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When LaGuardia Is and Isn’t The Same as Newark

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.

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  1. I agree that fare complexity has now reached the point that it is beyond human comprehension. I think the latest round of “a la carte” pricing took us over the edge. Who could possibly remember what fee goes with what airline?

    I will say this benefits Southwest a bit. Their rules are simpler, and still generally within the realm of comprehension. The only trap for newbies there is that you need to check-in EXACTLY 24 hours in advance or risk getting a bad seat on the aircraft. Otherwise, few surprises there.

  2. Well… I don’t like playing the game.

  3. “I played the game and lost. But at least I got to play.” Wow.. I wish I had nerves of steel like you, Batman.^^

    I cannot play this game without blowing a fuse and letting it out on someone. Having been a ticket agent / gate agent myself once, this whole game irks me even more because I think I already know the agent’s cards, but then they show you a different set. Hands down, this crapshoot is way better than any Las Vegas Magic Show. I have even read all of Peter Greenberg’s books and watch his videos on Youtube like their might be something else I can learn from this game. Peter seems so on top of his game. Someday I would like to come along for the ride on one of his trips to see how he REALLY plays this game. Yes, he knows all the answers, and has a lot of experience, but I am sure even he hates the game, too. I’m sure he must blow a fuse!!

    What irks me even more is your scenario. When you think you know the rules (and YOU so rightfully can be called an expert in this industry), but they somehow know more than you like the rule just came out today, or that’s what the mysterious supervisor behind the door says. And don’t get me going when it comes to a young ticket agent. Stay away from them!

    I remember playing RISK as a teen and all the players would be coming up with different rules. Maybe your game was different. Game rules are game rules, but nobody wants to read or follow them. That’s what it is like in the airline business. Every agent and supervisor has their own set of game rules, and they don’t want to, or have never studied the game rules, but have just learned the rules from hearsay. I know I have been there in the heat of the moment. Oh, he’s cool, go ahead… oh, you’re a jerk, pay for an extra bag… hahahaha (oh, those memories) Remember you are not the only player. You have to read the player (agent) before picking which one to go up to. I even let people go ahead of me if I don’t get the agent I think suits me best. Everyone has got that feeling when you are in the snake line. You are checking out how fast or slow they are, or whether they smile or lose their temper, or if they joke or ask for your help.

    So all in all, I think this game is just a ‘CULTURAL THiNG’ we fliers have to understand more. Because even when you leave the States, the game rules change as if it’s a totally different airline. Go figure…

    So people who fly should add a line to their resume “Experienced in airport mumbo-jumbo, inter-cultural communication, and airline games” You would at least be talking sense to a road warrior VP.

    Thanks for the article, Jared. I wish I had some rolly-polly LMFAO emoticons to attach to this article. This is good stuff.

  4. Great post, Jared! It is a bit of a lottery isn’t it? I always wonder about things like: the Starwood points to airline miles conversion rates (why is United 2 to 1 unlike most other airlines… what a bummer?!). Awards are the most confusing of all. A fun experience I had was a very very helpful AA agent helping me figure out how to get from SFO to Johannesburg on a OneWorld ticket instead of an AA award ticket going through Dublin, back to Chicago (couldn’t get me back to SF) after helpfully checking if I could go West through Hong Kong instead — something about three different airlines to be a OneWorld ticket. Then of course I call back a week later and all of a sudden for some reason I get the Joburg through Heathrow flights direct, both ways, on the days I want, one week before travel time… why/how? Who knows. It’s a game all right.

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