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Sometimes it Pays to be Obsessive Part II: Staying in First Class after a Forced Downgrade

Time to add to my pajama collection
Time to add to my pajama collection

I was at a dinner the other night when a friend (and very good food blogger, coincidentally), told the group – “Oh Joe, he’s obsessed with miles and points.” At first I was like, woah, that’s kind of a strong statement – but – guilty. I’ve mentioned before how my semi-obsessive checking of award space has paid off in the past. I wanted to share my experience after a forced downgrade.

Our original itinerary had us going to Philadelphia first
Our original itinerary had us going to Philadelphia first (gcmap.com)

I booked two round trip first class tickets on British Airways using US Airways miles back when they still weren’t charging fuel surcharges. Our routing was BOS-PHL-LHR-LYS on the outbound, and LYS-LHR-BOS on the return. Both transatlantic segments were in first class and we were super excited to take the trip.

Unfortunately, as these things go, I received a troubling e-mail from Award Wallet a month or two later.

Award Wallet alerted me to this unwelcome change
Award Wallet alerted me to this unwelcome change

I called both British and US Airways – it turns out BA switched equipment and the PHL-LHR would no longer have first class. This kind of sucked because this equipment change was ONLY for our day of travel and we were pretty much locked in date wise due to childcare issues.

There were no alternative flights in first at the time, so I did what you should do when these kinds of things happen – I did not accept the change. Instead, I just left it as is and decided to wait and see if first class transatlantic (TATL) space would open up later. My one worry was that if I switched flights back into a first class cabin, US Airways would try to charge me the exorbitant taxes and fees (definitely over $500 maybe up to $1000 per person).

British Airways business class is still lie flat, but we paid for first and would prefer that
British Airways business class is still lie flat, but we paid for first and would prefer that

I was assured by a friendly agent that US Airways would do an even exchange (no extra money on my part). I took her name down in case I needed it, because the reality is many US Airways agents apply the rules differently. Booking awards with US Airways is a bit like the Wild Wild West, which can be a good thing (getting them to book a routing that is technically illegal because they don’t understand geography), or a bad thing (being forced to submit to a rule that doesn’t make common sense).

So, after not accepting the change, I, um, obsessively checked award space from Boston to London almost every single day for the next three months. So, yes, Jen, I guess I am obsessive. My reasoning? There are two flight from Boston to London every night, and I checked and saw a bunch of empty seats on Expertflyer.

When that many seats are open there's always a decent chance award space will open up
When that many seats are open there’s always a decent chance award space will open up

The odds that British Airways would open two of those seats were decent. My plan was to switch onto those flights (or really any TATL flights in BA F that opened up) if possible, or in a worst case scenario just suck it up and fly in business.

Well, yesterday was the day – I logged in at around 130 PM and lo and behold there were two seats on the direct BOS-LHR flight. I couldn’t call US Airways until 230 so I had to sweat out that hour – I’ve seen award space go bye bye in that time before. But being so busy lately, I needed to prioritize the more important things in life first.

As soon as 230 hit, I called up US Airways. I explained to the very helpful agent what was going on and she put me on hold to see if she could switch me to the new flights. My heart skipped a beat when she said “You realize you might have to pay taxes and fees on this new flight now and they can be pretty high on British Airways.” <deep breath> I calmly and confidently replied, “I was told when I had called before that it would be an even exchange since the downgrade was forced on us – could you please see if that’s still possible?”

Lyon - here we come in F!
Lyon – here we come in F!

She said she would check on it and put me on hold. I hadn’t even whipped out the previous agent’s name yet. I was on hold for 15 minutes – I actually thought that since I was on hold for a long time she was probably doing the even exchange (otherwise she’d have come back asking for my CC information or whatever). Indeed, she came back on, thanked me for waiting, and told me she had taken care of everything. Woohoo!

So now we not only have reinstated our seats in first class without having to pay anything (not that I thought we should have, it was gonna be a real dilemma if they had tried to make us to and I didn’t have time to hang up and call again), but we have one less segment and can leave directly from home!

Final Thoughts

I share this anecdote to reiterate that in this game, it really does pay off to be obsessive sometimes. Jess and I don’t get to travel as much anymore now that Little M is around – so when we do I want to aspire to as high a level as possible. Right now we can still do that and it’s important to me to take advantage of the opportunities while they are still there. Never underestimate the importance of “gardening” your reservations.

Joe
Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less
http://www.asthejoeflies@gmail.com

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