1. Look for more truth in advertising. New rules from the Department of Transportation affecting air travel state that advertised fares must include all mandatory taxes and fees—no more $49 teaser fares that cost you $100. But that means airfares will seem even higher this year, on top of fare hikes and fuel surcharges. Spot attractive deals by registering for alerts through Airfarewatchdog.com, FareCompare.com or your favorite airline. That way you can compare fares week to week instead of weighing them against low-ball fares stuck in your memory from previous years. Fee-inclusive advertising will also be reflected in vacation package deals.
2. Pesky baggage fees aren’t covered. They don’t have to be included in fares, which makes it tougher to make an apples-to-apples comparison between flights, says Rick Seaney, of FareCompare. It’s up to you to factor in baggage fees and other add-on charges, such as for extra legroom and priority boarding. But the new protections do give you a leg up. Now when you book online, you’ll see a link to a list of baggage charges on the first Web page with a fare quote. And optional fees are printed on your e-ticket confirmation.
3. Take advantage of an amazing grace period. If you see a fabulous fare on a Tuesday night, click “buy” and clear the vacation time with your boss in the morning. Under the new rules, you have 24 hours to cancel the ticket without penalty. Most airlines and many ticketing sites already offered such a grace period, but now it’s required. To protest, scrappy Spirit Airlines slapped a $2 “Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations Fee” on most flights.
4. Expect cancellations. The DOT levies fines on domestic airlines that allow planes to sit on the tarmac longer than three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights. Now the rules have expanded to include overseas carriers that let planes sit on U.S. runways. If a summer storm comes roaring through, airlines might cancel flights preemptively to avoid costly tarmac delays, says Anne Banas, of SmarterTravel.com.
5. Bumped? You might not hit the jackpot. As airlines conserve cash by overbooking flights, you could find yourself bumped involuntarily. If you’re booted from your seat, rules entitle you to up to $650 (or twice the ticket value) if the next flight leaves in less than two hours and up to $1,300 (or four times the ticket price) for longer delays. The time limits double for international flights. That sounds generous, but you probably won’t collect the full amount. Your compensation is based on the value of the one-way flight and not your round-trip fare, so you would have to hold an expensive ticket to reap the highest reward. If you elect to give up your seat for a flight voucher or other payout, the DOT doesn’t set compensation. You’ll need to hash it out with the airline.
6. Does the x-ray make me look old? If you’re 75 or older, the Transportation Security Administration has introduced a practice at several airports, including select security lanes at busy O’Hare in Chicago and Denver International, allowing you to wear shoes and a light jacket while passing through security. Agents will estimate your age.