One Phone Call Could Have Saved Me $800 — Reader Mistake Story

Jun 4, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Sushil, whose made a hasty (and costly) decision during a trip to India. Here’s what he had to say:

In May of 2017 I purchased a round-trip ticket through CheapOair for my travel to India, flying out of Los Angeles in December and returning in January of this year on Singapore Airlines. The first leg of my journey went well, but things got terrible during the return journey.

Two days before my return flight, I got an email from CheapOair stating that there had been last-minute changes to my itinerary. Instead of the flight I had booked from AMD (India) to LAX, CheapOair said I was now flying from ILO (Philippines) to DMM (Saudi Arabia). I was flabbergasted; I had heard about schedule changes, aircraft changes and even airport changes, but in this case my entire itinerary was different, including the departure country, arrival country and airline.

I was attending a wedding and found it difficult to get through to CheapOair customer service from there. I panicked, and knowing it was peak tourist season in India,  I booked myself a one-way economy fare to LAX on Qatar Airways for $810 (the last available seat). The ticket was non-refundable, but I figured I would dispute the cost with CheapOair and with Chase, since I had used my Sapphire Reserve card to buy the original ticket. I was confident of getting at least a partial refund.

After arriving back in the U.S., I called CheapOair only to realize that the email they sent me was a technical mistake, and that my original flight was never canceled or changed. CheapOair associates said they would investigate and get back to me about why I received that email, but I never heard from them. I disputed the charge with Chase, but the claim was denied because the transaction was too old for them to reverse the charge. I considered going to small claims court, but with a busy job I couldn’t find time.

Here are the lessons I learned: first, I shouldn’t have panicked. If I had called Singapore Airlines, they could have confirmed my reservation was intact, that that phone call would have saved me the $810 I paid for a new ticket. The key to getting through travel mishaps is to keep a cool head and make thoughtful decisions after reviewing your options. Second, I booked through CheapOair because it was $175 cheaper, but I should have just booked directly with Singapore Airlines instead. I hope readers learn from my mistake.

If you travel often enough, things are bound to go wrong from time to time no matter how well you plan. You might be entirely blameless (like the Sun Country passengers who were stranded in Los Cabos earlier this year), but Sushil is right that how you respond can make a crucial difference. While I think CheapOair has some culpability for sending him such an errant email, he had opportunities to set things right; instead, he ended up exacerbating the situation.

If Sushil couldn’t get through to CheapOair, calling Singapore Airlines directly would have been a simple solution, as would checking his itinerary online (assuming the ticket was linked to his KrisFlyer account). If those options were off the table and purchasing a new ticket seemed necessary, he may have been able to hold the fare temporarily to buy time. Alternately, he could have bought a refundable fare, or simply paid a cancellation penalty after confirming his original reservation. Any of those approaches would likely have been more fruitful.

One point I have to disagree with is that booking directly with the airline is always best. There are advantages and disadvantages to booking through a third party, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with shopping around for a better price. The key is to be clear about what you’re getting (and not getting) in either case. Before you use an unfamiliar online travel agency, read up on the cancellation policy, and check reviews to make sure customer service isn’t totally lacking.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Sushil for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

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