Letters – December, 17 2002

Letters – December, 17 2002

Boarding Pass Pickle
It seems that one of the most difficult things with an e-ticket is getting a boarding pass. Despite arriving early at the airport, one checks their luggage and then is told to go to the gate for their boarding passes. When tickets are purchased six months in advance, why is it so difficult to get a boarding pass ahead of time. It seems to me that the way the system exists at this point in time is to precipitate a crush at the counters at the last minute for boarding passes. I was on a recent trip with a ski club, the plane was oversold and two people were not able to get on the plane because they did not have boarding passes. This was despite the tickets being sold six months in advance and despite the people arriving at the airport an hour and a half ahead of time. I would like to protect myself by getting boarding passes in the future. What is the best way to do this?
-David W. Zauel

Editor’s note: Unfortunately you can’t. The airlines stopped issuing boarding passes about the time electronic ticketing came into play. The airlines are trying to cut down on the administration process. This process has also helped reduce misuse of tickets.

Shared Nostaglia
As I read your message in MileMemo in the April 2001 issue, I appreciated your nostalgia. My husband and I were members of the FFB program and, like you, accumulated thousands of miles in that program as well as in the Aviators program. While we still have a significant accumulation of miles, the ones we’ve used over the years allowed us to take several special trips.

In fact, I was planning to use some of the miles to go to Israel for a wedding in early April. On March 28, I learned that TWA had abruptly terminated service to Tel Aviv. In my attempt to rebook, I finally contacted Judi Allen, manager of Aviators marketing. She could not have been more responsive and, up until the time of my departure, I believed that she had made alternative arrangements for me.

Ultimately, TWA did not make alternative arrangements due, in part, I believe to the fact that I had requested an e-ticket and had not been re-ticketed with the new itinerary. While I was disappointed with the outcome, I would like to express my appreciation of Ms. Allen’s demeanor and efforts at what must be a frustrating time for her and her staff.
-Susan Keith

Worried About WorldPerks
I will admit that Northwest WorldPerks is one of the most generous in the industry with wonderful mileage bonuses for elite members. The only problem is the miles aren’t good for much if you can’t use them for class-of-service upgrades on international flights to Europe. Since Northwest flies primarily to Amsterdam (unlike Delta, which flies to practically every major European city), the flights are always full. Even when you book well in advance (one to two months), there are never any seats in business class available for upgrades, with the exception of last month.

Flight 55 from Amsterdam to Minneapolis on March 29, was very disappointing for myself and two other Platinum Elite travelers. Business class was one third empty (20 plus seats). Myself and two other Platinum Elite members approached the KLM gate agent and requested upgrades to business class since so many seats were open. While we all held tickets in coach class, we thought Northwest would give us complimentary business class upgrades considering our elite status and availability of these seats. The gate agent said she didn’t think this would be possible but would take our boarding cards and get back to us.

Once the plane was completely boarded, the gate agent approached us with our original boarding passes and indicated she would not be able to upgrade us. We were stunned. Upon boarding the aircraft and seeing all the empty business-class seats, we approached the lead flight attendant with the same request. She said there was nothing she could do, that it was up to the gate agents.

Since all overhead storage was already full, we had to stow our carry-on luggage in the empty business-class bins. We then took our coach seats. A couple of hours into the flight, I made my way up to business class to retrieve some articles from my carry-on bag. What, to my amazement do I see, but two flight attendants lounging in business class seats, one watching a movie the other sleeping. I have no problem with flight attendants doing this, but not when there are so many open seats and they wouldn’t reward their best customers when they should have.

Upon my return, I sent an e-mail to Northwest customer service describing the situation above. Their totally unacceptable response was that they needed to be fair with all passengers with regard to upgrades and that is why we were not granted our request. I find this quite interesting since they find it quite alright to be totally unfair with regard to domestic class-of-service upgrades by showering me with them all the time. Upon bringing this to their attention, they indicated that unlimited international upgrades were not part of the WorldPerks program at this time. I responded that I wasn’t asking for unlimited international upgrades, only a one-time, complimentary upgrade given the availability. There was no adequate reply.

Why won’t Northwest institute an international upgrade program for its most elite flyers, or at least start treating them better? After all, we are the ones paying the bills. Obviously, I will have to look to other airlines, such as Delta, which treats its elite members with respect and proper service.
-Laurence Rys

The Hamster Letter
I’ve wondered if I should share my little saga with you. I am thinking about your credo “something of value in every issue, guaranteed.” Whether you answer letters personally, or if I see this in a future issue, I’ll feel grand having the benefit of your experience and insight. At this point, I’m surely in need of it!

In January, because my family had accrued enough frequent flyer miles and American Express reward points to take a vacation, I began to gather information from our local school district about the 2001-2002 schedule. Finding a little window in our schedule was a big accomplishment, and so I proceeded. Hawaii soon emerged as the clearest choice because “snorkeling with children” is on my wish-list. Little did I ever dream what an ordeal it would be to obtain four award tickets!

I phoned WorldPerks Award Travel, as well as Continental, early in February and was told that, because I was calling so early, I would have to book only the outbound segments, (or had to call back entirely, as they weren’t booking ahead that far yet). Within a week, I had booked a ticket for my son — nonstop flight 920 for Minneapolis to Honolulu on March 11, 2002. I could even nab the leg of the flight to our small local airport, a coup indeed! At the time, Northwest’s promotion was to save 1,000 miles by booking online. And, since my husband had dipped into his account for a measly 20,000-mile ticket to Denver, I hoped to use his 69,000 remaining miles to book two tickets. (I’ve since learned: pool, pool, pool miles into one account). Hindsight is becoming my tormenter — I so fervently wish I had, at an early date, booked hubby and son on that beautiful, nonstop flight that suited their very limited schedule.

After checking the online availability of the Hawaii segments for several days and realizing time was a-wasting, I took what I could. A flight earlier in the day on March 11 (at 2:30 p.m. — flight #s are 924,152 & 2896, NWA, versus 6:30 p.m. flight 920 NWA). We’re all flying out on 3/6/02 on flight #935 and so, you can see why I would want to maximize vacation time by getting a later flight.

The next logistical step involved getting a ticket through Continental using American Express. When I began to call, I was told it would be 70,000 miles (I was also told there was not a way to book on a Northwest flight, something American Express representatives state frequently, and erroneously). However, representative Veronica Quarry at Continental was immensely helpful and I was able to obtain a ticket for myself on the same March 6 outbound flight. There was nothing available that matched my husband and son’s flight back to the mainland, so I decided I could easily spend another day in Maui, my schedule being more flexible than theirs. By now, I was feeling as if I could breathe. But no, the online promotion never did show a Honolulu segment that I was counting on snagging for the remaining 34,000 miles to obtain the fourth ticket. By now it was mid-April and I was beginning to worry. Speaking with a WorldPerks online help desk rep, it was suggested to me that I could purchase the 1,000 miles needed from Miles4Sale.com, because the online deal would probably not work out. I was also told that these miles would be posted almost instantaneously, something I inquired about, because by now I had, with no small effort, obtained three tickets but needed a fourth quickly because I couldn’t quite see putting a child onto a 10 hour flight alone. While the price was fine, and I was thrilled to have a solution to the “1,000-mile dilemma,” after the transaction went through, there was the fine print stating that Northwest’s posting may take four to six weeks. I was just about sick by this point. But I continued to call Northwest as well as check online to see when points would be posted.

Then came the fateful weekend of April 27. I was out of town and not able to phone in. I was also under the most unfortunately mistaken idea that the WorldPerks department was closed over the weekend. Golly gee, was it ever sheer folly not to get on the phone over that weekend to see if my miles were there yet, and to get a fourth flight out. By Monday April 30, the miles were credited, but flight 935, which four days prior was “wide open,” no longer had another seat available. I spoke with a truly wonderful WorldPerks representative, Mary Wilson, later that day — after taking a couple of hours to cool down and think clearly — who put the fourth ticket onto a later flight that morning (NWA flight #945 outbound from Minneapolis) and waitlisted it to the flight the other three of us are on. She spoke confidently that all four of us would end up on the same outbound airplane. Here’s where a lot of my questions begin. I realize this is getting long and I will list them to try to be more concise.

  1. In the April 2001 issue of your magazine, you say on page 24 that “standby is stand away.” Does this apply for this fourth (child’s) ticket that is waitlisted, as described above? I continue to call back, as instructed, to the Award Center, and am told varying things by various representatives, about the likelihood of sealing this deal. We would very much like to all be on the same flight there, since we’ll be in unfamiliar territory with minor children; yet I don’t want to blow a vacation by a naive notion I have about all being able to get onto flight #935. I’m told I’ll be notified my mail with the opportunity to confirm this, yet am also told, conversely, that if a seat’s released and an award customer happens to be on the phone, their ticket could clear before a waitlist letter becomes generated by the system.
  2. How worthwhile is it to attempt to get my husband and son on a later flight the day they are leaving Maui/Honolulu? Or should I just feel relieved that I got them out at all on the date they need to leave?
  3. I haven’t even gotten into all of the issues about having been told that I should purchase a revenue ticket for one segment for my daugther and I leaving Maui because Hawaiian Air wasn’t confirming that portion, then when I called Hawaiian Air to purchase that ticket, the agent (in a friendly way) laughed about doing so because my daughter and I were the only ones on the entire flight even though it wasn’t confirmed, so she encouraged me to wait. Yet, NWA tells me to keep calling to reserve these seats. How much time is reasonable to put into obtaining these flight segments? Am I going about it ALL WRONG???
  4. A similar echo to item 3 above exists with our small airport (BJI) releasing a certain number of frequent flyer seats: needing at least one ticket from Bemidji to Minneapolis, do I purchase or wait? To me, half of a trip is the anticipation. This could more accurately be termed anxiety! Ditto the last sentence about my strategy!
  5. Since I’ve mentioned deserving and extremely helpful representatives by name, I would like to mention WorldPerks representatives Katherine Saalmi (unsure of spelling. She was in Houston) and Angela Johnson. I found the gamut with many being in a spectacular class of their own, willing to truly go that extra distance to be of the most possible assistance. It sure means a lot when feeling at the absolute mercy of the program.

Sincerely, and with much gratitude for whatever information you are able to provide.
-Susan Hausman Stember (or sign me…the hamster who keeps running on the WorldPerks hamster-cage wheel and wants to get off)

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