In early February I purchased two tickets for my brother and I to check out Toronto for his 18th birthday. After taxes and fees we were able to snag a pair of round-trip tickets for $207 each through American Airlines. I was pretty happy with this price considering that it was originally going for $280 for a few weeks while I tracked it on Yapta.
However just weeks later the price for the same route had gone down to $190. Doh! So I simply called up American Airlines and tried to negotiate with them and explain the price difference. Unfortunately my early booking was bad news for me as AA’s policy was any changes to the tickets would result in a $150 penalty. That includes changing the flight, date or even requesting a price adjustment. My options were AA would refund me my $414 for the two reserved seats and then deduct $300 (that lovely $150 penalty is per ticket) leaving me $114 credit or AA would adjust my tickets to $190 each ($380 total) and then whack me with a $300 penalty. Oh and the airlines wonder why they are crumbling.
I do not know what was more unnerving to me, the fact that AA is pulling such a stunt in this competitive environment or that the woman over the phone gave me these options so casually as if i was going to accept one of them. When I laughed over the phone at my two choices, she kind of giggle too and said that these options really only helped people that maybe spend “700 and up for tickets.”
Really? How does it help them? Because they spent so much money on your airline that by taking away the $150 penalty meant that they still were able to have enough left to use your airline again with the credit? Is American Airlines for real?
So obviously I kept my $207 tickets and will be flying to the great white north in a few weeks to celebrate a fun weekend in Toronto. But I will definitely be sure to A) Not use American Airlines that often in the future and B) Read all the restrictions before purchasing a low priced ticket through an airline.
The New York Times Sunday Travel section has a great piece by writer Michelle Higgins entitled, “As Airfares Fall, Save Even After Buying”, which goes over the lengths that certain opaque travel companies like Expedia and Orbitz are going through to ensure travelers that they will indeed get the lowest price on their airfare in these tough economic times. It even talks about how one man called United Airlines and in fact received a price adjustment on already purchased tickets with some trips he had booked - one refund was for $682! But before you run off and book United, NY Times points out that as of March 20 the airline is now charging a $150 “administrative fee” to change the ticket price on fares on or after March 20. Ok so check off AA and United from my list.
Tracking your tickets prices and finding out if you are eligible for a refund, if it drops below what you paid for them, is something all customers should be doing before taking their next trip. NY Times (and The Brooklyn Nomad) highly recommend websites like Yapta.com, which does all the work for you. Fortunately the Canadian dollar is weak right now, so I can make up the difference (sort of) when I visit that great country in mid April. But right now booking air travel is something that can not be predicted by a website or travel expert as proven so far this year.
I mean take a look at Europe fares for example. Normally you would book far in advance in order to lock in low prices for summer travel. Not completely true this year. Even though prices have crept up slightly since the new year, they are still way down and in some cases even dropping as we approach the warmer months. Typically untouchable summer spots like Paris, Rome and Madrid have all stayed far below their typical prices and have plummeted more than 50% in comparison to summer ‘08.
I booked a flight in January for three weeks in Poland. The price for the ticket was $730. That is downright madness for June in Europe, but I got a sale price and felt that I got in at the right time. Well that “right time” has stuck around much longer than expected and three months later you can still fly to Krakow for under $1000 round-trip with taxes and fees included. So there is still time to book a last minute jaunt to many top European destinations. Just shop around first and be sure to check both sites like Kayak, TripAdvisor (with their handy new travel search engine) and the airline’s websites (which often times offer unadvertised sales).
Do you have a nightmare booking story? Vent here...go on, it will make you feel better.