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San Jose, CA to San Diego, CA, 2-week advance purchase

I needed to travel from San Jose to San Diego, departing on a Friday and returning on a Sunday with a 2 week advance notice. There were fares available under $150 on those dates, but the times were all inconvenient, so I accepted Hotwire's deal of $98.

Hotwire booked me on United Airlines, with connections through LAX in both directions. This was no surprise. Although I didn't get the times I had hoped for, they were pretty reasonable: the outbound flight departed at 2:20 p.m., the return flight at 9:25 a.m.

The bad part about the itinerary was a 3 1/2 hour layover in LAX. If I had purchased tickets through normal channels, I wouldn't have gotten the flight times I wanted, but I would have had only a 1 hour layover. So the extra long layover saved me about $45, which seems like a reasonable exchange. However, I also gave up 1000 frequent flyer miles by using Hotwire, so that makes the deal not quite so attractive.

Hotwire issued paper tickets, even though they supposedly use e-tickets whenever possible. Although I purchased the tickets on a Thursday, they didn't get FedEx'd until Friday, so that the overnight delivery service actually worked out to 4 days. This didn't really matter since it was a 2 week advance purchase.

The tickets are issued on standard ticket stock with Hotwire identified as the issuing agent. They include an endorsement stating "no refund/no change/no reuse/no standby", and Hotwire certainly made it clear that these tickets would have these restrictions.

I called up United Airlines to find out about those endorsements. I was particularly interested in the "flat tire" rule, which lets you do a same day standby if you make it to the airport within 2 hours of the originally-scheduled flight. The reservation agent indicated that all the restrictions were enforced, and that the flat tire rule didn't apply, since that would be a standby.

It occurred to me that this is potentially quite problematic. Missing a flight could force you to buy replacement tickets at about $1000 a piece, at least on longer flights. This could essentially induce people, under the right circumstances, to speed or otherwise drive dangerously. I think airlines could potentially look forward to some wrongful death lawsuits.

I asked the reservation agent how I might contact UA's corporate headquarters, and she gave me the number where they handled ticket adjustments, which was just the right place. I asked the CSR about the "no standby" provision and he checked it out on his computer. He pulled up information specific to Hotwire indicating that passengers could do a same-day standby on a voluntary basis without charge, and he gave me refernce number 964896A in case any problem about this arose later.

I can't guarantee that this is really UA's policy, so please don't rely on it. But if you purchase Hotwire tickets, I'd suggest calling the airline's customer service department to clarify the policy and (assuming they tell you that standbys are okay) ask for that reference number.

Here's the "rest of the story"... as I write this, there's only 1 week left to purchase the tickets. But now I could get tickets on American Airlines for the flight times I want, still connecting in LAX but with 1 hour connect times, for $142.50, and not having any of Hotwire's special restrictions. For $44 extra, that certainly would have been worth it.

Some strategies to consider when using Hotwire:

More tips on air fare travel are available on the Cagey Consumer travel links page: href=

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Revision r1.3 - 15 Oct 2001 - 06:30 by EliMantel web search for EliMantel
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