Booking epic with a happy ending

When we first started considering this voyage I began to research around the world airfares. It soon became apparent that a combination of our love of Singapore Air and the likely stops was going to take us with Star Alliance. They also have this rather nifty online system where you can plan out your stops, make changes, get quotes and book online. Given a history of bad travel agent experiences, I would much rather do my own planning where possible.

Over the intervening months I have created and changed countless variations on itineraries. This process was not as simple as it might sound. The RTW ticket can only have 16 legs on it and different configurations of stops use up legs differently, and change the cost. Sometimes adding in a leg would bring down the cost (presumably because two direct flights are cheaper than one indirect one). Sometimes removing a leg or changing to a slightly different airport would put the cost up.

So after a great deal of time and effort we finally settled on an itinerary. At the 23rd hour we made some final changes – adding in three more stops – and then we were ready to book.

The first problem hit almost immediately – the first flight was now unavailable. OK, we could handle that, we moved it to the next day. But now I’m getting nervous, worrying I may have left the booking too late.

So I start to make the booking online; and the nifty system does not work; simply refuses to allow me to actually make the booking. I email the Star Alliance help desk. Apart from getting three copies of my own email sent back to me I get no response for days and then an email asking me to phone an airline. I phone Singapore Air and have a deeply frustrating conversation with someone who has absolutely no idea what he is talking about and conveys that in broken English over a bad line. In frustration I give up.

I try again online and get a step forward; but when it comes to the actual booking part of the process I get shunted to an email form. I’m getting mildly frustrated but it’s progress so I persevere and fill in the form.

The next day I get an email response from Star Alliance in Germany (who I have to say have been unfailingly polite and helpful). The good news is they can make the booking. The bad news is, first, that we have to fly out 4 days earlier than we want and, second, that the price is $3000 higher than I have been quoted by the online system for the last 6 months. I query the price and am told that the online system mistakenly gives a discount for children that is not, in fact, available. Well that’s annoying (and with my lawyer’s hat on, probably illegal).

So thinking that I should stop trying to do this myself and get professional help, I go to a travel agent. I hand him the itinerary and ask for a quote and to see if he can fix another issue which is that the online system would not let us book a direct flight from LA to Sydney; instead insisting on routing us through Auckland. Five days and several contacts later I’ve heard nothing from him.

Then this morning I get an email from Star Alliance saying that the travel agent has made a booking and I now have two bookings in the system. This will lead to smoke pouring out of the system’s ears and bad things will happen unless I cancel one of the bookings pretty much now. The travel agent is closed on the weekend, so there’s an issue.

Finally, it all becomes too much. I email the lovely German people. They strangely manage to find space for us on the flight we originally wanted from Sydney to Singapore. I take that as a sign and hand over the credit-card details. And there it is – we’re booked to go.

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