Local travel agent Patty Burns called me a couple of weeks ago to talk about two related topics she felt had become important, particularly now when everyone is trying to make the most out of their resources in difficult economic times.
Burns has 25 years of experience as a travel agent and owner of a travel agency, Burns World Travel in Statesboro. She said she is bothered by the "misleading" advertising that is being done by the airline industry today.
"I see disappointed travelers everyday that have misunderstood or been misled by the airlines where airline fares and redemption of frequent flyer miles are concerned," she said.
Burns said the two are entirely different topics, but are originating at the same source.
"First, if you look at many of the airlines' advertised rates, they are one-way base rates," she said. "Then, you have a tremendous number of add-ons like a per bag rate, booking fee, or exit row fee all of which have been added in the last few months. The biggest add-on however is the fuel surcharge. Some fuel surcharges are hundreds of dollars. So, in essence, it can double or more the cost of the ticket."
Burns said the fuel surcharge is the airlines' way of increasing the price of the ticket. "You won't see that surcharge go down necessarily. It is their way of raising the cost of the ticket without putting it into the base price that they publish. To me, it is like false advertising."
A second, and perhaps more vehement complaint lodged by Burns was one regarding frequent flyer miles.
"It is really sad at times," she said. "We have people that come into our agency who have saved up frequent flyer points through their airline, or their airline sponsored credit card, and there is no seat, even a year in advance, available to use those miles."
"Now they can get a seat by using double the number of miles or by paying to upgrade, if they can get it, but to try and get a family on a plane with frequent flyer miles earned through the airlines is very difficult, if not impossible. It is a sad reality for many people. It just isn't right."
Burns said through her experience and research there are other and better ways to earn frequent flyer miles than through the airlines themselves, and this was the message that she hoped to communicate.
"There are ways to accrue points/miles through your bank cards and through credit cards issued through financial institutions," she said. "People need to look at these miles as currency, something that you can trade services for. They really function that way and they have value if accrued through the right mechanism that allows you to redeem them. There are some very good programs through firms and banks right here in Bulloch County."
Burns said you should shop around, look at each institution's program, and find the one that is right one for you and your family.
"Folks need to understand there are caveats that come with airline fares now and regardless of what the advertising might say, plane fares are continuing to escalate. Further, a travel agent is not allowed to help you with your frequent flyer miles or book a flight for you with them, so you really need to understand your program, monitor it, and find one that will allow you to redeem what you have earned on any airline. Only the traveler can do that. You have earned those miles, and you should be able to use them."
Until next week, I bid you au revoir.
Got a scoop for Jan? Call her at (912) 489-9463 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org