Friday, April 24, 2009

Eric Arnold's "The Whine Critics"

Here's an article well worth reading about the world of wine criticism: Each time wine journalists argue publicly, they put another nail in the coffin of their profession.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Air Canada and a crafty way to avoid overbooking and its costs

Air Canada has introduced what it touts as a new service to reward travelers who are flexible with their travel plans, called the Flexible Reward Option. If you register your willingness to accept alternate flight times (or even days,) you may be "rewarded" with those alternate plans and the rather paltry monetary reward of $57 if the airline bumps you to your alternate flight.

For the airline, this provides the clear benefit of knowing in advance whether some travelers are flexible and creates the possibility of avoiding that last-minute scramble to accomodate victims of overbooked flights.

For the traveler, this may give a chance to switch to an alternate flight without onerous ticket change fees. But it also may reduce the chances of the sometimes valuable benefits given to travelers who accept voluntary "bumping" when their flight is oversold. Free roundtrip tickets or vouchers worth $200 or more towards another trip are not uncommon.

Personally, if I am not in a rush to get where I am going, I intentionally try to book flights that have a good chance of being overbooked, and I almost always volunteer to give up my seat. Airlines have gotten better about capacity control, so I haven't been bumped in a while, but it's a fun part of travel for me -- sometimes. My recent trip to Chicago for my 25th year graduate school reunion would not have been possible without a free roundtrip United gave me for yielding my seat on a prior flight a few months earlier.

The Air Canada program is managed through a partner company Optiontown. This Massachusetts company appears to be developing programs like Air Canada's for other travel vendors. If Air Canada's success at implementing a la carte pricing earlier than most carriers is any indication, the Flexible Reward Option may take the place of Denied Boarding Vouchers on other airlines before long.