The Fine Print Fail

Nov 13, 2018

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We've all had travel fails.

Maybe you forgot to grab your carry-on bag when boarding a plane. Maybe you got onto an Amtrak headed in the opposite direction of your destination.

Or maybe you simply bought plane tickets for a flight on the wrong date. That's what happened to Brittney White, an executive assistant living in San Francisco. While booking the incorrect date might seem like no big deal, White now — unfortunately — knows otherwise.

The fail

White travels quite often — roughly once per month — to visit her boyfriend, friends and family. Though no stranger to flying, her fail cost her plenty.

White booked a flight to Chicago three weeks in advance for her niece's bat mitzvah. She chose United Economy, as it was the cheapest price available at the time ($550). Luckily for White, her sister noticed that she had booked the flight for the wrong weekend. "OK, no big deal," thought White. "I'll just change the ticket."

That's where things went wrong. Turns out White had purchased a United Basic Economy ticket, and there is no changing those tickets 24-hours after they're purchased.

"I had no idea there were different levels of economy, much less did I read the fine print about the booking details," White says. "So because I needed to adjust my ticket and it was past the 24-hour time window I [couldn’t do anything].

“There is no change fee; you don't get to use the funds toward anything. You have to either fly or wave goodbye to the money.”

The options

As White said, her options were either to use the tickets and fly to Chicago for no real reason or consider the $550 a charitable donation to United Airlines. White, having little choice in the matter, ended up buying another ticket — for $680 — for the correct weekend.

The lesson

What happened to White is certainly atypical: Most people assume if they book a flight for an incorrect date, they'll be able to change it. Even if they have to pay for that option. But the lesson here?

Never assume anything when it comes to traveling. United's site does explain its Basic Economy policy, you just have to look for it.

Next time you book a flight, remember White's tale. Reading the fine print is essential. Unless you enjoy donating money to airlines.

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