Dear Yanni...I've booked the wrong flight. Help!
Oopsie flight purchases and a Global Entry vs. TSA Precheck debate in the latest installment of Dear Yanni.
I travel a lot for work, but last week I made a real rookie move: I accidentally booked the wrong flight for an upcoming trip, but I don’t want my company to know I made such a dumb mistake. What do I do?!
- Covering My Tracks in Columbus
That awkward moment when you booked a flight to Albuquerque instead of Albany. We’ve all been there — well not necessarily to Albany and Albuquerque (fantastic in the fall, btw), but you get what I mean. Mistakes absolutely happen, which is why we as consumers are protected, but there are also some additional measures to take.
The Department of Transportation issued a consumer protection order in 2011 for all air carriers that sell in the US to allow for a 24-hour cancellation without penalty. Pretty great right? But you must keep in mind two things: 1) a flight needs to be more than 7 days from the time of booking and 2) if you book a flight directly with an airline that doesn’t operate in the US for wholly-international travel, you may be out of luck. Overall, if you have an “oops” moment, you should be able to undo the harm.
Here’s how to avoid an “oops I did it again” moment. First, always check city airport codes at the beginning of any search. It’s admittedly all too easy to confuse places like San Jose, CA (SJC) for San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO), but I feel like accidentally booking Costa Rica means you might as well go, you know, because why waste a perfectly good ticket, right? Ok fine, probably not. Another thing to be aware of is that some city codes are for multiple airports. NYC, for example, has LaGuardia, JFK and Newark, which you might be cool with, but maybe not if you end up at JFK instead and have a morning meeting in the Financial District. Second, always check your dates, especially for international/overnight travel. I’ve been booking online for nearly 20 years and still have a separate calendar open to make sure.
Fun fact, many travel management platforms receive the benefit of agency rules when booking flights. What that means is the 24-hour and 7-day rules actually get more generous. In this instance, you have until the end of the next business day to cancel, so if you book on a Thursday at 11am, you have until the end of Friday to cancel, or if you book on a Friday at 3pm you have until Monday night to cancel. If you think that’s generous, you can even book a flight for the next day and still cancel it, albeit it must be done before the flight time. What? Yes. This isn’t some crazy hack, it’s just business as usual.
If all these safeguards still fail and you can’t convince your company to send you to San Jose, Costa Rica rather than California, be honest. Everyone has made mistakes booking flights. If you feel compelled to do so and the travel is for you, you can offer to pay the cost to change the ticket, which is usually $200 or less for domestic travel. Or maybe pitch for managed travel to get the extra safeguards in place and save on reasonable human error. Problem, meet [travel] solution.
I’ve started traveling a lot for work (including internationally) and everyone is telling me to pony up doe TSA Precheck or Global Entry. Problem is, I’m getting lots of conflicting advice and I don’t know which option (or both? or neither?) is right for me. Help?
-Security Skipping in Seattle
This is really an excellent question as a lot of folks tend to think these are automatic “musts” for business travel. Global Entry and TSA precheck are not necessarily for everyone. Despite the frequency of my own travel, I’ve never gone for either. Mostly because paperwork is my sworn enemy, but also I suppose I personally don’t see the value when there are other ways to save time. That said, if you are doing a lot of international travel or not necessarily flying in business, then Global Entry could be your jam. If you are traveling domestically in economy, TSA Precheck is also fairly well-suited and can avoid the exceedingly long wait times that come packaged with the Trusted Traveler Programs’ interviews.
When you clear customs after an international flight at the typical US airport, you’ve probably seen the long lines snarling around as folks fumble around scanning passports at self-serve kiosks, followed by a second layer of stopping at a clearance desk. And then out of nowhere you see a smattering of suits and fancy-luggage-toting business-folk swooshing by into a Global Entry line. For $100, after an interview and governmental approval, you too could leave the rest of the crowd in your 4-wheeled dust. Is the Global Entry experience faster on average? Yes. Is it always the fastest? Not necessarily. Pro tip if you don’t do a ton of international travel: Many airports have rolled out participation in Mobile Passport, which is an app that allows you to fill in your immigration form while you’re still in the plane (although you have to awkwardly take a selfie), skipping the lines and sometimes even leaving the Global Entry folks in the dust. Best part is it’s free.
TSA precheck is particularly helpful if you want to bypass longer lines and dislike removing items of clothing and disaggregating your meticulously-packed life. For $85 per 5 years, this is a reasonable fee for that privilege. Remember the fine print- this isn’t a guaranteed service at all airports at all times, and even when you have TSA precheck it may fail to appear on your boarding pass if any of your details, like a middle initial, aren’t an exact match. You may also be denied TSA precheck from time to time for administrative reasons. TSA precheck doesn’t guarantee the fastest or shortest line either. Business class/status-based lines are often shorter and 2 people in traditional screening is still faster than 20 in a precheck line. In some locations, say Terminal 5 at JFK, you may be better off in the Mosaic/“even more speed” line for JetBlue, for example.
If you are traveling lots and especially if you can get a Global Entry and/or TSA precheck fee reimbursed, go for it. Just keep in mind that the long and the short lines, as it were, aren’t always a guarantee with either program. PSA: don’t be that person who huffs and puffs when you end up waiting longer than usual — I’ve seen way too many a toddler-esque meltdown over a 20 minute line, it’s not cute.