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How to handle expired miles, airport wi-fi and missed flight connections

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Have you ever unexpectedly had your miles expire? How can you reinstate them after they've expired? Why is airport Wi-Fi so expensive? What happens if you miss your connection and the airline doesn't put you on another flight? We answer these practical questions about very annoying and impractical airline problems.

Q: I thought you might be able to help me with a problem I have with American Airlines. In Oct. 2012, I booked a trip for myself and my family to take over the Christmas holiday. In late Dec., the day before our travel dates, I went to print out our tickets from the AA site and noticed that all of our miles had expired on Nov. 30, leaving us with zero miles. None of us had been notified in any way that our miles were about to expire. I'd been very ill over the last year or two and thus we hadn't traveled at all. But now I was better and we decided to travel over the holidays and loyally we returned to AA.

My wife called AA and explained the situation to them (my illness) and asked them that since we made our reservations in Oct. 2012, well before the Nov. 30 expiration date, didn’t that “reset the expiration clock” in Oct. 2012?  She was told no, “the clock wouldn’t reset” until we actually traveled at the end of Dec. 2012. They did offer to re-instate the miles for $30.00 per person, in other words $120.00 total. We declined their offer to be nickeled and dimed some more. Isn't there something to be done?

A: First of all, there's no excuse for letting your miles expire. You can easily keep them active by making a purchase online using the airline shopping malls. (Click here for the top ways to keep miles from expiring). I do feel for you and I wish American would make it clearer that you have to take the trip in order for the miles to "register." But honestly, American was doing you a favor by allowing you to reinstate the miles for just $30 each. The "normal" fee for reinstating that amount of miles would be $200 plus a 7.5 percent tax. I would have jumped at the chance.

Q: I am tired of paying for airport Wi-Fi. Most of the time I only need to go online for a few minutes, yet I end up shelling out the $8 or more for a Wi-Fi daypass. And between connections, when I'm short on time, I don't have the patience to fumble around registering and typing in my credit card number. So on a recent trip to Columbia, South Carolina, I was pleased to see that the Columbia Metropolitan Airport offers free Wi-Fi. What other airports are doing this? And why can't they all just throw us this one bone?

A: That really bugs me, too. But we're glad to see that so many airports are beginning to offer free Wi-Fi these days. It's the least they could do, especially when delays leave people in limbo. Jaunted.com keeps a map of both domestic and international airports where free WiFi is available. If you know of a Wi-Fi airport that hasn't been included, they do encourage tips.   

Q: I recently read that if a passenger on Southwest has a nonrefundable ticket, and a portion of the flight is not used and not canceled or changed by the passenger prior to schedule departure, unused funds will be lost and the remaining reservation will be canceled. Would that apply to passengers who are on a late arriving flight and miss their connection, having had no opportunity to contact the airline to let them know that they can't use a portion of the ticket because the plane did not arrive in time?

The reason I ask is because my husband and I recently had a flight on Southwest from Charlotte, NC to Oakland, CA, with a plane change in Chicago and stop over in Las Vegas. The plane left Charlotte two hours late due to weather. We arrived in Chicago, found out the gate number for our flight which was in a different terminal and ran like the dickens as the plane was scheduled for departure in minutes. We had our boarding passes in hand but when we arrived at the gate our seats had been given to two standby passengers. Luckily, Southwest honored our boarding passes and made the two standby passengers deplane.

A: First of all, most airlines would not do this: possession is nine-tenths of the law. They'd let the standby passengers stay in their seats, unless those passengers were on a "buddy pass," airline employees who didn't have an urgent need to travel, or other passengers traveling on non-essential airline business. So kudos to Southwest. The answer to your question is no, you would not be penalized in this scenario. You're not at fault for the flight running behind schedule, and even if you didn't make the connection, Southwest would put you on their next available flight.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.