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Monday, October 12, 2009

Frequent flyer adventures, part 2

Updating on my planned trip to Paris and Italy reported in my post of Sept. 12: I asked SlowTrav about whether to consider an apartment in Paris. There are some good points for families to stay in an apartment: to have more room and have some meals in. Going by myself, I'm used to spending five nights in a small room, and I'll mostly just be sleeping there. I'd certainly rather enjoy the cuisine of Paris than what I might put together; I'd probably just have one big meal a day, and make good use of crêpe stands. So I'm inclined to stay in the hotel that my parents recommended.

I got my first e-mail of a substantial change in my award reservation. Now the Northwest World Perks frequent flyer program has gone away, absorbed by Delta SkyMiles, but the NW airline and Web site are still around for a few months. The flight from Minneapolis (MSP) to Paris has been moved to a couple of hours earlier, and my flight connecting to it was changed a little, giving me 1 hr. 16 to connect to the transatlantic flight, less time than I'd like. That would probably work out, being June and early enough in the day to hope that not too many delays have accumulated, but I'd still be worrying, and I was wanting a long layover to make use of one of the SkyClub passes that I got with my Amex card.

My first thought was that, since this connecting time was still legal, I'd be charged a $100 change fee to change to an earlier flight out of Kansas City. I started looking at Delta's standby policy, in hopes of just getting on an earlier flight by asking that day; it seems that they've replaced standby with Same-Day Confirmed travel, where for $50 you can be confirmed on another flight starting three hours ahead of that flight. The problem with that is that they don't allow it, even on a domestic segment, if part of the itinerary is intercontinental.

I started going through the motions of changing the booking online, to see that I would indeed be charged the change fee. The result was that I would get that charge, but the miles price was given as (15,000), meaning the trip was now priced at 60K miles, and they would put 15K back into my account. I thought about it for a couple of hours, and went ahead and made the change to a first flight that gives me a 3+-hour layover. A mile valued at 1.5 cents is fair in the current market, and getting these miles back gives me some reason to add to the miles in the recently emptied account, for instance by continuing to take advantage of the free year of my Amex card which otherwise has a $95 fee.

After completing the change, I saw a message on the confirmation saying something like "Because of our schedule change, you may be able to change your flights without a fee." I watch for details, but did I miss this before I made my change? I later got some advice that this was a type of change to make by phone, and they might have waived the change fee. I much prefer making bookings online, but I made a phone call to see if I could get the fee waived. The first agent thought there couldn't be retroactive changes, even within 24 hours, but forwarded me to WorldPerks. As I'd often found with NW, that line gave me a message that they were too busy and ended the call rather than put me on hold. I started another call, where another agent advised me to make e-mail contact. I got a reply that started "If the change to the reservations were 1 hour or less there would be a charge to change the flights." I puzzled over that, and I guess that means (had some clarification in a follow-up) that since the time that their schedule change imposed out of Kansas City was less than an hour after what I initially booked, it doesn't allow a free change. I got an explanation of "Schedule change" options on the Web site, getting to be moot as the NW site goes away. Never mind that I got a short connecting time that I wanted to avoid, and the transatlantic flight time, from Midwest mid-afternoon to Paris at 7 a.m., is less favorable for sleeping and for finding a hotel room ready on arrival. It also occurred to me that I should have tried to change my Paris-Rome flight, but I'm of two minds about that.

So I guess that's how it stands. I fear more schedule changes as NW is fully absorbed into Delta, and I hope that doesn't make me pay another change fee or negate what I got for this. I haven't minded this fee too much, since I've gotten the better end of several deals with NW over the years.

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