Air Ticket Questionnaire

British Isles residents who would like help with train travel to the continent should instead go here.

Our goal is to get you the best possible air ticket.  To do so, we need your input:  answers to the following questions.  Each is linked to a discussion, to help you understand the issue involved, or just to remind you to address it.

Suggested Useat the bottom of this page, you will find these same questions repeated and amplified.  Please...

  • ...copy the “Questions” section into an e.mail.
  • Title your e.mail with your name(s), and the words “Air Ticket Questionnaire.”
  • Send it to us with your answers.
  • Copy yourself.  This will be our “contract.”  If we find what you have asked for, we have fulfilled our guarantee.  If we don’t, our search is free!

Please be assured, we will not book anything for you without your express, written approval of the flight we have found, and the associated price.  This is true even if we have found exactly what you have requested.  You will always be able to change your mind / plans at any point until the ticket is purchased.   If you decide to do something else after sending us the questionnaire, however, our research fee will be due....

After giving us your personal data (your name as it appears on your passport, your passport number, and your passport’s expiration date), Please tell us...

  1. What is your U.S. or Canadian departure city?  Are you returning to the same one?

  2. To where in Europe would you like to fly?  Where would you like to board your return flight to North America?

  3. What are your preferred eastbound (to Europe) flight dates?

  4. What are your preferred westbound (back from Europe) flight dates?

  5. Can you accept the “standard” conditions for ticket modification?

  6. Do you have a preferred airline (or, for frequent flyer point accumulation, airline alliance)?

  7. What, if any, premium are you willing to pay for more direct (or otherwise easier) flights?

  8. Do you have a preference between rail and air connections?

  9. Does your method of payment matter to you?



Discussion of Questions


1.  What is your U.S. or Canadian departure city?  Are you returning to the same one?

Fares are generally lower (and availability higher) from major airports where several carriers offer intercontinental service than from smaller ones.  Also, fares are lower from airports not “prisoner” to one airline.
Example:  if you live in Ottawa, you can often more than pay for a VIA Rail ticket to Montréal by flying from there, instead.  You will also improve the reliability, comfort, and even the speed of your total trip (flights from Ottawa alway involve a connection).  The VIA train from Ottawa stops at Dorval Airport on the way into Montréal.

Feel free to give us a price differential, if that is appropriate.  Even if you have a pronounced preference, you can probably be bribed.  The more options we have, the more likely we are to be able to find you what you want.
Example:  if you live in New Haven, CT., and prefer Boston Logan to the New York airports, you might tell us something like:
“1st choice = Boston. 2nd choice = New York (any airport).  I will pay up to $50 more each way to fly to / from Boston.”  If appropriate, you could add:  “I will be leaving my car at the airport from which I fly, so please fly me back to the same one.”


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2.  To where in Europe would you like to fly?  And from which European city would you like to return to North America?

We do not presume that you are flying directly to and from your trip, since over half of our guests tack on a pre- or post-trip visit (Venice, the Alps, Paris... indeed, we offer many such visits ourselves), or simply get horribly lost on their bikes (just kidding).  And some people prefer to fly in and out of Paris, so to store luggage not needed on the bike trip in our office.  Or just to be in Paris :-)

To see the airports closest to your trip’s start and end points, as well as suggested side visits, follow this link to a list of our trips, and their start and end cities.  The discussion of travel to or from each city lists its closest airports.

You may pick different European airports for your outbound and return flights, so long as you are departing from and returning to the same North American city.  Tickets allowing this are called “open jaw” tickets.
If a single airline serves both of your European cities, buying an open jaw ticket will not, by itself, increase the cost of your travel.  Indeed, so long as a single group of airlines (alliances like “Star Alliance” or “Skyteam”) serve both cities, the difference in cost between an open jaw and a straight round-trip ticket on the same set of carriers will be minor.  However, buying an open jaw ticket may restrict your choice of airlines (and thus the effects of any competition), since, in general, fewer airlines or “alliances” will serve both your outbound and return destinations.

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3.  What are your preferred eastbound (to Europe) flight dates?

  • Flights are overnight in this direction, landing in Europe in the morning.
    Thus if your trip’s “start date” is, say, July 4, you must depart North America on July 3 at the latest.
  • “Weekend dates,” considered to be Friday and Saturday in this direction, generally carry a slight premium, often around  $25 US.
  • If your route is not served by non-stop flights, but your preferred North American airport does offer service by a European carrier, you will be faced with a schedule choice that may have some importance:
    - A North American carrier will fly to its North American hub on the afternoon of your departure date, and then overnight to Europe, with an early arrival there.
    This will get in the way of a full day at the office, but will get you to your trip sooner, which is important if you are meeting us the day you land.
    - A European carrier will depart your local airport later, fly you to its European hub overnight, and make a morning connection on to your destination, with a midday arrival.
    This gives you the full day in North America on your departure date, but may land you at your trip’s gateway airport too late in the day to join your trip on that day.
  • Fare codes, especially for peak summer dates, vary substantially from day to day.  It may be possible to save $50, $100, or even more, by shifting your flight plans by a day.  Any information you can give us about acceptable alternative dates is helpful.
    - The savings will rarely completely pay for the extra cost of a day in Europe.  But they may provide a substantial subsidy....
    - If shifting your departure also shifts your return, tell us that.
    - Remember that you must give us at least one alternate date in each direction to benefit from our Airfare Guarantee.

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4.  What are your preferred westbound (back from Europe) flight dates?

  • Flights take place in daylight in this direction, a ± 9-hour flight to the east coast (10 to the midwest, 11 - 12 to the west coast), landing in North America 2 - 3 hours after take-off from Europe, at least based on the reading of a clock.
    We naturally book flights that are compatible with your journey from your trip to the airport, if you are departing for N. America directly following your trip.  We ask for your explicit approval before we book anything “tight.”
  • “Weekend dates,” considered to be Saturday and Sunday in this direction, typically cost an additional $25 for any given fare level.
  • Fare codes, especially for peak summer dates, vary substantially from day to day.  It may be possible to save $50, $100, or even more, by shifting your flight plans by a day.  Any information you can give us about acceptable alternative dates is helpful.
    - The savings will rarely completely pay for the extra cost of a day in Europe.  But they may provide a substantial subsidy....
    - If shifting your return also shifts your departure, tell us that.
    - Remember that you must give us at least one alternate date in each direction to benefit from our Airfare Guarantee.

All else being equal, we generally book the latest possible return flights, since catching a 10a flight from Paris implies a 3a wake-up call in Dijon (and a 6a wake-up even if you are in Paris).  But, if you have to be at work the next day, and prefer time at home to settle in even if it means a 3a wake-up call on the morning of the flight, tell us that.

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5.  Can you accept the “standard” conditions for ticket modification?

Discussion

Typical conditions for changeability / refundability of discount air tickets are as follows.

  • Tickets are not refundable.  Airlines have very different conditions regarding medical emergencies, but this is between you and the airline, and its behavior is unpredictable.  Insurance is recommended....
  • Outbound flight dates can be modified, typically for a fee of $200 US, only for travel on the same route, and only on a space-available basis.
  • Return flights can be changed once in Europe, only for travel on the same route, and only on a space-available basis, typically for a fee ranging from $150 to $250.

If the tickets we find correspond to these conditions within $50, we won’t discuss the issue with you.  If they are yet more constraining, we will go over their conditions with you before we book.

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6.  Do you have a preferred airline (or, for frequent flyer mile accumulation, airline alliance)?

There are several reasons to prefer a given airline or airlines.  The most common is for accrual of frequent flyer miles.  This would lead you to prefer an airline alliance (whose members all accord miles for each others flights) rather than a particular airline.

Most airlines belong to one of three alliances, “Skyteam”, the “Star Alliance,” or “Oneworld.”  If you don’t know which one yours is in, you can try this link to see.  (Would someone please tell us if it stops working?  Thanks.)

Travel professionals typically value points at about 100 per US dollar.  We think that may be on the high side.  You earn 7,500 on a round trip from North America’s east coast to Europe.  So, generally, you would not “rationally” spend more than $75 US to earn points on a round-trip flight from the east coast.  But if you are a member of an “elite” program that ups the earnings figure, or if you need the miles to attain an elite status that will help you with domestic travel, you may be willing to pay more to earn miles.

Note that Air France generally only grants one quarter or one half of miles flown for discount tickets, and should be avoided if you are trying to earn miles on a Skyteam carrier.  You can take the same plane by buying a ticket with Delta, which code-shares on all Air France trans-Atlantic flights, and awards full miles.

There are considerable differences in on-board services (generally better on European carriers, except for Iberia), in reliability, and, obviously, in cultural familiarity.  If you are headed for Switzerland, for instance, you can start your Swiss experience by flying Swiss.  These elements may have some value to you....   Editorial:  we are very frequent consumers of air travel for ourselves and our clients.  As such, and all other criteria being equal, we feel that a “rational consumer” might pay somewhere around $100 US additional, per round-trip, to fly a European carrier other than Iberia (worst of the Europeans), rather than an American carrier other than Continental (the best of the Americans — this will probably change with the United merger).  Please don’t get mad at us for saying this just because you had a bad flight on Continental, or because Air France was, well, French.  The picture is pretty grim wherever you look: “best” is a very relative term for an airline.

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7.  What, if any, premium are you willing to pay for more direct (or otherwise easier) flights?

Airlines offering the best service on a route will usually charge a premium for that service, compared to carriers which require a connection or more connections.

Conversely, a connection increases risk (you could miss it, or your luggage could), and increases travel time by at least three hours each way, unless the connection is so tight as to be unreliable.

So... how much are you willing to pay to cut down on the number of plane changes?

If the difference in fare is $20 US each way, most people would rationally prefer to cut out a plane change, all else being equal.  How about if it is $70 each way?  Or $200?  Rational people could disagree on this.
One of our friends sets his differential at $800 US.  We are not so well-off that we can afford this premium, but we sympathasize.  For us, it is probably close to $200.

Also, perhaps you are more concerned with reliability in one direction than in the other.  Feel free to tell us that.  It would mean we would seek a non-stop or a rail connection in the “reliable” direction, even at extra cost.
If you are checking a bag, non-stops have great value in the eastbound (to Europe) direction.  First-hand experience shows that 10% of all connecting baggage misses its intended connection.  This can have catastrophic result if you are connecting to a once-per-day (or non-refundable) train....

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8.  Do you have a preference between rail and air connections?

You only need to address this if your trip start / end point is most closely served by an airport with only intra-European service (such as Florence, Bordeaux or Salzburg).  In this case, reaching that airport from North America will require a connection in Europe.  The question is, do you continue your trip by train or by plane?

Obviously, if you are connecting in Finland for a trip in Italy, the continuing travel will be by plane.  But if you are connecting in Switzerland and need to get to Florence, the choice is not so clear.

Want Our Advice?  Well, here it is anyway.  Don’t make any air connections you don’t have to, even if it costs a bit more, or takes a bit longer, to complete your trip by train.  Get the closest non-stop flight you can, and take the train the rest of the way.  We watch dozens of air connections go spectacularly wrong every year, with genuinely buzz-killing results that can take days to sort out.

Example.  Flying between our offices in Philadelphia and Paris, the best fare is sometimes on United.  United’s trans-Altantic flight takes off from their Washington DC hub.  All of us at Blue Marble will pay Amtrak $50 to get from Philly to DC, even though United will give us the flight for free, and even though getting to Philadelphia’s airport is a lot easier than getting from Washington Union Station to Dulles.  The “free flight” goes wrong too often (delayed, canceled, loses the baggage...).  And even when it works, it requires that we start the trip from our office an hour earlier, despite the tough train-to-plane connection in Washington.

The flight also misses glorious views of Chesapeake Bay, and it doesn’t have a café car with tables and electrical outlets.  And let’s not even start with 9/11.  In Europe, where the trains bear little resemblence to Amtrak’s, the choice is stark.

If you agree with the premise that there is added value to avoiding a plane-plane connection, give us any info you can on what you are willing to do to do so.  For instance: “I’m willing to add up to 3 additional hours of theoretical travel time, and up to $75 extra, to avoid the connecting flight.”
If you have a mathematical mind, you can combine these criteria.  Example: “My time is worth $25 / hour to me, and I will put $100 to avoiding a plane-plane connection.”  We then know to use as our limit any combination of extra-but-safer/more-comfortable travel, and extra cost, that yields $100 (same cost but 4 hours of additional travel, same travel time but $100 additional fare, or any combination).

In planning your travel, we will take into account the ease and cost of plane - train and / or airport - town center transfers.

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9.  Does your method of payment matter to you?

Sometimes, the lowest fares are available through professional brokers, who charge for credit card use (3% is typical, 5% is not uncommon).
This is because the costs of credit card acceptance for travel suppliers can surpass the margins on the air ticket sold.

So...

  • If you must pay for your ticket with a credit card, tell us that up front.  We will search accordingly, and propose a fare which takes into account the use of your credit card.
  • If you would simply “prefer to,” but not at the cost of an extra charge, tell us that.  But resign yourself to the fact that you may wind up paying by check.
  • If you would like to pay with a credit card, but are willing to pay by check if it saves you money, tell us how much extra (3 - 5%) you are willing to pay to use your card.

We can sometimes arrange to run your card through to the airline directly, charging the broker fee separately.  In this case, the bulk of the charge goes to the card, and you are left with the broker fee, $25 - $100, to pay by check.  We assume that this is acceptable without consulting you.  Tell us if we are wrong.

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The Questions — please copy and paste to your e.mail

Please give us the following personal data. 
Please use all care in doing so:  the validity of your air ticket depends on it!

  • Your name, exactly as it appears on your passport.
  • Your passport number, country of emmission and expiration date.
  • Your date of birth (if not on your trip application).
  • Your frequent flyer account number(s) (specify airlines), if relevant.
  • A cell (or other) phone number which the airline could use to contact you on the day of the flight.



1.  What is your North American departure city? Are you returning to the same one?

  • Are there any alternate cities you are willing to consider to save money?  How much would you have to save to shift to it / them?
  • Do you wish to fly out of and back to the same North American city?


2.  To where in Europe would you like to fly?  And where would you like to board your return flight to North America?
Are there any alternate cities you are willing to consider to save money / make the trip easier?  How much would you have to save to shift to it / them?

If you are flying out to and back from different cities, please list your alternates (and price points) to each.
You may also give us a guideline like, “any city within 4 hours by train, so long as I save at least $20 per extra hour of travel.”



3.  What are your preferred eastbound (to Europe) flight dates?
Please list any that are potentially acceptable, in order of preference.
Remember that you must give us at least two dates to benefit from our Air Fare Guarantee.

If you have any TIMING ISSUES (i.e. “I can’t take off before 8p since I am working that day,” or simply “I prefer a late flight because of planet alignment”), please tell us what they are.
We will honor them if they can, though dates to which they must apply cannot count towards the two dates you must give us for the Air Fare Guarantee.



4.  What are your first choice westbound (back from Europe) flight dates?
Please list any that are potentially acceptable, in order of preference.  If you would shift your return by a day to save money, give us an idea of how much you would need to save in order to shift.  Note that you must give us at least two dates to benefit from our Air Fare Guarantee.

If you have any TIMING ISSUES, please tell us what they are.

Example:  “I have to be in Chicago in time for the a commuter train to Aurora at 10:40p.”



5. Are you willing to accept “standard” modification conditions for your ticket(s)?



6.  Do you have a preferred airline(s)?  Or, for frequent flyer point accumulation, do you have a preferred alliance?

  • If you would like us to exercise our judgement in substituting for your preferred carrier, guide us by telling us why you prefer it (desire to earn miles, good service, politics, whatever).
  • How much extra are you willing to pay to fly your preferred carrier(s)?
  • How much extra are you willing to pay to earn miles?


7.  What, if any, premium are you willing to pay for non-stop flights(or for a flight which eliminates a stop in a multi-stop itinerary)?

  • Please be sure to tell us the premium you are willing to pay per direction, and per eliminated transfer.
  • Are there any reliability issues to which we should pay special attention?  Such as, “I must be at my desk the next morning, please avoid the last flight of the night, or at least allow extra time for any connections.”



8.  Do you have any preference between rail and air connections?
We assume that, all things being equal, you would opt for whatever was cheaper / theoretically faster.  If you would like to privilige one of these two attributes, tell us which one.  We otherwise value your time at $25 / hour.

If you would like to throw a bit into the pot for reliability and / or comfort, both of which favor the train, tell us how much.
The money may go to the railroad, but it may go instead to a more expensive air ticket, which puts you on a non-stop flight to a closer European airport, and thus avoids the whole issue.



9.  Does your method of payment matter to you?
If you prefer to pay by credit card (rather than by check / cheque), tell us your price differential to do so. 

Options:

  1. I am happy to pay by check / cheque.  Find me the best fare.
  2. I prefer credit card, but can pay by check / cheque if it saves me at least __________ per ticket (you may give us either a figure or a percentage).
  3. I strongly prefer to pay by credit card.  Find me the lowest credit card fare. 

If you have selected options 2 or 3, please also give us the following:

  • credit card number,
  • expiration date,
  • security code (CCV code, from the back of the card, or printed on the front for Amex)
  • the address, phone number, and e.mail address associated with the card


Thanks (in advance) for your responses

The Blue Zoo