How do you know that an airline agent is trying to charge you much more than necessary to change a ticket? Two agents attempted that on me just yesterday, but they quickly realized they were messing with the wrong guy and retreated from their positions. The difference was thousands of dollars.
In my book, I explain why it helps to know what exactly you want before calling an airline, and more importantly, to know the outcome of an agent’s actions. I never trust agents to tell me how much I need to pay for anything — I call them simply to accomplish something I can’t do online.
A couple of months ago, I issued a Business Class ticket for a client who flew the outbound portion but had to cancel the return. I called the airline to take him off that flight and said I wasn’t ready to rebook yet but would call back when I was. The agent said, fine, call us then.
That’s what I did yesterday, but the agent I got was told by the rate desk that the new flight had to be booked at the same time the original segment was canceled — in other words, it was too late. That was the biggest claptrap I’d heard in a long time, so I hung up. After all, what was the alternative? Buying a new ticket?
I immediately called again to speak to another agent, but in the one minute that took, the first agent had managed to notate the record that changes weren’t allowed. As calm as I try to stay with reservations on the phone, spiteful agents like that one annoy me hugely. Naturally, I asked for a supervisor to make my case that the rate-desk person was wrong.
First, even if the change had to be made at the same time as the original cancellation, I should have been informed of that when I made the cancellation, if that would leave the ticket with no value — not when it was too late.
Second, the fare rules said the following: “Original reservations are cancelled prior to the original scheduled flight and the new intended travel is scheduled.” If the authors of that sentence meant that both actions had to be completed at the same time, they would have put “and the new intended travel is scheduled” before the words “prior to the original scheduled flight.” In that case, both actions would have been covered by “prior to…” — as I understand it here, the first action does need to take place “prior to…,” but not the second.
The supervisor didn’t even argue with me. She deleted the spiteful notes and authorized the change.
But the rate desk’s shenanigans were far from over. The original Z booking class wasn’t eligible for an upgrade to First Class, which was available on the new flight and my client wanted it, so he had to buy up to the higher D class. I’d looked at the airline’s tariff and determined that the difference in fare would be about $1,000.
However, the rate desk wanted to charge $4,000. Customers don’t have access to the rate desk, so I had to reason with a reservation agent. I pointed out what I’d seen on the tariff and explained that the rate desk wanted to charge a one-way D fare, but this was a round-trip ticket, and they should be charing half of the lower round-trip D fare.
The agent suggested that perhaps the lower D fare was not combinable with the Z fare on the already flown outbound flight. I had an answer to that, too: The last three letters of both fare-basis codes were the same, so they were indeed combinable. I could also prove that by booking a new reservation in Z class on the outbound and D class on the return.
She went back to the rate desk and quickly returned with the news that I was right and the fare difference would be about $1,000.
Was this incompetence or did they try to take me for a ride? I don’t know — what I do know is that something that should have taken 10 minutes took instead more than an hour to accomplish.
So make sure you do your homework and don’t trust agents, even if they tell you that they have 20 years of experience.
- Nicholas Kralev is an author and expert on diplomacy, world affairs and global travel. He hosts the weekly program "Conversations with Nicholas Kralev." A former Financial Times and Washington Times correspondent, he has traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state — Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright. He has flown over 2 million miles and visited 84 countries.
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