Letters – March, 22 2005

Letters – March, 22 2005

Phone “Fun”
Don’t know about you, but when I fly domestically I often hear people muttering “agent, agent, agent” while wandering through the airport. Ah, yes … it must be another frustrated 1K member using United’s “improved” phone service. Don’t call security … just yet.

As you know, United just made some “improvements” to their voice recognition phone service. This is an attempt to route calls, or so I’m told by their customer service reps, thereby saving our valuable time.

Now you can call security, as this annoys me.

There are so many voice prompts, and with my last name, the computer seems to think I’m saying goodbye. Sure, the voice-activated computer system is “cutting edge,” and many businesses, such as Sprint, have a similar female computer voice, customer friendly “Claire.” Perhaps I should introduce United’s – let’s call him Simon – to Claire and see what happens to my mileage bonuses, but I digress.

Although the service is cutting edge, it’s not practical. Being the never-ending efficiency expert, I have found that this process has added an additional three minutes and 26 seconds to the time it takes to reach an agent, or, on one of those lovely canceled days, to reach another voice activated prompt. I have also, after this three minutes and 26 seconds of burned cell time and being placed in airline Muzak hell, been getting notifications that I have to call United. So I too try to sidestep the process by saying “agent, agent, agent” or hitting the ever-loving 0, which reaches the universal agent who can then transfer me. Perhaps the meaning of life is reduced to one big universal zero. I’ll save that thought for another time.

For now, I am on hold with United, waiting, and if I’m lucky I’ll have this resolved.

Maybe you can shed some light on what United might do next, because isn’t simpler more efficient?
–Diane Budres

“Handling” Your Problems
I generally find your comments and advice to be right on target. But you are way off base when it comes to US Scareways.

Two weeks ago I left Philadelphia on flight 929 to Tampa. I checked in at the first-class kiosk and my bags were tagged with priority tags. Because of my Gold status I was upgraded. Life was good, right? Wrong.

After landing at Tampa and waiting a ridiculously long time, the bags finally started showing up. Imagine my dismay when I realized that not only were my bags missing, but so were those of about 40-plus other passengers.

I walked over to lost baggage in time to hear the guys in that office complaining to a supervisor in Philly that “this was happening way too much.” What I later learned was it wasn’t “way too much,” it was every flight.

I came back later for the 3 p.m. arrival and my bags came in on that flight. But for another couple of dozen people on the afternoon flight there were no bags. They then had to start over the same drill for themselves.

In the baggage claim office we were told that (1) they were shorthanded in Philly (2) there was nobody to handle the conveyor in Philly to get all of the bags on the flight and (3) the baggage handlers in Philly were single-handedly bringing the airline to its knees.

My return flight to Tampa was 1 p.m. on Saturday. Again I was upgraded. While sitting on the aisle in first I observed the captain come out to use the lavatory. The tall blonde flight attendant went into the cockpit while he was out of it, you know, the new regulation way.

But the “fun” must have started when he got back into his seat because she never came back out of the cockpit for another 15-20 minutes after he entered his cabin.

When we arrived in Philly, even though again my bags were tagged priority, they were some of the last off the flight. We waited half the time of the flight in baggage claim.

I don’t know about you, but this smacks of a business trying to go down the drain. And frankly, if they are waiting for my business to sustain themselves, they might as well close the doors now.
These folks have learned nothing since their Christmas holiday debacle.

I’m going to start using all of my frequent flyer miles, because I don’t see these guys being in business long.
–Mark Adams

Disheartened Diner
The end of iDine as we know it is upon us. A link on their main page leads to their upcoming changes, scheduled for this summer. Under the new program, their new elite tier of frequent diners will be reduced to only five miles per dollar spent. This is down from the up to 20 miles per dollar some restaurants offer today, though many offer only five or 10 at present. Non-elite members will receive even less. How do we convince these people not to kill their golden goose?
–Richard Clough

Many Problems under One Roof
For what good it would do, I recently stayed with my family in a Red Roof hotel in Oakbrook, Il., while we were visiting my husband in the hospital. We were too tired to drive back to my house, so I suggested staying in a Red Roof for the night. The room had black mold all over the ceiling and walls of the bathroom, and there was no faucet on the shower at all – just a lead pipe coming out of the wall! I wrote to customer service after having to pay the full bill for the night, and I received no response to at least 10 e-mails and 10 phone calls. They did nothing! They didn’t even contact me, and I am (or was) a Red Roof Member! We could not shower or bathe before going to the hospital the next day. We looked so cute!

I hope this can do some good or help someone else that this happens to at this hotel chain. If I had a camera with me I would have sent the pictures to the newspaper! The manager told me I had to pay the full price and then deal with customer service? Thank you for even reading this and for your time.
–Linda Berggreen

Room at the Inns?
I have been fortunate enough to earn lifetime Platinum cards with both American (hit the 2 million mile mark this year) and Continental Airlines and it has made me wonder if such a thing exists with any of the hotel frequent traveler programs.

I could not find it, but did you ever mention if hotel lifetime cards exist in InsideFlyer in the past six months?

I would very much appreciate your assistance (as a fellow traveler and ex-New Yorker) as I begin to make plans for the coming year – and recover from a hip replacement for the next six weeks.

(Note: I also managed to obtain Alaska MVP Gold for the 10th straight year since moving to the Northwest, and am working on the lifetime card internally at Alaska).

At any rate, I would appreciate your guidance on who/how to approach this with the hotels. I turn 66 in February and am aware that the 40-weeks/year plane-hotel merry-go-round will have to slow down some day, but I would definitely like to have benefits and privileges for as long as possible.

I have acquired and burned miles in Starwood (my favorite), Hilton and Marriott. I have an area VP with Hilton whom I can approach. And while I made Platinum with Marriott for the first time in 1993, and most years since, it hasn’t been every year.

What do you suggest?
–Joseph C. Zawacki

Editor’s note: Joseph, your miles and points accomplishments are what our readers are all about – congratulations. Ten years as an Alaska MVP is a nice track record and not a bad program to keep it going in. As for your question about hotel lifetime elite status, I’m sorry to have to tell you that they do not exist for mere mortals such as you and I. In years past, Marriott has experimented with lifetime Platinum, but only on a limited basis with no formal program. What you might consider is the elite benefits that come with selected credit cards issued by these same programs. For instance, both Marriott and Hilton offer their Silver Elite benefits for owning one of their co-branded program credit cards, though you’d want to confirm that the benefits will stay with you as long as you own the card, rather than only be available to you during your first year as a cardholder. And Joseph, it’s letters like this that will get some programs thinking about offering something the other programs don’t.

Conspiracy Files
I believe once I submit this question, it qualifies me as a legitimate member of the world conspiracy church.

This past week I just completed a business trip to Asia from Canada. My fly routing is: Calgary to Vancouver and Vancouver to Singapore and Singapore to Jakarta, and return from Jakarta to Singapore and Singapore to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Calgary. Four major legs were with Singapore Airlines. Luckily they automatically poured the frequent flyer points to my Air Canada Aeroplan account within days.

While I was impressed by Singapore Airline’s services and frequent flyer point transaction efficiency, I was doing something else: counting the points.

From Vancouver to Singapore, it is supposed to be 7,963 miles, from Singapore to Jakarta, supposed to be 550 miles, and from Singapore to Los Angeles, supposed to be 8,763 miles.

Instead, for each leg I flew Singapore, they transferred me these points: 7,962, 549, 549, and 8,762.

Yes, each leg has one point short.

Of course, this is no big deal. People would all laugh at me for chasing 1 mile. You may also say that different airlines have different mileage accrual calculator. But when I listed the above “supposed to be” mileages, I got those numbers from Singapore Airline’s website, as well as from their inflight magazine “KrisFlyer.”

Yet, there is one mile less for each leg.

Now I begin my conspiracy theory: For one passenger trip, they trim off 4 miles (like my case), and just searched the Internet, Singapore Airlines carries 15.3 million passengers per year. This “cut-off” must translate into 61.2 million miles saving for Singapore Airlines.

I was going to ask you, Mr. Randy, how much worth for 1 mile these days, as a separate question. I know frequent flyer points have no money value, according to airlines. Yet, we can calculate the equivalent worth of the 61.2 million miles. Say 1 cent per mile, Singapore Airlines must just be stealing $612,000 per year. For a company with annual sales of 4.5 billion dollars, this is peanut… well, that could be the bonus of the CEO, or an executive VP’s salary, right?

I actually conspired this over a year ago, after seeing my statement about a transaction from United Airlines, 2 or 3 flights, from San Francisco to Calgary, the reported mileage is 3 points less than another same flight over 2 years ago. In other words, I made the same flight from SFO to Calgary (YYC) two years ago, and last year’s transferred mileage was 3 points less. Then I began to use my mathematical brain to figure out some numbers.

What’s your comment?

I will continue to monitor this interesting thing. Maybe I am a maniac by conspiring this theory. But who knows… I am forwarding this question to you, but I am thinking whether or not I will send it to Singapore Airlines as well, asking why the transferred mileage for each leg is always 1 point less than their official count… or I should send this question to consumer watchdog groups.

By the way, I have followed your column and website for years, and enjoy your knowledge very much.
–Andrew Chen

Editor’s note: Andrew, I love this letter. It reminds me of just how unique my readership is. Actually, you’ve got a point here. The change is from seasonal differences in flight patterns as well as “rounding.” I’ve seen the same changes myself over the years and have been lucky enough to have been on the “upside” of this rounding as well. There’s no conspriracy, but I will try and get you your missing four miles. Even I know that each mile is “priceless.”

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