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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how your trip went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made it right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Recently, I posted a story from Chris, who missed a flight due to an unexpected time change. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Benjamin, who had to buy a last-minute ticket due to confusion over airport codes. Here’s what he had to say:

Aerial view of Duomo Cathedral in Florence Italy
Benjamin bought a ticket to Florence, but not this one. Image courtesy of Phattana Sangsawang via Getty Images.

In 2004, I was accepted for a summer position to do astrophysics research at the VIRGO gravity wave detector just outside of Pisa, Italy. I guess book smarts and common sense don’t always come together. I was in my early 20s, and it was my first time booking a flight on my own. I guess you could say it was a very educational initiation.

My advisor for the research project told me that most people fly into Florence (since flights are cheaper) and then take the train to Pisa. I entered my destination into Orbitz as “Florence, Italy,” which Orbitz unhelpfully shortened to “Florence.” I saw the three-letter airport code FLO, and in my excitement or because of my inexperience, it didn’t occur to me to confirm that the airport code did in fact match my intended destination.

Also, again possibly due to excitement or inexperience, I thought that I was getting a great deal on this transatlantic flight. It was still over $700, so it wasn’t ludicrous to think I could get to Europe for that much, but I must have been in a state of optimistic denial.

I landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I was scheduled to catch what I thought was my connection to Europe. That’s when I looked at the boarding pass for my connection and saw that the flight to Florence was only scheduled to take about 45 minutes — I was ticketed to Florence, South Carolina, not Italy.

My stomach dropped, I got a hot flash, and I was dripping sweat in an instant. I went to the service counter and tried to describe my situation such that it wasn’t obvious I was a complete moron. I then spent the next 90 minutes talking to Orbitz customer service, my airline’s customer service and the agents at the ticket counter, but there was nothing to be done. Eventually, I had to buy a brand new ticket to Florence, Italy for about $1,200 (since it was a same-day flight), which was about two-thirds of my stipend for the entire summer.

Mixing up airports is a fairly common mistake. The two Florences are just one city pair that can easily be confused — Portland (Oregon and Maine), Birmingham (Alabama and England) and San Jose (California and Costa Rica) are a few other examples. When you buy airfare to an uncommon or unfamiliar destination, take a few extra seconds and make sure you’re headed to the right place.

The ticket price and total travel time are helpful clues, but you can always confirm where you’re going by looking at the airport code. Benjamin could have avoided his mistake by typing in FLR for Florence, Italy (versus FLO for the one in South Carolina). Of course, you have to also make sure you get the airport code right, or you might end up in Minneapolis (MSP) instead of Milan (MXP).

If you do make a mistake, keep in mind that you have 24 hours to change or cancel flights involving a domestic origin or destination. If you don’t realize until that window has closed, you may still have options to avoid fees.

Overhead view architect working at computer
Try searching for airport codes instead of city names. Image courtesy of Hero Images via Getty Images.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Benjamin for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on his travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus, or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image courtesy of Stephan Zirwes via Getty Images.

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