My fiancé and I had a 6:30 PM flight from Newark, NJ to Ft. Myers, FL to visit family. The extremely high winds in the NY / NJ area coupled with the intense snow in the Midwest caused a domino effect of delays throughout the country, and I imagine that carried over to international flights as well. So when I checked the status of our flight at noon today, it was already delayed until 9:50, over 3 hours behind schedule! The thing with delays like this is that you have to be at the airport in case the delay gets shortened. When the airline, Jet Blue in this case, says the plane is leaving, you had better be there or else you miss out.
Hmmm, what to do at the airport for 3 extra hours??? Luckily, I purchased Chris Guillebeau’s Frequent Flyer Master (FFM) a couple months ago. If you don’t know Chris, he is the guru of modern travel and his blog, The Art of Nonconformity, is a must-read for travel hacks and experiences. As a bonus to the FFM, Chris generously emails supplements on a regular basis. One of these that particularly caught my eye detailed Chris’ recent experience in Hong Kong where, faced with a 6-hour delay, he “hacked” his way into one of the nicest airport lounges in the world. Pick up a copy of FFM for all the details (no affiliate association whatsoever; I’m just a grateful fan).
So what did I do to improve my situation? Jet Blue doesn’t have a major presence at EWR, so therefore they have no airport lounges. I am a proud owner of an American Express Platinum credit card that enables me to enjoy the airport lounges of Continental, AA, and Delta/Northwest anywhere in the world. All I need to get in is my card and a boarding pass for the respective airline. I chose to go with Continental because EWR is one of their hubs and they have three nice lounges here. I logged onto Continental.com and bought a one-way ticket from EWR to Boston departing at 7:45 PM. I made sure to read the fine print and I called Continental twice to confirm that the ticket I was about to purchase was indeed fully refundable. Their answer – as long as I don’t board the plane, I can cancel and get a full refund within 24 hours of making my reservation. Sweet.
I go ahead and book my first class ticket to Boston for $420. Why first class? Because it gives me Elite Access, which has its own security line for faster service. We get to the airport at 5:30, check our bags on our Jet Blue flight, go through security with our Jet Blue boarding passes, and hop on over to the Continental Presidents Club with my first class Continental boarding pass in hand along with my AMEX Platinum.
Within minutes of arriving to the airport, we are seated on nice comfy chairs sipping merlot and ordering dinner. In the meantime, we are catching up on the day’s news with the assortment of complementary newspapers and banging out some emails and other odds n ends with the free WiFi in the lounge. Showers were available if we wanted, but we felt pretty clean, so we passed.
While sipping my merlot and snacking on some mixed nuts, I called Continental to cancel my 7:45 flight to Boston. Five minutes later, the fare was refunded to my credit card in full. Beautiful. Note that this isn’t a flight credit for future travel; this is a full refund to my credit card. Continental’s no-risk refund policy is fantastic. Most (always be sure to read the fine print) fares are fully refundable within 24 hours of purchase. If you’re not sure, call their customer service number at 800-784-4444 an press 00 at every prompt to get a human (tip from Get2Human.com).
As if this isn’t enough, I’ll let you in on one more super-secret travel tip…one that will give you free and immediate access to airport lounges the world over. Ready? Here it is. I have an AMEX Platinum Business Card, but have never used it. It’s not even active. I applied for the card and called to cancel it as soon as I received it in the mail. I simply called AMEX and told them I thought I had permission from my employer to order the card, but it turns out I don’t (actually true), so I will have to cancel it. This means I avoid the $450 annual fee, but I still have the card in my possession. All you need to do to gain access to an airline lounge is present your Platinum Card (they don’t swipe it or anything) along with a current boarding pass for the airline of the lounge you are visiting. You’re entitled access for yourself and your immediate family or up to 2 additional guests. Immediate access. Let me tell you, Platinum Card holders are treated like royalty. If you can get one, do it. It’s worth its weight in, well, platinum.
So this is how we turned a 3 hour and 20 minute flight delay into a pleasant and relaxing experience. All it cost me is a couple phone calls and a few minutes on the computer.
Has anyone besides Chris ever tried this before? I’m curious to hear some more success stories….