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How to make $350 in 6 hours. Is it worth it?

How an offer for free tickets turned into a lot more work than anticipated and how we dealt with all the issues in order to make it home the same day. Lots of tips for what to do if you end up with delayed flights, being transferred between airlines or stuck on the standby list.

Free tickets! Earn $350 in 4 hours!

On our way home from our Bourbon Trail weekend, at checkin, the computer asked us if we were willing to take a later flight in exchange for compensation. I said no to the computer (who’s going to accept that offer without knowing the details?), and then went up to the gate agent and said we’d be willing to volunteer if they could get us home the same night. She said she could and rebooked us on a US Airways flight to Charlotte and then on to Denver getting home 4 hours later than planned. For $350/each. $87/hour! Another vacation flight paid for!

And then … the flight is delayed due to mechanical issues

The US Airways flight to Charlotte was delayed due to a mechanical issue. They said by at least 30 minutes. At that point it seemed likely we’d miss our connecting flight as we only had an hour layover.

Always call immediately

I checked our options, called US Airways and asked if they could confirm us on the later flight to Denver from Charlotte. She said she could not, it was completely booked. She also could not put us on the waitlist – they would have to do that at the airport. I asked what she would do, and she said talk to a customer service representative. I said “not the gate agent?”, and she said no, customer service. There was a long line at the gate, so I went looking for customer service.

Look for customer service

An American Airlines representative informed me that there was no customer service desk, as Louisville International Airport (with no international flights) is not a big enough airport for one. He told me a month from now, when the US Airways-American Airlines computers are merged, he could help me. He said the best person to talk to would be someone at the ticket counter but he didn’t recommend leaving the secure area.

Maximize your opportunities to get help: stand in line and call

So I got back in line at the gate. I was in that line for 50 minutes and I never did get to the front. I called US Airways back. This time I was told there was a 20 minute hold. Turned into 40 minutes. During which time the gate agent informed us that the mechanics had still not shown up. So getting to Charlotte that evening was looking highly unlikely. After 40 minutes on hold on the phone, an agent answered and I asked if she could book us on the 7:40pm United flight to Chicago and on from there. She put me on hold for over 10 minutes.

Check directly with the other airlines if you want to be on their flights

Frank walked up at this point to see if he could stand in line for a bit and let me sit. I sent him off to find the gate for the United flight to Chicago to ask if they could get us on. The US Airways agent on the phone came back and told me that she could rebook me for the morning flight through Charlotte getting into Denver Monday at 1:20pm. I said what about the Chicago flight and she said there are no seats. At this point, I get a call from Frank. I ask the US Airways agent to hold. (Putting her on hold was pretty satisfying after being on hold for almost an hour.) Frank says United can get us to Chicago but only one of us can go on to Denver that night. I say take it and start running (literally) for the United gate. (It’s 7:20 at this point. The flight is supposed to leave at 7:40.)

Airlines never communicate very well with each other

I switch back to US Airways tell the agent that United can get us to Chicago, can she get us to Denver? She says we can’t get to Chicago. I say we can get to Chicago. United can get us there. Can you get us from Chicago to Denver? We repeat that conversation a couple of times. She says no seats from Chicago to Denver. I say, yes, but do you have flights? I ask 3 times. She finally starts listing flights.

Tickets caught in limbo land between airlines

Some of my most frustrating moments have been getting airlines to talk to each other.

When I arrive at the United gate, the agent (the same one we’d worked with to get the US Airways tickets) tells me that US Airways has to transfer the ticket back to them. Or US Airways can just book the two empty seats. The US Airways agent insists she can’t, that it’s not her ticket. I finally hand the phone to the United agent. The United agent gives up explaining it too and hands it back to me. I tell the US Airways agent that I really need her to transfer the ticket and she transfers me to United!

Try hanging up and calling back if the agent can’t help you

I hang up on the United answering machine and call US Airways back. This time there’s no hold. The United agent tells me to ask them to uncheck me from the flight and the US Airways guy that answers this time is able to do that.

Sometimes status helps. And sometimes people are really nice.

Meantime, the United agent, using my gold/million miler status has gotten an ok to let us board the flight without boarding passes. She tells us to get on the plane and she’ll take care of things. For the record, I think she is behind most of the things that went our way that evening. I would love to thank her!

Always ask at least twice. The average human can’t say no 7 times in a row.

She has on the flight to Chicago, and we have confirmed seats on the 5am flight to Denver. She says when we get to Chicago, we should have customer service put us on the standby list of the 10pm flight to Denver. I ask her if she can put us on the standby list. She says to do it in Chicago. I say please. She says ok, she’ll do it.

The missing bourbon!

Frank asks about our luggage. (He’s really just concerned about our bourbon!) She says she’ll walk over to US Airways and have them send it to Denver. I write down the claim numbers of our two bags and we get on the flight – emergency row seats, together!

Where will the baggage go?

Frank says we should check the baggage claim in Chicago to see if they send our bags there. I say, if they make this flight (which seems impossible as I ran to the gate and they don’t really know we are on it), they are tagged for Denver. But no way are we getting it until 1:20pm tomorrow when the US Airways flight gets in. Frank worries about his bourbon. I think there’s a possibility the bags will be transferred back to United and then they might make the direct morning flight that gets in at 10:20am. Frank says baggage that’s late usually gets delivered to the house, so we won’t have to go back to the airport to get it. We decide to check on our baggage in Chicago.

Think out your options ahead, know what you want.

We discuss our options and decide if there’s a good chance we can make the 10pm flight, we’ll wait at the Chicago airport to see. If there’s little chance, we’ll ask for a comped hotel room and go out to dinner.

Did someone lie to us?

At the United Club in Chicago, the customer service agent tells us that our bags are in Denver! They had flown on our original flight. She gives us the number for the locker or holding tank they are in.

I was shocked. Not only had the United gate agent gone down to describe our bags so that they could pull them off, but the US Airways gate agent had called down to verify that they were at his gate. Had the person that verified they were there just flat out lied about it?

The agent in Chicago confirmed that we were on the waitlist for the Chicago to Denver evening flight and that we were number 1 and 2 on the list. (Yeah, Louisville gate agent!) She gave us about a 50/50 chance of getting on. They were oversold and everyone was checked in but several flights were late so people might not make it.

Super confident sounding people are not always experts

We got on the Chicago to Denver flight that evening. We got the last two seats on the airplane and they closed the door right behind us.

When we got to Denver, we went to collect our bags and we were told they were not in Denver and had never been in Denver! They had been scanned in Louisville for our original flight but had not been scanned off in Denver nor had they been scanned any where else. We filled out a missing baggage claim with United and she assured us that as soon as US Airways scanned them, she would see them and we’d be updated via email. For the record, I got an email every 6 hours for the next 24 hours, all of which said they had no update.

Always check with all possible people that might help, especially if they work for different airlines

We then walked down to US Airways to ask about our bags. She said they’d been scanned in Charlotte and would be on the first flight to Denver in the morning and she’d walk them over to United to send to us. (So I assume had we not gone through all of our extra efforts, we too would have ended up in Charlotte for the night.)

When I called the next day, they said the bags would be in the Denver airport at 6pm Monday and brought to us that evening.

At 10:30pm, they confirmed the bags were out with a driver (and even sent me his name and picture.) I opted to have them leave them on the front porch and not ring the door bell.

Unfortunately, I forgot to notify our dog of the plan and he went nuts at 1:30am and once I woke up enough, I knew immediately that our bourbon was home!

Was it worth it?

Was it all worth it? I definitely thought it was worth it when I thought we’d get $350 for arriving a few hours late. And along the way we could read a book and chat. Was the $350 we got for arriving 6 hours late worth all the hassle we went through?

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