Tips For Stress-Free Flying

Kris Connell CBS/The Early Show

As part of The Early Show's weeklong travel series with Real Simple magazine, editor Kris Connell talked with co-anchor Julie Chen about the magazine's tips for stress-free air travel.

Editors at the magazine consulted the U.S Department of Transportation's aviation consumer protection division to find out what fliers were most confused about or frustrated about in 2006.

Here's some of the questions the editors asked and the answers they collected:

1. What are the best times to book a plane ticket?

  • Book your flight at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday if you're booking over the phone.
  • Book after midnight on Sunday if you're using a Web site.
  • Airlines usually lower rates on Friday then competing carriers will try to beat those prices, which is why Saturday is the best time.
  • It takes two to four hours for new prices to filter down to the computer reservation systems used by Web sites.
  • Connell also says if you have a complicated travel need like multiple connections, book your flight over the phone so the agent will do the legwork for you.

    "Probably the phone is going to be the better choice," Connell said. "A really terrific agent can help you if you're making three connections or something like that. If you find right away that the agent isn't helping you find a good price, you can ... say thank you very much and hang up and start over. When you find that terrific person, you can get a lot of help."

    2. Do travel Web sites all offer the same fares?

  • Each Web site has their own inventory and relationships with various airlines, so investigate all the sites including the airlines' sites.
  • Web prices are constantly fluctuating.
  • Some airlines reserve the best prices for their own sites.

    "There's a lot of great options — Expedia and Travelocity — but you should know, not all Web sites have the same fares," Connell said. "Oftentimes the airlines do reserve their very best deals for their own sites. So the answer is, you really have to check them all."

    3. How do you track flight records?

  • Connell says find out the flight record. This way you can avoid booking yourself on a flight that has a terrible on-time track record.
  • Ask the agent on the phone. They keep track of the on-time records of all their flights.
  • To learn how many minutes a flight is delayed on average visit BTS.gov and enter the airline and the flight number.

    4. Who is responsible for confirming flights, the airline or the passenger?

  • Airlines try to e-mail or call if there's a delay or a canceled flight, but often the system doesn't work because they might be overwhelmed.
  • Confirm your flight. There's nothing to lose by doing so.
  • Most international flights must be confirmed 72 hours in advance.

    "It certainly doesn't hurt to call ahead maybe six hours ahead of time to find out. The airlines try but they don't always make it," Connell said. "If a big storm hits or something like that."

    5. Is it best to check bags at the counter or curbside?

  • Connell says there's no study that proves that one is better than the other.
  • Both methods are risky. Skycaps use the same coding system as the agents.
  • You can see where airlines fall in rankings of mishandled baggage by visiting the U.S. Department of Transportation's Web site.
  • In 2006, Delta airlines' affiliate Atlantic Southeast was No. 1 at losing luggage.

    6. Should people who get bumped accept a voucher?

  • Insist on a check because vouchers come with restrictions and can be difficult to redeem.
  • If you're involuntarily bumped and the airline can't get you to your destination within an hour of your original arrival time, federal law requires you be paid $200 to $400 depending on the length of your flight.

    7. What's the best way to rebook if someone is bumped?

  • Leave the long line and call the airline immediately. When rebooking at the counter, the agents use a computer program outfitted with complicated algorithms that give priority to frequent fliers and to those who paid top dollar. When you call the airline you can avoid this program and have a better chance of getting a seat.
    • Caitlin Johnson

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