Do As I Say, or How We Almost Never Got To China
Photo by Josh Meister Photo.
Before we embarked on this round-the-world trip, we knew we'd make mistakes, but we didn't realize we'd have quite so many issues involving layovers.
Typically on this trip, we've tried to be economical in the use of our points, but when we were booking our flight from Croatia to China with Merrill Lynch points on Aeroflot, we realized we'd have to layover in Moscow, and the second leg was going to be loooonnnggg and overnight. Doing a little bit of digging, I saw that there was a Comfort Class option on that second leg, but since that class was non-existent on the first leg, I could either book the whole thing in standard economy or break it up into two bookings for a few more points.
Thinking the extra leg room and reclining seats (plus in theory, better food options, which was a joke as Aeroflot gets our vote for worst airline food ever) would be a big plus on that second leg, we went for the latter option. We used Delta points to book Aeroflot economy from Zagreb to Moscow, and then, departing about four hours after the first flight was scheduled to land, Aeroflot Comfort Class tickets from Moscow to Beijing.
When we got to the check-in counter at Zagreb airport, the ticketing agent got to work inputting our information and then promptly called over another representative who told us he couldn’t put us on the plane as we didn’t have visas for Russia. We protested, saying we were only laying over there and not actually going into the country, but he was insistent and told us it didn’t matter, since we had booked two separate tickets and not a through flight. Trying to find a solution, we asked: Could we purchase visas then and there or when we landed in Moscow? No. Could he somehow combine the itinerary to make it one ticket? No. Could they hold us in a security room in Moscow until flight boarding? No. Finally, grasping at straws, we asked if they’d let us carry on Josh’s backpack (which they had originally deemed slightly too large to qualify as hand luggage), would we be able to get on the flight? Maybe…. He then asked us if we had already checked in for the second flight departing from Moscow, which we had. And we had a yes! Success!
This very nice representative, to whom we’ll be forever indebted, issued our tickets, made us promise up and down to not even think about leaving the airport in Moscow, and sent us on our merry way.
We were reminded once again (see: Iceland) that it's always a better idea to book an entire itinerary through one carrier or issuer instead of breaking it up through different points programs to frankenstein your own route together.
We also learned maybe the most important lesson of our traveling so far – don’t give up when someone is trying to deny you access to a flight. We easily could have tucked our tails and started making calls to figure out how to reissue the points, buy new tickets for the next day, and adjust hotel bookings, which would have been a huge inconvenience as we know from experience, but we decided to politely keep asking questions and not let the representative do anything else until we think he got a little sick of us and worked it out on our behalf. Persistence for the win!