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Beware the voucher

Andrew Thagard | Sunday, October 5, 2003

Fall break is fast approaching and that means many of you will be heading home for the week to catch up on sleep and enjoy real food. For those of you flying, pay special attention to my story.

It begins last December after final exams. The semester was over and I was ready to ditch South Bend and its crappy weather for my home in Orlando. I had booked a flight several months prior and arrived at South Bend Regional Airport the prescribed two hours early.

I checked my luggage, went through security, boarded the plane and began perusing the in-flight magazine.

Then, the unexpected happened.

I heard my name called overhead and learned that I would not be on that flight. Instead, I was being rerouted to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport via bus.

“Don’t worry,” the gate agent assured me. “You’re being placed on a non-stop flight to Orlando, and you’re receiving a free roundtrip ticket valid anywhere in the U.S.”

“Wow!” I remember thinking. “Sure the shuttle’s a bit of an inconvenience but I’m not in a rush to get home and a free ticket sounds like a good deal.”

I eased the pain of the shuttle ride by creating a mental list of all the places I could potentially visit with my travel voucher.

I got home safely, unpacked and put the voucher away in a secure place.

If only the story ended here. Unfortunately, I made the fatal mistake of trying to use my travel voucher instead of simply framing it and hanging it up on a wall.

Since then, I have discovered that just because I have a “travel” voucher doesn’t mean I’m entitled to travel anywhere.

For example, over the summer I tried to use the aforementioned voucher to book a flight for fall break, only to discover that no seats were available. I proceeded to inquire about every single break we have this year. There was not a seat available for any flight I was interested in over the course of the school year.

The breaking point for me came several weeks ago when I attempted to use my voucher to book a flight to Atlanta. A friend from home is getting married there at the end of January.

“Sorry,” I was told. “No seats available.”

How is that possible? It’s the middle of January, I called six months in advance and I was willing to fly out of South Bend or one of the Chicago airports. Something like two-thirds of all flights on the planet connect through Atlanta, there must be one seat.

You (and US Airways) may think I’ve given up. No! I have made it my life’s mission to use this infernal voucher before it expires on Dec. 20. I don’t care if I have to fly to my departure point to take a red-eye flight to a destination I don’t want to go to. I will use this voucher.

As for the rest of you, remember my story and heed this advice: “Beware the voucher.”