Friday, May 12, 2006

Operation Get A Damn Flight Home Already

I am extremely frustrated right now, so just to save anyone else all the nonsense I am going through right now, let me warn you:
Frequent flier programs are NOT worth it!

Thanks to generous family members who have oodles of miles, I've been able to fly to Europe quite a few times paying only the taxes and fuel surcharges, about $50 - 75 per trip. In the process I've also managed to rack up my own miles, and for my recent ticket back home I've booked with the SkyTeam. But alas, you can't have your cake and eat it, too. While frequent flier miles might seem ideal - who doesn't like cheap cheap cheap tickets?! - there are several key restraints to keep in mind:

1° You must book a few centuries in advance in order to get the date and itinerary you desire.

I exaggerate, but seriously you must call roughly 330 days before your trip. This is the farthest ahead an airline can book you, and since they only reserve about 0.0001% of their available seats for you, the loyal customer, if you call even a few days after this, the seats are already gone and the waitlist is already full. You wanna a cookie?

2° You must be open to interesting and seemingly-exciting itineraries that make you seem well-traveled until you mention that you can only comment on/show pictures of the airport facilities.

There are no direct flights from Paris to my hometown, but it is quite easy to find connections so that it should be a 2-flight trip. I, however, have experienced the joy of 24-hour+ 4-leg trips including the following:
Home-St. Louis-Newark-Zurich-Paris (this one takes the cake - leaving at 6:50 am east coast time and arriving at 2 pm Paris time the next day!)

Add looooong layovers and a dog into the mix and you've got all the perfect ingredients for a truly hellish voyage!

Let's say that 1° doesn't apply and 2° doesn't appeal. This brings me to
°3: You must enjoy on-hold Muzak and have countless of hours to waste calling the airlines.

I am currently on °3. When I orginally booked my ticket last summer, I wanted to come home in July but since they could only book 330 days ahead I had to settle for mid-June, knowing that I could change my itinerary at any time for only $50. I called to try when I was home for Christmas, but no seats were open at the time. It completely slipped my mind until March, and I didn't get around to calling until April, and now here I am with bi-weekly conversations pencilled in with the lovely operators at Delta. Here is a typical conversation:

Delta: Hi welcome blah blah blah what can I do for you?
Me: Hi I'd like to make a change to an existing itinerary.
D: Yes?
M: I'd like to change my current return date to anything in July or August.
D: Exqueeze me?
M: Yeah, I've been calling every week and nothing is available in July or August. Beggars can't be choosers, and I'm pretty flexible, so I'd take anything in the month of July and even early August.
D: Well I need a date to enter in the computer
- blah blah blah they have to search DAY by FREAKING DAY by FREAKING AIRLINE (Delta, NWA, KLM, AirFrance, Continental), so the average phonecall lasts ONE HOUR. Thank god for speaker phone and freebox (unlimited calls to the US HOLLA - here the reservations hotline is like 30 cents a minute, plus I'd have to deal with bitchy French people). -
D: Hmm, could you make it to Frankfurt somehow? I can get you from Frankfurt to the US, but I can't get you into Frankfurt from Paris.
M: [ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME] uhhh, I don't think that would be possible...
D: Well, that's all I've got available for now. I'd keep calling back in case someone else cancels their reservation, but don't be too optimistic. (this is said with sadistic glee at denying my request)
M: OK well thanks anyways, I appreciate it.
D: Thank you for calling Delta blah blah blah

One operator told me I'd have the best chances if I called right after midnight, which is when reservations that are held but not paid for automatically cancel out. I could never bear to wake up at 6 am to call an airline, so I'd usually just do it around 9 or 10 am. This is the wee bits of morning back home, and Delta changes to its foreign call centers at this hour, making the conversations even more surreal due to the constant stream of "sorry, what was that you said?" and "come again?" on my part - this is no longer part of my "get a flight home" strategy.

Well, enough of this rant. I must admit that there are some advantages to frequent flier programs:
1° You only pay for taxes and fuel surcharges - $58 on this trip ain't too shabby.
2° They're pretty flexible with changes. American used to allow free, unlimited changes in dates AND destination - oh, those were the days, remember the 70 lb, 3 bag limit (*tear*)? - but even now the fees are pretty reasonable ($50 with Delta, $100 with AA) in comparison to the fees you pay on a regular ticket ($100 minimum) .
3° If you're not flying in peak periods you should be OK. September, October, certain weeks in November and December (read: NOT anywhere near Thanksgiving or Xmas), February, and March seem to be pretty open. Otherwise, you're toast.

Until I am actually able to change my ticket, however, I must declare that frequent flier programs in general, and Delta's in particular, officially suck and I hate them. This guy's obviously with me.

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