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Getting to Shanghai… November 19, 2009

Posted by jorkat in Shanghai.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m organized almost to a fault. Whether I’m packing for a one-year teaching contract in Asia or just a weekend trip, I never leave anything to chance. I always make lists of everything to bring and double-check to ensure that everything is packed.

So you can imagine our frustration when after having woken up at 5:30am, and arriving at the airport at 7am that the first question the check-in girl asked us was…

“When did you make this reservation?”

Oh no. Not a great feeling. We had presented her with all the proper documentation – the e-tickets from our travel agent and our passports. There was only one small problem – the airline had no record of our reservation ever existing, and it was completely sold out.

We had been planning this 3-day weekend trip to Shanghai to explore the city and see Tiger Woods play in a World Golf Championship event, since he announced his participation over 6 months ago. As I alluded to in this post about Tiger, there was never any doubt in my mind that we would be attending. Until we got to the airport.

I started to think that this would be the only "Tiger" I would be seeing in Asia.

Under the circumstances, I was surprised by how calm we were. I think part of that had to do with the fact that this wasn’t the first time this travel agent had made this kind of mistake. The Mulloskey’s went through a much worse experience when he neglected to book their flights out of Vietnam and they were forced to sleep on the floor of an airport…which they broke into…because it was closed. Did I mention they were in Vietnam?

Anyway, we were well aware of this travel agent’s track record when we started dealing with him. The reason we (and lots of other foreigners) kept using him is that he almost always has the best prices and he speaks very good English. I was always diligent in following-up with him to ensure that he had received our payments and sent us the e-tickets for our flights. We had used him for several other trips with no complaints whatsoever, until now.

Here’s the issue. Apparently travel agents can make flight reservations with certain airlines without making an immediate payment. So what I think this guy does is he quotes you a price, and then based on his experience will either pay the airline immediately if he thinks the price is going to go up. Or he gambles and waits until the last possible moment hoping that the price will go down, and he gets to pocket the difference. I’m not sure of the legality of such a scheme but if you play the game right, he probably makes a nice chunk of change on top of his commission.

There’s only one MAJOR PROBLEM with this so-called scheme. It doesn’t quite work out when you forget to pay the airline entirely and the reservation gets cancelled altogether. This is what happened to us. He quoted us a great price. We agreed to the price and transferred him the money. He took our money and sent us the e-ticket reservations. This was back in July. In our minds we were all set, until we arrived at the check-in and heard those dreaded words – “When did you make this reservation?”

No time to panic. It was 7am so we still had the whole day to figure out how to get to Shanghai. We had already made hotel reservations and our golf tickets were paid for, so we were going to get there regardless. We found the nearest internet cafe in our terminal and I checked to see if I had our travel agents cell phone number in my contacts. Unfortunately, I only had his office number which obviously wasn’t open yet.

We then started pricing flights online with various travel websites and it wasn’t pretty. We had paid less than $500 for 2 round-trip tickets to Shanghai and now we couldn’t find anything online for less than $500 each. Not to mention that we weren’t sure if we were going to get our initial payment back either. The flights being quoted online also weren’t ideal because some of them had connections or were leaving too late on Friday and/or coming back too early on Sunday. This was already a short trip to begin with, and most of our day on Saturday would be spent following Tiger.  We wanted to make the most of Friday and Sunday in the city.

After sending the travel agent a tersely written email asking him to call our cell immediately, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat and strategize. I wasn’t hungry as it slowly started to dawn on me that this trip might not happen. We decided over an Egg McMuffin and hashbrown to go to certain airline counters directly and ask them if they had any flights while we waited for the travel agent to call us back. If we didn’t hear from him by 10am, we would book one of the early afternoon flights from the internet and get to Shanghai ASAP.

Quick tangent. Every time we visit the airport I always look forward to the concept car they have on display called the KIA VG. It stops me in my tracks every time I see it. We had some time to kill in the airport and this post is a little short on pictures so here you go. I never thought I would see the day when I would take a liking to KIA’s. Don’t be surprised if you see me driving one of these when we get back to Canada.

As you’ve probably guessed based on the title of this post, we did end up making it to Shanghai and things couldn’t have worked out better.

We visited the counter for Korean Air and were quoted similar prices to what we found online. We explained our situation to the lady assisting and she recommended that we visit some of the travel agencies located on the basement level. I didn’t think they would be open this early, but much to our surprise they all were. The first one we walked into was called Hanatour where we met a nice young lady named Ji-Eun. She did a quick search for us and found a flight leaving at noon on Friday and coming back at 9pm on Sunday night. It was only $150 more than we had initially paid and the best part was that we weren’t losing anytime. Our departure flight was 3 hours later than our initial flight, as was the return.

The only decision left to make was, do we wait for our travel agent to call and hope that he agrees to pay for his mistake, or do we take our chances and book it right away?  Ji-Eun made the reservation for us and said we could wait about an hour to see if he called. Shortly after 9am, we decided to book the flight and take our chances with our travel agent upon our return. Lone and behold, minutes after we made the booking we received a call. It was him. I calmly explained what had happened and he agreed to fully reimburse us for the flights we had just paid for, which he did. Disaster averted.

It was quite an ordeal but we boarded our flights a couple hours later without a care in the world. We hadn’t lost any time and we now had most of Friday and a full day on Sunday to enjoy as much of Shanghai as possible.

The best part of the day was that Tiger and Phil were actually at the airport in Shanghai to greet us upon arrival.

I swear this was Katie’s idea.

We were relieved to finally be in Shanghai, and that Tiger had opted for his black hat that day. I had just purchased his white Nike Golf hat at the Duty Free shop in Korea a few hours earlier. Now that would have been embarassing.

Stay tuned for our next Shanghai post and an unforgettable day with Tiger, Phil and lots of Chinese people.


1. Sean - November 19, 2009

“Oh really? Then what do you do next? Did fly? Through the sky? Did you participate in the miracle of human flight you non contributing zero!”
Love that quote.

You have me itching for some more posts. Especially your recounting of that story you told us last week that left my jaw dropped. I wont spoil it for your readers. its amazing.

2. Michael R - November 23, 2009

I hope Tiger hit you on the back of the head with his back swing…

3. Dyson - November 24, 2009

Just checking in to see if this blog got any better. Nope it didn’t.

4. Erin - November 25, 2009

Worried this might be the only Tiger I’d be seeing in Asia. Amazing.

5. daryl - November 26, 2009

good old wangstan kang i guess….he did this to a few others I think

6. Shanghai « 2009: An Asian Odyssey - January 8, 2010

[…] safely arriving in Shanghai after our debacle at the airport which you can read about here, we found our hostel and got settled. It was about 4pm so we still had some time to explore our […]

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