Madrid, Round Trip, For $8.37

I know two people, I’ll just call them Mom and Dad, who are flying to Madrid and back for $8.37 each. I can’t tell you how to book that fare because it doesn’t exist. But I can tell you how it happened, and maybe some day you can position yourself to let something like that happen to you.

Last May the ‘rents, as we call them, were flying to St. Petersburg, Russia, via Paris on Air France. They hadn’t actually paid for those tickets because they were flying on Delta Skymiles, which makes this story even sweeter. (Air France is a Delta partner.)

Their flight into Paris was late, and they missed their connection to St. Petersburg. Air France had a later flight to St. Petersburg that day, and normally the airline would have simply switched the ‘rents to that flight. But that later flight was overbooked.

So Air France booked the ‘rents on a flight the next day and put them up in a hotel room overnight. The next morning Air France gave them two vouchers, each worth 500 Euros – about $650. The vouchers were good for one year on any Air France or KLM flight. (Air France and KLM merged in 2004.)

The ‘rents flew to St. Petersburg the next day, having lost a day in Russia and about 75 Euros ($98) on a pre-paid apartment contract. But they went home later (via Prague) with $1,300 worth of airline vouchers between them.

The ‘rents held onto the vouchers with an eye toward going to Spain to visit the No. 5 grandchild, who is going to study there. And so they recently called Air France to ask about redeeming the voucher. And here, it would seem, is where things got a little sticky.

Air France said the airline would happily redeem the vouchers for flights, but the ‘rents would have to present those vouchers in person at an Air France ticket counter. And the nearest Air France ticket counters are in New York and Boston. A second call to Air France yielded the same answer – no Internet or telephone reservations allowed. And a call to Northwest Airlines (which handles KLM bookings in the United States) returned a polite rejection – Northwest could not accept the voucher on KLM’s behalf.

So the ‘rents steeled themselves for a six-hour round-trip drive to Logan to redeem their vouchers. For $1,300 in airfare, it was worth the effort. But first, they called the Air France ticket counter at Logan to see when it would be open. And the friendly ticket agent suggested that maybe the reservations could be done over the phone after all. They read him the voucher numbers and he booked their flights right over the phone.

I believe there are many lessons to learn from this tale, and I summarize them here:

  • Sign up for frequent flier mileage programs. You have nothing to lose.
  • Don’t freak out when you are denied boarding on a flight. Roll with it, and take what compensation you can get.
  • Sometimes it pays to keep asking the same question until you get the right answer.
  • Air France may not be all that bad. (Mom says, "I like Air France. They feed you. They feed you very well.")
  • French people may not be all that bad. (The agent on the phone, Mom says, "was super-, super-nice.")

The vouchers didn’t quite cover the cost of the flights, so the ‘rents have to fork over $8.37 each.      


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