April 21 2015

If You Don’t Ask, the Answer is “No”

I suspect this is a true concept in general, but I’ll just relate it to my travel experiences.

Many years ago I took my first grown-up trip – the first international trip without my parents.

In the infancy of my travel life, an eleven-hour flight from Los Angeles to London seemed really, really long. These days I have enough miles and points to “pay” for the comfort of a premium cabin. But at the time – long before my entry into the points and miles game – flying anything other than economy class wasn’t even in my frame of reference.

As it turned out, that flight was overbooked and they asked for volunteers to be bumped onto a later flight. In return, the airline would give monetary compensation (which is common) and an upgrade to first class on the later flight (less common but not unheard of).

I briefly considered volunteering, but the friend I was traveling with and I ultimately decided against it as we had plans on the other end we didn’t want to miss.

However, my friend chatted up the gate agent and jokingly said something to the effect of “we can’t volunteer for the later flight but we’ll happily volunteer to be bumped out of our coach seats into first class on this flight.”

VA Upper Class
Virgin Atlantic first class (or “Upper Class,” as they brand it)

The agent chuckled and left it at that. We returned to our seats and awaited boarding.

Right before boarding, we heard our names over the loudspeaker and were asked to present ourselves at the desk.

At the desk, the same agent asked us to hand over our boarding passes. She then printed us new boarding passes – for first class seats.

We were surprised (flabbergasted would be more accurate) but simply said thank you and booked it to the jetbridge. It was one of those times in life when you don’t ask questions; you just take your loot and run.

I never did find out why we were given the upgrade – a very generous upgrade at that, considering what a long flight it was – and literally cannot think of any reasonable explanation aside from the fact we simply asked. Neither of us had status with the airline; I doubt I even had a frequent flyer account with them at the time.

Now, this happened a loooong time ago. (So long, I don’t even have digital photos from the trip – hence the semi-random filler picture below 🙂 ). I cannot imagine it happening today, when upgrades are processed very procedurally – mostly by a computer, based on frequent flyer status and other non-subjective attributes.

u Liotru
u Liotru in Sicily

Nevertheless, it was an early lesson in the it-never-hurts-to-ask concept.

I don’t know if it’s fear of rejection, or perceived tackiness, or inherent meekness…but I think people oftentimes don’t speak up and ask enough. I suppose I’m the opposite (or have no shame), but I think taking 90 seconds out of my life to (politely and non-tackily) ask for a benefit is a good investment of time.

Even if I get shot down nine of ten times, 9 requests at 90 seconds each equates to losing a few minutes of my life. There is no risk (worst is someone says “no”) and high potential reward (retail price on a first-class flight from Los Angeles to London is several thousand dollars).

This morning I had another reminder.

I had booked a hotel room at a breakfast-inclusive rate. The cost was an incremental $10; easily justified by the convenience of being able to eat onsite before leaving for an early morning meeting.

I ended up running late and did not have time for breakfast. On the way out, I swung by the desk and told the agent I didn’t have opportunity to use my breakfast benefit and asked if I might have a refund.

I expected nothing (it’s not the hotel’s fault I ran late) but hoped for a $10 credit.

The agent tapped a few keys on his computer, saw that I had eaten dinner in the hotel restaurant the night before (evident because I charged it to the room to maximize earning points), and removed the dinner charge (which was much more than $10) from my bill. Well worth the minute out of my life that it took to ask.

Just a few examples of other benefits I commonly receive for the asking:

  • Early check in and late check out
  • Complimentary room upgrades when I have no status
  • Free Internet when it’s normally not free
  • Waived annual fees on credit cards that assess them

Yes, the asking part is kind of an art. But remember, the worst that can happen is someone says they can’t grant your request. (And when that happens, I don’t get upset. I simply thank them for trying and get on with my life.)

Wishing you, as always, safe travels.


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Posted April 21, 2015 by Admin in category "Tips

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