Passenger Waiting to Check In (Photo: iStockphoto/Naphtalina)

This week, several of the largest airlines reported operating results for July, including their load factors (the percentage of seats occupied) for the month. If you've traveled by air this summer, the results won't come as any surprise: The airlines have been flying full. As in record-breaking full. As in claustrophobia-inducing full. As in:

  • Alaska 88.1%
  • American 87.3%
  • Delta 87.9%
  • JetBlue 87.0%
  • Southwest 87.7% (an all-time record for the carrier)
  • United 87.0% (88.9% for domestic-only routes)

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(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As loyalty programs go, Spirit Airlines' Free Spirit gives members laughably little reason to be loyal.

There are a very limited number of earning partners (Choice hotels, Avis, Budget, Hertz, the Free Spirit MasterCard, and a few others). Miles can only be redeemed for Spirit flights or magazines. There are fees to redeem miles within 180 days of departure. And miles expire after just three months of inactivity, unless you hold the program-linked MasterCard and make at least one purchase per month.

Free miles are free miles, however, and they're always worth considering.

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(Photo: Thinkstock/Eyecandy Images)

If you follow the aviation press, you can't have escaped the steady drumbeat of headlines boasting full flights and record profits. The International Air Transport Association, an airline trade group, recently upgraded its industry financial forecast, projecting a $15.7 billion profit for the North American carriers alone. For the airlines and their shareholders, the news has been unrelentingly upbeat.

But a report issued this week by the DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics suggests that the picture is considerably less rosy for the airlines' customers. Even as the airlines crow about their financial and operational successes, they're racking up record complaints from aggrieved travelers.

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Traveler walking in the rain (Photo: IndexOpen)

Travel is typically portrayed as an antidote to life's silent killers: stress, overwork, anxiety, alienation. The postcard version of leisure travel depicts a family frolic on a movie-set beach, all blue skies, sparkling surf, and beaming smiles. Road Warriors, for their part, are eternally ensconced in a first-class lounge's plush armchairs, with a Wall Street Journal in one hand and a Champagne flute in the other.

A new study, ominously entitled "A Darker Side of Hypermobility," paints a very different picture, arguing that travel is itself a killer.

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(Photo: Getty Images/UpperCut Images)

The standard sign-up bonus for Starwood's justifiably popular credit card is 25,000 points after spending $3,000 in three months. Although that's a decidedly modest bonus by the standards of current credit card enrollment promotions, the card remains a top-seller. And when the bonus is increased, as happens periodically, a good deal gets even better.

Offer Details

Through September 14, new customers for the Starwood Preferred Guest credit card can earn 30,000 bonus points after charging at least $3,000 to the card within three months.

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Travel brochures (Photo: IndexOpen)

Delta is having a sale on award travel to Europe. But you wouldn't know it from perusing Delta's website or reading its email announcements.

The discounts went into effect yesterday, but only for elite members of Delta's SkyMiles program. And today, the lower prices are available to all.

The discounts are significant. For example, for some dates in November and December, business-class roundtrips to London are priced as low as 87,000 miles, and coach falls to as little as 42,000 miles roundtrip.

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Restaurant Table - Up close of silverware (Photo: iStockphoto/mbbirdy)

Even after thirty years, I remember the first time I felt assaulted by a restaurant's acoustics.

It was the early seating for a New Year's Eve dinner at City restaurant in Los Angeles, a trendy eatery helmed by the team of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, two rising stars on the local culinary scene. The menu was stridently eclectic, with influences ranging from Asia, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Latin America. And the room was cool with a capital C: a converted open-plan industrial space with exposed beams and ducts, and a painted concrete floor.

The food was sublime. The service was spot-on. The company was congenial. But the noise level was stratospheric. Deafening. Afterwards, I was hoarse from shouting above the din, and there was an unpleasant buzzing in my head. A special, and rather expensive, evening had been spoiled by the restaurant's roar.

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Pilot doing pre-flight inspection (Photo: Hamilton)

What does an airline do when it's forced to cancel a flight because four of its five crewmembers show up to work drunk? If you're Latvia-based airBaltic, you issue a press release announcing to the world that, well, four of your workers showed up to work too drunk to fly. And, of course, you reiterate ad nauseum your airline's unwavering commitment to safety, safety, safety.

I'm a big fan of transparency and accountability. And no one wants to fly with a crew that's capable of giving anything less than its A-game. But there's also such a thing as TMI (too much information). In much the same way that self-proclaimed modesty can read as boastful, confession can seem like self-promotion. Add to that the suspicion that the facts are being divulged only selectively and you're left in the murk.

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Cruise - Woman relaxing in a pink tube on a cruise vacation (Photo: Christian Wheatley)

Enter the Royal Caribbean "Get More" sweepstakes by September 15, 2015, for a chance to win the grand prize: a two-day pre-inaugural cruise for two on Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas, including air and a $2,000 Visa gift card.

Runner-up prizes include a seven-day cruise, Vegas trips, and gift cards.

To enter, provide the requested contact information (name, email, etc.) on the sweepstakes landing page and press "Submit." Done! Time required to participate: less than 15 seconds.

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Miles & Points (Photo: Shutterstock)

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

U.S. News Picks the Best Travel-Loyalty Programs

The best travel rewards program? U.S. News has taken on the onerous task of identifying the top airline and hotel schemes, with predictably debatable results.

Spirit's CEO Is Looking for Love

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