Sometimes the difference between keeping $150 and losing it is one simple phone call.
It’s a simple lesson: Persistence pays. It’s also one that every personal finance expert worth their salt will tell you is among the most important to learn. No one cares about your money as much as you do, and to keep it, sometimes you have to fight for it.
I learned that the hard way today during one incredibly irritating morning of back-and-forth with a major airline. At stake was a $150 ticket reissue fee that I didn’t think I had to pay.
Here’s what happened:
The airline called, saying they needed some information from me regarding the flight I had bought with frequent flier miles. When I contacted them, they said my name on my ticket didn’t match the name on my driver’s license. (It didn’t; I go by my middle name.) Because of that, my tickets would have to be reissued under my full name and my frequent flier mile account information changed to reflect that name. For this, they wanted me to pay $150.
I was shocked. It seemed an absurd way to treat a customer who had earned hundreds of thousands of miles over the years by flying on their airline and using their credit card.
That being said, in this post-9/11 world, I understand the importance of matching the name on the ticket with the name on the ID. That has become even more of a focus in the past year or so. New Transportation Safety Administration (TSA ) rules implemented in 2010 put an increased emphasis on a traveler’s ticketed name matching the name on his driver’s license or passport. The TSA’s Secure Flight program requires airlines to collect the following:
- Name (as it appears on the government-issued identification [ID] the passenger plans to use when traveling)
- Date of birth
- Redress number, if applicable. (You’d go through redress if you were, for example, incorrectly identified as someone on a watch list. The redress number is basically your confirmation number that you have been determined to not be the person on the watch list.)
When you buy from this airline (and presumably all others) online, you must input this information before you can complete your purchase. Problem is, I bought my ticket over the phone. (For a long time, it was challenging — if even possible at all — to redeem miles online, so we would do it over the phone. It’s just a habit that has stuck until today.) The representative didn’t ask for that TSA-required info over the phone, and when the airline realized that, days later, they called me in search of it.
A few days later, I called back. The person I spoke with was uncooperative, even belligerent, when I asked about the need for the $150 charge.
“I’ve been a loyal customer for more than 15 years.” Didn’t matter.
“Can I trade in extra miles instead of paying the fee?” Nope.
I finally got so flustered that I had to hang up the phone, with nothing yet resolved.
After venting to my wife and some co-workers, I researched the TSA rules. What the airline said was legitimate — except for that part about the $150 fee. Still angry, I went to lunch, which I refused to use my airline credit card to pay for. That was a big protest for me; my wife and I are miles junkies and use that particular card for nearly everything, then pay it off in full each month. At that point, however, I was ready to stop using the card and make a different rewards card our go-to card.
When I called back, I had largely resigned myself to paying the fee. After all, there was little I could do beyond just asking them for a favor. Then I got a surprise: an actual, pleasant, helpful person.
She said, “This shouldn’t be any problem. I don’t why the other person told you all that.”
With that, my whole day changed. I wasn’t getting ripped off for $150. I wasn’t being talked down to. All I had to do was fax my driver’s license information and my frequent flier account number to the airline and they’d take care of the rest. A few minutes later, I had a new ticket in my inbox with my full name on it, and in a few days, I’ll have a frequent flier account card as well.
I still don’t know, frankly, whether I’ll go back to using the airline’s card as much as I used to. That representative was ugly enough to make me not want to give his company my money. Still, as unnecessary maddening as it had been, this whole fiasco drove home the point for me that when it comes to protecting your money, persistence is paramount. Don’t take someone’s first answer as gospel. Don’t accept that you have to pay. And don’t be afraid to hang up, take a deep breath and then call back. After all, you could find that second call is a completely different experience from the first one.