[philiptellis] Walking the world in search of interestingness

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A $730 flight ticket for $150

Between the months of October and March, airports like Washington DC and Denver are frequently closed due to snow storms. If you happen to have booked a flight through one of these airports, the airline will cancel it and possibly rebook you on an alternate flight. This may not always be the flight you want.

A couple of weeks ago, this happened to me. I was to fly from San Jose, CA to Boston, MA via Denver. San Jose is fairly close to where I live, so it's the most convenient airport for me. Unfortunately, very few airlines fly directly from San Jose to Boston, hence the stopover in Denver. Early on the morning of the flight, I received a voicemail from United saying that my flight had been cancelled due to bad weather. I called back a little later to check on alternatives.

The call centre agent suggested a flight out of San Francisco that was to leave in 2 hours, but there was no way I could make it to SFO by then. He then suggested a flight the following day, but that was too late for me. He then offered to re-book me on American Airlines out of San Jose around the same time that my original flight was supposed to leave. I found this rather suspicious. While he was searching for alternatives, I did the same online, and found that there were still seats available for the night flight from SFO to Boston. I'd have enough time to reach SFO and would make it early the next morning instead of late that night, which was fine.

I pointed out this flight to the agent, and he reluctantly confirmed that there was, in fact, one seat left on that flight. When I checked online, I found that this ticket was worth $734. I'd paid about $150 or $170 for my original ticket, so he was naturally reluctant to get me that seat. It would actually have been cheaper for them to rebook me on American, except that I wouldn't get any miles for that. All the same, there wasn't much more he could do except warn me that any further changes would come at a price.

The flight was packed, and quite a few people were bumped up to first class. I wasn't, but my seat was assigned at the gate. I got a middle exit row seat, with plenty of leg room.

When I checked my mileage account later, I'd been credited over 4000 miles for the flight instead of the 1200 that I usually get for this leg.


March 30, 2010 1:10 pm

I end up with similar situations all the time. Flying back from West Palm Beach last week, I finished a couple of hours earlier than expected and tried to go standby on an earlier flight. But, my ticketed flight was oversold, so (new United partner) Continental offered a flight 3 hours earlier out of Fort Lauderdale via Houston to SFO (my original flight was via Houston too) but they gave me first class on both legs for the trouble of switching airports. I had to hussle a bit to get there, but it was no problem. They thanked me for helping them balance their oversold flights better, when in fact I ended up getting home 3 hours earlier in first class. And oddly enough, at the Fort Lauderdale flight they called for volunteers because that flight was also oversold...

Did a similar thing in Montreal 3 weeks ago, but I feel kind of bad for that one because I kind of tricked an inexperienced United ticket agent into rebooking me on an earlier Air Canada flight. Was trying to go standby on an earlier flight, but they cancelled it. So many people were rebooking. I wasn't ticketed for that flight, so she shouldn't have rebooked me. But she didn't ask, she just assumed I was booked on the cancelled flight. That one got me back 6 hours early and helped mostly beat the snowstorm on the way to Tahoe.

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