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Weather can throw a major wrench in travel plans, like its doing to thousands of people around the world, due to the snow “storms” in Europe this past week. So what do you do when you airline says you can’t fly for another, oh say, 6 days? Get creative.
Don’t take their answer as the final authority. From an agents view, they are trying to accommodate tons of people, so they aren’t going to look into every single routing option for every passenger. They will simply look at your route and find when the next available seat is in your class of service (or a higher one if you are lucky). So who is supposed to advocate for you in these trying times?
Besides yourself, you can possibly leverage your travel agent, if you used one. They should be able to work out options/refunds/new itineraries, which is one of the main advantages of booking through a trustworthy travel agent. Or you could enlist the services of Brett Snyder who operates the Cranky Concierge. For reasonable fees, he will work to get you to where you are going, which can be an invaluable service if you NEED to get somewhere.
If you want to fend for yourself, I recommend getting an ExpertFlyer subscription and using the “Flight Availability” feature. Basically, this feature will show you if a flight has seats available. The classes of service are represented byt letters and the number of seats for sale in numbers. So Y9 means that there are at least 9 seats in Economy available for sale. Note: this does not mean that there are 9 open seats- the flight may already be oversold, but it means the airline is willing to sell at least 9 more and that means for rebookings as well.
In Expertflyer, you can click on any fare class and it will tell you what it is so you don’t have to memorize every. But in general, F= First Class, J/C= Business Class and Y= Economy.
So in the screen shot above, JFK-BOM on Wednesday 12/22/10, the direct Air India flight is “Zeroed out” meaning no seats, but there are seats in business/first on Emirates through Dubai. If you were desperate, you could go to Emirates and see how much they were selling those seats for. You could also get creative and start thinking about going “the other way” I.E through Asia.
You can tell expertflyer what airlines/alliances/cities you want to route through and it will show you options. For example, I entered in HKG (Hong Kong) as the transit city and it pulled up a couple Cathay/Kingfisher options as well. If I had some spare AA miles laying around, I might think about blowing them on Cathay business (which is fantastic). Since AA does one way awards even on partners, I could do JFK-HKG and then HKG-DEL as two separate awards, in case AA didn’t allow routing to India via Asia. It may take a few more miles, but it could save you from having to pay $10,000 for the Emirates full fare business class via Dubai.
While this takes a little bit of getting used to, preparing yourself with routing options can prove invaluable- even with domestic travel. If a flight gets cancelled for a mechanical reason, the airline should book you on other carriers to get you to your destination. However, most agents will just rebook you on the next available flight on the carrier you purchased. If you approach then with your homework done with alternate flights that will get you to your destination, you have a much greater chance of them actually rebooking you on that carrier.
The same with taking “bumps” (volunteering when a flight is oversold) – instead of waiting for the next JFK-LAX flight, for example, find altnerate routing that can maximize your miles, minimize your time in the airport and possibly even get you home earlier.
This has worked like a charm for me. In my experience gate agents are always please when a) you are nice to them and b) you know what you are talking about, without being condescending or rude. I’ve rocketed to the top of the volunteer list for a bump for quickly approaching a gate agent with “Hey- I know the flight may be overbooked, so if you need a volunteer, I’m more than willing to assist. I don’t have any luggage and I already have alternate routing planned so heres my boarding pass- let me know if you need me. I’ll do it for a $400 voucher and rebooking in F. Thanks a lot!”
Overall, the theme of this post is that you need to arm yourself with information. You need to be your own advocate out there in the cold, mean travel world and be able to defend yourself when the enemy (irregular operations) is staring you in the eyes.