When we are traveling back to England, we usually fly with air Portugal (known as TAP) because they offer us the fastest route to London. Some years back we took up the offer of becoming members of their frequent flyer programme in the belief that our accumulated air miles would eventually give us a free flight.
On a statement from TAP earlier this year, I saw that a number of my air miles were about to expire, I enquired how I could use them to reduce the cost of a flight and was advised that I should use them to upgrade, I said I didn’t want to upgrade but wanted to lower the flight costs, the agent said in that case the best option would be to transfer some of the air miles from my account to my son’s account, these would then pay for his outward journey, if I also transferred some of the air miles from my daughters account, these would pay for his return journey. I was given a different telephone number for TAP Victoria (the name of the frequent flyer programme) and told I would have to organise it with them. I tried the number but it was unobtainable.
A few days later I tried again with a number I had found on TAP’s web site, only to find our house phone was not working. Speaking to a friend later I discovered that all the phones in the village were down. The telephone company had some major problem with the phone lines and after 2 weeks the phones were still out of order.
I sent TAP an email explaining what I wanted to do and requesting the transfer of the air miles and permission to be given to my mother to allow her to use my air miles and do the bookings for me in London (we have often booked in this way as for some reason booking the flight in London works out cheaper than booking it in Brazil).
TAP responded telling me that I could ring a whole load of other numbers or transfer the air miles on the internet, which was not a lot of help as I had explained in my email to them that there was no telephone communication here. I tried the internet link but found that in order to transfer air miles from one TAP account to the other I would have to put in my credit card details, I don’t like to do that as the internet is at the school and isn’t a secure connection, I was also mystified as to why my credit card was needed when I only wanted to transfer the millage balance.
As time was rapidly closing on the date I wanted to travel, I decided to go into Fortaleza to TAP’s offices and do the whole thing there, I knew I was taking a risk in travelling there with out first checking that it could indeed be done at the offices but as the house phone was still out of order and I was out of credit on my mobile I figured going there my best option. WRONG!
We couldn’t even find the office at first because they don’t tell you on their site (or on Google maps) that the office is on the 9th floor of a tower block in the middle of a shopping centre.
At the office were two members of staff, one was dealing with another customer and the other was busy with a computer, neither acknowledged our presence. After about 10 minutes the woman on the computer got up and walked towards a back room, calling over her shoulder that I should take a seat at her desk. When she came back I explained what I wanted to do and why I had been unable to do it from home. She said she was unable to help me, that the office did not have a connection to TAP Victoria but that she would give me another number to try and I could ring them from a public telephone booth in the shopping mall. I found her incredibly unhelpful and I was not happy.
Two weeks later the phone company finally managed to fix the phones and I got through to TAP Victoria. I had seen on the internet that my son needed 40,000 miles in order to get a free ticket, he had 17,000. I asked to transfer the balance from my account and was told that I would have to pay €30. for every 2000 miles moved, this would total €360, however as I had 35,000 miles in my account it would be cheaper to use all my air miles and transfer 6000 from my son’s account to give me an air miles balance of 41,000 this would cost just €90 and they could then issue a free child ticket. I agreed to this and was then told that I would still have to pay the airport taxes and an additional tax for something I couldn’t understand which would total €273. So my free ticket would actually cost €363. Having got this far I decided to continue even though by now it was clear that my free ticket was not much less than a bought one (for some reason the airport taxes seem to be higher) the operator had indeed warned me that it it sometimes cheaper to buy a ticket than to use air miles.
I was asked what dates I wished to travel on and said I could be flexible and was really looking for the cheapest flight possible. The operator (who was doing her best to be helpful) said she couldn’t see what dates had the best deal, as her computer only told her about availability on the dates requested, I would have to ring another number or book on line for my self and my daughters tickets, she could only make a reservation for my son’s free ticket, but she needed a route and date. I was now feeling quite exhausted by the whole thing, I asked that if when I went on line I found a different date and route that would give me a cheaper flight, would I be able to change the details of my son’s flight and was told that as long as I had checked there was seat availability for those flights that would be fine. I gave the woman a date, flying from Fortaleza via Lisbon to Heathrow, now I was told I would have to complete the booking for myself within 2 hours and then ring back in order to make the airport tax payment for my son’s ticket, she had only taken a card payment for €90. for the transferred miles.
I rang my friend in the village who has a secure internet connection and went to his house in order to complete the bookings. I very quickly discovered a much cheaper flight and there was indeed space for all of us. I entered my details on the internet form and sent it off, it came back because it didn’t like my name saying it was too long for the form, but as I know you have to give your name as it appears in your passport, what letters of my name could I remove? It also didn’t like my member ship number, nor the credit card number and said I had to give another telephone number too. I chopped off a letter from my name but my card and membership number were correct so I sent the form again. It came back, my membership and card numbers were still wrong. I took out the spaces in my card number. It said on the form that my membership number should be exactly as printed on my membership card, it was but I took out the spaces on that too and sent it off again, this time it came back saying I hadn’t put in the security number for my credit card as I had to put it in again each time I sent the form ARGH!!!!!!
Finally it all went off ok, and I got confirmation of having two tickets to London, so I rang TAP Victoria to change the details on my son’s ticket and complete the payment.
Speaking to a different operator at TAP Victoria I was told I could change the date, but my flight was going from Lisbon to Gatwick, my son’s was going to Heathrow and this could not be changed. I was furious and said that I had specifically asked if I would be able to change the flight details and had been told I could. The woman responded by saying that she had to follow the rules, I asked what she expected me to do, send my seven year old son on a different flight? she said I would have to go back on line and cancel my flights, then re book to Heathrow, I said no way as I would have to pay a cancelation fee, I stressed again that I had been told I would be able to change the details, she just said she had to follow the rules. I demanded to speak to her superior, she went off and came back a minute later to say that as the ticket had not yet been issued, she could all of a sudden change the route, but that I had to understand that they would only be able to do it this time, that I wouldn’t be able to change the route again, I said I was unlikely to wish to send my son of else where on his own. So, finally I am told I would shortly receive an email conformation of my son’s ticket, all done HURRAH!
The next day I was going into our local town to withdraw some money and do some shopping but first I was going to the health centre in the village to put our names down for a long overdue visit to the dentist, I had been told to get there at 6.30 as there are a limited number of spaces. I arrived a little late but there was no body there, I waited until 7.30 (now starving having left the house without breakfast) and when the doors were finally opened I was told the dentist still didn’t have the necessary materials to do fillings, she was only doing tooth extraction, it’s no wonder so few adults have a head full of teeth here. I gave up.
Neu and I took a taxi to the town. At the bank machine my card was refused, I got that sinking feeling.
A few minutes later I got an electronic voice on my mobile telling me it was an important security call and that I should press any key to continue, I pressed and got cut off.
One of the things I had to do while in town was visit the registry office, I had remembered last thing before leaving the house that at passport control I have to show official written permission from Neu in order to travel out of the country with our son. This takes the form of a piece of paper signed by him with our identity numbers on and our son’s passport details which I prepare based on the form shown on the Federal Police’s web site, this is endorsed by an official stamp at the registry office and the cost for this is usually R$5.
I went with Neu to the office taking the form I had hastily grabbed from a folder first thing in the morning. At the registry office, we waited an age for someone to attend to us and the form was then re typed and signed, we were asked for R$40. I complained that last year it had cost R$5. and was told that as she’d had to type out the form (which I had already provided) that it should cost R$40, but she would give a discount and asked for R$35. Nothing I could do but pay up.
Then my daughter rang me to say TAP had rung the house, payment for my son’s ticket had been refused and I must contact them urgently or lose the booking.
The town is an hours drive away from home and as I was unable to draw out more money and Neu can only draw out a limited amount from his account, we had only been able to do a small amount of our intended shopping but would still have to pay the taxi driver, who was now driving us back home as fast as he safely could.
I rang the bank, yes there was a security alert as why did one company, TAP, apparently need to make 3 separate charges to my card? That’s something I would like to know too, along with why the system has to be so complicated. The card was unblocked and I phoned TAP where I spoke to a very helpful woman who, after keeping me on hold for what seemed like hours, said the payment had cleared and I would now finally receive the confirming email.
I went to put the permission form with my son’s passport and saw to my horror that in my early morning rush, I had grabbed a form which gave his old passport number, so the form is not valid and will have to be redone. I should have stayed in bed!

©Claire Pattison Valente 2011