Air Fair: Adventures in air travel, cont.

Ah, yes, another blog post griping about air travel. It’s a lot like the weather, in that everyone complains about it, but most of us feel powerless to do anything other than check the internet frequently for updates to its status.

Where to begin? The beginning, of course, and that would be the Booking phase.

So I’m going through my company’s corporate travel site, as I’m required to, to make my near monthly, last-minute flight reservation to Wisconsin (or as I like to call it, Chez Cheese). As is my custom, I skip right past the Deltas and the AirTrans (are they still in business?) and head straight for the Continentals. I like Continental – never had a problem, and check-in is a breeze as I can do it from my cell phone the day before, with my boarding pass sent straight to the phone.

$1300+change. Ouch. But, it’s last-minute, right?

Our corporate travel policy makes the system spit back some alternate flights with lower fares. Fair enough, let’s save money if we can. One flight on Northwest, leaving at the same time, is $400+change. Like the Continental, there’s a layover in Detroit for an hour and a half, at the same time, landing in Milwaukee at the same time. That’s when I notice the “operated by Northwest” on the Continental flight. Yes, they are one and the same plane – at three times the price. They’re both Coach, the only difference is the Class code (more on that later).

Now, I’m all for saving the company money, and I don’t need someone in the travel office asking me why I paid three times as much for the same plane, but dammit, Continental is where all my frequent flier miles are.

This is where I start to do the math. It’s the same flight out, but different flights back. If I use the NWA return on the Cont. (say that out loud) departure, the price goes up, because technically it’s mixed carriers, even though it’s the same goddamned plane. So I try different options to attempt to figure out the NWA price for the same seat Cont. is charging me. I come to the conclusion that it’s capricious and arbitrary.

So I call, and ask the Cont. Customer Service rep if they can do better on the price, seeing as it’s the same plane and all. No. You see, even though it’s the same coach seats on the same plane, same flight attendants, same room for baggage, there’s those different classes – those determine the fare. With everything else being equal, what’s the difference? The Elite Status frequent flier miles granted. (turns out NWA is a Cont. partner, and they share miles.)

Turns out the Cont. airfare is three times more because it comes with an extra 50% of frequent flier miles towards achieving Elite Status. (remember that “Status” thing for later.) For the algebraically-challenged, that’s $400 for 500 miles or $1300 for 750 – one and a half times the miles, 3 times the price. As I type this, it occurs to me that I could have booked two flights on NWA (still less) and gotten two times the miles (more) – plus a lot more leg room. This is something I’ll be sure to bring up to a booking agent.

Not seeing a way to make more miles for me sound like a bargain for the company, I go back and book a flight on NWA, 6 AM to Milwaukee, stopping in Detroit, which is now, the next day, curiously only $260.

Shortly, my wife calls. “Did you mean to fly out of LaGuardia?” Shit. Back to the site, cancel the flight, start the whole thing over again. Only now when I select the Cont. flight (now $1600, thank you), it says, “OK, paid, thanks.” So much for that list of cheaper alternates I was expecting (I swear).

Remember all those reasons I said I liked Cont.? Gone. Not only can’t I pick my seat, I can’t check in for the “partner” flight online. So why exactly am I booking the flight through you, Cont.? The privilege of paying more money per mile?

So it looks like I’m a NWA flier now. I singed up for their program when I went to their site to get my boarding pass.

Remember all those “extra” Elite Status miles I’m getting for the Cont. price? Miles that, eventually, when you accumulate enough, you can redeem for things like First Class upgrades? NWA offers to upgrade me to First for $115. Yeah – one hundred fifteen dollars. In the end, instead of paying $500 for a First Class $400 flight, I pay $1600 for a $400 coach flight with an extra 250 miles that, someday, maybe, with a whole lot more miles, I may try to use to get an upgrade.

Epilogue: while I’m waiting in line to board the plane – general boarding, all rows, all seats – some guy comes up and says he has a First Class ticket and, because he missed the earlier announcement, he should get in front of me. I’d like to think that, had I not been up since 4 AM, I would have thought of something clever to say. I stepped past him.

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Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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