Thursday, October 22, 2020

Consumer Gal: Airlines eliminating some fees

by TERRI DICKERSON/CDA Press Consumer Gal
| September 24, 2020 1:00 AM

Just when it seemed like consumers were getting the short end of the stick at every turn, there's some good news for airline travelers. Some of the nation’s largest airlines recently released policy changes on ticket change fees.

For airlines to give up these fees is a big deal because in 2019 alone they collected $2.8 billion in ticket cancellation and change fees. United kicked off the change followed by American, Delta and Alaska. But don’t expect a no-fee change on the cheapest basic economy airfares.

With this move to eliminate fees, airlines are trying to gain customer confidence in booking flights. The airlines are well aware that consumers are concerned that if they book flights too far in advance they could be stuck paying these traditionally expensive change fees.

While travelers are told they'll be able to change dates and destinations at no cost, keep in mind that fare differences in many cases will still be collected by the airlines. Southwest Airlines does allow for changes but if the new ticket costs more, you’ll have to pay the difference. However, if the new flight costs less then you could get a credit for the difference in future travel.

Due to the pandemic, many airlines have extended their flexible booking policies through the end of 2020 — regardless of ticket class. If you cancel a flight, you'll likely receive a credit voucher valid for up to 12 months, assuming the new flight is less expensive. The no-fee changes are also applicable when booked with airline award/miles tickets.

There are exceptions to these policies, so check with your carrier. Also, keep in mind that refunds will likely be issued in the form of travel vouchers and have time limits.

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Have you ever wondered if something gets lost, stolen or burned at your home, how do you prove to the insurance company that you actually owned these possessions? In case you find yourself needing to file a claim on your homeowners insurance to recoup your losses, proof is going to help you win your case.

This is where pictures of your home could be valuable. Taking pictures of your home and its furnishings could also save you headaches with your insurance company.

Once a year it’s a good idea to walk through your house with your video camera and talk through all your possessions. This serves two purposes: It reminds you what you have and it can be used as proof for the insurance company.

If you suffer a catastrophic loss, you'll be under tremendous stress. You don’t want to find yourself having to rely solely on your memory to catalog and inform the insurance company of the possessions you just lost.

Your recording will also help insurance adjusters detail your possessions. Once you go from room to room listing your items and talking through when you purchased them and how much you paid, it would be a good idea to store your video in the cloud. That way you'll have it if you ever need to refer to it.

As an alternative, you can store a hard copy of your recording offsite such as a safe deposit box or in a fireproof safe in your home. The good thing about videotape is it becomes like an insurance policy for your insurance policy. You hope you don’t need it but it will be a good thing to have if you do.

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I have previously written about the data privacy and national security concerns with the App TikTok. TikTok is a mobile app that allows users to create short videos of themselves which often feature music in the background. The app allows the video to be sped up, slowed down or edited. These features make this app quite popular among young users.

However, the fact that TikTok is a Chinese-owned company essentially allows the Chinese government access to the personal information of users without their consent, including users in the U.S.

After considering the effects on national security and user privacy, the U.S. Commerce Department has decided to ban the Chinese-owed companies TikTok and WeChat from U.S. app stores and it will also bar the apps from accessing essential internet services in the U.S. WeChat serves millions of U.S. users who rely on their services to stay in touch and conduct business with people and companies in China.

Despite assurances from TikTok it does not store U.S. user data in China, does not give user data to the Chinese government, and does not censor videos per Chinese dictates, the ban will still be enacted. The ban specifically cites national security and data privacy issues as the top concerns.

In negotiations with the company, President Trump has pressured the app’s Chinese owner to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations to a domestic company in order to address U.S. concerns over TikTok’s data collection and related issues.

TikTok expressed “disappointment” over the move and said it would continue to challenge the President’s executive order. For its part, the Commerce Department is enacting an order announced by President Trump in August. TikTok sued to stop that ban. WeChat owner Tencent said in an emailed statement that it will continue to discuss ways to address concerns with the government and look for long-term solutions.

TikTok says it has 100 million U.S. users and 700 million users globally. Like most social networks, TikTok collects user data and moderates users’ posts. It also gathers users’ locations and messages and tracks what they watch to figure out how best to target ads to them.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.