No stories from us on Friday as we head to beautiful, incredibly-hard-to-get-to Springfield Illinois.
My only airline-related note about this trip is that I am flying American out of Newark on a reward ticket and I wanted to change my flight to depart from LaGuardia (American allows you to change reward tickets for free if you’re not changing the cities.) Since Newark and LaGuardia are considered “co-terminals” (ie, they’re considered the same city when booking a round-trip ticket), I thought I could make that change without paying the $150 fee. Several supervisors and I whole lot of confusion later, I was told I could not. One person said I could standby at LaGuardia. One res agent said I could not standby at LaGuardia. One got increasingly frustrated as I asked how it could be a co-terminal when it comes to roundtrip ticketing, but not co-terminals when it comes to changing the reward ticket. It led to this conversation:
Res agent: It’s only considered the same city if you’re booking an open-jaw ticket, not a roundtrip ticket. This isn’t an open-jaw ticket.
Me: I’m flying out of Newark and into LaGuardia – if that’s considered a roundtrip ticket, why can’t I change the city?
Agent: Because it’s only the same city if you’re booking an open-jaw, not when you’re changing the reservation.
Me: (nicely) That doesn’t really make any sense.
Agent: I spoke with my supervisor, and that’s what she said.
Me: Can you give me an example of when that would apply?
Agent: No sir, I can’t.
And really, that’s when it hit me: Nobody knows the rules. That’s why I’m fascinated with this industry. The rules are so complex that nobody knows them. And just when you think you know the rules, you find out you’re wrong. Some things are incredibly flexible (for 50k miles you can fly to Paris and back from Budapest on a reward ticket without any problem), yet some things are incredibly inflexible (Newark and LaGuardia are both considered the same city and different cities.) Some things are generous (note Delta’s now-expired 9,999 bonus miles for a $25 Avis rental), and some things are not (Continental’s half-elite-points policy for cheap tickets not booked on their website). Sometimes an agent will be incredibly helpful (such as when an America West agent let me fly from Columbus to Washington, DC, to see my then-fiance even though my ticket was from Columbus to New York), and sometimes they can be unbelievably stubborn (not allowing standby for free even though the plane is basically empty).
The whole thing is a crapshoot. A game. A gamble. And that’s why so many of us love it. And when you travel frequently, you love it that much more – while hating it at the same time. Think about it – who knows if the agent will charge you $50 for standby, or if they’ll just let you on the plane? Or when you call the night before a flight where you want to standby if the agent will tell you how many seats are left. Or the odds that they’ll fill up. Or if they’ll let you fly into Fort Lauderdale even though your ticket says Miami. Or if you’ll get upgraded. Or what the food will be. Or if there’ll be food. Or whether the flight will take off at all. Or whether you’ll get a hotel room for the canceled flight. Or whether the lounge has free drinks. Or no drinks. Or whether you can open-jaw that reward ticket to Hyderabad while returning from Bangkok. Who the hell knows? You can study this stuff forever, and just when you think you know what’s going to happen – poof! – it all changes.
I’ve heard people refer to “agent roulette” where you just keep calling back until an agent gives you an answer you’re happy to hear. They don’t know the rules either. Sometimes an agent isn’t aware of the whole game, and sometimes they are. Unfortunately sometimes they put a note in your record because they know you’re playing a game. That can backfire on your next round of roulette.
Listen to the words I’ve been using: crapshoot; roulette; odds. It’s all a game. Every aspect of it. The points, the rewards, the chance, the possibilities, the probabilities. Flyertalk has hundreds of threads about all the games. We don’t love flying; we love the game around flying. Hell, flying is just the necessary evil for those who want to play the whole game. No one likes the city of Atlantic City; they like the gambling. The flying around from Houston to Omaha is just the price you pay for the nonstop gaming action.
That’s all to say that I was so annoyed after my first phone call to American to find out why Newark and LaGuardia were both the same and different cities. But after I left the city ticket office today – more confused than when I first called about this whole thing – I was as happy as could be. I played the game and lost. But at least I got to play.