I book dozens of trips a year, but have never had quite the experience like this one.
But I live by my HUCA motto. Hang Up and Call Again until you get the answer you need. I needed every bit of that motivation to solve this case.
I’ll be spending this Pesach in Whistler and have been looking for the best tickets to Vancouver for some time.
Back in 2012 I flew with Mimi and Rafi for zero miles out of pocket in Cathay Pacific First Class from JFK to Vancouver and in Cathay Pacific Business Class from Vancouver to JFK thanks to BMI handing out free miles for opening accounts and allowing free Avios transfers to BA.
Last August Mimi and I flew from JFK to Vancouver and back in Cathay Pacific First Class again, not free, but still a bargain with Alaska miles. Cathay Pacific’s first class is easily the best seat and bed in the sky.
I love Vancouver and it doesn’t hurt to have an amazing flight:
And an amazing hotel in the Fairmont Pacific Rim, made even better thanks to my lifetime free suites, bottles of scotch, and massages at Fairmont hotels:
However Cathay typically opens award space closer to the flight, and I needed to have confirmed flights for Pesach.
Read about the pickle I got myself in and the HUCAs it took to resolve everything after the jump:
Thanks to my United status I can book awards and cancel them for free.
3 awards booked:
So I grabbed 4 Air Canada 787 Dreamliner business class awards from Newark to Vancouver for 25K United miles each for the Thursday beforehand. However preferably we didn’t want to fly to Vancouver the week before Pesach.
I also booked 4 Air Canada 777 business class awards from Toronto to Vancouver for 25K United miles each on a more ideal date. However there was no award space from Cleveland to Toronto and a paid one-way flight from Cleveland to Toronto runs $300/person.
Thanks to my Global Services status I also got United to open up 12.5K coach saver award space from Cleveland to Vancouver via Chicago based on T-class fare availability.
But what I really wanted the award space from Cleveland to Toronto to open up and I checked it daily.
My mistake and Air Canada’s change compounded the issues:
A few weeks ago Mimi and I were sledding with our kids and I got a call from my father-in-law asking about a schedule change email from Toronto to Vancouver that he had received.
His name and my wife’s name are saved in my United account and apparently I had managed to book “Merrill” instead of “Miriam.” It’s not a mistake I’ve made before or will make again. Add it to the “Dumb mistakes we make playing these games” thread on DDF.
Additionally Mimi’s passport is expiring this year, so we finally changed her passport to her married name. (What, you though I’d waste the money renewing a passport before we had to?) So the first and last name on the ticket were wrong.
Well this would be fun!
And then there was the schedule change. They moved our flight time from Toronto to Vancouver 30 minutes earlier. That would make it impossible to add on a flight from Cleveland to Toronto that morning, even if award space did open up, as it fell below the minimum required connection time in Toronto.
At least I had the other 2 backup tickets in business the week beforehand and in coach on the same day.
But I figured that schedule changes are always happening, so I held onto the ticket.
A possible solution and endless HUCAs to Air Canada and United:
Last week I noticed that Air Canada had added a Dreamliner flight at the exact same time as my originally booked flight! There was no award space, but how hard could it possibly be to get it switched back to my originally booked departure time?
I called United Global Services several times, but the agents all said the same thing. If I had the Cleveland-Toronto leg in the reservation then they would be able to fix things, but without the schedule change in the reservation it wasn’t possible to be fixed unless award space opened up on the Dreamliner flight. One agent suggested that I book a refundable ticket from Cleveland to Toronto on a separate reservation and that she would go with that information to her rate desk and see if they could do something to fix it. However she also was unable to get it fixed.
I Tweeted Air Canada and they said that they couldn’t touch a United issued ticket.
I called Air Canada’s domestic desk and the agent seemed willing to switch my flight until they realized that it was issued by United. Their manager was also unable to help. I HUCAd a few more times to no avail.
I called Air Canada’s international desk several times as well and agents there are apparently all managers or they’re just unwilling to pass calls along to their managers.
All of the Air Canada reps said they could fix it if they issued the ticket, but because it was issued by United there was nothing they could do.
I even got an Air Canada international desk agent to allow me to conference in a United Global services agent, but United simply had no way to rebook me onto the Dreamliner flight that would allow a connection from Cleveland.
I wrote an email to Air Canada customer relations and hoped for the best. But it felt like I had hit a dead end with that problem.
I’m not one to give up though, so I decided to tackle the other problem, the wrong name on the ticket.
Solving the first problem:
I called United and explained my error booking Merrill instead of Miriam when selecting from saved travelers in my profile.
The first agent said if it was a United flight it could be easily fixed, but it was impossible to fix the name on an Air Canada flight.
The next agent said she could change the name, but Air Canada would automatically cancel the ticket if she did that. I felt there was little to lose due to the schedule change and asked to please proceed with the name change.
Lo and behold it worked!
She got the name changed to Miriam and reissued the ticket. I’d deal with the easier last name change later on if I’d ever get the flight changed from the 777 to the Dreamliner which would allow for a connection from Cleveland.
Unfortunately Air Canada responded to my email advising me to call reservations. Gee, thanks.
I was ready to throw in the towel. But AJK (my DDF United Island Hopper traveling buddy) told me that I should be embarrassed to give a seminar on miles in Whistler for Pesach after flying there in coach. Fair point.
Solving the 2nd problem:
So I HUCAd for probably the 18th time and decided to try the Air Canada domestic desk. It was 1AM on Sunday morning and the agent said the same thing, she can’t touch a United issued ticket.
Once again I asked for her manager, but she said that there were no managers in her office on the weekend. However she understood my predicament, took down my information, and promised a phone call back on Monday.
And sure enough on Monday I got a phone call back. The amazingly helpful agent proceeded to open up the business saver class award inventory required and then called United to get us moved to the Dreamliner flight!
Plus, he even changed Mimi’s last name on the ticket from her maiden name to her married name.
And then he even helped fix another schedule change issue on the return flight that caused our connection time to balloon from 90 minutes to 5 hours. However I noticed that Air Canada had changed their red-eye flight time from Vancouver to Toronto from one that couldn’t connect to Cleveland to one that had enough time to connect to a Toronto to Cleveland flight. That change was easier though as I had the whole way from Vancouver to Cleveland booked for the return.
After spending so much time trying to find a helpful agent, I of course asked how I could get back in touch with him if I needed help in the future.
Key words to ask for with Air Canada flight issues:
The agent said the key is to ask for a request to be sent to a lead desk agent. They can’t be called, but agents have a protocol to send off requests for them to rectify. And they have the ability to fix situations like the one I was stuck in.
This lead desk agent gave me his name and said that he was the only one with that name based in S. John, New Brunswick.
So I got the name corrected and the Dreamliner flight in the reservations.
Of course I still needed availability from Cleveland to Toronto.
I checked on that multiple times per day and sure enough on this past Friday afternoon that space opened up. I called United to have it added.
Game, set, match.
It took a ridiculous amount of time, but Rafi will be thrilled that we’re going to be flying on the Dreamliner for the first time. My only question is why in the world does the United 787 model airplane cost 5x the price of the United 747 model airplane?
But either way, I won’t have to take any flak from AJK, and I have no doubt that Rafi’s smile when he sees the Dreamliner will make all of the HUCA time well spent.