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Is Black Friday Dying?

By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Black Friday shopping this year will continue to have sizzle for the serious shopper, but the urgency to hit the stores early could be diminished because door-buster deals won’t happen only on Friday — and won’t necessarily involve doors, as more bargains are duplicated online.

That’s why experts say it might not be worth fighting store crowds this year, unless you’re the type who enjoys a little retail blood sport en route to scoring bargain TVs, video games and Star Wars toys.

“Black Friday is quickly losing its meaning on many fronts,” said Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based retail consulting firm McMillanDoolittle. “Yes, there will be deals and door busters Friday morning, but they are really becoming an antiquated concept.”

For example, Black Friday has decidedly spilled backward into Thursday, with Thanksgiving store hours the norm among major retailers. Although for the first time in years, they aren’t pushing to go much earlier, with many sticking with openings around 6 p.m., presumably after many turkeys are already carved and consumed.

“A fairly decent number of retailers have pretty much thrown in the towel and are opening on Thursday,” Stern said.

If Black Friday is dying, that doesn’t mean holiday shopping is too.

An estimated 135.8 million people are expected to shop online and in stores over Thanksgiving weekend, which includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday — invented as a seasonal nod to smaller retailers — and Sunday. Yet more people may shop on Cyber Monday than any of the other days, according to a retail federation survey.

Holiday spending in general is expected to rise 3.7 percent this year, to $630.5 billion, or an average of about $805 per shopper, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s above the 10-year average of 2.5 percent.

Retailers, however, are posting mixed results leading into the holiday season.

Bellwethers like Nordstrom and Macy’s recently posted disappointing third-quarter profits, and their share prices hit multiyear lows as investors worried about sales over the crucial Black Friday period. But days later Wal-Mart, Target and discount retailer TJX (T.J.Maxx and Marshalls) posted strong sales numbers.

Whatever retail results turn out to be, Black Friday from a consumer standpoint might be different this year, with more shoppers skipping the long lines outside a retailer early Friday morning. Indeed, Black Friday doesn’t even represent the kickoff to Christmas shopping anymore.

“Thanksgiving weekend shopping has evolved tremendously over the past few years and can no longer be seen as the start of the holiday season, though there’s no question it’s still important to millions of holiday shoppers and retailers of all shapes and sizes,” said Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation. “There is a real sea change happening in retail when it comes to the how, when, where and why of holiday shopping.”

Two primary factors diminish the importance of Black Friday: spreading out the bargains to other days and putting door-buster deals online.

“A large number of retailers are already doing pre-Black Friday sales, where they are effectively going on promotion now,” Stern said.

Some 60 percent of shoppers had started holiday shopping by Nov. 10, a retail federation survey showed.

Even some of the nation’s largest bricks-and-mortar retailers, Wal-Mart and Target, are offering the same deals online as in-store. “So, the need to wake up early, join the line and stampede, becomes less relevant,” Stern said.

Another factor is the realization that Black Friday prices don’t even represent the best of the year, deal watchers say.

And the frenzy, secrecy and gamesmanship of Black Friday ads — door-buster deals being “leaked” online, sometimes on purpose — seems to be a thing of the past, with more stores openly releasing ad circulars far ahead of when printed ones appear in newspapers. Wal-Mart, for example, released its circular on Nov. 12 through its mobile app. Target released its ad on its website a couple of days earlier.

Some of the largest retailers demonstrate the diminished importance of Black Friday.

—Wal-Mart. Open all day on Thanksgiving, this year Wal-Mart will begin Black Friday deals online at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, long before deals in its stores begin at 6 p.m. that day.

“For the first time ever, you’ll be able to get the vast majority of our Black Friday deals, available online and in stores,” said Steve Bratspies, Wal-Mart’s new chief merchandising officer. Specifically, 96 percent of deals will be available both places, he said.

Although, to promote simplicity, Wal-Mart is concentrating its deals this year around Black Friday instead of spreading out the deals across several events like it has in the recent past and as many other retailers are doing.

—Target. Target, also opening stores at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, is taking the opposite tack, spreading deals over 10 days, Nov. 22 to Dec. 1. As it did last year for the first time, Target will have all its holiday deals both online and in-store.

Tina Tyler, Target’s chief stores officer, said those moves could diminish the importance of Black Friday itself, but from a business standpoint, that’s not the intent. “It’s about getting more trips with the guest,” she said. “It’s not about spreading the one trip out.”

Target is offering a goody for shopping specifically on Friday. Those who spend $75 or more on Black Friday online or in-store get a 20 percent one-use discount coupon for a future purchase — not just one item but the whole shopping trip — on any day between Dec. 4 and Dec. 13.

—Kmart. Its door-buster deals will start an hour later than many others, at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and go until 2 p.m. the next day. It, too, is spreading out deals to days other than Black Friday. For example, its Shop Your Way club members have access to Kmart’s Black Friday door busters online on Nov. 21 and 22. And for the first three Wednesdays of December, it will host Black Wednesday sales online. That’s in addition to bringing back its famed Bluelight Special flash sales, which will endure beyond the holiday shopping season.

—Sears. Kmart sister company Sears also offered an early members-only sale, in-store 6-9 p.m. Sunday and online 3 p.m. Sunday until noon Monday. Then closer to Black Friday, it will have two rounds of door busters, from its opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 2 a.m., and then again starting at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.

—Best Buy. The chain bucked the trend and will open slightly earlier on Thanksgiving, at 5 p.m. for door busters, followed by a second round of door busters 8 a.m. Friday at most stores.

—Toys R Us. The retailer also opens at 5 p.m. Thursday. It planned early access to deals in-store and online for its loyalty members, starting Sunday. The “majority” of its deals will be online as well as in-store, beginning 10 p.m. Wednesday, it said. Sister store Babies R Us will be closed on Thanksgiving.

—Macy’s. Black Friday deals at most stores start at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving through 1 p.m. Friday, as well as all day Thursday at macys.com. Deals start up again Saturday 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

—Amazon. The online megaretailer started a week before Black Friday, with deals every five minutes and continuing for eight days, through Black Friday. It also has 10 “Deals of the Day” sales starting at midnight on Thanksgiving, and up to 10 more on Black Friday, it said.

This year, one major retailer decided to just abstain from Black Friday.

Outdoors outfitter REI made a splash about not only staying closed on Thanksgiving — as are Nordstrom, Costco, Sam’s Club, T.J.Maxx and Pier 1 Imports, among others — but also closing its 143 stores on Black Friday this year while paying its employees to “go outside.”

“We believe that being outside makes our lives better,” REI CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote in a note on the retailer’s website. “And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.

“We’re a different kind of company — and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside…”

Of course, if you don’t like the outdoors and by Friday you’ve had your fill of turkey and relatives, perhaps recreational shopping and throwing a few elbows in the aisles might be just the diversion you’re looking for.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Powhusku via Wikimedia Commons

 

Chip Credit Cards Could Slow Holiday Shopping

By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

As the calendar flips to November and visions of Black Friday dance in their heads, holiday shoppers using new, more secure chip credit and debit cards will be learning a new checkout procedure.

While the added security might be welcome, new cards could mean more frustration and slower checkout lines during the bustle of holiday shopping.

“The bricks-and-mortar retailers were already fighting an uphill battle against the e-commerce guys, so the last thing they need are more reasons for customers to be ticked off at them,” said Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based McMillanDoolittle.

One Wal-Mart executive said he expects widespread checkout problems and “anarchy” during the holiday season because of confusion over how to use the new cards, which must be “dipped” into the machine and left there for several seconds, as opposed to a momentary swipe.

While Wal-Mart was among the first to install and use new readers for chip cards and has become proficient over the past year, many merchants are just starting that transition and many consumers are baffled.

The timing of the shift “wasn’t necessarily optimal, given that we’re going into the holiday season,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove, elaborating on recent comments by John Drechny, senior director of payment services at Wal-Mart, during a panel discussion at the Money20/20 payments conference in Las Vegas. “There could have been a better time, off-season.”

Many shoppers have already witnessed the confusion at retailers widely accepting chip cards, perhaps at Target, Wal-Mart or Walgreens.

It involves failed swipes, trying to follow the cashier’s instructions, fumbling with the card while trying to insert it correctly into the reader slot and remembering to remove the card at the end of the transaction.

“I’m a retail consultant, and I still put it in the wrong way and yank it out too soon,” Stern said. “It takes a long time for people to change habits.”

Even without confusion, the so-called push-and-pause method generally takes longer than the swipe. Although that difference can be as little as about 1 second longer, a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

“From a retailer standpoint, it’s really bad because it slows down productivity at the front end,” Stern said.

It will likely be more problematic for retailers whose customers expect a quick checkout, like Walgreens. “People don’t like waiting,” Stern said. “At Macy’s, customers might be a little more patient with the transaction process.”

Credit and debit cards are likely to be a big deal for the holidays, with 76.4 percent of consumers saying cards are their primary payment method, split about equally between debit and credit cards, according to the latest National Retail Federation numbers from 2014. That compares with 21.6 percent paying cash, and 2.1 percent paying by personal check.

Oct. 1 was a soft deadline for banks to issue new credit and debit cards with microchips and for retailers to install readers that can use the new chip technology.

However, it turned out that the Oct. 1 date was more of a starting gun than a checkered flag in the race to add security to card payments. Far from all banks and retailers were ready, and many still aren’t. Most Americans don’t even have the new cards yet, as banks and credit unions have been slow to replace old ones.

Among U.S. merchants, just 27 percent were expected to be ready to accept chip cards by the deadline a month ago, according to management consultant The Strawhecker Group. By the end of the year, that’s expected to rise to 44 percent and not hit 90 percent until 2017, a Strawhecker survey showed. Banks and merchants have said they will likely make the conversion to issue and accept credit cards first and debit cards later.

The good news about the relatively slow rollout is that many consumers won’t be affected this holiday season — if they don’t have chip cards yet or they shop at retailers that don’t accept the new cards.

Meanwhile, Target, which can accept chip cards at all its stores, recently made the bold move to accept yet a different card payment procedure. It started issuing new Target store credit and debit cards, called REDcard, that are more secure because they not only have microchips embedded but require users to enter a personal identification number at checkout instead of signing.

So-called chip-and-PIN is a process used in most other countries that have switched to chip cards, but is not typical in the U.S. so far — a point of conflict between banks that issue cards that require signatures and retailers who want the added safety of PINs.

“We realize that data security is top-of-mind for American consumers, so we wanted to offer them the solution that really is most secure in the marketplace today,” said Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder. “We recognized that would be on the early side, both on the issuance and acceptance (of PIN-enabled cards), and so we put a ton of effort into making sure our team members, people who are engaging with guests on the frontline, are equipped to answer questions. What we’re seeing is that is going really smoothly.”

Target officials might be especially sensitive to security concerns because of the retailer’s massive data breach during the 2013 holiday shopping season, in which some 40 million cards were compromised. The breach likely expedited the change to new card technology in the U.S., which had been sluggish to switch compared to other developed nations, experts say.

Overall, the switch to new checkout habits is a significant change for shoppers, “putting additional financial pressure on financial institutions and confusing consumers, many of whom don’t even know why the transition is happening and have no idea how to use an EMV chip, or ‘smart’ card,” said a report by Chicago-based Arroweye Solutions, which manufactures payment cards and sends them to consumers on behalf of issuers. EMV stands for Europay MasterCard Visa, the coalition that developed specifications for the system in the 1990s.

“It’s still very much a work in progress,” said Arroweye CEO Render Dahiya. “There will be a lot of on-the-job — or on-the-shopping — learning.”

The new cards, with both the new microchip visible on the front and the old black magnetic stripe on the back, are only safer when used with a new chip card payment terminal. Chip cards make every transaction at a payment terminal and ATM unique. Old machines read the old-tech magnetic stripe, and are no safer with the new cards.

While it’s true that avid shoppers of big retailers will be skilled at the new card “dipping” checkout process — and checkout employees adept at helping customers — everything changes during the crush of holiday shopping.

“We haven’t seen it yet when it’s a stress point, and the holidays are a stress point,” Stern said.

The new cards could cause in-store checkout woes on Black Friday and throughout the season, but they won’t affect Cyber Monday and other online holiday shopping. Customers make online purchases with the new cards the same way they always have, by typing in the card number, expiration date and security code. Those transactions are no more secure with the chip cards.

Still, payment-terminal slowdowns alone probably won’t force holiday shoppers to abandon stores for websites.

“I suspect we’re going to see some frustration, but it probably doesn’t elevate to the point of customers saying, ‘I’m not going to the store. I’m just going to do this online,’” Stern said. “More people are going to shop at home, but not because of this. But it’s certainly not going to help physical retailers.”

If shoppers become frustrated enough with chip cards, it might speed adoption of yet another payment method: mobile payments with a smartphone using such services as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

“If EMV does slow down the transaction process, if people do leave cards in the machine, then you have a scenario where mobile does become a value-add, if that transaction is quicker,” Dahiya said.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A chip credit card. (Image Source/Zuma Press/TNS)

 

When To Book Holiday Flights For Best Price And Options

By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Holiday turkey and jingle bells may seem far off, but several holiday airfare forecasts are out, with many predicting lower prices this year and one claiming that Tuesday is the best day to buy a plane ticket for Thanksgiving.

Fare experts say there is really no one best day to buy for everybody because it depends on your destination and the dates and times you’ll be flying.

But based on historical average fares, Tuesday is the best day to book for Thanksgiving, according to online travel agency Orbitz. Friday is the best day to book for Christmas, and Saturday is the best for New Year’s, it said.

If nothing else, the predictions highlight the general notion that if you want the best combination of flight availability and fares, now is the time to be seriously thinking about locking in those holiday season flights.

Otherwise you might not only pay more but find yourself flying at 6 a.m. on a connecting flight and occupying a middle seat near the aircraft lavatory.

“The longer you wait, the availability of seats gets much thinner, and prices go up as a result of that,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor of Orbitz.com. “It all depends on the days that you’re traveling and the times you’re traveling, when it comes to airfare prices.”

However, based on price alone, waiting doesn’t hurt that much for Thanksgiving until you get inside of 10 days to your flight, according to airfare data site Hopper. Domestic round-trip prices rise less than 5 percent up to 10 days before departure and then spike sharply, it said.

Those flying home to Chicago will pay among the highest premiums, at 131 percent more than a similar flight earlier in the fall, Hopper found. Average is 97 percent more.

The good news for all fliers is that holiday airfares overall _ for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s _ are 9 percent lower on average than last year, Orbitz said.

Another online travel agency, Priceline, agreed that booking through mid-October would yield the best fares, which will average $408 for Thanksgiving and $485 for Christmas. Of course, prices also depend on the route and flight.

Other advice from the travel experts:

  • Mind your connection times. Some flights might leave only a half-hour for a connection, which might not be enough during the busy travel season, Tornatore said. “I would suggest leaving at least an hour because you have to allow for increased delays because of increased travel volumes on those busy days,” she said.
  • In picking cheaper flights, less popular times _ early in the morning or after 8 p.m. _ are likely to cost less, according to Priceline.
  • Consider on-time probabilities. It might be no fun to rise at 4 a.m. to catch an early-morning flight, but those flights are more likely to depart on time. Delays often cascade through the day, making afternoon flights riskier, Tornatore said.
  • Pick ideal days to save money. Priceline cites the best departure dates for Thanksgiving as Nov. 19, 23 or 26, and returning Nov. 27, Dec. 1 or Dec. 2. For Christmas, ideal dates are departures on Dec. 21, 22, 23, 24 or 25 and returning Dec. 28, 29 and 31.

Last year, half of air travelers had Thanksgiving flights booked by Oct. 20, and half booked Christmas flights by Nov. 13, according to Orbitz.
___
(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

People on a bus look at an airplane as it lands at Hongqiao International Airport in Shanghai April 10, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Domino’s Taking Orders Via Tweet

By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Domino’s on Wednesday launched perhaps the easiest way to satisfy a pizza craving this side of mind reading: order by tweet.

Customers who add their Twitter handle to a profile on dominos.com can reorder their previously set “Easy Order” by simply tweeting #EasyOrder or using the pizza emoji (a slice of pizza icon) to @dominos.

Domino’s then sends the order via automated direct message back to customers to confirm the order.

Domino’s claims to be the first brand to use an emoji on Twitter to complete an order.

“One of Domino’s goals is to allow customers to order from anywhere they are, on any device or any platform they want,” Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle said in announcing the new ordering capability.

The company is already offering ordering through a number of platforms, including smartwatch and smartphone apps, Samsung Smart TV and Ford SYNC AppLink.

Photo: T.CSH via Flickr

Spending Smart: How To Choose A Financial Adviser Who’s Right For You

By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Some financial advisers are riddled with conflicts of interest, making extra cash for themselves when they put your money in bad investments. Hidden fees and sales commissions can secretly gobble up thousands of your hard-earned dollars.

That said, advisers deserve to make a living, too, and hiring a good one can put you on a path to prosperity and help you meet your savings goals.

Recently, consumers moved closer to getting better financial protection after President Barack Obama called for stricter standards for brokers and others who recommend retirement account investments.

Conflicted advice, featuring back-door payments and leading to poor investment returns, costs consumers about $17 billion a year, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“Consumers may not even realize how much money is being skimmed off the top of their retirement savings by biased advice and mystery fees,” Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said in a recent speech. “Sometimes bad advice can be even worse than no advice at all.”

In short, the proposed rules coming from the U.S. Department of Labor would require advisers to make investment recommendations that are in their clients’ best interest.

That’s right. Federal action was required to explicitly enforce what reasonable people would think is obvious: Financial advisers should give advice based on what’s in your best interest, or what the industry calls a fiduciary duty.

“The first thing to look for is an adviser who’s a fiduciary. Of course, nobody knows that,” said Michael Garry, a fee-only financial planner in Newtown, Pa., and author of the book, “Independent Financial Planning: Your Ultimate Guide to Finding and Choosing the Right Financial Planner.”

“I meet with prospective clients and they say, ‘Well, they should all be like that.’ Except, they’re not,” he said.

One of the biggest reasons to hire an adviser is to provide guidance on your retirement planning, often involving rolling over a 401(k) from an old job into an individual retirement account. But comprehensive advice can go beyond nest-egg planning into insurance, tax planning, estate planning, college funding, even budgeting and debt management.

Here are key do’s and don’ts for hiring a financial pro.

Do the legwork. Ideally, you would do your initial research, whittle a list to three advisers and make appointments to meet in person. That might sound like too much work for some, but you should at least have substantial phone calls with three.

“A lot of times, you know right off the bat whether it’s someone you want to work with,” Garry said.

If you need names to get started, consider directories at napfa.org, plannersearch.org, and garrettplanningnetwork.com.

Beware of those free chicken-dinner seminars that some advisers host to attract clients, advises the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “The true goal may be to sell investment, insurance or financial products at the seminar or in follow-up calls,” the agency said.

Don’t fall for false promises. In asking about an adviser’s philosophy, be comforted by words like “goals,” “diversified,” and “index mutual funds,” and be alarmed by “guaranteed,” “hot stocks,” and “beat the market.”

“If anybody tells you they can beat the market or they have some algorithm for trading, I would run from that,” Garry said.

Do gauge a comfort level. This is a person you are likely to deal with in times of stress — a downturn in the market, a cash crunch, fear of losing a job.

“A lot of times you’ll be talking to your adviser when things are not going well,” Garry said. “You want to be able to go to that person and have an honest conversation.”

Do you feel like you’re being coached or sold to? Does the adviser use jargon or explain things clearly?

Don’t assume advisers are equally qualified. The scary truth is anyone can call himself a financial adviser; it’s not a regulated designation. So details are key. Ask about experience, especially with people in your circumstances. Ask about education, employment history and what licenses and certifications they hold, advises the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A CFP, or certified financial planner, is one of the more respected designations. “I’d generally look for a CFP designation. Maybe a background in accounting or finance or maybe a financial planning major,” Garry said.

Learn what professional designations mean at finra.org and check out the interactive research tools and calculators at finra.org/investors/toolscalculators/.

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors offers a questionnaire you can use to help choose an adviser (Comprehensive Financial Advisor Diagnostic) and “Pursuit of a Financial Advisor Field Guide,” both downloadable at napfa.org.

Do ask about compensation. Your adviser deserves to get paid, but it’s key to know how _ to identify any conflicts. Fewer conflicts arise among fee-only planners, meaning they only get paid what you pay them, not from investment or insurance companies paying kickbacks. It’s often a percentage of your assets under management; 1 percent is reasonable. Many good advisers are paid on commission, but you need full disclosure. Others are paid hourly or on a per-project basis, such as developing a onetime comprehensive financial plan.

Don’t confuse fee-only with fee-based. “Saying they’re fee-based is really misleading and wrong,” Garry said, noting that the majority of fee-based advisers are commission-based.

Do some reconnaissance. Ask the adviser for client references and a copy of his Form ADV, which has information about how the adviser is paid and any disciplinary actions. Ask to see Part 1 and Part 2 of the ADV.

Also look up the adviser in the SEC Investment Adviser Public Disclosure Database, adviserinfo.sec.gov and do a FINRA Broker Check at finra.org. You can also check with your state insurance regulator, naic.org, and your state securities regulator, nasaa.org

“You should look them up and let them know you looked them up,” Garry said.

Do ask whether you are a typical client. Part of finding a good fit is finding an adviser accustomed to dealing with people like you. If they cater to millionaires and you have $100,000 in assets, how much attention do you think you will get? Also, ask whether you will deal directly with the adviser or a junior associate.

Don’t tune out. Consider a financial adviser more of a coach than a hired pro who does the work for you. “I think the actively engaged client gets more out of it,” Garry said, adding that he suggests clients come in at least once a year for a review.

Go robo? Another choice is to get automated advice online from websites collectively known as robo-advisers. They are cheaper than human advisers, but the question is how well their algorithms apply to your specific planning needs. If you have a relatively simple and typical situation, they could be worthwhile.

Many experts say the jury is still out on the quality of robo-advisers, but if you want to try them, examples are Wealthfront, Betterment, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, FutureAdvisor, LearnVest, Personal Capital, and SigFig.

ABOUT THE WRITER
Gregory Karp, the author of “Living Rich by Spending Smart,” writes for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at gkarp@tribune.com.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: dpmshap via Flickr

Airline On-Time Rates Fell In May

By Gregory Karp, Chicago Tribune

U.S. airlines posted worse on-time rates in May, and Chicago airports ranked last for on-time departures.

U.S. airlines were on time 76.9 percent of the time, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s down from 79.4 percent last May and 79.6 percent in April. Just 0.6 percent of flights were delayed because of weather. Late-arriving aircraft, carrier delays and aviation system delays were the biggest factors, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report.

United Airlines posted a rate of 76.4 percent.

American Airlines posted a rate of 79.1 percent buoyed by its merger partner US Airways, which posted 82.1 percent.

On-time problems continued for Southwest Airlines in May. It was on time 72.7 percent of the time, worst among large carriers. Southwest flights from Chicago to New York-area airports, Newark and LaGuardia were chronic problems, according to the report. Its performance no doubt contributed to the 60.2 percent departure rate at Midway during May, by far the worst among large airports.

Southwest also ranked lowest among large carriers for mishandling luggage, losing nearly four bags per 1,000 passengers. Southwest is one of the few airlines that does not charge for checked bags.

Most punctual airlines were Hawaiian Airlines, 93.2 percent; Alaska Airlines, 89.7 percent; and Delta Air Lines, 84.4 percent.

Carriers reported canceling 1.9 percent of their scheduled domestic flights in May, up from 1.1 percent in both May 2013 and in April 2014.

United and American airlines both rated poorly for consumer complaint rates. Only Frontier Airlines ranked worse among the dozen airlines included in the report.

Photo: Shyb via Flickr