Playing the Odds and Winning, Even When I Bet Wrong

With snow creeping out along the East Coast, the forecast for DC today was 6-12 inches. And the entire DC area panics at the thought of an inch or two. Dulles, National, and BWI all paralyze. So I rather figured I wouldn’t be making it home this afternoon.

Flying Alaska Airlines (out of a destination with only Horizon service, but fortunately benefiting from one of those $99 companion tickets that come with the Alaska Airlines Visa from Bank of America, I didn’t have a ton of options. Alaska doesn’t have very many East Coast flights, and the weather was looking worse for Newark and Boston.

There were seats to Chicago, but only coach. Atlanta and St. Louis were looking like my best bets. I’d expect to overnight, and grab a flight on Monday morning early enough for work. But the early American flight out of St. Louis was zeroed out… so I figured I’d go to Atlanta. A cheap airport hotel and a $106 one-way up from Atlanta would have me to work by 9am.

While Alaska Airlines folks are uniformly friendly, they don’t seem quite as sophisticated as United during irregular operations.

With United I’ve usually managed to get protected on an alternate flight. I’d have stuck with my DC flight, and if it didn’t go I’d hope over to the Atlanta flight leaving 40 minutes later. No one at Alaska that I spoke to seemed to be able to ‘protect me’ with a bakcup reservation, I had to pull the trigger one way or another.

So I let it ride. And I woke up this morning to the forecast improving for DC. Still, the most recent data was suggesting about 3 inches and the heaviest snowfall around the time we’d expect to be landing. Alaska was showing our flight on decision around flight time, with no updates expected earlier.

And I watched as inventory was shrinking on the alternate flights I was looking at… the Atlanta flight was down to 3 in first class, and other flights were selling out (not surprising for the Sunday after Christmas!). I decided to pull the trigger. It took an agent half an hour on the phone while I was heading to the obscure little airport with only four flights a day, but they got it taken care of. I was happy, I had a plan, and I’d make a night of it in Atlanta. The agent seemed pretty confident that my original flight would be cancelled, so at least I wasn’t the only one that thought so.

Only I arrived in Seattle and our flight was now showing on-time. I headed to the Boardroom and the agents there said that the weather was iffy but the DC flight looked like a go. I asked them to switch me back, the seats I had given up an hour before were still there. But .. those friendly agents couldn’t do anything. They walked me over to the kiosk at the end of the desk, but since it wouldn’t switch my destination they told me they couldn’t either and I’d have to leave the club and get in line at customer service. Really?

No big deal, only a couple of folks ahead of me, and the once-again friendly agent there switched me right back and I returned to the club for some pancakes.

The flight took off ontime, I’m posting via in-flight wifi, and I’m appreciating getting protected on United and the help of the sometimes less-than-friendly agents at the Red Carpet Club who can at least handle rebookings with greater dexterity. Though I do wish those clubs would get pancake machines. Oh, and I wish United would match Alaska with the inflight wifi, and Alaska would match United with seat power. I can manage the transcon on my battery Eastbound just fine, but those Westbound flights remind me that I need to carry some backup juice.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The winter storm warning is now a winter weather advisory, with a forecast of 1 to 2 inches. It’s barely flurrying here now. The bigger problem may be winds which are forecast to pickup as the afternoon goes on. Welcome home!

  2. Yeah, same thing here. Had an IAD-EWR-PBI that is for tomorrow. As everyone was rebooking, I figured that it would probably be passed and running by Tuesday, 2/28. So, looks to be the call. Might work fine in the end

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