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Having flown 274,292 miles over the last 12 months, I’ve been through my fair share of strange situations. However, showing up to an airport to find out my ticketed and confirmed flight didn’t exist was a new one. But that’s exactly what happened on Saturday to Katie and me for our Air Serbia flight from Belgrade (BEG) to Berlin (TXL).

The Situation

Utilizing 8,650 Etihad miles each that we’d transferred from American Express Membership Rewards, we booked a one-way business class flight from BEG-TXL for November 4 at 6:05pm on Air Serbia flight 354. That was back in April when Air Serbia was still showing off its enticing Airbus A319 business class product — which it has since ripped out.

Having not received any contact from Etihad or Air Serbia, we assumed all was well with the flight and ticket. That’s until Katie tried to check us in the night before. Although our reservation was showing as “confirmed,” we received a “there is a problem with your ticket” error message during the online check in process and were directed to see an agent at the airport.

ticketProblem

We arrived at the airport especially early on Saturday so we could see the aviation museum and check out the Air Serbia Premium Lounge. But when we tried to check in at the business class line, we got a cold response from the agent that there were no Berlin flights today. We were directed over to the ticket counter.

Long story short: Air Serbia had reduced its schedule and cancelled our flight months earlier, but had neglected to tell us. We were rebooked in business class on an Air Serbia flight the next morning and accommodated for the night. But that’s not before we had to put up a fight. Here’s what we learned from the experience.

What We Learned

Confirm your flight with an outside source. Crazily enough, Air Serbia continued to show our flight as confirmed, even though the flight schedule was supposedly changed months ago. Our first indication of an error was when we tried to check in and got that error message. I guess that a new step that I need to add to my pre-flight checklist is to check a week out with an independent source such as ExpertFlyer that the flight still exists.

Call when an issue comes up. When the website gave us an error and directed us to the airport, we figured the issue would be easily resolved once we got there. We should have called Etihad Guest — as Etihad ticketed the flight — to inquire about the situation. Perhaps we could have been booked on another flight the same day that we were scheduled to fly out rather than having to overnight in Belgrade.

Knowledge is power. At the ticketing counter, the Air Serbia ticketing agent made numerous false claims, but using ExpertFlyer and Google Flights, I was able to debunk these claims. First, we were told that there were no available seats to Berlin that day on any airline. That was false. I showed him how Lufthansa was still selling two business class seats that day. He had to backtrack and claim that he couldn’t rebook us on Lufthansa in business class, only economy class which was sold out.

When it was eventually settled that we weren’t flying out Saturday, we agreed to fly out Sunday morning. The ticketing agent rebooked us in economy without telling us about the downgrade. I caught this on the ticket confirmation he printed for us and pushed back. He claimed that business class was sold out. I showed him that Air Serbia was selling three business class seats. Mysteriously, his system suddenly “updated” to show the same, and we were rebooked in business class instead.

Double-check all details. As highlighted above, we would have been downgraded from business class to economy if I hadn’t read through the e-ticket printout and caught the economy class notation.

Similarly, before agreeing to being re-ticketed for Sunday morning, we confirmed with the ticketing agent that Air Serbia would be providing a hotel for the night and which hotel that would be.

Take photos of everything you receive. This wasn’t necessary this time around, but I’ve learned from past similar situations to take photos of any documents you receive. We snapped a shot of the re-accommodated economy ticket, the revised business class ticket, the hotel voucher, and so on. While the hotel properly provided transportation, lunch, dinner and breakfast, if there had been any problems, we had photographic proof that this was on the hotel voucher that we turned in at check-in.

Book with a credit card that offers trip delay protection. Air Serbia put us up in a hotel, covered meals and ground transportation. But we were relieved that we had each put our award ticket’s $26 in taxes on my Citi Prestige. We would have been covered for up to $1,000 for the overnight stay if the airline didn’t cover these expenses. Similarly, an involuntary overnight stay would have been covered if we paid for these taxes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve or via a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

Are there any tips you’d add to this list?

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