Lost in Colombia: Getting What We Paid for on Avianca

Air, Colombia, Couples Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Health & Safety, Leaving & Coming Home, Websites and Blogs — By on March 23, 2009 at 10:19 am
ADP: Even if you’re hard at work on a big project (in my case, a book!) every Lost Girl needs a vacation. This year, I took mine in Cartagena, Colombia and posted about my experiences for the fabulous travel website Jaunted. All this week, I’ll be sharing dispatches from my journey, and (hopefully) dispelling some of the myths that Colombia is a risky place to visit (it’s not, but its wise to stick to the beaten track ). Got questions? Email us at lostgirlsworld@gmail.com.

After traveling to Ecuador last year, my boyfriend Jeff and I volunteered to give up our seats on a very overbooked Avianca flight from Bogota, Colombia back to New York City. The incentive: a total of four international airline vouchers, good for anywhere in the world that Avianca flies, plus a free night in the InterContinental Bogota Hotel. How could we pass up such a deal? We didn’t.

It was the score of this budget traveler’s lifetime-at least, until Jeff and I actually tried to book a specific flight before the expiration date. Apparently, the code on our tickets (“U” for undesirable, it seemed) meant we weren’t eligible to fly to any of the countries we wanted on any of the dates that we’d chosen, no matter how flexible we tried to be. Our four golden tickets, it seemed, were rapidly turning into useless scraps of paper.A few trips to the Avianca office in midtown Manhattan and several customer service phone calls later, I finally learned a key piece of info that eventually salvaged our vacation.

When requested to do so, Avianca will allow you to “cash in” an international voucher (face value: $600) and apply those dollars towards the purchase of a ticket on any flight you’d like. With $2,400 in Avianca dollars to play with, Jeff and I easily booked a Friday night red-eye to Cartagena, Colombia-our dream destination-with a Sunday morning return just over a week later. We still had to pay the taxes, which amounted to $250 on a $700 ticket, but figured it was vale la pena, or worth the trouble, to return to South America.

Unlike last year’s near-miss departure on our Avianca flight to Quito, Jeff and I encountered absolutely no line at JFK for our 11:55pm flight, and virtually no wait at security. We were only mildly put out that we’d been separated-they’d put us into two middle seats across the aisle from each other. It was only after boarded the plane that we realized our tenth-row seats were in front of an emergency exit row, which meant we’d have to sit ramrod straight for the six hour overnight flight.

Since sleep wasn’t an option, I ended up amusing myself with a selection of first-run TV dramas, music and games on the touch screen TV built into the seat in front of me. I finally gotten past the $32,000 level on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (the British edition, so it contained endless questions about spotted dick, long-dead royals and tiny hamlets I’d never heard of) when we started our descent into Bogota. During the one-hour connecting flight to Cartagena, Jeff and I sat together, and happily reclined two inches-a small distance, but to two weary travelers, it made all the difference in the world.


Insider Tip for Flying Avianca: Do NOT read the new Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers while on vacation, as we did! While an excellent read, it contains an entire chapter about plane flights that, um, didn’t end well. The textbook screw up: A 1990 flight from Colombia to New York-on Avianca.

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  • Living the Dream says:

    I’ve had that issue with the “free” vouchers that turn out to not be so free myself. The issuing agents always seems to forget the little detail that there are only 1 or 2 seats per flight that are in that class. I too had to turn mine in for a $250 voucher, but I can’t complain too much, my later flight that day upgraded me to first class too. Still a bit shady on their part.

  • Postcards and Coasters says:

    Columbia is pretty but I think you have to be real careful. I wrote about my experiences in a recent post.

    I went because I wanted to see where Romance in the Stone was filmed. Funny thing is it was filmed in Mexico since they thought Columbia would be too dangerous. 😉