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The Travel Guru Gets Put To The Test

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Call me old fashioned, but when I take a trip I always take copies of all of my travel confirmations. If I am traveling on a special fare with unique terms and conditions or baggage policies I print up a copy and take them with me as well.

As we all know, travel has gotten very complicated and you have to play by the rules. My philosophy is, if I am going to play by your rules I am bringing them with me just in case “an issue” arises.

I have some of my own rules that I try not to violate

  1. Try not to call the airlines and ask a specific question. The agents take copious notes and whatever they tell you goes into your file.
  2. The next rule. Try and stay away from the agents at the terminal. It’s their job to    say no and get you to part with more money.

On a recent trip on American Airlines, I was put to the test and found myself in some new situations. Some of the details are boring but are being included to highlight a situation that any traveler can find themselves in.

If you travel on American Airlines you are aware of their convoluted fare structure: Basic Economy, Main Cabin and First Class. At the time of booking, the fares that were offered were $59, $321 and $645, respectively.

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I had read that American created “basic economy” as a no-frills fare to compete with some of the low-cost airlines targeting bargain hunters. The premise is that the rules and restrictions would be so bothersome that people would rather pay the higher, less restrictive fares.

I opted for the $59 fare, well aware of the airline’s strict guidelines. The harshest rule, you cannot pick your seat until check-in at the airport and most probably you will get a middle seat. There is a “however.”  However, when you check-in for your flight 24 hours prior to departure, you have the option to select your seat and you pay for the privilege.

Since I had never traveled on a basic economy ticket I tried to read as much as I could about it. Some people lucked out and were assigned seats in the extra legroom rows and even in first class at no additional cost. I did not feel like gambling, so I decided to pay extra for the more desirable seats. The fees ranged from $17-$77 based upon the location of the seat. I picked two seats that came with a $17 fee.

When we checked in at the airport I asked the agent if there were any seats available closer to the front of the aircraft. Did I mention that she went out of her way to “fare shame” us for booking Basic Economy seats? (we’ll leave this one alone)

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“Yes, I can give you two seats in row 8 for $34 a person.” Since Mark, my traveling companion has an American Express Gold card he gets a $100 credit, annually, with any airline of his choosing, for incidentals. This credit would apply for this seaupgrade.

”Go for it,” he tells me.

“Do it,” I tell the agent.

Now the fun begins

The agent cancels us out of the seats in the back of the plane and assigns me the seat in row 8. Now she goes to switch Mark’s ticket and the “system” is giving her a problem. It won’t let her put Mark in the new seat. She tries it a few times with no success. “I need to go talk to a supervisor,” the agent tells me. “No problem,” I tell her.

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After 10 minutes she returns and says she has to call the “help desk.” I am now officially in travel hell. There’s no turning back. She explains the problem to the help agent on the phone. While this is going on, other agents have converged around her terminal and are putting in their two cents to rectify the problem.

Never get flustered. Never get agitated. Always be nice!

The inner Terri was thinking, “Leave her alone. She’s talking to the Help Desk who probably knows more than you.”

The “good Terri” just stood there, smiling and biting her tongue. The last thing you ever want to do is piss off one of these agents. They have the power and can make disparaging notes in your passenger profile that can mess you up, forever.

After nearly 30 minutes the agent and the help desk representative are finally able to assign the new seat for Mark. We thank her for working her magic and give her our two suitcases to check-in.

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Since Mark has gold status with American Airlines he gets to check-in one free bag. In addition, his traveling companion and/or family get the free bag privilege as well. (Yay!) The agent hands me our boarding passes with the new seat assignments, the receipt and the claim tag tickets for our bags. “Do you want me to help with your seats for the return trip,” she asks. “Let me make it through today,” I told her.  Now we go merrily on our way to the gate.

Homeward Bound

When flying, I like to check in early since there are more seating options and there’s a good chance to get TSA Pre-Check.

I logged in to check-in for our return flight only to discover that Mark and I were not traveling on the same reservation anymore. Turns out that when they resolved our seating issue they split us up-keeping my reservation on the original record locator and giving Mark a new one.

As a result, Mark did not have a travel companion on his homebound flight and that companion (me) would have to pay $40 for her suitcase and be in the last group to board the plane. I was not happy.

I formulated my game plan. Fortunately, I had a copy of the original receipt that showed the two of us on a round-trip flight and the corresponding record locator. We got to the airport early to rectify the reservation/baggage issue. Time to approach the agents. I didn’t want to say “problem” or “the agent messed up.” Instead, I said, “It seems that there is a glitch in my reservation.”

She started to check us in and said, “Mark’s bag is free. Yours will be $40.”

I briefly explained that unbeknownst to me, our reservation was split and as a result, I was on a different reservation that would not give me the same elite benefits as my travel companion (free bag and early priority boarding)

She looks over at her supervisor, the one with all of the power, and asks, “Can I override the $40?” The supervisor nods her head and says yes. The travel gods were with us. We thanked them profusely. By the way. The supervisor did not have to say yes. She could have told us it was out of her hands, etc., etc. and that we would have to take it up with the airline directly.

We were nice and she was nice!

The moral of this story

Thank goodness this involved a simple, domestic flight. If we were going on a multi-city trip either domestically or abroad, we would have encountered numerous problems and would have had to pay hundreds of dollars in baggage fees.

Know as much as you can about your trip and the corresponding rules and policies.

Keep documents on hand.

Make sure to look over any new tickets or boarding passes when they are handed to you.

Being nice is the way to go!

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Terri Lynn has earned a reputation as a dynamo in the fast-past world of high profile public relations. Her blue chip press contacts, dazzling creativity and unstoppable determination, combined with superb writing skills, consistently produces extensive media coverage for her clients. She’s regarded as tenacious, persuasive and always gets the job done!