Just Because You Can Book A Ticket Through An Online Travel Agency……

You keep hearing about all these cheap flights to Europe.  You finally decide you’re going to grab one of them.  Next step?  Open up a browser and start checking out Expedia or Orbitz for a cheap trip.  The online travel agencies (OTAs) make it easy for you, displaying dozens of choices to exciting destinations.  If the OTA will sell it to you, you’re good to go, right?

Not All Itineraries Are Created Equal

I got a message a couple of nights ago from Jeanne at Le Chic Geek.  Jeanne had a family member in a bit of a pickle and wanted to know if I could jump in for a few minutes.  She’s awesome, so of course I said yes.  Jeanne’s no stranger to fixing problems with tickets, but this involved United.  Jeanne is a Platinum member with American, but she knew I was both EXP on American and 1K, United’s top-tier status (lucky me).

It was obvious to both of us her family member needed help with United.  She had a flight from St. Louis to Chicago, then on to Newark and finally to Paris.  She had gotten a text from United that her flight from St. Louis the following morning was delayed by two hours.  That would cause her to misconnect in Chicago and miss her Paris flight.  United wasn’t being very helpful for her.

Side note:  First lesson to learn here.  She was smart to register her phone number for text updates with the airline.  This situation gets imminently harder to solve when you show up at the airport.  It’s why I always recommend “feeding and watering” your reservations.

We all hopped on the phone and I asked her for the record locator.  Her answer?  “Which one?”  Okay, wasn’t expecting that.  My assumptions about her ticket were wrong.  She was on United from St. Louis to Chicago.  Then, she had an American Airlines flight to Newark.  To top it all off, she had an Open Skies flight from Newark to Paris.  Open Skies is owned by British Airways, and it appeared the flight to Paris was an American Airlines codeshare.

This Is Where Things Get Sticky

In this instance, United really has no specific obligation to help her get to Paris.  You’ll get the occasional agent that will go above and beyond to make this happen.  But, as a general rule, I’ve gotten my fair share of “hell no” from an airline when I ask them to help in a situation like this.

This is the second lesson to learn from this situation.  When you’re booking something through an OTA, think about the worst-case scenario, especially if the ticket involves multiple carriers.  Try to avoid it if you can.

After checking all the flights, it was clear she would miss her connection by a wide margin.  United didn’t have an earlier flight.  She was on the first flight of the day.  And, United only had an obligation to get her to Chicago, even though they had plenty of Chicago-Newark flights.

It Never Hurts To Ask

Our best bet here was that the flight was delayed for some sort of mechanical reason and we could convince a United reservations agent to move her to American Airlines out of St. Louis.  American had 3 flights that would work for her.

We found a very nice agent that did just that, and really without much of a fuss.  Here’s lesson number 3.  We had 3 flights to pick from. We chose the second one so that she’d have one more opportunity to make her trip if her first flight was delayed.  Always leave yourself backup options if you can.

What About A Checked Bag?

Great question.  We’ll call this lesson number 4.  United isn’t going to check her bag all the way to Paris.  It’s unclear to me that American would have checked her bag through to Paris in Chicago (though they’re supposed to).  That could have meant the need to leave the secured area to check her bag multiple times and re-clear security.  This itinerary had plenty of connecting time in Newark but less than 2 hours in Chicago.

That’s plenty of time to clear security in Chicago, assuming your flight lands on time and there are no disruptions when you arrive.  But, it’s still something you need to consider when you’re budgeting for connecting time.  You could also choose not to check a bag.  If you do have to clear security again, any liquids you purchased larger than 3.3 oz will need to go into that checked bag or be thrown away.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

In this situation, she spent 90 minutes on the phone with a United reservations agent trying to get them to help, with no avail.  “Hang Up And Call Back” is your best friend.  Don’t get mad at the agent when they won’t help you.  You don’t want them to document your ticket in a way that prevents another agent from helping you.  Some agents are much more willing to help than others.

You Make Your Own Happy Ending

This certainly had the potential to turn into a bad situation.  A friendly United agent was more than willing to put her on another airline.  And, American Airlines even checked her bag all the way through to Paris, even though she was technically still on two separate tickets.

All’s well that ends well.  Hope this helps you plan your next trip!

The post Just Because You Can Book A Ticket Through An Online Travel Agency…… was published first on Pizza in Motion



  1. I had this same situation recently but not with an OTA but with a super cheap Air France ticket from IAH to IST. I live in Kansas City and booked a United ticket last June to Houston for an evening AF flight to CDG and on to IST. Then I booked a ticket on Turkish to TLV. Well by the end of September all these flights either cancelled and rebooked or changed times of course… So I figured out that if I called Air France and had them move me to a CDG-TLV flight it would fix all my problems. Only issue is that I paid like $1000 in business for the AF “super cheap (error) fare” so when they priced out the new airport (although they show TLV as Europe) it was WAY higher so they wouldn’t do it. I was left to pick up the pieces on the phone with Turkish. Let’s just say the conversation went South when we got on the subject of Dynamic Currency Conversion and my refund. Lesson learned is to not have tight connections (less than 6 hours) on such a journey 🙂

  2. Was this all booked from an OTA in one transaction or was this 2 separate tickets? If on two tickets, this is a great lesson as to why booking it this way is not advisable. Even on one ticket I’d probably never mix alliances like that. Too much can go wrong and the airlines love to blame each other.

    If she booked through Expedia, for example, are they actually supposed to intervene if her United flight is delayed? Either way, when my friends/relatives ask, I always say they can use the OTA’s to price compare, but always book directly with the operating carrier. Even if it costs a little more, the savings just arent worth the risks involved if things go sideways.

    1. Shaun, I’m pretty sure the whole thing was booked as one transaction through an OTA, based on what I saw. I’m not sure if it’s all on one ticket stock since I haven’t seen the original e-mail. Either way, I’m not sure what Expedia is obligated to do here. I’d guess probably not much at all. And, even if they are obligated to do something, I wouldn’t put much faith in them actually doing so.

      1. So if you booked one reservation through Expedia or Orbitz as:
        STL-ORD on UA, connecting to
        ORD-EWR on AA, connecting o
        EWR-CDG on OpenSkies

        And UA got delayed, the OTA doesn’t have the responsibility to rebook you all the way to CDG? They’d just leave you stranded in ORD?

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