Saturday, November 26, 2011

. . . exactly according to plan. NOT!

Sometimes trip planning goes smoothly. Sometimes there are little glitches. Sometimes booking airline reservations online goes well. Other times, well . . . . But when you hear a message that you'll be charged to book with a human being, you try first to work it online, and, if worse comes to worst, speak only to free help lines.

After last year's travel season, I had a wee tad over 50,000 Award Miles in my Air France Flying Blue account. It only took about ten years to get there, disregarding that I used a few miles for a flight within France a few years ago. (That's another whole story.) Miles accumulate painstakingly, since traveling sardine class only awards ¼ of the actual miles traveled. The page on spending your awards miles says that flights between the US and Europe are 50,000 round-trip.


I'm ready for a round trip. I've been basking in the thought that my 2012 trip, whatever it may be, will be a free one.

Yesterday, a Friday, I decided to go ahead and book a trip for September, but the guideline that you cannot book any sooner than ten months before departure (I'd tried earlier in the month for my proposed departure date) also appears to mean that you cannot book any sooner than ten months before your return date either. That return date had finally passed.

I went to "Book your awards tickets" and entered all the proposed trip info. The reservations screen popped up. There were Yellow days on the schedule and Green days. Yellow days could indeed be booked for 25,000 miles per direction. Green days require 31,500 miles each way. Naturally, none of the Yellow days were anywhere near my hoped-for travel dates. I guess this is like advertising that says "Widgets from $2.98" but any Widget you could conceivably want will run you at least $4.98.

Then I saw the Buy Awards Miles button. It seemed at least worth exploring whether buying 12,492 miles would be a cheaper way to go than merely buying a ticket. With a sale on miles going on, I could get 13,200 miles for a mere 312 €. That didn't sound bad, since I have the self-deceiving habit of considering euros and dollars roughly equivalent. Roughly speaking, that really turns out to be a $414 price tag. Oh, well. Still cheaper than a flight.

Before too long, the new chunk of miles appeared in my miles balance. And the phone rang from the fraud division of my credit card company, alerted by the euro purchase without my having notified them about travel plans. I warned her that I was about to make another purchase involving taxes and airport fees and that I didn't need to be alerted.

So, back to the Book your awards, etc., page, where I booked my "multiple destinations" trip. (My final destination on the outbound flight is different from my departure airport back to the U.S.) It was all going smoothly. Until I pressed the button to finalize the booking. Up came this red box warning:

Your payment could not be processed. Please contact Flying Blue Customer care within 24 hours to finalize the purchase. After this time, your reservation will be cancelled. The changes made cannot be saved. If you want to modify your request, please start again. Otherwise, you can continue with your reservation using the information you originally entered.
Your reservation status: Awaiting payment details


I promptly called my credit card company back again, and was assured that my charge for Air France had been approved, and here was my approval number. Now, how the heck do I find Flying Blue Customer care? I located only two phone numbers anywhere I looked on the AF website. The first one was a French number for use only in France. The other was the website help number. I dialed it. Sorry, closed until Monday, during normal business hours. Googling yielded mostly complaint sites, although one number started to run through them. Then I found I heard of it years ago and it's still there, being useful.

Have I ever mentioned that I HATE HATE HATE making phone calls? So I postponed that chore until early this morning, using the it's-better-for-Eastern-Time excuse. I got up even earlier than early and printed out all pertinent documents and then began the series of phone calls: the credit card company to confirm the approval code, gleaning the information that both payments were still pending; the main Air France number, referring me to a number which is the website help number, closed for the weekend; back to the main number, I'm urgent here, I only have 24-hours to deal with the payment; I must go to Flying Blue, only they can handle Awards booking payments, and yes, they're open 24-7.

Boeing 777-200
 Only they're not. Did I really go back to the main number? The scribbles on my piece of paper have become incomprehensible. I convey my anxiety about my reservation being canceled in 24-hours; he says that my phone calls have been noted on my record; I ask whether that will prevent cancellation; he says he can't guarantee that.

But somewhere I got the impression that the payment in question was not my credit card but the unavailability of Flying Blue to confirm my awards miles, probably in light of the last minute purchase of the extra miles to cover the trip.

The moral of this story is that it's a bad idea to book a flight online on a Friday evening.

But if I still have a reservation after Monday, it turns out that it's in Premium Voyageur class, a pretty good upgrade from sardine class. Seat 11L (the pink spot) if it works. The Awards thing brings the price in at $1,000 less than buying a Premium Voyageur seat and $600 less than a sardine seat, which is one way to look at it.

My dream is that I will wake up Monday morning and Air France's "Trip Summary and Receipt" will be in my Inbox.

In a great piece of irony, I just checked the website to see whether my reservation is still there and a survey from Air France popped up about my most recent experience with their website. Heh, heh, heh!

See you soon.



  1. Sounds waaaaay too complicated. I stopped even trying to use the miles because it seems they purposefully make it so difficult that it becomes ridiculous. Can't wait to hear the comment you left on the survey.

  2. But if you finally had 50,000 miles in your account, would you just ignore them???

    There are some great airfares to Europe for travel RIGHT NOW, but fares for next summer are brutal.