Letters – December, 30 2004

Letters – December, 30 2004

Northwest WorldPeeves?

Here’s an interesting dilemma that I just ran into trying to use Northwest Airlines’ Web site to purchase tickets for my brother and sister-in-law. The Web site would not allow me to use my credit card because the name on the card was different from the two travelers. This required me to call into their reservation system to make the purchase. The catch: I was charged $5 each as a “service fee.” Interesting way to generate a bit of additional income, but I feel ripped off. I’ve never had this come up when purchasing tickets for other family members.

Wake up, Northwest. I just recently moved to the Milwaukee area, but am not thrilled about using your airline in the future.
Julie Adamik

Starwood Deferred Guest

Starwood’s Preferred Guest program is consistently ranked very high from what I read in InsideFlyer. I have also seen very complimentary descriptions of the program’s customer service orientation on the FlyerTalk Web site. Imagine my continuing surprise that I have not yet received a response or acknowledgement of a letter I sent to Starwood back in August. A copy of the letter is included and fully outlines a problem I have in redeeming Starpoints for a stay in Thailand.

One of the most highly regarded features of the Preferred Guest program is the “True Redemption” promise. It took me many tries and some considerable effort to secure rooms at two properties in Thailand, which had rooms available for paid stays. In this particular instance, I can only characterize what happened as being Starwood “Truly Difficult” redemption. Ultimately, only through the diligent efforts of a Starwood customer service representative was the matter resolved as described in the letter.

I am hoping for a reply from someone at Starwood. Can you advise me if I should have taken a different approach to communicating my concerns to Starwood to have ensured a response?
David C. Biggs

Dear Mr. Berra:

This letter is to provide Starwood Preferred Guest with some jeers, and at least one cheer, for some recent difficulty I had in securing reservations at two hotels using Starpoints. I am providing the jeers in the hope that some improvement to the system can be made to avoid these difficulties in the future.

I have been planning a trip for my family of four to Thailand over the Christmas holidays this year. There has been much advance planning since we are using free airline tickets and had hoped to use some free hotel stays as well. Knowing that Starwood Preferred Guest provides the greatest flexibility in redeeming points for stays with its True Redemption promise, I was planning my trip around those locations with Starwood properties.

Starting in March of this year, I tried both though the Internet and by telephone to make reservations at two hotels in Thailand using Starpoints. In addition, I have also made a reservation for a paid five-night stay at the Sheraton Chaing Mai as part of this trip. I was advised via telephone that neither the Sheraton Royal Orchid in Bangkok nor the Sheraton Krabi Beach has loaded their Starpoints nights for that period into the system yet and I should try back. Both hotels showed rooms available for a paid stay. I dutifully called back once a month starting in March. Finally, at the end of May, I was able to make a reservation in Bangkok for two of the three nights I wanted, with the night of Jan. 1 still not loaded into the system.

On July 23, when I called back for the second time that month, expressing a level of frustration, the reservation agent then took some time to explore the problem and offered a solution whereby reservations were made at the hotels in question at the rack rate with a request to convert the reservation to Starpoints going to the hotels directly. The Starpoints were deducted from my account at this time.

I then received an email response directly from the Sheraton Krabi Beach, copies of which are attached. Basically, the hotel didn’t seem to understand the request. My response to the initial email tried to clarify the request, but I received a similar response to the first. If I were of a more suspicious nature, it would seem as if the hotels in Thailand were trying to limit redemption during a peak period by not releasing rooms and/or obscuring their actual availability.

Finally, just this morning, I called back the Starwood Preferred Guest reservation number to check on the status of both reservations. I am happy to report that a reservation agent, Mandy, took more than half an hour to resolve the problems with these two reservations. The Bangkok reservation had been converted to points, but Mandy modified the existing reservation for the two free nights at the Bangkok Hotel and added the third night. She then contacted the hotel in Krabi Beach and spoke to a manager, Mr. Teerapon, who addressed the problem with this reservation. When all was said and done, Mandy had done a wonderful job of addressing the problems. I asked for her name so I could send in a letter to compliment her on her efforts, and she suggested that I could be transferred to another line to share my comments. That line rang and rang and no one answered. So, I am relying on this letter to note what a great asset you have in Mandy.

The bottom line is that there should not have been as much difficulty in trying to redeem Starpoints for use at hotels that had rooms available. I hope that my sharing this experience can somehow assist you in addressing these difficulties. Please feel free to contact me if I can provide any other information.

[Editor’s Note: Our only guess is that your orginal letter might not have been received by the right person(s). Difficulties such as this are quite rare to hear about.]

United Untying?

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to United Airlines.

Dear Mr. Tilton,

I have been a member of Mileage Plus since 1984. I travel at my own expense for leisure and have been a Premier or Premier Exec almost since the time I started using United. My husband is a Premier Member and I have four children and three sons-in-law and seven grandchildren who fly United, almost all of whom are United Mileage Plus members.

Recent events have caused me to look at being loyal to another carrier. I joined Ameniti, and two weeks later got a card offering 5,000 bonus miles to join. I telephoned Ameniti about a hotel reservation that was not correct and was hung up on twice by the same agent. I finally reached an agent who said she is a supervisor and requested I send her an email detailing the incident, which I did. I also emailed Ameniti customer service and was never replied to, and I emailed them again and got the same result. I don’t think this kind of action would be considered “customer service.”

I called the Mileage Plus customer service center to have an error in my miles corrected, as I had 15,000 miles deducted and also had three upgrade coupons used for the same flight. I was told the miles would be returned to my account. Two months later the miles had not been credited, and I called and was told the issue was “reviewed” and the miles would not be credited. I then spoke to a supervisor who told me the original agent should not have told me I would receive the miles until the “review.” This is the first I have ever heard of a “review” in the 20 years I have been with Mileage Plus. The issue is still pending.

The final issue that causes me to truly consider switching to another carrier is the fact that I am loyal to a carrier for the perks that I receive. I enjoy traveling in first class and travel once a month to Phoenix from Chicago, as I live in both places. United has now put Ted on all the flights between here and Phoenix, and an upgrade is no longer possible on the route I fly the most frequently. The flight from Chicago to Phoenix is just under four hours, and the first class seating and service make it a much more enjoyable trip. On my last two trips I flew through Denver in order to get upgraded at least for part of the trip. I have now heard that United is planning on implementing Ted on all domestic routes. The original idea of implementing Ted was to compete with low-cost carriers, and yet the cost of flights on Ted is the same as any United flight.

The last thing that has caused me to look at other carriers for the routes I fly the most frequently, which are Chicago to Phoenix and Europe, is the fact that I have just learned that United intends to begin leasing all employees, and that fact, coupled with Ted being on all routes with no available upgrades, has truly caused me to think this through thoroughly.

United has fought back from bankruptcy and made some good changes and some changes that should never have happened. For some reason you seem to take one step forward and two steps back. While trying very hard to keep United a viable carrier, you are also shooting yourself in the foot.

I would truly like an answer to this letter, and not in the shape of a form letter, which I have received on many occasions when trying to rectify a problem. The standard, “We’re sorry that happened to you,” just won’t cut it this time.

Vivian Cielak

Simplify, Simplify!

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Northwest Airlines.

As a loyal member of Northwest, it just seems to make sense to make the Platinum members automatically enrolled in all promotions. The rules and regulations just get more and more complicated. Let’s start a “KISS” program for Platinums, Golds and Silvers, where we truly KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID, and you will reap rewards beyond your wildest dreams. The 1-2-3-Free is a great promotion. Unfortunately, I can’t use one of my three free tickets earned for my wife. Very poor rules.

Disappointed in Wisconsin

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