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Last-minute reservation booked with Miles for family emergency - lessons to learn?

Last-minute reservation booked with Miles for family emergency - lessons to learn?

Old Mar 19, 23, 6:27 am
  #1  
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Join Date: May 2014
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Last-minute reservation booked with Miles for family emergency - lessons to learn?

Yesterday (Saturday) I received some tragic news related to my family in Spain. I booked a trip right away to fly from Seattle to Spain to get to them the day after (Sunday).

I used Flying Blue Miles to book a ticket SEA-CDG-Spain. The option arriving the earliest to Spain that I found on the site was flight AF367 (SEA Dep: 5.30pm; CDG Arr: 11.05am) + a connecting flight to Spain leaving at 8.30pm on Sunday. A 10-hour layover -while in distress; otherwise I would leave the airport and go enjoy the day in Paris- is never my ideal, but there was nothing better available.... or was there? The AF Book with Miles site was erratic to say the least, and I was seeing different flights available depending on the browser or whether I was in Incognito mode (Chrome Vs Safari; Chrome at some point stopped returning any results altogether, I assume it must be the cookies?). Hitting refresh would now always show the same options or same fare classes and prices. I was simultaneously looking for options also for my return, and I swear that the engine was sometimes returning options that were not showing 5 minutes later and vice versa.

In any case, I ended up booking the SEA-CDG-Spain flight. I was tempted to just book SEA-CDG (same exact cost of miles) and figure out the short hop to Spain. I could then take a cheap Easyjet to make my layover 5 hours shorter. But I thought to myself that I was getting better value and securing more options by having that 8.30pm flight booked on the same ticket with Air France.

About 3 hours before take-off from SEA, I noticed on the Air France iPhone app that Air France was selling a flight CDG-Spain leaving at around 3pm on Sunday. The app would not let me make any changes to my reservation myself and prompted my to call reservations. I tried calling reservations, but after holding the line for 40 minutes, I gave up.

About 2 hours before take-off, I arrived at SEA airport and talked to the Swissport agents handling the check-in for Air France.
  1. My first question: "Can I switch to the earlier flight in CDG? I don't care if there's a price to pay".
    1. => Answer: "No, we cannot make any changes, you need to call Reservations". Explaining that I had just been unsuccessfully on hold for 40 minutes on the phone did not change the outcome.
  2. My second question: "Can I please get my luggage checked only to CDG?" My intent was to maximize my options available to me in Paris: either book the Easyjet flight; or wait for 10 hours for the flight I was booked on; or hope I could get someone from Air France in CDG to help me change to the previous flight. I assumed that changing to an earlier flight would not be possible if my luggage was already checked in and labeled for the later flight.
    1. => Answer: "No, we are not allowed to short-check your luggage under any circumstances". Even if my connection is 10 hours? "No, sir." Even if I were staying overnight? "No, sir." See note at the end of this post.*

One transatlantic flight later, here I am now waiting in CDG with the whole day ahead of me. Right after landing, I asked at an Air France counter if I could change to the earlier flight, but I was told "Economy is full, and the ticket desk cannot calculate how much more you'd need to pay to upgrade to Business in a new flight for a reservation made with Miles". I asked if I could retrieve my suitcase, and I was pointed to this information that states that I would need to pay 275 EUR for the service.*


Before one of the handful of quintessential FTers that are here to remind all of us how wrong we all and how airlines are the modern-day incarnation of the god Hermes, spare the comment: yes, Air France is getting me to my destination according to the schedule of the ticket I booked. Thank you for the insight.

This experience was frustrating on many levels, from the problems ticketing or changing the reservation (issues with the website; unable to modify reservation on the app; unable to get ahold of Reservations on the phone; Swissport check-in agents unable to help) to the issues to get my luggage in Paris. Pissed at myself because if I had just booked the ticket SEA-CDG (without the onward connection) for the exact same price, I would about to start boarding my Easyjet flight to Spain.



*Question: is this normal? There have been instances in the past with other airlines, where I was able to check in my luggage only to my layover airport to access it during a long layover. It had not even occurred to me that this could be an issue. I asked the Air France rep I spoke to here in CDG if it's normal that Swissport in Seattle would refuse to do this for me, and she didn't know the answer to do and whether that's Air France policy at all airports across the world. I get that an airline might try to curb this to avoid hidden-city itineraries, but in this case it was so obvious that it was not what I was trying to do...
LeonS is offline  
Old Mar 19, 23, 6:58 am
  #2  
 
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Originally Posted by LeonS
*Question: is this normal? There have been instances in the past with other airlines, where I was able to check in my luggage only to my layover airport to access it during a long layover. It had not even occurred to me that this could be an issue. I asked the Air France rep I spoke to here in CDG if it's normal that Swissport in Seattle would refuse to do this for me, and she didn't know the answer to do and whether that's Air France policy at all airports across the world. I get that an airline might try to curb this to avoid hidden-city itineraries, but in this case it was so obvious that it was not what I was trying to do...
if you had a night in paris between your arrival and departure on the next day it would not have been a problem to short check the bags. air france does charge a hefty fee to retrieve bags mid journey. it has been like that since a couple of years, the price recently increased from 250€ to the price you mentioned.
external agents at the airport have very little rights and permissions to fulfill special requests - often they are poorly trained (I just had one agent who asked me "what is a frequent flyer number" when i asked her to change it at check-in) and can just perform standard tasks that they were trained on.
short checking bags without a valid reason (e.g. overnight at the transit airport) won't be done (for free) by any airline - except you have an extremely service oriented agent with speicial permissions.

also modifying reward tickets is not possible according to flying blue terns&conditions. when you voluntatily want to make a change you have to cancel the ticket and rebook - (no exceptions).
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f0zzyNUE is offline  
Old Mar 19, 23, 7:22 am
  #3  
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Originally Posted by LeonS
*Question: is this normal?
Yes, pretty much so. The trend across the airline industry is increasingly towards less and less flexibility (or rather monetizing flexibility by having substantially higher fares to enjoy such flexibility). On that particular issue, AF and KL changed their terms and conditions of carriage a few years back to impose extra charges for retrieving baggage at an intermediate point.
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Old Mar 19, 23, 8:45 am
  #4  
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Follow-up:

Some seats opened up in the earlier Air France flight from CDG to Spain leaving at ~3pm. I noticed this about 2.5 hours before that flight's departure. I went back to the AF Customer Service desk and a helpful female rep said that she thought she should be able to retrieve my suitcase from where it's being stored for the latest flight and bring it to my earlier if I manage to be booked/re-booked on the earlier flight 'soon'. This alone made my day better: I felt like at last someone was trying to work with me and help and offer options.

I called Flying Blue right away -no wait this time-. However, as other folks just said on this thread, the friendly Flying Blue rep stated that once I already took the first segment, Flying Blue could neither change nor cancel the second segment: the segment is part of a 'whole ticket' that cannot be priced or changed separately. My only option at that point was to buy a new ticket CDG-Spain. They were selling it for 24k miles + ~$70. I was ready to pull the trigger but when I clicked, the price changed to 70k miles, which is more than I was ready to pay to save me 5 hours of wait.
LeonS is offline  
Old Mar 19, 23, 9:38 am
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Originally Posted by f0zzyNUE
if you had a night in paris between your arrival and departure on the next day it would not have been a problem to short check the bags. air france does charge a hefty fee to retrieve bags mid journey. it has been like that since a couple of years, the price recently increased from 250 to the price you mentioned.
external agents at the airport have very little rights and permissions to fulfill special requests - often they are poorly trained (I just had one agent who asked me "what is a frequent flyer number" when i asked her to change it at check-in) and can just perform standard tasks that they were trained on.
short checking bags without a valid reason (e.g. overnight at the transit airport) won't be done (for free) by any airline - except you have an extremely service oriented agent with speicial permissions.

also modifying reward tickets is not possible according to flying blue terns&conditions. when you voluntatily want to make a change you have to cancel the ticket and rebook - (no exceptions).
Last time I had a ticket booked with a stop over (connection just over 24h) in AMS. KLM flights though. Bags were checked until AMS at point of origin but did not show up at the luggage carousel, so thought went to file a claim.
Agent said after some investigation that my bag was on the flight and offloaded in AMS but their system relabelled it to my final destination the next day! I requested to have the bag retreived and they made a problem out of that. They wanted me to pay this fee too. After 30min of argueing and couple of phone calls they released my bag. Lost more than 90 minutes on this.
lvdpol is offline  
Old Mar 19, 23, 11:07 am
  #6  
 
Join Date: May 2018
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I understand this must be frustrating especially under the sad circumstances you needed to travel.

However, the airline didnt do anything wrong, these are the terms and conditions they work with.
In Europe its usually not possible to change flights unless you have a fully flexible and even then you need to pay the fare difference.

Regarding the luggage, this is also according their T&Cs. Luggage will only be delivered when there is a longer layover than 12 hours. And the fee is hefty but understandable otherwise this practice would disrupt their operations.

I hope you arrived safe and sound. For next time you could book SEA-CDG paid with miles and a separate cash paid ticket, where AF can actually merge the bookings and check luggage until your end destination in Spain. Or as some suggested, use a LCC for the last leg.
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Old Mar 19, 23, 12:21 pm
  #7  
 
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I am sorry to see that you are having to deal with additional stress while also dealing with a tragedy in the family. I am not sure if you have any status with AFKL but that can help in these scenarios. But sometimes it can be as simple as just taking he gamble and then talking to customer service after the fact to try and get them to make a commercial gesture. The key with the latter is to not abuse it, of course, but I have had them make exceptional refunds to me after I had already traveled, due to the situation being outside the normal.

At least until a few years ago AFKL did make extra accommodations for these kind of situations. I am not sure of what that looks like with redemption tickets, but you could get a seat on even sold out flights. The process was not easy and required speaking to their agents, but within 24hrs of your travel they could usually get you on flights. If they still do this, it is only possible via call to customer service, and even then having status is going to make this much easier to process (especially Platinum since the PSL agents are far more likely to go the extra mile to help out in my experience).

An example from a few months ago based on my personal experience. I was flying on a revenue ticket via CDG. A day before my flight it became clear that there was a high chance that due to strikes I would likely miss my connection, and it was crucial that I make the earliest possible connection. There was a second flight just a couple of hours after my originally scheduled flight, but changing the revenue ticket to this one was quite expensive and the PSL confirmed only 2 seats were left on the flight. So in case of IROPS there was a likelihood that I wouldn't have a seat available to get on this flight. After conferring with the agent, we decided the best action to take was for me to make a separate redemption booking for the last sector and keep it as a "standby". If I made my original connection, they would cancel and refund me (even waive the €50 fee they charge on cancellations), and if I didn't make my original connection, I could take the redemption flight. The agent said that due to the special circumstance they would waive the fee they charge for irregular use of tickets and even refund me the miles and taxes for the redemption. He added notes detailing this in both my bookings and asked me to get in touch with them after my flights to resolve the refunds. I was also told that if I had checked baggage, it would basically get stuck in CDG and that I'd have to file a PIR to get it back to me. As luck had it, I did miss my original flight and had to take the redemption one. I wrote to them after I reached my destination, they filed the PIR and got me my refund too. It all went ok in the end, but required me suggesting creative things over the phone to an agent willing to help (I realize this last part is hard to find, and the likelihood only increases if you have access to the PSL).

I realize €275 and 70k miles is a lot to spend. But I think you would have had a good chance to get most, or part of it back if you had written to their customer service after taking the flights. The ground staff doesn't have a lot of flexibility in what they can do, but customer service has more flexibility in the commercial gestures they can make. All of it can be a gamble though.
sehgalanuj is offline  
Old Mar 19, 23, 12:59 pm
  #8  
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Join Date: May 2014
Posts: 171
Originally Posted by sehgalanuj
I am sorry to see that you are having to deal with additional stress while also dealing with a tragedy in the family. I am not sure if you have any status with AFKL but that can help in these scenarios. But sometimes it can be as simple as just taking he gamble and then talking to customer service after the fact to try and get them to make a commercial gesture. The key with the latter is to not abuse it, of course, but I have had them make exceptional refunds to me after I had already traveled, due to the situation being outside the normal.

At least until a few years ago AFKL did make extra accommodations for these kind of situations. I am not sure of what that looks like with redemption tickets, but you could get a seat on even sold out flights. The process was not easy and required speaking to their agents, but within 24hrs of your travel they could usually get you on flights. If they still do this, it is only possible via call to customer service, and even then having status is going to make this much easier to process (especially Platinum since the PSL agents are far more likely to go the extra mile to help out in my experience).

An example from a few months ago based on my personal experience. I was flying on a revenue ticket via CDG. A day before my flight it became clear that there was a high chance that due to strikes I would likely miss my connection, and it was crucial that I make the earliest possible connection. There was a second flight just a couple of hours after my originally scheduled flight, but changing the revenue ticket to this one was quite expensive and the PSL confirmed only 2 seats were left on the flight. So in case of IROPS there was a likelihood that I wouldn't have a seat available to get on this flight. After conferring with the agent, we decided the best action to take was for me to make a separate redemption booking for the last sector and keep it as a "standby". If I made my original connection, they would cancel and refund me (even waive the 50 fee they charge on cancellations), and if I didn't make my original connection, I could take the redemption flight. The agent said that due to the special circumstance they would waive the fee they charge for irregular use of tickets and even refund me the miles and taxes for the redemption. He added notes detailing this in both my bookings and asked me to get in touch with them after my flights to resolve the refunds. I was also told that if I had checked baggage, it would basically get stuck in CDG and that I'd have to file a PIR to get it back to me. As luck had it, I did miss my original flight and had to take the redemption one. I wrote to them after I reached my destination, they filed the PIR and got me my refund too. It all went ok in the end, but required me suggesting creative things over the phone to an agent willing to help (I realize this last part is hard to find, and the likelihood only increases if you have access to the PSL).

I realize 275 and 70k miles is a lot to spend. But I think you would have had a good chance to get most, or part of it back if you had written to their customer service after taking the flights. The ground staff doesn't have a lot of flexibility in what they can do, but customer service has more flexibility in the commercial gestures they can make. All of it can be a gamble though.
Thanks for sharing the story.

Unfortunately, I have no status with AF/KLM.

My biased experience (biased because I fly >90% of the time with USA carriers) is that European carriers post-trip are less likely to make a commercial gesture than American ones. But your experience might show I'm wrong.
LeonS is offline  
Old Mar 20, 23, 2:40 am
  #9  
 
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I've had similar issues on award connections, once you have flown the first segment it is probably impossible to get changed via flying blue (since the only way they have to change is cancel refund miles and rebook again).

However, once agents understand this and also understand that per the rules it should be possible but the process is messed up they CAN if they WANT TO use their empowerment to reroute you as INVOL working as a team around procedures in your favor. This is what then happened to me in the end, was just rebooked free of charge for example because the later flight was more full or because of a family emergency or wahtever they documented in the system to make it plausible and make it happen. This is really also soemthing where it pays off to try different agents and know their ways of working.

Sorry it was such a mess. It shoudl not be, indeed.
f4free is offline  
Old Mar 20, 23, 5:49 am
  #10  
 
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AF KL are happy to hand out free Miles if you have valid complaints. Think the benchmark is around 8k. Anything more than miles is highly unlikely.
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