As I’ve mentioned recently, my maternal grandmother passed away a few days ago, my second of two grandmothers to pass away in the past few weeks. A few years ago, she moved out to California to be cared for by my mother and brother who had also moved out to the west coast several years earlier. When my grandmother entered hospice care, I mentioned to my boss that I would be taking a few days off for the funeral with short notice, as I intended to travel to California to be with my family. On Tuesday last week, my mother called me to share the news while I was getting ready to leave work for the day.
I immediately began searching for a round-trip flight that would take me from the New York City or Philadelphia area to the Los Angeles area on Wednesday and back over the weekend. My primary tool for searching for flights online is SideStep, but I also look at websites for individual airlines. Not finding anything and wanting to leave the office to continue searching at home, I notified my boss that I would be out for the remainder of the week.
I decided to give the Visa Signature concierge service a try. I signed up for a Visa Signature card earlier this year for the purpose of putting its service through real-life tests and writing about them here. There is no annual fee, but the card is marketed offering exclusive perks and services, such as a 24-hour concierge and access to exclusive events. I called the Visa Signature concierge during the drive home with the intent of using the service to find and book my flight to California.
The concierge who answered the phone could not have been less helpful. To research flights, a travel specialist needs to be on call, and at the time I called, they had none. The best they could do is take my flight requirements and get back to me within 24 to 48 hours, and the impression I took away from the call is that all travel requests require this excessive turnaround time. Since this was Tuesday evening and I needed to travel Wednesday, this did not meet my needs. A regular travel agent would have been able to take care of my request immediately.
I thanked the representative for her help but I spent an hour or so doing my own research and booking the flight when I arrived home. I determined that bereavement fares, last-minute rates designed for people who need to fly in situations like mine, do no longer exist at most airlines. When they do, the rate is a five or ten percent discount off the full coach fare, not the non-refundable economy fare. I would be better off with the economy rate. I spent more than I would have liked, but the fare I chose was decent for a non-stop flight considering the circumstances.
I’m pleased I was able to be with my family in a difficult time, but I would have liked the process to be smoother, and the concierge service let me down.
Photo: Doug Letterman
Published or updated September 7, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.