case to Ryanair, thereby preventing it from scraping Ryanair’s website to include their fares in search results. Ryanair’s beef? Wegolo charged a surtax on the Ryanair fare for booking via the search site.

Downgraded: Star Alliance
After several years of expansion (with the addition of Continental being the biggest deal, from a USA-centric perspective), Star Alliance is losing a member: Shanghai Airlines, which is merging with China Eastern Airlines, is leaving Star Alliance for SkyTeam in October. Within Star Alliance, Air China remains the lone Chinese member airline. Will another Chinese airline join the fray? Maybe the butt-kicking staff at Sichuan Airlines will convince management to get interested in joining the party?…

Upgraded: Hotel ratings
Every year, the J.D. Power survey results come out with some fanfare, rating customer satisfaction with major hotel chains. The top line news is usually the winner in each category. I like to go deeper, and if you’re interested, the full results are here. Somewhat of surprise for me: The more casual Aloft brand beat (but effectively tied) the more established Westin brand within the Starwood franchise.

Downgraded: Mexicana
Upgraded: Repo Men

It’s not looking good for Mexicana Airlines right now. The company has had three aircraft seized by creditors, they are canceling flights, and they are publicly admitting that they are “probably” looking to enter bankruptcy. Points for honesty! If you’ve got tickets already, it’s probably too late to buy travel insurance. If you haven’t bought tickets, it’s probably a bad idea to click “purchase” until you know for sure what’s happening.
UPDATED August 3, 2010: Mexicana has indeed filed for bankruptcy. The airline is cutting back flights, but is still operating.
UPDATED August 5, 2010: Mexicana has now stopped selling further tickets, but is still technically operating. Not exactly a confidence booster to shut down your sales operations, though. Mexicana Click and Mexicana Link, the lower-cost domestic airline subsidiaries, are still operating and selling tickets.


As was rumored back in May, Google is buying ITA Software.

ITA writes the code that powers the search engine behind Orbitz, CheapTickets, Kayak, Bing Travel, and a list of airlines. They also manage their own fare search site. ITA’s search site exists in seemingly perpetual beta, but it’s incredibly useful for finding complex itineraries that don’t automatically pop up in the usual booking sites.

In and of itself, it’s news that Google is committing to the travel space. But how might this affect the way we buy airline tickets?

Google says they’re not about to compete with agencies or airlines themselves. Their press info for the buyout reads: “Google won’t be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers.” (Somewhere, someone is sighing relief. Someone else is sighing in disappointment.)

Offhand, I actually don’t think Orbitz and CheapTickets (both part of the same company…) are at immediate risk, just because Google now owns their key data supplier. Google says (for now) that they don’t want to enter the travel sales business, so they won’t want to hurt what has to be one of their biggest clients.

So whose business is at risk? Which sites are in trouble? To me, it looks like a bad day for Kayak.com, Bing Travel, and any other metasearch sites that use ITA.

The metasearch business model is predicated on organizing information. So is Google’s. And much of Kayak’s information is coming from ITA. Google could easily take the ITA software engine and create a Kayak-esque site. And while Kayak has gotten a lot of attention over the years, it’s nowhere near the scale of Google. Kayak is at risk.

Not quite at the same level of risk, given the umbrella they’re under, but still in a weird position: Bing. Because Microsoft’s Bing also uses ITA, Google would suddenly become a supplier to Microsoft. An odd couple.

In a couple years, Kayak and its ilk may be marginal players in a field dominated by Google.

And Kayak must have seen the risks that Google poses. After all, Kayak itself was itself reportedly a failed bidder for ITA, alongside Expedia and Travelport.

Categorized in: fare search, ITA Software

kayak explore Kayaks Explore maps low fares, but doesnt go far enough
A few weeks ago, Kayak rolled out a new featured, dubbed “Explore.” (It’s a feature right below “Deals” on the left sidebar.) The site maps fares from a given airport and promises to show you everywhere you can afford to fly.

“Explore” set some business media hearts a-twitter (for example…) upon release, with stories of how innovative this site is, but I’m sorry, it’s not good enough. “Explore” is neither a new idea nor the best possible execution of that idea.

Travelocity had “Dream Maps” years ago, which mapped fares from a given city. You clicked on the fare on the map, and you got a detailed list of the fares, the airlines, the fare codes (!), and the rules/dates applicable. You could click on a fare and a calendar with eligible dates popped up. You could choose dates and search for availability on the spot. I miss this.

One major reason I miss Travelocity’s Dream Maps is because they listed all the publicly available fares that were loaded into Sabre. Sure, you had to click through a number of fares before finding something that met your dates, but they were bookable. That’s not what Kayak is providing. You’re not seeing all possible fares. Instead, Kayak’s “Explore” pulls fares from a much more limited pool. From the site itself (emphasis added):

Fares displayed are for round-trip economy class travel found by Kayak users in the last 48 hours. Fares include all taxes and fees but may not include baggage fees charged by carriers. Seats are limited and may not be available on all flights or days. Fares are subject to change and may not be available on all flights or dates.

A rolling 48 hour window of search results is problematic in a number of ways. Not only are fares rapidly outdated, and thus useless in a search, but by limiting your results only to those cities where someone else has found a fare in the past 48 hours, you’re only getting a small number of actual fares. You’re essentially relying on others doing the searches for you. And those fares are pulled for specific dates, not a range of dates. Not necessarily your dates.

The fact that the range of results — based on other people’s searches in the last two days — is likely to be limited is especially problematic if you’re searching from small airports. New York fares might be pretty reliable, but how about Walla Walla, Washington fares?

Other sites have taken a stab at this, too. FareCompare currently comes closest. But I’ve had trouble actually booking some of the fares that come up. Mobissimo lets you search by regional destinations, too. And again, some of those fares aren’t bookable.

Bottom line: I like the idea of Kayak Explore. It’s a great concept. But someone (else?) can and should make it better. I know it’s a moving target, and a big set of data to sift through, but it was done once. Let’s map the complete range of bookable fares — again — to truly empower the consumer.

- Flexible-date search alternatives for international destinations
- Reader mail: I don’t care where I go, it just has to be cheap

Categorized in: airfare, fare search, Kayak.com

All the attention has been on the Continental-United merger, but that’s not the only M&A action in the travel space. To wit:

  • Hertz made an offer to buy Dollar/Thrifty for $41/share. Avis subsequently signaled interest in making a higher bid. Bottom line: The car rental market is about to shrink.
  • Google is reportedly in talks to buy ITA Software, which provides much of the functionality for sites like Orbitz, Kayak, TripAdvisor Flights, and others. You can’t just google a ticket today, but you may do so soon.

The battle for Dollar/Thrifty between Hertz and Avis is largely about consolidation and elimination of the competition (much like the “Continited” merger). At the same time, buying Dollar/Thrifty would give Hertz or Avis a larger presence in the comparatively “downmarket” leisure travel segment.

The speculated deal for ITA Software is perhaps more interesting. What will Google do if it gains the technology and software engineering human resources to run better fare searches? Will they offer a search-of-searches, pushing traffic to airlines and online travel agencies, but putting Kayak and their metasearch ilk out of business? Will Google challenge Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, et al. themselves and build a Google travel agency? Will Google continue to sell the powerful ITA engine (which ITA lets anyone test drive on their beta site — login as guest) or will they let contracts expire and keep the technology for itself? Plenty of theories, but no answers.

So in the past week, the competitive landscapes for flying, driving, and booking travel have all potentially changed, with minimal visible benefits to the consumer. After all, less competition breeds higher prices.

All we’re missing is a hotel deal and a cruise line merger, and we’ll be all set. (The week is young.)

One small step for a website, one giant leap backward for transparency.

united price before Downgraded: United.com no longer quotes fares with taxes and fees up frontIn an age when online travel agencies are taking steps to improve price transparency by increasingly quoting the total price for airfare, rather than the deceptively-low price prior to taxes and fees, United Airlines is going the other way. This is particularly frustrating because their site used to quote fares more honestly.

Last week, United’s fare display shifted from quoting fares with all-in pricing to the new pre-tax/fee rates. At left, you’ll see a screenshot of a fare as it’s now quoted on the first results page. Yes, there’s a mention of additional fees and taxes to be added, but these used to be included in that box.

(One improvement in that display is the number of seats available at that price. This is something the major online travel agencies like Orbitz and Expedia have been offering for a while now, but it’s nice to see United offering it, too.)

Below, you’ll see what happens when you click through to the next page, and taxes are added in.
united price after Downgraded: United.com no longer quotes fares with taxes and fees up front

This change is raising the hackles of a number of United frequent fliers. Here’s an excerpt from a letter forwarded to me by reader Antonio:

Dear United,

I must say, I’m shocked at how bad the new online booking system is. It has all of the telltale signs of a “cheap discount” carrier, and I mean that in the worst possible way. To quote the price not including taxes and fees is misleading, and leaves a really bad impression on United once a user clicks on an itinerary and sees the price jump by a significant amount. And saying “Hurry, purchase today” at the top of a potential itinerary is just tacky.

If United wants to become Allegiant, then by all means continue down this path. But if United want to retain the status of being America’s premium flying option, then please retain an elegant website that treats the customers with respect and doesn’t try to pull a fast one in terms if pricing.

Though I would question the use of the term “retain” in referring to United in the same breath as “America’s premium flying option,” Antonio is absolutely right on other counts: United should treat customers with dignity and show the public the full price, like it did just one week earlier.

- Hotels will be forced to disclose fees and charges up front… but not to US customers
- Will airlines start unbundling fuel entirely from the fare?

Categorized in: fare search, United Airlines