The Travel Adviser: Atonement and repentance

I choose in my Yom Kippur column to focus on the would-be traveler, and the sins they have taken upon themselves that continue to multiply like the plagues of old.

By
September 7, 2013 22:41
A Wizz Air airplane

Wizz Air airplane370. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish calendar. Its themes of atonement and repentance are traditionally observed with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and prayer.

The Yom Kippur confessional consists of two parts: a short confessional beginning with words that translate as “We have sinned,” and a long confession enumerating a range of sins. It is notable that during this public recitation, together with the cantor, the entire congregation sings these words to a tune representing the joy of being cleansed from one’s sins.

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As both a businessman and a columnist, I could fill this column with the many ways I’ve erred during the last 12 months. Concurrently, I could chastise those in the travel industry whose sins of gluttony and chasing lucre leave too many passengers squeezed in aircraft, being clawed at from every corner.

I choose in my Yom Kippur column to focus on the would-be traveler, and the sins they have taken upon themselves that continue to multiply like the plagues of old. The No. 1 thing would-be travelers do that will kill them in the wallet this year? Procrastinate. And we’re all guilty of this; as that famed philosopher Euripides once said, “If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.”

Nobody seems completely sure why we put off important and not-so-important tasks. We just might be wired that way, but my guess is that the “fun factor” is key. I mean, what would you rather do, perform a necessary but mildly tedious chore like closing your travel plans, or plopping down to watch TV? Take a look at my list; maybe I can’t make airfare shopping a heavenly experience, but if you avoid these sins, it will definitely be more rewarding – because you will save money.

The Six Sins of Airfare Shopping Sin #1: Shop too late What’s too late? For legacy carriers, meaning the “old boys network” of airlines including El Al, Delta, United and US Airways, “too late” usually means less than two weeks before travel. Most of these airlines require a 14- day advance purchase to get their cheapest airfares, although low-cost airlines with overlapping routes are sometimes an exception to this rule.

For low-cost carriers such as Easy Jet, Ryan Air, JetBlue and Southwest, you usually have to purchase a week (seven days to be exact) before you travel, or be treated as a business traveler with deep pockets.



Sin #2: Expect to find last-minute deals A few years ago, it was not only possible to get deals at the last minute, it was possible to find out-and-out bargains, and this was never more true than for the last two years. Back then, prices had been sky-high, more so than usual during this priciest time of the year, so people assumed they couldn’t fly – and didn’t. That left the airlines holding the bag with too many empty seats, and the great airfare price slashing commenced.

Since then the airlines have done more slashing, but on seating capacity – so don’t expect much in the way of great last-minute deals again. Sure, there will always be a few here and there; I’ll show you how to grab those shortly.

Sin #3: Assume last-minute “emergency” fares are available An illness or a death in the family used to be taken care of with what were called “bereavement” fares, and there are still a few (very few) – but they won’t save you much.

For example, United has “compassionate” fares that provide a 10-percent discount from full fares. However, one would typically book such a fare at the very last minute, and those fares can be incredibly high. While I appreciate the airline’s compassion, we have found booking the least expensive ticket saves far more than their discount.

A better idea: When airfare prices are this high, loyalty points are at their best redemption value, so use them or borrow some to top off your account. Finally, look at larger airports near your destination, especially if you’re heading to a small town. Driving an extra hour to and from a hub can equal big savings.

Sin #4: Failure to use tech tools If you want to find a hotel deal this fall, you must be proactive. One of the smartest things you can do is to check a variety of sites. But you need to be savvy enough not to check the same site under different names. Most hotel sites – be it booking.com, hotels.com or lastminute.

com – are all owned by the same corporate owner. Better to use a site like www.traveladvisor.com, which allows you to compare a myriad of sites.

Let this geek technology find the deals for you, and be flexible enough on your travel dates to take advantage of the savings.

Sin #5: Shop on your days off I say “days off” in the belief that most of you have Fridays free, or in North America and Europe have your Sundays – which are typically the most expensive times to shop. I know you have to work during the week and you’re tired when you get home, but waiting until the weekend to buy airline tickets is akin to throwing your cash down the garbage disposal. Set yourself apart from the rest of the shoppers and save; the airlines know weekends are when most people shop, and they typically discount from Tuesday to Thursday (this helps airlines gauge demand).

My longtime readers know the drill: Try to fly in the middle of the week, as these are the days that airlines have opened up their cheaper seats. If you want to find a deal, these are the days to aim for.

Sin #6: Shop too early There is such a thing as being too eager, so you early birds out there will have to curb that impulse. Airlines don’t release their best airfare prices until about three-and-a-half months ahead of time, so if you buy too early you will pay too much.

Remember, the window is from three-and-a-half months to two weeks before departure (or a little less if you fly a low-cost carrier). In general, though, don’t be a procrastinator.

To be evenhanded in these Days of Awe, allow me to make note of the Four Cardinal Sins of Aviation Consumer Service. You arrive at the airport, check in as planned, maneuver through all the security lines and somehow, some way, you board the plane almost an hour late.

Sin #1: Go incommunicado You sat on the runway. And sat and sat – with the slight hum of the air conditioning and no word whatsoever from the captain or crew.

What should have been done: Problems happen. It makes far more sense to inform passengers of what is happening, instead of leaving them wondering why they aren’t moving.

Sin #2: Offer a lame excuse You finally get word from the cockpit. It seems the delay caused the plane to lose its place in the take-off queue. The captain finally gets on the loudspeaker to inform passengers there was a “communication issue.”

Sin #3: Ignore your customers’ needs You finally get into the take-off queue, only to find there’s another problem. A repair crew comes on the plane, checks out the problem and decides they cannot repair it. You’re informed your flight has been canceled.

In this case, the airline has done something right. Safety matters; it must come first. Now why they couldn’t have offered anything beyond water while you sat for 90 minutes is another issue.

Sin #4: Fail to send in reinforcements Here is where most of the complaints stem from. You deplane from your aircraft, and are sent to pick up your bags and wait for further announcements. Only the business and first-class passengers are whisked away, while those in steerage class stand in a serpentine line with one or two employees. Too often, if you have a connecting flight, you’re told that someone will meet you when you land. Don’t bet on it! More times than not you’ll arrive at your destination hours late, and there will be no service representative waiting for you.

The airline should have provided intelligent solutions: put passengers in a hotel if needed, finalize their complete itinerary and give them new boarding passes.

Treat the passengers like they are responsible for your salary–because they are! To err is human, to forgive divine.

Thus, while I ask for your apology for my indulgences, and I shall strive to be better, it’s up to you to learn from your past and avoid making the same mistakes this year.

Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions and comments, email him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il

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