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Having a big problem booking AA using ThankYou points
Lucky, thanks for the great blog. I am a daily reader but I think this may be my first comment. Last year based on your reviews I used your link and signed up for the Citi Prestige card. Generally I have been very happy with the card and benefits and I think it compares favorably to the Amex platinum card which I carried for many years.
Recently I booked a ticket for my family (me, wife, 3 year old and infant travelling as a lap baby—so 3 tickets total) for domestic travel later this month using ThankYou points on AA. I am writing because I have never had such a difficult time with such a simple reservation and my experience raised a few issues that I think others may also have issues with on these tickets (which of course are booked through a third party agent for Citi). What should have been a 5 minute checkout process devolved into a series of problems that have resulted in (literally) several hours on the phone with the booking agency and still no resolution. [U]So I am really hoping that you can shed some light on what is going on here.[/U] I just can’t imagine I am the only one with this problem.
I will recap as quickly as I can:
I first tried to book the flights on the ThankYou website but twice they failed to ticket after 10+ minutes of “processing”. (Yes my information and Card #s were all correct).
I then called to book and eventually got an agent to book the flights. When he first tried to book he apparently had the same problem I did and then said he needed to redo everything on a “different system”. After verifying all information multiple times (and correcting him several times on spellings) he indicated that our flights were booked.
Shortly thereafter I received an emailed confirmation and immediately noticed two problems. First, my wife’s name was misspelled by one letter. Second, all 3 tickets had periods in between the first name a middle initial (I had booked the tickets as “First M. Last”). On the Citi itinerary the names looked like this “First.M Last”. Worse, on American’s website the names read as follows: “Firstm Last”. I called back Citi ThankYou immediately and went through literally 3 transfers and exactly an hour of holding/phone time before an agent told me they had “corrected both issues” (middle initials being connected to first name and the typo in my wife’s name) and that I would receive a new confirmation shortly.
The next morning I still did not have any new confirmation in my email so I looked up the tickets on the AA website and saw that my wife had been [I]removed[/I] from the reservation on American entirely (and I did not have a new locator for her). This was a big deal for me [U]as I get benefits on American (bags, priority boarding) through my Citi Aadvantage card and also because I have global entry and my wife does not, but whenever we fly together on the same itinerary she invariably is extended TSA pre on those tickets.[/U] I was shocked that the agent would de-link the reservation without telling me or asking permission.
After calling back the ThankYou agent (and another 45+ minutes of holding) I was finally given a supervising agent who first refused to make any changes at all and then finally offered (I assume because the price had not changed and we were inside 24 hours still) to re-book the tickets all together, which she did. I sincerely hoped this would be the end of the booking process, however upon receiving the confirmation I saw that while my wife’s name was now spelled correctly all 3 of our names continued to read “First.M Last” on the Citi itinerary and “Firstm Last” on the AA website.
Upon speaking with AA I was informed by the agent that my name did not match my AAdvantage number and that while I would “most likely be allowed by TSA to fly” they could not guarantee that I would be able to receive any of my benefits (as the name did not match the advantage number and was showing as “invalid”) and almost certainly would not allow me to get any TSA Pre privileges as the name did not match. A second American agent confirmed this and offered to delete the middle initial for a charge of $50 per ticket, which I declined. Needless to say, this is not acceptable as Pre-check and my bag benefits are very valuable to me and I certainly should not have to pay for a problem that is in no way my fault (although I guess I will never use a middle initial again when booking any ticket 🙂 ). I then called back the ThankYou booking department (more time on hold) and was told by their agent that “American is lying to you” (that’s literally what the agent said). This agent said that Citi Thankyou’s system uses a period or slash to separate a first name and middle initial but that American’s system does not recognize this and shows the names as “Firstm Last” but that I would nonetheless get all benefits including pre-check. A quick search of your site and FT forums also suggests that there may be some truth to this and the AA agents did say they frequently see tickets that appear this way—that being said, still no one could tell me whether or not I would be able to fly or whether I would receive any of my benefits!
Beyond aggravated and trying to be thorough I then tweeted @TSA and received the following response:
“Thank you for your patience, [Bossman]. We’ve reached out to your airline on your behalf and they discovered that your KTN wasn’t included in your reservation. They have added your KTN into your reservation. They also explained that because your name was submitted as “Firstm” instead of “First”, all of your frequent flyer numbers are coming up invalid. Your KTN, DOB and name must all be an exact match in your reservation. So long as this information is an exact match to your trusted traveler profile you will receive TSA Pre✓® on a consistent basis. We are only able to look into flights that have happened or will happen within 72 hours. Because your flight isn’t until [later this month] we are unable to confirm if you will receive the TSA Pre✓® indicator at this time. – John”
Lucky can you (or any readers/contributors out there) please tell me what the heck is going on here and whether I need to take further action to make sure I will be able to get the boarding, bag and TSA benefits I have carefully put in place for myself and am otherwise entitled to? This may seem like a minor issue to some but for those of us with small kids travelling is not easy even when things go smoothly, and I am trying to avoid unnecessary delays, stresses, costs and other unpleasant surprises when I get to the airport.
Also, for a system used as frequently as Citi ThankYou points not doubt are to book AA tickets I can’t believe that no one has figured these issues out such that they have easy guidelines or answers (like maybe the agent’s could be trained to say “AA does not recognize middle initials, we suggest you use just first and last name” for example). If I was making a mistake by including a middle initial shouldn’t that be stated somewhere?
Thank you! And please help!!