YAPTA.com – For Award Travel on UA, Delta??

There has been a lot of buzz about a new service offered by Yapta.com. Yapta stands for “Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant”. Most of the buzz seems to be regurgitation of their press releases.

Besides their basic (airline site only) meta-search, they offer a airfare tracker. Not a predictor, like farecast. They claim that millions of $$$ can be saved. You bought a ticket (on the airline site), the price went down and you get a refund. Sounds great, and it may even result in a refund to the very lucky traveler whose price went down, and tracked it and acted fast enough and did not lose the refund to change fees. Definitely worth a shot – BUT, this post is not about that.

This post is about the little check box they added that says:

“include award tickets”

So, if an award ticket opens up on the flight you want to book – BINGO!

But, we all know that you are more likely to win the lottery. Anyone using free tickets these days has to be very flexible with dates of travel, destination, airlines, # passengers, award type, etc. It has become an art form that few can master. It a great idea – a tool that will find you free flights. So is cold fusion. Let me know if I am wrong and Yapta really does find people free flights. Until then, I will be on my Vonage with Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and Bangalore trying to find out how I can use my half million miles.

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Expedia, Kayak or Delta – You need all of them – Part 1

I am often asked – whats the best way (meaning schedule and cost) to book flights online. The field is crowded with Meta-search (Kayak, farecast), Online Travel Agents (Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity) and the Airline sites.
The answer is usually a combination of all three. Todays post is about debugging a high priced domestic ticket.
STEP 1: Use the OTA (online travel agent) site to find the best fare and airline. The OTA sites work on round trip pricing.
STEP 2: Go to the airline site and find the same flight. The airline breaks the cost down per segment. You may find out that one leg is disproportionately more than then others.
STEP 3: Search for alternatives (different dates of airports) for the expensive leg.
STEP 4: Book the fixed itinerary at OTA site or airline site.
Case study: New York to Los Angeles Round trip Dec 17-> Dec 24
  • Cost on Expedia $350 to $400
  • Cost on Airline site is the same, broken down to $125 NY to LA and $250 L A to NY. It turns out that Dec 24 is an expensive day to fly out of LA.
  • A few minutes of research on the airline site showed that flights on Dec 24 from Las Vegas were $125. So, we save $150/ticket = over $1000 overall and get to spend time in Las Vegas as well. We were able to find a one car rental from LA to Las Vegas with no extra fees. But that is a different post.
The lesson is again in knowing how to combine the information from the OTAs (cheapest airline, even nearby airports) with the airline site info (fare classes for certain dates)… Stay tuned for next post and an eventual PhD thesis on this.

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FAA safety ranking lowered for Israel? – I doubt it!

Readers may be concerned about todays reports that the FAA plans to downgrade Ben Gurion Airport’s safety ranking to level two (the official term is air safety oversight category).

According to the FAA – a category 2 rating means:

A Category 2 rating means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority – equivalent to the FAA – is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping or inspection procedures.

And:

Expansion or changes in services to the United States by such carriers are not permitted while in category 2.

First of all, there is no mention of this in any FAA or official site and nothing in the international press. Here is their press release for when they downgraded Indonesia. And here is the updated file not showing Israel. In fact, looking at the list the only countries flying into the US that are category 2 are:

Bangladesh, Ivory Coast, Croatia, Ghana, Guyana, Indonesia, Nauru, Philippines, Serbia and Ukraine.

Second of all, the aviation forums are think this is nonsense. Comments such as Even SQ (Singapore) would be bannedOR how are any of these small incidents any different than what every other airline experiences… etc.

So, unless this is really true (and we will find out definitively in a few days), someone is using this for some serious political spin and scaring millions of flyers and dozens of airlines in the process. That somebody just might be Shaul Mofaz, Minister of Transportation. Last year the Lapidot Committee released a report (news article) outlining safety problems at Ben Gurion (there are real ones). The report was delivered to Shaul Mofaz in Aug of 2007, who accepted all the findings and said he would implement by early 2008. I will leave it to my readers to try to guess who is willing to kill a few airlines and terrify millions of people for some personal gain.

Of course, if this report does turn out true, I apologize. And then we should be scared.
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Want to throw away $10,000,000?

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Here’s a deal from ElAl right in line with the current financial reality:

Invest $10,000,000 in a low interest uninsured bank account and get more ElAl points then you can ever use. Don’t believe me? – here is the link. I am also interested in knowing how I got on the mailing list for this offer. And if there is a connection to the 50,000 people Citicorp fired today

Oh, and yes – offer expires Dec 31, 2008 – better act fast and start emptying those piggy banks.

Chanuka in NY for $875/ per person

We just reserved 5 tickets to New York via Rome (on AlItalia) for $4400! Online – and I did it myself (took 2 hours).

The key was an iterative process, hopping back and forth between the airlines websites and the Online Travel Agents (OTA’s) – like Expedia.

The airline websites offer more flexibility in terms of dates of travel (i.e. when is the cheapest time). But the OTA’s offer more flexibility in terms of who is traveling and multi-leg journeys. And of course, they compare multiple airlines. And don’t believe the price anyone quotes you until you are at the last click.

So I first entered our party details at the Expedia (or Orbitz – I forgot) and looked around to identify the airlines with the generally cheapest fares. Then I went to the websites of a few of those airlines to check out flexible dates. Alitalia won hands down, saving us about $1000, which we will now spend in NY.

So if you prefer Dunkin Donuts to Soufganiot, get yourself a nice comfortable chair, a hot cup of coffee and do the OTA-airlines-OTA-airlines shuffle …Good Luck!

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New Lounge in Ben Gurion – win a free pass

The Lounge Situation in Ben Gurion has never been much to write home about. The King David Lounge does not sell one day passes and is quite crowded anyway and the Dan Lounge is often standing room only (whats the point?). Anyway, many of our readers get to the airport as late as possible, with just enough time to buy a plasma TV at the duty free. And, we are not yet the hub airport of the “New Middle East”.

BUT, this may all change with the launching of a third lounge. Airsport Club has opened up its first (and so far, only) lounge in our very own airport. It seems to be an upscale combination of relaxation and workout area. Showers, use of workout wardrobe, spa treatments, salads are all available to members and for a $34 one time use fee.

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Here is how you get a free pass.

1. I send a link to this post as the #1 blog for TLV travellers to the CEO of Airsport who then offers me a few complementary day passes.

2. I keep one and give away the rest to my readers. To get the free pass you will have to:

a. Describe a miserable experience in the existing lounge (or on ElAl, if you must)

b. Pass a link to this blog and to your favorite travel planning Website to at least 10 other people

c. Taste all the food they have

d. Agree to comment on the experience

All of course is on the honor system. And, I am impartial, no matter how much stuff they give me.