While planning our 5 week summer trip to the Pacific I needed to find a way to and from California.
I used American Airlines miles to fly to Tonga and home from Vanuatu. Those flights started and ended in California. Since we live in NYC and AA didn’t have saver awards from NY-LA and SF-NY, I had to look at other options or I would’ve had to pay around 30,000 miles per person each way.
Considering our international flight cost 80,000 round trip, how could I pay 60,000 to go from NYC – Cali?
In the end, I found flights with Virgin America totaling a little over 63,000 to get us to and from California.
There was some risk involved in booking those flights with Virgin America. Since they were separately booked, if I was late for my Los Angeles- Fiji/ Tonga flight, it wouldn’t be Fiji Airways’ problem. Just as well, if I was late for my Virgin America flight home, it wouldn’t be their problem since that booking had nothing to do with my international flights.
Over our 5 weeks, all of the flights went smoothly, besides one delay of around an hour. Not bad at all considering we were flying a lot!
Well what do you know, bad luck struck on the last day or our trip.
I had planned a day in San Francisco for us when we arrived back in the US. The primary reason for our 24 hour stop in SF was to visit AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. I purchased tickets a little after midnight, the night before we were supposed to fly home from Vanuatu.
When I woke up at 7:30AM, I saw an e-mail from Fiji Airways. Our flight to Nadi, Fiji was delayed. Our 4:50PM flight would be taking off 7 hours late, causing us to miss our flight from Nadi to San Francisco!
The e-mail from Fiji Air alerted us of the delay and listed our next flight but failed to mention how we’d miss the connection.
Fiji Airways doesn’t have an office in Vanuatu but they are represented at a travel agency in town. We headed over to the office to try to clear up the issue.
I explained to the rep how these delays would cause us to miss a flight home from SF to NYC which was a separate booking. The rep understood the issue and asked Fiji Airways if they could re-ticket us home to NYC due to this.
After some back and forth, the answer was no. Since the flight was booked though American Airlines, Fiji Air claimed only they could change the destination! I argued my case but got nowhere fast so it was time to give up.
We were now supposed to leave Vanuatu around midnight, getting into Fiji at 4:30AM. The best part was that there was no flight to San Francisco! Fiji Air ticketed us on a flight to LA which wouldn’t leave until 9:40PM. We’d then have to rush due to a tight connection, to catch our flight to SF.
(Those baseball tickets I had purchased were useless as we’d be arriving in SF around 27 hours after we originally should’ve.)
Now I had to deal with finding a way home from San Francisco. We were scheduled to land in SF three hours after our Virgin America flight took off.
I called the American Airlines Gold hotline (from Vanuatu) for free through Skype, hoping they could get us home from LA or SF. I explained the situation and got an apology but not much else.
The rep said the destination could not be changed more than 300 miles. After pleading how it was Fiji Air’s fault that we were missing our Virgin America flight, the rep did some searched for flights back to NYC. It turned out that there weren’t three seats on the flights she checked. And to top it off, she was checking only to try to sell me the flight (with miles), not change our destination due to Fiji Air’s delay!
My next move was to call Virgin America. This wasn’t their problem or fault, so I couldn’t see why they’d let us make a free change….
Again, I explained the situation and the rep worked hard but came back with news that we’d be charged $300 to redeposit the miles. He said we could then re-book our flight etc… I wasn’t happy with the scenario and was about to cancel our flight when he then told me to wait….
Another rep told him that if we missed our flight, we could get on the next available flight. He said, “Virgin America won’t leave you behind.” This was music to my ears but I was still skeptical.
The rep typed a whole bunch of notes into the computer and told me to call back the following day before getting on our flight to LA.
I ended up calling from the Fiji Airways lounge in Nadi through Skype once again. After a brief hold, I explained the situation. The rep said no problem, typed a few things in and had us booked on a redeye home from SF- all at no charge whatsoever!
In the end, we landed at NYC’s JFK Airport a little less than 10 hours later than we originally planned.
We missed out on a day in San Francisco, wasted a small amount of money on Giants tickets, learned how amazing Virgin American customer service is and were reminded that AA is not customer friendly. As for Fiji Air, our flights with them were very good but their customer service wasn’t so much.
In the end, Kim and I both said that if we’re going to have a flightmare, let it happen at the end of our trip, where the damage caused would be minimal.