MY BROTHER and his family are experienced travellers and keen snowboarders. Most northern hemisphere winters they migrate to the mountains of Japan to ride its famous powder snow. And every year they finetune their approach so that the trip runs smoothly and doesn’t cost the earth.
They haven’t encountered any major problems or made any stuff ups in five years. That is until this year when things went expensively pear-shaped.
It all started where so many travel mishaps do – with the pursuit of cheap flights.
Cheap flights are an attractive prospect – especially when you’re travelling as a family and shelling out for four flights each way. A $200 saving becomes an $800 saving, so you shop around and jump on discounted flights even if it means a budget airline or an extended lay over. It’s usually worth it.
My brother found a fantastic deal on a flight that left Melbourne at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was an awkward departure time but seemed a small price to pay.
The flight went well, the trip was amazing, and my brother was starting to pat himself on the back about the money saved and the good times had. Then they headed for home.
They flew on a domestic flight from Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido to Tokyo airport and went to check in their bags for the return flight to Sydney. It was late, everyone was tired but soon they’d be homeward bound, watching movies and enjoying a well-earned drink.
So it was a real shock to be told that they were in the wrong airport. Tokyo, like many big cities, has two international airports: Haneda and Narita. They were Haneda and needed to be at Narita.
The next few hours were chaos. They tried to swap flights but were told they could only do that at Narita. To reach Narita they had to catch three trains so by the time they had arrived their flight had long gone.
Because they had booked discounted flights and it was peak season they couldn’t pay a fee and get the flight changed. Nor could they wait around for the next cheap flight. They had to pay full fare on four flights.
My brother reached for his wallet and watched as his credit card was sheared of $2500. On top of that the whole family then needed to book a hotel in Tokyo and pay for extra meals and transport costs.
Travel insurance? Unfortunately, their policy didn’t cover going to the wrong airport. They had to wear the whole expense.
My brother doesn’t like to think about it these days but when encouraged to he reckons the mistake may have set his family back close to three grand. Ouch.
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