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Italy – Getting There

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June 5, 2013 by Dan

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We knew we were going to Italy quite some time ago – a dear college friend of mine was getting married, and when she let us know in Octtober that it was going to be in Salo, on Lake Garda, in Northern Italy, our conversation went something like this.

Me: So Carolyn’s getting married in Italy in June
Julie: OK!
Me: So we should just get tickets, right?
Julie: OK!
Me: Ten days?
Julie: OK!

Not a lot of disagreement in our marriage about this kind of thing.

So I sat down in front of a laptop in October, after the save-the-date arrived and tried to figure out how to get us there. I had about 100,000 British Airways miles to burn, and Julie had about 88k sitting in an American account, so after some doing, I figured out a routing.
San Francisco – Dusseldorf – Milan, leaving on May 22. AirBerlin using BA Avios miles.
Milan – Dusseldorf – Los Angeles – San Francisco, AirBerlin business class using AA miles. We didn’t have quite enough for this one, so we had to buy 12,000 AA miles for around $150. That’s an expense I’ll take.

Then, a few months later, we started to get antsy. I kind of wanted some more time, and Julie wanted to see Florence. Unfortunately, the schedule and schlep didn’t make a whole lot of sense. We had the following conversation:

Me: I wish we had more time.
Julie: Me too. Is there anything we can do?
Me: No. Wait, maybe there is. I think I got an email a bit ago…

I had received an email from British Airways in January that I had completely ignored – something about our flights. I went back and dug through it and…our flight to Milan had been cancelled! AirBerlin had decided to stop flying directly to San Francisco, and we were out of luck.

Or, really, we were in luck. I called up British Airways and spent about an hour on the phone with a helpful agent, who told me that we would need to find award space in order to reschedule/reroute our tickets there. I went online that night and using a weird combination of BA.com and AA.com found a ridiculous routing that fit the bill:

SJC – ORD – DUS – STR – FLR

That’s San Jose, Chicago, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Florence. Five airports, coach class, something like eighteen hours of total time. But still free! And leaving on May 18, giving us a full two weeks! And flying into a different city, so we didn’t have to do a loop! I felt like a true Frequent Flyer Badass. The flight was under the same confirmation number, so I noted it and then forgot about it until mid-April, when I realized that I had never received a second confirmation with an e-ticket number. So I called up British Airways and was told to call back on May 1, because sometimes it takes a while for those tickets to work through the system.

Note: if someone tells you this, do not believe them. It is not true. Modern IT systems do not take three months to work through things.

I called back on May 1, worried that our flight wasn’t really a thing and that we’d have to shell out a couple of thousand dollars for a last-minute flight. Luckily, I got the best British Airways agent in the world. He was a guy with a southern accent and a no-BS attitude, and after he looked up my reservation, he said “what exactly the hell is going on here?” I explained my story, and he laughed a bit.

“No, no,” he said. “If your flight was cancelled it’s on us to get you onto another flight, regardless of whether it’s award space or not. Hang on.”

I held for two minutes. He came back on. “How about San Francisco to JFK to Dusseldorf to Florence?” he said. “It’ll save you that ridiculous Stuttgart stop.”

“Works for me,” I said.

“OK, it’s done,” he said after a bit. “You should get an email in a couple of minutes. If you do not, then call us back.”

I checked. It was there. We were, finally, going.

Except…one thing that I was not aware of that I should have been aware of was that if you use one airline’s miles to fly with another airline, your confirmation numbers were different. Since we were flying American from SFO – JFK, I needed an American confirmation number to check in; I found this out when attempting to check in on the BA website the day before we left. Not too big of a deal, but I still had to spend an hour on the phone with BA to make sure that the confirmation numbers worked. Even with that, we still weren’t able to print out boarding passes for the last leg, because I was checking in more than 30 hours before that last leg took off.

All first-world problems, admittedly. But still, there are some lessons to be learned here. Check your reservations. Check your confirmation numbers. And, if you have problems or worries, call.

The upshot of all of this was that we woke up at 4:30 in the morning on Saturday the 18th, rode to SFO, checked in, and were soon settled into aisle-and-window seats on an American Airlines 767. And so it began…


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