You’re registered with the top airfare alert sites: Airfarewatchdog, Kayak and Skyscanner. You’re an avid traveler who doesn’t mind spending, but splurging when you land in your desired destination is way more attractive than dropping bands on a plane ticket, right? Right… We’ll get more into that in a bit. Be patient, loves, you know we got you. Y’all follow GTS on Instagram, so you’ve seen snapshots of my 10-day adventure globetrotting through Southeast Asia. Believe it or not, it was my very first visit to that region of the world. I’ve traveled through the US, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Europe, but my stilettos had yet to make their way so far East—mission accomplished! An Asian getaway just might have to be an annual thang. Now, because I am a travel expert, I tend to plan big trips as far in advance as possible. I’m way too anal to wait to the last-minute. And like any bonafide Globetrotting Stiletto would do, I set up flight alerts from JFK to Bangkok about six months prior to purchasing our RT tickets and kept close tabs on the fares on a weekly basis, something that I strongly advise you folks do moving forward as well. If you’re globetrotting on dime and looking to score the most economical airfare as possible, consider flight alert tools your new best friend.
Fares averaged in the $800s for a good while and although I was tempted to buy, I didn’t, thanks to the price trend graph on Kayak. Their advice was to wait and confidence behind that advice, 80%. So I waited. Fares peaked in the $900s over the next few months and then in early September, I noticed a decline—low $800s, high $700s, mid $700s, low $700s, high $600s (still didn’t buy). Then, at the then end of September, exactly 7 weeks before our ideal departure date, an alert came through from Airfarewatchdog, advertising RT tickets from JFK to Bangkok for $618, taxes and fees included. I consulted my pilot bestie, who just so happens to be a captain for United, on the reliability of the aircraft, something I ALWAYS do when I’m trying an airline out for the first time. My guy and I had never flown Air China, and given the recent rise of crashes, missing aircrafts and other snafus happening in the sky, we needed reassurance before clicking “buy.” Captain Bailey told us we were good to go, so I plugged in my dates, found a 23 hour trip (excellent flying time to Bangkok ) and sealed the deal for $618pp including taxes and fees.
OUTBOUND: JFK to BKK
Fast-forward to the end of October, a week prior to our departure date and I notice that Air China still had not assigned us seats. Strange, but no biggie. I googled the airline, found a 1800 number, spoke to a customer service representative and was told the only way that we could secure seats in advance was by paying to upgrade to first or business class, otherwise, seat assignments would take place at the check-in counter on the day of departure. “Ok. And how much will it cost to upgrade, sir?” I politely queried after listening to an automated Cantonese recording for 40 minutes (thank the heavens a human eventually answered), which had the nerve to be interactive. Every few minutes I had to hit # to confirm that I still wanted to wait to speak with someone, like patiently holding wasn’t enough confirmation. All good. “$4000 per person for first class and $2500 per person for business,” he replied.” “We’ll get to JFK early on the day of departure and handle our seat situation then. Thanks for your assistance.” Upgrading was no longer an option. I was slightly concerned, but still optimistic.
We heeded to the customer service reps advice, arrived at JFK 3 hours prior to departure on October 29th, 2015, only to be met with a line that spilled way out of Air China’s designated roped off maze, packed with anxious travelers wearing questionable expressions, similar to the ones plastered on our faces. All 75 of them. My guy and I look at each other, kissed our teeth first, then shared a good laugh immediately after. We were about to be stuck in middle seats, 40 rows away from one another, sandwiched between a busy toddler and talkative grandma on a 14 hour flight from NYC to Beijing. Let the effin’ adventure begin!
After waiting in line for almost an hour, we were told by the pleasant check-in agent, wearing the prettiest smile, that there are no economy seats left on the flight and that we would have to pay $150pp to upgrade to premium economy—a curtained off section right behind business class that offered extra leg room, more recline, larger seats, a power outlet, slippers and some other convincing ish. “We’ll upgrade. Cash or charge?” I knew we’d just been bamboozled but we went with the flow. Flying comfortably was most important to both of us and besides, neither of us had the energy to protest. Story done.
INBOUND: BKK to JFK
Thailand was metamorphic. A look inside my trip is coming to the site soon, check back in a week or two to indulge.
After well-needed pre-flight massages at Bangkok’s luxurious Madarin Oriental Spa, we ate, drank and did some last-minute market shopping before heading to the airport to catch our 5am flight back to JFK by way of Beijing. We arrived 4 hours in advance to avoid the seat debacle that was thrown at us outbound. Remember that ordeal? And Guess what? Our flight leaving Suvarnabhumi International was delayed, which would cause us to miss our connection in Beijing and Air China REFUSED to do anything about it. They charged the delay to bad weather in Beijing but when we queried, politely, about being switched to another flight, the not so nice Chinese check-in agent, said no and told us that our situation would be handled once we departed Thailand and landed in China. We bitched a bit, but to no avail. What we predicted would happen, actually happened: We got stuck in Beijing. Apparently, the 1:30pm flight that we were scheduled to be on, is Air China’s ONLY daily flight out of Beijing into New York City. There was no putting us on an affiliate’s aircraft, no changing our route into a nearby airport, no compromise, no options just a final decision made BY Air China for US that consisted of two Americans being stuck in a communist country, with no Visa, so exploring the Forbidden City was literally forbidden. If Air China would completely have it their way, we would be stuck in a seedy windowless, Golden Phoenix hotel room, where conditions were beyond deplorable, for 18 hours too long. The toilet and shower were two feet away from one another, if you tinkled and the water was on, you’d get soaked and that’s not even the half. But GTS is a positive site so I won’t go into the yucky details about that damn Golden Phoenix. Just know, we didn’t stay, it was that bad and ended up getting a shuttle back to the airport to find a decent place to sleep for the night that didn’t reek of smoke, who’s hallways were well-lit and whose quarters actually met up to universal health standards. Oh, and did I mention, that Air China lost my guy’s luggage too.
We eventually made it back to NYC safely and when we did, I vowed to:
1) Never EVER fly Air China EVER again
2) Seriously, Never Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Fly Air China again
3) Purchase cheap tickets with caution, most times they’re cheap for a reason
4) Stick to my rule about not checking luggage for any trips 10-days or less
5) Reconsider giving travel insurance/trip protection a second chance. It failed me when I was living in San Perdro, Belize and my house was broken into but that was almost 10 years ago, I can only assume that policies are better.
Have any interesting cheap flight stories? If so, do share them in the comments below.