Gaming the multichannel check in (Beam me up Scottie!)

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Just got a lovely rant from Aussie colleague David about a return flight auto cancellation because he altered one of the outward links. It made me feel I know too much about flying as it’s a “well known” dumb thing that airlines assume you’re not coming back, when you don’t take an outward leg.

My wife and I live in 2 countries  (our married friends tell us it’s the future!) so we are regular weekend flyers. Like it or not, you educate yourself to the whys and wherefores of the 3 airlines we can use.

Changing one leg is a complete pain in the backside as you can’t self serve the change on the website. Getting through by phone on a premium line takes ages and you can’t get money back on the leg you don’t take. And I love the tariffing of the ‘flex’ tickets: pay upfront to change whether you are going to or not; or pay if you change. It’s nearly always cheaper to buy a new flight than to make a change to the existing flight. It’s a lovely example of risk aversion in human decision making (see earlier blog on Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow).

So if it’s an outward leg you need to change, it’s often cheaper & easier to dump it and buy online again. Of course you still have to contact them later to check you didn’t get auto cancelled on the return you still want. That can also mean a seat is flying empty that they could have resold – so the economics  make no sense for anyone.

Functionality of the site is the issue. And the mobile site may less functional still.

It got me thinking on the things you learn by being a regular customer: booking, checking in, boarding procedures. All have featured in twitter stream and blog posts.

Here’s one sport you can try in an idle moment. Gaming the airlines’  multichannel seat allocations is a new “sport” which I’ll nickname “Beam me up Scottie!”. I won’t say which airlines as I’ve got the game sussed for now and they’ll only change the rules again! Suffice to say they don’t have any starships in the fleet.

So where to sit?….You can:

a) Pay and choose at time of booking. Nahhhh I’d rather not pay even more – I already bought a seat and it didn’t say third class only to be seated in last rows to disembark and in the middle squished seat. But then again it doesn’t say the seat is so small you’ll get neck ache from looking down at your book (which you are reading as there’s no room to open your laptop and still be able to fold open the screen to where you can see it!)

b) Use the website to log in and get given the aforementioned rubbish seat. But you have to be able to print the eticket, which isn’t great when travelling and it’s only available 24 hours before flight (unlike other easy to fly airlines) so you cant take your return leg with you.

c) Use the mobile app to check in – one of my regular airlines lets you choose your seat for free at this stage. But alas the other gives you the above mentioned rubbish seats. I’m sure they also employ an analyst, who must be ex BA, who checks your seat preference and makes sure you don’t get it

d) Of course if you use the phone based barcode on the app you can play “will my iPhone battery run out before I get through this conference call?”. I wonder what would happen if it did?”. It’s a great way of whiling away the hours in the airport.

e) For further amusement  with the mobile app you can “forget” and switch your phone off as you go through the gate, you can cause great mayhem at the plane door as you wait for it to reboot.

f) You can use the self serve ticket machine near the check in desks and print your own boarding pass. A little known game is to stand about til exactly an hour before kick off, when they release the unbooked seats which include the good ones and you get extra leg room for free. Alas the aforementioned ex BA analyst must have spotted this and it now flashes a message saying “Don’t waste this machine’s time, you know you should have paid extra when you booked so off you go and pay at the desk if you want to choose a seat”. Luckily the other airline haven’t spotted it yet….. but timing is everything – mustn’t be early or late, just on the hour.

g) If all else fails you can go all last century. Walk up to the remaining lady at the desk and say “pretty please, can you put me in an aisle seat?” and they say “certainly, no problem”. Or not. If the day has a y in it you take your chances.

h) You can combine c and f on one airline and get the good seats by checking in on your phone exactly an hour before flight time.

i) [postscript] There’s also a new a game of self service bag check in with a sexy looking machine stood out front of the old check in desks. They only work when they have an airline person working them. Great design!

Of course Aussie colleague David was amazed and knew nothing of all this. He lives in a part of the world where flying every week gets you a gold card, a free drink and your choice of seat – so last century. I live in the century where you get bonus points and a “free flight” every 8th flight. I’m up to 50 points and have never been able to either get a flight (not available) or one that’s cheaper on “charges & taxes” than a full fare flight. For example just tried 27th – 29th Sept. The only flight you can use points on are the very early flights on Friday & Sunday – not really a weekend then. £49.98 plus card fees if you could take those early flights with points – £95.98 plus card fees if you pay full fare. Hardly a free flight. But at least that website I can sign in and not enter my details in full every time. The other airline hasn’t got that far yet….

But then there’s the really tricky bit. The parking.

I have learned the hard way is to be absolutely certain about the online car park booking part of the game. It costs as much as the flight in many cases and if you haven’t pre booked you bleed money all weekend. Oh and don’t have cars with 11 or 111 in the number plate as the cameras think its a 1 wont auto let you in. So you sweat all weekend to find out if you had really pre booked or not. Ever paid a short stay weekend rate – no you don’t want to. Maybe that’s their idea of a little game

I used to think I was a sad train commuter for knowing where to stand on the platform for the doors to open…. !! Flying is a whole other sport. I cant’t wait til Scottie gets his act together on this beam me up thingie – but I can only imagine the tariffs, disclaimer paperwork and what  they’ll class as “lost luggage” !

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Peter Massey – View the original post

Published On: 16th Jan 2014 - Last modified: 21st Jan 2019
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