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Even travel editors make booking mistakes: Learn from mine

Air Canada and AC Vacations operate as separate businesses, on two separate systems. (AC Vacations buys blocks of seats on AC flights.)

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Remember that Dutch pair who ended up in Sydney, N.S., instead of Sydney, Australia, a few years back? I admit I had a good laugh at their expense. How could anyone make such an error? Rather easily, it turns out.

A couple of weeks ago, I booked Air Canada tickets to San Jose, Costa Rica. At least, I thought I did. What I realized when I went to select our seats was that my boyfriend and I were actually scheduled to fly to San Jose, Calif.

Cue the panic attack.

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One cancelled booking, countless hours spent online and hundreds of dollars later, all is sorted: I rebooked through Air Canada Vacations and am now flying into Liberia – and, no, not the one in Africa. I double checked.

Why did I end up going with Air Canada Vacations, even though I had an Air Canada credit from the cancellation? It comes down, not surprisingly, to money. The upside of this experience is that I gleaned important tips that could end up saving fellow travellers serious cash (not to mention grief).

Learn from my mistakes, folks.

There is a grace period

You can cancel an Air Canada flight within 24 hours of booking and receive a full refund. That's right. Not just credit: All the money goes back into your pocket. So read that itinerary they e-mail you carefully. If you made a mistake, this is your window to fix it. (And check if the fare dropped overnight. If you find a lower price on another website, Air Canada will credit you the difference plus $50.) On Air Canada Vacations, you have until the end of the business day (9 p.m. on weekdays; 5 p.m. on weekends) to cancel without penalty.

Check both sites

When I went to rebook, I was shocked to discover the same flight (not part of a package) was about 40 per cent cheaper through AC Vacations, as opposed to on aircanada.com. The reasons are complicated, but, essentially, Air Canada and AC Vacations operate as separate businesses, on two separate systems. (AC Vacations buys blocks of seats on AC flights.) The rest has to do with different business models and what's known in the industry as "yield management." All you really need to know is that, depending on the destination, it's worth exploring both options. Business-class seats, in particular, are a steal.

Mind your credit

If you have credit with Air Canada, you might be able to use it for an Air Canada Vacations booking. In my case, because it was from a cancellation, it was a no-go. That's why I had to pay twice. (Even with the credit, the price difference was so great that using it would have been a waste.) If your credit is because of another reason, say a flight delay, it would be transferable. Just ask.

Set your alarm for 24 hours before takeoff

If you're tempted to pay extra to select seats in advance, know this: Blocks of seats are held for Aeroplan bookings and frequent fliers with status; if unclaimed, they're released to all passengers 24 hours before departure. So what's showing as available right after you make your booking is not an accurate picture. Still, it might be worth paying extra for peace of mind. After everything I had put him through, I wanted to make sure my boyfriend scored a window seat.

I'll be tweeting about my trip to Costa Rica – posting pictures of howler monkeys (I hope) and sharing interesting facts. Follow me @saradomini.

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