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My $4000 Travel Hacking Mistake




4 years ago, I started “travel hacking.” I have always focused on earning the points and miles with some kind of spend. Optimizing the usage of points and miles is a weakness of mine. As an example, I don’t know the fancy routing rules to utilize a stop over or open jaw of a program. My overall understanding of things is pretty good. It’s the execution like the example above that’ll cause a hiccup, which leads to my $4000 mistake.
The mistake stems from trying to secure a China visa for my mom. The consulate required travel documents to China like a flight and hotel reservations. This should be easy, right? Book a refundable airline ticket and make a hotel reservation and then submit. Unfortunately, some where along the process I booked a non refundable ticket business class ticket. I figured that business class tickets should be more flexible than economy to start. I thought I had carefully read through the documentation on the ticket and committed to the right ticket.
After the visa was secured, I cancelled the reservation expecting it to automatically show in a few days. After two weeks, the refund did not show up on my credit card. I called United Airlines to find out that I was booked in a non refundable P class.
What is the lesson to be learned? Be extremely careful before committing to purchasing it and get another set of eyes just in case. The plus side is that I still have credit with United. The downside is that I need to book my mom to a cheap flight to a destination she may or may not want to go and use the difference as a travel credit and use it on myself. The downside is that I now have $4000 I have to use on United.
12 comments… add one
  • Just so you know – if you have status (or friends with status, which I know you do), you can book awards the qualify for the Visa, and then just have the miles redeposited afterwards. One thing of note though, some visa’s (e.g. I had this with Vietnam) will give you the visa based on the dates of your itinerary (e.g. if its a 3 month visa, it will start on the day you arrive based on your itinerary).

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  • Ouch! Feel your pain. $4K in MS fees should have earned 8-10 r/t Biz tickets. But I’m curious why you purchased tickets instead of booking award tickets? And why not simply purchase the tickets you needed for the times you wanted and avoid the return/cancellation issue altogether? Baffling decisions on many fronts.

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    • Booking an award ticket to asia usually requires making a call, which if I know CTP, he definitely wanted to avoid for sanity of not making a million calls to get the right ticket. Then to cancel that ticket.

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      • Hmm. I’ve booked half a dozen Asia J/F award tickets recently and none required a call. But if all that was needed was a ticket, why not book Saver Economy? Almost never a problem finding availability. There must be more to this story – why book a Biz fare anyway if all he wanted was something to have when applying for a visa? Why not a much cheaper refundable economic ticket? Baffled.

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        • Mileswhip is correct, I didn’t want to call in to cancel the ticket or book a ticket. Wanted to do it completely online. I also don’t have airline status so I couldn’t just book it wait for the visa to come in then cancel for free. I could have made the ticket so convoluted and hope for a schedule change to cancel for free. I did that once and at least 3 times the schedule change did not work in my favor and was about a month away and finally I was able to cancel. Didn’t want to have to stay on top of it.

          I just mistakenly and automatically thought that because it’s business class they’d be more flexible than economy so I didn’t look for a refundable economy.

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  • A mistake is a mistake-we’ve all made them-they often hurt-as in your example- but we also learn from them. Thanks for being brave and sharing yours!

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  • Don’t you have a travel agent? They know the rules.

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    • After it all happened, I now have a travel agent I can call to handle this

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  • As far as I understand it (and this worked for me), they just require a printout of the ticket. Just book a ticket, say Delta LAX-PVG, immediately print the confirmation and then cancel online under the 24 hour policy.

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    • That is really great advice. Invoke the 24 hour rule!

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      • Agreed, that’s a great idea I wish I thought of. They don’t even check if it’s valid or not when they go through the approval process

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