March 23, 2011

Not all eTickets are Created Equal!

"Can I have your credit card?"

This can't be good. I can see Noisette's face falling. We are standing at the South African Airways (SAA) check-in counter at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, on our way to a weekend getaway to Victoria Falls. Until a minute ago our spirits were great - a perfect cup of cappuccino this morning, kids all delivered to different friends, no traffic on the way to the airport - but now there seems to be a problem. Our e-tickets were booked using our American Express credit card, which Noisette - planner of all planners - didn't bring. And now the agent wants to swipe it. We offer her our whole range of different credit cards, South African and otherwise, but alas, she insists on Amex. We are sent to the ticket office, where we join another line.

My overriding feeling at this moment is not annoyance or anger - those are my dear husband's territory anyway - but relief. I am SO glad I wasn't the one who forgot the card (or rather failed to take note that it was even needed)! Whew! What's done is done, I am thinking, what do we do now?

Buy new tickets, it turns out. You can't just transfer existing tickets to a new card, which in my mind is as easy as pie. Remember, this is South African bureaucracy we're dealing with! So, to all you expats in South Africa out there, I give this advice: When you're travelling and booked your flights on an e-ticket, always, ALWAYS remember to bring the credit card you booked the ticket with! In fact, this is true in most situations. South African merchants insist on swiping your card due to all the fraud they encounter. For most of your online shopping you need an extra password to be registered with your bank (see ATypical Day in Africa for the intricacies of that), but that only works for South African credit cards. International cards always need to be swiped. We are so used to air travel in the U.S., where all you ever need is your driver's license to check in, that we forgot. Or, actually, it wouldn't have been a problem there, because one of us would actually have had the Amex card on us, but here in South Africa, afraid of crime (though nothing has ever happened to us), we have taken unneeded cards out of our wallets. The point is, we should have foreseen this problem.

We have no choice but to buy two entirely new tickets (at least they are the same price) and accept the agent's claim that we can obtain a refund via www.flySAA.com for the old ones, minus some vague cancellation penalty. The fact that he will not look into our eyes while he tells us this is not very reassuring. Noisette is fuming - partly because he is mad about the additional R4,500 expense, and, in equal proportion, because he can't blame anyone else. But I glance at him brightly and chirp: "Don't worry honey, it was much cheaper than a set of new tires for my car!"

By the way, I have been on hold with SAA the entire time I've typed this. My only success so far was to be given a new number which I was promptly disconnected from.