Ask Airfare Watchdog: Seats On Sale

Q: Do airlines decrease and increase the number of seats available at advertised sale prices? I ask because last week I saw a sale advertised on an airline website and went to find seats for my dates of travel but was unsuccessful. However, the next day my cousin, who was making the same trip to attend a wedding, found seats at the sale fare on the exact same flights I searched the day before.

A: There are many reasons why a sale fare might be unavailable one day but available the next. Airlines not only adjust fares, but also the number of seats available at those fares. And if someone has a sale fare on "hold" but doesn't buy it, the sale seat will go back into inventory. So it pays to be diligent and persistent.

Q: I was denied boarding on a flight to Brazil because, although my passport was valid and didn't expire until several weeks after my return to the U.S., the airline informed me that many countries require that a passport be valid for six or more months from the time the passenger returns home. This doesn't make sense to me. Do other countries have similar policies?

A: Unfortunately, a number of countries have similar requirements, so it's essential that, when you fly to a foreign country, you research passport validity period requirements. Airlines are not required to inform you of these rules when you book your seat. Make sure you learn about required visas as well.

Q: I just received an e-mail stating that Delta Airlines no longer charges a fee for cashing in frequent flyer miles. I wasn't aware that Delta even charged for this service. Aren't frequent flyer tickets free? And do other airlines charge?

A: Actually, Delta recently announced that it would no longer charge for "last minute" requests for frequent flyer tickets. Previously, it charged most members of its frequent flyer program (except "elite" members) a hefty fee if they requested seats 20 or fewer days before travel. United also used to charge for this, but no longer does. Unfortunately, many other airlines do charge between $50 and $100 for "close-in ticketing" of award travel, but we expect that now that since Delta and United no longer do other airlines will follow suit. US Airways currently charges up to $50 to issue an award ticket, whether "last minute" or not; and many airlines now charge co-pay fees to upgrade from economy to business or first class, in addition to miles.