Should I send these Rube Goldberg ticket cases to the recycler?


My head is spinning after reading Amy Zimmerman’s complaint about Aeroplan, Turkish Air and Swiss.

I think I need to sit down for a minute.

In June, Zimmerman and her husband were on a return flight from from Athens to Istanbul. In the good old days, their tickets would be fairly simple and might involve a little interlining, but pretty easy to figure out. Airline policies were similar and when they weren’t, employees were flexible.

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Today? Not so much.

“Our airline tickets were arranged with total mileage for business class through Aeroplan,” she explains. The routing was Athens to Istanbul via Turkish; Istanbul to Zurich on Swiss and then Zurich to Miami on Swiss.

“When we presented our ticket at the Turkish Air counter, we were informed that only one bag for check-in was allowed at no charge for the two business class seats,” she says. “The remaining two bags to be checked through to Miami, were charged $300.”

In business class? Seriously?

Yes, seriously. Aircraft type and her luggage weight might have played a part. (One of my editors, who has access to a GDS, looked this one up and found that she should have been allowed two bags.)

But read the restrictions for yourself. It’s possible, if her bag was heavy enough and the plane was small enough, that Turkish was following its own rules.

“The free cabin and checked baggage allowance may vary according to reservation class and departure runway,” Turkish warns, adding, “Please check your ticket for information regarding your free baggage right.”

But wouldn’t the Swiss rules trump the Turkish policy? Consider the following, also part of the Turkish policy:

MSC (Most Significant Carrier)
most significant and/or longest part of the journey.

If Turkish Airline is MSC in your journey then Turkish Airline’s free baggage allowance will apply, if another airline is MSC in your journey than the free baggage allowance of that airline will
If another airline is involved in your whole journey; the most significant carrier’s (MSC) free baggage allowance rule will be applied. MSC is assigned according to which airline operates the apply.

Oh, but wait. How about the DOT rules, which have specific restriction on how luggage postill licies need to be applied. Don’t they have any relevance? My editors are arguing about this one.

Is your head spinning yet?

Zimmerman phoned Turkish, asking about its luggage policy. A representative told her that two bags were allowed for each business class ticket.

“I called Aeroplan to ask if there was anything on the mileage ticket that called for one bag only for 2 business class seats. Their response: “I never heard of such a thing’,” she says.

“I then called Turkish Air customer service,” she says. “I was on hold for 1 ½ hours, only to be told that any numbers that showed on my boarding pass receipts were not the electronic ticket numbers which I needed in order to issue a complaint online.”

She didn’t bother calling Swiss, but I can only imagine what it would have said. Bureaucracy anyone?

“I called Visa, thinking they would contest the charge for us,” says Zimmerman. “The response from a supervisor in the dispute department was, ‘You signed approval of the charge. Therefore it stands.'”

I asked Zimmerman to send me the paperwork on this dispute, believing that maybe I could help.

And then I came to my senses.

What was I thinking? I mean, between Visa, Aeroplan, Turkish and Swiss, this thing is a real house of cards. (That sounds like a sandwich, actually.) If I didn’t know any better, I’d say airlines, loyalty programs and credit cards are imposing these many layers of policy with one thing in mind: to entrap customers like Zimmerman into paying fees they know will never be refunded.

By helping her, wasn’t I just perpetuating this hopelessly confusing system?

And how about customers who willingly collect Aeroplan points and then spend them on confusing itineraries. (Oh, you’re not confused? Which travel agency do you work for?)

If I jump in, am I not endorsing these counter-intuitive “tickets” with hidden expenses? Perhaps.

Sure, Zimmerman deserves a refund. (I haven’t heard back from her, but if I do, I’m inclined to give her a hand or to at least give the DOT a heads-up on her grievance.) But to my point, am I better off leaving these Rube Goldberg-like itineraries alone, and focusing on the ones that make sense? Or would I be perpetuating them by not getting involved?

And more to the point, do governments have an interest in keeping tickets simple so that the rest of us know where the buck stops?

Should I stay away from complex mileage ticket cases?

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61 thoughts on “Should I send these Rube Goldberg ticket cases to the recycler?

  1. this is the story of ONE employee who may not have known policy.

    so the OP had 2 choices;
    1. ask for a manager who might have reversed the decision (at the risk of missing their flight.)
    or the cost and get to the flight on time.

    they chose 2, just as i would have. –let it go

    1. I had this with Can’tinental and EVAAir. I had booked on EVAAir IAD > EWR > TPE > BKK, as I’d done maybe 15 times since ~2001. Can’t was “partner” with EVA. Can’t tried to charge me baggage fees because they claimed the trip [printed on same page] was “different” because they had “different confirm codes”. Like I’m really a cretin?

  2. I’d say if you didn’t fight this you would be rewarding Rube Goldberg tickets. Turkish Air (who doesn’t care) have a habit of rewriting policies once you’ve bought your ticket. I know that when I flew them I couldn’t get a straight and consistent answer on anything. And one bag for two seats makes no sense at all. I’d file with the DOT.

  3. I don’t think it’s a matter of rewarding or not. The LW purchased a ticket in good faith and with all honesty and integrity. I don’t see any moral or ethical issues which would make the LW less “deserving” of your assistance.

  4. I don’t see how this is in anyway complex. The point of contention is with Turkish Airways, go after them. They took the money, it’s their policy that is at issue. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

  5. Her complaint is strictly with Turkish–who seems to have a problem with rules regarding checked bags. (My godson ran into a problem with his checked bag in March.) You also mention that baggage weight might have been an issue. Did the LW mention that in her letter or is that based on the paperwork you received? But unless it was tremendously overweight I do not see how it could have prevented at least one other bag being checked free of charge since both passengers were in business class.


  7. I disagree with your point of view, Chris. I believe that if you get involved and get her the money back you’re showing the airlines that they can’t get away with their confusing tactics.

    1. I haven’t decided what to do with this case, but your comment brings up an interesting discussion that I keep having with my closest friends.

      When it comes to consumer travel advice, there’s a growing rift between those who believe special knowledge (i.e., coupon codes, contract tricks, a GDS login) is necessary to be a smarter traveler, and those who think travel should be a simple, intuitive and friendly process for everyone.

      I’m on the side of the people, of course. But slowly, many of my friends and colleagues are lining up with the crowd I call the “point collectors” and “coupon clippers” — and they’re telling me that I have to get on the bandwagon, too, if I want to call myself a travel “expert.”

      Fortunately, I don’t refer to myself as a travel “expert.” I’m just a consumer advocate. But I can’t help feeling I’m all alone in my position that travel should be easy for everyone.

      1. Travel *should* be easy, but so long as the companies have a financial incentive to make it confusing so that only those who work the hardest to find or earn the discounts get the cheapest rate, they won’t simplify the process. They make big bucks with the gotcha fees and rules, hitting travelers at their most vulnerable times: when they are at the airport and have to choose between shelling out money they didn’t budget for or choose losing all the money they already paid in tickets and other reservations. Even worse is when the traveler is mid-journey — what do you do then when you can’t go forward and you can’t go home unless you play the airline’s game?

        Don’t give up on the complicated cases. They’re the ones that need your help the most.

      2. I’ve always been in the opinion that the people most deserving of your help are the ones that did everything right and yet still got screwed.

        You say: “And how about customers who willingly collect Aeroplan points and then spend them on confusing itineraries.”

        I don’t think that’s fair in this case. Lots of “paid” itineraries are just as confusing. (This one had three legs and only used two carriers. That’s relatively normal.)

        1. Like you, I have always have the opinion that the people most deserving of Chris help are the ones that did everything right and yet still got screwed. It is my opinion by reading the articles for the past 10 years that it seems that Chris champions people who did something wrong, several things wrong or everything wrong and expect someone else to pay for their mistakes.

      3. Those are not mutual exclusive positions. Travel should be easy. It’s unfortunately that “special” knowledge appears to be needed in order to be a smarter traveler.

      4. It should be easy, to be sure, and often it is. However, when it isn’t easy or when people have been wronged is where you are a great help.
        Some airlines are not very generous with their reward programs. Not understanding baggage policies is a big problem too.
        One of the problems I see with “star alliance” is that United treats their “gold” customers better than the “gold” customers of other airlines in the alliance, as do Air Canada and Lufthansa. If they were a true alliance, they would have one frequent flyer program amongst them all and have exactly the same benefits for everyone. Of course, that would probably be detrimental as it would cause everyone to get the lowest common denominator, but really, how is it an “alliance” if it is all different?

  8. The issue here is with Turkish Air not visa or anyone else. Looks like she should have gotten at least one bag per ticket but I’m not sure she ever going to get them to give up the money now that they have it.

    Lesson learned … know your limits before you go to the airport….

    1. The OP should contact Air Canada since the OP booked the tickets through them.

      One time, Alaska Airlines forgot to charge our credit card for my son’s ticket when we cash in Alaska miles for tickets on Cathay Pacific. We didn’t encountered any additional out of pocket costs but Alaska gave us 5,000 FF miles and a coupon.

    1. Chris has stated several times over the years that he dislikes frequent flyer programs as well as he doesn’t have any “love” for anyone that flies first class or business class. Personally, I think that Chris is wrong about frequent flyerfrequent renterfrequent guest programs (yes…they far from perfect and some travelers do chase milespoints at the expense of their business) but everyone is entitled to their opinions, etc.

      I think that the reason why Chris is asking his readers to decide if he should pursue this case is because of his feelingsbiasesopinions of FF programs, etc. If this was a case that the OP purchased their tickets with cash and was flying economy and was charged incorrectly for luggage fees then he probably won’t have asked his readers to decide if he should pursue it instead he would have written an article blasting luggage fees. Again, this is my opinion.

      1. I must concur. The fact that it’s a FF ticket does not appear to be germane to this issue. In fairness to Chris, we all have our biases and myopia. Chris is doing what each and every one of us does. We judge the worthiness of the traveler by whatever criteria and that largely determines whether we think they should be helped.

  9. sometimes, although it is very difficult when as a traveler, i believe i am being ‘cheated’ to step back and evaluate: $300.00 vs endless letters, phone calls, anger…………….. when you travel on a budget and SOLO you face price discrimination ALL THE TIME.

    just glad you are are able to be our voice in the travel world, thanks (can you do anything about the 2 for 1 advertising?)

  10. These are the type of issues consumers need you for. We just don’t like the “I didn’t buy insurance but want a refund anyway ” or “I am the exception to the rules” cases.

  11. It seems to me that the problem is simply with Turkish, who admitted to the initial mistake, and is now stonewalling over a reservation number? It just appears that this looks more complicated than it really is…

  12. People have enough problems flying on mileage using one airline’s own plan, subject in the field to the snap judgement of some agent who is having a bad day. I too am inclined to think that if you join some funky third-party mileage club, use it to fly outside the US/EU zone of consumer awareness and protection, and then board with multiple, possibly overweight bags, you’re just asking for trouble. Now isn’t Turkey one of those countries where offering a “tip” might have gotten the agent to read his own airline’s baggage rules?

  13. “When we presented our ticket at the Turkish Air counter, we were informed that only one bag for check-in was allowed at no charge for the two business class seats,” she says. “The remaining two bags to be checked through to Miami, were charged $300.”


    This part confused me. Were they EACH checking three bags and got one for free, or did they only get to check a single bag for free IN TOTAL despite having two tickets? I’ve never seen a baggage policy that wasn’t structured by ticket, but I’m also not sure the last time I saw a couple traveling with 6 checked bags.

    1. Lol. Just head out to the Caribbean. One tradition is that if you are traveling to the mainland, people will ask you to bring stuff to their relatives living in the mainland. I finally put a stop to it and said no, I’m not traveling like a pack mule, full of boxes of crap.

      1. I see that in SFO for those traveling home to Mexico. I met the checker at my local grocery store once on the airport bus from our area. He had boxes of stuff that he was taking back to his home (owns a place on the family ranch) and family. He goes back to see his mom twice a year and has requests for loads of stuff.

    2. I was thinking that they had 2 tickets, 3 bags and only 1 bag got to fly “free”. (Yes, I said it.) The other two bags were what racked up the $300 in charges. I’m doing some math on what I’m coming up with on the Turkish Airlines site and will report back. (Much more fun than what I’m supposed to be doing.)

    3. One trip to Vegas I was standing in the cab line behind a couple. Thy had two carts stacked up with luggage. Probably 10 – 12 separate bags total. They let me go ahead of them because they needed a van for all of their bags. I asked if they were moving to Las Vegas and the woman glared at me and said “No, we are just here for two nights for the weekend.”

      Wow, I don’t think that if I packed everything in my closet I could fill half that many bags.

  14. Give me Turkish on Swiss, hold the Aero.

    I voted no, this isn’t that complex of a routing. Three segments on two carriers for an international trip? That’s pretty normal. What’s complex is the bureaucracy. Sounds like she just got a bad agent who wrongly charged her, or her bags were overweight. If she got a bad agent, they should refund her, and it sounds like they are hiding behind bureaucracy. Shame on them, she is due a refund. I am shocked her credit card didn’t help. If her bags were overweight, then she got charged appropriately. Do we know the weight of her bags, it appears it was mentioned in the story, but we don’t have an answer.

  15. Chris:
    I think these are the very ones you can provide expertise on, and be af real help. Complanits over cancellation of uncancellable seats, forget about them.

  16. “When we presented our ticket at the Turkish Air counter, we were informed that only one bag for check-in was allowed at no charge for the two business class seats,” she says.

    I may have understood wrongly… they were allowed only one bag for two tickets? Does it mean half bag per ticket?

    1. When the automated baggage system in DEN came on-line when the new airport first opened, it did chop a few bags in half.

  17. You wrote: “And how about customers who willingly collect Aeroplan points and then spend them on confusing itineraries.”

    I don’t see the OP’s itinerary as confusing or complex but normal for international travel.

    I am not aware of an airline that flies to every airport in the world; therefore, it is common to fly on multiple airlines when traveling internationally. All of our international trips (flying to Europe and Asia), we had at least two airlines and over 60% of them had three airlines. For years, we have flown America WestUS Airways to LAX or SFO before connecting with an America West’s partner airline or a Star Alliance member.

    If you belong to an airline’s frequent flier program, there is a good chance that the airline is a member of an alliance like One World, Sky Team or Star Alliance. If they are not a member of an alliance, they probably have airline partners. There are some airlines that are in an alliance and have airline partners.

    Since no one airline flies everywhere, one benefit of a frequent flyer program is the ability to cash in miles and fly on alliance and/or partner airlines. Personally, it is our preference to fly an international based airline (i.e. Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, Asiana, Singapore, etc.) because their products and service are superior to the US airlines. For example, the US airlines were 10 years behind their counterparts in installing lie-flat beds.

    For me, the best benefit of a frequent flyer program is the ability to cash in miles for first class or business class seats for our international travel. I have cashed in 120,000 to 180,000 miles (per ticket) for tickets that were worth $ 8,000 to $ 18,000 (the price of an individual ticket).

    A few times, a ticket agent in PHX told us that our luggage was over weight because they didn’t look at our whole reservation. I told them that we are connecting with a partner airline and the weight limit is xx lbs. I do print out and carry the weight limitsluggage limitsetc. of the airlines that we are flying on just in case if we encounter an ignorant ticket agent or etc.

  18. I think that if you don’t help, Chris, you’re making it easier for these airlines and credit cards to play “pass the buck” with each other as to whose rules are in effect.

    In this case, whether or not Turkish Air was following its own posted rules, its representatives jerked Zimmerman around by keeping her waiting on the phone and letting her think that two bags were allowed for free while at the same time making her check those bags and charging her $300 to do it. At the very least they owed her prompt, transparent, and consistent application of their own rules.

  19. Couldn’t vote this morning, until I did some math over lunch. Voting YES, please mediate. Why?

    1) Look at Turkish Airlines’ website for flights going to the US:

    That specifically says 2 pieces, not exceeding 32 kg per piece for those flying business calss, are “free”. Excess charges are $150 USD per piece. OP got charged $300 – so easiest explanation is that agent got confused on the International flights page and applied those rules. That section also says this applies to anyone flying on TA and on their code-share partners, which includes Swiss.

    2) Going to the “Free Baggage” part of the website, go down to the section called “Free Baggage Allowance for Flights To/From American” . http://www(.)turkishairlines(.)com/en-int/travel-information/baggage/free-baggage-allowance. Yep, there it is again – 2 pieces in Business Class per ticket, 32 kg per piece weight limit.

    Under that whole “MSC” thing, the website says over and over: “Please pay attention that the free baggage allowance is shown on your ticket.” Maybe the tickets were printed incorrectly? Did Aeroplan do that? I don’t know how that loyalty program works and who prints the tickets and all that.

    Aeroplan aside, here’s your angle to mediate. Inexperienced agent confused international # of allowed bags, but used the “going to the US” section for pricing. Turkish is clearly wrong, according to their own website.

    1. I found the website’s baggage pages to be very, very confusing. If this was my client, I would have contacted the sales office, which is not general res and asked for them to look into the ticket and see what printed out for allowed baggage and how they interpret the rules. I looked at my GDS and even booking true Turkish Airlines itinerary to the US, said to contact the carrier for baggage information. So did the LW do that before traveling? I never assume. $300 appears to me to be two overweight baggage charges, which is why they were told one bag was allowed between them. Due to language issues, the wording at the airport may not have been as clearly relayed as it should have been.

      1. I spent waaaaay too much time reading that website and Turkish Lira and Euros and USD being thrown in there. Arithmetic-wise, 2 excess pieces x $150/excess piece = $300 and is the simplest explanation of the $300 calculation.

        If I’d read that mess, I’d have run into the phrase about what’s printed on the ticket and at that time checked directly with whomever printed the ticket and/or Turkish Airlines. Or – maybe it *was* printed on the ticket, and like @alangore:disqus said, the ticket agent was waiting for a little baksheesh – or the ticket agent was in a I-hate-Americans mood. IDK.

        1. Yes, you contact the issuing airline, which the ticket number tells you that with the first 3 numbers. When I have cashed in my miles to get a ticket on a partner carrier, not an upgrade, I dealt directly with the carrier I was going to fly, hence my comment.

          1. Too bad the OP didn’t have someone like you that she could rely on. I can get a great deal on a rental car from Costco, say, but I can’t get great advice or help from Costco. Your actual experience has far more value than my armchair speculation, even if my chair *did* have arms.

    1. No, upset about being extorted out of either their cash or their belongings at a midpoint in their journey. It’s a big difference when you don’t have any other choice.

    2. I am sure the LW would have been ok with paying if she was prepared ahead of time. Just like you thinking that your lunch was going to be $15, no $40, when you got presented with the table cloth charge, the bread and butter charge, a glass of water charge (all charges that do show up in certain parts of the world when you dine out, depending on where you ‘enjoy’ your meal in that establishment). No, this isn’t an earth shaking travel concern, but one that does come up due to carrier employees confusion on luggage fees.

  20. I checked in for a Turkish Air flight in Istanbul that was going to Frankfurt. I was the only person in line who was checking one bag in Economy.
    I swear I thought I may have been on a plane full of refugees. I never saw so much baggage being checked in along with the enormous amount of carry-on bags.
    I was waiting for the chickens and goats to board along with the passengers.

  21. The message for Turkish Airlines, and any vendor who makes travel uncomfortable in the interest of profit, is that there are consumer advocates that will give wide publicity to their tactics. The lesson for readers is to avoid the rapacious, in this case Turkish Airlines, vendors.

    Once travel agents hears from a number of customers that they don’t want to fly Turkish airlines, that will be mentioned to the representative of the airline who routinely calls on travel agents looking for more business.

    Silence is acquiescence.

  22. I’ve had a very similar problem on a flight that was Air France + Delta (btw, it was a paid flight). nkc-cdg-ord. On the first leg, we were allowed 2 free (hey, don’t complain!) checked bags + one extra due to status. On the second leg, Delta wouldn’t recognize it – even tough it was written on the ticket! – and wanted to charge us 300 euros each extra bag, saying it was only 1 free bag + 1 for status. It was all bought on the same PNR, and we had 1 night in Paris.

    Luckily, I’m one of those people who likes to arrive VERY early at checkin. I did get an Air France employee to help me discuss with Delta and eventually (about 2 hours later) they figured it out. It wasn’t a complicated ticket. It wasn’t a milleage ticket. It was a very clueless check-in agent + a very, very sad check-in supervisor who just seemed to want to make my life difficult on that specific morning. I almost didn’t make my flight because this same check-in supervisor decided it was a nice idea to weight + measure my carry-on. Yes, they were legal size + legal weight, but that alone lost me another 30 minutes!

    Oh, yeah: I do know a bit about traveling, and I knew everything I needed about different ticket numbers (I knew I had an Air France ticket on Delta metal, for example, despite the Delta supervisor saying there’s no such thing).

    So yes, Chris. You should deffinetly help this people. They did not deserve to be charged the extra money, and now they are being given the run-around.

  23. Each traveler’s itinerary and booking method(s) are so unique that although you may have addressed that particular traveler’s situation, there wouldn’t be much in the way of precedental value to later travelers, except to “beware!”

  24. What a disaster. Another reason to use a travel agent, another reason to get to the airport early, another reason to travel light, another reason to know each airline’s rules, another reason to be always polite then ask for a supervisor (see above: getting to the airport early). I got nailed $150 from AirFrance several years ago at Heathrow because of an accident out on the motorway … I didn’t have the time to do anything but whip out my credit card and trot off to the gate. We all know what travel SHOULD BE like, most of us know what it IS like. Airlines will get every dime out of a passenger. That’s reality today. Should Chris get involved? Only if he has nothing else to do for about 240 hours over six months.

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