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March 2010

Make Your Airline Travel Dollars Go Further

Readers continue to contact me about their airline travel frustrations, particularly the great variability in ticket pricing. Fortunately, there are ways to track airline ticket prices. Yapta.com (Yapta) is a site that tracks airline fares on specific routes. You tag the flights on the web site that interest you based on where you want to go and on what date(s). Yapta.com will monitor those flights and will send you an e-mail notifying you when the airline offers new lower-priced seats or makes new frequent-flier seats available on that flight. Yapta.com’s services are free but are limited to Delta, United, Continental, U.S. Airways, and Alaska Airlines. Also, Yapta is not a booking site. You will still have to book the flight directly through the airline web site or through a third party.

Yapta will also help you apply for refunds for flights that become less expensive.  For example, the site will help you apply for a refund for any price drop on Alaska Airlines or Jet Blue; Air Tran Airways for a drop of $75 or more; Hawaiian or Midwest Airlines for a drop of $100 or more; and American Airlines, Delta (Northwest), United, U.S. Airways, or Continental for a drop of $150 or more. However, you must have booked the flight directly through the airline and not through a third-party site like Orbitz or Expedia.

ExpertFlyer.com is also helpful. Unlike Yapta, this site charges for the services it provides. $4.95 per month will allow you to check flight times, fare ranges, and available connections on over 400 airlines, allow you to search for only non-stop or direct flights, search for airline mileage award benefits, upgrades, and check seats. The site also provides you with information about on-time reliability, as well as historic TSA security wait times. If you frequently fly, this site is a rich source of information. For $9.95 per month, the site also provides you with the available fares for all airlines for flights you select. 


Minnesota A.G. Takes On Deceptive Health Plans

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is fast developing a reputation as a strong consumer advocate. At press time, she and her staff were filing lawsuits in state district court against two Texas-based companies, Direct Medical Network Solutions, Inc, and Association Healthcare Management, Inc., for defrauding several thousand Minnesota consumers by deceptively selling them health discount plans that the firms claimed were equivalent to comprehensive health insurance policies. Swanson noted that at a time of rising health insurance premiums “and [with] health care reform stalled, health discount plans are filling the void. The problem is that they don’t provide the financial protection people needed if they get sick.” Indeed, at our Cooperative Network annual meeting last November, Swanson noted that her office was investigating a number of discount plans that charged substantial monthly fees “without providing any benefit.”

For more information on choosing health insurance plans, visit the Wisconsin Insurance Commission’s web site at: http://oci.wi.gov/faq/health.htm.

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