Frequent Flyer: Falling Airfare after the Flight is Booked

Normally I like to share good flight deals I’ve taken advantage of to volunteer as a marshal. In this post I’d like to share what happens when I don’t get the best deal, and overpay for my trip somewhere.

Don’t you hate when the air fare drops after you’ve booked  your flights? Don’t you just hate it when it continues dropping further?

Who doesn’t? I certainly do. And it happened to me several time this year… Boo! Hopefully by writing this down I’ll remind myself to be more patient in the future and make smarter decisions.

So first things first. I used frequent flyer miles to book both of my European trips this season. I thought I got a pretty decent deal redeeming 20k AA miles to go to Belgium via Finland to volunteer at the Nurburgring in May, and 30k AA miles to fly back home, also through Finland but this time the price hike was due to the peak season starting. I used a similar strategy for my second trip to Belgium for Spa 24h to fly via Italy on Alitalia using 30k Delta miles, and 30k AA miles on the way home, again through Finland. I wanted to use domestic miles to fly foreign carriers like Aliatalia (AZ) and Finnair (AY). Both were decent experiences for me, and I’m happy with the way I used my miles.

The two domestic trips I had to book to volunteer in Austin for WEC at Circuit of the Americas and in Atlanta for IMSA at Road Atlanta I decided to use a combination of miles and paid tickets. The reason for using the miles is that I had some 6.5k miles left over in my Avianca Life Miles account which were due to expire in October, and I didn’t foresee using them on anything else, so the decision was made to book a United flight either to or from Austin on a routing that I liked. So that’s precisely what I did. Avianca frequent flyer program allows you to purchase the necessary miles towards an award redemption when you don’t have enough. So using my available miles I only had to purchase another 6k for a standard 12.5k one way award flying their Star Alliance partner: United. I chose an early morning flight on Sunday that would get me back in Newark by 1pm so I can go back to work the same day and work the half-day shift. I thought that was a great use for those miles and the timing was perfect. In all I spent the 6.5k miles and $120 in taxes, fees and of course the additional miles I had to purchase. At the time it seemed like a great idea, though mind you that last year I went to Austin twice flying JetBlue from Boston to Austin/Houston, for $106 round-trip. Basically, I flew two round trips last year for the price of a one way ticket this year. Not that great…

With the trip home taken care of I was eager to book something on the outbound leg. The cheapest option was flying JetBlue from Westchester County Airport (HPN) to Austin via Orlando for $118. Why did I book this trip? I have no idea… totally went against my best judgement but I did. Part of me was afraid that one way air fare would either go up or stay high. The other part of me wanted to participate in the JetBlue promo where this one trip would count as two legs in their TrueBlue frequent flyer program promo, that when combined with the existing trips I’ve taken with JetBlue this year would yield an additional 5k bonus points with the airline, which could be redeemed for a one way medium range flight, like one from NYC to South Florida. Still, using the previous year’s example I paid more for a one way trip than I paid for a round trip before. In all, I spend $238 for the single round trip to Austin. Not great at all…

Now ideally, the best airfare you can get is one you are comfortable paying at the time of the booking. I was comfortable with both of my bookings, and I should have stopped checking prices after I’ve booked because neither ticket was refundable. But I didn’t. Curiosity got the best of me and I continued checking weeks and months after. And what do you know? The prices continued to drop. First I found a Southwest flight for $216 round trip outright, without using frequent flyer miles and departing directly from Newark to Austin without having to drive for an hour to Westchester on the New York Connecticut border, or having to connect through Orlando or Houston. And then the price dropped further to $188 for the same flight. I would have been better off letting the Life Miles expire and still saved $50 bux on this trip. Doh!

southwest ewr-aus

At this point I just wanted to kick myself. I paid $50 bux more for a connecting flight using multiple airports that are further away than my home airport and a direct flight now available through Southwest. Boo! The lesson to be learned is I didn’t have patience. (or common sense!)

Sometimes fares come along that you must pull a trigger on because the price is the rock bottom available for that market. This example happened with my Atlanta booking for Petit Le Mans. I saw Philadelphia to Atlanta direct flight advertised for $127 round trip, thought it was a great deal given the double and triple as expensive flights that were advertised around the same time, so I jumped on it. Only to see the price drop by $10 the very next day (more than 24 hours since my booking). Calling the airline didn’t really help. They were happy to cancel and rebook my trip using the cheaper fare, but it was going to cost me $200 in penalties/rebooking fees. Not very good! A few days later the same flights dropped another $10 bux to $107 round trip. Crap!

So I’m totally having buyer’s remorse for both of my domestic bookings this year. While the damage is fairly minimal on the grand scheme of things, people get burned by airlines for far greater amounts, I’m still not too thrilled with myself for making these rookie mistakes and not having enough discipline and patience to wait for the right deal to come along. For the $70 that I overpaid I could have had a car rental for a week in Atlanta.

But on the positive note I got the flights I wanted, for the precise times I wanted to fly. And I should get from the track right back to the office so I can make some money to pay for my next trip.

What’s the best price to pay for a ticket? The answers are many!

PS. there is one more flight I’m going to need to book this season and that is for my trip to marshal Dubai 24h in January. Normally the flight is in the $800 to $1000 range round trip. My goal is to get it between $300 and $400. We’ll see how successful I am 🙂