Earlier in the week I mentioned that I had a very frustrating experience booking an AAdvantage award, but fortunately everything worked out fine. Before I get into my rant, I’d like to say this up front — agents that deal with award tickets do NOT have an easy job. People are unrealistic. They want to book a nonstop award to Europe in first class over summer for their family of eight on the exact dates they want. At times it works out, but other times it doesn’t.
And as someone that helps a lot of people book awards, I usually explain up front some of the challenges, and mention that a connection might be necessary to go to Europe over summer when booking only a month out. So I can certainly understand why some reservations agents at the airlines assume we’re all uninformed. They seem to think that no one knows the difference between an award seat and a revenue seat, and they also seem to think no one understands the rules.
Now for 95% of people they’re probably spot on (most people reading this probably belong in the other 5%). Most people think that if they see a seat they can buy, they can also use miles for it. And they also don’t understand the tricks of booking awards. But then there are others that do. And I’d like to think I have a pretty good working knowledge of awards at most airlines, and dare I say it, I believe I know the rules better than most agents at most airlines.
But I can never say that. As it is they’re accusing me of not knowing what I’m talking about, so understandably if I said “you’re wrong,” they’d roll their eyes and hang up on me. So anyway, that aside, this brings me to my story.
So I put two AAdvantage awards on hold for my brother and me for travel next week in first class. I always like to “maximize the experience,” so our routing is a bit convoluted. We’re flying from Tampa to Miami to New York Kennedy to San Francisco to Hong Kong to Bali, and back on the same routing. Why? Well, Miami to New York Kennedy is on one of the 757s configured with international business class, and I’d love to try out the seat, while New York to San Francisco is in first class on American’s Flagship Service (similar to United’s Premium Service). I think the rest of the routing, on Cathay Pacific, is rather self explanatory.
So everything was fine and dandy. We put the award on hold through midnight on Wednesday, so at around 7PM I called to ticket the reservation. But we ran into an issue, which was my fault. Our plan was rather complicated — the miles for my ticket were coming from one account, while the miles for my brother’s ticket were coming from two accounts (but American allows one-way awards, so I didn’t think it would be an issue). I explained this clearly when I first put the itinerary on hold, and the agent insisted it wouldn’t be an issue. I really wasn’t thinking, because I should have known better. As it turns out they would need to split up his record if miles are coming from two accounts, which means they would have to “drop” some of the award seats. That’s usually not an issue, but on one of the flights there weren’t any more award seats, so it turned into a huge gamble all of a sudden, because Cathay Pacific would have to re-release an award seat in order to rebook.
But that’s not the issue. American’s agent misinformed me, but as someone that’s pretty well versed in this stuff, I should have known better, so I blame myself. What I do blame them for, however, is their incompetence over the next five hours.
Specifically, the issue came with the Hong Kong to Bali segment. This flight is operated by a 747 which has three cabins, but they only sell the flight as a two cabin, meaning you can’t book first class. As a result we were placed in business class. And there were lots of business class award seats available. At least nine, to be exact.
So we tried to rebuild the outbound portion of the trip (I was feeling lucky, what can I say). The agent finds availability on all segments of the trip except for Hong Kong to Bali. She insists there’s not a single award seat. I knew better since I was looking at the British Airways award tool, which was showing plenty of award seats. My first question to the agent was “are you sure, I called a while ago and the agent said there were still plenty of award seats?” She responded “no, you mean revenue seats. They are still selling a lot of seats, but there aren’t any award seats.” I responded with “oh, well I’m also looking online on British Airways’ website, and they have several business class award seats remaining.” Then she started with my least favorite phrase from any reservations agent, which is utter BS — “Well each airline is allocated their own award inventory, so American has used up all of their award seats but British Airways might not have.”
How do you nicely tell an agent they’re wrong? Well, there’s no nice way, but what she was saying just wasn’t true. So after going back and forth for a while and her basically accusing me of not knowing the difference between an award and revenue seat, I decided we wouldn’t get anywhere (and of course I didn’t tell her she was wrong, I tried to be nice and get somewhere).
This time I decided on a different strategy. I called and asked specifically about availability from Hong Kong to Bali without mentioning the reservation I had on hold. And not surprisingly, the agent indicated that there were business class award seats available. I asked her how many, and she indicated there were lots. So I went ahead and explained the reservation I had on hold (it took about 20 minutes to explain the situation), and she seemed willing to help. Then she came back and told me “oh, those seats aren’t there anymore, someone must have snatched them.” Really, all nine of them?! I asked her to once again search that specific segment, and she saw them again. She insisted she wasn’t making a mistake, though, but rather “Cathay Pacific must have just released more award inventory.” Um, yeah.
So we’re good to go, right? She rebuilds an itinerary with all the flights I want, and then says “that’ll be 90,000 miles” (and this is for a one way award which is supposed to be 67,500 miles each way). I asked why, and she said it’s because Bali to Hong Kong is in business class, so they had to book it as separate awards. Huhhh???? “Yes, you’re on a first class award so you have to fly first class.”
“Ma’am, this flight only has two cabins, there’s no first class, business class is the highest cabin.” She insisted it in fact has first class, so I suggested she look at the revenue buckets and see that there is no “F,” which is the first class code. She comes back and tells me that this is simply a glitch, and that I have to fly first class. So I asked her to search the days around my departure date for first class, just to show her that not a single flight would have first class. But of course she searched a month around my date and came back with a different conclusion — “Sir, award seats to Bali are very difficult, nothing is available.” So she doesn’t budge, so I’m transferred to a supervisor. The supervisor insists that I was voluntarily downgraded to business class on the Hong Kong to Bali segment. No clue where he pulled that out of, because I put the reservation on hold a day earlier and it definitely wasn’t scheduled to be a different plane.
Anyway, I won’t go into more detail on this, but eventually it did work out after a big gamble and five hours on the phone. Agents that don’t know what they’re doing suck. And agents that assume no passenger has a clue what they’re doing suck even more.
But hey, what’s the fun without a little pain? And I actually kind of enjoy these battles, which is what makes helping others with awards fun. Unfortunately when other people are told these lies by agents they accept them as facts. We’ve gotta know better than that!