Paying Dearly for Travel Mistakes – and Avoiding Some of the Costs

I just came across today’s entry on the NY Times’ blog “You’re the Boss”, which tells a story that I believe resonates with many of us.  Jay Goltz, a small business owner in Chiago, explains how he lost $1,400 in airfare – and possibly some more in hotel fees – by accidentally booking the wrong dates for his trip.

We all make mistakes, and frequently there’s a cost involved in that.  In his case, he ended up at the mercy of Air France and its rules, as it had been almost two weeks since he had booked his original flight:

I had paid $700 for each ticket. As I waited, I considered my fate. I decided that if there were a $150 penalty a ticket, I would be grateful. I waited. I had another five minutes to torture myself for being so stupid. Finally, she came back. If I wanted to move up the flights, it would cost $2,400 — for each ticket.

He decided to cancel his ticket, get the taxes back, and book another flight for much less than $2,400.   While I have no advice in this case other than write a very nice email to Air France asking for reconsideration, I take this opportunity to raise two important tidbits of information on booking flights.  First, many airlines and airfare companies will fully reimburse you if you cancel your reservation within 24 hours after booking.  You may have to search for the fine print to confirm that, but if you realize your mistake soon after booking, call the company immediately and see what they can do for you.  In some instances, you may even be able to cancel it online – I booked a flight on Orbitz a few months ago, and just a few hours later, I saw the airfare had dropped.  I logged into my account, and next to the itinerary, I had the option of canceling it.  I got a full refund and booked the cheaper flight.

My second point deals with American Airlines.  While AA may have some weaknesses, its booking system is not one of them.  When you search for a flight on, after selecting your itinerary and entering your information, you are given the option to purchase your ticket or “hold” it.  If you click “hold,” you have least until mid-night the next day to purchase the ticket, and, sometimes, with less popular routes and international flights, the hold time can be as much as 10 days.  This is a very useful feature if you are trying to decide on flights, are unsure of whether you are going at all, or have to coordinate with other people traveling with you.  And for me, this is frequently a tipping point for flying American over other airlines.

Sometimes we make mistakes and have no option but to pay up.  But at least there are some features in the travel industry that can give you a little leeway.  And if you’ve ever had to pay dearly for your mistake, you can certainly find commiseration in Goltz’s post and the comments it received.


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