Here’s a note of caution that has nothing to do with the chaos of the current campaigns for the president in both parties, largely because the participants fortunately are flying in privately chartered airplanes.
The rest of us aren’t so lucky and even in business, we must rely on commercial airlines with the best prices we can find. This makes us more than a little vulnerable to those who promote not only lower fares, but the rest of the needs of the average traveler — mainly hotel space and rental cars. These are generally “middle men” who operate online and continue to bombard you with daily emails touting the latest exotic trips and deals to Bora Bora or Armpit Missouri or wherever for just a pittance. You probably shouldn’t open these unless absolutely necessary or have a tendency toward masochism.
I’m reminded of the pilgrim who answered one that provided an opportunity for a $100 trip to a Caribbean island, and when he showed up, found himself slammed into an inner tube and shoved out into the ocean. An hour later his conveyance bumped into a similar one carrying another man.
“I hope they fly us back,” said the pilgrim.
“Yeah,” said his new acquaintance. “But they didn’t the last time.”
That’s probably an extreme case for most of the companies that profess great savings. They are backed by the airlines, who encourage them as a way to cut their own costs through fewer employees they must hire and train as reservationists. Not a bad idea at all, except when it is.
I must confess that I have used one of these ticket promoters, Travelocity, frequently and found everything satisfactory … well, most of the time. On several occasions I realized the flight I had chosen suddenly went up in price as I waited for the final confirmation. The latest of these glitches got me thinking that perhaps I wasn’t getting the best fare after all. Duh!
I went online the other day to book a business trip to Indianapolis, chose a morning nonstop flight at a reasonable rate, and filled in all the necessary blanks to purchase a round trip ticket. Then I waited for confirmation and waited, and waited with a notice on my screen that I shouldn’t turn off my computer or otherwise disturb the process. Finally, I gave up without knowing whether I had successfully completed the transaction.
I called the selling agency directly to check if I had. After the usual disembodied interrogation about what I wanted, I talked to a young woman with a heavy accent who listened to my complaint, breaking in irritatingly every now and then to thank me for my patience, which was wearing pretty thin. Forty-five minutes later I was still there having gone over the flight I wanted at least five times.
In the midst of this I was told that my flight would not cost $192 roundtrip as I had selected from the menu, but $300 and I could reduce that slightly if I took a hotel room in the deal. Explaining to her that I did not need a hotel room, did not want a hotel room, and wasn’t going to pay for a hotel room, she finally put the finishing touches on the transaction … I thought. I complained bitterly that I resented the fare increase but really had no choice. Then I remembered a near doubling of the cost had occurred twice before in dealing with this agency and I had let it go, believing it was the airline’s decision.
After providing all the credit card information and listened to her go over the itinerary for the umpteenth time and thanking me for my patience, she said she would now confirm everything, which I thought already had been done. Suddenly, I hear music and since I don’t suffer from the problem of extraneous noise, I deduced she had gone away somewhere. Like an idiot, I waited another 10 minutes before realizing she probably wasn’t coming back. I hung up on Travelocity forever.
I called American Airlines directly to ask if the flight had been booked. It had not. But a pleasant reservationist took only moments to make them.
The cost — $192. A cautionary tale? You bet!
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: email@example.com.