in this episode: changes in Kiev, changing an S7 flight, and changing a United flight to one that includes an Amtrak codeshare.
change 1: good-bye lenin (statue)!
first off, one of the most stunning changes. i just saw a tweet that referenced this instagram video of the (last, as i once read) Lenin statue being torn down by protestors in Kiev. click it to play.
which blows my mind because that statue was literally right outside the airbnb i stayed at (sidebar: some observations) when i was there last year. step outside the front door and there it was, a constant reminder and throwback to yesteryear and a different period in the country’s history.
i guess it’s affecting me a little differently since i have an obsession with communist-era statues and socialist realism sculptures (cf. Memento Park, Mother Motherland, treasure hunting abandoned statues in Tallinn, etc. etc.) so on the one hand i’m actually a bit sad to see it disappear from the landscape of the city, but it’s also simultaneously mindblowing to me that the quintessential act of political protest happened to this one particular statue that became emblematic of the city for me. well, good bye Lenin!
change 2: in which i am no longer spending a month in russia (changing an s7 flight)
i have no problem sharing my upcoming itineraries with social media, and i’m glad that i did earlier this week. there were tweets going around about the recent crash of a Tatarstan Airlines plane and i was commenting i did not need to see those until after my domestic Russian flight in February. @AirlineFlyer wanted to know when it was so he could wish me luck and so i posted:
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) December 6, 2013
now, i’ve had this flight booked for months now. and it didn’t hit me until eagle-eyed @JetSetCD said:
— Cynthia Drescher (@JetSetCD) December 6, 2013
oh sh!t! i was only supposed to stay overnight, not overmonth! i started freaking out and frantically browsing S7’s website, which listed no offices in a predominantly-English-speaking country. then i noticed this at the bottom of each page:
i figured the worst that could happen was it would be a shoddy (albeit free) connection to a Russian-language-only call center, but no. i was pleasantly surprised! you need to have a microphone on your computer since it’s not routed through a phone on your end. but the quality was great (i was using a handset on my computer that i normally use for work calls, so that probably helped) and the friendly agents spoke fluent English (press 6 to get to an English-speaking agent) and were ready and able to help. (well, one time i did get connected to a poor surprised Russian-only agent who patiently waited until i was done explaining my predicament, gruffly said, “ONE MOMENT PLEASE!” and got me to the right department.)
the best part? it would only cost me 2550 rubles (about $78) to change (1650 additional fare + 900 change fee). phew! the only odd thing was that the reservations agent couldn’t (is not allowed to?) take credit card information so i had to be called back within 24 hours. i feared a call in the middle of the night but as it turns out, no one called. i gave them an online call back, and was told someone would call me soon. an hour later, someone did, and i was able to give my credit card information. the ticket was issued within the hour.
note that i had some problems originally paying with a credit card on the S7 site (you have to authorize the card for use and verify amounts like with paypal), but i paid for this change fee over the phone with a different card that was not website authorized and it went through without any problems. it may be easier to just book directly with a phone agent in the future, especially now that i know it’s so easy to do.
the moral of the story: (besides double- and triple- checking your dates) beware February with its 28 days. if you are booking based on the day of the month and day of the week (in my case, Monday the 17th), in non-leap years they will be the same in March as they are in February!
change 3: getting a zfv-based route to ticket on united
a widely-known secret is that cheaper fares to and from Philadelphia on United can often be had if you use 30th Street Amtrak station (aka “ZFV”) instead of the airport. that is, you fly into Newark and take Amtrak down to Center City, often saving a pretty hefty chunk of change.
i was originally scheduled to be out here in Philly for 2.5 weeks due to a project and the ticket was booked before my project got reassigned. in other words, i can go home a week early! (all important around the holidays!)
changing my flight would have been really expensive had i gone PHL-SFO or PHL-SJC, but going ZFV-SJC meant i would at least get a refund (though much less than the change fee i still had to pay). i found an option on the united.com website but it kept bombing out.
i even called but the Premier desk agent i spoke to had never dealt with an Amtrak codeshare before and was unable to even get ZFV-SJC to show up as an option, despite putting me on hold and presumably talking to someone who did have experience. she could only give me ZFV-SFO, which, while it had one less stop (EWR-SFO instead of EWR-IAH-SJC), meant even less of a refund and fewer miles.
i told her i’d think about it and went back to trying on the website, but it kept bombing out on the final step (i included my S7 charge from above in this screenshot for good measure):
i even tried booking the less-desirable ZFV-SFO option but that failed as well. i gave up and decided to call again. this time i got an agent who not only was not surprised about ZFV but got the flights i wanted (to SJC) to show up. she had me ticketed lickety-split and verified that only one charge will show up on my credit card.
the moral of the story: 1) HUACA (hang up and call again) earlier rather than later. 2) don’t fight with united.com because you will lose.