Four years ago C2 was a 16-year-old exchange student in Spain (all about that here). Now she’s a 20-year-old study abroad student in Chile. I learned a lot last time, especially about logistics and not trusting anyone who says anything the first time they say it, especially representatives from official organizations who, by the smallest slip of the tongue, might misstate a seemingly inconsequential detail that could end up costing you time, money, and opportunities. I firmly believe (and it’s worked for me in practice), that it’s impossible to be over prepared. Preparation saves money, worry, and, curiously, affords one more opportunity to be spontaneous. While there’s a certain charm in checking out of your hostel early to take a chance on catching a bus to catch a train for a weekend trip to an amazing waterfall that an Australian backpacker told you he’d heard about from a Swedish girl he slept with in Peru, that’s not how I roll. I’m happy to trade in a little spontaneity for a phone call that tells me that the train isn’t running until tomorrow because of a little-known holiday celebrated only in even-numbered years. Look at me, not spending the night on the bench outside the locked doors of the train station because there are no available rooms in the village with a population of 42 people and 186 dogs.
She wanted to change her departure date, which was already a week after her program ends. It is much cheaper and easier to do it from here than from Chile, so I called Delta to find out what’s involved and how much it would cost. The cheapest it’s possible to get away with is a $200 penalty (their term) to change the date. To leave from a different airport or at a time when a different fare code is in place could mean hundreds or even thousands more (and involves much research on Delta’s part to determine the final cost). So, $200 it is. The nice telephone representative told me that I can make the reservation, and then C2 pays the $200 at the airport in Santiago when she departs for home. Unfortunately, she said, I couldn’t pay for it now. I wanted to pay for it now because confirmation numbers and e-mailed itineraries with the changes clearly indicated in print make me happy. I didn’t change the reservation then because the only available fares were either four (not long enough) or ten (possibly too long) days later and we (or maybe that was me) weren’t ready to commit yet.
So. A few days ago I call again to change the reservation for real. Those fares are still available and all she has to do is go to a Delta office to pay for it.
At the ticket counter when she leaves, right?
Unfortunately, a lot of those Latin American countries won’t allow us to collect those fees because they want to collect their extra taxes and fees themselves.
You are f—, um, kidding me, right?
No, unfortunately [a favorite term of customer-service reps, I’ve discovered], that’s how they do it there. Let me check Chile just to be sure, but if we have a ticket office in the country they require that the fees be paid in person.
A couple of minutes later she comes back and confirms her earlier statement, with two “unfortunately”s this time. She’d be happy to make the reservation, but it could be held for only 24 hours.
So, if a customer is in, say, Tierra del Fuego and wants to change her reservation, she must travel for days back to Santiago to do so?
Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of those Latin American countries require and until they allow us to collect the tax there’s nothing we can do.
I didn’t change the reservation because I didn’t know when C2 could get to Santiago. In this case it’s not such a terribly big deal because C2 has a friend in Santiago where she can stay and who will accompany her to make the transaction (native speakers always good to have along in such cases). But it’s a couple-hour trip each way and an inconvenience in many other ways. The plan was that tonight she’d leave for Santiago and her friend would take her and her cash (after being charged four times for one plane ticket, she’s become a fan of cash – the problems get worked out in the end, but your account is tied up in the meantime and you are not refunded all of the foreign transaction fees) to the ticket office. If I’d changed the reservation the first time I called, she would have gotten to the airport and found that it had been canceled because it hadn’t been paid for.
After establishing when she’d go to Santiago and trying to keep within the 24-hour reservation-holding window, I timed my call to Delta today to be about 24 hours before the ticket office in Santiago closed tomorrow. My call was close to the time C2 would be boarding a bus to Santiago. I told her to listen for her phone and that I’d call if she needed any additional information to pay for the change. I call to change the reservation. After we get it all figured out:
And what credit card would you like to pay with?
What? I can pay now? Now? Over the phone? Like, now?
Yes, ma’am. Which credit card?
Wait a minute: A few days ago I spent 20 minutes on the phone with Delta telling me that was impossible. You mean she doesn’t have to go to a ticket office?
Um, no, ma’am. Why would she have to do that?
Because of taxes and because that’s what I was told the last time I talked to Delta. And the first time I talked to Delta.
I don’t know what might have happened, ma’am [customer-service rep code for “you’re lying”], which credit card?
While I’m thrilled, I’m also worried that, as I’m talking to Delta, C2 is boarding a bus for a long trip to Santiago that she doesn’t need to take. We finish the transaction, she confirms my e-mail address and tells me she’s just sent the updated itinerary. It’s not there at that instant and, having been burned before, I ask if there is some sort of confirmation number I can use in case the e-mail gets held up anywhere and I don’t receive it.
It’s the same confirmation number you’ve had all along, ma’am.
Yes, I know, but is there something that confirms that we’ve had this conversation? To prove that the reservation has been changed and paid for?
You know, something that confirms to me, her mother, the thing that is the only thing between her coming home as planned and not sleeping on the floor of the Santiago airport until she has to start hooking outside the mens’ bathroom until she earns enough money to pay for a much more expensive ticket, necessitated by not changing the ticket now, like you told me you just did?
I sent you the e-mail, ma’am.
Yes, I know, but,
JUST IN CASE Y’ALL FUCK ME OVER AGAIN DESPITE YOUR ASSURANCES TO THE CONTRARY,
is there something to indicate what we’ve just done?
I sent you the e-mail ma’am. It’s the same number ma’am.
Clearly, she’s not going to acknowledge my need for a belt and suspenders and a bungee cord woven through my belt loops and hooked to my bra straps, so I stall until the e-mail shows up. I very nearly ask her how the weather is where she is.
There it is. New dates, all paid, same confirmation number.
I make a quick call to C2, she hasn’t bought her ticket yet, so all is well. If I’d not called back after the second call C2 would have made an unnecessary trip to Santiago, which costs time and money. What if that information was given to someone who was in Brazil at the moment with a planned departure from Santiago? When in a foreign country, speaking in not your native tongue, on a sometimes expensive cell phone or a dodgy public phone, you’re not likely to make a lot of calls just to ensure that the last person you talked to knew what she was talking about. That conversation could have cost that hypothetical traveler hundreds of dollars, much time, and an alteration of his itinerary.
In case you were wondering, only the second person, the woman who gave me the most inaccurate information, had an American accent.