Saturday, May 23, 2015

Slept Through Alarm

We were supposed to be on a 7AM departure out of LaGuardia on our way to Kansas City (via Chicago) this morning. Unfortunately, the 4:30AM alarm didn't work (the alarm volume was turned down), so my father woke up at 6:18AM instead.

Given he went to bed around midnight, the fact he even woke up that early on a Saturday was surprising. But obviously, there was no way we'd make it in time for our flight which started boarding in 10 minutes.

So as my mother frantically got ready, my father jumped on the phone to call United and see what his last minute options were over Memorial Day Weekend.

Option 1
The first agent he spoke with said she could put him on a 2:30PM flight through Houston arriving in Kansas City around 9:30PM. They said that since it was just a different time (same departure city), they could use the Same Day Change protocol (waiving the $200/person change fee), but we'd still have to pay the difference in fare (another $450/person). So we'd lose a full day in Kansas City AND have to pay $1,350 in cash.

Option 2
My father then saw that there were exactly 3 seats left on a direct flight from Newark departing at 10:29AM arriving in KC at 12:52AM (just an hour after our originally scheduled flight).

However, since we'd be leaving from Newark instead of LaGuardia, this would not qualify for a Same Day Change and would require a $200 change fee. PLUS the difference in fare was also around $450/person. So this would require us to pay $1,950 in cash. But we'd still salvage our Saturday in Kansas City.

He told the agent to switch to that flight and she put him on hold while she made the changes...but then he hung up.

The famous acronym in the frequent flyer community is HUCA, which stands for Hang Up, Call Again. There was a chance that another agent might take pity on my family and waive the $200 person change fees. So he called back and got another agent on the phone.

Unfortunately, she said she could not waive that fee.

Option 3
However, my father was also looking for United MileagePlus Award availability online while on the phone with the agent. And as luck would have it, there were 3 seats available for the Saver Award (12,500 miles/person) for the same 10:29AM Newark-KC direct flight!

But before he booked this second flight, my father smartly asked if his 6PM Monday return flight from Kansas City-Newark would be cancelled. Remember, airlines will cancel the rest of your itinerary if you miss any of your earlier flights. She confirmed that would be the case here as well.

So then the agent put my father on hold while she ran the cost of changing their paid Round Trip itinerary to a One Way ticket. My father was pretty excited about the possibility of getting some money back!

Unfortunately, instead of getting a refund for the cancelled outbound flight, removing that segment actually repriced the itinerary to a much higher cost one way ticket - over $900/person (instead of the $360 we originally paid). So while the agent was kind enough to waive the additional $200/person change fee, it still would have been about a $540/person additional cost for the fare difference. Imagine paying $1,620 just to keep our return flight that we already booked! Oh airline pricing!

Option 4
Undaunted, my father went online again to see what award availability there was for the return flight. We could have booked a Monday 6:42AM flight on miles for 25,000 miles/person. But that would basically eliminate our entire Monday in KC and require another early AM flight.

However, we also saw there was a Tuesday 6:11PM flight at the Saver Award level for 12,500 miles/person. Of course, we'd have to get another hotel room in Kansas City for Monday night. Nevertheless, we went with the Tuesday evening flight and figured we'd find a way to enjoy another full day in KC. I hope my mother likes BBQ!

So after all this, we're sitting in the United Lounge at Newark Airport awaiting our 10:29AM flight. We're out 75,000 United miles (and $109 in additional fees/taxes), but we preserved our Memorial Weekend plans. Since we value United miles at 2 cents/pt, we "spent" $1,500 in miles, but we saved $1,950 had we just paid for the flight changes in cash.

Of course, we also still have $1,080 of United flight credit on the original paid itinerary which we cancelled. However, to access that value, we'll have to pay $200/person in change fees, so really about $580 of net credit for a future United flight.

Life Lesson - Check your alarm clock volume settings.

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