Air Travel, Education, Autos
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When you call an airline and ask for its lowest fare, the reservations clerk now must let you in on a little-known fact: Bargain-basement prices can often be found online. The US Department of Transportation has ordered airlines to tell customers about deeply discounted e-fares, which are made available online two to three days before departure. But the airlines must clue you in only if you request the lowest possible fare.
Depending on the airline, e-fares have different names, such as dot-com specials, Web-fares, and cyber-savers. They're offered in an attempt to fill seats that would otherwise fly empty. You may have to click around the airline's Web site to find them, but the effort is often worthwhile. In a recent spot-check study by the DOT, one airline offered an e-fare of $140 for a Newark-to-New Orleans ticket that normally costs $1,791.
In the study, the lowest fare quoted by airline reservation agents was more than 560 percent higher, on average, than e-fares for the same flight on the same day. Yet the DOT found that airline agents would not quote e-fares over the phone, nor would they even say whether an e-fare was available.
Sending the offspring to a private college this year costs an average of $22,541, according to the College Board. Tuition and fees account for $16,332 of it (an increase of 5.2 percent over last year); room and board now costs $6,209 (a 4.2 percent jump).
At public institutions, tuition and fees went up 4.4 percent to $3,510, while housing rose 5 percent to $4,960, for a total of $8,470 on average. Tuition surcharges for out-of-state students increased the bill by $5,510.
Student borrowing is also on the rise. More than $68 billion was available in financial aid in 1999 from federal, state, and institutional sources, up 4 percent from the previous year. Loans make up 59 percent of all financial aid, compared with 41 percent in 1980-81, according to the College Board.
Those hulking sport-utility vehicles aren't living up to their rugged reputations, according to low-speed crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. You can drive them across muddy fields, but don't back into anything, says Institute President Brian O'Neill. The bumpers on the SUVs are flimsy, and fail to protect the vehicles from heavy and expensive damage in 5-mph collisions. In fact, SUVs sustained average damages of $1,400 in the four tests that made up the study, compared with $620 for all other passenger cars and vans.
The worst performer in the tests was the Isuzu Trooper, which sustained nearly $2,800 in damages, on average. The BMW X5 had the best performance among SUVs, with only $547 in average damages. "It's the only SUV with halfway decent bumpers," says O'Neill. Among passenger vehicles, the lowest repair cost after a low-speed collision was the Volkswagen Beetle's, at only $48.
The other SUVs tested were the Nissan Xterra ($1,112 in damages, on average), the Isuzu Rodeo ($1,294), and the Mitsubishi Montero ($2,265). You can check crash-test results for these and all other passenger vehicles at www.highwaysafety.org.
Yvonne Wollenberg. Financial Beat. Medical Economics 2000;23:20.