We Passed Up $4,000 to Change Flights — Reader Mistake Story

May 10, 2019

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Heidi, who was unprepared for an oversold flight:

Our family of five got a great deal on a spring break trip to Athens, Greece. We checked in 23 hours prior to our Lufthansa flights, and arrived at the airport two hours before departure. As we were dropping our bags at the ticketing counter, the agent spoke the words that a part of me had been waiting to hear my whole life, yet struck a strange terror in my heart as they hung over me: “We are oversold this evening and looking for volunteers to give up their seats.”

The agent offered to book us on our same itinerary with better seats the following evening, and to provide compensation of $800 per traveler (for a total of $4,000). My mind raced; was it okay to miss one day out of an eight day trip? We didn’t have any activities locked in place the first day or two, but if we delayed check-in to our hotel by a day, might they cancel our whole reservation?

I looked at my husband, who said, “Whatever you want, I’m fine either way.” Now, this column doesn’t stray into marital issues, but I’ve fallen for that line before, and it means all the responsibility would actually rest on my shoulders. With the decision on me, I choked and declined.

The mistake was so simple, yet so painful: we didn’t have a plan walking in as to what our price would be. If my husband and I had simply had a conversation ahead of time (in the off chance we’d be offered a voluntary bump), we could have negotiated confidently with the Lufthansa agent. Instead, we were caught flat-footed and missed a great opportunity to recoup more than half the cost of our trip. Typing this less than 24 hours since it happened, I still have a knot in my stomach just thinking about it.

As Heidi points out, the mistake here wasn’t strictly turning down Lufthansa’s offer but being unprepared for it. The next time you fly, ask yourself how much compensation you’d need to make missing your flight worthwhile. The answer doesn’t need to be a single dollar amount, as there might be a range you’d accept depending on how long you’ll be delayed and how much that delay will impact your travel plans. Also, consider the form of compensation you’ll receive — cash is preferable to airline vouchers, which come with various restrictions and may have an expiration date. Whatever amount you land on, keeping that number in mind will make your decision much easier when a voluntary bump is offered.

Beyond your compensation threshold, it helps to show up with ideas for alternative flights. Airline agents may be flexible about your new itinerary, so there’s an opportunity to improve your routing and flight schedule by making suggestions. If you’re on the fence about accepting a bump, don’t be shy about asking for more. You may be able to increase the amount of compensation or negotiate for other incentives (like meal vouchers or upgrades); you might as well ask, since the worst that will happen is they’ll say no. That said, I recommend you avoid gamifying the process — once you get an offer you’re truly happy with, just take it.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Heidi 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. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Tashi Delek / Getty Images.

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