The Brancatelli File



December 15, 1995 -- Here are this month's questions from you and answers from me.

I recently lost my airline ticket and the airline made me purchase another ticket at full price before I could fly. Worse yet, they told me it would be six months before I could get a refund for the lost ticket. Isn't there something I can do?
Unfortunately, no. An airline ticket is like currency, and anyone in possession of the ticket itself can use it, change it, or get a refund. So the airlines protect themselves by waiting six months before issuing a refund to the person who reports a ticket's loss. If the ticket is used during the waiting period, you won't receive a refund.

However, there are two ways to make your life easier. First, make sure you or your travel agent have a photocopy of the ticket, or know the ticket number. If you can produce a copy of the ticket or the ticket number, the airline will usually issue a replacement for a small service charge (usually $50-$75). Second, always charge your tickets to a credit card. If you lose the ticket and are forced to buy a full-priced replacement, you can ask your credit card company to issue a temporary credit to your account while the airline processes your refund request.

I recently made a hotel reservation and guaranteed it using my credit card. Then my plans changed; I called the hotel and cancelled, but I was still charged for a one-night stay. What happened?
Hotel reservations guaranteed against a credit card must be cancelled by a pre-set time, usually 4 p.m., to avoid a penalty, which is usually the cost of one night's accommodation at the guaranteed nightly rate. If you don't cancel by that pre-set time, the hotel might waive the penalty, but the choice is theirs, not yours. If you do cancel by the pre-set time, make sure to get a cancellation number. This will ensure you have proof of cancellation if a penalty inadvertently appears on your credit card at a later date.

Is it my imagination, or are cars from the rental firms older than they used to be? Last year I never rented a car with more than 5,000 miles on the odometer. Now every one seems to have 20,000 miles on it.
You're not dreaming. The average age of a vehicle in a rental-car fleet has more than doubled in the last year. Throughout the 1980s, American car manufacturers inflated their sales volume by selling vehicles to rental firms at extraordinarily low prices. But now that retail car sales are booming again, the manufacturers no longer offer the rental firms any sweetheart deals. As a result, the rental firms do not replace their fleets as quickly as they once did.

Most of my travel involves driving my own car. How can I reasonably charge for my expenses?
The Internal Revenue Service has adopted a standard rate of 30 cents per mile for 1995. This standard is the amount a U.S. taxpayer can deduct from his or her taxes for business miles driven. The IRS rate is also the de facto standard adopted by most companies for travel-and-entertainment purposes. You always have the option of laboriously keeping track of gasoline purchased, repairs made, and other factors. But if your totals substantially exceed that IRS standard, you'd better be prepared to back up your charges with meticulous records and a surfeit of receipts.

Are there any times I can fly without first spending hours waiting at the airport for my flight to depart? Isn't there any way to avoid the departure delays?
Yes, but don't expect to fly at your convenience. According to the most recent Transportation Department statistics, airport departures were most often delayed between 5 and 10 pm. On the other hand, airports perform best between 6 and 8 am in the morning. The federal figures are nationwide averages, however, and may not be relevant to operations at your hometown airport. Check with your travel agent or travel department; they have access to the on-time performance of your preferred airport during 18 different time periods.

Is there any difference in the value of the miles I earn by flying on an airline and the miles I earn by charging to a certain credit card, using a certain long-distance company, or using a specified hotel chain or car-rental firm?
That depends on what you mean by value. All miles are created equal when it comes to accruing enough of them to claim an award. But all the major frequent-flyer programs have so-called "premier" levels that offer free or low-cost upgrades and other valuable benefits. To attain the premier levels, you must fly a minimum number of miles on the sponsoring airline during a calendar year. In other words, even if you may accrue hundreds of thousands of miles from credit cards and other sources, you won't be eligible for premier benefits unless fly often enough.

Several of my associates have complained bitterly about the new airport in Denver. Is it all that bad? Should I avoid it?
Denver International Airport cost $5 billion to build and opened 18 months late, so it has been the butt of many jokes and the subject of intense criticism. But many of the complaints are nit-picking. In fact, Denver International offers many more amenities and a much more convivial atmosphere than Stapleton, the airport it replaced. And for passengers using Denver International strictly as a "hub" to connect to another destination, it may be the best airport in the country. Nevertheless, you should be aware that Denver International has some quirks: you should leave at least an hour to check your bags and reach your departure gate; renting a car is usually a cheaper option than taking a cab into downtown Denver; and the airport does not yet have an on-site hotel. Also, fares into Denver International are very high, so you might consider flying into nearby Colorado Springs if your final destination isn't metropolitan Denver.

This column originally appeared in Selling magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.