One of the side benefits of getting involved in “travel hacking” is that I’ve become a much more savvy traveler. Sometimes, I look back on all the things I didn’t know three short years ago and laugh at my ignorance. Earlier this month, flying home in a significant winter storm, I was able to put three nuggets of travel wisdom to good use:

  1. Be nice even if the person on the other end doesn’t deserve it. Kindness goes a lot further in getting what you want than venom.
  2. Airline club/lounge access can help tremendously in being re-accommodated during irregular operations
  3. Always refresh and check your flights/reservations – aka “farming”

Here’s the story: After eight days in paradise on our honeymoon, we unfortunately had to leave Maui for the real world. Doubly unfortunate was the fact that home was about to blanketed with eight inches of snow courtesy of Winter Storm Diego.

Our original routing was OGG-SFO-IAH-RDU, with the SFO-IAH leg as an overnight red eye. As we left Maui, our next two flights were still showing as “scheduled”. That wouldn’t last. After a short five hour hop across the Pacific, my cell phone buzzed to life with dozens of emails, texts, and app notifications. Including several from United that our flight from Houston to Raleigh had been cancelled and that we’d automatically been rerouted.

To be blunt – the automatic rerouting was completely unacceptable on a number of levels. Staying the night in San Francisco, leaving SFO at 6am with a 23 minute connection in Denver, and in economy class. Considering that we’d have about six hours to kill in the airport overnight, that morning flights out of SFO are usually delayed, that our luggage wouldn’t make a connection even if we did, and that we were originally traveling on first class tickets (this was the kicker) – there was no way we were going to fly this itinerary home unless there was literally no other choice to get back.

Setting out to fix the situation, I located the nearest club that was still open (it was 11:30pm on a Saturday night so only one of three United Clubs in Terminal 3 was still open) and we made our way to the Concourse F location. The good news – we had the lounge to ourselves and the undivided attention of the two agents at the front desk. The bad news – United’s internal booking system was having trouble and the agent we asked for help didn’t know what she was doing.

I quickly found a SFO-EWR-RDU routing for the next day – with the side benefit of a lie flat bed on the first leg in United’s premium transcon service. Unfortunately, our agent couldn’t make that happen on her end, and by the time she had called a supervisor to get assistance, the seats were gone. I’ll admit, it took effort to remain kind at that point. In fact, I had to shoo Amanda off to a seat because she was starting to get visibly agitated. Between the agent’s incompetence and the intermittent availability of United’s internal reservation system, it took nearly an hour and half to get our new flights. An unkind word was never spoken and I was effusive in my thanks for their assistance.┬áIn the end, everything worked out and our original OGG-SFO-IAH-RDU routing turned into OGG-SFO and SFO-RDU segments on separate days. The upshot would be a flight that got in seven hours later, but much better timed and sleep in a hotel bed rather than an airplane seat.

We stayed in an inexpensive room at the Westin SFO Airport and slept in next morning – owing to the time difference and a 1pm flight. I managed to get Amanda her first In-And-Out Burger (she was impressed), and watched my phone like a hawk – waiting with dread for the United app to report that our flight to be cancelled. Thankfully, that never happened and we headed back to the airport and the United Club to wait for our flight.

What did happen was almost far worse. About 20 minutes before our flight was due to board, I noticed that our boarding passes had disappeared from my phone. I had paper boarding passes that were printed for us the prior evening and took them to the front desk to see what happened. The United rep instantly diagnosed the problem: the prior evening’s agent hadn’t deleted our original routing, so once it “timed out”, the system voided all our other tickets – including the ones we were about to travel on. She was able to restore the tickets and order was restored. We made it to our seats, took off on time, and landed at a very cold RDU four hours later.

The bottom line – a lot of (sometimes forced) kindness, club access, and careful scrutiny of our reservations turned what could have been a major problem into a situation that actually worked out better for us in a number of respects.