Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Warning for Travelers

So here's one that all you heavy travelers of the air probably already know. But I didn't. And it was a very expensive lesson. Which is why I'm passing it along to the handful of you that visit me regularly.

When you book a round trip ticket, if you don't show up for the first leg of your trip, the entire "itinerary" is cancelled. In other words, they cancel the whole round trip ticket. BUT - mind you - you are STILL charged for the whole thing. If you don't show up for the return leg of your trip, they don't care.

I've been told this all plays into the stepped up security measures blah blah blah. Which is fine. It should just be publicized more. In all honesty, who reads all the fine print? I used to. Sometimes I still do when I'm signing up for something I've never done before. But plane travel, I skim the huge thing you're supposed to read and say you agree to. I look for headings that I've never seen before. But if you sit there reading the whole thing, you will be there for about 2 hours. And in that time, you will have timed out and lost the flight you wanted in the first place. So I guarantee you, only a handful of people read that stuff. Or we all read it once - a million years ago. And it obviously changes.

Whatever. It's in the fine print of the major airlines, the bulk suppliers like Expedia, my work's travel website. It's there. I checked.

So my latest work trip to Hartford was booked way before Grandpa Larry died. When he died, I quickly booked a trip up to New England. I figured I'd rent a car to drive from NH down to CT. No biggy. The last time I called an airline to tell them I wouldn't be on a flight I had already paid for, they told me I didn't have to call. It's just a no show and someone can go stand-by in my seat. That was probably back in 2005 or 2006. So the rules have changed. Bummer.

Anyway, I finished my classes in Hartford and got to the airport early (thankfully!). The computer check in couldn't find my itinerary. The lady at the counter couldn't either.
Lady: Oh it is! But it's been cancelled.
Me: Cancelled? That's silly.
Lady: Well, you didn't fly on the first leg of the trip so they cancelled your entire itinerary.
Me: Oh. Ok. Well, can you reinstate it? I mean, obviously I'm here.
Lady: Oh no. We can't do that.
Me: ...

Long story not so short: she gave me the 800 number to the airline. Do you know how fun voice automation is over a cell phone in a noisy airport? Yah. I had to state my last name (I have two). So I picked one and stated it. The AVR system said, "I think you said 'Monkey'. Is that right?" *sigh* So after a few prayers to keep me calm and a million minutes later, I got a human. Who very kindly listened to my story about my original trip and the funeral and now I'm here and need to get out of here before the snow storm from hell arrives the next day. Nothing she can do. But maybe I can try my work's travel agency. Right. Because if the AIRLINE issuing the ticket says no, I'm SURE some corporate travel agency can make them change their mind. But I call them anyway. And I was right. Nothing they can do.

SO...I go back to the nice lady at the counter. And I'm trying hard not to cry. I ask her to book me on that same flight. You know, the one I already paid for? Yah, that one. So she sucks air through her clenched teeth and goes, "'s going to be about $950. Is that ok?" Not particularly. I'd really prefer you just give me my original ticket. So I tell her try a round trip. She goes, "And when will you be returning?" Here's me giving her a blank stare. "Any day. It doesn't matter. I'm not coming back." "Oh...right..." tappity tappity tippity tap. "Oh...look at that! It's only $630! I didn't know you could do that. That's really cool." Yes. It's so cool to only pay $630 that I don't have as opposed to $950 that I don't have. Very cool.

I won't even bother going into how I handed her my one credit card and it was declined. Oh yah, I had put the emergency trip to NH on that. And the rental car. And any food I had bought while there. And a few other sundries. And it was pretty topped off to start with. Dang. So on my American Express it went. Which I have to pay at next billing. Yah. Good times.

I was so stressed on the plane. I wanted to just panic and cry. How will I pay for the lawyer who wants another retainer? How will I pay for Lil' Bro's preschool? How will I blah blah blah blah? I've prided myself on doing this single mom thing SO WELL. I was paying for everything - covering everything alone. And now I had gone and stepped right in a big ol' pile of it. I think my pride was hurt more than anything.

Then I thought, this is exactly what I'm supposed to turn over to God. What am I doing freaking out and wanting to puke? So almost the whole flight to Dallas I prayed. Ok God, I've gone and done it here. You've always said to bring these things to you. And I trust that you'll work it out. You always have. I don't know why I'm panicking now. But please help me to recover from this. Please give me wisdom so I spend wisely and make it through the next few paychecks. Please help me find hidden money somewhere to get my bills all paid.

I made it home very late. I was stressed but I don't think it was over the money. I think it was over the whole funeral/traveling/training classes thing. I was tired.

Well, I ended up putting off my bill paying for a few days. I didn't want to face the reality. But finally, last Saturday, I had to buy groceries. I had to see just how much I'd be buying. I sat down with my checkbook and my bills and said, "Ok God. Let's see where we are."

I paid every single bill. Granted, I pulled padding from my savings account. I squeaked by on minimums on most - I hate doing that. But I paid them all. On time. I haven't gotten the American Express one yet. That one will hurt. And I'm paying Lil' Bro's preschool tuition later than I normally would (with the next paycheck). On Friday, I get paid again. So God and I will sit down again and do my bills for that half of the month. And I'm thinking he'll squeak me by again. I'll send the lawyer a small amount with every paycheck and that should work.

My goal is to not borrow anything from my mom & dad or my sister (she already offered). Part of this is my own stupidity for spending a bit too freely with the last paycheck. I should know to keep my savings padded more. But at least it was padded this time. And that's what the padding is for. Now I have to squeak through the next few paychecks and slowly build up that padding again.

God so totally rocks. Airlines?....not so much.


Kristen said...

Goodness! I'm so sorry all of that happened to you. Praise God for helping you hold it together and for hearing your prayers. And for being your budget buddy! :-)

ellesappelle said...

Airlines... meh. Don't get me started. God, on the other hand!

Moanna said...

Wow, who knew? I had no idea so thanks for the info. Let's hope March is better all around.

Jane said...

Well, it's a good thing that I have no money to live the lifestyle of an international traveler...he he:) Airlines suck. Period. Some pilots are hot. Period. God rocks. Period.

I so hear you on the bill paying.

Ruthie said...

Oh, that's just scandalous! How can they possibly make you buy your ticket again?! I'll bet it was United. Don't get me started on United. So sorry. That really stinks.

Trish Ryan said...

I know how stressful that can be...thanks for the reminder of how God wants us to handle it. It's not that the crap never happens, but that we remember that God is in charge of the money, and He provides. Your wise words are PERFECT for me to hear right now. I'm so sorry the airline was such a pain in the AQQ, but thanks for sharing your awesome faith :)

Stacy said...

Airlines sure know how to get repeat business. I'm so sorry; that'd be more of an expense than I could handle, too.

"I think you said 'Monkey.'" I think that says everything about automated help lines.

Sarakastic said...

The monkey line was pure genius. I now want a job programming automated help lines, because I think I have a lot of offer.

Ericka said...

Gosh, I wish I had blogged about my experience with that - exactly the same thing, except I hadn't gone to a funeral, just made it a road trip with D. I believe it cost me an extra 700-something, since first-class was only $100 more than a coach one-way ticket, I decided I would buy the only first-class flight I will ever take. I'm sorry you had to go through that, but from your more recent post, it seems like it was provided for! Keep writing, I love your blog (although it makes me cry at work).