For all the difficulty flyers have finding their exact flights, times, dates with some airline programs, miles still offer more flexibility than paid tickets. If you are traveling for some event and the trip has some chance of having a shift in dates, an award ticket is much more preferable than purchasing a ticket. For last minute travel, award travel is king!
The problem with paid tickets and having to change them is that most changes tend to occur at the last minute (like our story below). Combine the last minute fare cost of a ticket with the change fee (which can be in the hundreds of dollars) and you can be looking at an incredibly high cost. When you book award tickets, most (looking at you Delta and US Airways) airlines allow you to change the award ticket for a much smaller cost than a paid ticket charges. The charges can be as small as $30 or as high as $150 (Air France is $70) which is still less than the just the change fee of a revenue ticket. Yes, you still need to have award availability for your new travel dates but award travel tends to open up the closer you are to flying so that is not normally a problem.
So, on to our story: a marathoner (Fiona Oakes) set a couple of new records when she finished the Ice Marathon (Antarctica) in December. She set a new course record and broke the records for the fastest cumulative time of a marathon on all seven continents as well as the amount of time it took her to accomplish them all. And she did all this with one knee cap missing. Very impressive! The problems started for her when there were bad storms that prevented her scheduled departure from Antarctica. That caused her to miss her (paid business class) ticket on Air France home. When she did try to rebook it, she was told that she owed over $10,000 for hers and her husbands new tickets.
She says that she runs these marathons to raise money for the animal sanctuary she runs. She raised almost $5,000 for the sanctuary in fundraising and she said that Air France was charging her more than double that for her changed flights. While the new ticket prices seem high, I think she made a mistake trying to make Air France out to be the villain when it comes to her sanctuary (she said, “Air France has no heart. They are literally taking food out of the mouths of desperate animals.”). She said she only runs to raise money for the sanctuary. The problem is that Air France could have looked at the cost of the race (over $13,000 just for that race) and the cost of the other extreme races she has run (also in the thousands) and the fact that she paid for a business class ticket in the first place. With all of that, it appears that she had spent over $20,000 for this race already. They said they followed all the procedures and still went ahead and gave her $1,600 as a charity donation for the sanctuary. To read more about the story, go here and here.
The problem could have been completely avoided if she had used miles for the trip in the first place (as well as saving thousands of dollars) or used miles to go back home instead when she heard about the new charges. With all of the traveling she has done, I am sure she has collected quite a few miles (especially since she only flies business class because of her kneecap). But this just goes to show how helpful, again, miles can be for the traveler. On a trip like this, I would definitely use miles, mainly because of the uncertainty. Yes, a departure from Europe would cost a bit in taxes and fees, but it would still be far less than a revenue ticket at the last minute.