Missing your flight can cost you hundred of dollars. Make sure you don't make the same mistake I did.

It’s been quiet around the blog this week because I’ve been traveling. I’m becoming a pretty seasoned business traveler. I rarely check my bags, I know how to get free first class upgrades, and I have no sympathy for you if you don’t have your belt, shoes, laptop, and plastic baggie of liquids in your hand before you get to the metal detectors. But last week I made an embarrassing – and expensive – mistake: I overslept and missed my flight.

Nearly missing flights is nothing new for me. I hate waiting in airports (and in idle aircraft), and I like living on the edge.

I have, many times, walked onto an aircraft and had the flight attendants shut the door behind me instantly.

Now that’s close.

But last week I wasn’t even close.

I had a 6:00 a.m. flight out of Boston. To make 6:00 a.m. flights, which I take often, I am usually up by 4:00, on the road by 4:15, at the airport at 5:00, and at the gate by 5:30.

Last week, I woke up at 6:30!

I could give you the malfunctioning alarm clock excuse, which is partially true (I set two; one broke and I didn’t hear the other), but at the end of the day, I was to blame. I overslept, and I missed my flight.

And I knew it as soon as I woke up.

That, by the way, was a surreal experience. I imagine oversleeping before a flight as chaotic, and usually, it is: I awake with barely enough time to make the airport, so I rush, I speed, and I sweat, possibly all in vain. But when I woke up and the plane had already left, it felt like I was guilty of a crime, but was already caught, so I mind as well go back to sleep.

Despite that feeling, I couldn’t go back to sleep, because I needed to be in Indianapolis by noon. Ha!

I wasn’t really thinking straight, so I just hopped in the shower, grabbed my suitcase, and headed for the airport, albeit in rush-hour traffic. As soon as I was on the road, I was on the phone with Delta’s SkyMiles Elite line to discuss my options. The nice thing about being an elite traveler, at least with Delta, is that I have an 800 number that goes to a real person, in America, more-or-less instantly. Aside from that, however, they don’t do much differently than any airline ticket agent. When I talked with Delta, my fears were confirmed.

Discount coach tickets (the kind you and I buy about 99% of the time), are non-refundable, meaning if you decide not to travel, or miss your flight out of your own fault (I couldn’t find away to pin my alarm clock woes on Delta), you lose the ticket. Period.

Now, these nonrefundable tickets can be changed in ahead of time for a $50 fee, plus the difference in ticket price. Not cheap, but better than loosing one ticket and buying an entirely new one. But these changed reservations need to be done in advance. So if you miss your flight, they need to be done at least before the plane has taken off – even if you aren’t on it.

Then, I understand, especially if you are at the airport, the airline may treat missing your flight as any reschedule, and can get you on the next flight for those change fees.

But for me, calling up, after the flight had taken off, I was out of luck. My ticket was gone. If I had a “full-fare” ticket, had I missed my flight, I would retain the value of the ticket, and could just apply it, in full, to any future flight.

So now that I found myself out of about $240 (the one-way cost of the round-trip ticket), I still needed to get to Indy that day, no matter what. This was also during the days of the American MD-80 inspections, so with hundreds of American flights grounded, every airline’s planes were packed.

As I was dialing in the airlines, I was also punching Indianapolis into my GPS. I had made the 13-hour drive with my family dozens of times to visit my grandmother as a kid, I could do it again if needed.

Delta had nothing. Continental had nothing. She I checked Northwest, and they had a flight at 3. I passed, and I called U.S. Airways, whom I knew had a direct flight form Boston to Indy. Success! There was a seat on the 9:30 flight. But at what cost?


Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

I don’t care if that’s out-of-pocket or out of an expense account, or who’s paying for it, that’s one expensive mistake.

Another tidbit I learned through this whole debacle: is to let your airline know immediately that you want to keep that return ticket! Assuming you don’t rebook your outbound leg on your original airline, they will cancel your return itinerary, also at your expense.

Have you ever missed a flight because you overslept, or something else that was your fault? What happened?

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About the author

Total Articles: 78
David Weliver is the founder of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues he faced during his first two decades as an adult. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.