As some of you probably know, next year my family of seven (including in-laws) is planning a trip to Japan. See my series of posts here
I can’t tell you how relieved I was to have all the flights finally booked via miles. There is a huge question mark when it comes to my father-in-law’s health, but at least I did everything that was within my circle of control.
Of course, with so many flights involved, there were bound to be some changes. Airlines constantly tweak their schedules, that’s normal. What I didn’t expect was having an award flight cancelled, period. That’s the situation I found myself in when I was browsing BA.com the other day. I previously used Avios to book our flight from Tokyo Narita airport to Los Angeles. When I logged into my account, it said “canceled” next to the reservation. What?!
I clicked on it, and the only alternate routing offered was a flight to Los Angeles via Dallas. If you have a decent grasp on geography, you know how insane that option is. It doesn’t help that we live in Florida.
To add insult to the injury, we have already booked our flight from LAX to Orlando using Delta miles. Since it’s a completely separate reservation, there was no way to cancel the tickets without shelling out some serious bucks (about $200 penalty per person). I checked and there was no schedule change on Delta flight, the only loophole that would avoid the stiff redeposit fees.
That’s the problem with using various mileage programs and complicated routings. When one piece falls, it can have a domino effect on the entire plan.
Since we have elderly people flying with us, Dallas routing was totally unacceptable. There is no way I was going to add an extra four hours of flying, plus a connection. I was given an option to cancel the reservation and get a redeposit of Avios points without penalty. But that wasn’t a great alternative either. We have to get to LAX from Japan somehow, preferably without bankrupting the family in the process.
Researching various options, and my call to British Airways
After quick online search, I found the reason for the cancelation. It looks like American has added a second flight from LAX to Haneda (the airport closest to Tokyo) and dropped Narita slot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any award availability for my date. Plus, I remembered that for some reason, Avios program added fuel surcharges on those flights.
I was happy to discover that JAL had seven award seats available. Same rate in Avios, too. Great! Of course, we would still be stuck with fuel surcharges of around $120 per person. Still, it was a better alternative compared to paying cash or flying to LAX via Dallas.
However, instead of doing everything online, I wanted to call British Airways and see if they could waive the fuel surcharges as a courtesy. It was a long shot, but worth a try. The Indian representative seemed very friendly, but couldn’t understand what I was talking about. I almost hung up, but glad I didn’t.
Once he grasped my dilemma, he was eager to find an acceptable solution. I’ve mentioned that we have elderly people flying with us, and that Dallas connection was a dealbreaker. He said that he once booked a flight for his mom, and similar thing happened to her.
I’ve mentioned JAL flight, but he said switching to it would not be possible. I could cancel and rebook, of course, but then I would be stuck with the dreadful fuel surcharges. At that point, I’ve pretty much accepted my fate, but then he said he would talk to his supervisor.
When he came back, I was told that they contacted American Airlines and that we could rebook and get a flight from Haneda to LAX at no additional charge. I’m assuming that American rep manually opened award availability as a courtesy. Yay!
It was a perfect solution to the problem, and I’m so glad I called instead of taking the easy route of doing everything online. We didn’t have to pay extra in fees, and ended up with Haneda airport which is much closer to Tokyo than Narita.
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Few takeaway points
1) “Babysit” your reservations.
Nancy has written a post on how important it is to “babysit” your seat assignments .The same logic applies here as well. Avios program is usually pretty good about sending notifications in case of cancelations or schedule changes. But in this case, our reservation fell through the cracks for some reason.
I’m glad I accidentally saw the problem in time, so I could fix it. I would be kicking myself if flying to LAX via Dallas was our only option.
That means “hang up, call again.” I admit, if the agent didn’t go the extra mile, I probably would have just rebooked tickets on JAL and pay the extra $480 for four of us. So it’s a lesson for me too, in a way. Airlines have more leeway than you think, even when it comes to award bookings on partner airlines. But you may not get what you want unless you persist. A 30-minute phone call is most definitely worth saving $480.
3) Be friendly and try to find common ground with a rep.
I’m certain that if I came off as confrontational, the agent would tell me to go pound sand. Instead, I’ve mentioned that my in-laws are elderly, and that a Dallas connection would be a hardship for them. He instantly related, having had his old mother go through the same thing.
Also, in the course of the conversation, he asked me for some tips on visiting Florida since he was in the middle of planning a trip to my home state. At the end of the phone call, he mentioned how much he enjoyed talking to me, and I felt the same way.
Despite a bit of a language barrier on his part+my accent, we had a genuine human interaction, and I’m extremely grateful that he was willing to go the extra mile. We live in the time when people are angry or just don’t care. This BA rep was honestly like a breath of fresh air.
In conclusion, I sure am glad we dodged that bullet. Now if we can just get my FIL in decent shape to go Japan…
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.