To Change An Airplane Ticket (12 cents)

The background: we flew to Houston from Washington on Continental tickets which I purchased through Orbitz. The tickets had a typical provision which said that changing the tickets would require extra costs. We were to fly back to Washington at 11:00 Wednesday morning, but it was clear that (for various reasons), we would not be able to return until that night or, perhaps, Thursday morning. I needed to change the tickets. Here is how I did it:

1. At about 7 a.m., I called Orbitz. I listened carefully to the delightful recorded Orbitz lady (who sounds just like the delightful recorded Fandango lady) and pushed all of the right buttons, ending with “if you want to cancel or change your reservation, push __”.

2. A real Orbitz operator came to the phone and asked me about six questions. Just when I thought progress was being attained, she told me: “OK, you want to change a ticket; I have to transfer you to that department.”

3. I was transferred to another Orbitz lady who asked me all of the same questions. Again, I thought I was on the right path, until she said: “OK, you want to change the second half of a ticket after you have used the first half. I can’t do that. I have to transfer you to another department.”

4. I now was talking to my third Orbitz lady, who was indeed the right person. She told me there was a 7 p.m. flight to Washington, and that I could change the two tickets for $150 per ticket, plus a $30 per ticket agent fee, plus any fee differential. This seemed pretty steep (it would have increased the price of the flights by 50%), so I asked the next obvious question: “If I have to transfer it again tonight until tomorrow morning, would I have to pay this fee all over again?” Answer: “Yes”. Whew, I thought to myself. I told her I’d think it over.

5. I called Orbitz back at about 9 a.m., having decided to postpone traveling until Thursday morning. This time I got an Orbitz man, who told me that it was too late for Orbitz to do anything, that I would have to talk to Continental directly. This surprised me, but I said “ok”, and he (without my asking) offered to transfer me to Continental. I said “good” and hung on. And hung on. And hung on. He came back on line and told me that he couldn’t get through, and that all he got was a message that said “call back later; no one can take your call now”. He gave me the 800 number.

6. I called the number and got the same message. But the voice did not even identify himself as Continental, so I was suspicious.

7. I took the elevator down to the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, and went to the concierge desk. I told the man that I needed help. He was very gracious until I told him that I needed help with my airline reservation, and then he said: “We don’t get involved in those. They ask too many questions that we can’t answer”. I told him that surprised me, that I thought that is what a concierge did. He, standing right behind the desk which said “concierge” then told me he wasn’t a concierge. “Maybe the concierge can do something”, he said, “I can’t.”

8. I asked him where the concierge was and when the concierge would return. Those were two more questions he couldn’t answer. I asked him if he could give me Continental’s number. He punched some keys on his computer, and then read to me four different 800 numbers, none of which was the number I had been given by Orbitz.

9. I called the first of the number, and yes it was Continental, and they also had a number of questions I had to answer by pushing specific buttons, and yes I finally got to what I hoped would be the live agent, but no such luck. I got one more recorded message telling me that traffic on the line was very heavy that day, and that my approximate wait would be “20 minutes”. Ouch.

10. I then went to the hotel business center (I knew changing reservations would be too sophisticated for my blackberry), which I had hesitated to do because I was told that they charged $30/hour to use a computer (can you believe that?). But I was desperate, and surprised to learn that they had a no-charge dedicated computer for airlines only.

11. I went on the Continental website. Luckily, I knew my code number, and pretty soon, everything was in front of me, including all of the options that I would have to rebook on a flight on Thursday morning. There was a 7 a.m. and a 9 a.m. flight before the 11 a.m. flight, and then several more in the afternoon and evening. To rebook on the identical flight the next day would indeed cost me $150 per ticket, but if I rebooked on a 9 a.m. flight, the rebooking cost was only $50 a ticket (a total savings of $200), and there seemed to be no agent fee (an additional savings from the Orbitz cost of $60).

It was easy to make the change, and charge the extra $100 to a credit card, and print everything out.

I know I learned a lesson. If you have to rebook, don’t do it through Orbitz, and do do it on-line.

But the idea that this could make a difference of $260 shows that, once again, something is wrong with the way things are.

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