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Travel Talk

Travel Talk: When flying internationally, it’s all about the booking numbers

Just try to find a good airfare these days! It is beyond frustrating to find a good balance between price and convenience, especially when you search third-party booking sites like cheapoair.com, kayak.com and the like. Find an appealingly low fare, and chances are the fine print will reveal an eight- to 10-hour layover – or even an overnight – in a connecting airport. Often you’ll be traveling on two or more airlines.

Find a reasonable itinerary, and the fare often is two to four times the lowest fare – and readily available on the airline’s own website.

But say you do hit that sweet spot on a third-party booking website, when the price and itinerary are irresistible. Are you home free?

Booking challenges: Back in April, Bud and I found just such an itinerary to get us to Barcelona in November – terrific price, convenient connection via London’s Heathrow. But we depart Boston on Virgin Atlantic and then connect to British Airways in London for the Barcelona leg. Hmmmm.

It took a moment to discover that these two airlines are not code-share partners, meaning we’d have to pick up our luggage in Heathrow and re-check it. Bummer . . . but worth saving a few hundred dollars as long as there was time. Luckily, Heathrow’s website (heathrowairport.com) has a marvelous interactive “show and tell” section that explains exactly what to do and exactly how long it will take. They suggest 90 minutes; we would have almost twice that. Cool! We bought the tickets via cheapoair.com.

Booking numbers: It’s critical to get all the reference numbers you might need, and cheapoair.com’s booking confirmation email gave me an eight-digit Cheapoair booking number, two 13-digit e-Ticket numbers and unique six-character record locators for each airline.

Too many numbers? No way! Each has its own critical function. The booking website offered me a number of options – insurance, hotels, cars and early seat assignments – each for a fee. I declined everything. I was indeed interested in seat assignments, but felt I could get them free directly from the airlines 90 days before departure . . . right about now. I already had the 800-numbers for the two airlines, so I made the calls this week, only to find out that the e-Ticket numbers for the British Airways had never been issued.

Problem No. 1: You can’t get seat assignments until you have a 13-digit e-Ticket number. The first three digits designate the airline, and each airline has a unique number. So . . .
two airlines, two e-ticket numbers for each of us would mean four numbers, and I had just two.

Problem No. 2: Only your booking agent can issue or re-issue ticket numbers.

Back to Cheapoair and problem No. 3: All customer service is run from India and is keyed off the Cheapoair eight-digit booking number. It took three-plus hours and five separate calls to get it fixed.

Pre-departure details: It’s also now necessary to submit your passport info (number, name, date of birth, gender, expirations, etc.) to the airlines ahead of time for international flights. Having two airlines, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, means double the work. It takes a few minutes of concentration and it’s very important to double-check your entries, but it has to be done (typos or inadvertent errors can ruin the trip). Your six-character record locators are critical for that step.

Do it a few weeks before departure. Twenty-four hours before flight time, I’ll pull up the airline websites and check in online – again – using the record locators. Lastly, I’ll make sure we both register for and submit frequent flyer numbers, just in case we can ever use the points.

(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at travelswithchase.blogspot.com.)

Skyscanner is another site that initially shows some marvellous deals, but in a lot of cases will direct you some obscure agency. I almost fell for this recently until my suspicions were raised and having done a brief Google search, I came across many complaints similar to yours.

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