Taca MexicanaThis post comes as my first real blog post, though I wish I didn’t have to write about it. You see, I am taking a trip to Colombia later this month. I have never been, and I can’t wait to go. However, I booked with Mexicana Airlines, which seemed like a great choice when I booked it early in August, but I now realize I was mistaken. I love to travel, hence this site, so I try to book economical flights whenever possible. The cheapest flights to Bogota, Colombia were with Spirit Airlines. I am not a big fan of that company, though I’ve never actually flown with them. Spirit is infamous for shitty customer support as well as abrupt cuts in service due to strikes. More on Spirit Air in another blog post.

So, I chose the next most economical option, which was Mexicana Airlines. Mexicana seemed like a great choice, as it is Mexico’s largest airline, as well as the flag carrier. Though I was not flying to Mexico, they offered great service from JFK to South and Central America. They are also a member of the One World Alliance, so I can earn miles towards my AAdvantage account by flying with Mexicana.

I booked my flight on July 31, 2010, for travel towards the end of September. I was relieved to have that key part of my trip out of the way. For the next few weeks, I planned out other parts of my trip, including my room, tourist attractions, and which friends I was going to see while in Bogota. Then, during one day at work, my coworker called me over to his computer to get my opinion on a trip that he was booking. “Cancun, nice. Resort right on the strip, perfect.” I told him to scroll down the page to see what was left, and on the footer of the Expedia page was a link to an article about Mexicana. I asked him to click on it, and the link brought us to a page explaining that Mexicana has filed for bankruptcy.

I read the details, and it seems that a few days after I booked, Mexicana submitted the paperwork. They had been struggling financially for quite some time, I learned, and they were sold to a new owner. That new owner then cancelled all future flights sometime in August. I called Mexicana, and at first they were very vague. The representative that I first spoke with told me that they are planning for all flights to resume starting Sep 20. My flight to Colombia was on the 23rd, so he assured me that I was fine. I asked what would happen if they cancelled mine too, and he told me to call 24 hours before my flight to inquire, and then if it turns out I would not fly with them, they would do their best to get me a seat on a partner airline.

I was not convinced, but there was nothing I could do. They were offering refunds on the Mexicana website, but I was denied because my travel dates were after the confirmed cancelled dates. I tried placing a dispute on the credit card that I charged the tickets on, but also to no avail. I was told that, since my flight date had not yet arrived, I was SOL. The logic was that I paid for a service on a certain date, and they did not not provide me with that service. Arguing further proved futile.

I poured over my options. I could wait until the 24 hours like the customer rep told me, but if I was denied what if all other flights were at capacity? I could buy another ticket immediately, but what if Mexicana did fly? Then I would have bought two round-trip tickets for nothing. Fortunately, after over a week of daily calls to Mexicana, and ball-busting numerous supervisors, they finally were able to confirm that no flights would fly, period.

After this prolonged headache, I was elated to finally have a definite answer. They said that I could now file a refund request, but it would take up to 60 days to get an answer. I quickly booked on TACA Airlines, which has a strong presence in Colombia, though based in San Salvador. Costs went down, and I was able to actually pay $100 less than my Mexicana flight.

I am already a very frugal traveler, which means that I try to cover all the bases so that I can get the perfect balance of value and luxuries. But after this nightmare, I am even more leery of booking my flights. Do I now have to check unfamiliar airlines’ financial records to make sure that this has the smallest possible chance of happening? I fucking hope not.

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