Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Rusty Stupidness and Banked Miles

Photo by Scott Robinson

Here’s the thing about staying out of the skies for a couple years: you get rusty. Stupid rusty, thereby making stupid rusty stupid mistakes.

Backstory: We haven’t flown since our oldest son married back in May of 2012. Come to think of it, we didn’t even fly then from Chicago to his wedding in Albuquerque. We drove because we could and it’s easier and healthier since I could spread my altitude adjustments over a few days and it's cheaper and we could pack any dang thing we wanted to without extra fees and eat what and where we wanted and see new things along the way and we’re mostly retired and we have a comfortable car with heated AND cooled seats. Ba-BAM!

So when was the last time we flew? Hm. I had to search my mind (nothing) and email files to learn it was back in 2009, also to ABQ. Before that, in 2007 we flew to Florida for a cruise. Before that, I flew Very Often while book touring and speaking my way across the country and back again, and then from here to there in an X pattern and then a star and…

So here we are in 2015 when we still really don’t want to fly but need to get to Albuquerque for our son’s 50th (declared his Five-OH!) birthday party. Since we tempted the fates and drove 3200 miles this past December without severe weather incident (future TravelingLaughs and boy have I got stories to tell!), we decided doing so again in February would be pushing our luck.

But moreover—and thus starts the STUPID (a word I just typo-d and had to correct, gheesh!)--I was tired of babysitting 43,145 American Airlines miles (out of a lifetime 560,145) which have been on the verge of expiring several times over many years thereby causing biannual Ridiculous Encounters of the Vigilant Kind.


--Years ago I lost over 40,000+ hard-earned (actually flew) United Airline miles because they expired. I’ll take the blame: I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I discovered the loss the day after they expired. I contacted United who would have been glad to sell them back to me for a bunch of money I didn’t have. Gone. Not gonna happen with my AA miles, I vowed.

--We quit using a credit card to rack up AA miles way back when they started charging to use said miles. We opted for cash-back cards with dollars that don’t expire and are easy for me to spend, right dear?

So, how to safeguard my 43,145 miles if we weren’t flying or using a mileage card? Well, we could add to them, thereby keeping them, by shopping via an AAdvantage eshopping portal (set up another account to manage and remember that password) that offered ever changing X number of miles per dollars spent at various stores. Which triggered its own separate vigilance:  after jumping through all the appropriate click-through links, did they actually POST the miles? Sometimes not. But please contact them if that happens. :)

To stop the madness, as Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank says, we decided to finally rid ourselves of those always-need-to-be-vigilant brain draining miles by using them.

Too bad this decision didn’t stop the RUSTY STUPID but instead highlighted it!

Since it took 50,000 miles to fly roundtrip to ABQ, I needed to purchase the difference which cost $177--with 145 miles left over which I'm telling you right now I've decided never to care about. Ever. Just before I clicked PURCHASE an “invoice” of sorts presented itself adding a $30 “processing fee”. I sat staring at the screen. I shall not repeat what I first said aloud to nobody, then repeated even louder. But eventually I said to myself, You’re going to end the quickly compounding madness, remember? Just push BUY and get the miles, Charlene!

[SIDENOTE: I am in the wrong business or I am double stupid since before you read this TravelingLaugh you were not charged a $30 “blog processing fee” to read it. But my wheels are spinning for the next installations, so watch out.]

I was notified said purchased miles could take up to three days to show up in my account, and if they didn’t, I should contact them. (More vigilance.) They advised making and holding my reservations until such time as I received notification my account was funded with necessary miles and THEN I could actually purchase the tickets. I made the reservations for all three legs (from a bunch of not-so-hot choices), selected seats (from abysmal choices) and said, Whew! All those years of fretting about protecting miles finally comes to an end. 

The next day (well, at least it wasn’t three days) I received notification the miles were in my account. The email came complete with a handy-dandy purchase link which I clicked. I quickly received my eTickets and an email receipt charging me $150 MORE ($75 per ticket) plus taxes.

Wait. What?! What is this $150? Seems waiting for miles (and being STUPID RUSTYI used to KNOW these things!) put me at 21 days before travel, which costs $75 per ticket to use my own miles on flights I’d never otherwise select in seats that suck. In case you forgot, if you book 21 days or sooner, you’re financially doomed—I just didn’t remember that would be the case with FREE.

So now I was up to $177 plus $30 more plus taxes plus $150 plus yet more taxes to rid myself of those tormenting 43,145 miles, a nut I couldn’t quite swallow. I sat at my desk and prayed, did shoulder rolls, pictured puppies romping through fields of lavender, inhaled, exhaled, counted to 20 and prayed some more, let my shoulders drop and phoned AAdvantage.

Question One, asked in the nicest kindest voice (lavender, puppies…) I’ve ever heard come out of me: Is it costing me to talk to you? I honestly asked that question because some latent memories began to kick in … Don’t call, don’t call ... if it costs $30 to process online, what will a voice charge? The swell woman (seriously) answered No and I began to explain the order of my events leading to what felt to me like a complete surprise $150 charge, $150 more than was in my budget for this trip. I still had the rental car to contend with, oh my.

She looked up everything and verified the “Day 21 Beforehand” timing. First she said she was going to turn me over to someone, then took pity on poor ol’ me and decided she could handle things herself, which would be her attempt to eradicate the $150 by moving our reservations back two days, if such a move was possible. After lots of her clicking and me holding and endless Thankyou, thankyou, THANKYOUing on my part, mission accomplished! I even received a confirmation email complete with an invoice for nothing but yet more taxes—although as I type this I’m thinking: check your credit card charges STUPID! (Did you feel the tension-filled pause there while I checked, and thank goodness STUPID didn’t find anything bad, like a $150 charge.)

At 3 a.m. I was awakened by what I can only call another subconscious STUPID alarm. Why hadn’t she asked me about seat assignments? Why hadn’t I thought about them?! I ran into my office, booted up and discovered zero seats available for the first leg of our two-leg flight to ABQ. The note at the top of the page said:

Heads up!

The number of seats available to pre-reserve are fewer than the number of people in your party. Please check back later or see a Ticket Counter or Gate Agent on the day of your flight.

WHAT? I clicked to the next outbound leg via DFW. We had the same two seats I’d originally selected (the last two-together left at the back of the plane). One more click to our return flight home and … Another Heads up! (And head bang.) I phoned and inquired about this predicament and was told not to worry. It was explained that they hold certain seats which they’d release 24 hours before the flight. I could go online flight day and select them when I checked in, or get them assigned pre-flight at the airport. Again, I was told not to worry, that the flight was not oversold as I’d suggested, and that We. Would. Have. Seats.

This is when I knew they knew I was STUPID!

I have checked multiple times since and see there are still no seats. I am trying not to fret since the Five-Oh! party is mid-day the day after we’re supposed to arrive on a flight for which we have no seat assignments.


SPECIAL REQUEST: If any of you seasoned travel vets knows how I can be assured we’ll get seats or overcome this dilemma, please chime in now in the comments. I'm exhausting myself constantly checking what I feel pretty sure isn't going to change.

If all you have for me is the bad news I feel pretty assured I’m up against, go right ahead and reaffirm my RUSTY STUPIDNESS.  I deserve it. Years ago I would have known better. 

I can only hope that if we do get to fly I don’t have all kinds of stuff confiscated at the gate since I am, yes, THAT RUSTY STUPID. (All together now, it's 3-1-1 but what exactly does that mean again ... **Charlene goes Googling**)
PS I'm sorry for crazy font issues toward the end of my post. I have no idea why that is happening. The more I tried to fix it, the more widespread it became. Although the issues don't show up on my working end, they sure do when I post. Sigh...