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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them 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).
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Susie, whose luggage went missing after she and her husband gave up their seats for travel credits. Here’s what she had to say:
My husband and I were leaving for the dream honeymoon we’d been planning for months — flying United from Omaha to Paris, where we’d spend a few days before heading to Croatia and Turkey. The gate agent announced that our flight was overbooked, and they were offering $300 vouchers to anyone who volunteered their seat. We thought $600 in airline credits would be a great way to start off our marriage, so we took them up on it.
Since we were flying through Chicago (a United hub), there were many flight options, and we were rebooked for only an hour later. After celebrating our good fortune by toasting at the airport bar, we found out that our new flight was delayed several hours because of a summer thunderstorm over Chicago, which meant we’d miss our connection to Paris. First lesson learned: check the weather forecast before volunteering your seat!
As we watched our original flight depart on time, I called United customer service (and got through quickly thanks to my MileagePlus Gold status). The representative I spoke with wasn’t able to offer any options that got us to our final destination that day, but I politely and assertively asked for a resolution, and the representative was eventually able to sell our flights to Delta. We were re-routed through Minneapolis, and were scheduled to arrive only a few hours later than originally planned.
We quickly ran downstairs to the United check-in counter, and were told our luggage would be transferred to our new flight. With just an hour before departure, we then hustled to the Delta check-in counter, where we printed our boarding passes and again confirmed that our luggage would be transferred by the airport staff. Our Delta flight was also delayed slightly, so our connection in Minneapolis was basically a sprint, but we arrived in Paris on time on an Air France/Delta codeshare.
As we watched the luggage from our flight circle the conveyor, a sinking feeling set in: our bags hadn’t made it. We had checked in with United, carried United baggage claim tags, and had last seen our luggage at the United desk, so we headed to United customer service at CDG, only to be told definitively that our luggage was Air France’s responsibility. We trekked back to the Air France customer service area, but even they couldn’t confirm where our luggage was. The representative gave us toiletry kits and instructions for requesting reimbursement of up to 100 euros each for clothes and toiletries. We left our hotel’s address, with instructions to call the Air France lost luggage hotline if our address changed.
Our itinerary included only a few nights per stop, covering three countries and several cities without airports where our luggage could be forwarded. We decided to see this as an opportunity to travel lightly, decked out in new clothes from an H&M shopping spree and with no large luggage to hold us back!
We called the Air France hotline every 24 hours to check on our luggage, which was eventually found in Chicago (where it had been stranded after traveling on our original flight). Our bags were finally delivered to us in Croatia, one week and three hotels into our honeymoon. My bag had been damaged — it was missing a wheel and a large chunk of the hard shell — but after a lot of emails and documentation, Air France eventually did reimburse us for both our out-of-pocket expenses and my luggage.
One takeaway from our experience was that it doesn’t hurt to ask for and offer solutions (like getting re-booked on a Delta flight for a United ticket). More importantly, don’t let an unfortunate situation affect your enjoyment of a trip. We’ll always remember the silly pictures of outfits we tried on during our “shopping spree,” and the skimpy, too-small Croatian flag bathing suits we both bought on the beach. Traveling is a privilege, so enjoy it!
An oversold flight can be a great opportunity to score airline credits, but make sure you know the risks involved before volunteering your seat. Bags are lost all the time, and swapping flights at the last minute increases the odds your luggage will be mishandled. If you’re on a complicated itinerary or can’t live without your checked bags, think twice about accepting that voucher. As Susie pointed out, checking the weather is a good idea so you can avoid getting stranded in an oncoming storm. I also recommend researching your other flight options in advance so you know what’s available.
If your bags go missing, keep in mind that many credit cards offer compensation for baggage delays. Those benefits tend to be more generous than the reimbursement offered by airlines, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive — that is, you may be eligible to receive both. Whatever coverage is available to you, take advantage of it!
Finally, I couldn’t agree more with Susie’s final point. I try to help readers avoid common mistakes, but if you spend enough time traveling, eventually something is bound to go wrong. Your best defense against the pitfalls of the travel world is to maintain a positive outlook. Whatever happens, if you’re determined to have a good time, then you probably will!
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Susie for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her 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 Vasily Pindyurin via Getty Images.
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